How Long Can They Wait?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe

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