They Haven’t the Nerve

It’s not just the Federal Reserve
Who thinks that inflation’s steep curve
Is likely short-term
And so reconfirm
For rate hikes, they haven’t the nerve

In Mexico, Chile, Peru
Each central bank chose to eschew
The chance to raise rates
For like in the States
They pray that inflation’s not true

Inflation remains the key talking point in every market these days.  This means not just equity, bond and commodity markets, but also geographically, not just the US, but literally every country in the world.  And in every one of these situations the two camps remain strongly at odds over the likely permanence of rising prices.  In the US, of the 16 current members of the FOMC, only one, Dallas’s Richard Kaplan, is concerned that inflation may be more than transitory.  Meanwhile the Bank of Canada has already made their move to begin tapering QE over concerns that rising inflation may become a bigger problem in the future.

Of course, inflation is not just a G10 phenomenon, it is a global one, arguably more so an issue in emerging markets than in developed ones.  Given the timing of recent central bank actions, I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at Latin America for a sense of how other nations are dealing with rising prices.

Mexico – Banco de Mexico left its overnight rate at 4.00% for the third consecutive month yesterday despite the fact that CPI is running at 6.08% and they are currently focused on targeting 3.0% inflation.  Clearly, those numbers don’t seem to go together well, but the explanation is that the disappointingly slow rebound in the economy after last year’s Covid induced disaster has the central bank determined to help support economic growth at the risk of allowing higher inflation to become entrenched.  Not only that, they have committed to maintaining policy rates here until growth picks up further.  Look for higher inflation going forward.

Chile – Banco Central de Chile left its overnight rate at a record low of 0.50% yesterday for the 13th consecutive month despite the fact that inflation is running at 3.3%, above its 3.0% target, and trending sharply higher.  While the rise in copper prices has been an extraordinary boon to the country, given its reliance on the metal for so much of its export earnings (nearly 30%), the economy is still recovering from last year and the central bank deemed economic support, especially in this time of political uncertainty, more important than price stability.

Peru – Banco Central de Reserva del Peru left its rate at 0.25%, also a record low, for the 13th consecutive month despite the fact that inflation is running at 2.4% vs. BCRP’s 2.0% target.  Here, too, political considerations are in the mix given the upcoming second round of presidential elections and the concern that a little known left-wing school teacher may become president next month.  Here, too, the board explained that policy was appropriate for the current situation despite higher than desired inflation.

These moves contrast with Brazil, which raised rates last week by 0.75%, to 3.50%, for the second consecutive meeting and are set to do so again in June.  Of course, CPI in Brazil, which is targeted at 3.0%, is currently running at 6.76% and climbing quickly.  If it weren’t for Argentina (CPI 46.3%) Brazil would be suffering the worst inflation in Latin America.  (I exclude Venezuela here as it is impossible to measure the inflation rate given the utter collapse of the economy and monetary system.)

It seems that the central banking community is filled with a great number of people who are either innumerate or highly political.  Neither of these characteristics make for an effective and independent central bank, and given the plethora of central bankers worldwide who exhibit these tendencies, it is a fair bet that rising prices are going to be a feature of our lives, no matter where we live, for a long time to come.  The point is, it is not just the Fed that is willfully blind to the evidence of rising prices, it is a widely held viewpoint.

Today, however, the markets have decided to agree with the predominant central bank view that inflation is a transitory phenomenon as evidenced by the fact that risk appetite is back in vogue.  It starts with the bond market, where Treasury yields are falling (-1.9bps) and now 6 basis points below the levels reached after Wednesday’s CPI data.  Yesterday’s PPI data, though also higher than expected, had virtually no impact on markets.  In Europe, Gilts (-3.1bps) are also rallying along with Bunds (-0.8bps) although French OATs are flat on the day.

This renewed confidence in a lack of inflation scare has had a much bigger impact on the equity markets, where once again, buying the dip seemed to be the correct move.  Asia saw robust gains (Nikkei +2.3%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +1.8%) and Europe is having a solid day as well (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.7%).  US futures are pointing to a continuation of yesterday’s rally with NASDAQ (+1.0%) leading the way, but all three indices higher by at least 0.5%.

Commodity prices are rising led by oil (+1.25%) and precious metals (Au +0.5%, Ag +0.7%) although the base metals are a bit more mixed (Cu -0.8%, Fe -5.2%) after China instituted price restrictions against steel producers in order to try to quash the recent explosion higher in steel prices.

As to the dollar, it should be no surprise that it is broadly softer this morning against both its G10 and EMG counterparts.  NOK (+1.1%) leads the way higher on the back of oil’s rally but we are seeing solid gains in NZD (+0.6%) and SEK (+0.5%) on the back of broadly positive risk appetite.  In the EMG bloc, only TWD (-0.03%) managed to lose any ground after another day of significant foreign equity outflows and an uptick in Covid cases.  Otherwise it is all green led by TRY (+0.85%), HUF (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.45%).  Turkey’s lira, which is approaching all time lows appears to be seeing a simple trading bounce as there is no news to drive things.  Mexico is clearly benefitting from the oil rally while Hungary’s forint is the beneficiary of a growing belief that the central bank there is going to raise rates to fight rising inflation.  As I said, there are several central banks that still try to focus on reality rather than wishful thinking, but they seem to be few and far between.

This morning brings Retail Sales (exp 1.0%, 0.6% ex autos) as well as IP (0.9%), Capacity Utilization (75.0%) and Michigan Sentiment (90.0).  On the central bank front, only Richard Kaplan, the lone hawk standing, speaks today, so look for more discussion about the need to think about tapering QE.  The thing is, the market is fully aware that he has no support in this stance and so it will not likely have any impact.

With the inflation scare behind us for at least another two weeks (Core PCE will be released at the end of the month), it seems the way is open for more risk-on sentiment.  This means bond yields are unlikely to rise very much and the dollar will therefore remain under pressure.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe