This morning Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell gave reassuring inflation testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. Prices would rise this year as Americans are able to go out and spend post-pandemic, but while “We do expect that inflation will move up over the course of this year,” he said. “Our best view is that the effect on inflation will be neither particularly large nor persistent.”
As you might expect on that view, the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury dropped 5 basis points to 1.64% as of 2 p.m. New York time on Tuesday, March 23.
On most days recently a drop in Treasury yields like that would have produced a significant rally in stocks. But not today. As of 2 p.m. Ne York time the Standard & Poor’s 500 was off 0.12% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was lower by 0.30%. The NASDAQ Composite was also off–down 0.34%–but the NASDAQ 100 with its heavy weighting toward BIG TECH was up by 0.12% on strength in Amazon (AMZN), ahead by 1.91%, Alphabet (GOOG) higher by 1.40%, and Microsoft (MSFT), picking up 1.72%.
The Russell 2000 small cap index, however, was down a big 2.35%.
What I think we’re seeing is a return to those days when investors and traders used BIG TECH as a safe haven on fears that the economy might not grow as fast as expected. That fear, perhaps more than Powell’s remarks, which are a rehash of his statements of last week, might explain the drop in Treasury yields on an uptick in Treasury prices. It would also explain the big drop in the Russell 2000 since the small cap index has been the most sensitive index to sentiment on the economy recently.
Unlike days when we saw economically sensitive stocks climb when tech sold off and vice-versa (it’s called rotation), today we’re seeing retreats in cyclicals such as Caterpillar (CAT) down 2.95%, and in momentum technology stocks such as chip maker NXP Semiconductors (NXPI), off 4.73%.
Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (who like Powell spoke in the House today) are both set to testify again on Wednesday in front of the Senate Banking Committee.