Financial advisors shrug off Fed’s inflation, interest rate forecasts

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The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve building in Washington.
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Reserve’s new forecasts on interest rates and inflation don’t amount to much for investors and consumers, especially in the short term, according to financial advisors on CNBC’s FA Council.

The Fed on Wednesday sped up its timeframe for raising interest rates from current rock-bottom levels. Rate hikes may start in 2023; the Fed said in March it didn’t expect an increase until at least 2024.

It also sharply raised its inflation projections for the year, to 3.4% from its prior 2.4% estimate.

“None of this really impacts what people are going to be doing the next six months,” said Lee Baker, a certified financial planner and owner of Apex Financial Services in Atlanta, of clients’ financial plans.

“For most clients, candidly, it’s not that big a deal,” he said.

Interest rates

The Fed generally raises interest rates to cool an overheating economy. Officials continue to believe the current upward pressure on consumer prices is temporary.

The central bank cut interest rates in the early days of the Covid pandemic to near zero.

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Clients who’ve been thinking of buying a home or refinancing an existing mortgage may wish to do so while interest rates remain low, advisors said.

“I think clients are somewhat shocked interest rates may increase so soon,” said Winnie Sun, co-founder and managing partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California. “Certainly for mortgages, refinancing, that’s a concern.”

Inflation

Some advisors disputed the Fed’s notion of inflation being a temporary feature of the economy.

Even before the Fed’s Wednesday meeting, Ivory Johnson was positioning clients’ long-term portfolios with larger allocations to commodities, real estate investment trusts, basic materials and energy stocks, which generally fare well as consumer prices rise.

“If we have inflation, I buy things that do well when there’s inflation,” said Johnson, CFP, founder of Delancey Wealth Management, based in Washington. “I’m not emotional about it.

“[Just like] if it’s 80 degrees outside, I’ll put on flip flops and a t-shirt,” he added. “If inflation is indeed transitory the market will let us know and I’ll rotate.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Dec. 2, 2020 in Washington.
Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Other advisors agreed with the Fed’s notion of rising prices being short-lived rather than a mainstay, however.

Cost pressures like supply-chain issues and pent-up demand from consumers who’ve spent much of the last 15 months indoors are likely to wane, Baker said.

“There are things we’re paying significantly more for,” he said. “But broad-based lingering inflation, I just don’t see it.”

Any inflation impact should be at least somewhat blunted for seniors collecting Social Security payments, Baker said. Rising consumer costs helped push the latest estimate for next year’s Social Security cost-of-living adjustment to over 5%.

Of course, the Fed could pivot on interest rates, depending on the trajectory of the U.S. economy.

Investors shouldn’t go all-in on inflation bets like commodities, REITs and Treasury inflation-protected securities given the uncertainty, according to Douglas Boneparth, CFP, president and founder of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.

They’d be better suited with a more measured approach, he said.

“Understand that if you get that trade wrong, it’ll have an impact on your portfolio,” Boneparth said.

“It’s just so uncertain,” he added of the Fed forecasts. “I can’t wrap my head around one year from now, let alone two years from now.

“Anything could happen.”

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