Nowhere Near

Charles Evans, on Tuesday, explained
Inflation can well be contained
In fact, his concern
Is prices could turn
Back lower ere targets are gained

“I’m going to be very regretful if we sort of claim victory on averaging 2% and then we find ourselves in 2023 with about a 1.8% inflation rate, sustainable, going forward. That would be a challenge for our long-run framework,” he [Evans] said. “We ought to be willing to average inflation above 2%—frankly, well above 2%. [author’s emphasis]”

One cannot overstate the hubris associated with the above quote from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans.  The fact that he legitimately believes the Fed’s powers are such that they can fine-tune a $24 trillion economy to the point that measured estimates of particular features of that economy are able to be managed to a decimal place of an annualized percentage outcome is extraordinary.  It is the perfect illustration of the fact that the Fed is completely out of touch with the economy in which you and I live and completely ensconced in a model driven framework where data represents reality.  But it is exactly this hubris that has resulted in the policy decisions that have brought the world negative interest rates and a defense of debt monetization.  As long as central bankers, notably the Fed, continue to believe that their models are the economy, rather than a simplified representation of the economy, they are likely to continue to make decisions with significant unintended consequences from which we all will suffer.

This morning the market awaits
The latest inflation updates
What’s patently clear
Is they’re nowhere near
An outcome to end the debates

Speaking of inflation, this morning brings the latest CPI data with expectations running as follows: Headline (0.5%, 5.3% Y/Y) and ex food & energy (0.4%, 4.3% Y/Y).  Both of those forecasts are slightly lower than the prints seen in July, and if realized, you can be sure that we will hear a chorus of FOMC members highlighting the transitory nature of inflation.  Of course, if the outcomes are higher than forecast, something we have seen in each of the past twelve reports, we will also hear a chorus of FOMC members explaining that this remains a temporary phenomenon and that inflation is transitory.  [Perhaps when Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1841, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” he was anticipating the Fed.]  However, financial markets may not be quite as sanguine over the results, especially if they continue their year-long streak of outperforming the median estimate.

Markets, of late, have been starting to discern between those products that will benefit from altered policy and those products that will suffer.  Nowhere is this clearer than in the US equity markets where we have seen the NASDAQ underperform its brethren indices.  Recall, given the NASDAQ’s strong bias toward high growth (and low profit) companies that benefit greatly from extremely low interest rates, the index behaves very much like a very long-duration bond.  So, in a scenario where inflation is rising and market expectations are for tapering of asset purchases to begin soon(ish), it should be no surprise that the NASDAQ falls alongside the price of bonds.  At the same time, if the implication is that rising inflation is being caused by rebounding growth, rather than supply-chain blockages, there is an opportunity for more mundane, value-type companies to outperform.  Hence, the differing performance of the DOW vs. the NASDAQ.
Of course, the place where inflation is likely to have the most direct effect is the bond market, where long-term yields are theoretically supposed to reflect inflation expectations.  And while we have certainly seen yields rise over the past week, there is no way they currently reflect those expectations.  They cannot do so as long the Fed continues to buy all the new issuance, and then some, thus artificially driving up prices and driving down yields.  Ask yourself this, does it make sense that US 10-year yields are at 1.36% if inflation is at 5.4%?  Of course, the answer to that is a resounding ‘No!’  Yet, that is the current situation.  To observe the bond market and believe it is not artificially inflated (everywhere in the world, mind you) is akin to believing that the moon is made of green cheese.  It just ain’t so!

At any rate, ahead of this morning’s CPI release, investors have generally been biding their time as they wait to determine if they need to adjust their world view.  Equity markets are generally a bit firmer as Asia mostly eked out some gains (Nikkei +0.6%, Hang Seng +0.2%, Shanghai 0.0%) with Europe following suit (DAX 0.0%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.5%).  US futures are split with the NASDAQ (-0.2%) slipping following yesterday’s losses, while the other two main indices are essentially unchanged.  All in all, it appears that there is some hope that CPI prints on the low side to allow the Fed narrative to continue apace, and therefore to allow rates to remain lower for longer.

Bond markets, though, are starting to get a bit antsy these days with Treasury yields edging higher again (+1.7bps) with similar type gains seen throughout Europe (Gilts +1.4bps, OATs +1.8bps, Bunds +0.8bps).  At this point, 10-year Treasury yields have risen 0.25% in the space of a week, which is a very substantial move, especially when considering that the base at the beginning was just 1.12%.  One has to believe the Fed is watching extremely closely as they do not want to see the market run too far ahead of their mooted tapering and create Taper tantrum #2 inadvertently.  It is here where a higher than forecast CPI print could have quite an impact and which may force the Fed to reconsider the idea of tapering.  After all, they cannot afford for 10-year yields to rise to 2.0% while they are still purchasing $120 billion per month of paper.

Commodity prices are mixed today with oil (-1.1%) feeling the pressure of higher yields while gold (+0.5%) seems to be ignoring that same pressure.  Of course, gold was just subject to a significant sell-off, so this could easily be a simple trading bounce.  As it happens, both agricultural and base metal prices are showing a mixture of gainers and losers and no real underlying theme.

Finally, the dollar is definitely stronger again this morning.  While the movement vs. its G10 brethren has not been large, it is unanimous, with all currencies in the red today.  A particular shout-out goes to the euro, which is trading just pips from the key support level of 1.1704.  Watch that carefully as a break there is likely to open up much lower levels.  In the emerging markets, KRW (-0.6%) has been the laggard, followed by TRY (-0.5%) and HUF (-0.4%).  The won has been suffering from a combination of rising covid cases, with a record high 2200 reported yesterday, which has been encouraging the liquidation by foreign investors of Korean equities.  Meanwhile, TRY is under pressure as traders are concerned the President Erdogan will once again interfere in the central bank’s business and prevent them from raising rates at tomorrow’s meeting.  Finally, the forint seems to be suffering for the sins of its neighbors as concerns over German growth, a key market, and Polish politics, a close neighbor, have encouraged selling.

And that’s really it for today.  All eyes will be on the CPI at 8:30. More than just watching the tape, I always pay attention to @inflation_guy on Twitter as he does an excellent job breaking down the drivers of the number and offering insight into how things may evolve.  I highly recommend following him.

As to the dollar, the slow grind higher continues and as long as US rates are rising, I think so will the dollar.  If we break the 1.1704 level in the euro, look for a bit of an acceleration.  But don’t be surprised if we reject the move given it is the first test of the support level since it was established back in March.

Good luck and stay safe

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