Japan’s new PM
Fumio Kishida is
Raring to spend yen
The LDP elected Fumio Kishida as its new president, thereby assuring him of the job of Japan’s 65th Prime Minister. Relacing Yoshihide Suga, Kishida-san has a tall task ahead of him in leading the nation back to a growth trajectory. In addition, he must face the voters by November as well as rally his supporters in an upper house election next year. Apparently, his plan is…spend more money! He has promised to spend tens of trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars equivalent) in order to help resuscitate the Japanese economy and bolster the middle class.
As refreshing as it is to have a new administration, it seems as though the policy playbook continues to consist of a single page…spend more yen. Perhaps something will change in Japan, but it seems unlikely. Rather, the nation will continue to struggle with the same macroeconomic issues that have plagued it for the past decades; excess debt driving slower growth amid an aging population. The yen (+0.1%) has stabilized this morning but appears to be trending pretty sharply lower. While support (USD resistance) is strong at 111.65-85, should we breech that level, a move toward 115.00 appears quite reasonable as well as likely.
As energy prices rise higher
Most governments seek a supplier
Of power that will
The orders that they all desire
In other news, it is becoming abundantly clear that the combination of energy policies that have been enacted recently are not having the desired outcome, assuming that outcome is to develop clean energy in abundance. This is made evident by the dramatically rising prices of things like natural gas in Europe (+400% since 1Mar21) and the US (+130% YTD) and coal (+160% YTD). Of course, the latter is rarely considered ‘clean’ but it is reliable. And that is the crux of the matter. Reliability of both wind and solar power has been called into question lately and reliance on baseload power sources like coal, which Europe, China, and India have in abundance, and NatGas, which they don’t, is driving policy decisions.
For instance, China is mulling energy price hikes for industry in an effort to reduce demand. And if that doesn’t work, they will raise prices for residential users. Go figure, a communist nation using price signals to adjust behavior! At any rate, the immediate impact is likely to be downgraded growth prospects for China’s economy as rising energy prices will lead to rising export prices, lower exports, and lower growth. We have already seen Chinese equity markets under pressure recently as the energy situation worsens. Shanghai (-1.8%, -5.5% in past two weeks) is leading the way lower amid growing concern that Evergrande is not the biggest problem impacting China. At some point, I expect the renminbi is going to suffer a bit more than its recent price action has shown. Slowing growth and continued monetary expansion are going to add a great deal of pressure to the currency as it may be the only outlet available for the economy. I fear it could be a “long cold lonely winter” in China this year.
Of course, it’s not just China where energy prices are rising, they are higher everywhere. I’m sure you see it when you refill your gas tank, or when you pay your electric bill. And this is a problem for economic growth as higher energy costs feed into product and service pricing directly, as well as reduce the amount of disposable income available for spending by the population. Higher prices and slower growth (i.e. stagflation) are a very real risk, and by some measures have already arrived.
Beyond the direct discomfort we all will feel from its impacts, the policy questions are critical. Consider, last time stagflation was upon us, then Fed Chairman Paul Volcker raised interest rates sharply in order to attack the inflation issue driving the US economy into a severe double-dip recession. Oh yeah, the S&P 500 fell nearly 30% over the two-year period. But ask yourself if, given the current zeitgeist as well as the current makeup of the Fed, there is any possibility that Chairman Powell (or his successor) will attack inflation in the same way. It seems highly unlikely that would be the case. Rather, it is a virtual certainty that the focus will be on the ‘stag’ part of the term and more money printing and spending will be recommended. After all, given the increasing acceptance of the MMT mindset, that’s all that needs to be done. Remember, policies matter, and if policies are designed to achieve short-term goals at the expense of longer-term needs, the ultimate outcome tends to be poor. As in China, the currency is likely to be the relief valve for the economy which is what informs my view of longer-term USD weakness. However, for now, the dollar is following 10-year Treasury yields, which seem to be trending higher, albeit not today when they have fallen 4.2 basis points.
Summing it all up, rising energy prices are starting to have deleterious effects on all parts of the global economy and the financial market implications are only going to grow. In addition, the policy actions going forward are critical, and the chance of a policy error seem to grow daily. The idea of short-term pain for long-term gain is obsolete in the year 2021. Be prepared for more problems in the future.
Ok, a quick run around markets shows that after yesterday’s sharp US equity sell-off, Japan (Nikkei -2.1%) followed suit as did Shanghai although the Hang Seng managed to rally 0.7%. Europe, on the other hand has decided that central banks will come to the rescue, as we are seeing a nice rebound from yesterday’s price action (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.2%, FTSE 100 +1.0%). US futures, too, are higher led by the NASDAQ (+1.0%) as declining yields are helping out.
But are yields really declining? The fact that the bond market has bounced slightly after a dramatic 1-week decline is hardly a sign of a rebound. Rather, it is normal trading activity. While the trend remains for higher yields, today, all of Europe has seen yields slide on the order of 2 basis points alongside the Treasury yield declines. This feels very much like a lull in the action, not a top/bottom in the market.
Commodity prices are behaving in a similar manner as oil (-0.8%) and NatGas (-1.2%) are leading the way lower, consolidating what has been an impressive rally. Metals prices are mixed with gold (+0.6%) rebounding but base metals (Cu -0.4%, Al -0.2%, Sn -0.6%) all sliding. Agricultural prices are mixed as the overall session seems to be one of position adjustments after a big move.
As to the dollar, it is mixed, albeit slightly firmer if anything. In the G10, NOK (-0.35%) is falling alongside oil prices with NZD (-0.3%) the next worst performer on weakening commodity prices. JPY (+0.1%) and CHF (+0.1%) are both modestly firmer, but here, too, things seem more position oriented than trend worthy. EMG currencies are mixed with an equal number of gainers and losers, but the notable thing is that the biggest movers have only seen price adjustments of 0.3% or less. In other words, there are precious few stories here to think about.
There is no data of note this morning, but we do hear from a lot of central bankers, notably Chairman Powell alongside Lagarde, Kuroda and Bailey (BOE) at an ECB forum. We also hear from Harker, Daly and Bostic, but the narrative remains tapering is coming in November, and none of these three will be able to change that narrative.
In truth, I would have expected the dollar to soften today given the bond market, so the fact it remains reasonably well bid is a sign that there is further strength in this move. The euro is pushing to critical technical support at 1.1650, a break of which is likely to see a much sharper decline. Hedgers, keep that in mind.
Good luck and stay safe