Stocktake: Investors grapple with rate hikes

With the Fed on high alert over inflation, there’s good reason for investors to be nervy

The prospect of multiple US interest rate hikes took centre stage in financial markets last week, with Deutsche Bank becoming the first major bank to predict that the Federal Reserve’s rate-hiking cycle will trigger a recession.

Most strategists still think otherwise, but last week's stock market weakness confirms investors are nervous about rates. The minutes of the Fed's March meeting show that "many" officials would have liked to hike rates by a half percentage point, but didn't do so on account of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Markets were especially spooked by hawkish comments from the ordinarily doveish Fed governor Lael Brainard. There's a lot less talk these days about the so-called Fed put, the idea the Fed will step in if market losses mount. Indeed, former Fed official Bill Dudley says stocks need to fall further in order to tighten financial conditions and rein in soaring inflation.

Right now, markets are pricing in another 225 basis points of interest-rate hikes by the end of 2022. That marks a level of tightening unseen since 1994, so little wonder that investors are nervy.