The Fed’s Struggle With Inflation Has the Markets on Edge

Even 10-year Treasury yields have ascended to the 4 percent range. Compared with stocks, Treasuries in a murky market are, for the moment, exceptionally attractive.

Falling earnings haven’t helped the stock market, either. For the last three months of 2022, the earnings of companies in the S&P 500 declined 3.2 percent from a year earlier, according to the latest I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv. And if you exclude the windfall from the energy sector, where prices were bolstered by Russia’s war in Ukraine, earnings fell 7.4 percent, the data showed.

Corporate prospects for 2023 have begun to dim a bit, too, executives and Wall Street analysts are concluding. On Feb. 21, both Home Depot and Walmart warned that consumer spending had come under strain. The S&P 500 fell 2 percent that day, the worst performance for the short year to that date, in what Howard Silverblatt, a senior analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices, called a “turnaround point” for the stock market.

It’s early yet in 2023, but so far, stock investors are maintaining a relentless focus on the Fed, whose policymakers next meet March 21 and 22 and are all but certain to raise short-term interest rates further. The only questions are by how much, and how high rates will end up before the Fed concludes that it has accomplished its objective.  

But with Mr. Powell aspiring to achieve the performance of his illustrious predecessor Paul A. Volcker, who vanquished inflation in the 1980s and set off two recessions to do it, it’s a fair bet that the Fed won’t back off its rate tightening policy soon.

Bring down inflation and you are likely to be remembered as a hero. Bungle the job and you may well be memorialized as officials in President Gerald R. Ford’s administration have been, for their hapless effort to “whip inflation now.” 

In a widely derided public relations stunt in 1974, when inflation was running above 12 percent, the Ford White House distributed buttons with the WIN acronym, but that administration never beat inflation.


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