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The Manley Macro Memo

Despite a surge in new Covid cases, inflation concerns, supply chain constraints, and labor shortages, the S&P 500 has advanced higher for seven consecutive months, which is its longest winning streak since January 2018.

Despite a surge in new Covid cases, inflation concerns, supply chain constraints, and labor shortages, the S&P 500 reached a record high in August. The S&P 500 has advanced higher for seven consecutive months, which is its longest winning streak since January 2018.

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Inflation is Surging, yet Interest Rates are Falling. What is More Important the Fundamentals, or the Liquidity Flows?

• Despite stronger than expected growth and inflation data, long-term interest rates have plunged over the past month. Many pundits believe that the sharp drop is signaling a peak in growth or pending economic weakness, likely due to the global spread of the COVID delta variant or the economic slowdown in China. While the growth rate may have peaked from an unsustainable level, the economy and inflation are too strong to justify a 1.20% U.S. Treasury bond. We believe that the enormous liquidity created by the global central bankers is overwhelming the fundamentals, driving yields artificially lower and giving investors false signals about the economy’s health.

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The Fed Admitted That Inflation May Not Be Transitory, but Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

Last Wednesday, the Federal Reserve surprised investors by stating that the inflation surge may not be transitory. Also, they revised their 2021 economic forecast revised higher. Real GDP is expected to grow at 7.0%, and inflation was revised significantly higher to 3.4% from 2.4%. Additionally, they signaled that the QE taper debate had started, and interest rates would rise sooner than previously expected. The Fed’s hawkish pivot led to a sharp but brief market decline and a rotation out of the economically sensitive sectors of the market. Although the Fed admitted that the inflationary surge might not be transitory, they continue to print $120 billion per month to buy financial assets, and they do not expect to increase short-term interest rates until 2023. Since inflation is currently 5% and interest rates are 0%, real interest rates (interest rates minus inflation) are the lowest since 1980 (see chart below).

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The Massive Stimulus, Successful Vaccine Rollout, and Better than Expected Growth Drove the S&P 500 to a Record High in March

Since the March 2020 Pandemic-low, the S&P 500 has been on a historic run. Unfortunately, most of this rally was due to a record increase in market valuation. According to Factset, the forward 12-month P/E ratio for the S&P 500 is 22.5, which is 41.5% above the 10-year average of 15.9. By most valuation measurements, the market has never been more expensive (see table below). We believe that this extreme overvaluation will yield muted gains and create a poor risk-reward over the long term.

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The Manley Macro Memo