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
Adf

Don’t Get Carried Away

The data released yesterday
Had Fed speakers try to downplay
The idea that prices
Are causing a crisis
They said, don’t get carried away

But markets worldwide have all swooned
As traders are highly attuned
To signals inflation
In every location
Will quickly show that it’s ballooned

Wow!  That’s pretty much all you can say about the CPI data yesterday, where, as I’m sure you are by now aware, the numbers were all much higher than expected.  To recap, headline CPI rose 0.8% M/M which translated into a 4.2% Y/Y increase.  Ex food & energy, the monthly gain was 0.9%, with the Y/Y number jumping to 3.0%.  To give some context, the core 0.9% gain was the highest print since 1981.  It appears, that at least for one month, the combination of unlimited printing of money and massive fiscal spending did what many economists have long feared, awakened the inflation dragon.

The Fed was in immediate damage control mode yesterday, fortunately having a number of speakers already scheduled to opine, with Vice-Chair Richard Clarida the most visible.  His message, along with all the other speakers, was that this print was of no real concern, and in truth, somewhat expected, as the reopening of the economy would naturally lead to some short-term price pressures as supply bottlenecks get worked out.  As well, they highlighted the fact that much of the gain was caused by just a few items, used car prices and lodging away from home, neither of which is likely to rise by similar amounts again next month.  That may well be true, but the elephant in the room is the question regarding housing inflation and its relative quietude.

House prices, at least according to the Case Shiller Index, are screaming higher, up 12% around the country in the past 12 months and showing no signs of slowing down.  The pandemic has resulted in a significant amount of displacement and as people move, they need some place to live.  The statistics show that there is the smallest inventory of homes available in decades.  As well, the rocketing price of lumber has added, apparently, $34,000 to the price of a new house compared to where it was last year, which given the median house price in the US is a touch under $300,000, implies a more than 10% rise in price simply due to the cost of one material.  And yet, Owners Equivalent Rent, the housing portion of the CPI data, rose only at 0.21% pace.  A great source of inflation information is Mike Ashton (@inflation_guy), someone you should follow as he really understands this stuff better than anyone else I know.  As he explains so well, this is likely due to the eviction moratorium that has been in place for more than a year, so rents paid have been declining.  However, that moratorium has just been overturned in a court decision and so we should look for the very hot housing market to soon be reflected in CPI.  That, my friends, will be harder to pass off as transitory.

The reason all this matters is because the entire Fed case of maintaining ZIRP in their efforts to achieve maximum employment, is based on the fact that inflation is not a problem, so they have no reason to raise rates.  However, if they are wrong on this issue, which is the only issue on which they focus, it results in the Fed facing a very difficult decision; raise rates to fight inflation and watch securities prices deflate dramatically or stay the course and let inflation continue to rise until it potentially gets out of control.  While we all know they have the tools, the decision to use them will be far more challenging than I believe most of them expect.

The market’s initial reaction to the data was a broad risk-off session, as equity prices fell sharply in Europe and the US yesterday and then overnight in Asia (Nikkei -2.5%, Hang Seng -1.8%, shanghai -1.0%) they followed the trend. Europe this morning (DAX -1.4%, CAC -1.1%, FTSE 100 -2.0%) is still under pressure as the global equity bubble is reliant on never-ending easy money.  Rising inflation is the last thing equity markets can abide, so these declines can not be surprising.  The question, of course, is will they continue?  A one- or two-day hiccup is not really a problem, but if investors start to get nervous, it is a completely different story.  It is certainly true that valuations for equities, at least as measured by traditional metrics like P/E and P/S are at extremely high levels.  A loss of confidence that the past is prologue could well see a very sharp correction.

Despite the risk off nature of the equity market price action, bonds were also sold aggressively yesterday and in the overnight session.  It ought not be surprising given that bonds should be the worst performing asset in an inflationary spike, but still, the 10-year Treasury jumped more than 7 basis points yesterday, a pretty big move.  While this morning it is essentially unchanged, the same cannot be said for the European sovereign market where yields have risen again, between 1.5bps (Bunds) and 5.1bps (Italian BTPs) with the rest of the continent sandwiched in between.  Nothing has changed my view that the 10-year Treasury yield remains the key market driver, at least for now, thus if yields continue to rally, look for more downward pressure on stocks and commodities and upward pressure on the dollar.

Speaking of commodities, they are under pressure across the board this morning with WTI (-2.1%) leading the way lower but Cu (-1.7%) having its worst day in months.  The entire base metal complex is lower as are virtually all agriculturals, although the precious metals are holding up as a bit of fear creeps into the investor psyche.

Finally, the dollar, which rallied sharply yesterday all day in the wake of the CPI print, is more mixed this morning gaining against the G10’s commodity bloc (NOK -0.3%, AUD -0.2%) while suffering against the European bloc (CHF +0.25%, EUR +0.1%) although the magnitude of the movements have been small enough to attribute them to modest position adjustments rather than an overriding narrative.  We are seeing a similar split in the EMG currencies, with APAC currencies all under pressure (THB -0.5%, KRW –0.4%, TWD -0.2%) while the CE4 hold their own (PLN +0.3%, HUF +0.3%, CZK +0.2%).  At this time, LATAM currencies, which all suffered yesterday, are either unchanged or unopened.

This morning’s data brings Initial Claims (exp 490K) and Continuing Claims (3.65M) as well as PPI (0.3% M/M, 5.8% Y/Y) headline and (0.4% M/M, 3.8% Y/Y ex food & energy).  Of course, with the CPI already out, this is unlikely to have nearly the impact as yesterday.  In addition, we get three more Fed speakers to once again reiterate that yesterday’s CPI data was aberrational and that any inflation is transitory.  I guess they hope if they say it often enough, people may begin to believe them.  But that is hard to do when the prices you pay for stuff continues to rise.

Treasuries remain the key.  If yields rally again (and there is a 30-year auction today) then I expect the dollar to take another leg higher.  If, on the other hand, yields drift back lower, look for the dollar to follow as equity buyers dip their toes back into the water.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Far From our Goals

Said Brainerd, “we’re far from our goals”
Of helping to max out payrolls
So, patience is needed
Else we’ll be impeded
And Biden might drop in the polls
Thus, we must maintain the controls

There is a single hymnal at the Marriner Eccles Building in Washington, DC and every FOMC member continues to read from that gospel.  In short, the current view is that things are getting better, but there is still a long way to go before the economy can continue to grow without Fed support, therefore, the current policy mix is appropriate and will be for a long time to come.  On the subject of inflation, when it was even mentioned by any of the six Fed speakers yesterday, it was pooh-poohed as something of no concern, widely recognized that it will rise in the short-term, but universally expected to be ‘transitory’.  I don’t know about you, but it certainly makes me feel much better that a group of 6 individuals, each extremely well-paid with numerous perks accorded to their office, and each largely out of touch with the world in which the rest of us live, are convinced that they can see the future.  After all, the Fed’s forecasting record is unparalleled…in its futility.

However, that is the situation as it currently stands, the Fed remains adamant that there is no need to taper its QE program, no need to raise interest rates anytime soon and that the current policy mix will address what ails the US economy.

The problem with this attitude is that it seems to ignore the reality on the ground.  Exhibit A is the news today that average gasoline prices across the nation crossed above $3.00/gallon for the first time since 2014.  In fairness to the Fed, some portion of this is a result of the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, where a number of states on the East Coast find themselves with no gasoline to pump.  But do not be mistaken, as I’m sure everyone is aware, gasoline prices have been rising sharply for the past 6 months, at least.  At issue now is just how much higher they can go before having more deleterious effects on the economy, let alone on many individuals’ personal situation.

It is not just gasoline, but pretty much all commodities that have been rallying sharply since the pandemic induced lows of April 2020.  Since its nadir, for example, the GSCI has more than doubled, but that merely brings it back to its level of the prior five years, when there was no concern over commodity driven inflation.  The difference this time is that due to a combination of the Covid-induced breakdown in supply chains and a massive reduction in Capex by the mining and extraction sector, the prospect of equilibrium in this space in the near term is limited.  There is a growing belief that we are embarking on a so-called commodity super-cycle.  This would be defined as a long-term period where commodity demand outstrips supply and commodity prices rise continually, generally doubling or tripling from the previous lows.

This discussion is an excellent prelude to this morning’s CPI release, where the analyst community is looking for a 0.2% M/M rise which translates into a 3.6% Y/Y rise.  Ex food and energy, expectations are for 0.3% M/M and 2.3% Y/Y.  The sharp rise in the annual headline rate is exactly what the Fed has been discussing as base effects, given this time last year, the economy was seeing price deflation on the back of the economy’s shutdown, with transportation, hospitality and leisure prices collapsing due to a forced lack of demand.  As such, the market seems entirely prepared for a very large number.  From my vantage point, the Y/Y number is not so important today, but the M/M number is.  Consider that a 0.3% reading, if strung over twelve months, comes to an annual inflation rate of more than 3.6%, considerably above the Fed’s target.

We continue to hear one Fed speaker after another explain that while the economy is improving, they must still maintain ultra-easy monetary policy.  We continue to hear them explain that any inflation readings will be transitory.  And maybe they are correct.  However, if they are not, and inflation embeds itself more deeply into the national psyche, the Fed will find themselves in an unenviable position; either raise interest rates to combat inflation (you know, the tools they have) and watch the financial markets fall sharply; or let inflation run hot, and allow the dollar to fall sharply while eventually watching financial markets fall sharply.  Talk about a Hobson’s Choice!

Now to markets, which after yesterday’s selloff in the US equity space, albeit with a close that was well off session lows, we saw a mixed Asian session (Nikkei –1.6%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +0.6%) and are seeing a similar performance in Europe (DAX +0.25%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 +0.35%).  US futures, on the other hand, are uniformly pointing lower at this hour, down between 0.35% (DOW) and 0.6% (NASDAQ).

Bond markets, after yesterday’s worldwide rout, have seen a small rebound with Treasury yields edging lower by 0.5bps, although still hanging around the 1.60% level.  There is an overwhelming consensus that 10-year Treasury yields are set to rise substantially, but so far, that has just not been the case.  European markets are seeing yield declines of between 1bp (Bunds and OATs) and 2bps (Gilts).  Today brings two critical data points, first the US CPI data shortly and then the US 10-year Treasury auction will be closely scrutinized to determine if there is a crack in demand for our seemingly unlimited supply of Treasury paper.

Commodity prices are broadly higher led by oil (WTI +1.3%) with base metals continuing to climb as well (Cu +0.7%, Al +0.5%, Ni +1.0%).  The same cannot be said of the precious metals space, though, with both gold (-0.2%) and silver (-0.8%) seeing some selling on profit taking.

The dollar is in fine fettle this morning, rallying against 9 of its G10 counterparts with only CAD (+0.1%) holding its own.  NZD (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.5%) are in the worst shape as both respond to weaker than expected Chinese monetary growth which implies that the Chinese economy may not be growing as quickly as previously thought.  However, the European currencies are all modestly softer as well on worse than expected Eurozone IP data (0.1% vs. 0.8% expected).  EMG currencies are also under pressure this morning, with the APAC currencies feeling it the worst.  KRW (-0.45%), THB (-0.4%) and SGD (-0.25%) are leading the way lower, also on the back of the Chinese monetary data.  Interestingly, TWD (-0.03%) is barely changed despite an equity market rout (TAIEX -4.1%) and concerns about growth in China.

Other than the CPI data and the Treasury auction, there is no other news or data.  Well, that’s if you exclude the continuing parade of Fed speakers, with today’s roster of 4 positively sparse compared to what we have seen lately.  The one thing we know is that they are unlikely to change their tune.

Which brings us back to the 10-year Treasury.  It continues to be the market driver in my view, with higher yields leading to a stronger dollar and vice versa.  I suspect that this morning’s CPI data may print higher than forecast, but it is not clear to me if that will truly have an impact.  My bigger fear is that broad risk appetite may be waning given the leadership of the equity rally has been suffering of late.  In this situation, we could easily go back to a classical risk-off framework of lower stocks, higher bond prices (lower yields) and a stronger dollar.  Just beware.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Devil-May-Care

It wasn’t all that long ago
When Powell and friends let us know
That prices might rise
But that in their eyes
T’was something we soon would outgrow

And lately it seems they were right
As chains of supply get more tight
But so far, they’re clear
The Fed has no fear
Inflation could rise overnight

Investors, though, don’t seem to share
That attitude, devil-may-care
Instead they’re rebelling
And stocks they are selling
While bond markets, too, they forswear

Perhaps as a prelude to tomorrow’s CPI data here in the US, last night we saw Chinese inflation data.  Chinese data, though, has a very different meaning than US data.  From China, markets care far more about PPI than about CPI, as China continues to be the world’s factory floor.  So, a rising PPI in China may presage rising retail prices elsewhere in the world.  Consider this when looking at the Chinese data, where PPI rose a more than expected 6.8%, it’s highest print since October 2017, while CPI there rose only 0.9%, a tick less than forecast.  The proximate cause of the sharp rise in PPI has been the ongoing explosion higher in commodity prices.  All their input costs are rising (iron ore, steel, copper, energy, etc.) thus producers are forced to raise their prices.  While retailers have not yet passed through all the cost increases in China, manufacturers and retailers elsewhere in the world have not been so sanguine on the issue.  Instead, the combination of rising commodity prices and shortages in key intermediate goods, like semiconductors, has been more than sufficient to push up prices.

It should be no surprise that markets, in general, are not applauding this outcome, and in fact, are concerned that this is just the beginning of the move in prices.  On the one hand, we continue to hear from both the Fed and the ECB that there is no reason to consider tightening policy at this time as neither bank has achieved their policy aims.  On the other, there is no sign that the supply side damage that was caused by the pandemic is anywhere close to being repaired.  Reduced supply meeting ongoing artificially high demand is guaranteed to raise prices.  I guess the Fed and ECB will soon be quite pleased with themselves for having created inflation.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

However, this policy mistake action in the face of the current conditions is what is driving market prices, which today are wholly in the red, and in substantial size.  Equity markets worldwide (Nikkei -3.1%, Hang Seng -2.1%, DAX -2.2%, CAC -2.0%, FTSE 100 -2.2%) have been under severe pressure ever since yesterday’s US tech slump, but bond markets, too, are seeing significant selling pressure, with Bunds, OATs and Gilts all seeing yields climb by 4 basis points this morning.  In other words, investors are explaining they don’t want to hold financial assets in an inflationary environment.  In fact, there is a great deal of buzz in the markets about some of the large interest rate bets that are being made in both Eurodollar and Euribor futures markets, where very large size option trades are being executed with the aggressor buying put options as part of large risk reversals.  It seems there is very little concern over interest rates declining from current levels, and rightly so, but expectations for higher rates well before either the Fed or ECB has indicated they are considering changing tack are the new normal.

What, you may ask, has this done for the dollar?  That is a much tougher question to answer as the outcome has been far less clear.  I have been adamant that the 10-year Treasury yield has been the key driver of the dollar’s value for virtually all of 2021, and despite the sell-off in European sovereigns this morning, Treasury yields are unchanged at 1.60%.  Heading into tomorrow’s CPI data, as well as another round of Treasury refunding starting with today’s 3-year auction of $40 billion (a total of $108 billion will be auctioned this week), it appears that investors and traders are not certain what to do.  Despite economic data that points to quickening growth, we continue to hear from Fed speaker after Fed speaker that they are not even close to considering tapering QE, let alone raising interest rates.  Well, except for the lone(ly) hawk, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan.  But yesterday, both Chicago’s Mike Evans and SF’s Mary Daly were clear it is far too early to consider tapering QE.  Today brings six more Fed speakers, none of whom have a history of hawkishness.

In the end, if inflation continues to rise while Treasury yields remain rangebound due to QE, as real yields decline, look for the dollar to follow.  Breakeven inflation rates continue to trade at multi-year highs (5-year 2.73%, 10-year 2.53%) and are indicating a strong belief that inflation is picking up pace. While the Fed continues to tell us they “have the tools” necessary to combat any potential inflation, the only thing of which we can be sure is they not only “have the tools” required to support markets (and the economy by extension), but that they will use those tools. When it comes to fighting the inflation battle, though, not a single current FOMC member is battle tested.  Given this asymmetry, it is not surprising that we are seeing an increase in market bets on higher interest rates.

Back to the dollar, which is actually under a bit of pressure this morning, along with all those other assets. In the G10, only CHF (-0.1%) is softer as we are seeing gains from the European bloc (NOK, SEK +0.4%, EUR +0.3%) leading the way.  Arguably, this is on the back of the much better than expected German ZEW expectations index, which printed at its highest level in more than 10 years.  Meanwhile, the pound (+0.1%) and commodity bloc here are having a much less interesting session.

In the emerging markets, Asian currencies felt pressure overnight on the tech stock decline with KRW (-0.5%), TWD (-0.4%) and MYR (-0.3%).  On the other hand, the CE4 have all followed the euro higher and we are seeing strength in ZAR (+0.5%), RUB (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.5%), despite oil’s small slide (-0.8%).

All in all, today is shaping up as another one that will be driven by the yield story.  In order for the dollar to really turn around its recent weakness, we will need to see a very significant risk-off event, with Treasuries rallying and fear abundant.  But so far, the current equity decline has not been sufficient to get those juices flowing.  As such, I still would err on the side of a weaker dollar.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

To Make Jay Concerned

On Friday the payroll report
Surprised folks by coming up short
Is growth really slowing?
Or else, is this showing
A government data distort?

This morning, though, all eyes have turned
To metals and stuff that is burned
As those prices soar
They seem to have more
Potential to make Jay concerned

With all that anticipation leading up to the payroll report on Friday, it sure turned out differently than expected.  You may recall that the median forecast for the headline number was a cool million new jobs, with a survey range from 700K to 2.1 million.  The result, 266K plus a reduction of 140K from the previous month was, in a word, awful.  In fact, it was the largest statistical miss since the data began.  Now, the analyst community is busy trying to figure out what went wrong.

There are a couple of possible answers, each with its own implications.  The simplest explanation is that the combination of exiting from an unprecedented, government-imposed economic shutdown is not easily modeled and when combined with the vagaries of seasonal adjustments to the data, analysts’ models were simply wrong.  It is important to remember that the seasonal adjustments in this data stream are quite large relative to the reported data, so this is quite a viable explanation.

A second possible explanation, and one favored by the current administration, is that the data shows the economy needs more government support as too many people are falling through the cracks.  On the other hand, the business community continues to complain how difficult it is to hire qualified employees, especially in the service sector, as the ongoing government unemployment largesse is paying more than many low paying service sector jobs.  (The story of the entire workforce of a Dollar General store upping and quitting en masse is the quintessential symbol of this concept.)  Another facet of this argument is the skills mismatches that exist as, for example, erstwhile airline staff may not be able to analyze data for an IT firm, effectively resulting in a hiring need and unemployed worker at the same time.

While skills mismatches certainly exist, they always have, arguably one way for businesses to obtain staffing is to pay more for the roles in question.  The risk in that strategy is, especially for small businesses, increased labor costs will force companies to raise prices at the risk of losing business.  Based on Friday’s report, this is clearly not yet the default choice of the small business owner.  Odds are, though, especially as demand for all products and services increases with the reopening of the economy more generally, that this is going to be the outcome.  Higher wages to get workers and higher prices for goods and services.

Occam’s Razor suggests that the first explanation, data uncertainty, is the most likely cause for Friday’s massive statistical miss.  However, don’t expect the other two arguments to disappear as they are each very compelling for the currently competing political narratives.  Ultimately, we will find out more through the data for the rest of this month and get to do this all over again in June.

On the topic of rising prices, though, this morning has much more to offer, specifically in the commodity space.  The big weekend news has been about a cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, which happens to be the largest pipeline for oil products like gasoline and diesel, to the East Coast.  With the pipeline shut, (apparently the pipeline can still carry the products, but the company cannot track how much fuel is being consumed, and thus charge accordingly), gasoline and product prices are rising, dragging up oil prices as well (WTI +0.5%).  But of more interest is the metals sector where prices are exploding higher.  Not only are precious metals (Au +0.45%, AG +1.25%) higher, but industrial base metals are really rocking (Fe +5.1%, Cu +2.6%, Al +1.9%, Ni +0.8%).  This is, of course, one of the key features of the inflation is coming narrative, sharply rising commodity prices will work their way into the price of stuff.  But inflation is a measure of the ongoing change in prices over time.  The Fed’s argument is that these prices will have an impact in the short run, but unless commodity prices continue rise year after year, the effect will be ‘transitory’.

The counter to the Fed’s argument is that we are currently embarking on the beginning of a commodity super-cycle, a price phenomenon where prices trend in one direction for many years on end, often 10-15 years.  If this argument is correct, and the prices of copper and iron ore are just beginning their climb, then the Fed is going to find themselves with a whole lot of trouble in the future.  But right now, it is merely dueling forecasts and narratives, so nothing is clear.

With all the excitement in commodities, things are pretty quiet in the financial markets.  Equity markets in Asia were a bit higher (Nikkei +0.55%, Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai +0.25%) while European bourses are mixed (DAX -0.25%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.15%).  US futures are also mixed with Dow (+0.3%) continuing last week’s rally while NASDAQ (-0.25%) continues to feel pain from the ongoing rotation out of tech.

Bond markets are not buying the inflation narrative at this point with Treasuries (-0.5bps) seeing slightly lower yields while Bunds and OATs are essentially unchanged on the day.  The only real mover is the Gilt market (+1.7bps) which has rallied after weekend elections failed to give the Scottish National Party a majority in the Scottish Parliament and thus the prospect of a referendum to allow Scotland to leave the UK seems to be pushed back.

The outcome of the Scottish vote helped the pound as well, with GBP rallying 0.9% this morning, far and away the best performer in the FX markets.  Amid broad-based dollar weakness, the pound’s performance still stands out.  Next in line, in the G10, is AUD (+0.5%) which is a clear beneficiary of the rise in commodity prices.  In fact, iron ore is Australia’s largest commodity export.  NZD and CAD (both +0.2%) are lesser beneficiaries and the rest of the block, save JPY (-0.2%) is slightly firmer.  The yen seems to be suffering from the latest poll showing PM Suga’s popularity continuing to slide and bringing some uncertainty to the situation there with an election due by the end of the year.

Asian currencies were the big beneficiary in the EMG space led by KRW (+0.7%), IDR (+0.6%) and CNY (+0.3%).  The story there continues to be the anticipated strong growth rebound combined with the dollar’s weakness.  Remember, Chairman Powell has essentially promised that US rates are going to remain at zero regardless of what happens for at least another year.  As it happens, TWD (+0.3%) has traded to its strongest level since 1997, as the robust economic situation, plus the huge demand for semiconductors has more than offset any geopolitical concerns.

Data this week is back-loaded as follows:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 100.8
JOLTs Job Openings 7.5M
Wednesday CPI 0.2% (3.6% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.3% (2.3% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 495K
Continuing Claims 3.64M
PPI 0.3% (5.8% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (3.7% Y/Y)
Friday Retail Sales 1.0%
-ex autos 0.9%
IP 1.0%
Capacity Utilization 75.1%
Michigan Sentiment 90.1

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, CPI will be very interesting, as will Retail Sales.  We also hear from 13 more Fed speakers this week, all of whom are certain to repeat the mantra that the economy needs more support and they will not be changing policy anytime soon.  Remember, inflation is transitory…until it’s not.

The dollar is starting the week off on the back foot.  If we continue to hear Fed speakers insist that policy is not going to change, and we continue to see inflationary consequences rise, the dollar will weaken further.  In the end, 10-year Treasury yields remain the key number to watch.  As long as they remain within the recent range, the dollar is likely to remain soft.  If they should break higher, though, watch out.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

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
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