Rethinking the Prospects of a ‘Soft Landing’

A hotter-than-expected inflation report has stoked new concerns that a “soft landing” may be out of reach.Credit…Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

“No landing”

Markets are still on edge after Tuesday’s hot inflation report, as Wall Street suddenly and sharply discounted the odds of imminent interest rate cuts.

It has also poured cold water on the belief among many investors that the U.S. economy will achieve a “soft landing.”

Why so gloomy? The Consumer Price Index report, which came in above economists’ forecasts, is a stark reminder of the challenges that the Fed faces in bringing down inflation to its 2 percent target. Even after excluding volatile energy and food prices, inflation is holding roughly steady and is well above where the central bank feels comfortable.

Shelter costs, including rents, also rose above expectations, and “supercore inflation,” a measure the Fed closely follows that includes common “services” expenditures — like haircuts and lawyer fees — rose 4.3 year-on-year, its highest level since May, according to Deutsche Bank data.

Markets responded with a jolt. Investors dumped Treasury notes on Tuesday amid concerns that the Fed will keep borrowing costs higher for longer. That pushed the Russell 2000 down nearly 4 percent, its worst slide in 20 months. (That said, S&P 500 futures were rebounding slightly on Wednesday morning as dip-buyers returned, and Britain reported milder-than-expected inflation data that pushed up stocks in London.)

The futures market on Wednesday is pricing in three to four interest rate cuts this year, down from the six to seven projected at the start of the year and all but silencing rate-cut bulls. Such predictions “made no sense in our view,” Mohit Kumar, an economist at Jefferies, wrote in a research note.

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