The highly anticipated FOMC meeting has now come and gone. As was widely expected, the Fed did raise rates again by 75-basis points. Whether the central bank provided any clues about future dovishness is debatable. The stock markets initially reacted to the rate hike by moving sharply higher. As time wore on, however, equities eventually lost their steam and headed lower, ending the day in the red.
Stocks are lower Thursday afternoon as of this writing. Gold today hit a six-week low as investors are still attempting to decipher the Fed’s commentary and intentions. One thing does seem fairly clear at this point however: The Fed will keep hiking.
With four 75-point hikes in a row now, the Fed has continued to prove wrong those who felt it would reverse course by the end of the year or sometime “soon.” The central bank has been careful, in fact, not to fuel any dovish flames by suggesting it could soon look to stop hiking or even reverse course and start easing. Fed Chairman Powell yesterday left little in the way of ambiguity, and the Fed still appears intent on getting inflation to its desired 2% annual target. How the Fed may accomplish that objective is another question, as its previous rate hikes have thus far done very little in the way of reducing price pressures which remain near 40-year highs.
The markets again find themselves grappling with the unknown. Even if the Fed decides to hike by less in December, it does not necessarily mean the Fed has reached the end of the tightening cycle. The central bank has now seemingly acknowledged its previous mistakes, and it may not be likely to make another one by reversing course before the job is done. At stake is the Fed’s credibility, of which it already has little, if any.
The question then becomes how will markets react to the Fed maintaining its plans and taking rates even higher. Stocks have exhibited some selling and volatility in recent months. The month of October for equities was spectacular, however, although large, sustained rallies are not at all uncommon in bear markets. The gold market has done very little in recent months. The declines seen in the yellow metal have come at a time when global central banks are buying gold like mad. The central bank purchases may be what is holding the floor underneath gold at this point, however, and if they see a major decline gold could potentially fall through the floor.
Assuming central banks and large market participants remain active, the gold market may simply look to outwait the Fed. Once the Fed does signal a slowing pace of rate hikes or it looks to begin easing policy again, the gold bulls could come out in force to drive prices back towards all-time highs or beyond. The question is not whether that day will come, but rather when it will.