No Exit

So, Powell and friends started talking

‘bout talking, and markets were rocking

Though they won’t stop buying

More bonds, they are trying

To exit QE, which is shocking

The question is how long they last

Ere haunted by all of their past

As Sartre made clear

No Exit is near

Be careful, the trouble is vast

Technically, I am out of the office today and tomorrow, but felt that I needed to quickly opine on yesterday’s FOMC meeting.

While the FOMC statement was virtually identical to the April statement, not really even mentioning the fact that inflation is running much hotter than they had obviously expected, the big news was the dot plot, where the median expectation changed to 0.50% of rate rises by the end of 2023.  Previously, that rate was still expected to be 0.00%, so clearly at least some FOMC members have figured out that inflation is rising.  Substantial further progress on their goal of maximum employment has not yet been made and remains “a way’s off.”

But the market focused on the dot plot as it is the first indication that tighter policy may be coming.  In fact, in the press conference, Powell explicitly said that this was the meeting where they began to talk about talking about policy changes, so perhaps that tired phraseology will be discarded.

The bond market reacted in quite an interesting manner, as every maturity up to the 10-year saw yields rise, but the 30-year was unchanged on the day.  The fact that the 30-year ignored all the fireworks implies that market opinions on growth and inflation have not really changed, just the timing of the eventual movement by the Fed has been altered.  Stock prices sold off a bit, but not very hard, far less than 1.0%, but boy did precious metals get whacked, with gold down nearly 3% on the day and a further 1% this morning.

And finally, the dollar was the star of the markets, rallying against everyone of its major counterparts, with the biggest laggards the commodity focused currencies like NOK (-2.7%), SEK (-2.5%), MXN (-2.5%) and ZAR (-2.3%).  But it was a universal rout.  Markets had been getting shorter and shorter dollars as the narrative had been the rest of the world was catching up to the US and trusting that the Fed was no nearer raising rates now than in April.  I’m guessing some of those opinions have changed.

However, my strong suspicion is that nothing really has changed and that the Fed is still a very long way from actually tapering, let alone raising rates.  Ultimately, the biggest risk they face, at least the biggest risk they perceive, is that if they start to tighten and equity prices decline sharply, they will not be able to sit back and let that happen.  They have well and truly painted themselves into a corner with No Exit.  Thus far, the movement has been insignificant.  But if it begins to build, just like the Powell Pivot on Boxing Day in 2018, the Fed will be back to promising unlimited liquidity forever.  And the dollar, at that point will suffer greatly.

For those who are dollar sellers, take advantage of this movement.  It may last a week or two but will not go on indefinitely.  At least sell some!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Getting Upset

The Chinese are getting upset

Commodity prices, as yet

Continue to rise

As shrinking supplies

Now pose, to their model, a threat

So, naturally, what did they do?

They ordered state firms to eschew

Stockpiling provisions

As now all decisions

Will come from Beijing ‘pon review

With the FOMC meeting on virtually everyone’s mind this morning, market activity overall has been muted.  However, the one place in the world that doesn’t revolve around the Fed is China, and news from there last night is quite interesting.  You may recall my quick story about the Department of Price two weeks’ ago and how that ‘august’ institution warned commodity hoarders and speculators to stop what they were doing.  Well, apparently, not enough people listened to those warnings as last night two more Orwellian entities in China joined the conversation regarding commodity prices.  The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) ordered companies under its purview, the SOE’s, to “control risks and limit their exposure to overseas commodities markets”.  This was clearly the stick to accompany the carrot dangled by the National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration, which has indicated it will soon release state stockpiles of copper, aluminum and zinc amongst other metals.

It is obvious that China has figured out that rising commodity prices may soon start to pass through from the factory to the consumer and drive CPI higher on the mainland.  President Xi is clearly concerned that rising prices could lead to some political unrest given that the bargain he has made with his citizens is to enhance their lives economically so he can control all the levers of power.  Thus, if inflation starts to rise more seriously, the population may call his leadership into question.

The problem for China, however, is that while in the past, they had been the marginal buyer of virtually all commodities as they grew their economic capacity dramatically, that situation no longer holds.  Yes, they still have an impact, but in this post-Covid environment where the rest of the world is rebounding very quickly, demand for commodities outside of China is growing rapidly.  But perhaps more importantly, because the previous decade saw commodity prices lag financial prices, investment in the sector was greatly reduced.  This has led to reduced supplies of many critical things and now that demand is resurgent, not surprisingly the prices of copper, steel and other commodities have been rising rapidly even if China isn’t buying as much as they used to.

Adding to this dynamic is the great conundrum of ESG.  On the one hand, ESG’s goals are to reduce environmental impact of economic activity which has largely played out as trying to substitute electricity for fossil fuels as a power source.  On the other hand, in order to electrify economies, the amount of metals like steel and copper required to achieve the stated goals is dramatically higher than the current model.  So, reducing investment in commodity producers results in much higher prices for the very commodities needed to achieve ESG goals in the long run.  While this is not the only argument to rebut the Fed’s transitory inflation story, it is an important part of the inflationists’ views.  China’s actions will only have a very temporary impact on the prices of the commodities in question, but the long-term demand is here to stay.  Until investment in extraction of commodities increases sufficiently to bring more capacity online, odds are that commodity prices will continue to rise, whether Xi Jinping likes it or not.  And if input prices continue to rise, at some point soon, so will prices of end products.  We have been witnessing the beginnings of that trend, but I fear it has much further to go.

Interestingly, despite all the sturm und drang in Beijing about metals prices, after a sharp decline yesterday, this morning they are edging higher (Cu +0.2%, Al +0.1%, Fe +0.5%, Steel +2.8%) although not nearly reversing yesterday’s moves.  If you ever wanted proof that China no longer calls the shots in commodities, here is exhibit A.

Today Chairman Jay will expound

On growth and its stunning rebound

But do not expect

That he will project

Some changes will shortly gain ground

The other story today, really the biggest for our session, is the FOMC meeting.  Broadly speaking, expectations are that the Fed will not make any policy changes of note, although there will clearly be some tweaking to the statement.  They cannot ignore the 5.0% CPI reading, I think, and they will certainly focus on the idea that the employment situation isn’t improving as rapidly as they would like.  And ultimately, for now, it is the latter issue that will continue to inform policy choices.  So tapering is not going to be on the menu, and when Powell is asked in the press conference, as he surely will be, I expect a response along the lines of, substantial further progress needs to be made before they will change things.

If I were to assess the risks, it feels like there is more risk of a hawkish outcome than a dovish one as the inflation story will not go away.  But that implies to me that the market is according a hawkish twist some real probability, so the big surprise to markets would be if they were excessively dovish.  However, I think Powell will do everything he can to be as nondescript as possible, stay on message and there will be very little movement.

A brief recap of markets overnight shows that Asian equities suffered, led by Shanghai (-1.1%).  Not only are they dealing with rising commodity prices, but the data released (Retail Sales, IP and Fixed Asset Investment) all disappointed vs. expectations.  China’s negativity bled into the Nikkei (-0.5%) and Hang Seng (-0.7%) as well.  Europe, on the other hand, has gone nowhere ahead of the Fed, with virtually every equity index within 0.1% of yesterday’s closes.  It should be no surprise that US futures markets are also essentially unchanged ahead of the Fed.

As to the bond market, we are beginning to see a touch of strength with yields declining ever so slightly.  Treasuries are lower by 0.5bps, while Bunds (-1.1bps), OATs (-0.9bps) and Gilts (-0.7bps) are also performing reasonably well ahead of this afternoon’s announcements.  It remains remarkable to me that with inflation rising universally, bond yields continue to ignore the situation.  One has to give credit to the central banks for selling their transitory story.

In the FX markets, the picture is mixed with gainers and losers evenly split in the G10.  AUD and NZD (+0.3% each) lead the way higher, although there does not appear to be a clear catalyst implying this is a positioning issue.  GBP (+0.25%) has gained on the back of slightly higher than expected CPI readings (2.1% vs. 1.9% expected), as traders look for more concrete tightening of policy there.  On the downside, both NOK and SEK have fallen by 0.35%, despite oil’s modest gains and a lack of other news.  Again, this feels more technical than fundamental.

EMG currencies are also little changed overall, with a touch of weakness seen in the APAC bloc overnight, but only on the order of -0.1%, while RUB (+0.3%) and MXN (+0.25%) are the leaders, clearly helped by oil’s ongoing gains, but also seeming to benefit from some political stories.

Data this morning bring Housing Starts (exp 1630K) and Building Permits (1730K), but they will not be noticed with the Fed story coming later this afternoon.  Yesterday’s data was mixed at best with Retail Sales disappointing for May but seeing large positive revisions in April to offset, while PPI once again printed at much higher than expected levels (6.6%).  But let’s face it, today is Fed day and we are unlikely to see much movement until at least 2:00 when the statement is released if not until 2:30 when Chairman Powell starts to speak.  At this time, any hawkishness is very likely to support the dollar with the opposite true as well, a dovish tilt will lead to a dollar decline.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

No Yang, Only Yin

According to every newspaper

The Fed’s getting ready to taper

With late Twenty-two

The popular view

Of when, QE, they will escape(r)

But what if, before they begin

To taper, to Powell’s chagrin

The bond market tanks

As traders and banks

Believe there’s no yang, only yin

The Fed begins its two-day meeting this morning and the outcome remains the primary topic of conversation within every financial market.  The growing consensus is that there will be some discussion in the meeting of when the Fed should begin to reduce their QE purchases as well as what form that should take.  Given the extraordinary heat in the housing market, there have been numerous calls for the Fed to stop buying mortgage-backed securities first as that market hardly needs any more support.  In the end, however, the details of how they choose to adjust policy matters less than the fact that they are choosing to do so at all.

As pointed out yesterday, the bond market’s rally thus far in Q2 appears to be far more related to the lack of new Treasury supply than increasing demand and declining concerns over future inflation.  If that view is correct, then discussing the timing of tapering QE will seem quite premature.  It is true Treasury Secretary Yellen said that higher interest rates would be a good thing, but it seems highly likely she was not thinking of 10-year yields at 3.0% or more, rather somewhere just south of 2.0%.  In other words, a modest increase from current levels.  History, however, shows that markets rarely correct in a modest manner, rather they tend to move to extremes before retracing to a new equilibrium.  Thus, even if 2.0% is a new equilibrium (and I don’t believe that will be the case) do not be surprised to see yields significantly higher first.

In this view, the impact on markets worldwide is likely to be significant.  It seems unlikely that equity markets anywhere will respond positively to higher interest rates at all, let alone sharply higher rates.  As well, bond markets will, by definition, have been falling rapidly with much higher yields, not just in the US but elsewhere as well.  As to the dollar, it would seem that it will also be a big beneficiary of higher US yields, arguably with USDJPY the most impacted.  A quick look at recent correlations between different currencies and US 10-year yields shows the yen is the only major currency that has a significant correlation to yields (0.46).  But I would not discount the idea that the dollar will rally versus pretty much the rest of the G10 as well as the EMG bloc in a situation where dollar yields are rising sharply.  Consider that in this situation, we will likely be looking at a classic risk-off scenario when the dollar tends to perform best.

Of course, there are many in the camp who believe that the central banking community will remain in control of markets and that inflation is transitory thus allowing them to adjust policy at their preferred pace.  It is this scenario that Ms Yellen clearly is expecting, or at least describing in her desire for higher yields.

And this is the crux of the market’s future decisions; will central banks be able to slowly reduce monetary accommodation as economies around the world slowly return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, or will the dramatic increase in government debt issuance force central banks to maintain their QE programs in order to prevent the economic chaos that could result from sharply higher interest rates?  While my money is on the latter, it remains too soon to determine which broad outcome will occur.  It is also not clear to me that tomorrow’s FOMC announcement is going to be that big a deal in the long run, as it seems doubtful there will be any actual policy changes, even if they begin to discuss how they might do so in the future.  Remember, talk is cheap, even central bank forward guidance!

Markets remain in a holding pattern ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and Powell’s press conference, although there have been some idiosyncratic moves overnight.  For instance, while Japanese equity markets continue to rally (Nikkei +1.0%) on the back of optimism regarding the Olympics and the idea that Covid inspired lockdowns will be ending soon, the same was not true in China where the Hang Seng (-0.7%) and Shanghai (-0.9%) markets both suffered after the PBOC failed to inject any additional liquidity into the money markets there.  With quarter-end approaching, demand for funds by financial institutions is rising and the fact that the PBOC continues to be somewhat parsimonious has been a key support for the renminbi, but not really helped the equity markets there.  Remember, China is quite concerned over what had been a growing housing bubble, and this is designed to help restrict the growth of that situation.

European equity markets are somewhat mixed this morning as the major indices have performed well (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.3%) but both Italy (-0.2%) and Spain (-0.5%) are lagging on the day.  The data of note has been CPI which showed that Germany (+2.5%) continues to feel the most inflationary pressure, while both France (+1.8%) and Italy (+1.2%) remain unable to find much inflationary impulse at all.  This is certainly a far cry from the situation here in the US and speaks to the idea that the ECB is not likely to begin tapering anytime soon.  In fact, it would not be surprising if they wind up either extending PEPP or expanding the original QE known as APP.  US futures, meanwhile, are little changed at this hour after yesterday’s mixed session.

Global bond markets are on hold this morning with none of the major nations seeing movement of even 1 basis point, despite yesterday’s Treasury sell-off raising 10-year yields by nearly 6 bps.  That movement has been described as technical in nature given the complete lack of new information seen.

On the commodity front, oil (WTI +0.8%) continues to power higher driving the entire energy complex in that direction but the rest of the space has seen quite a different outcome.  Precious metals (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.8%) continue their recent weak performance while industrial metals (Cu -3.5%, Al -1.3%, Sn -2.1%) have been absolutely crushed.  Agricultural products are mostly softer on the weather story, although soybeans is bucking that trend with a modest gain on the day.

As to the FX market, the dollar is mixed in both G10 and EMG blocs.  In the G10, AUD (-0.2%) has suffered on the back of dovish RBA Minutes released last night as they indicated it was premature to discuss tapering.  CAD (-0.3%) appears to be suffering on the back of the base metals decline and the pound (-0.25%) is on its back foot after slightly disappointing employment data.  Interestingly, NOK is unchanged on the day despite oil’s rally and CHF’s 0.1% gain, which leads the pack appears to be technical in nature.

In the EMG bloc, TRY (-1.3%) is suffering after the US-Turkey meeting at the G7 meetings was less fruitful than hoped with no breakthroughs achieved.  HUF (-0.7%) is declining after conflicting statements from a central bank member regarding a short-term liquidity facility has traders uncertain if policy accommodation is going to be ended soon or not.  Remember, uncertainty breeds contempt in markets.  Away from those two, however, the rest of the block saw very small movements with no significant stories.

On the data front, we get two important pieces this morning; Retail sales (exp -0.7%, +0.4% ex autos) and PPI (6.2%, 4.8% ex food & energy).  In addition, at 8:30 we see Empire Manufacturing (22.7) and then later we see IP (0.7%) and Capacity Utilization (75.1%).  Retail Sales is likely to dominate the discussion unless PPI is really high, above 7.0%.  But in the end, markets continue to wait for tomorrow’s FOMC, so large movement still seems unlikely today.  That said, if we do see Treasury yields creeping higher, I expect the dollar to perform pretty well.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Hard to Explain

For those who believe that inflation

Is soon to explode ‘cross the nation

It’s hard to explain

Why yields only wane

Resulting in angst and vexation

But there is a possible clue

That might help the bond bears’ world view

In Q1 Ms. Yellen

Had Treasury sellin’

More bonds than the Fed could accrue

However, that’s no longer true

As Powell, through all of Q2

Will buy more each week

Than Janet will seek

To sell.  Lower yields then ensue.

With the FOMC meeting on the near horizon, traders are loath to take large positions in case there is a major surprise.  At this point, the market appears to broadly believe that any tapering talk is not going to happen until the Jackson Hole meeting in August, so the hawks are not expecting a boost.  At the same time, there is virtually no expectation that the Fed would consider increasing QE, thus the doves remain reliant on the transitory inflation narrative.  As it stands, the doves continue to hold the upper hand as while last week’s CPI print was shockingly high,  there has been much written about the drivers of that number are all due to level off shortly, and inflation will soon head back to its old 1.5%-2.0% range.

One of the things to which the doves all point is the 10-year yield and how it has done nothing but decline since the beginning of the quarter.  Now, that is a fair point, but the timing is also quite interesting.  While pundits on both sides of the discussion continue to point to inflation expectations and supply chain breakages and qualitative measures, there is something that has gotten far less press, but could well account for the counterintuitive movement in Treasury yields amid much higher inflation prints: the amount of Treasuries purchased by the Fed vs. the amount of new Treasuries issued by the Treasury.

In Q1, the US government issued net $342 billion while the Fed bought $240 billion in Treasury securities as part of QE.  (Remember, the other $120 billion was in mortgage-backed securities).  Given that foreign government buying of Treasuries has virtually disappeared, it should be no surprise that yields rose in order to attract buyers.  Q2, however, has seen a very different dynamic, as the US government has only issued $70 billion this quarter while the Fed continues to buy $240 billion each quarter.  With a price insensitive buyer hoovering up all the available securities and more, it is no surprise that Treasury yields have fallen.  Why, you may ask, has the Treasury only issued $70 billion in new debt?  Two things are driving that situation; first, Q2 is the big tax payment quarter of the year, so lots of cash flows into the Treasury; and second, the Treasury at the end of last year had $1.6 trillion in cash in their General Account at the Fed, which is essentially the government’s checking account.  However, they have drawn those balances down by half, thus have not needed to issue as much debt.

It’s funny how the move in yields just might be a simple supply/demand story, but that is not nearly as much fun as the narrative game.  So, let’s take a glimpse into Q3 planned Treasury issuance, which is widely available on the Treasury’s own website.  “During the July – September 2021 quarter, Treasury expects to borrow $821 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-September cash balance of $750 billion.”  The Fed, of course, is expected to buy another $240 billion in Treasuries in Q3, however, that appears to be a lot less than expected issuance.  My spidey-sense is tingling here, and telling me that come July, we are going to start to see yields turn higher again.  Far from the idea of tapering, if yields are rising sharply akin to Q1’s price action, we could see the Fed increase QE!  After all, somebody needs to buy those bonds.  And while this will be going on in the background, what we will largely read about is the changes in the narrative and inflation expectations.  As Occam pointed out with his razor, the simplest explanation is usually the best.

If this, admittedly, rough analysis has any validity, it is likely to have some very big impacts on markets in general, and on the dollar in particular.  In fact, if yields do reverse and head higher, especially if we move toward that 2.0% 10-year yield (or further) look for the dollar to find a lot of support.

As to market activity today, things remain fairly quiet with the recent positive risk attitude intact, but hardly excessively so.  Starting with equities in Asia, the Nikkei (+0.75%) had a nice gain after a better than expected IP print but was lonely with a holiday in China and through much of the continent keeping other markets closed.  Europe is in the green, but the gains are mostly modest (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.4%) as a slightly better than expected IP print along with continued dovish comments from Madame Lagarde help underpin the equity markets there.  Meanwhile, US futures are also modestly higher, but the NASDAQ’s 0.3% rise is by far the largest.

Turning to the bond market this morning, Treasury yields have backed up 0.8bps, but remain well below the 1.50% level which was seen as key support.  As per the above, I imagine that it will be a month before the real fireworks begin.  In Europe, while we did hear from Lagarde, we also heard from uber-hawk Robert Holtzmann, Austria’s central bank president, who was adamant that barring another Covid related shutdown, the PEPP will end in March.  Italian BTP’s were the most impacted bond from those comments with yields rising 2.0bps, while the main markets are seeing virtually no movement this morning.

In the commodity space, there is a real dichotomy today with oil (+0.7%) continuing its recent rally while gold (-1.1%) has fallen sharply.  Base metals have been mixed with relatively modest movement, but agricultural prices have fallen sharply (Soybeans -0.8%, Wheat -2.6%, Corn -2.8%) which appears to be a response to improved weather conditions.

Finally, the dollar has no real direction this morning.  NOK (+0.35%) is the leading gainer in the G10 on the back of oil’s rally but after that, there is a mix of gainers and losers, none of which have moved 0.2% implying no real new driving forces.  In the EMG bloc, last night saw KRW (-0.5%) catch up to Friday’s dollar rally, and this morning we see ZAR (-0.45%) as the worst performer on what seems to be market technicals, with traders beginning to establish new ZAR shorts after a very strong rally during the past year.  Some think it has gone too far.  But really, the FX market is not terribly interesting right now as we all await the Fed on Wednesday.

On the data front, there is some important information coming as follows:

Tuesday Retail Sales -0.6%
-ex autos 0.4%
PPI 0.5% (6.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (4.8% Y/Y)
IP 0.6%
Capacity Utilization 75.1%
Wednesday Housing Starts 1640K
Building Permits 1730K
FOMC Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 360K
Continuing Claims 3.42M
Philly Fed 31.0
Leading Indicators 1.3%

Source: Bloomberg

So, while tomorrow will see much discussion regarding the growth narrative after Retail Sales, the reality is everybody is simply focused on the Fed on Wednesday.  Until then, I expect range trading.  After that…

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Yields Are Repressed

You have to be mighty impressed
The bond market’s not even stressed
Although CPI
Has reached a new high
One wonders if yields are repressed

Clearly, there is only one story of import these days, and that is whether or not inflation is transitory.  Chairman Powell and his minions have spent the last several months harping on this idea, and although there was a time when several FOMC members seemed to get nervous and wanted to discuss tapering QE, it seems highly likely that next week’s FOMC meeting will focus on the fact that “substantial progress” has not yet been made toward the Fed’s goals of maximum employment and 2% average inflation.  Well, at least on the goal of maximum employment.  It seems pretty clear that they have made some progress on the inflation front.

While the headline Y/Y print of 5.0% was clearly impressive, and the highest since August 2008, personally, I am more impressed with the core M/M print of 0.7% as that is not impacted by what happened during the pandemic.  And the fact that this followed last month’s 0.9% print could indicate that inflation is becoming a bit less transitory.  But the Fed has done a wonderful job of selling its story.  One has to believe that Chairman Powell could not have wanted a better outcome than yesterday’s market price action with the S&P 500 making new highs while the bond market rallied sharply with the 10-year yield falling 6 basis points to 1.43%.

For a moment, let us try to unpack this price action.  On the one hand, it is easy to understand the equity rally as the decline in nominal yields alongside the rising recorded inflation has led to a dramatic fall in real yields.  One view, which many utilize, is that real 10-year yields are simply the 10-year yield less the current headline CPI rate.  Of course, right now, that comes to -3.57%, a level only seen a handful of times in the past, all of which occurred during significant inflationary periods in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Negative real yields are a boon for stocks, but historically are awful for the dollar and yet the dollar actually rallied slightly yesterday.  It seems to me that a more consistent outcome would require the dollar to decline sharply from here.  After all, even using Bund yields, currently -0.284%, and Eurozone CPI (2.0%), one sees real yields in the Eurozone far higher (-2.284%) than here in the US.  Something seems amiss.

Something else to consider is bond positioning.  There continues to be a great deal of discussion pointing to the bond market rally as a massive short squeeze.  Last week’s CFTC data was hardly indicative of that type of movement, although we will learn more this afternoon.  However, there is another place where both hedge funds and retail investors play, the ETF market, and when it comes to bond speculation, TLT is the product of choice.  Interestingly, more than 37% of the shares outstanding have been shorted in this ETF, a pretty good indication that there were a lot of bets for a higher yield.  But the word is that a significant portion of these shorts were closed out yesterday, on the order of $7 billion in short covering in total, which would certainly explain the sharp rally in the bond market.  This begs the question, is the price action technical in nature rather than a reflection of the views that inflation is truly transitory?  The problem with this question is we will not be able to answer it with any certainty for at least another three to four months.  But for now, the Fed has the upper hand.  In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to adjust policy next week at all.  Why taper if the current policy mix is working?

Speaking of policy mixes that seem to be working, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ECB meeting yesterday resulted in exactly…nothing.  Policy was left unchanged, Madame Lagarde promised to continue to buy assets at a faster pace than the first quarter, and then she spent an hour in her press conference saying virtually nothing.  It may have been her finest performance in the role.

The bond market seems to have made up its mind that the Fed is correct although there remain many pundits who disagree.  I expect that we will be continuing this discussion all summer long and with every high CPI print, you can look for the punditry to pump up the volume of their critiques of the Fed. However, we need only see one dip in the data for the Fed to claim victory and move on from the inflation discussion.  Next month’s CPI report will truly be important as the base effects will have disappeared.  Last year, the June M/M CPI was 0.5%.  If inflation is truly with us, we need to see M/M in June 2021 to be at least that high, if not a repeat of the 0.6%-0.8% numbers we have been seeing lately.  Between now and then we will see a number of price indicators including the Fed’s favorite core PCE.  For the past several months, every price indicator has been high and surprising on the high side.  The next months’ worth of data will be very important to both the Fed and the markets.  Enjoy the ride.

With two of the three key near-term catalysts now out of the way, all eyes will turn to next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting.  But that leaves us 4 sessions to trade in the interim.  Right now, with the fed narrative of transitory inflation dominating, it is easy to expect continued risk-on market performance.  Interestingly, that was not actually the case in Asia as the Nikkei (0.0%) was flat and Shanghai (-0.5%) fell although the Hang Seng (+0.35%) managed to close higher on the day.  Europe, however, got the memo and is green across the board (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.5%).  US futures, too, are picking up buyers as they all trade 0.25% or so higher at this hour.  

Meanwhile, in the bond market, Treasury yields have backed up 1.3bps, which looks far more technical than fundamental.  After all, they have fallen 18 bps in the past week, a rebound is no surprise.  However, European sovereign markets were closed before the bond party really started yesterday afternoon and they are in catch up mode today.  Bunds (-2.0bps) and OATS (-2.1bps) are performing well, but nothing like Gilts (-4.6bps), nor like the PIGS, all of which are seeing yield declines of at least 4bps.

Commodity prices are generally higher led by oil (WTI +0.5%) with the industrial metals all performing well (Cu +1.9%, Fe +1.0%, Sn +0.6%) although despite the dramatic decline in yields, gold (-0.5%) continues to underperform.  That feels like it is going to change soon.

Finally, in FX markets, the dollar is king of the G10, rising against all of its counterparts here with NZD (-0.4%) and SEK (-0.4%) leading the way down.  While the kiwi price action appears to be technical after having seen a decent rally lately, Sweden’s krona continues to suffer from its lower CPI print yesterday, once again delaying any idea that they may need to tighten policy in the near term.  The rest of the bloc is softer, but the movement has been far less impressive.

What makes that price action interesting is the fact that EMG currencies have actually had a much better performance with IDR (+0.4%), KRW (+0.4%) and TRY (+0.4%) all showing modest strength.  In Turkey, FinMin comments regarding the divergence between CPI and PPI were taken somewhat hawkishly.  In Seoul, a BOK governor mentioned the idea that one or two rate hikes should not be seen as tightening given the current record low level of interest rates (currently 0.50%).  However, it seems the market would see 50bps of tightening as tightening.  And lastly, the rupiah continues to benefit from foreign buying of bonds with inflows rising for a third consecutive week.

Data this morning brings Michigan Sentiment (exp 84.4) and careful attention will be paid to the inflation expectation readings, with the 1yr expected at 4.7%.  Remember, the Fed relies on those well-anchored inflation expectations, so if they are rising here, that might cause a little indigestion in Washington.

At this stage, just as we are seeing the bond market rally ostensibly on short covering, my sense is the dollar is behaving in the same way.  The data and rates would indicate the dollar should fall, but it continues to grind higher right now.  In the end, “the fundamentals things apply, as time goes by”1, and right now, they all point to a weaker dollar.  

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

1.	Apologies to Wilson Dooley 

Out of Gas

Though prices are forecast to rise
The Treasury market implies
That Jay has it right
And this is the height
Inflation will reach at its highs

Instead, once the base effects pass
Inflation will run out of gas
So there is no need
For Powell to heed
The calls to halt QE en masse

This morning we finally get to learn about two of the three potential market catalysts I outlined on Monday, as the ECB announces their policy decision at 7:45 EDT with Madame Lagarde speaking at a press conference 45 minutes later.  And, as it happens, at 8:30 EDT we will also see the May CPI data (exp 0.5% M/M, 4.7% Y/Y headline; 0.5% M/M, 3.5% Y/Y ex food & energy).  Obviously, these CPI prints are far higher than the Fed target of an average of 2.0% over time, but as we have been repeatedly assured, these price rises are transitory and due entirely to base effects therefore there is no need for investors, or anybody for that matter, to fret.

And yet…one cannot help but notice the rising prices that we encounter on a daily basis and wonder what the Fed, and just as importantly, the bond market, is thinking.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the current inflation discussion is that despite an enormous amount of discussion on the topic, and anecdotes galore about rising prices, the one market that would seem to be most likely to respond to these pressures, the Treasury market, has traded in exactly the opposite direction expected.  Yesterday, after a very strong 10-year auction, where the coverage ratio was 2.58 and the yield fell below 1.50%, it has become clear that bond investors have completely bought into the Fed’s transitory story.  All of the angst over the massive increases in fiscal spending and huge growth in the money supply have not made a dent in the view that inflation is dead.

Recall that as Q1 ended, 10-year yields were up to 1.75% and forecasters were falling all over themselves to revise their year-end expectations higher with many deciding on the 2.25%-2.50% area as a likely level for 10-year yields come December.  The economy was reopening rapidly and expectations for faster growth were widespread.  The funny thing is that those growth expectations remain intact, yet suddenly bond investors no longer seem to believe that growth will increase price pressures.  Last week’s mildly disappointing NFP report is a key reason as it was the second consecutive report that indicated there is still a huge amount of labor slack in the economy and as long as that remains the case, wage rises ought to remain capped.  The counter to that argument is the heavy hand of government, which is both increasing the minimum wage and paying excessive unemployment benefits thus forcing private companies to raise wages to lure workers back to the job.  In effect, the government, with these two policies, has artificially tightened the labor market and historically, tight labor markets have led to higher overall inflation.

The last bastion of the inflationists’ views is that the recent rally in Treasuries has been driven by short-covering and that has basically been completed thus opening the way for sellers to reemerge.  And while I’m sure that has been part of the process, my take, also anecdotal, is that fixed income investors truly believe the Fed at this time, despite the Fed’s extraordinarily poor track record when it comes to forecasting literally anything.  

As an example, two weeks ago, I was playing golf with a new member of my golf club who happened to be a portfolio manager for a major insurance company.  We spent 18 holes discussing the inflation/deflation issue and he was 100% convinced that inflation is not a problem.  More importantly, he indicated his portfolio is positioned for that to be the case and implied that was the house view so his was not the only portfolio so positioned.  This helps explain why Treasury yields are at 1.49%, 25 basis points lower than on April 1.  However, it also means that while today’s data, whatever it is, will not be conclusive to the argument, as the summer progresses and we get into autumn, any sense that the inflation rate is not heading back toward 2.0% will likely have major market consequences.  Stay tuned.

As to the ECB, it seems highly unlikely that they will announce any policy changes this morning with the key issue being their discussion of the pace of QE purchases.  You may recall that at the April meeting, the key words were, “the Governing Council expects purchases under PEPP over the current quarter to continue to be conducted at a significantly higher pace than during the first months of the year.”  In other words, they stepped up the pace of QE to roughly €20 billion per week, from what had been less than €14 billion prior to that meeting.  While the data from Europe has improved since then, and reopening from pandemic induced restrictions is expanding, it would be shocking if they were to change their view this quickly.  Rather, expectations are for no policy change and no change in the rate of QE purchases for at least another quarter.  The inflationary impulse in the Eurozone remains far lower than in the US and even though they finally got headline CPI to touch 2.0% last month, there is no worry it will run away higher.  Remember, too, there is no way the ECB can countenance a stronger euro as it would both impair its export competitiveness as well as import deflation.  As long as the Fed continues to buy bonds at the current rate you can expect the ECB to do the same.

In the end, we can only wait and see what occurs.  Until then, a brief recap of markets shows that things have continued to trade in tight ranges as investors worldwide await this morning’s news.  Equity markets in Asia were very modestly higher (Nikkei +0.3%, Shanghai +0.5%, Hang Seng 0.0%) and in Europe the movement has been even less pronounced (DAX +0.1%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 +0.3%).  US futures are mixed as well with the three major indices within 0.2% of closing levels.

Bond markets, after a strong rally yesterday, have seen a bit of profit taking with Treasury yields edging higher by 0.8bps while Europe (Bunds +1.0bps, OATs +1.6bps, Gilts +0.7bps) have moved up a touch more.  But this is trader position adjustments ahead of the news, not investors making wholesale portfolio changes.

Commodity markets are mixed with crude oil (+0.1%) barely higher while precious metals (Au -0.5%, Ag -0.4%) are under a bit of pressure.  Base metals, however, are seeing more selling pressure (Cu -1.5%, Al -0.2%, Sn -0.7%) while foodstuffs are mixed as wheat is lower though corn and soybeans have edged higher.

Finally, in the FX market, the G10 is generally mixed with very modest movement except for one currency, NOK (-0.5%) which has fallen sharply after CPI data came out much lower than expected thus relieving pressure on the Norgesbank to tighten policy anytime soon.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+0.6%) is the leading gainer after its C/A surplus was released at a much stronger than expected 5.0% indicating finances in the country are improving.  But away from that, things have been much less exciting as markets await today’s data and ECB statements.

In addition to the CPI data this morning, as it is Thursday, we will see Initial Claims (exp 370K) and Continuing Claims (3.65M).  Interestingly, those may be more important data points as the Fed is clearly far more focused on employment than on inflation.  But they will not be sensational, so will not get the press.  FWIW my money is on a higher than expected CPI print, 5.0% or more with nearly 4.0% ex food & energy.  However, even if I am correct, it is not clear how big a market impact it will have beyond a very short-term response.  In the end, if Treasury yields continue to fall, I believe the dollar will follow.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf


 


How Long Can They Wait?

While prices worldwide are all rising
Most central banks keep emphasizing
That they have no fear
And later this year
Their efforts will be stabilizing

But every time data’s released
It seems that inflation’s increased
How long can they wait
Ere they contemplate
It’s time QE should be deceased?

It has been another extremely dull day in financial markets as participants await the next catalyst, arguably coming tomorrow in the form of either a surprise from the ECB, a low probability event, or a surprise from the US CPI release, a higher probability event.  And yet, even if CPI surprises, will it really have much market impact?

For inspiration on the potential impact of a surprising outcome, let us quickly turn to China, where last night inflation data was released with PPI rising 9.0% Y/Y, its highest print since 2008, although CPI rose a less than expected 1.3%.  However, for the world overall, Chinese PPI is of much greater importance as it offers clues to what Chinese manufacturers may be charging for the many goods they sell elsewhere in the world.  If they start raising prices, you can be sure that prices elsewhere will be rising as well.  But the market response to this much higher than expected result was a collective yawn.  Chinese bond yields actually fell 1 basis point while the renminbi slipped 0.2%.  Chinese equities rose 0.3% in Shanghai to complete the triumvirate of markets demonstrating no concern over rising prices.

Is that what we can expect if tomorrow’s CPI data prints at a higher than expected number, perhaps even above 5.0%?  The first thing to note is that the Treasury market is certainly not demonstrating concern, at least in the classical sense of selling off into a rising inflationary situation.  In fact, yields are now back to their lowest level, 1.50%, since early March, the period during which yields were rising rapidly and eventually touched the early-April highs of 1.75%.  But here we are 25 basis points lower and the market seems to have completely bought into the Fed narrative of transitory inflation.  (As an aside, perhaps someone can explain to me why, if inflation is transitory and the Fed need not respond to the recent rises, there is a growing consensus that the Fed is going to start to taper QE purchases.  After all, the implication of transitory inflation is that current policy is fine as is, why change it and rock the boat?)

Another story that has been getting increasing play is about the growing short positions in Treasury bonds and how regardless of tomorrow’s data, we could see a short squeeze and lower yields.  Now, when I look at the CFTC data, I do see that last week open positions fell by nearly 50K contracts, but the overall outstanding position remains net long ~55K and there has been no discernible pattern of building short positions, so I’m not sure where that story has come from.  

So, when considering what we know about the current situation, near-term inflation pressures but central bank certitude it is transitory and recent price action indicating limited concern over inflation, it tells me that a high CPI print, currently forecast at 4.7%, will have no impact of note on the bond market.  As such, it seems unlikely that a high CPI print will have much impact on any market.  We will need to see a series of high prints, and they will need to continue at least through October or November before, it seems, anybody is going to believe that inflation may be more than a transitory phenomenon.  Unfortunately, we will all suffer equally due to the fact that prices are going to continue to rise, regardless of what the Fed or BLS tells us.

Turning to today’s session, price action has been generally similar to yesterday’s session, which means that there have been continued small movements in markets with strong trends difficult to identify.  For instance, equity markets overnight showed the Nikkei (-0.3%) and Hang Seng (-0.1%) both slipping a bit while Shanghai (+0.3%) managed to eke out a gain.  Hardly conclusive evidence of a theme.  Europe, however, is a bit softer, with the DAX (-0.5%) and FTSE 100 (-0.6%) both under a bit of pressure although the CAC (0.0%) has gone nowhere at all.  The German story is one of weaker than expected data, this time a smaller trade surplus with declines of both imports and exports indicating growth there is not quite so robust.  Meanwhile, Brexit issues between the EU and UK have arisen again over Northern Ireland, and this seems to be weighing on sentiment there.  As to US futures markets, they are very little changed at this hour.

Bond markets are clearly not concerned over inflation with Treasury yields down 2.7 basis points and similar declines in Europe (Bunds -2.6bps, OATs -3.0bps, Gilts -2.0bps).  Looking further afield, Italian BTPs have seen yields decline by 5 basis points with Spain and Portugal both falling 4bps or more.  It seems clear the market believes the ECB is going to continue to actively support the European government bond market.

On the commodity front, oil continues to rally with WTI (+0.4%) back over $70/bbl.  Something to consider regarding oil is that as ESG initiatives continue to grow in importance, and many of them are attacking the fossil fuel industry, seeking to prevent funding, there will be less and less exploration for and drilling of new oil sources.  But the transition to eliminating fossil fuels from the economy will take many years, (I’ve seen credible estimates of 30-50 years) meaning demand will not disappear, even if supply shrinks.  It seems pretty clear what will happen to the price of oil in this situation.  Do not be surprised if the previous high of $147/bbl is eclipsed in the coming years.

As to the rest of the commodity space, precious metals are a bit softer while base metals are more mixed today (Cu -0.9%, Al -0.15%, Ni +0.3%).  And finally, the grains are giving back some of their recent gains with all three down about 1.0%.

Finally, in FX, the dollar is broadly softer, but the movement has been very modest.  In G10 space, NOK (+0.3%) is the leader along side CAD (+0.3%) as they both follow oil’s rise.  After that, though, the movement is between 0.0% and 0.2%, with no stories to discuss.  In the Emerging Markets, HUF (+0.6%) is the big winner, as CPI continues to print above 5.0% and the central bank is tipped to raise rates at its meeting tomorrow.  But aside from that, there are more winners than losers although they are all just modest gains on the order of 0.1%-0.2%.  Weakness was seen in some APAC currencies overnight, but that, too, was very modest.

There is no important data to be released today, nor are there any Fed speakers, so my take is the market will continue to trade on the back of the Treasury market movement.  If yields continue to slide, look for the dollar to stay under some pressure.  If they reverse, I think the dollar will as well.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf





No Aberration

In Europe and in the US

The central banks have made a mess

The latter’s seen prices

Rise up to a crisis

The former is still in distress

But one thing the two of them share

Is neither believes in the scare

That higher inflation

Is no aberration

And tapering they’ll soon declare

We have seen another day of modest overnight activity as market participants across asset classes wait for the next key data inputs.  At this point, the three biggest things on the horizon are Thursday’s ECB meeting and US CPI print and then next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting.  Until those data points are known, tight ranges and lack of trading liquidity are likely to be the hallmarks of all markets.

One of the things that has been something of a mystery is the disconnect between the performance of the US Treasury market and the ostensibly rapid rise in inflationary pressures, with the former essentially discounting the latter completely.  In fact, I would argue this is the key question that must be answered in order to better understand the potential future outcomes.  Arguably, it is also this situation which has allowed the Fed to remain sanguine over the recent jumps in CPI and PCE.

Consider that the bond market is generally assumed to have the greatest sensitivity to future economic activity given its very nature.  After all, the meaning of fixed income is that regardless of future economic performance, bondholders get a stated amount of interest.  It is this feature that keeps bond investors so highly attuned to inflation and inflation expectations as these investors want to ensure the real value of their investments does not decline due to rising prices.  Historically, this has certainly been the case, with bond markets selling off before inflation really took off.  This is also the genesis of the term ‘bond vigilantes’, coined during the Clinton administration to describe the bond market’s unwillingness to fund hugely expansionary fiscal plans and run large government deficits.  My, how the world has changed!

But back then, the Federal Reserve was not in the business of QE.  In fact, while it may have been a theoretical concept, even the Japanese had not yet tried it on for size.  Two plus decades later, though, the role of the Fed has clearly changed given the economic stresses suffered in both the GFC and Covid induced crisis.  QE has gone from an emergency tool to address a unique situation to the go-to tool in the Fed’s (and ECB’s) toolkit.  Thus, have grown the central bank balance sheets and so there has been a lid on interest rates, even if not explicitly via yield curve control.

There is, however, another key change in the world since the bond vigilante days of the late 1990’s; the regulatory requirements for large banks known as GSIBs, (Global Systemically Important Banks) imposed after the GFC.  These 30 institutions are required to maintain additional capital buffers and hold them in so-called High-Quality Liquid Assets (HQLA) which, not surprisingly, include Treasury bonds as well as mortgages and excess reserves.  One of the things that all of these banks do is adjust that portfolio of HQLA to maximize the available revenue, which in a world where yields are zero and negative, is very hard to achieve.  While Treasury bills and IOER pay virtually nothing, Treasury securities out the curve do have positive nominal yields and are thus relatively attractive for the purpose.

This leads to a potential alternative reason for the seeming lack of concern by the Treasury market over future inflation; price insensitive demand for bonds required to be held by large banks.  If these banks are buying and holding more Treasuries than they otherwise would have done in an unfettered world, the price signal from those bonds is likely to be somewhat skewed.  In other words, what if the Treasury market is not telling us there is no fear of inflation, but rather telling us that there are so many price insensitive buyers of bonds, even the excess supply being issued is not enough to scare holders out of the market.  In that case, we will need to get our clues about inflation elsewhere, perhaps from commodity markets.  And of course, commodity prices have done nothing but rally sharply across every class for the past year.  While there is no doubt that the first part of that move was to make up for the severe price dislocations seen at the beginning of the Covid crisis, it is not hard to make the case that the more recent price movement is a response to rising demand meeting inelastic supply.  It is the latter that drives inflation.

The point here is that both the ECB and Fed have consistently maintained that there is no reason to worry over recent high inflation prints and that there is no reason for either of them to adjust their policy mix anytime soon.  If the bond market ‘meter’ is malfunctioning, though, both of these central banks may well find themselves on the wrong side of history, yet again.  Rapidly rising inflation could well come to dominate the policy discussion quite quickly in that case, and maximum employment may recede to a pleasant dream.  Food for thought.

As to market activity today, as mentioned above, we have seen modest movements in both directions amid modest trading volumes.  Starting with equities, Asia saw small losses across the board (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.5%) while Europe has been very modestly firmer (DAX 0.0%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.3%).  US futures are mixed as well with DOW (-0.15%) suffering while NASDAQ (+0.3%) are a bit higher and SPX futures are essentially unchanged.  Not much new information here.

Bond markets are mostly a bit firmer this morning with Treasury yields (-1.5bps) falling furthest and European sovereigns all seeing yield declines of about 0.75bps.  With 10-year Treasury yields back to 1.55%, it appears, on the surface, that there is no concern about rising inflation.  But if my proposed thesis is correct, that number could be quite misleading.

Commodity prices are generally coming under pressure this morning, certainly not a sign of imminent inflation, but I would argue this is simple daily price volatility more than anything else.  For example, oil (-0.9%) is leading the pack lower but we are seeing weakness in precious metals (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.5%) and base metals (Cu -0.5%, Ni -0.7%, Fe -1.9%) with only grains continuing to rally as all three major ones are higher by about 1.0% this morning.

Turning to FX, it should be no surprise that there is really no story here this morning either.  The dollar is probably marginally higher overall, but really mostly mixed with small movements in virtually all currencies.  In the G10, NZD (-0.3%) is the biggest mover, but this move has simply taken it back to the middle of its trading range.  And the rest of the bloc has moved far less.  In emerging markets, we have seen two movements of some note with HUF (-0.4%) declining after weaker than expected IP data was released, putting a dent in the idea the central bank may tighten policy, while RUB (+0.4%) rose after yesterday’s higher than expected CPI print has traders believing the central bank is likely to raise rates further.  However, beyond those two moves, there is very little to discuss.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism index was released at a disappointing 99.6, below expectations of 101.0 and actually below last month’s reading as well.  That seems to be a result of the difficulty small firms are having in hiring staff.  We also see the Trade Balance (exp -$68.7B) and then the JOLTS Job Openings report (8.2M) later this morning.  But as mentioned at the top, I don’t think anything will matter until Thursday, so look for more range trading until then.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

A ZIRP Doctrinaire

The lady who once ran the Fed

And, Treasury, now runs instead

Explained higher rates

Right here in the States

Are something that she wouldn’t dread

But when she was Fed Reserve chair

And she had a chance to forswear

That rates should stay low

Her answer was, no

As she was a ZIRP doctrinaire

“If we ended up with a slightly higher interest rate environment it would actually be a plus for society’s point of view and the Fed’s point of view.  We’ve been fighting inflation that’s too low and interest rates that are too low now for a decade.  We want them to go back to a normal interest rate environment, and if this helps a little bit to alleviate things then that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing.”  So said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a Bloomberg News interview as she was returning from the G7 FinMin meeting in London.

What are we to make of these comments?  Arguably, the first thing to note is that the myth of Fed independence is not merely shattered, but rather that the Treasury now explicitly runs both fiscal and monetary policy.  Can Chairman Powell resist a call for higher rates from his boss?  And yet this is diametrically opposed to everything we have heard from the majority of the FOMC lately, namely until “substantial further progress” is made toward achieving their key goal of maximum employment, policy is going to remain as is.  In other words, they are going to continue to buy $120 billion per month of Treasury and mortgage backed paper.  However, QE’s entire raison d’etre is to keep rates lower.  Does this mean tapering is going to begin soon?  Will they be talking about it at next week’s FOMC meeting?  Again, based on all we had heard up through the beginning of the quiet period, there was only a small minority of FOMC members who were keen to slow down the purchases.  Is Yellen a majority of one by herself?

The other thing that seems odd about this is that elsewhere in the interview she strongly backed the need for the proposed $4 trillion of additional government spending, which is going to largely be funded by issuing yet more Treasury debt.  I fail to understand the benefit, for the Treasury (or taxpayers) of spending more on debt service due to higher interest rates.  Or perhaps, Yellen was simply saying she thought spreads over Treasuries should rise, so others paid more, but the US still paid the least amount possible.  Somehow, though, I don’t believe the latter sentiment is what she meant.  (A cynic might assume she was short Treasuries in her PA after Friday’s data and was simply looking for a quick profit.  But, of course, no government official would ever seek to gain personally from their official role…right?)

Regardless of her motivation, the market took it to heart and 10-year Treasury yields have backed up 2.5 bps this morning, although that is after Friday’s very strong rally (yields fell more than 7 basis points) on the back of the weaker than expected NFP report convinced the market that tapering was now put off for much longer.

Which brings us to Friday’s data.  Once again, the NFP report missed the mark, with a gain of 559K, well below the 675K expected.  Interestingly, despite last month’s even bigger miss, revisions were miniscule, just 27K higher.  So, at least according to the BLS, job growth is not nearly as fast as previously expected/hoped.  What makes this so interesting was last week’s ADP data showed nearly 1 million new jobs were taken.  It appears that Covid has had a significant impact on econometric models as well as the economy writ large.  Of course, the stock market took this goldilocks scenario as quite bullish and we saw equity markets rally nicely on Friday.

In sum, Yellen’s comments seem a bit out of step with everything we had previously understood.  There is, though, one other possibility.  Perhaps Ms Yellen understands that inflation is not going to be transitory and that the Fed may well find itself forced to raise rates to address this situation.  If this is the case, then the fact that the Treasury Secretary has already explained she thinks higher rates would be “a good thing,” it leaves the Fed the leeway needed to address the coming inflationary wave.  One thing is certain, the inflation discussion is going to be with us for quite a while yet.

Market activity overnight has been fairly dull despite the Yellen comments, with equity markets mixed in Asia (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng -0.45%, Shanghai +0.2%) although European markets have started to climb after a very slow start (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.3%).  US futures are mixed to slightly lower as NASDAQ futures (-0.35%) feel the force of potentially higher interest rates, while the other two indices are little changed.  (Remember, tech/growth stocks are akin to having extremely long bond duration, so higher interest rates tend to push these stocks lower.)

As mentioned, Yellen’s comments have led to Treasuries falling, and we have seen the same behavior in Europe with sovereigns there looking at yields higher by between 1.5 and 2.0 bps at this hour.  Higher interest rates have also had a negative impact on commodity prices with oil (-0.4%), gold (-0.25%), copper (-1.0%) and aluminum (-1.0%) all under pressure.  The one exception in the commodity space is foodstuff where the grains are all higher by at least 1.5% this morning.

Finally, the currency market is mixed although arguably leaning toward slight dollar weakness.  In the G10, the most notable mover is NOK (+0.5%) which is gaining despite oil’s weakness on the assumption that it will be the first G10 country to actually raise interest rates, with Q4 this year now targeted.  But away from that, the other 9 currencies are within 0.2% of Friday’s close with no stories of note.  In the emerging markets, MXN (+0.85%) is the runaway leader after yesterday’s elections handed AMLO a loss of his supermajority in the Mexican congress.  It seems investors are glad to see a check on his populist agenda of spending.  Beyond that, we see TRY (+0.5%) benefitting from hopes that President Biden’s meeting with Turkish President Erdogan will result in reduced tensions between the two countries.  And lastly, KRW (+0.3%) continues to see investment inflows drive the currency higher.

On the data front, there was nothing of note overnight, but this week has some important activities, namely US CPI and the ECB meeting.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 100.9
Trade Balance -$68.5B
JOLTS Job Openings 8.3M
Thursday ECB Meeting
CPI 0.4% (4.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (3.4% Y/Y)
Initial Claims 370K
Continuing Claims 3.7M
Friday Michigan Sentiment 84.2

Source: Bloomberg

Clearly, all eyes will be on CPI later this week as while widely expected to be rising again due to base effects, it is important to remember that it has risen far faster than even those expectations.  While the Fed remains quiet, the ECB is likely to reiterate that it is going to be keeping a ‘stepped up pace’ of asset purchases.  Although there is a great deal of belief in the dollar weakness story, I assure you, the ECB is not interested in the euro rallying much further.  Just like the Chinese, it appears most countries have had enough of a weak dollar.  Until the next cues, however, it seems unlikely that there will be large movement in the FX market.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Crucial Advice

The Chinese Department of Price

Is proffering crucial advice

Don’t think about hoarding

It won’t be rewarding

And don’t make us speak to you twice!

There really is such a thing as the Department of Price in China.  It is part of the National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese economic planning agency, although I have to admit it sounds more like something from Atlas Shrugged than a real agency.  But soaring commodity prices during the past year have become quite the problem for China, resulting in rising inflation and shortages of inputs for their manufacturers.  Apparently, President Xi is not pleased with this result and so this obscure (absurd?) government agency is now tasked with preventing prices from rising across a range of commodities.  Their tactics include threats against buyers deemed to be hoarding, against speculators in commodity trading firms and against manufacturers for passing on rising input costs to their final customers.  While one cannot help but chuckle at the futility of this effort (prices of things in demand will rise or shortages will result) it also highlights just how much of a concern inflation is to the Chinese and helps explain the recent PBOC action regarding FX reserves in order to stop/reverse the renminbi’s recent strength.  While a stronger renminbi would help ease inflationary pressures, its impact on exports, especially with input prices rising, was just too much to take.  For the foreseeable future, you can expect USDCNY to rise in a slow and steady manner.

Along with the FOMC

Investors are anxious to see

The payroll release

With forecast increase

To offset last month’s perigee

Turning to today’s news, markets remain quiet and rangebound ahead of this morning’s NFP report.  Last month’s abysmal outcome, just 266K new jobs, hugely below the nearly one million expected has increased the concern today.  While yesterday’s ADP Employment report was spectacular at 978K, last month it was nearly 750K and we still got that huge surprise.  Estimates this morning range from 335K to 1000K which tells us that nobody really knows, and none of the econometric models out there are well tuned to the current economic circumstances.  Here are the current median forecasts according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls 674K
Private Payrolls 610K
Manufacturing Payrolls 25K
Unemployment Rate 5.9%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (1.6% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Participation Rate 61.8%
Factory Orders -0.3%

Following yesterday’s ADP report, the dollar, which had been drifting higher, got a huge boost and rallied strongly versus all its counterparts.  In addition, we saw sharp declines in precious metals prices and more modest declines in bond prices (yields on the 10-year rose about 4bps).  Arguably, that is exactly what one would expect with news that the US economy is growing more rapidly than previously thought.  But that begs the question for today, has the market already priced in a much larger number and so become subject to some serious profit-taking on a ‘sell the news’ meme?  My sense is that we will need to see a very large number, something on the order of 1.3 million to continue yesterday’s price action in markets.  Anything less, even if above the median forecast, will likely be seen as toppish and given it is a summer Friday, traders will be quick to square up positions.

Obviously, the FOMC is watching this data closely.  Recall, their stated goal is maximum employment and they continue to harp on the 8.1 million jobs that have not yet been replaced due to the Covid shutdown as well as the 2 million jobs that would have otherwise been created based on trend growth prior to the shutdown.  The point is that, given the transitory inflation pressures theme that has been universally repeated by every FOMC member, the Fed seems very likely to maintain the current policy settings for a while yet.  So, while today’s number is important for the market’s understanding of the current situation, I don’t believe there is any number that will change Fed policy.  At least no large number.  On the flipside, a second consecutive weak number might just encourage discussion that the current QE is not sufficient.  It will certainly raise eyebrows and cause a great deal of angst at the next FOMC meeting in two weeks’ time.

At this point, however, there is nothing we can do but wait.  A recap of the overnight activity shows that equity markets had minimal movements with no major index moving more than 0.4% (Nikkei -0.4%) and US futures essentially unchanged at this time.  Bond markets are exhibiting the same lack of direction, with movements less than 1 basis point ahead of the release across Treasuries and European sovereigns.  Commodity prices, after yesterday’s spectacular declines in the precious metals of more than 2%, have stabilized with oil drifting slightly higher (WTI +0.3%), and metals and agricultural prices either side of unchanged.

Finally, the dollar has also been ranging with no G10 currency having moved more than 0.2% from yesterday’s closing level and an even spread of gainers and losers.  In other words, everyone is biding their time here.  EMG currencies have displayed a bit more weakness, but much of that is due to last night’s APAC session where most currencies fell in response to the ADP number, just like everything else did during yesterday’s NY session.  Looking at the EEMEA currencies, only PLN (-0.4%) is showing any type of noteworthy movement and that mostly appears to be a reaction to the fact it has been amongst the best performers over the past month, having gained more than 3.0%, and so is subject to more profit-taking.  In other words, every market is simply biding its time ahead of the release.

Away from the payroll report, Chairman Powell does speak this morning, but the focus is on climate change, not monetary policy, so it seems unlikely we will learn very much.  And after this, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of the meeting, so we are left to our own devices to determine what will happen.

My sense is we will see a strong showing today, maybe 750K as well as a revision up to last month’s data, which was abnormally weak given other indicators, but I am hard pressed to see the dollar repeat yesterday’s gains.  Rather, consolidation into the weekend seems the most likely outcome.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

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