The idea when I set out to write this piece was to advise people how to tackle a rising interest rate environment as we proceed through April. The Federal Reserve did its part by raising the Fed funds rate on March 15, but the bond market? Well, that's another story.
Yields initially collapsed rather than rising in response to the Fed's official statement, which came off far more dovish than expected. Markets were actually somewhat relieved that most folks at the Fed were only looking to raise rates three times this year instead of four, and that no attempt was made at all to narrow the central bank's balance sheet.
Not only were bond yields compressed at the time, but much of the "reflation trade" actually came off due to political risk. Down went the dollar, up went gold and down went most of the stock-market sectors that had benefited the most since Donald Trump's election in November.
What sectors did do well in this suddenly changed environment were those that compete directly against bonds, such as utilities, REITs and some telecoms. (That's why those stocks are known as "bond proxies.")
The most important area to watch going forward will be U.S. macroeconomics, and the headline here will be gross domestic product.
That's because the Federal Reserve will have to slow down its schedule of rate hikes going forward unless we get sufficient economic growth. Right now, Fed members aren't seeing much help in inventory-building, although the U.S. manufacturing base is improving.
Retail sales have also been inconsistent, while consumer inflation is there on a year-over-year basis but not month over month. (Besides, those year-over-year comparisons will start getting a lot less friendly in April.)
And then there's oil. Crude prices have come under intense pressure in March and will certainly put the hurt on headline inflation unless we get a rebound.
Still, the Fed seems to have some kind of mandate to raise rates anyway. After years of almost careless and potentially very dangerous monetary policy, there seems to have been a shift in direction almost overnight with the change presidential administrations. (All we really know is that Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari must have missed the meeting where the group reached their new consensus.)
So, we have to assume that the Fed keeps its collective rate-hike motor running. That means that there are really only two scenarios from here: 1) either the U.S. economy grows, making a rising-rate environment appropriate, or 2) the Fed gets out ahead of the economy and forces a recession.
Let's focus on the first option. The only catch is that President Trump's agenda for growth isn't likely be in place until later this year (if that) -- and that assumes it gets past Congress.
Click the banner below to read all of our Trading Strategies columns for April or watch a replay of Jim Cramer's April 5 roundtable video with columnists Douglas Borthwick, Stephen Guilfoyle, Peter Tchir and David Yoe Williams: