An Untimely End

Should risk appetite ever fall
The asset price rally could stall
And that could portend
An untimely end
To trust in the Fed overall

Yesterday afternoon the Fed released their annual financial stability report.  In what may well be the most unintended ironic statement of all time, on the topic of asset valuations the report stated, “However, valuations for some assets are elevated relative to historical norms even when using measures that account for Treasury yields.  In this setting, asset prices may be vulnerable to significant declines should risk appetite fall.” [Author’s emphasis.]  Essentially, the Fed seems to be trying to imply that for some reason, having nothing to do with their policy framework, asset prices have risen and now they are in a vulnerable place.  But for the fact that this is very serious, it is extraordinary that they could make such a disingenuous statement.  The reason asset prices are elevated is SOLELY BECAUSE THE FED CONTINUES TO PURCHASE TREASURIES VIA QE AND FORCE INVESTORS OUT THE RISK CURVE TO SEEK RETURN.  This is the design of QE, it is the portfolio rebalance channel that Ben Bernanke described a decade ago, and now they have the unmitigated gall to try to describe the direct outcome of their actions as some exogenous phenomenon.  If you wondered why the Fed, and truly most central banks, are subject to so much criticism, you need look no further than this.

In Europe, a little-known voice
From Latvia outlined a choice
The ECB may
Decide on one day
In June, and then hawks will rejoice

In a bit of a surprise, this morning Latvian central bank president, and ECB Governing Council member, Martins Kazaks, explained that the ECB could decide as early as their June meeting to begin to scale back PEPP purchases.  His view was that given the strengthening rebound in the economy as well as the significant progress being made with respect to vaccinations of the European population, overall financial conditions may remain favorable enough so they can start to taper their purchases.  This would then be the third major central bank that is on the taper trail with Canada already reducing purchases and the BOE slowing the rate of weekly purchases, although maintaining, for now, the full target.

This is a sharp contrast to the Fed, where other than Dallas Fed president Kaplan, who is becoming almost frantic in his insistence that it is time for the Fed to begin discussing the tapering of asset purchases, essentially every other FOMC member is adhering to the line that the US economy needs more monetary support and any inflation will merely be transitory.  As if to reaffirm this view, erstwhile uber-hawk Loretta Mester, once again yesterday explained that any inflation was of no concern due to its likely temporary nature, and that the Fed has a long way to go to achieve its new mission of maximum employment.

A quick look at the Treasury market this morning, and over the past several sessions, shows that the 10-year yield (currently 1.577%, +0.7bps on the day) seems to have found a new equilibrium.  Essentially, it has remained between 1.54% and 1.63% for about the last month despite the fact that virtually every data release over that timespan has been better than expected.  Thus, despite a powerful growth impulse, yields are not following along.  It is almost as if the market is beginning to price in YCC, which is, of course, exactly the opposite of tapering.  Given the concerns reflected in the Financial Stability Report, maybe the only way to prevent that asset price decline would be to cap yields and let inflation fly.  History has shown bond investors tend to be pretty savvy in these situations, so do not ignore this, especially because YCC would most likely result in a sharply weaker dollar and sharply higher commodity and equity prices.

This morning the market will see
The labor report, NFP
Expecting one mill
The Fed’s likely, still,
To say they’ll continue QE

Finally, it is payroll day with the following current expectations according to Bloomberg:

Nonfarm Payrolls 1000K
Private Payrolls 938K
Manufacturing Payrolls 57K
Unemployment Rate 5.8%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.0% (-0.4% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Participation Rate 61.6%

The range of forecasts for the headline number is extremely wide, from 700K to 2.1 million, just showing how little certainty exists with respect to econometric models more than a year removed from the initial impact of Covid-induced shutdowns.  As well, remember, even if we get 1 million new jobs, based on Chairman Powell’s goal of finding 10 million, as he stated back in January, there are still another 7+ million to find, meaning the Fed seems unlikely to respond to the report in any manner other than maintaining current policy.  In fact, it seems to me the bigger risk today is a disappointing number which would encourage the Fed to double down!  We shall learn more at 8:30.

As to markets ahead of the release, Asian equities were mixed (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng -0.1%, Shanghai -0.65%) although Europe is going gangbusters led by Germany’s DAX (+1.3%), with the CAC (+0.3%) and FTSE 100 (+0.8%) also having good days.  German IP data (+2.5% M/M) was released better than expected and has clearly been a catalyst for good.  At the same time, French IP (+0.8% M/M) was softer than expected, arguably weighing on the CAC.

Away from Treasuries, European sovereign bonds are all selling off as risk appetite grows, or so it seems.  Bunds (+1.0bps) and OATs (+2.8bps) are feeling pressure, although not as much as Italian BTPs (+4.8bps).  Gilts, on the other hand, are little changed on the day.

Commodity prices continue to rally sharply, at least in the metals space, with gold (+0.3%, +1.5% yesterday), silver (+0.1%, +3.5% yesterday), copper (+2.6%), aluminum (+1.0%) and nickel (+0.2%) all pushing higher.  Interestingly, oil prices are essentially unchanged on the day.

Lastly the dollar is mixed on the session, at least vs. the G10.  SEK (+0.35%) is the leading gainer on what appears to be positive risk appetite, while NZD (-0.25%) is the laggard after inflation expectations rose to a 3-year high.  The other eight are all within that range and split pretty evenly as to gainers and losers.

EMG currencies, though, are showing more positivity with only two small losers (ZAR -0.25%, PLN -0.15%) and the rest of the bloc firmer.  APAC currencies are leading (KRW +0.4%, INR +0.35%, TWD +0.3%) with all of them benefitting from much stronger than forecast Chinese data. We saw Caixin PMI Services rise to 56.3 and their trade balance expand to $42.85B amid large growth in both exports and imports.  Models now point to Chinese GDP growing at 9.0% in 2021 after these releases.

At this point, we are all in thrall to the NFP release later this morning.  The dollar response is unclear to me, although I feel like a strong number may be met with a falling dollar unless Treasury yields start to climb.  Given their recent inability to do so, I continue to believe that is the key market signal to watch.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

A Kettle of Hawks

There once was a kettle of hawks
Who regularly gave earnest talks
When prices would rise
They would then surmise
T’was time to forget Goldilocks

But now they’re a bevy of doves
The type every borrower loves
Who, if prices rose
Would never propose
That they would give rates, up, a shove

While today’s activity roster includes the Bank of England rate decision (no change) and QE target (possible change), I want to review yesterday’s Fedspeak as I believe it is crucial to continue our understanding of the policy evolution.

Three Fed regional presidents spoke; Chicago’s Mike Evans, a known dove; Boston’s Eric Rosengren, historically slightly more hawkish than centrist; and Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, historically one of the most hawkish Fed members.  All three made clear that they are unconcerned over the almost certain rise in inflation in the short-term, with all three convinced this is a ‘transitory’ phenomenon that will work itself out by the end of 2022.  Rosengren was particularly colorful in his description as he compared his view of general price increases upcoming to the situation right at the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns regarding toilet paper.  “My view is that this acceleration in the rate of price increases is likely to prove temporary,” he said.  He continued, “Toilet paper and Clorox were in short supply at the outset of the pandemic, but manufacturers eventually increased supply, and those items are no longer scarce.  Many of the factors raising prices this spring are also likely to be similarly short-lived.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would beg to differ with his assessment, specifically on the two items he mentioned, toilet paper and Clorox.  While there is no question that both items are readily available today as opposed to the situation twelve months ago, it is also very clear that the prices of both items have risen substantially.  In fact, my anecdotal evidence from the local Shop-Rite is that prices of these two items have risen at least 35% in the past twelve months, and there is no evidence that these prices are going to decline anytime soon.  After all, as a manufacturer, why would you reduce prices if customers are still buying your product?  So, while supply has improved, it has done so at the expense of higher prices.  In my book, this is the very definition of inflation.

Regarding the topic of tapering, Evans was dismissive of the idea at all and surprisingly, Mester showed no interest in the discussion in the near term.  Rosengren, however, did indicate that it was possible the situation by the end of this year could warrant a discussion, although he would sooner halt purchases of mortgage bonds than Treasuries as he mentioned the possibility that housing prices could get ‘frothy’.  Ya think?  A quick look at the recent Case Shiller House Price Index shows it has risen by nearly 12% in the past year nationwide, the fastest level since March 2006, right in the middle of the housing bubble whose bursting caused the GFC.  Perhaps this is what is meant by “frothy” in Chairman Powell’s eyes.

From London, the market’s awaiting
The Old Lady’s econ re-rating
While wondering if
She’ll offer a sniff
Of when QE might start abating

The UK’s post-pandemic growth trajectory has been far closer to the US than of the EU as PM Johnson’s government has done an excellent job of getting a large proportion of its population inoculated allowing for a reopening of the economy.  Recent data has been strong and as more restrictions are eased; prospects continue to be relatively bright.  Not dissimilar to the Fed’s situation, the Bank of England will find themselves raising their GDP growth forecasts while maintaining their ongoing monetary policy support.  Or will they?  There is talk in the market that the BOE may well discuss the initial timing of tapering purchases while they upgrade their forecasts.  Precedent was set last week when the Bank of Canada did just that, not merely discussing tapering, but actually cutting the amount of purchases by 25%.  Will the BOE follow suit?

Analyst expectations are that they will not change policy at all and explain it in the same manner as the Fed, that while inflation in the near-term may rise above their 2.0% target, this will be a temporary phenomenon and is no cause for concern.  However, any hint that tapering may be coming sooner than the current program’s target end date later this year is likely to be quite supportive of the pound, so keep that in mind.  That said, ahead of the meeting, the pound is essentially unchanged on the day at 1.3900.

Stronger growth forecasts, as well as strong earnings numbers, continue to support equity markets, although while they are not falling, rallies have been modest at best.  In fact, there is growing concern that the tech sector, which has clearly been the leader in the post pandemic equity rally, is starting to falter more seriously.  Last night saw gains in the Nikkei (+1.8%) and Hang Seng (+0.8%) but a modest decline in Shanghai (-0.2%) on its return from Golden Week.  Europe, despite strong German Factory Orders (+3.0%) and Eurozone Retail Sales (+2.7%) has been unable to make any real headway (DAX 0.0%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 +0.2%).  US futures are similarly lackluster, with all three major indices higher by 0.1% at this hour.  Could it be that economic and earnings strength is fully priced in at these levels?

**BOE leaves policy unchanged, as expected**

Bond markets, on the other hand, are holding their own overall.  While Treasury yields are unchanged on the day, they slid 2.5bps yesterday and are now closer to their recent lows than highs.  In Europe, sovereigns are showing the smallest of rallies with yields in both Bunds and OATs lower by 0.5bps while Gilt yields are unchanged.  At this point, it appears that bond traders and investors are starting to believe the central banks regarding the idea of transitory inflation.  While that would be a wonderful outcome, I fear that there is far more permanent inflation scenario unfolding.

Commodity prices are mixed this morning with oil (-0.75%) soft but metals, both base and precious firmer.  In fact, iron ore has reached record high levels, rising 6.5% this week, and approaching $200/ton.  Again, rising input prices are not disappearing.

As to the dollar, it is generally softer this morning, albeit not substantially so.  In the G10, CHF (+0.4%) is the leading gainer but the European currencies are all solidly higher, between 0.2% and 0.3%, although the pound’s move occurred just since the BOE announcement.  However, commodity currencies have underperformed here and are little changed on the day.

In the emerging markets, THB (-0.45%) was the laggard after the central bank left rates on hold amid a surge in reported Covid infections.  KRW (-0.25%) was next worst as there were a surprisingly large amount of equity outflows from the KOSPI.  On the positive side, IDR (+0.8%) was the biggest mover as Indonesia saw significant equity inflows as well as increased interest in the carry trade.  ZAR (+0.7%) is benefitting from the rise in gold (+0.25%) as well as the metals complex generally.  Otherwise, while gains have been broad-based, they have been shallow.

This morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 538K), Continuing Claims (3.62M), Nonfarm Productivity (4.3%) and Unit Labor Costs (-1.0%).  However, all eyes are turned to tomorrow’s NFP report, which despite a slightly softer than expected ADP Employment number yesterday (742K, exp 850K), has seen the forecast rise to essentially 1.0 million.

Treasury bond yields have lost their mojo for now and have been able to ignore any signs of imminent inflation.  It seems that the Fed chorus of transitory inflation is having the desired impact and preventing yields from running away higher.  As long as Treasury yields remain under control, especially if they drift lower, then the dollar will remain under modest pressure.  So far, nothing has occurred to change that equation.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Rates May Have to Rise

Said Janet, “rates may have to rise”
Which really should be no surprise
The money we’ve spent
Has markets hell bent
On constantly making new highs

But right after this bit of diction
The market ran into some friction
So quick as a wink
She had a rethink
And said “this is not a prediction”

Just kidding!  What was amply demonstrated yesterday is that the Fed, and by extension the US government, has completely lost control of the narrative.  The ongoing financialization of the US economy has resulted in the single most powerful force being the stock market.  Policymakers are now in the position of doing whatever it takes, to steal a phrase, to prevent a decline of any severity.  This includes actual policy decisions as well as comments about potential future decisions.

A brief recap of yesterday’s events shows that Treasury Secretary Yellen, at a virtual event on the economy said, “rates may have to rise to stop the economy from overheating.”  Now, on its surface, this doesn’t seem like an outrageous statement as it hews directly to macroeconomic theory and is widely accepted as a reasonable idea. However, Janet Yellen is no longer a paid consultant for BlackRock, but US Treasury Secretary.  And the only market fundamental that matters currently is the idea that the Fed is not going to raise interest rates for at least another two years.  Thus, when a senior administration financial official (has a Freudian slip and) talks about rates needing to rise, investors take notice.

So, in a scene we have observed numerous times in the past, immediately after the comments equity markets started to sell off even more sharply than their early declines and the market discussion started to turn to when rates may be raised.  But a declining stock market is unacceptable, so in a later WSJ interview, Yellen recanted clarified those remarks explaining that she was neither predicting nor recommending rate hikes.  It was merely an observation.

However, what was made clear was just how few degrees of freedom the Fed has to implement the policy they see fit.  It is for this reason that every time an official explains the Fed ‘has the tools’ necessary to fight inflation should it arise, there is a great deal of eye-rolling.  The first tool in fighting inflation is raising interest rates, and that will not go down well in the equity world, regardless of the level of inflation.  And what we know is that the Fed clearly doesn’t have the stomach to watch stocks decline by 10% or 20%, let alone more, in the wake of their policy decisions to raise interest rates.  We know this because in Q4 2018, when they were attempting to normalize policy, raising rates and shrinking the balance sheet simultaneously, the stock market fell 20% and was starting to gain serious downside momentum.  This begat the Powell Shift on Boxing Day, which saw the Fed stop tightening and stocks stop falling.

It is with this in mind that we view the comments of other Fed speakers.  Most are hewing to the party line, with NY’s Williams and SF’s Daly both right on script explaining that while growth will be strong this year, there is still a great deal of slack in the economy and supportive (read easy) monetary policy is still critical in achieving their goals.  It is also why Dallas Fed president Kaplan is roundly ignored when he explains that tapering purchases later this year may be sensible given the strength of the economy.  But Kaplan isn’t a voter nor will he be one until 2023, so no matter how passionate his pleas are in the FOMC meeting room, it will never be known as he cannot even dissent on a policy choice.

In summary, yesterday’s Yellen comments and corrections simply reinforce the idea that the Fed is not going to raise rates for at least another two years and that tapering of asset purchases is not on Powell’s mind, nor that of most of his FOMC colleagues.  So…party on!

And that is exactly what we are seeing today in markets.  While the Hang Seng had a poor showing (-0.5%) which followed yesterday’s tech heavy selloff in the US, Europe, which of course lacks any tech sector to speak of, is sharply higher this morning (DAX +1.35%, CAC +0.9%, FTSE 100 +1.1%) as a combination of Services PMI data strength and optimism about the ending of lockdowns has investors expecting superior profit growth going forward.  US futures are also pointing higher (DOW +0.3%, SPX +0.4%, NASDAQ +0.5%) as confirmation that rates will remain low added to rising growth forecasts continue to underpin the equity case.  As an example of the growth optimism, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast tool has risen to 13.567% as of yesterday, up from just 7.869% a week earlier!  Now, as more data is released, that will fluctuate, but if that data continues to be as strong as recent outcomes, do not be surprised to see Q2 GDP forecasts move a lot higher everywhere.

Turning to the bond markets, Treasury yields this morning are higher by 1.3 basis points, although that is after having slipped 3 bps on Monday and ultimately remaining unchanged yesterday.  But in this risk-on meme, bonds do lose their appeal.  European sovereigns are also generally lower with Bunds (+1.9bps), OATs (+2.3bps) and Gilts (+3.0bps), all seeing sellers converting their haven money into stock purchases.

Risk appetite in commodities remains robust this morning as oil prices continue to escalate (+1.1%) and are pushing back near their recent highs above $67/bbl.  While precious metals continue to lack traction, the base metal space is back in high gear this morning (Cu +0.5%, Al +0.65%, Sn +1.1%).  Agriculturals?  Wheat +0.3%, Soybeans +1.0%, Corn +0.85%.  It’s a good thing the price of what we eat has nothing to do with inflation!  As an example, Corn is currently $7.50/bushel, a price which has only been exceeded once in the data set going back to 1912, when it touched $8.00 in July 2012.  And looking at the chart, there is no indication that it is running out of steam.

Finally, the dollar has evolved from a mixed session to one where it is now largely under pressure.  This fits with the risk-on theme so should be no surprise.  NZD (+0.65%) leads the way higher but the commodity bloc is all firmer (AUD +0.4%, NOK +0.35%, CAD +0.3%) on the back of the commodity rally.  The rest of the G10, though, is little changed overall.  In the EMG space, PLN (-0.4%) is the outlier, falling ahead of the central bank’s rate announcement, although there is no expectation for a rate move, there is concern over a change in the dovish tone.  As well, the Swiss franc mortgage issue continues to weigh on the nation as a decision is due to be released next week and could result in significant bank losses and concerns over the financial system there.  But away from the zloty, there are a handful of currencies that are ever so slightly weaker, and the gainers are unimpressive as well (ZAR +0.35%, RUB +0.2%), both of which are commodity driven.

Two data points this morning show ADP Employment (exp 850K) and ISM Services (64.1) with more attention to be paid to the former than the latter.  We also have three more Fed speakers, Evans, Rosengren and Mester, with the previously hawkish Mester being the one most likely to discuss things like tapering being appropriate.  But in the end, there remains a very clear majority on the FOMC that there is no reason to change policy for a long time to come.

It is difficult to develop a new narrative on the dollar at this stage.  Rising Treasury yields on the back of rising inflation expectations are likely to offer short term support for the buck but can undermine it over time.  For today, however, it seems that the traditional risk-on theme is pushing back on its modest gains from yesterday.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Specter of Growth

The specter of growth’s in the air
So, pundits now try to compare
Which central bank will
Be next to instill
The discipline they did forswear

In Canada, they moved last week
On Thursday, Sir Bailey will speak
Now some pundits wonder
In June, from Down Under
The RBA will, easing, tweak

But what of Lagarde and Chair Jay
Will either of them ever say
Our goals are achieved
And so, we’re relieved
We’ve no need to buy bonds each day

On lips around the world is the question du jour, has growth rebounded enough for central banks to consider tapering QE and reining in monetary policy?  Certainly, the data continues to be impressive, even when considering that Y/Y comparisons are distorted by the government-imposed shutdowns last Spring.  PMI data points to robust growth ahead, as well as robust price rises.  Hard data, like Retail Sales and Personal Consumption show that as more and more lockdowns end, people are spending at least some portion of the savings accumulated during the past year. Meanwhile, bottlenecks in supply chains and lack of investment in capacity expansion has resulted in steadily rising prices adding the specter of inflation to that of growth.

While no developed market central bank head has yet displayed any concern over rising prices, at some point, that discussion will be forced by the investor community.  The only question is at what level yields will be sitting when central banks can no longer sidestep the question.  But after the Bank of Canada’s surprise move to reduce the amount of weekly purchases at their last meeting, analysts are now focusing on the Bank of England’s meeting this Thursday as the next potential shoe to drop.  Between the impressive rate of vaccination and the substantial amount of government stimulus, the UK data has been amongst the best in the world.  Add to that the imminent prospect of the ending of the lockdowns on individual movement and you have the makings of an overheating economy.  The current consensus is that the BOE may slow the pace of purchases but will not reduce the promised amount.  Baby steps.

Last night, the RBA left policy on hold, as universally expected, but the analyst community there is now looking for some changes as well.  Again, the economy continues to rebound sharply, with job growth outstripping estimates, PMI data pointing to a robust future and inflation starting to edge higher.  While the inoculation rate in Australia has been surprisingly low, the case rate Down Under has been miniscule, with less than 30,000 confirmed cases amid a population of nearly 26 million. The point is, the economy is clearly rebounding and, as elsewhere, the question of whether the RBA needs to continue to add such massive support has been raised.  Remember, the RBA is also engaged in YCC, holding 3-year yields to 0.10%, exactly the same as the O/N rate.  The current guidance is this will remain the case until 2024, but with growth rebounding so quickly, the market is unlikely to continue to accept that as reality.

These peripheral economies are interesting, especially for those who have exposures in them, but the big question remains here in the US, how long can the Fed ignore rising prices and surging growth.  Just last week Chairman Powell was clear that a key part of his belief that any inflation would be transitory was because inflation expectations were well anchored.  Well, Jay, about that…5-year Inflation breakevens just printed at 2.6%, their highest level since 2008.  A look at the chart shows a near vertical line indicating that they have further to run.  I fear the Fed’s inflation anchor has become unmoored.  While 10-year Treasury yields (+2.3bps today) have been rangebound for the past two months, the combination of rising prices and massively increased debt issuance implies one of two things, either yields have further to climb (2.0% anyone?) or the Fed is going to step in to prevent that from occurring.  If the former, look for the dollar to resume its Q1 climb.  If the latter, Katy bar the door as the dollar will fall sharply as any long positions will look to exit as quickly as possible.  Pressure on the Fed seems set to increase over the next several months, so increased volatility may well result.  Be aware.

As to today’s session, market movement is mostly risk-on but the dollar seems to be iconoclastic this morning.  For instance, equity markets are generally in good shape (Hang Seng +0.7%, CAC+0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.6%) although the DAX (-0.35%) is lagging.  China and Japan remain on holiday.  US futures, however, are a bit under the weather with NASDAQ (-0.4%) unable to shake yesterday’s weak performance while the other two main indices hover around unchanged.

Sovereign bond markets have latched onto the risk-on theme by selling off a bit.  While Treasuries lead the way, we are seeing small yield gains in Europe (Bunds +0.5bps, OATs +0.6bps, Gilts +0.5bps) after similar gains in Australia overnight.

Commodity markets continue to power higher with oil (+1.9%), Aluminum (+0.4%) and Tin (+1.0%) all strong although Copper (-0.1%) is taking a breather.  Agricultural products are also firmer but precious metals are suffering this morning, after a massive rally yesterday, with gold (-0.5%) the worst of the bunch.

Of course, the gold story can be no surprise when looking at the FX markets, where the dollar is significantly stronger across the board.  For instance, despite ongoing commodity strength, and the rally in oil, NZD (-0.9%), AUD (-0.6%) and NOK (-0.5%) are leading the way down, with GBP (-0.25%) the best performer of the day.  The pound’s outperformance seems linked to the story of a modest tapering of monetary policy, but overall, the dollar is just quite strong today.

The same is true versus the EMG bloc, where TRY (-1.0%) is the worst performer, but the CE4 are all weaker by at least 0.4% and SGD (-0.5%) has fallen after announcing plans for a super strict 3-week lockdown period in an effort to halt the recent spread of Covid in its tracks.  The only gainer of note is RUB (+0.4%) which is simply following oil higher.

Data this morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$74.3B) as well as Factory Orders (1.3%, 1.8% ex transport), both of which continue to show economic strength and neither of which is likely to cause any market ructions.

Two more Fed speakers today, Daly and Kaplan, round out the messaging, with the possibility of Mr Kaplan shaking things up, in my view.  He has been one of the more hawkish views on the FOMC and is on record as describing the rise in yields as justified and perhaps a harbinger of less Fed activity.  However, he is not a current voter, and Powell has just told us clearly that there are no changes in the offing.  Ultimately, this is the $64 trillion question, will the Fed blink in the face of rising Treasury yields?  Answer that correctly and you have a good idea what to expect going forward.  At this point, I continue to take Powell at his word, meaning no change to policy, but if things continue in this direction, that could certainly change.  In the meantime, nothing has changed my view that the dollar will follow Treasury yields for the foreseeable future.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Seeds of Inflation

Inflation continues to be
A topic where some disagree
The Fed has the tools
As well as the rules
To make sure it’s transitory

But lately, the data has shown
The seeds of inflation are sown
So later this year
It ought to be clear
If Jay truly has a backbone

Yet again this weekend, we were treated to a government official, this time Janet Yellen, explaining on the Sunday talk show circuit that inflation would be transitory, but if it’s not, they have the tools to address the situation.  It is no coincidence that her take is virtually identical to Fed Chair Powell’s, as the Fed and the Treasury have clearly become joined at the hip.  The myth of Fed independence is as much a victim of Covid-19 as any of the more than 3.2 million unfortunate souls who lost their lives.  But just because they keep repeating they have the tools doesn’t mean they have the resolve to use them in the event that they are needed.  (Consider that the last time these tools were used, in the early 1980’s, Fed Chair Paul Volcker was among the most reviled government figures in history.)

For instance, last Friday’s data showed that PCE rose 2.3% in March with the Core number rising 1.8%.  While both those results were exactly as forecast, the trend for both remains sharply higher.  The question many are asking, and which neither Janet nor Jay are willing to answer, is how will the Fed recognize the difference between sustained inflation and transitory inflation?  After all, it is not as though the data comes with a disclaimer.  Ultimately, a decision is going to have to be made that rising prices are becoming a problem.  Potential indicators of this will be a sharply declining dollar, sharply declining bond prices and sharply declining stock prices, all of which are entirely realistic if/when the market decides that ‘transitory’ is no longer actually transitory.

For now, though, this issue remains theoretical as there is virtually unanimous agreement that the next several months are going to show much higher Y/Y inflation rates given the base effects of comparisons to the depth of the Covid inspired recession.  The June data will be the first test as that monthly CPI print last year was a robust 0.5%.  Should the monthly June print this year remain at that level or higher, it will deepen the discussion, if not at the Fed, then certainly in the investor and trader communities.  But in truth, until the data is released, all this speculation is just that, with opinions and biases on full display, but with no way to determine the outcome beforehand.  In fact, it is this uncertainty that is the primary rationale for corporate hedging.  There is no way, ex ante, to know what prices or exchange rates will be in the future, but by hedging a portion of the risk, a company can mitigate the variability of its results.  FWIW my view continues to be that the inflation genie is out of the bottle and will be far more difficult to tame going forward, despite all those wonderful tools in the Fed’s possession.

This week is starting off slowly as it is the so-called “golden week” in both China and Japan, where there are holidays Monday through Wednesday, with no market activity ongoing.  Interestingly, Hong Kong was open although I’m guessing investors were less than thrilled with the results as the Hang Seng fell a sold 1.3%.  Europe, on the other hand, is feeling frisky this morning, with gains across the board (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.45%. FTSE 100 +0.1%) after the final PMI data was released and mostly confirmed the preliminary signs of robust growth in the manufacturing sector.  In addition, the vaccine news has been positive with Germany crossing above the 1 million threshold for the first time this weekend while Italy finally got to 500,000 injections on Saturday.  The narrative that is evolving now is that as Europe catches up in vaccination rates, the Eurozone economy will pick up speed much faster than previously expected and that will bode well for both Eurozone stocks and the single currency.  Remember, on a relative basis, the market has already priced in the benefits of reopening for the US and UK, while Europe has been slow to the party.

Adding to the story is the bond market, where European sovereigns are softening a bit in a classic risk-on scenario of higher stocks and lower bonds.  So, yields have edged higher in Germany (Bunds +1.5bps) and France (OATs +1.3bps) although Gilts are unchanged.  Meanwhile, Treasury yields are creeping higher as well, +1.6bps, and remain a critical driver for most markets.  Interestingly, the vaccine news has inspired the latest comments about tapering PEPP purchases by the ECB, although it remains in the analyst community, not yet part of the actual ECB dialog.

Most commodity prices are also in a quiet state with oil unchanged this morning although we continue to see marginal gains in Cu (+0.4%) and Al (+0.2%).  The big story is agricultural prices where Corn, Wheat and soybeans continue to power toward record highs.  Precious metals are having a good day as well, with both gold (+0.55%) and silver (+0.85%) performing nicely.

It should be no surprise with this mix that the dollar is under pressure as the pound (+0.4%) and euro (+0.3%) lead the way higher.  Only JPY (-0.1%) and CHF (-0.1%) are in the red as haven assets are just not needed today.  Emerging market currencies are mostly stronger with the CE4 all up at least as much as the euro and ZAR (+0.55%) showing the benefits of dollar weakness and gold strength.  There was, however, an outlier on the downside, KRW (-1.0%) which fell sharply overnight after its trade surplus shrunk much more than expected with a huge jump in imports fueling the move.

As it is the first week of the month, get ready for lots of data culminating in the NFP report on Friday.

Today ISM Manufacturing 65.0
ISM Prices Paid 86.1
Construction Spending 1.7%
Tuesday Trade Balance -$74.3B
Factory Orders 1.3%
-ex transport 1.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 875K
ISM Services 64.1
Thursday Initial Claims 540K
Continuing Claims 3.62M
Nonfarm Productivity 4..2%
Unit Labor Costs -1.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 978K
Private Payrolls 900K
Manufacturing Payrolls 60K
Unemployment Rate 5.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.0% (-0.4% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Participation Rate 61.6%
Consumer Credit $20.0B

Source: Bloomberg

As well, we hear from five Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell this afternoon.  Of course, since we just heard from him Wednesday and Yellen keeps harping on the message, I don’t imagine there will be much new information.

Clearly, all eyes will be on the payroll data given the Fed has explained they don’t care about inflation and only about employment, at least for now and the near future.  Given expectations are for nearly 1 million new jobs, my initial take is we will need to see a miss by as much as 350K for it to have an impact.  Anything inside that 650K-1350K is going to be seen as within the margin of error, but a particularly large number could well juice the stock market, hit bonds and benefit the dollar.  We shall see.  As for today, given Friday’s Chicago PMI record print at 72.1, whispers are for bigger than forecast.  While the dollar is under modest pressure right now, if we see Treasury yields backing up further, I expect to see the dollar eventually benefit.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Desperate Straits

In Europe, the growth impulse faded
As governments there were persuaded
To lock people down
In city and town
While new strains of Covid invaded

Contrast that with here in the States
Where GDP growth resonates
Tis no real surprise
That stocks made new highs
And bond bulls are in desperate straits

There is no better depiction of the comparative situation in the US and Europe than the GDP data released yesterday and today.  In the US, Q1 saw GDP rise 6.4% annualized (about 1.6% Q/Q) after a gain of 4.3% in Q4 2020.  This morning, the Eurozone reported that GDP shrank -0.6% in Q1 after declining -0.7% in Q4 2020.  In other words, while the US put together a string of substantial economic growth over the past 3 quarters (Q3 was the remarkable 33.4% on this measure), Europe slipped into a double dip recession, with two consecutive quarters of negative growth following a single quarter of rebound.  If you consider how markets behaved in Q1, it begins to make a great deal more sense that the dollar rallied sharply along with Treasury yields, as the economic picture in the US was clearly much brighter than that in Europe.

But that is all backward-looking stuff.  Our concerns are what lies ahead.  In the US, there is no indication that things are slowing down yet, especially with the prospects of more fiscal stimulus on the way to help goose things along.  As well, Chairman Powell has been adamant that the Fed will not be reducing monetary accommodation until the economy actually achieves the Fed’s target of maximum employment.  Essentially, this has been defined as the reemployment of the 10 million people whose jobs were eliminated during the depths of the Covid induced government lockdowns.  (Its stable price target, defined as 2.0% average inflation over time, has been kicked to the curb for the time being, and is unimportant in FOMC discussions…for now.)

At the same time, the fiscal stimulus taps in Europe are only beginning to drip open.  While it may be a bit foggy as it was almost a full year ago, in July 2020 the EU agreed to jointly finance fiscal stimulus for its neediest members by borrowing on a collective level rather than at the individual country level.  This was a huge step forward from a policy perspective even if the actual amount agreed, €750 billion, was really not that much relative to the size of the economy.  Remember, the US has already passed 3 separate bills with price tags of $2.2 trillion, $900 billion and just recently, $1.9 trillion.  But even then, despite its relatively small size, those funds are just now starting to be deployed, more than 9 months after the original approval.  This is the very definition of a day late and a dollar euro short.

Now, forecasts for Q2 and beyond in Europe are much better as the third wave lockdowns are slated to end in early to mid-May thus freeing up more economic activity.  But the US remains miles ahead on these measures, with even NYC declaring it will be 100% open as of July 1st.  Again, on a purely economic basis, it remains difficult to look at the ongoing evolution of the Eurozone and US economies and decide that Europe is the place to be.  But we also know that the monetary story is critical to financial markets, so cannot ignore that.  On that score, the US continues to pump more money into the system than the ECB, offering more support for the economy, but potentially undermining the dollar.  Arguably, that has been one of the key drivers of the weak dollar narrative; at some point, the supply of dollars will overwhelm, and the value of those dollars will decrease.  This will be evident in rising inflation as well as in a weakening exchange rate versus its peers.

The thing is, this story has been being told for many years and has yet to be proven true, at least in any significant form.  In the current environment, unless the Fed actually does ease policy further, via expanded QE or explicit YCC, the rationale for significant dollar weakness remains sparse.  Treasury yields continue to define the market’s moves, thus, that is where we must keep our attention focused.

Turning that attention to market activity overnight, whether it is because it is a Friday and traders wanted to square up before going home, or because of the weak data, risk is definitely on the back foot today.  Equity markets in Asia were all red led by the Hang Seng (-2.0%) but with both the Nikkei and Shanghai falling 0.8% on the session.  Certainly, Chinese PMI data were weaker than expected (Mfg 51.1, Services 54.9) both representing declines from last month and raising questions about the strength of the recovery there.  At the same time, Japanese CPI remains far below target (Tokyo CPI -0.6%) indicating that whatever policies they continue to implement are having no effect on their goals.

European bourses are mixed after the weaker Eurozone data, with the DAX (+0.2%) the star, while the CAC (-0.2%) and FTSE 100 (0.0%) show little positive impetus.  Looking at smaller country indices shows lots of red as well.  Finally, US futures are slipping at this hour, down between -0.4% and -0.7% despite some strong earnings reports after the close.

Perhaps the US markets are taking their cue from the Treasury market, where yields continue to edge higher (+1.2bps) with the idea that we have seen the top in rates fading quickly.  European sovereign bonds, however, have seen demand this morning with yields slipping a bit as follows: Bunds (-1.8bps), OATs (-1.2bps) and Gilts (-1.3bps). Perhaps the weak economic data is playing out as expected here.

Commodities are under pressure this morning led by WTI (-1.9%) but seeing weakness in the Agricultural space (Wheat -0.7%, Soy -0.9%) as well.  The one thing that continues to see no end in demand, though, is the base metals with Cu (+0.3%), Al (+0.9%) and Sn (2.2%) continuing their recent rallies.  Stuff is in demand!

In the FX markets, the day is shaping up to be a classic risk-off session, with the dollar firmer against all G10 counterparts except the yen (+0.1%) with SEK (-0.55%) and NOK (-0.5%) the leading decliners.  We can attribute Nokkie’s decline to oil prices while Stockie seems to be demonstrating its relatively high beta to the euro (-0.3%). EMG currencies have far more losers than gainers led by ZAR (-0.7%), TRY (-0.65%) and RUB (-0.6%).  The ruble is readily explained by oil’s decline while TRY is a bit more interesting as the latest central bank governor just promised to keep monetary policy tight in order to combat inflation. Apparently, the market doesn’t believe him, or assumes that if he tries, he will simply be replaced by President Erdogan again.  The rand’s weakness appears to be technical in nature as there is a belief that May is a particularly bad month to own rand, it having declined in 8 of the past 10 years during the month of May, and this is especially true given the rand has had a particularly strong performance in April.

On the data front, today brings a bunch more information including Personal Income (exp 20.2%), Personal Spending (+4.1%), Core PCE Deflator (1.8%), Chicago PMI (65.3) and Michigan Sentiment (87.5).  Given the Fed’s focus on PCE as their inflation measure, it will be important as a marker, but there is no reason to expect any reaction regardless of the number.  That said, every inflation reading we have seen in the past month has been higher than forecast so I would not be surprised to see that here as well.

In the end, though, it is still the Treasury market that continues to drive all others.  If yields resume their rise, look for a stronger dollar and pressure on equities and commodities.  If they were to head back down, so would the dollar while equities would find support.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Filled With Froth

Said Jay, markets seem filled with froth
But let me tell you, we are loth
To even discuss
The tapering fuss.
To ZIRP and QE we are troth

Now, ask yourself what markets heard
Jay cooed like his favorite white bird
So, dollars were sold
Investors bought gold
With equity bulls undeterred

The Chairman was very clear yesterday afternoon in his press conference, the Fed is not anywhere near thinking about changing their current policy mix.  While paying lip service to the idea that if inflation turns out not to be ‘transitory’ they have the tools to address it, the overwhelming belief in the Mariner Eccles Building appears to be that by autumn, inflation will be a thing of the past and the Fed will still have their foot on the proverbial accelerator.

This does raise the question that, if economic growth is rebounding so smartly, why does the Fed need to buy $120 billion of assets each month and maintain their policy rate at 0.00%?  While I am just an FX guy, it seems to me that the current policy stance is more appropriate for an apocalyptic economic crisis, something like we suffered last year or in 2008-9, rather than for an economy that is growing at 7.0% or more.  But that’s just me.  Clearly, Chairman Powell and his committee are concerned that the economy cannot continue to grow on its own, else they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.

When it comes to the tapering of asset purchases, Powell was also explicit that it is not nearly time to consider the idea.  Yes, we had one good NFP number, but we need a string of them to convince the Fed that we are past the worst of things.  Remember, the opening two lines of the Fed statement continue to be about Covid.  “The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals.  The COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world.”  Until such time as that statement changes, we don’t need to hear the press conference to know that nothing is going to change.

With this in mind, let us consider the potential impact on markets.  Starting with Treasuries, it seems reasonable to assume that yields are reflective of investors collective view on inflation going forward.  The Fed has been purchasing $120 billion / month since last June and is not about to change.  At this stage, it would appear the market has factored those purchases into the current yield.  This means, future movements are far more likely to be indicative of the evolving view on inflation.  Yesterday, after the press conference, 10-year yields slipped by 4bps, but this morning, they have recouped those losses and we currently sit at 1.65%.  With commodity prices clearly still on a massive roll (WTI +1.4%, Cu +0.8%), while the Fed is convinced that any inflation will be transitory, it is not obvious that the rest of the market agrees.  Powell said the Fed would need to see a string of strong data.  Well, next week the early expectations for NFP are 888K, which would be two very strong months in a row.  Is that a string?  Certainly, it’s a line.  But I doubt it will move the needle at the Fed.  Maximum employment is still a long way off, and there will be no changes until then.  As inflation readings climb, and they will, Treasury yields will continue to climb as well.  There is nothing magical about 1.75%, the level reached at the end of March, and I expect that by the end of Q2, we will be looking at 10-year yields close to, or above 2.0%.

If Treasury yields are at 2.0%, what happens to equity markets?  In this case, it is not as clear cut as one might think.  First off, this Fed clearly has a different reaction function to data than previous iterations as they have been explicit that pre-emptive tightening to prevent potential future inflation is not going to happen.  This implies that any rise in yields is not reflective of expected Fed policy changes, but rather as a response to rising inflationary pressures.  History has shown that when inflation rises but stays below 3.0%, equity markets can remain buoyant, but once that threshold has been breached, it is a different story.  Remember, especially in the tech sector, but in truth quite generally, the reason low rates boost the stock market is because any discount cash flow model, when discounting at ultra-low rates means current values should be higher.  This is why rising yields become a problem for equity prices. In fact, it is reasonable to analogize being long growth stocks to being long bond duration, so when bond prices fall and yields rise accordingly the same thing happens to those stocks.  If this relationship holds going forward, and inflationary concerns do continue to percolate in the market, it would appear equity prices could be in for a bumpy ride.

Clearly, that is not yet the case (after all, inflation hasn’t yet reared its ugly head), as evidenced by the overnight price action in the wake of Powell’s comments.  Asia was strong (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +0.5%) and most of Europe is as well (CAC +0.55%, FTSE 100 +0.7%) although the German DAX (-0.25%) is a bit of a laggard this morning as concerns over Q1 GDP rise due to the third Covid wave.  US futures, though, are all-in with Jay, rising between 0.5% (Dow) and 1.0% (NASDAQ).  That makes sense given the assurances that there will be no tapering forever the foreseeable future.

As to the dollar, there are two different narratives at odds here.  On the one hand, the fundamentalists continue to point to a weaker dollar in the future as rising inflation tends to devalue a currency, and when combined with the massive fiscal deficit policy, a dollar decline becomes the only outlet available for pressure on the economy.  On the other hand, rising yields tend to support the dollar, so as Treasury yields continue to rise, if they stay ahead of the inflation statistics, there is reason to believe that the dollar has further to gain from here.  Of course, if inflation outstrips the rise in nominal yields such that real yields decline, we could easily have a situation with higher nominal Treasury yields and a much weaker dollar.  For now, the inflation data is lagging the Treasury market, but I suspect that by the end of May, that will not be the case, meaning the long-awaited dollar decline has a much better chance to get started then.

In the meantime, the dollar has softened ever so slightly this morning.  Versus G10 currencies, only JPY (-0.25%) has declined as the rebound in Treasury yields this morning seems to be garnering interest in the Japanese investment community.  But, while the dollar is softer vs. everything else, nothing has even moved 0.2%, which implies there is no news beyond the Fed.  In the EMG space, the dollar is also largely softer, led by HUF (+0.5%), THB (+0.45%) and INR (+0.45%).  HUF continues to benefit from the relatively hawkish stance of the central bank, while the baht rallied despite a reduction in the 2021 GDP estimate to 2.3% as Covid infections increase in the nation.  Meanwhile, INR appears to be the beneficiary of the Fed’s stance as clearly, the ongoing domestic disaster regarding its response to the latest wave of Covid infections cannot be seen as a positive.

On the data front, we start with Initial Claims (exp 540K) and Continuing Claims (3.59M) but also see the first look at Q1 GDP (6.6%), with a range of estimates from 4.5% to 10.0%!  With the Fed meeting behind us, we should start to hear from FOMC members again, but today only has Governor Quarles discussing financial regulation, a much drier subject than inflation.  Tomorrow, however, we will see the latest Core PCE data, and that has the chance to move things around.

As of now, the dollar remains on its back foot given the Fed’s clear message that tapering is a long way off and easy money is here for now.  However, if Treasury yields start to rise further, especially if they get back toward the 1.75% level, I expect the dollar will rebound.  On the other hand, if Treasuries remain quiet, the dollar probably has further to fall.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Lower Forever’s Outdated

A little bit later today
The FOMC will convey
Its thoughts about both
Inflation and growth
And when QE might fade away

The punditry’s view has migrated
Such that ‘Low Forever’s’ outdated
Instead, many think
That QE will shrink
By Christmas, when growth’s stimulated

Attention today is entirely on the Federal Reserve as they conclude their two-day meeting and release the latest statement at 2:00pm.  Thirty minutes later, Chairman Powell will begin his press conference and market activity will slow down dramatically as all eyes and ears will be focused on his latest musings.

What makes this situation so interesting is there is absolutely no expectation for a change to monetary policy today.  Fed funds will remain between 0.00% and 0.25% and asset purchases will continue at a pace of ‘at least’ $80 billion / month of Treasuries and $40 billion / month of mortgage backed securities.  So, what’s all the hubbub?

Recent economic data has been quite strong (Retail Sales +9.8%, Philly Fed at record high 50.2, Housing Starts +19.4%) and is forecast to continue to show strength going forward.  In addition, the first glimmers of rising prices are starting to be seen (Import Price Index +6.9%, Export Price Index +9.1%) which begs the question, how long can the Fed allow things to heat up before they start to remove monetary stimulus.  As the Fed has been in its quiet period for the past two weeks, we have not heard a peep regarding their thoughts in the wake of the most recent, very strong data.  Thus, with no new Fed guidance, the fertile minds of Wall Street economists have created a narrative that explains the continued robust US growth will lead the Fed to begin to remove policy accommodation by tapering asset purchases before the end of the year.  And they well could do so.

However, while Fed policy may or may not be appropriate, the one thing that has remained consistent throughout the Fed’s history is that when they say something, they generally stick to it.  And the last words we heard from Powell were that there was no reason to consider tapering until “substantial further progress” had been made toward their goals of maximum employment and average inflation of 2.0%.  No matter how great the data has been in the past two weeks, two weeks of data will not qualify as substantial.  In fact, I doubt two months will qualify.  If forced to anticipate a timeline for the Fed, it will not be before September, earliest, and more likely December that they will begin to lay the groundwork to potentially reduce asset purchases.  I think the market is way ahead of itself on this issue.

Consider, as well, this puzzle.  The market has pushed yields higher all year in anticipation of much faster growth and inflation generated by the combination of the end of lockdowns and federal stimulus money.  As federal spending continues to massively outstrip federal revenues, the Treasury continues to issue more and more new debt, also leading to higher yields.  Naturally, the higher the level of yields, the more expensive it is for the US government to service its debt which reduces its capacity to spend money on the things it is targeting with the new debt.  One of the key expectations of many of the same pundits calling for tapered purchases is yield curve control (YCC), which is exactly the opposite of tapering, it is unlimited purchasing of bonds.  So, how can we reconcile the idea of YCC with the idea of the Fed tapering purchases?  Personally, I cannot do so, it is one or the other.

Which brings us to what can we expect today?  Based on everything we have heard from Fed speakers in the past month, I believe talk of tapering is extremely premature and the Fed will not mention anything of the sort in the statement.  As well, I expect that Chairman Powell will be quite clear in the press conference when asked (and he will be asked) that the economy is not out of the woods and that they have much further to go before even considering altering monetary policy.

Arguably, this line of conversation should be risk positive, helping equities push higher and the dollar lower, but as we have seen for at least the past several months, the 10-year Treasury yield remains the absolute key driver in markets.  If supply concerns (too much supply) continue to grow and yields resume their march higher, I expect the dollar will rally and equities will come under pressure.  However, if the bond market is assuaged by Powell’s words, then I would expect a dollar decline and all other assets priced in dollars (stocks, bonds and commodities) to continue to climb in price.  We shall see starting at 2:00 today.

As to the markets leading up to the FOMC drama this afternoon, equities are generally firmer while bond yields are rising as well along with the dollar and base metals.  Overnight, the Nikkei (+0.2%), Hang Seng (+0.45%) and Shanghai (+0.4%) all had solid sessions.  Europe has seen gains through most markets (DAX +0.35%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.35%) although Sweden’s OMX (-1.3%) is significantly underperforming in what apparently is a hangover from yesterday’s mildly bearish economic views by the Riksbank.

Bond markets are uniformly lower this morning, with Treasury yields higher by 1.8 basis points after a 5 basis point rally yesterday.  In Europe, Gilts (+4.7bps) are the worst performers but we are seeing weakness of at least 3bps across the board (Bunds +3.2bps, OATS +3.3bps).  There has been precious little data released to explain these price declines, and if anything, the fact that German GfK Confidence (-8.8) was released at a much worse than expected level would have argued for lower rates.  By the way, that low print seems to be a consequence of the spread of Covid in Germany and reinstituted lockdowns.

On the commodity front, oil (+0.4%) is modestly firmer and remains well above the $60/bbl level.  While gold (-0.5%) and silver (-1.3%) are underperforming, we continue to see demand for industrial metals (Al +0.65%, Sn +1.8%) although copper (-0.15%) has given back a tiny amount of its recent gargantuan run higher.

The dollar is generally firmer vs. the G10 with GBP (-0.35%) today’s laggard followed by AUD (-0.25%) and JPY (-0.2%).  The market seems to have taken sides with the doves in the BOE as virtually every member spoke today and a majority implied that policy would remain accommodative despite expectations for faster growth.  Away from these 3 currencies, movements were extremely modest although leaned toward currency weakness.

EMG currencies are a bit more mixed, with a spread of gainers and losers this morning.  On the negative side, PLN (-0.5%) is in the worst shape as investors express concern over a judicial ruling due tomorrow on the status of Swiss franc mortgages that were taken out by Polish citizens a decade ago and have caused massive pain as the franc appreciated dramatically vs the zloty.  A negative ruling could have a major impact on Poland’s banking sector and by extension the economy.  Away from that, losses in CZK (-0.3%) and KRW (-0.2%) are next on the list, but it is hard to pin the movement to news.  On the positive side, TRY (+0.5%) continues to benefit from the perceived reduction in tension with the US while traders have seemingly embraced INR (+0.4%) on the idea that despite a horrific Covid situation, relief, in the form of massive vaccine imports, is on the way to help address the situation.

Ahead of the FOMC the only data point is the Advanced Goods Trade Balance (exp -$88.0B), but that is unlikely to have an impact.  Equity futures are biding their time as are most market participants as we all await Mr Powell.  Treasury yields continue to be the main driver in my view, so if they continue to rally, they are already 10bps clear of the recent lows, I expect the dollar will continue to regain some of its recent lost ground.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Ephemeral

Inflation remains
Ephemeral in Japan
Will Suga as well?

Leadership in Japan remains a fraught situation as highlighted this week.  First, three by-elections were held over the weekend and the governing LDP lost all three convincingly.  PM Yoshihide Suga is looking more and more like the prototypical Japanese PM, a one-year caretaker of the seat.  Previous PM, Shinzo Abe, was the exception in Japanese politics, getting elected and reelected several times and overseeing the country for more than 8 years.  But, since 2000, Suga-san is the 9th PM (counting Abe as 1 despite the fact he held office at two different times).  In fact, if you remove Abe-san from the equation, the average tenor of a Japanese PM is roughly 1 year.  Running a large country is a very difficult job, and in the first year, most leaders are barely beginning to understand all the issues, let alone trying to address whichever they deem important.  In Japan, not unlike Italy, the rapid turnover has left the nation in a less favorable position than ought to have been the case.

Of course, long tenure is no guarantee of success in a leadership role, just ask BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.  He was appointed to the role in February 2013 and has been a strong proponent of ultra-easy monetary policy as a means to stoke inflation in Japan.  The stated target is 2.0%, and for the past 8 years, the BOJ has not even come close except for the period from March 2013-March 2014 when a large hike in the Goods and Services Tax raised prices on everyday items and saw measured inflation peak at 3.7% in August.  Alas for Kuroda-san, once the base effects of the tax hike disappeared, the underlying lack of inflationary impulse reasserted itself and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, CPI currently sits at -0.2%.

Last night, the BOJ met and left policy on hold, as expected, but released its latest economic and inflation forecasts, including the first look at their views for 2023.  Despite rapidly rising commodity prices as well as a slightly upgraded GDP growth forecast, the BOJ projects that even by 2023, CPI will only rise to 1.0%.  Thus, a decade of monetary policy largesse in Japan will have singularly failed to achieve the only target of concern, CPI at 2.0%.

Personally, I think the people of Japan should be thankful that the BOJ remains unsuccessful in this effort as the value of their savings remains intact despite ZIRP having been in place since, essentially, 1999.  While they may not be earning much interest, at least their purchasing power remains available.  But the current central bank zeitgeist is that 2.0% inflation is the holy grail and that designing monetary policy to achieve that end is the essence of the job.  The remarkable thing about this mindset is that every nation has a completely different underlying situation with respect to its demographics, debt load, fiscal accounts and growth capabilities, which argues that perhaps the one size fits all approach of 2.0% CPI may not be universally appropriate.

In the end, though, 2.0% is the only number that matters to a central banker, and for now, virtually everyone worldwide is trying to design their policy to achieve it.  As I have repeatedly discussed previously, here at home I expect that soon enough, Chairman Powell and friends will find themselves having to dampen inflation to achieve their goal, but for now, pretty much every G10 central bank remains all-in on their attempts to push price increases higher.  That means that ZIRP, NIRP and QE will not be ending anytime soon.  Do not believe the tapering talk here in the US, the Fed is extremely unlikely to consider it until late next year, I believe, at the earliest.

Delving into Japanese monetary policy seemed appropriate as central banks are this week’s story line and we await the FOMC outcome tomorrow afternoon.  In addition to the BOJ, early this morning Sweden’s Riksbank also met and left policy unchanged with their base rate at 0.0% and maintained its QE program of purchasing a total of SEK 700 billion to help keep liquidity flowing into the market.  But there, too, the inflation target of 2.0% is not expected to be achieved until 2024 now, a year later than previous views, and there is no expectation that interest rates will be raised until then.

What have these latest policy statements done for markets?  Not very much.  Overall, risk appetite is modestly under pressure this morning as Japan’s Nikkei (-0.5%) was the worst performer in Asia with both the Hang Seng and Shanghai indices essentially unchanged on the day.  I would not ascribe the Nikkei’s weakness to the BOJ, but rather to the general tone of malaise in today’s markets.  European equity markets have also been underwhelming with red numbers across the board (DAX -0.35%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.2%) albeit not excessively so.  Here, too, apathy seems the best explanation, although one can’t help but be impressed with the fact that yet another bank, this time UBS, reported significant losses ($774M) due to their relationship with Archegos.  As to US futures, their current miniscule gains of 0.1% really don’t offer much information.

Bond prices are also under very modest pressure with 10-year Treasury yields higher by 1.1bps and most of Europe’s sovereign market seeing yield rises of between 0.5bps and 1.0bps.  In other words, activity remains light as investors and traders await the word of god Powell tomorrow.

Commodity prices, on the other hand, are not waiting for anything as they continue to march higher across the board.  Oil (+0.8%) is leading the energy space higher, while copper (+1.1%) is leading the base metals space higher.  Gold and silver have also edged slightly higher, although they continue to lag the pace of the overall commodity rally.

The dollar, which had been uniformly higher earlier this morning is now a bit more mixed, although regardless of the direction of the move, the magnitude has been fairly small.  In the G10 space, the leading decliner is AUD (-0.2%) which is happening despite the commodity rally, although it is well off its lows for the session.  That said, it is difficult to get too excited about any currency movement of such modest magnitude.  Away from Aussie, JPY (-0.2%) is also a touch softer and the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.1% changed from yesterday’s closing levels, tantamount to unchanged.

EMG currencies have seen a bit more movement, but only TRY (+0.75%) is showing a substantial change from yesterday.  it seems that there is a growing belief that the tension between the US and Turkey regarding the Armenian genocide announcement by the Biden administration seems to be ebbing as Turkish President Erdogan refrained from escalating things.  This has encouraged traders to believe that the impact will be small and return their focus to the highest real yields around.  But away from the lira, gainers remain modest (KRW +0.25%, TWD +0.2%) with both of these currencies benefitting from equity inflows.  On the downside, ZAR (-0.35%) is the laggard as despite commodity price strength, focus seems to be shifting to the broader economic problems in the nation, especially with regard to a lack of power generation capacity.

Data this morning brings Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 11.8%) and Consumer Confidence (113.0), neither of which is likely to have a big impact although the Case Shiller number certainly calls into question the concept of low inflation. With the FOMC tomorrow, there are no Fed speakers today, so I anticipate a relatively dull session.  Treasury yields continue to be the underlying driver for the dollar in my view, so keep your eyes there.

Good luck and stay safe
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QE Will Wane

Some pundits have come to believe
That sometime before New Year’s Eve
The Fed will explain
That QE will wane
Though others are sure they’re naïve

So, let’s listen to what the Fed
Has very consistently said
Without hard statistics,
Not simple heuristics,
The idea of tapering’s dead

As a new week begins, all eyes are turning to the central bank conclaves scheduled for the latest clues in monetary policy activity.  Recall last week, the Bank of Canada surprised almost everyone by explaining they would reduce the amount of QE by 25% (C$1 billion/week) as they see stronger growth and incipient inflationary pressures beyond the widely discussed base effects that are coming soon to a screen near you.  This has clearly inspired the punditry, as evidenced by a recent survey of economists carried out by Bloomberg, showing more than 60% of those surveyed expect the Fed to begin to taper QE before the end of this year.  When the same questions were asked in March, less than 50% of those surveyed expected a tapering this year.  Obviously, we have seen a run of very strong survey data, as well as a very strong payroll report at the beginning of this month.  In addition, the vaccine rate has increased substantially, with the combination of these things leading to significantly upgraded economic forecasts for the US this year.

And yet, everything we have heard from Chairman Powell and the rest of the FOMC has been incredibly consistent; they are not even thinking about thinking about tapering monetary policy and will not do so until substantial further progress toward their goals of maximum employment and average inflation of 2.0% are achieved.  In addition, Powell has promised to communicate very clearly, well in advance, that changes are in the offing.  While we have had two strong employment reports in a row, the combined job gains remain a fraction of the 10 million that Powell has repeatedly explained need to be regained.  Arguably, we will need to see NFP numbers north of 750K for the next 6-9 months before the Fed is even close to their target and will consider taking their foot off the proverbial accelerator.

Of course, there is one thing that could force earlier action by the Fed, inflation rising more quickly than anticipated.  As of now, the Fed remains unconcerned over price rises and have made it clear that while the data for the next several months will be rising quickly, it is a transitory impact from the now famous base effects caused by the Covid induced swoon this time last year.  Even then, given the new framework of average inflation targeting, rather than a hard numeric target, a few more months of above 2.0% core PCE will hardly dissuade them from their views as they have nearly a decade of lower than 2.0% core PCE to offset.

But what if inflation is more than a transitory event?  While the plural of anecdote is not data, it certainly must mean something when every week we hear from another major consumer brand that prices will be rising later this year.  Personal care products, food and beverages have all been tipped for higher prices this year.  The same is true with autos and many manufactured goods as the consistent rise in input prices (read commodities) is forcing the hands of manufacturers.  While it is true that, by definition, core PCE removes food & energy prices, to my knowledge, neither toothpaste nor Teslas are core purchases.

The medium-term risk appears to be that inflation runs, not only hotter than the Fed expects, but hot enough that they begin to become uncomfortable with its impact.  While the natural response would be to simply raise rates, given Jay’s effective promise not to raise rates until 2023, as well as the fact that the Treasury can ill afford higher interest rates (nor for that matter can the rest of the economy given the amount of leverage that is outstanding), the Fed may well find themselves in quite a bind later this year.  One cannot look at the price of copper (+1.9% today, 25.6% YTD), aluminum (+1.2%, 21.1%) or iron ore (+0.4%, 16.0%) without considering that those critical inputs, neither food nor energy, are going to drive price pressures higher.  And, by the way, food and energy prices have been rocketing as well (Corn +38% YTD, Wheat +13.1%, Soybeans +18.2%, WTI +26.1%).  Chairman of the Fed may not be that attractive a position by the time Powell’s term ends in February.

Turning to the markets, if I had to characterize them in a theme, it would be idle.  Equity markets are generally flat to lower with the odd exception in Asia (Nikkei +0.4%, Hang Seng -0.4%, Shanghai -1.0%) and Europe (DAX -0.2%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  US futures are also noncommittal this morning, with the NASDAQ (-0.3%) the only one having really moved.

In the bond market, the rally we had seen over the past three weeks has stalled and is starting to cede some ground.  For instance, Treasuries (+3.7bps) are leading the way higher but we are seeing higher yields throughout Europe (Bunds +2.3bps, OATs +2.5bps, Gilts +3.0bps) and even saw gains overnight in Australia (+1.8bps) and Japan (+0.5bps).  Historically, that would have seemed to be a risk-on phenomenon, but given the lack of equity strength, this feels a lot more like an inflationary call.

While the metals space is strong today, oil is actually softer (-1.7%) as concerns over the rampant spread of Covid in India and other emerging markets undermines the vaccine news in the West.

As to the dollar, it is generally, but not universally, weaker this morning.  In the G10, AUD (+0.6%), NZD (+0.3%) and CAD (+0.3%) are the leaders, with all benefitting from the metals rally, which has been sufficient to offset weaker oil prices for the Loonie.  On the downside, NOK (-0.1%) is clearly feeling a bit of pressure from oil, although 0.1% hardly makes a statement.  EMG currencies are showing the same type of price action with TRY (+1.2%) the leading gainer as it rebounds from near-record lows amid hopes the tension with the US will be temporary.  Away from the lira, TWD (+0.5%) rallied on concerns that the Taiwanese government would be pressured by the US with respect to its currency and competition concerns.  We saw similar, but lesser pressure on KRW (+0.4%).  Meanwhile, the modest declines seen in HUF (-0.2%) and MXN (-0.1%) define the other side of the spectrum.

Clearly, the FOMC meeting is the highlight of the week, but there is other important data as well, including the BOJ tonight.

Today Durable Goods 2.5%
-ex transport 1.6%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 11.8%
Consumer Confidence 112.0
Wednesday FOMC Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
IOER 0.12%
Thursday Initial Claims 550K
Continuing Claims 3.59M
GDP Q1 6.9%
Personal Consumption 10.3%
Friday Personal Income 20.0%
Personal Spending 4.2%
Core PCE 1.8%
Chicago PMI 64.2
Michigan Sentiment 87.5

Source: Bloomberg

The end of the week is where all the action will be, assuming Chairman Powell doesn’t shake things up Wednesday afternoon.  Core PCE is forecast to print at its highest level since February 2020, but if you recall the CPI data, it was a tick higher than forecast as well.  Of course, for now, it doesn’t matter.  This is all transitory.

Nothing has changed my opinion with respect to the relationship between the dollar and the 10-year Treasury yield.  While it is not actually tick for tick, if yields do back up, I would look for the dollar to find its footing in the near term.  I know the dollar bears are back in force, but we need to see a break above the 1.2350 level in the euro to really turn the tide in my view.  Otherwise, we are simply at the bottom of the dollar’s range.

Good luck and stay safe
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