If the Fed is intent on taking a pause after the third rate cut in what policymakers have been keen to characterize as a “mid-cycle adjustment”, the October meeting might be a good time to convey that intention.
After a rocky start to the month, a calm settled in following progress on trade and movement on Brexit, which collided with lopsided positioning to trigger a rally that pushed US stocks back to the highs, and equity volatility back to levels seen prior to the August turmoil.
And it’s not just in equities. “Waning activity in eurodollar futures suggests traders are more inclined to embrace the stability in rates for now [and] Fed fund futures have trimmed the odds of a December move from a near certainty to 32%”, Bloomberg notes.
Meanwhile, yields are stuck in a range and the curve has re-steepened, with the 2s10s back out to 17bps on Friday, the widest since July.
And yet, depending on how this week goes on the data front, any plans on the part of the Fed to telegraph a pause could be derailed immediately, as a wave of critical numbers comes cascading in. Over the next five sessions, market participants will be bombarded with the first read on Q3 GDP, ISM and the October jobs report.
The latest read on Trump’s decelerating MAGA “miracle” is expected to show the US economy grew just 1.6% last quarter, the slowest in 2019, and just over half of the 3% annual rate “targeted” by the administration. The consumer will likely shoulder the burden again, as was the case in Q2. “We expect the BEA’s advance estimate of Q3 GDP to post growth of 1.5% q/q saar, compared to 2.0% in Q2”, Barclays said late last week. “This is expected to be driven by personal consumption spending (2.5% q/q saar)”.
“The advance 3Q GDP report is likely to show moderation in real growth to a below-trend pace of 1.5% qoq saar from 2.0% in 2Q”, BofA projects, noting that while consumption “was solid last quarter [and] government spending and residential investment were also [strong] we expect muted equipment investment and a sharp plunge in structures”.
As for payrolls, the labor market is clearly cooling, as September’s report made clear. The 136k print from last month was decent, and revisions added 45k to the headlines for July and August, but October is expected to show one of the worst prints of the Trump presidency at 88k.
“We expect nonfarm payrolls to rise by 90k with private sector employment in the establishment report rising by only 75k on the month”, Barclays said Sunday, adding that “the GM auto worker strike spanned the survey period and we expect the roughly 46k striking workers to fall off manufacturing payrolls temporarily”.
BofA is looking for just 25k on the headline. “We expect the pace of job gains to slow materially because we think that the fallout from the General Motors-United Auto Workers strike could be a drag of as much as 150k on payrolls in October as the strike ran through the BLS survey period”, the bank warns. “Indeed, our private payrolls tracker based on internal BAC data is looking for a decline of 41k in October, which we suspect is being weighed down by the strike”.
As far as ISM manufacturing goes, the bottom line is that any rebound would be welcome after two consecutive months in contraction (see the bottom pane in the visual). The global factory slump has shown few signs of abating amid the protracted trade war between the world’s two largest economies and markets are on tenterhooks to see if we get a bounce that indicates the US isn’t headed for a deeper manufacturing downturn.
All of this could reinforce the Fed’s message (on Wednesday) or undermine it altogether, depending on how it pans out. “I almost think we’re one bad employment figure away from them saying, these weren’t insurance cuts, these were real cuts, and we haven’t done enough”, Bloomberg quotes Potomac River Capital CEO Mark Spindel as saying.
If things fall apart on the data front, any pretensions to a “hawkish” cut will be immediately seen as untenable.