Poor Madame Lagarde

As prices worldwide start to rise

And central banks, rates, normalize

Poor Madame Lagarde

May soon find it hard

To ably, her goals, realize

Let me start by saying that I will be out of the office starting tomorrow, returning July 6th.

Despite the fact that the markets in the US are showing only limited signs that the Fed is actually considering tightening, the punditry continues to believe that tapering asset purchases is next up on the Fed’s agenda.  In fact, the discussion is becoming granular with respect to which assets they should consider addressing.  The two current theses are; reduce purchases of both Treasuries and Mortgages at a similar rate, or just reduce Mortgage purchases given the bubble the Fed has blown in the housing market.  And there are FOMC members on both sides of that argument although it cannot be surprising that the more dovish members continue to insist that buying $40 billion / month of Mortgage-backed securities is having absolutely no impact on the housing market.  But the point is that the analyst community is fully on board with the idea the Fed is going to be reducing its asset purchases soon.

I highlight this because when combined with the fact that so many other countries are more definitively moving past unlimited policy ease, with some already tightening, it becomes interesting to consider which nations are not considering any policy changes.  And this is where the ECB comes into view.

As of now, the ECB (and BOJ) insist that there are no plans to change their policy mix anytime soon.  And yet, they seem to have the opposite problem of the Fed, the market is pricing in rate increases there, currently a 0.10% hike by the end of Q3, and bond yields have been rising steadily with German bund yields almost back up to 0.00%.  (As an aside, it continues to be remarkable to me that one can make the statement, back up to 0.00%!)  Given the slower trajectory of growth thus far in Europe, especially with respect to inflation readings, Madame Lagarde and her cadre of central bankers certainly have their work cut out for them to maintain the policy stance they desire and believe is necessary to support the economy there.  Will the ECB be forced to ease further in some manner, like extending PEPP in order to achieve their aims?

In contrast, despite the fact that the Fed is talking about talking about tapering, and the dot plot indicated a majority of FOMC members believe they will be raising rates by the end of 2023, the bond market remains sanguine over the prospect of either higher inflation or higher interest rates.  Go figure.  

So, who do we believe when surveying the current situation?  On the one hand, it is always tough to argue with the market.  Whether or not we understand the actual drivers, the collective intelligence of investors tends to be exceptionally accurate at recognizing trends and future outcomes.  On the other hand, the phrase, ‘don’t fight the Fed’ has been around for a long time because it has proven to be an effective input into any investment thesis.  The problem is, when those two indicators are at odds with each other, choosing the likely outcome is extraordinarily difficult, more so than normal.

One way to think about it is that both can be right if you consider they may have differing timelines.  For instance, the market tends to discount actions in the 9 month to 1year timeframe while the Fed may well be considering more immediate actions.  However, in this case, I feel like the Fed is looking at a similar timeline as the market.  Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned before, it appears the Fed remains completely reactive to market movement.  Thus, right now, regardless of their rhetoric, my take is if the market demands easier policy, they will make it known via a sell-off in equities that will result in the Fed stepping in with support.  If, on the other hand, the market is comfortable with the current situation, a continued benign rise in equities is on the cards.  As the Fed has put themselves in the position of reactivity, my money is on the market this time, not the Fed.  We shall see.

As I was quite delayed this morning, a very quick recap of the overnight session shows that risk was under pressure in Asia but that Europe has responded very well to much stronger than expected confidence indicators for manufacturing and consumers across the continent.  So while all three main Asian indices fell about 1.0%, Europe has seen gains of at least 0.6% with the DAX up 1.2%.

As it happens this morning, Treasury prices have edged a bit lower with the 10-year yield rising 2bps, but that was after a nice rally yesterday, so we continue to trade right around 1.50%.  Big picture here is nothing has changed.  European sovereigns are softer as risk appetite improves on the continent, with 2.0bp rises in the major markets.

While oil prices (+0.5%) are a bit firmer, the metals complex is under pressure this morning with gold and silver both down sharply (-1.4%) and base metals also falling (Cu -1.0%, Al -0.7%).

The metals’ movement is more in sync with the dollar, which has rallied against all its G10 peers and most EMG currencies.  AUD (-0.7%) and NZD (-0.7%) are the laggards here with NOK (-0.6%) next in line.  Obviously, oil is not the driver, although Aussie and Kiwi would suffer from metal price declines.  However, it appears that Covid continues to haunt many countries and the market seems to be responding to perceptions that growth will be slowing rather than continuing its recent uptrend.  

In EMG, RUB (-0.8%), PLN (0.65%) and ZAR (-0.6%) are amongst the worst performers with ruble and rand clearly impacted by metals prices while the zloty seems to be suffering from a more classical interpretation of inflation’s impact on a currency, as higher inflation expectations are leading to a weaker currency.

On the data front, Case Shiller House Prices rose 14.88%, higher than expected and continuing the trend that has been in place for more than a year.  Later we get Consumer Confidence exp (119.0) although it seems unlikely with payrolls coming on Friday, that the market will pay much attention.

Only Thomas Barkin from Richmond speaks on behalf of the Fed today, but there is no reason to believe that it will change any views.  The narrative is still the same.

The dollar is feeling quite strong this morning and seems likely to maintain those gains as the day proceeds.  If the market truly believes the Fed is going to taper, we should see the evidence in the bond market with higher yields.  But for now, the dollar’s strength feels more like short-covering than a change in the long-term view of ultimate dollar weakness.  However, this can persist for a while (just like inflation 😊)

Good luck, and have a great holiday weekend.  I will be back on the 6th.


A Popular View

It seems that a popular view

Explains that the Fed will pursue

A slowdown in buying

More bonds as they’re trying 

To bid, fondly, QE adieu

At least that’s what pundits all thought

The Powell press conference had wrought

They talked about talking

But are not yet walking

The path to where policy’s taut

It appears virtually unanimous that the punditry believes the FOMC is going to be tightening policy (i.e. tapering) in the ‘near future’.  Of course, the near future is just as imprecise as transitory, the Fed’s favorite word.  Neither of these words convey any specificity, which makes them very powerful in the narrative game, but perhaps not so powerful when directly addressed.  My take on transitory is as follows: initial expectations were it meant 2 or 3 quarters of price pressures which would then dissipate as supply chains were quickly reconnected.  However, it has since morphed into as much as 2 to 3 years given the reality that certain shortages, notably semiconductors, may take much longer to abate as the timeline to build out new capacity is typically 2 to 3 years.  I guess it all depends on your frame of reference as to what transitory means.  For instance, to a tortoise, 2 to 3 year is clearly but a blip in their lives, but to a fruit fly, it is beyond an eternity.  Sadly, the market’s attention span is much closer to that of a fruit fly’s than a tortoise’s so 2 to 3 years feels a lot more permanent than not.  This is especially so since there is no way to know if other, more persistent inflationary issues may arise in the interim.

As to the ‘near future’, that seems to mean somewhere between the middle of 2022 and the middle of 2024.  Here too, the timeline is extremely flexible to accommodate whatever story is trying to be sold told.  When puffing up the strength of the economic recovery, expectations tend toward the earliest estimates.  In fact, we continue to hear from several FOMC members that tapering will soon be appropriate.  However, if we look at who is making those comments (Bullard, Kaplan, Rosengren and Bostic), we find that only Raphael Bostic from Atlanta currently has a vote.  At the same time, those who are least interested in the idea of tapering include the leadership (Powell, Clarida and Williams) as well as the other governors (Bowman, Brainard, Quarles and Waller), and they have permanent votes.  In other words, my take on the FOMC meeting is it was far less hawkish than much of the punditry has described.  And there is one group, which really matters, that is apparently in agreement with me; the bond market!  Treasury prices after an initial sell-off (yield rally) have reversed that move and are essentially unchanged with a flatter yield curve.  It strikes me that if the Fed were to taper, yields would start to rise in the long end as the removal of that support would have a significant negative price impact.

So, if I were to piece together the narrative now it appears to be the following: inflation is still transitory if it remains well above target for the next 2 years and the bond market is convinced that is the case (ostensibly a survey showed that 70% of fixed income managers believe the transitory story).  Meanwhile, despite the transitory nature of inflation, the Fed is going to tighten its monetary policy sometime next year and potentially even raise the Fed Funds rate in 2023.  Personally, that seems somewhat contradictory to me, but apparently cognitive dissonance is a prerequisite to becoming an FOMC member these days.

At any rate, given the lack of actual policy changes by the Fed, all we have is the narrative.  This week we will have four more Fed speakers to continue to reiterate that narrative, that despite the transitory nature of inflation we are going to tighten policy in the future.  Of course, that begs the question, Why?  Why tighten policy if there is no inflation?  Cognitive dissonance indeed.

In the meantime, as markets continue to try to figure out what exactly is happening, we wind up with paralysis by analysis and relatively limited movement.  For instance, equity markets in Asia were all essentially unchanged overnight, with not one of them moving even 0.1%.  Europe, on the other hand is having a tougher go this morning with red across the screen (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.5% and FTSE 100 -0.5%) with a real outlier as Spain’s IBEX (-1.5%).  There has been no data released but there is growing concern that the Delta variant of Covid is going to cause another lockdown in Europe before they finished reopening the first time.  This is based on the fact that we have seen lockdowns reimposed in Australia, Japan, Singapore and Israel after all those nations seemed to be moving forward.  As to US futures, they are either side of unchanged at this hour awaiting some clarity on anything.

It can be no surprise that bond markets are rallying slightly with Treasuries (-1.7bps) leading the way but small yield declines in Europe as well (Bunds -0.8bps, OATs -1.1bps, Gilts -1.8bps).  With equity markets under pressure, this is a natural reaction.  And if you consider the reasoning, worries over another Covid wave, then slower growth would be expected.

Funnily enough, Covid is having a currency impact today as well.  In the G10, the new Health Minister, Sajid Javid, has said he wants to see the country return to normal “as soon and as quickly as possible.”  Despite the equity market concerns, the FX market saw that as bullish and the pound (+0.2%) is the leading gainer in the G10 this morning.  But as the morning has progressed and risk sentiment has become less positive, the dollar is starting to asset itself against most of the rest of the bloc with NZD (-0.35%) and NOK (-0.3%) the laggards.  Both of these are under pressure from declining commodity prices as oil (-0.1%) is sagging a bit.

In the EMG bloc, ZAR (-0.8%) is in the worst condition this morning as the Delta Covid variant has increased its spread and the government is behind the curve in treating the issue.  But we saw weakness overnight in THB (-0.6%), and this morning the CE4 are all under the gun as well.  And the story seems to be the same everywhere, tighter Covid restrictions are undermining currencies while positivity is helping them.

It is a big data week as it culminates in the payroll report on Friday:

TuesdayCase Shiller Home Prices14.85%
 Consumer Confidence119.0
WednesdayADP Employment550K
 Chicago PMI70.0
ThursdayInitial Claims389K
 Continuing Claims3335K
 ISM Manufacturing61.0
 ISM Prices Paid86.0
FridayNonfarm Payrolls700K
 Private Payrolls600K
 Manufacturing Payrolls25K
 Unemployment Rate5.7%
 Average Hourly Earnings0.3% (3.6% y/Y)
 Average Weekly Hours34.9
 Participation Rate61.7%
 Trade Balance-$71.3B
 Factory Orders1.5%

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, all eyes will be on the payroll data as the Fed has made it clear that employment is their key focus for now.  There was an interesting story in the WSJ this morning highlighting how the states that have ended the Federal Unemployment Insurance bonus have seen an immediate pickup in employment with jobs suddenly being filled.  That bodes well for the future, but it also means we will have this issue for another quarter if all the states that maintain the bonuses continue to do so.

As mentioned above, several Fed speakers will be out selling the narrative that inflation is transitory, but tapering may be coming anyway.  (A cynic might think they are not being totally honest in what they are saying, but only a cynic.)

A quick top down look at the FX market leads me to believe that individual national stories are currently the real drivers.  So those nations that are raising interest rates to fight inflation (Mexico, Brazil, Hungary, Russia) are likely to see their currencies hold up.  Those nations that are having serious relapses in Covid infections (South Africa, much of Europe) are likely to see their currencies come under pressure.  Where the two meet (South Korea), it seems to depend on the day as to which way the currency goes.  With that in mind, though, I would bet the monetary policy story will have more permanence will be the ultimate driver.

Today, the dollar seems to be in fine fettle as risk is on the back foot given the increasing Covid concerns over the Delta variant.  But do not be surprised if tomorrow is different.

Good luck and stay safe


Nirvana Awaits

While Powell and friends fail to see

Inflation rise dangerously

Down south of the border

They fear its disorder

And burden on society

So, Mexico shocked and raised rates

While Fedspeak back here in the States

Continues the story

It’s all transitory

And claiming Nirvana awaits

Mexico became the latest emerging market nation to raise interest rates when they surprised the analyst’s community as well as markets by raising their base rate by 0.25% yesterday afternoon to 4.25%.  The FX market response was swift and certain with the peso gaining more than 1.0% in the first minutes after the announcement although that has since slightly abated.  “Although the shocks that have affected inflation are expected to be of a transitory nature, given their variety, magnitude and the extended time frame in which they have been affecting inflation, they may pose a risk to the price formation process,” the Banxico board explained in their accompanying statement.  In other words, although they are paying lip service to the transitory concept, when CPI rose to a higher than expected 6.02% yesterday, it was apparently a step too far.  Expectations for further rate hikes have already been built into the markets while views on the peso are improving as well.

The juxtaposition yesterday of Mexico with the UK, where the BOE left policy rates on hold at 0.10% and maintained the QE program intact despite raising its inflation forecast to 3.0% for next year, is quite interesting.  Historically, it was the emerging market central banks who would seek growth at any cost and allow inflation to run hot while trying to support the economy and the developed market central banks who managed a more disciplined monetary policy, working to prevent inflation from rising while allowing their economy’s to grow without explicit monetary policy support.  But it seems that another symptom of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has reversed the ‘polarity’ of central bank thinking.  Mexico is the 4th major EMG nation (Russia, Brazil and Poland are the others) to have raised rates and are anticipated to continue doing so to combat rising prices.  Meanwhile, when the Bank of Canada reduced the amount of its QE purchases, it was not only the first G10 bank to actually remove some amount of monetary largess, it was seen as extraordinary.  

In the States, yesterday we heard from six more Fed speakers and it has become evident that there are two distinct views on the FOMC as to the proper course of action, although to a (wo)man, every speaker exclaimed that inflation was transitory.  Several regional Fed presidents (Bullard, Bostic and Kaplan) are clearly in the camp of tapering QE and potentially raising rates by the end of next year, but the Fed leadership (Powell, Clarida, Williams) are adamantly opposed to the idea of tightening policy anytime soon.  And the thing is, the hawks don’t even have a vote this year, although they do get to participate in the conversation.  The upshot is that it seems highly unlikely that the Fed is going to tighten policy anytime at all this year regardless of inflation readings going forward.  While ‘transitory’ has always been a fuzzy term, my take has always been a 2-3 quarter view, but yesterday we started to hear it could mean 2 years or more.  If that is the case, then prepare for a much worse ultimate outcome along with a much weaker dollar.

As markets and investors digest the latest central bank dogma, let us peruse the latest price action.  Yesterday’s equity market price action led to yet another set of new all-time highs in US indices and even Mexico’s Bolsa rose 0.75% after the rate hike!  Overnight saw a continuation of that view with the Nikkei (+0.65%), Hang Seng (+1.4%) and Shanghai (+1.15%) all rallying nicely.  Perhaps a bit more surprisingly this morning has seen a weaker performance in Europe (DAX -0.15%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 +0.1%) despite slightly better than expected Confidence data out of Germany and Italy.  As vaccinations proceed apace on the continent, expectations for a renewed burst of growth are rising, yet today’s stock markets seem unimpressed.

At the same time, despite all the Fedspeak and concern over inflation, the 10-year Treasury yield has basically been unchanged all week and seems to have found a new home at 1.50%, right where it is now.  Since it had been a harbinger for markets up until the FOMC meeting last week, this is a bit surprising.  As to Europe, bonds there are actually under some pressure this morning (Bunds +1.7bps, OATs +2.9bps, Gilts +1.2bps) although given equity market performance, one is hard-pressed to call this a risk-on move.  Perhaps these markets are responding to the better tone of data, but they are not in sync with the equity space.

In commodity markets, prices are mixed this morning.  While oil (-0.25%) is softer, gold (+0.5%) and silver (+1.0%) are looking awfully good.  Base metals, too, are having a better session with Cu (+0.4%), Al (+1.5%) and Sn (+0.2%) all performing well.  Crop prices are also rising, between 0.25% and 0.5%.  Fear not for oil, however, as it remains firmly ensconced in its uptrend.

And lastly, in FX markets, the dollar is under modest pressure across most of the G10, with the bulk of the bloc firmer by between 0.1% and 0.2%, and only GBP (-0.2%) softer.  While we did see a slightly weaker than expected GfK Consumer Confidence number for the UK last night (-9 vs. expected -7) we also just saw CBI Retail Sales print at a much better than expected level.  In the end, it is hard to ascribe the pound’s movement, or any of the G10 really, to data.  It is far more likely positions being adjusted into the weekend.

In the emerging markets, the dollar is having a much tougher time with ZAR (+1.0%) and KRW (+0.6%) the leading gainers, but a number of currencies showing strength beyond ordinary market fluctuations.  While the rand’s move seems outsized, the strength in commodity prices is likely behind the trend in ZAR lately.  As to KRW, it seems that as well as the general risk on attitude, the market is pricing in the first policy tightening in Seoul and given the won’s recent mild weakness, traders were seen taking advantage to establish long positions.

We have some important data today led by Personal Income (exp -2.5%), Personal Spending (0.4%) and Core PCE (0.6% M/M, 3.4% Y/Y).  Then at 10:00 we see Michigan Confidence (86.5).  I want to believe the PCE data is important, but I fear that regardless of where it prints, it will be ignored as a product of base effects and so not a true reflection of the price situation.  Yesterday, Claims data was a bit worse than expected as was Durable Goods.  This is not to say things are collapsing, but it is growing more and more apparent, at least based on the data, that the peak in the economy has already been seen.  In fact, the Atlanta Fed GDPNow model has fallen back below 10.0% and appears to be trending lower.  The worst possible outcome for the economy would be slowing growth and rising inflation, and I fear that is where we may be heading given the current fiscal and monetary policy settings.  

That combination will be abysmal for the dollar but is unlikely to be clear before many more months have passed.  For now, I expect the dollar will revert to its risk profile, where risk-on days will see weakness and risk-off days see strength.  Today feels far more risk-on like and so a little further dollar weakness into the weekend seems a reasonable assumption.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe


Feeling Upbeat

The last central bank set to meet

This month is on Threadneedle Street

No change is expected

Though some have projected

The hawks there are feeling upbeat

Market focus this morning will be on the Bank of England’s policy meeting as it is the last of the major central banks to meet this month.  We have already had a tumultuous time between the ECB’s uber dovishness and the Fed’s seeming turn toward the hawkish side of the spectrum.  Of course, the Fed has largely tried to walk that idea back, but it remains firmly implanted in the market dialog.  As to the UK, growth there, despite more draconian lockdown measures still being imposed in the face of the delta variant of Covid, has been expanding rapidly according to the GDP readings while PMI data points to a continuation of that trend.  Not surprisingly, given the supply side constraints that are evident elsewhere in the world, the UK is also dealing with that issue and so prices have been rising apace.  In fact, the CPI data released last week showed the highest print in more than two years.  Of course, that print was 2.1%, hardly a number to instill fear in anyone’s heart.

And yet, the amount of talk about the need to tighten monetary policy in the UK is remarkable.  At least in the US, we are looking at exceptionally high CPI data, with numbers not seen in decades.  In contrast, CPI in the UK averaged nearly 3.0% for all of 2017, well above the most recent reading.  Not only that, but it was only at the last meeting that the BOE reaffirmed that QE was necessary to support the economy.  The idea that in 6 weeks things have changed that much seems fanciful.  That’s not to say that the committee won’t be discussing potential tightening down the road, especially if recent economic trends continue, but I find it hard to believe that given the ongoing disruptions that are still extant, there can be any serious considerations of change.  As it stands, the market is currently pricing a 15 basis point hike by next June, which would take the base rate back up to 0.25%.  

Arguably, the fact that the market is this focused on what should be a non-event is a good indication of the lack of interesting stories at the moment.  With the ECB and Fed behind us, and with both central banks furiously trying to drive the narrative to their preferred story of transitory inflation and no reason to worry, traders are looking for any opportunity to make a buck.  Some of the previous ideas, whether Bitcoin or meme stocks, have largely lost their luster.  The inflation trade, too, is having a harder time as so many commodity prices have retreated from their early Spring highs.  In this situation, it is not unusual for traders to focus on any potential catalyst far in excess of its importance.  I would contend, that is exactly what we are seeing here and that when the BOE announcement comes, it will have nothing to add to the story.

It can be no surprise, then, that market activity overnight has been extremely quiet overall.  As traders and investors look for the next big thing, volumes tend to decrease, and volatility can abate for a short period of time.  For instance, equity markets in Asia showed almost no pulse with both the Nikkei and Shanghai indices unchanged on the day while the Hang Seng managed to eke out a 0.25% gain.  Europe, on the other hand, is having a go of it, with gains in the DAX (+0.8%) and CAC (+1.0%) after much stronger than forecast confidence data was released.  The FTSE 100 (+0.3% ahead of the BOE) seems to want to join the party but is awaiting the BOE release before really moving.  And, after several desultory sessions with very limited movement in the US, futures this morning are higher by 0.5% across the board.

Bond markets are similarly quiet with modest price declines in Treasuries (+0.8bps), Bunds (+0.9bps) and OATs (+0.9bps) seen at this hour.  Gilts are essentially unchanged, clearly awaiting the BOE meeting before traders are willing to get too involved.

Commodity prices started the session with a mix of gainers and losers, but at this hour, most have turned lower.  Oil (-0.2%) is just backing off slightly but remains in a strong uptrend.  While precious metals (Au +0.2%, Ag +0/6%) stick out for being a bit higher on the day, we are seeing weakness in Copper (-0.2%), Aluminum (-0.4%) and most of the ancillary metals as well as the agricultural space with the three main crops all lower by at least 1.0%.

As to the dollar, it is a bit softer this morning with NOK (+0.4%) the leading gainer despite oil’s reversal from early morning gains.  But there is strength in SEK (+0.3%), NZD (+0.25%) and essentially the entire G10 bloc, albeit only modest in size.  It is difficult to point to specific catalysts for this movement, although Sweden’s PPI data did print much higher than forecast leading to some speculation, they too would soon be tightening policy.

***BOE leave policy unchanged, rates on hold***

The first reaction to the BOE news is a modest decline in the pound (-0.2%) although I expect it will remain choppy for now.

Quickly turning to the EMG bloc, the dollar is softer here almost universally with RUB (+0.45%) the leading gainer and PLN (+0.4%) right behind it.  The latter is benefitting from talk that rising inflationary pressures will lead to tighter monetary policy, while the ruble, along with the krone, seems to be maintaining its early gains despite oil’s pullback.  

On the data front, this morning brings the usual weekly Initial Claims (exp 380K) and Continuing Claims (3.46M) as well as Durable Goods (2.8%, 0.7% ex transport).  We also get the final look at Q1 GDP (6.4%) which is forecast to be unchanged from the previous reading.  Tomorrow we will see Core PCE, which is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, but we can discuss that then.

Overall, it is shaping up to be a dull day.  Further comments from the BOE are highlighting the transitory nature of inflation there, with a statement indicating that while 3.0% inflation will be coming, it will not last very long.  As I continue to type, the pound continues to slide, now down 0.3%, and interest rate markets are adjusting as well, with the rate hike scenario being pushed further into the future.  

The one area where we could get some movement is from the Fed speakers, with six on today’s calendar.  Yesterday, Atlanta Fed president Bostic was the first since the FOMC meeting last week, to reiterate that tapering would be appropriate soon as well as higher rates.  But the preponderance of evidence remains that the Fed is uninterested in doing anything for a long while yet.  I think things will get more interesting for them later in the year if inflation figures continue to run hot, but for now, they remain confident they are in control.

As to the dollar, unless we start hearing a lot more hawkish rhetoric from the Fed speakers, my sense is that it will continue to drift slightly lower in its current trading range.

Good luck and stay safe


Real Savoir Faire

There once was an aging Fed Chair

With poise and some real savoir faire

He claimed the foundation

Of rising inflation

Were objects that, right now, were rare

But soon when supply chains are mended

And joblessness falls as intended

Inflation will sink

To levels we think

Are fine, and the world will be splendid

Remember when the FOMC Statement and following press conference were seen as hawkish?  That was sooo last week!  There was talk of rate hikes in only TWO YEARS!  There was talk about talk about tapering the purchase of assets as monetary policy started to ‘normalize’.  (Not for nothing but given we have had the same monetary policy for effectively the past 13 years, ZIRP and QE might be considered normal now, not positive real rates and a stable balance sheet.)  Well, apparently the market reaction was not seen as appropriate by Chairman Jay and his cadre of central bankers, so we have heard a definitive retreat on those concepts in the ensuing six days.  

Just since Monday, we have heard from six different FOMC members and every one of them has essentially said, “just kidding!”  Yesterday, Chairman Powell testified to a House Subcommittee on Covid and was forced to explain, yet again, that policy changes were still a long way down the road and that inflation remains transitory.  It was not, however, just Powell delivering that message.  It was also Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, SF’s Mary Daly and NY’s John Williams amongst others.  Current policy settings are appropriate, inflation is transitory and there is still a long way to go before that elusive substantial further progress toward the Fed’s dual mandates will have been achieved.

History has shown that the Fed’s effective reaction function, at least since Alan Greenspan was Chair, is defined by an equity market decline of a certain amount.  This is especially true if the decline happens quickly whereupon they will jump in and ease policy.  It appears that the amount of market angst necessary to get the Fed to change their tune regarding infinite liquidity and monetary support continues to shrink.  It used to take a decline on the order of 15%-20% to get the Fed nervous.  This time, the S&P 500 fell less than 2% before virtually the entire committee was on the tape walking back their tough talk.  And yet, they would have you believe that when inflation is roaring higher for the rest of the year, they have the intestinal fortitude to fight it effectively by raising interest rates or reducing QE.  As actions speak louder than words, my money is on the Fed being completely unable to address rising inflation.  Be prepared.

This topic continues to be the primary narrative in markets around the world, with many other countries now grappling with the transitory inflation story as well.  Nothing else really matters, and rightly so.  If inflation is building a head of steam and will be rising around the world, central banks are going to be forced to respond.  Some will respond more forcefully and more quickly than others, and it is those currencies which are likely to outperform going forward.  Investors today are generally unfamiliar with investing in an inflationary environment.  The 1970’s were the last time we really saw inflation of substance and even I was still in college (and I am almost certainly much older than you) when that was the situation, with many, if not most, of the current investment community not yet even born.

A quick look at the chart of the Dollar Index (DXY) from that time shows that from the autumn of 1971, right after President Nixon closed the gold window and ended Breton Woods, through the end of 1979, right after Paul Volcker was named Fed Chair and had just started his inflation fight, the dollar declined about 28% (roughly 4% per annum).  Of course, once Volcker got going and US interest rates were raised dramatically to kill off inflation, the dollar rose more than 75% in the following four years.

The point is that while we may disparage the Fed’s actions as being wrong-headed, their policies matter immensely.  Jay Powell may wind up with his reputation in tatters akin to Arthur Burns and G. William Miller, the Fed Chairs who oversaw the sharp rises in inflation in the 1970’s preceding Mr Volcker.  It seems unlikely this outcome is his goal, however, his insistence on toeing the political line rather than hewing to sound money policies bodes ill for the future.

Anyway, while US equity markets have essentially retraced all their post FOMC losses, the rest of the world has seen a more mixed outcome.  In Asia last night, the Nikkei (0.0%) was essentially flat although there were gains in the Hang Seng (+1.8%) and Shanghai (+0.25%).  Europe, on the other hand, is under some pressure this morning with both the DAX (-0.5%) and CAC (-0.4%) feeling some pain based on softer than expected, though still strong, Flash PMI data.  The UK, however, is seeing a much better performance (FTSE 100 +0.35%) as not only was the PMI data stronger than expected, but there apparently is a breakthrough on the lingering Brexit issues of treating goods in Northern Ireland.  Meanwhile, US futures are essentially unchanged this morning, perhaps waiting for some more encouragement from today’s roster of Fed speakers.

Bond markets, after a very choppy few days, have calmed down greatly with Treasuries (+1.2bps) softening a bit while European sovereigns (Bunds -1.4bps, OATs -1.4bps) are seeing some demand.  UK Gilts are little changed as the market there awaits tomorrow’s BOE meeting, where some believe there is a chance for a more hawkish tilt.

Commodity prices are definitely firmer this morning led by oil (+0.7%) but also seeing strength in precious metals (Au +0.25%, Ag +0.7%), base metals (Cu +0.7%, Fe +1.4%, Sn +0.2%) and agricultural products (Soybeans +0.5%, Wheat +1.2%, Corn +0.4%).  Clearly the commodity markets see inflation in the future.

Finally, the dollar is mixed this morning but, in truth, the relatively small movements indicate a lack of interest.  Commodity currencies like NOK (+0.1%), AUD (+0.2%) and NZD (+0.2%) are the leading G10 gainers while JPY (-0.35%) continues to come under pressure, arguably suffering from the fact that Japan imports virtually all its commodities.

In the EMG space, the picture is also mixed with HUF (+0.7%) the leading gainer after the central bank raised its benchmark rate to 0.9% yesterday a 0.3% increase that was expected.  But the idea that they are joining the several other EMG central banks in tightening mode (Brazil, Russia, Ukraine) has investors buying up the forint.  Away from that, ZAR (+0.4%) is clearly benefitting from higher commodity prices as are RUB (+0.2%) and MXN (+0.1%) although the latter two are quite modest.  On the downside, KRW (-0.5%) saw the sharpest declines as a combination of equity outflows as well as a sharp rise in Covid infections was seen quite negatively.  But in truth, most APAC currencies were under some pressure overnight, albeit not to the extent seen in Seoul.

Today’s data brings the Flash PMI (exp 61.5 Mfg, 70.0 Services) as well as New Home Sales (865K).  But more importantly, we have three more Fed speakers set to reiterate the message that policy is not going to change for a while yet, so no need for investors to panic in any market.  The dollar responded logically to the idea that the Fed was going to tighten policy, but now that they have gone out of their way to walk that idea back, I expect the dollar is more likely to drift lower for now.  Perhaps when it becomes clearer that the Fed is actually going to move, we could see some strength again.  But that is likely still a few weeks or months away.  Trade the range for now.

Good luck and stay safe


Do Not Be Afraid

Said Jay, “you must listen to me”

And not to the numbers you see

Do not be afraid

Inflation will fade

So, keep up the stock buying spree!

Last week’s FOMC meeting seems to have been an inflection point in the recent market narrative which has resulted in a great many conflicting thoughts about the future.  The dichotomy of the meeting was the virtual absence of discussion on current high inflation readings juxtaposed with the Dot Plot forecasts on interest rates rising in 2023.  Arguably, the Dot Plot reflects the participants’ growing concern that inflation is rising, and that the FOMC will need to address that situation.  One could argue that this dichotomy has been the underlying cause for the increased volatility evident in markets, with sharp gains and losses seen across bonds, equities and currencies.

This afternoon, Chairman Powell will once again regale us with his views as he testifies before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.  His prepared testimony was released yesterday afternoon with some key comments.  “Inflation has increased notably in recent months.  As these transitory supply effects abate, inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run goal.”  That pretty much sums up the Fed view and confirms that there is very little concern about inflation over time.  

Yesterday we also heard from three other Fed speakers, NY’s Williams, Dallas’ Kaplan and St Louis’ Bullard, with slightly different messages.  Williams, a permanent voter, remains adamant that it is too soon to consider adjusting policy, although he is willing to discuss the idea of tapering.  Meanwhile, both Kaplan and Bullard, both non-voters, are far more interested in getting the tapering talk off the ground as both see the economy picking up pace and have evidenced concern about overheating areas in the economy.  One can surmise from these comments that both of them are amongst the ‘dots’ above 1.0% for 2023.  In fact, Bullard admitted that he was a 0.6% ‘dot’ for 2022 in comments last week.  

Looking ahead, we have a long list of Fed speakers this week, with Mester, a hawkish non-voter, and Daly, a dovish voter, also set to comment today.  It almost appears as though voting members have been given a set of marching (speaking?) orders to which they are to adhere that express no concern over prices and the need to continue with current policy for the foreseeable future, while non-voting members have no such restrictions.  This is a very different dynamic than what we have become used to seeing, where everybody on the committee was saying the same thing.  Perhaps this is Powell’s solution to being able to maintain the policy he wants while having the Fed overall avoid criticism for groupthink.  But groupthink remains the base case, trust me.

During this period of policy adjustments, or at least narrative adjustments, investors have found themselves without their previous strong signals that all asset prices will rise and that havens serve little purpose.  Instead, we have seen a much choppier market in both stock and bond prices as previously long-held convictions have come into question. The most notable change has been in the shape of the yield curve, which has flattened dramatically.  For instance, the 2yr-10-yr spread, which had reached a high above 160 basis points in early April has seen a decline from 137 to below 110 and a rebound back to 122 in the past three sessions.  Other than March 2020, during the initial Covid confusion, there has not been movement of that nature since President Trump was elected in 2016.  And that was a one-day phenomenon.  At this point, the volatility we are experiencing is likely to continue until a new narrative takes hold.  As to today’s session, so far, we are seeing a modest bond rally with yields softer in Treasuries (-1.7bps after a 5bp rally yesterday) and European sovereigns (Bunds -0.4bps, OATs -1.4bps, Gilts -0.5bps) all slightly firmer on the day.  

Meanwhile, equity markets are also somewhat confused.  Last night, for instance, the Nikkei (+3.1%) rebounded sharply after the BOJ explained they had restarted their ETF buying program on Monday, so all was right with the world.  The Hang Seng (-0.6%) didn’t get that message but Shanghai (+0.8%) did despite rising short-term interest rates in China.  Those climbing rates appear to be a function of quarter end demand for bank funding that is not being supplied by the PBOC.  My sense is once July comes those rates will drift back down.  Europe, has had a more mixed equity session after a nice rally yesterday, with both the DAX and CAC flat on the day and the FTSE 100 (+0.3%) rising a bit, but weakness in the peripheral markets of Spain and Italy, with both of those lower by about 0.5%.  US futures are virtually unchanged at this hour as market participants seem to be awaiting Mr Powell.

Commodity markets are following suit, with some gainers (Au +0.2%, Ag +0.2%, Al +0.1%), some losers (WTI -0.7%, Soybeans -0.7% and Fe -3.2%) and many with little overall movement.  In a market that has lost its direction with respect to both growth and inflation expectations, or at least one which is re-evaluating those expectations, it should be no surprise there is a hodgepodge of price movements.

The dollar, however, is broadly firmer on the day, with GBP (-0.35%) the weakest performer in the G10 as traders await Thursday’s BOE meeting and their latest discussion on the inflation situation in the UK.  This will be BOE Chief Economist Andy Haldane’s last meeting, and he is expected to make some hawkish noises, but thus far, the rest of the committee has not been aligned with him.  Right now, the market is not looking for him to receive any support, hence the pound’s ongoing weakness, but if we do hear some hawkishness from another member or two, do not be surprised if the pound jumps back up.  As to the rest of the G10, losses range from 0.1%-0.25% and are all a reflection of the dollar’s strength, rather than any idiosyncratic stories here.  

Emerging market currencies are also broadly softer this morning, with a mix of laggards across all three blocs.  HUF (-0.5%), ZAR (-0.5%, THB (-0.45%) and MXN (-0.35%) reflect that this is a dollar and Fed story, not an EMG one.  The one exception to this rule is TRY (+1.0%) as hopes for an early lifting of Covid restrictions and a modest rise in Consumer Confidence there has underpinned the lira.

On the data front, we see Existing Home Sales (exp 5.72M) this morning at 10:00, but that seems unlikely to excite the market.  Rather, I expect limited movement until Chairman Powell speaks this afternoon.  

For now, volatility is likely to be the norm as the market adjusts to whatever the new narrative eventually becomes.  The inflation debate continues to rage and when Core PCE is released later this week, there will be more commentary.  However, it will require high inflation readings into the autumn to change the Fed’s stance, in my view, and until then, the idea that the Fed is considering tighter policy is likely to support the dollar for now.  However, that doesn’t mean further strength necessarily, just not any real weakness.

Good luck and stay safe


Bears Have Retreated

At first, no one thought it could be

That Powell would lessen QE

But less than a week

Was needed to wreak

Destruction ‘pon his new decree

The bond market bears have retreated

With steepeners now all deleted

While stocks are unsure

If this is the cure

And just how this news should be greeted

Last week’s FOMC meeting continues to be the main topic of market discussion as many assumptions have been questioned, especially those of the inflationist camp.  The change in the dot plot was clearly unforeseen and has been the talk of the market ever since.  Arguably, there are two key questions that have arisen in the wake of the meeting; 1) what happened to the Fed’s insistence that they would not adjust policy preemptively based on forecasts? and 2) is maximum employment no longer deemed to be an Unemployment Rate near 3.5%?

What has been made very clear, however, is that the market still believes the Fed can address inflation, or at the very least, that the market buys the Fed’s transitory inflation narrative.  Regarding the latter, it relies almost entirely on the idea that supply-side bottlenecks will be quickly addressed, thus forcing prices lower and reducing the inflationary threat.  My question is, why do so many assume that restarting production can be accomplished so quickly?  In many cases, businesses have closed, thus no longer manufacturing products.  In others, businesses are running shorter or fewer shifts due to the inability to hire/retain staff to operate.  Glibly, many say that those businesses can simply raise wages to attract staff.  And while that may be true, you can be sure that will result in rising prices as well.  So, if supply returns at a higher price point, is that not still inflationary? 

Under the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words, I have created a decision matrix that outlines my sense of how things may play out over the coming months.  Having observed the Fed and its reaction function to market situations for quite a long time, I remain convinced that despite all the rhetoric regarding maximum employment or inflation expectations, the single most important data point for the Fed is the S&P 500.  History has shown that when it declines sharply, between 10%-20%, they will step in, ease policy in some manner and seek to assuage the investment community regardless of trivialities like inflation, GDP growth or unemployment.  Thus far, nothing the Fed has done has changed that opinion.

Remember, these are my personal views and I assigned rough probabilities along with estimates of what could happen under the defined scenarios.  Ultimately, the question that keeps haunting me is; if inflation is transitory, why would they need to taper policy easing?  After all, the underlying assumption is that the current policy remains economically supportive without negative inflationary consequences, so why change?  I believe the answer to this question belies the entire Fed narrative.  But that’s just me.  The highlighted area is the expected outcome in one year’s time based on Friday’s closing markets (BCOM = Bloomberg Commodity Index).  Interestingly, the math worked out where I saw weaker stocks, higher yields, a weaker dollar and higher commodities.  In truth, if inflation is in our future, that does not seem to be wrong.

As to markets this morning, while Asian equity markets were largely under pressure (Nikkei -3.3%, Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai +0.1%), still reeling from the Fed’s allegedly hawkish stance, Europe is modestly firmer (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.2%).  Perhaps hawks only fly East.  US futures are also higher this morning, by roughly 0.5%, as the early concerns over tighter policy have clearly been allayed, by what though, I’m not sure.

Of course, all the real action has been in the bond market, where yields worldwide have fallen sharply since the FOMC meeting.  Not only have yields fallen, but curves have flattened dramatically as well with movement on both ends of the curve, shorter dated yields have risen under the new assumption that the Fed will be raising rates, while the bank end has rallied sharply with yields declining as investors ostensibly believe that inflation is, in fact, transitory.  While the overnight session has seen minimal movement (Treasuries 0.0bps, Bunds =0.4bps, Gilts -0.3bps), the movement since Wednesday has been impressive.  The $64 billion question is, will this new movement continue into a deeper trend, or reverse as new data is released.

Commodity prices have not yet abandoned the inflation story, at least some of them haven’t.  Oil (+0.2%) continues to perform well as demand continues apace and supply remains in the crosshairs of every ESG focused investor.  Precious metals have rallied on the back of declining yields, both real and nominal, but base metals have slipped as there is a growing belief that they were massively overbought on an inflation scare that has now been defused.  Funnily enough, I always had the commodity/inflation relationship the other way around, with higher commodity prices driving inflation.

Finally, the dollar this morning is weaker from Friday’s levels, but still generally stronger from its levels post FOMC.  The crosscurrents here are strong.  On the one hand, transitory inflation means less reason for a depreciating currency while on the other, lower rates that come with less inflation make the dollar less attractive.  At the same time, if risk is going to be back in vogue, the dollar will lose support as well. 

On the data front, there is a fair amount of data this week, although nothing of note today.

TuesdayExisting Home Sales5.71M
WednesdayFlash PMI Manufacturing61.5
 Flash PMIM Services70.0
 New Home Sales871K
ThursdayInitial Claims380K
 Continuing Claims3481K
 Durable Goods2.9%
 -ex transport0.7%
 Q1 GDP6.4%
FridayPersonal Income-2.7%
 Personal Spending0.4%
 Core PCE0.5% (3.9% Y/Y)
 Michigan Sentiment86.5

Source: Bloomberg

As well as all of this, we heard from ten different Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell testifying to Congress tomorrow afternoon.  It would seem there will be a significant effort to fine tune their message in the wake of last week’s meeting and the market volatility.

The dollar’s strength had been predicated on the idea that US yields were increasing and if that is no longer the case, my sense is that the dollar is likely to retrace its recent steps higher.  For those who with currency payables, keep that in mind.

Good luck and stay safe


No Exit

So, Powell and friends started talking

‘bout talking, and markets were rocking

Though they won’t stop buying

More bonds, they are trying

To exit QE, which is shocking

The question is how long they last

Ere haunted by all of their past

As Sartre made clear

No Exit is near

Be careful, the trouble is vast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe


Getting Upset

The Chinese are getting upset

Commodity prices, as yet

Continue to rise

As shrinking supplies

Now pose, to their model, a threat

So, naturally, what did they do?

They ordered state firms to eschew

Stockpiling provisions

As now all decisions

Will come from Beijing ‘pon review

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

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

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

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

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

Today Chairman Jay will expound

On growth and its stunning rebound

But do not expect

That he will project

Some changes will shortly gain ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe


No Yang, Only Yin

According to every newspaper

The Fed’s getting ready to taper

With late Twenty-two

The popular view

Of when, QE, they will escape(r)

But what if, before they begin

To taper, to Powell’s chagrin

The bond market tanks

As traders and banks

Believe there’s no yang, only yin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe