April 8, 2024

Economic Bracketology: Your Financial Roadmap to the Big Dance

As March madness and bracketology took center stage at the close of Q1 (for posterity, my NCAA tournament bracket was officially busted after the second round), a similar sense of unpredictability characterized the financial landscape. Speculation continues to run rampant regarding Federal Reserve actions and market trends.

While some may have predicted unlikely basketball upsets, forecasting Fed rate cuts proves to be equally challenging. Despite the Fed’s most recent meeting in March and continued support for three potential rate cuts totaling 75 basis points this year, the reality at Q1's close offers a different narrative. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell remains committed to data-driven decision-making over succumbing to speculative pressures. The looming election year injects an additional layer of complexity, with debates over whether the Fed will maintain its policy neutrality during political seasons. Historically, this hasn’t always been the case (e.g., 1984, 1988, 1992, 2004, and let’s not forget about 2008) and it is doubtful this year’s elections would stop the Fed from taking necessary action to preserve the economy.

Exhibit 1: DOTS – Implied Fed Funds Target Rate

The Fed’s decision-making landscape appears convoluted and does not seem to favor a strategy of rate cuts but is instead titled towards the opposite: the continuance of no action, or additional rate hikes. Inflation stubbornly hovers above the Fed mandate at 3.2%. Unemployment remains below 4%. Equity markets are soaring to record highs. Thus, the question arises: can the Fed justify, by its own measure, three rate cuts by year-end? Do the facts support the thesis? It would seem they do not, unless there is a black swan event or a significant dynamic shift in the data before the end of the year.

Exhibit 2: ECFC – Economic Forecasts and Indicators

Exhibit 3: Dow Jones Industrial Average

In light of these factors, the Fed appears poised to adopt a cautious stance, delaying significant policy adjustments until clearer signals emerge from the economic landscape. Patience becomes paramount as speculation persists, promoting stakeholders to remain vigilant and adaptable in their strategies. As we navigate Q1's uncertainties, let's approach the economic arena with careful analysis and informed decision-making.

While March madness continued to deliver unexpected outcomes on the basketball court, our approach to the financial world will remain grounded in prudence and readiness to seize opportunities as they arise. It’s going to be a crazy year. NC State in the final four? Who could have predicted that? Three rate cuts in 2024? Sounds crazy to me, but so does #3 Kentucky losing to #14 Oakland in the first round.