Kingsmill's Investment Miscellanea - Friday January 19th, 2024

January 19, 2024 | Joshua Kingsmill


Dear Client,

Happy new year. First post of 2024. We have been reaching out to clients about their TFSA contributions and top-ups, as well as your RIF and LIF payments, and schedules. So if we haven’t heard from you, we will be at it again over the next few weeks (then into RRSP time, for those non-RIF’ers).


Market action in the first few weeks has been relatively muted, contrasting with the strong gains witnessed towards the end of last year. This moderation can be attributed to a string of slightly stronger global economic data, prompting investors to reassess their expectations for interest rate cuts. We expect the timing and degree of rate cuts to be one of the biggest debates this year. We address this more below.

The Federal Reserve, the central bank in the U.S., decided to hold interest rates steady at its most recent meeting in December. During its post-meeting press conference, Chairman Jerome Powell suggested that the Fed has been faced with three big questions over the past few years: how fast to raise rates, how high to raise them, and the timing and size of cuts. While the first two questions were its predominant focus until recently, the question of rate cuts is now coming into view. The Fed’s December meeting revealed that, on average, policy makers expect to cut interest rates by nearly 0.75% in 2024 and expect the pace of inflation to slow to 2.4% (from over 3.0% today) and the unemployment rate to rise modestly, to 4.1% (from 3.7%).

Unlike the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada does not provide explicit future rate projections. But investors expect Canada’s central bank to similarly pivot towards interest rate cuts. The market is pricing in close to 1.4% in rate cuts by both the Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve this year, with the latter expected to cut as early as March and the former as early as April. Despite the market’s expectations, there are reasons to believe that the Bank of Canada may act sooner and more swiftly than its U.S. counterpart, given its earlier start to rate hikes and Canada’s heightened sensitivity to interest rates due to higher household debt and shorter mortgage terms. Moreover, the Canadian economy has shown early signs of strain from the impact of higher rates with more sluggish GDP growth, weaker consumer spending, and dwindling job gains.

The two factors that should ultimately determine the timing and degree of interest rate cuts are inflation and employment trends. Last year saw a steady decline in the pace of inflation in both Canada and the United States, but some pressures remain. One example is the cost of shelter, which makes up the largest weight within the Consumer Price Index in both countries. It includes categories such as rent and mortgage interest costs, both of which have shown few signs of abating, particularly in Canada. Furthermore, the downward trajectory of inflation has started to flatten after a relatively sharp decline through the first half of the past year. December’s U.S. inflation data, released this past week, even showed a modest uptick. We believe that policymakers at the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve will aim to get inflation sustainably under 3.0% before considering any rate cuts.

The Federal Reserve is also focused on employment as part of its dual mandate. While there has been a moderation in job growth, it is hard to argue that the employment backdrop in the U.S. requires any support from the central bank. In our view, a more meaningful deterioration in the U.S. job market may be required before the Fed considers any move to reduce rates.

I’m not ready to make US election predictions yet, but I will have some interesting posts about what history tells us during election cycles. But it’s the Australian Open, the start of the tennis Grand Slam Season. Djokovic is a lock on the men’s side, and I’m going back to my favorite, Coco to win on the women’s: down under!