How They Debase

The world’s central banks, as a whole
Have signaled they need to control
Not only the pace
Of how they debase
Their cash, but of digging for coal

Thus, now the Big 3 have explained
The policies they have ordained
Will fund, efforts, green
But not what is seen
Endorsing ‘brown’ growth unrestrained

Last night’s BOJ meeting resulted in exactly zero monetary policy surprises but did serve to confirm that the central banking community has decided to take on a task well outside their traditional purview; climate change.  While they left policy unchanged, as universally expected, they announced that they would be introducing a new funding measure targeting both green and sustainability-linked loans and bonds.  In other words, as well as purchasing JGB’s, equities and ETF’s, they are going to expand their portfolio into ESG bonds.  The interesting thing is that the universe of ESG bonds in Japan is not that large, so the BOJ is going to wind up buying non-JPY denominated assets.  In other words, they are going to be selling a bunch of newly printed yen and converting it into other currencies to achieve their new goals.  This sounds suspiciously like FX intervention, but dressed in more politically correct clothing.  The impact, however, is likely to be a bias for a somewhat weaker yen over time.  For those of you with yen assets, keep that in mind.

Meanwhile, we have already heard from both the Fed and ECB that they, too, are going to increase their focus on climate.  Here, too, one might question whether this is an appropriate use of central bank resources.  After all, it’s not as though the economy in either place is humming along with solid growth, low inflation and excellent future prospects based on strong productivity.  But hey, combatting climate change is far trendier than the boring aspects of monetary policy, like trying to address rapidly rising inflation without tightening policy and risking a crash in equity markets.

In the end, the only thing this shift in policy focus will achieve is longer-lasting inflation.  The effort to develop new and cleaner energy by starving current energy production of capital will result in higher prices for the stuff we actually use.  Over a long enough time horizon, this strategy can make sense; alas we live our lives in the here and now and need energy every day to do so.  Germany is the perfect example of what can happen when politics overrides economics. Electricity prices in Germany average $0.383 (€0.324) per kWh.  In the US, that number is $0.104 per kWh.  Ever since the Fukushima earthquake led to Germany scrapping their nuclear fleet of power reactors, the price of electricity there has more than tripled.  I fear this is in our future if monetary policymakers turn their attention away from their primary role.

Of course, higher inflation is in our future even if they don’t do this, and there is no evidence yet, at least from the Fed or ECB, that they are about to change the current monetary policy stance that is exacerbating that inflation.  However, almost daily we are seeing markets respond to data and comments from other countries that are far more concerned with the inflationary outlook.  Last week the RBNZ ended QE abruptly and indicated they may start raising rates soon.  Last night, CPI there jumped to 3.3%, the highest level since 2011 and above their target band.  It should be no surprise that NZD (+0.45%) rose after the print as did local yields as expectations for a rate hike accelerated.  In fact, I believe this is what the immediate future will look like; smaller countries with rising inflation will tighten monetary policy and their currencies will appreciate accordingly.

Turning to today’s markets, risk was under pressure overnight after a generally weak US session.  Led by the Nikkei (-1.0%), most of Asia was softer, but not all (Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.7%, Australia +0.2%).  Europe, which had been higher on the opening has since drifted down and is now mixed with the DAX (0.0%) unchanged while the CAC (-0.5%) lags the rest of the continent and the FTSE 100 (+0.2%) has managed to hold its early gains.  US futures have also held onto small gains with all three indices up about 0.2%.

Bond markets are somewhat mixed as Treasuries (+2.5bps) sell off after yesterdays rally where yields fell 5bps.  However, European sovereigns are all in demand this morning with yield declines ranging from 1.0 to 1.8 basis points.  Commodity markets show crude slightly higher (+0.15%), gold under pressure (-0.7%) and base metals mixed (Cu -0.3%, Al +0.3%, Sn +0.7%).

In the FX markets, aside from kiwi, NOK (+0.25%) has rallied on oil’s rebound from its lows earlier this week, but the rest of the G10 is softer.  It should be no surprise JPY (-0.35%) is the worst performer, while the other currencies are simply drifting slightly lower, down in the 0.1% – 0.2% range.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+1.5%) is the big winner as it regains some of the ground it lost earlier in the week on the back of the rioting there.  The government has sent in the army to key hot spots to quell the unrest and so far, it seems to be working thus international investors are returning.  Otherwise, we see gains in RUB (+0.3%) and MXN (+0.3%), both of which benefit from oil and tighter monetary policy from their respective central banks.  On the downside, TWD (-0.4%) has been the worst performer in the bloc as dividend repatriation from foreign equity holders pressured the currency.  This is not a long-term issue.   Away from that, some of the CE4 are drifting lower alongside the euro but there has not been much other news of note.

On the data front this morning we see Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.4% ex autos) as well as Michigan Sentiment (86.5).  After two days of Powell testimony, where he continued to maintain there would be no policy tightening and that inflation is transitory, today we hear from NY’s Williams, one of the key members of the FOMC, and someone who has remains steadfastly dovish.

The dollar’s recent strength seems to have reached its limit so I expect that we could see a bit of a pullback if for no other reason than traders who got long during the week will want to square up ahead of the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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