Somewhat Misleading

The latest inflation’ry reading
Showed price rises kept on proceeding
But bond markets jumped
While dollars were dumped
This movement seems somewhat misleading

The two market drivers yesterday were exactly as expected, the CPI report and the FOMC Minutes.  The funny thing is it appears the market’s response to the information was contrary to what would have been expected heading into the session.

Starting with CPI, by now you are all aware that it continues to run at a much hotter pace than the Fed’s average 2.0% target.  Yesterday’s results showed the M/M headline number was a tick higher than forecast at 0.4%, as was the 5.4% Y/Y number.  Ex food & energy, the results were right on expectations at 4.0%, but that is cold comfort.  Here’s a bit of bad news though, going forward for the next 5 months, the monthly comps are extremely low, so the base effects (you remember those from last year, right?) are telling us that CPI is going to go up from here.  Headline CPI is almost certain to remain above 5.0% through at least Q1 22 and I fear beyond, especially if energy prices continue to rise.  The Social Security Administration announced that benefits would be increased by 5.9% next year, the largest increase in 20 years, but so too will FICA taxes increase accordingly.

The initial market movement on the release was perfectly logical with the dollar bouncing off its lows while Treasury yields backed up.  Given the current correlation between those two, things made sense.  However, that price action was relatively short-lived and as the morning progressed into the afternoon, the dollar started to slip along with yields.  Thus, leading up to the Minutes’ release, the situation had already turned in an unusual direction.

The Minutes explained, come November,
Or possibly late as December
The time will have come
Where QE’s full sum
Ought fade like a lingering ember

The Minutes then confirmed what many in the market had expected which was that the taper is on, and that starting in either mid-November or mid-December the Fed would be reducing its monthly asset purchases by $15 billion ($10 billion less Treasuries, $5 billion less mortgages).  This timeline will end their QE program in the middle of next year and would then open the way for the Fed to begin to raise rates if they deemed it necessary.

Oddly enough, the bond rally really took on legs after the Minutes and the dollar extended its losses.  So, while the correlation remains intact, the direction is confusing, at least to this author.  Losing the only price insensitive bond buyer while the government has so much debt to issue did not seem a recipe for higher bond prices and lower yields.  Yet here we are.  The best explanation I can offer is that investors have assessed that less QE will result in slowing growth and reduced inflationary pressures, so much so that there is the beginning of talk about a recession in the US early next year.  Alas, while I definitely understand the case for slowing growth, and have been highlighting the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow trajectory lower, there is nothing about the situation that I believe will result in lower inflation, at least not for quite a while yet.  Thus, a bond market rally continues to seem at odds with the likely future outcome.

Of course, there is one other possible explanation for this behavior.  What if, and humor me here for a moment, the Fed doesn’t actually follow through with a full tapering because equity prices start to fall sharply?  After all, I am not the only one to have noticed that the Fed’s reaction function seems to be entirely based on the level of the S&P 500.  Simply look back to the last time the Fed was trying to remove policy accommodation in 2018.  You may recall the gradual reduction in the size of their balance sheet as they allowed bonds to mature without replacing them while simultaneously, they were gradually raising the Fed funds rate.  However, by Christmas 2018, when the equity market had fallen 20% from its highs, Chairman Powell pivoted from tightening to easing policy thus driving a reversal higher in stocks.  Do you honestly believe that a man with a >$100 million portfolio is going to implement and maintain a policy that will make him poorer?  I don’t!  Hence, I remain of the belief that if they actually do start to taper, still not a given in my mind, it won’t last very long.  But for now, the bond market approves.

Thus, with visions of inflation dancing in our heads, let’s look at this morning’s market activity.  Equity markets are clearly of the opinion that everything is under control, except perhaps in China, as we saw the Nikkei (+1.5%) put in a strong performance and strength throughout most of Asia.  However, the Hang Seng (-1.4%) and Shanghai (-0.1%) were a bit less frothy.  Europe, though, is all in on good news with the DAX (+0.8%), CAC (+0.9%) and FTSE 100 (+0.7%) having very positive sessions.  This has carried over into the US futures market where all three major indices are higher by at least 0.6% this morning.

Bonds, meanwhile, are having a good day as well, with Treasury yields sliding 0.7bps after a nearly 5bp decline yesterday.  In Europe, given those markets were closed during much of the US bond rally, we are seeing a catch-up of sorts with Bunds (-3.7bps), OATs (-3.1bps) and Gilts (-1.6bps) all trading well as are the rest of Europe’s sovereign markets.

On the commodity front, pretty much everything is higher as oil (+1.25%), NatGas (+2.1%) and Uranium (+21.7%!) lead the energy space higher.  Metals, too, are climbing with gold (+0.4%), copper (+0.7%) and aluminum (+3.4%) all quite firm this morning.  Not to worry, your food is going up in price as well as all the major agricultural products are seeing price rises.

As to the dollar, it is almost universally lower this morning with only two currencies down on the day, TRY (-0.9%) and JPY (-0.15%).  The former is suffering as President Erdogan fired three more central bankers who refuse to cut interest rates as inflation soars in the country and the market concern grows that Turkey will soon be Argentina.  The yen, on the other hand, seems to be feeling the pressure from ongoing sales by Japanese investors as they seek to buy Treasury bonds with much higher yields than JGBs.  However, away from those two, the dollar is under solid pressure against G10 (SEK +0.9%, NOK +0.8%, CAD +0.55%) and EMG (THB +0.7%, IDR +0.7%, KRW +0.6%).  Broadly speaking, the story is much more about the dollar than about any of these particular currencies although commodity strength is obviously driving some of the movement as is positive news in Asia on the Covid front where some nations (Thailand, Indonesia) are easing restrictions on travel.

On the data front, this morning brings the weekly Initial (exp 320K) and Continuing (2.67M) Claims numbers as well as PPI (8.7%, 7.1% ex food & energy).  PPI tends to have less impact when it is released after CPI, so it seems unlikely, unless it is a big miss, to matter that much.  However, it is worth noting that Chinese PPI (10.7%) printed at its highest level since records began in 1995 while Korean import and export prices both rose to levels not seen since the Asian financial crisis in 1998.  The point is there is upward price pressure everywhere in the world and more of it is coming to a store near you.

We hear from six more Fed speakers today, but it would be quite surprising to have any change in message at this point.  To recap the message, inflation is proving a bit stickier than they originally thought but will still fade next year, they will never allow stock prices to fall, inflation expectations remain anchored and tapering will begin shortly.

While I still see more reasons for the dollar to rally than decline, I believe it will remain linked to Treasury yields, so if those decline, look for the dollar to follow and vice versa.

Good luck and stay safe
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