For those who believe that inflation
Is soon to explode ‘cross the nation
It’s hard to explain
Why yields only wane
Resulting in angst and vexation
But there is a possible clue
That might help the bond bears’ world view
In Q1 Ms. Yellen
Had Treasury sellin’
More bonds than the Fed could accrue
However, that’s no longer true
As Powell, through all of Q2
Will buy more each week
Than Janet will seek
To sell. Lower yields then ensue.
With the FOMC meeting on the near horizon, traders are loath to take large positions in case there is a major surprise. At this point, the market appears to broadly believe that any tapering talk is not going to happen until the Jackson Hole meeting in August, so the hawks are not expecting a boost. At the same time, there is virtually no expectation that the Fed would consider increasing QE, thus the doves remain reliant on the transitory inflation narrative. As it stands, the doves continue to hold the upper hand as while last week’s CPI print was shockingly high, there has been much written about the drivers of that number are all due to level off shortly, and inflation will soon head back to its old 1.5%-2.0% range.
One of the things to which the doves all point is the 10-year yield and how it has done nothing but decline since the beginning of the quarter. Now, that is a fair point, but the timing is also quite interesting. While pundits on both sides of the discussion continue to point to inflation expectations and supply chain breakages and qualitative measures, there is something that has gotten far less press, but could well account for the counterintuitive movement in Treasury yields amid much higher inflation prints: the amount of Treasuries purchased by the Fed vs. the amount of new Treasuries issued by the Treasury.
In Q1, the US government issued net $342 billion while the Fed bought $240 billion in Treasury securities as part of QE. (Remember, the other $120 billion was in mortgage-backed securities). Given that foreign government buying of Treasuries has virtually disappeared, it should be no surprise that yields rose in order to attract buyers. Q2, however, has seen a very different dynamic, as the US government has only issued $70 billion this quarter while the Fed continues to buy $240 billion each quarter. With a price insensitive buyer hoovering up all the available securities and more, it is no surprise that Treasury yields have fallen. Why, you may ask, has the Treasury only issued $70 billion in new debt? Two things are driving that situation; first, Q2 is the big tax payment quarter of the year, so lots of cash flows into the Treasury; and second, the Treasury at the end of last year had $1.6 trillion in cash in their General Account at the Fed, which is essentially the government’s checking account. However, they have drawn those balances down by half, thus have not needed to issue as much debt.
It’s funny how the move in yields just might be a simple supply/demand story, but that is not nearly as much fun as the narrative game. So, let’s take a glimpse into Q3 planned Treasury issuance, which is widely available on the Treasury’s own website. “During the July – September 2021 quarter, Treasury expects to borrow $821 billion in privately-held net marketable debt, assuming an end-of-September cash balance of $750 billion.” The Fed, of course, is expected to buy another $240 billion in Treasuries in Q3, however, that appears to be a lot less than expected issuance. My spidey-sense is tingling here, and telling me that come July, we are going to start to see yields turn higher again. Far from the idea of tapering, if yields are rising sharply akin to Q1’s price action, we could see the Fed increase QE! After all, somebody needs to buy those bonds. And while this will be going on in the background, what we will largely read about is the changes in the narrative and inflation expectations. As Occam pointed out with his razor, the simplest explanation is usually the best.
If this, admittedly, rough analysis has any validity, it is likely to have some very big impacts on markets in general, and on the dollar in particular. In fact, if yields do reverse and head higher, especially if we move toward that 2.0% 10-year yield (or further) look for the dollar to find a lot of support.
As to market activity today, things remain fairly quiet with the recent positive risk attitude intact, but hardly excessively so. Starting with equities in Asia, the Nikkei (+0.75%) had a nice gain after a better than expected IP print but was lonely with a holiday in China and through much of the continent keeping other markets closed. Europe is in the green, but the gains are mostly modest (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.4%) as a slightly better than expected IP print along with continued dovish comments from Madame Lagarde help underpin the equity markets there. Meanwhile, US futures are also modestly higher, but the NASDAQ’s 0.3% rise is by far the largest.
Turning to the bond market this morning, Treasury yields have backed up 0.8bps, but remain well below the 1.50% level which was seen as key support. As per the above, I imagine that it will be a month before the real fireworks begin. In Europe, while we did hear from Lagarde, we also heard from uber-hawk Robert Holtzmann, Austria’s central bank president, who was adamant that barring another Covid related shutdown, the PEPP will end in March. Italian BTP’s were the most impacted bond from those comments with yields rising 2.0bps, while the main markets are seeing virtually no movement this morning.
In the commodity space, there is a real dichotomy today with oil (+0.7%) continuing its recent rally while gold (-1.1%) has fallen sharply. Base metals have been mixed with relatively modest movement, but agricultural prices have fallen sharply (Soybeans -0.8%, Wheat -2.6%, Corn -2.8%) which appears to be a response to improved weather conditions.
Finally, the dollar has no real direction this morning. NOK (+0.35%) is the leading gainer in the G10 on the back of oil’s rally but after that, there is a mix of gainers and losers, none of which have moved 0.2% implying no real new driving forces. In the EMG bloc, last night saw KRW (-0.5%) catch up to Friday’s dollar rally, and this morning we see ZAR (-0.45%) as the worst performer on what seems to be market technicals, with traders beginning to establish new ZAR shorts after a very strong rally during the past year. Some think it has gone too far. But really, the FX market is not terribly interesting right now as we all await the Fed on Wednesday.
On the data front, there is some important information coming as follows:
|PPI||0.5% (6.2% Y/Y)|
|-ex food & energy||0.5% (4.8% Y/Y)|
|FOMC Decision||0.00% – 0.25%|
So, while tomorrow will see much discussion regarding the growth narrative after Retail Sales, the reality is everybody is simply focused on the Fed on Wednesday. Until then, I expect range trading. After that…
Good luck and stay safe