The path forward for risky assets, including cryptocurrencies, may have become more challenging. The U.S. inflation rate, it turns out, isn’t slowing nearly as much as economists had predicted it would.
The latest reading comes from Tuesday’s release of the U.S. consumer price index, which showed the 12-month inflation rate slowed to 8.3% in August from 8.5% the prior month – a tiny decrease that is likely to keep investors worried about price pressures. The CPI report had been expected to slow to 8.1%. The Federal Reserve’s target for inflation is 2% annually.
Energy prices tumbled, but food prices shot up. The price index for cereals and bakery products rose 1.2% over the course of the month.
Perhaps more importantly, the core CPI rate, which excludes the impact of volatile food and energy prices and is considered a better gauge of demand-driven inflation, rose 0.6% from July, or double what was expected.
The core CPI shows the underlying inflationary pressures remain a concern and warrant a hawkish repricing of the Federal Reserve expectations, according to Jon Turek, author of the Cheap Convexity blog.
What it means for the Federal Reserve
Ahead of the data, interest-rate traders expected the Fed to hike borrowing costs by 75 basis points (0.75 percentage point) at the U.S. central bank’s monetary-policy meeting next week, followed by a 50 basis points move in November and 25 basis points in December. Such moves would have left the benchmark interest rate between 3.75% to 4% at year end. Broadly, traders in traditional markets expected the Fed to pause rate hikes next year and eventually switch to liquidity easing by June 2023.
With inflation proving persistent, however, the Fed may have to delay the anticipated pause and deliver two more 75 bps hikes before slowing the pace in December and January.
Turek tweeted after the CPI release: "I think the pricing assumption now has to be 75, 75, 50, 25. Which is massive shift from the potential of 75, 50, 25, pause. The market now has to bear that adjustment."
Prices for risky assets tumbled after the CPI release, with bitcoin falling from $22,700 to nearly $21,000. Ether, the native token of Ethereum's blockchain, dropped from $1,760 to $1,594, in a sign of the macroeconomic development overpowering the bullish narrative surrounding that blockchain’s Merge – an expected transition this week to a more energy-efficient blockchain system.
The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback's exchange rate against major fiat currencies, including the euro, jumped over 1% to 109.55, snapping a four-day losing streak.
Futures trading in federal funds now reflects a minor probability of the Fed raising rates by 100 basis points next week and suggests the rate-hike cycle peaking at 4.25% in March 2023. The pricing for the so-called terminal rate was 4% before the inflation data.
The Fed has increased the benchmark borrowing rate by 225 basis points this year, roiling risky assets, and has begun unwinding its balance sheet at a pace of $95 billion per month.
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