Time to Flee

No longer will President Xi
Allow billionaires to run free
His edict last night
Proved his grip is tight
And showed traders t’was time to flee

The biggest story overnight was the continued crackdown by Chinese authorities on any private industry that has developed a measure of power in the Chinese economy.  While the tale of Didi Chuxing, the Chinese Uber, was seen as a warning, apparently, the government is becoming more impatient over the pace of adherence to the new view.  Briefly, Didi went public and then several days later the Chinese government forced them to remove their app from public availability and crushed their business under the pretext of data security.  Didi shares fell sharply.  Last night the government explained that private education companies, which were teaching the CCP curriculum, were to cease being profit-making companies “hijacked by capitalism”, and essentially will be forced to delist.  It can be no surprise that the prices of these shares fell dramatically, in one case by 98/%, as investors flee as quickly as possible.  This resulted in sharp declines across all indices there with the Hang Seng (-4.1%) and Shanghai (-2.35%) and led to a general risk-off tone.

Apparently, President Xi is no longer willing to accept that anybody else in China can have some measure of power or influence beyond his control.  Other changes involve the payment networks Alipay and Wechat, which are on the verge of being subsumed by China’s upcoming CBDC, the e-yuan.  Exclusive rights for things like music licenses are being removed and essentially, it appears that capitalism with Chinese characteristics is morphing into a full-blown state-owned economy.  We cannot be too surprised by this; after all, Xi Jinping has been ruling with an increasingly tighter grip on all segments of the economy and he is a clear adherent to strict communism.  Remember, the definition of communism is that all property is publicly (read government) owned.  We have not seen the last of this process so be careful going forward.

The ECB told us that they
Would no longer stand in the way
Of prices that rise
Until they surmise
That growth has made major headway

Now later this week from the Fed
Some pundits think, shortly ahead,
They’ll slow down their buying
Of bonds, as they’re trying,
To counter, inflation, widespread

Inflation (whether CPI or PCE), is a price series that demonstrates characteristics similar to every other price series like stocks or bonds or currencies.  There are trend movements, there are overshoots in both directions that tend to correct and there are periods of consolidation.  One of the best definitions of a trend is a series that makes either higher lows and higher highs, or conversely, lower highs and lower lows.  In other words, something that is trending higher will typically trade to a new high level and then after a period, pull back somewhat, a normal correction, before moving on to further new highs.  When the uptrend is in force, each high is higher than the last, and, more importantly, each low is higher than the last.  I make this point because I am concerned that when looking at the backgrounds of all the FOMC members, not one of them has any trading history.

This is important because, my sense on the inflation story is that it is quite realistic that we see a slowdown in price growth in the next several months, where 5.4% headline CPI falls to 4.8% and 4.5% and so forth, as this price series goes through a correction just like the stock, bond and currency markets.  Of course, if this is what we see, it is almost guaranteed that Chairman Powell, and his band of merry men (and women) will be all over the tape crowing over the transitory nature of inflation.

Alas, my concern is that given what I believe is a strong uptrend in inflation, this retracement in CPI (and PCE) will stop at a higher level than the previous lows and set itself up for another, more powerful move higher.  In the meantime, the Fed will have waved away any concerns over inflation as they continue to pump unlimited liquidity into the system to run the economy as hot as possible.  After all, in their collective mind, they will have proven inflation is transitory.  However, the next leg higher in CPI and PCE is liable to be far more severe, occurring far more quickly than the Fed expects, and lead to a more permanent unanchoring of inflation expectations.

It will also put the Fed in an even tighter bind than they currently find themselves.  This is because if CPI prints 6%, or 7% or more, the market is far less likely to accept their jawboning as a reason to maintain low yields and high stock prices.  Rather, they will be forced to decide between addressing inflation, which means raising interest rates sharply and significantly impacting, in a very negative way, the real economy, as well as asset markets; or they will have to come up with some other way to measure inflation such that it is not rising at such a ferocious clip but is still seen as credible.  One of their dilemmas is that, politically, inflation is already becoming a problem for the Biden administration, and that is at 5%.  Be prepared for the Misery Index (a Ronald Reagan invention that was the sum of CPI and the Unemployment Rate) to become a popular meme from all of President Biden’s opponents going forward.

Oh yeah, if you think that letting inflation run hot like that is going to goose equity market returns, especially when starting from such incredibly steep valuations, you would be wrong.  History shows that when inflation rises above 5%, equity markets do not provide any type of real hedge.  Let me be clear that this is not going to play out by autumn 2021, but could very well be the case come summer or autumn 2022, a particularly difficult time for the incumbent party in Washington as mid-term elections will be upcoming and the party in power tends to get the blame for economic problems.

What about the dollar you may ask?  In this scenario, the dollar is very likely to suffer greatly, so keep that in mind as you look ahead to your hedging needs for next year and beyond.

In the meantime, the Chinese inspired sell-off has led to some risk concerns, but not (yet) a widespread sell-off.  For instance, the Nikkei (+1.0%) managed to rally in the face of the Chinese equity market declines although, outside Japan, the screens are basically all red in Asia.  European bourses are somewhat lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.25%, FTSE 100 -0.25%) as they respond to the general negative tone in risk as well as a much weaker than expected German IFO reading of 101.2, well down from last month’s reading.  However, these levels are well off the session lows, as are US futures, which are down on the order of -0.25%, although were much lower earlier.

Bond markets are a little more mixed as Treasury yields fall 3.2bps (taking real yields to historic lows of -1.12%) but European sovereigns are more mixed with Bunds unchanged and OATs (+0.8bps) and Gilts (-0.8bps) not giving us any direction.

Commodity prices are mostly lower led by oil (-0.8%), although gold (+0.3%) is showing some positive haven characteristics.  Clearly, declining real yields are also supporting the precious metals.  Foodstuffs are softer (about which everyone except farmers are happy) and base metals are mixed with copper (+1.35%) leading the way higher although both Al (-0.4%) and Sn (-0.3%) are under pressure.

Finally, the dollar is not exhibiting its ordinary risk-off attitude this morning, as it is broadly softer vs. its G10 counterparts with only AUD (-0.1%) down on the day, arguably given concerns of changes with the Chinese economy.  But the rest of the bloc is marginally higher as I type led by SEK (+0.35%) and GBP (+0.3%), both of which are seeming to respond to reopening economies.

In the EMG space, however, there are many more decliners than gainers, led by RUB (-0.45%) on the back of oil’s weakness, but also KRW (-0.4%) which is feeling the pinch of the change in tone from China.  This story is going to be the second biggest driver, after the Fed, for a while, I think.

Of course, this week brings the FOMC meeting, but also Q2 GDP and Core PCE, so there is much to look forward to here.

Today New Home Sales 800K
Tuesday Durable Goods 2.0%
-ex Transport 0.8%
Case Shiller Home Prices 16.2%
Consumer Confidence 124.0
Wednesday FOMC Rate Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
IOER 0.15%
Thursday Q2GDP 8.5%
Initial Claims 380K
Continuing Claims 3192K
Friday Personal Income -0.4%
Personal Spending 0.7%
Core PCE 0.6% (3.7% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 63.3
Michigan Sentiment 80.8

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, the Fed is the big story as the data that comes before will not be seen as critical.  The GDP print will be quite interesting, but it is widely accepted that this is the peak and we will be slowing down from here.  However, Friday’s Core PCE number will really be scrutinized as another high print will make Powell’s task that much harder with respect to convincing people that inflation is transitory, especially if their favorite indicator keeps running higher.  Ultimately, I expect we will see a short-term retracement on the rate of inflation before the next leg up and that is the one about which we should all be concerned.

As to today’s market, if equity markets manage to shake off their concerns over Chinese activities, the dollar seems likely to continue with today’s soft tone.  If not, though, look for a rebound.

Good luck and stay safe