Thursday, September 1, 2022

Cause for Pause

How can you just leave me standing
Along in a world that's so cold?


Our working hypothesis is that the Fed will pivot from its hawkish track when 'something breaks' in the market. That's been the historical pattern and there's no reason to believe this time will be any different.

But where will the breakage occur this time around? One possibility is something in the credit markets. The greater the systemic leverage, the more susceptible the system is to higher interest rates. And systemic leverage has never been higher.

After the Fed's historic tightening over the past six months (on a relative basis), some folks are on the lookout for cracks in credit. We recently noted, for example, that low rated debt spreads are widening toward alarm levels.

Another possibility, one stressed here, is that a funding crisis arises in Washington. Higher rates mean more interest expense on ever-escalating federal debt levels. We're currently on a run rate to spend over $1 annually on Treasury bond interest. How much longer before politicians exert enough pressure on the Fed before it breaks?

Finally, one possibility that I frankly had not entertained concerns the strong dollar. The dollar index (DXY) currently stands at its highest level since 2002. The broader Bloomberg dollar index has spiked above the pandemic highs.

There is growing suspicion that this is sparking margin calls in emerging markets stemming from short dollar positions. 

If so, then systemic contagion could provide another possible cause for Fed pause.

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