Navigating Macro Currents in 2024

  • Risk assets surged to end 2023 as the Federal Reserve blessed market hopes for rate cuts. That momentum could persist for some time as inflation cools.
  • Stocks slid and bond yields rose last week. Data pointing to sticky U.S. wages showed why we think market optimism on inflation may eventually be let down.
  • The U.S. CPI this week will likely show falling goods prices leading inflation lower in 2024. We see supply constraints putting inflation on a rollercoaster.

Risk assets ended 2023 on an upbeat note as the Fed appeared to make a big bet on inflation coming down and growth only gradually slowing. Markets interpreted the Fed's messaging as a green light for aggressive policy easing. The end-2023 rally could keep going well into 2024 as inflation cools further. Yet the jittery start to 2024 for stocks and bonds suggests investors may be nervous about the macro outlook. We stay nimble and think macro risks need to be deliberately managed.

Volatility divergence

The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield closed the year roughly where it started – at about 3.8% – masking a major round trip between 3.3% and 5%. U.S. stocks ended 2023 just below their all-time high largely thanks to the Fed unexpectedly making a big bet for the market by seeming to endorse expectations for aggressive rate cuts at its last policy meeting of the year. That once again highlighted how hopes and disappointments about the Fed drove market flip-flops throughout 2023. The final rally was no different, in our view. It has left equity markets priced for a near-perfect outcome: a soft landing, where inflation falls and central banks sharply cut rates. Market pricing implies they would come to the rescue with even bigger rate cuts if growth risks emerge. That’s why we think expected bond volatility remains high (yellow line in chart) relative to subdued expected volatility in stocks (orange line).