Stocks are off to a turbulent start in September, as the Fed crushed all hopes of a dovish pivot at the Jackson Hole meeting last Friday. To make matters worse, September will hold several key economic data points and an FOMC meeting which could create even more volatility in a seasonally lousy time.
Today’s job report appeared a bit weaker on the surface due to the rising unemployment rate. However, the jobs data showed that the pace of hiring in the economy is still strong, and wage growth remains elevated, despite rising slower than inflation.
The increase in unemployment was driven mainly by the number of workers not in the workforce dropping by 613,000 while the population growth increased by 172,000. This increased the civilian labor force by 786,000, with 442,000 finding work and 344,000 moving into the unemployed column. Unemployment didn’t rise because people were losing jobs; unemployment increased because people were pulled into the labor force, perhaps because of solid wage growth, which increased by 5.2% year-over-year.
More interesting is that the pace of hiring in the household survey accelerated in August and increased at its fastest rate since March 2022. None of the data from the unemployment report would suggest the Fed is likely to do anything different than it has previously indicated.
Meanwhile, CPI is likely still tracking above 8% for August and September, based on the Cleveland Fed estimates. Currently, estimates are for a year-over-year inflation rate of 8.3% for August, and 8.4% for September. Meanwhile, core CPI is forecast to rise by 6.25% in August and 6.6% in September. The increase in CPI for August would be slightly slower than 8.5% for July, while core CPI would be somewhat faster than the 5.9% y/y change.
A rising core CPI and a strong employment report could push the Fed to raise rates by 75 bps in September. While markets are leaning towards a 75 bps rate hike in September, they aren’t convinced, with current odds at just 62%.
On top of that September tends to be, on average over the past 30 years, the weakest month with an average decline of -0.34%. The declines have been as much as 11%, and the gains have been as much as 8.8%.
S&P 500 Valuation Is Rich Versus Bonds
Data and questions around the next Fed meeting will create a lot of volatility in an already weak time of the year. Interest rates have risen dramatically since Jackson Hole, pushing the S&P 500’s valuation to historically high levels relative to the 10-yr yield, with a current spread between the earnings yield and the 10-yr rate now at 2.47%. But given, that spread should be widening because that is what happens when financial conditions tighten, it tells us that stocks are overvalued currently versus bonds.
With a nominal 10-Yr rate hovering around 3.25%, if the spread between the S&P 500 earnings yield and the 10-Yr rate moves up to 3%, it would assume an earnings yield for the S&P 500 of 6.25%, or a PE Ratio of 16, which is about 9% lower than the S&P’s current PE of roughly 17.6. That would equate to a value on the S&P 500 of approximately 3,640 and close to the June lows.
June Lows Are In-Play
The likelihood of the S&P 500 retesting those June lows seems to be increasing, and today’s job data isn’t likely to help. The fact of the matter is that rates are rising, and the August jobs data do not suggest the Fed should slow rate hikes or change its policy path, and the CPI data isn’t likely to either. This means the Fed should remain on course to raise rates to around 4% by the middle of 2023, as the Fed Funds Futures are pricing. Given that, it will be tough for an equity rally to see a sustained advance.
As rates continue to price higher, not only will nominal rates climb, but so will real rates, and currently, the 5-year and 10-Yr TIP rates have climbed right back to or above their cycle highs. This means that if real rates are rising, shouldn’t the earnings yield of the S&P 500 be rising too? After all, they have followed each other this closely for the past five years; shouldn’t that continue well into the future?
Unless, of course, you still think the Fed will make a dovish pivot.