Edging into spring, we should expect a bumpy and rather noisy journey as weak U.S. economic data caused by a severe winter shows up in economic reports. In fact, the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday retooled its forward guidance on the path of interest rates to give it more flexibility to react to shifting data as needed. However, I believe the underlying U.S. economy is in good shape. As the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once said, “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
While a spring rebound should help U.S. markets climb higher, international tensions remain elevated. Relations between the West and Russia have sunk to levels not seen since the Cold War. Russia’s annexation of Crimea confirms that President Vladimir Putin does not respond to threats, so we can expect ongoing instability from the region which is likely to keep U.S. interest rates subdued.
Chinese economic growth has slowed, prompting Beijing to soften its growth forecasts. Interestingly, the People’s Bank of China has widened the renminbi’s official trading band. Increased volatility can now be expected, as policymakers have greater flexibility to depreciate the currency in an effort to boost exports and maintain employment levels.
Abenomic’s “three-arrows” approach to stimulating more robust economic growth in Japan has stalled. Growth momentum is slowing and Abenomic’s third and most important arrow — undertaking structural reforms — is not hitting its target. The Bank of Japan may have to do more to stimulate the economy to offset the headwinds from April’s sales tax hike, Japan’s first major tax hike in 17 years.
Now, a couple of months before many investors will start wondering if they should “sell in May,” we remain in a risk-on environment — U.S. stock prices should go higher, credit spreads should tighten, and any interest-rate increases should be muted. The rumblings in Crimea, China and Japan have done little to change that outlook. In fact, potential Chinese renminbi and Japanese yen devaluations could export deflationary pressure into the United States, potentially pushing 10-year U.S. Treasury yields lower. On balance, for now it appears that the song remains the same.
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