Axios Markets

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πŸ‘‹ Hey, Emily here. I got distracted yesterday by the news coming out of Washington on abortion. I wrote about it if you're interested. But before you click away, read on for the Markets news you need on Fed day. Buckle up.

Today's newsletter, edited by Kate Marino, is 1,102 words, 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: The Fed gets serious about tighter money

Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Big day for Fed chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve's policy announcement this afternoon will feel like something new. It will include the first in-person news conference in more than two years, and take place in a newly renovated building in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, Axios' Neil Irwin writes.

  • But the biggest change is that the Fed, after a methodical six-month buildup, is now going to get aggressive in its monetary tightening campaign, likely with a half-percentage point rate increase and the commencement of shrinking its balance sheet.

Why it matters: We know what the Fed is going to do today. The news will be in what signals chair Jerome Powell sends about just how much further he and his colleagues are willing to go if inflation doesn't start to come down.

State of play: For all the chatter about recession risk that has emerged from Wall Street commentators and corporate executives in recent weeks, most indicators point to an economy that is still robust.

  • The number of new claims for jobless benefits has remained at rock-bottom levels in recent weeks β€” and new numbers out Tuesday showed record levels of job openings and people voluntarily quitting their jobs.
  • Surveys of business conditions like the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index show an economy that isn't roaring ahead as quickly as it was last year but still remains firmly in expansion territory.

Meanwhile, financial markets are doing the Fed's work for it β€” which is to say, tightening credit conditions in ways that should slow spending and help bring inflation down.

In effect, the Fed has succeeded in resetting expectations for policy without creating excessive distress in financial markets or causing a major economic slowdown.

  • As recently as September, the median Fed official envisioned only raising rates by a quarter-percentage point in all of 2022. Now, markets are pricing in rate increases totaling 2.7 percentage points by the end of the year.

The big question: Is that going to be enough to actually subdue the inflationary forces that show signs of becoming entrenched in the economy?

  • Powell's steady approach has been successful at avoiding any major problems for the economy, but it's less clear whether it will get the job done on stabilizing prices.

What to watch: Powell has an opportunity to signal that the "Fed put" is no longer in place. That is to say, the Fed will be disinclined back off of its tightening plans even if markets start to go haywire.

The bottom line: Powell has succeeded at turning the slow-moving ship of the Federal Reserve toward tightening β€” but the question hanging over Wednesday's press conference is how set the ship's course has now become.

2. Charted: Real rates are still pretty low

Data: Federal Reserve; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Federal Reserve; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Fed has shifted expectations around monetary policy dramatically since early November, as noted above, Neil writes.

  • But as large as the swing was, the 10-year real Treasury rate β€” at Tuesday's 0.14% β€” remains far below its 2018 average of 0.83%, and even further below the pre-global financial crisis norm north of 2%.

Why it matters: Despite a dramatic move over the last five months, interest rates are still at levels that by even recent historical standards remain stimulative.

  • Economists believe that real interest rates, or rates after adjusting for the effects of inflation, are what really matter in economic decision-making. They show how much an investment would need to return after inflation to make sense.

3. Catch up quick

πŸ€” Elon Musk wants to take Twitter public, after taking it private. (WSJ)

πŸ›’ The EU announced plans for a phased ban on all Russian oil by year-end. (Axios)

β˜•οΈ Starbucks posts record second-quarter earnings, plans raises for nonunion stores. (NYT)

4. Women board appointees hit new record

Percentage of new Fortune 500 board appointees who are women, by year
Data: Heidrick & Struggles; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Women comprised 45% of all new Fortune 500 board appointments in 2021, a new high, while Black directors were 26% of new appointees, a tad lower than 2020 after a surge that year, according to a report released this morning by executive search and leadership consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, Emily writes.

Why it matters: The yearslong push to diversify boardrooms intensified in 2020 after companies were spurred to action in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd β€” and it appears to be paying off.

  • With companies increasingly expected to take stands on social issues, there's an even greater need for a variety of perspectives, experts say.

By the numbers: A record 43% of all new appointees to these boards were first-time directors β€” a key driver of diversity.

  • Overall, the percentage of women on boards has slowly risen to 29%, from 19% when Heidrick first published this report in 2015. (There was a big uptick in 2017, as the MeToo movement drew major headlines.)
  • In 2009, only 5% of new board appointees were Black, according to data in the report. That number doubled to 10% by 2019 and then surged to 28% in 2020, after the social unrest of that year.

Background: Companies used to justify mostly white male boards by claiming there weren't any other options.

  • It was expected that board members typically had experience as a CEO, or maybe a CFO, and had previously served on a board. Those roles were typically held by white men β€” so you can see the problem.
  • Companies are branching out more now. In 2021, they looked for executives with experience in cybersecurity and sustainability, says Lyndon Taylor, a partner at Heidrick who worked on the report.
  • And a separate report, also released this morning, found that companies are increasingly placing folks with experience in human resources on boards. There are now 211 HR executives β€” a majority are women β€”Β on Russell 3000 boards, a big increase from 2017, according to the report, from Allegis Partners.

What's next: Hispanic and Asian or Asian American directors are still heavily underrepresented at 6% and 9%, respectively. "There's work to be done," says Taylor.

5. πŸ“ˆ Another day, another energy surge

Average on-highway diesel prices in the U.S.
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

Diesel prices are at record levels and U.S. natural gas prices yesterday rose to fresh 13-year highs as the commodity crunch marches on, Axios' Ben Geman writes.

Why it matters: Diesel costs are an inflationary force that pushes up prices for a range of goods. Similarly, natural gas prices affect industrial input costs, home heating and power.

Zoom in: The average nationwide price of diesel rose to $5.51-per-gallon this week, per Energy Department data, an all-time high (if you don't adjust for inflation).

  • Natural gas yesterday climbed well above $8 per million British thermal units before easing. CNBC breaks it down.

What they're saying: AAA's Clay Ingram tells CBS News that diesel demand is rising nationwide.

  • "We’re transporting more and more goods, people are shopping online, people are out spending money again, like they weren’t during COVID," he said.