Treasury Secretary Yellen Hints at Rise in Rates. What to Make of the Signal

Christopher Aluka Berry | Reuters

The prospect of rising rates has spooked investors.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's Tuesday comments about interest rates potentially having to increase down the road to accommodate resurgent economic growth pressured stocks, but not all market analysts are turning negative just yet.

Here's what four of them told CNBC on Tuesday about the former Fed chair's remarks:

Jon Najarian, founder of Market Rebellion, said Yellen is simply putting distance between herself and the Federal Reserve she used to chair:

"That dynamic I think is something that people are a little nervous about. So, taxes for corporates and the combination of Yellen going against [current Fed Chairman] Jay Powell because Powell has been steadfast in that they are not thinking about thinking about thinking about doing anything and she's saying, 'Yeah, but you might have to now.'"

Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock, agreed with Yellen's comments, noting that real rates are in "extremely negative" territory:

"Where are we, negative 88 basis points in 10-year real rates? Listen, that's not the right level. You've got an economy that is growing and it could be well into the high 7s [for] GDP this year and every client call I'm on ... is talking about overheating. Everybody's talking about overheating. Listen, I think the Fed is right [that] most of these costs are transitory and I think most are. When you have a reopening like this, when you have the bid for copper and lumber and energy, you're going to get some extraordinary numbers. And inventory levels have been drawn down across everything, from houses to autos to anything retail. So, you get a pop. And I think most of that is a near-term impact. However, the longer that policy stays this easy, as long as the liquidity in the system is excessive, then you run the risk that you overheat or you run the risk that things, after the exit from this policy, maybe it may have to be a bit more aggressive."

Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel, said Yellen was simply stating the obvious:

"May-October is typically weaker than November to April, and there's a 'buy the rumor, sell the fact' aspect to earnings. We know the earnings were great and the market saw that. That's why it ran up November to April, 27%. But then again, buy the rumor, sell the fact. Yellen's comments didn't help, but the Fed's been skating very close to the edge of the ice. They need to assert at some point that they have independence and Yellen was sort of lobbing the ball in a lateral to Powell by taking some of the heat by saying what's obvious, which is that eventually, if things really pick up, the Fed has to tighten."

Nancy Prial, co-CEO of Essex Investment Management, figured Yellen knew what she was doing:

"She knows what she's saying and I think she's just trying to give the markets some time to digest what is an inevitable rise in rates as the economy continues to heat up. That doesn't mean, however, that that's a rise in rates that's imminent nor does it mean that it's a rise in rates that's going to get to any level that could totally derail either the economic recovery or, frankly, the stock market. So, we think that the market is overreacting to both what will be a slower economic growth rate in the second half as well as potentially higher interest rates by assuming that that means we might be looking at something like 1970s-era inflation, potentially stagflation and all of those great worries. We think that growth will be well above trend line, that the Fed will stay relatively easy and that we're going to see some [price-earnings multiple] compression, but strong enough earnings growth that we'll overcome that."


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