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Big Month Ahead for the Fed

(CHICAGO, Illinois) month will be a big month for the Fed. 

What happens will be anyone's guess. But if the jobs number this week is strong, the Fed will definitely be raising interest rates. If the jobs number is in line with expectations, it will still raise rates. There are only two scenarios where raising rates gets put off for another month. 

First, if the stock market begins to slip lower into the December 16 meeting, it could drop the idea of boosting rates. I think that the Fed has made it clear that it is definitely stock-price sensitive, as it mentioned China's weakness a few meetings ago and it was clearly on the back of the Chinese stock market taking a nose dive. When it recovered, the Fed referred to the China risk as muted. The other scenario would be if the jobs number is as equally bad as the November one was good. That is it. Anything else and the Fed moves. 

What To Watch For
Oil has been a decent driver as of late, and I think that its effect on the market has become more important. The energy sector had a lot to do with keeping us out of a bad recession over the last six years as hiring and business was booming. But now, with oil prices plummeting, that sector has begun to shed jobs and is not as strong as it once was. If this sector begins to severely decline, that will be a drag on stocks. 

The Dollar 
The dollar has been strengthening as of late on the prospect of a rate hike here in the U.S. But that is not the only reason that greenback has gotten stronger. The central banks around the world that have been trying to revive their own weakening economies has by de facto made the dollar stronger.  The result is a synthetic rate rise in the U.S. This has also been a drag on multinationals that have been already in the midst of an earnings recession. 

U.S. Economic Indicators
Arguably, things here in the U.S. are bumping along at an anemic rate. GDP  between 2.00% and 2.25% just isn't good enough to rescue our businesses. Considering the lengths the government has gone to in helping the situation (QE, Harp, Tarp, etc.) kind of makes things look pretty sick. We don't have any significant inflation and that is after almost seven years of 0% interest rates. Who would have guessed that back in 2008? Wages too are not really rising or at least not reflecting a tight labor force. We have a 5.00% unemployment rate yet we don't have a real strong GDP and no significant wage inflation. I think it is interesting to note how the unemployment rate, as low as it is, has not really shown up in production or wages. Japan just posted a 20-year low in its unemployment rate, yet its economy is actually contracting. Maybe the unemployment rate is no longer a good barometer of economic activity, as long as we have the central bankers involved in the asset pricing mechanism (QE). 

Commodity Prices 
The commodity prices have been severely depressed as overproduction and a stronger dollar have decimated oil, copper, zinc, and gold – to name a few. The grain sector has not been immune as it, too, has seen price declines this year. When the commodities start to recover, so too will the economy. After 28 years in the industry, the commodity sector has acted as a canary in the coal mine to the rest of the economy. Watch that space. 

Will they or won't they (the question over the Fed raising interest rates) has probably been beaten to death. The reasons why are the most important things to watch and if they do it without good reasons or for the wrong reasons, that is where I think the investment community would not look favorably upon them, if they don't already. 

It looks like the year will be an exciting one until the very end.

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