Qui Vive!

“Inflation, inflation, inflation”
Lagarde explained might have duration
That’s somewhat extended
Before it has ended
But truly tis an aberration

Yet traders have come to believe
That Madame Lagarde is naïve
Though she’s been dogmatic
That rates will stay static
Investors are shouting qui vive!

It appears that, if anything, the gathering storm of interest rate hikes has done nothing but strengthen in my absence.  Inflation continues to be THE hot topic in markets, and central banks are finding themselves in uncomfortable positions accordingly.  Some, like the RBA, BOC and BOE, have either given up the ghost on the transitory idea and are moving or preparing to do so in order to address what has clearly become a much bigger problem.  Others, notably the ECB, remain ostrich-like and refuse to accept the idea that their policy responses to the pandemic induced government shutdowns and fiscal policy boosts have actually been quite inflationary.  In the face of the ever-increasing inflation numbers around the world, investors are flattening yield curves aggressively, with 2-year yields skyrocketing while 10-year and beyond yields drift lower.  At this point, yield curve inversion remains only a distant possibility, but one that is far more likely than had been the case just two weeks ago.  Ultimately, the market’s collective concern is that despite a slowing growth impulse, central banks will be forced to respond to the inflation data thus crimping future growth.  The major risk is they will ultimately slow growth with only a limited impact on prices thus exacerbating the situation.  Right now, it is not that much fun to be a central banker.

A quick recap shows that last week, Madame Lagarde pooh-poohed the idea that the market knew what it was doing by driving rates higher.  She whined that traders were not listening to the ECB’s forward guidance, which she claims shows rates are in no danger of being raised anytime soon.  However, futures traders in Europe are pricing in a 10bp rate hike by next summer, shortly after the PEPP expires.  Meanwhile, 10-year Bund yields, which have been negative since May 2019, have rallied to -0.10% and seem on the verge of returning to positive territory.  Of course, 2-year Bund yields have risen 30bps in the past 3 months as that curve flattens as well.  (As an aside, the FX market had a little hiccup here as well, with the euro rallying sharply after the Lagarde comments, only to give all that back and then some on Friday in the wake of higher than forecast PCE data from the US which has traders betting on more than 50bps of Fed Funds hikes in 2022 and another 100 basis points in 2023.

With that as backdrop, we have two major and one lesser central bank meetings this week, the RBA tonight, the FOMC on Wednesday and the BOE on Thursday.  While we will discuss the latter two at further length over the next several days, the current thinking is that the Fed will announce the timing of the tapering of QE while the market has the BOE as a 50-50 proposition to actually raise the base rate by 0.15%, returning it to 0.25%.

Beyond the central bank drama, we continue to see troubling economic statistics with US GDP growth slowing to 2.0% in Q3, a far cry from its 6.7% Q2 rate, while Chinese Manufacturing PMI fell to 49.2 and German Retail Sales fell -2.5% in September.  On the whole, the stagflation story continues to be the hottest ticket around both anecdotally and based on Google Trends.

As you can see, there is much to be discussed as the week progresses, but for now, let’s take a look at today’s markets.  Despite all the concerns over stagflation, which should theoretically be awful for equities, the US stock market knows no top and that continues to pull most other markets along for the ride.  In fact, last night, the only real issues were in China where the Hang Seng (-0.9%) and Shanghai (-0.1%) suffered as yet another Chinese real estate development company (Yango Group) is on the verge of defaulting on its debts.  However, the Nikkei (+2.6%) rallied strongly on the back of the LDP’s surprising retention of a majority (albeit reduced) of the Diet in weekend elections.  In Europe, though, there is nothing holding back equity investors with all markets in the green (DAX +0.85%, CAC +1.0%, FTSE 100 +0.5%) as bad data is ignored.  While Q3 earnings have been solid, it does seem that prospects going forward are more limited, however investors seem unconcerned for now.  And don’t worry, US futures are all firmly in the green, higher by around 0.4% at this point in the morning.

Given the risk on attitude that we have seen this morning, it is no surprise that bonds are selling off with yields backing up a bit.  Treasury yields (+2.3bps) are a bit higher but still well off the highs seen two weeks’ ago.  Across Europe, sovereign yields (Bunds +1.4bps, OATs +1.7bps and Gilts (+3.0bps) are also firmer in sync with the risk attitude as we see the entire continent’s bonds come under pressure.  One other noteworthy mover were Australian bonds (-18.3bps) which retraced 2/3 of the yield spike from last week as the market prepares for the RBA meeting tonight. You may recall that the RBA had been implementing YCC in the 3yr, seeking to hold that yield at 0.10%.  However, as inflation rose, so did that yield, finally spiking last week as market participants decided the RBA would change tactics, and the RBA did not push back.  Governor Lowe has his work cut out for him this tonight in explaining what the RBA will be doing next.

Turning to commodities, oil prices (+0.5%) are rising this morning and seem to be getting set to break the recent highs and start a new leg toward, dare I say it, $100/bbl.  Overall, however, the commodity complex is directionless today with NatGas (-1.4%) lower, gold (+0.2%) higher, copper (-0.1%) lower, the ags mixed as well as the other non-ferrous metals.  In other words, today seems to be far more noise than signal.

Finally, the dollar, too, seems confused today, with both gainers and losers abounding in both the G10 and EMG spaces.  In the G10, NOK (+0.25%) is the leader as it responds to oil’s rally, while JPY (-0.3%) is the laggard, I assume responding to the election results and the broader positive risk sentiment.  The rest of the bloc is well within those bounds and other than the data mentioned, doesn’t seem to have much short-term direction.

EMG currencies have shown a bit more movement, with TRY (+0.7%) the leader followed by CZK (+0.45%).  The Turkish story seems confused as the two data points showed PMI falling compared to last month and Inflation rising, neither of which would seem to benefit the lira, but there you go!  Meanwhile, the Czech budget deficit is expected to shrink somewhat as traders push the currency higher.  On the downside, there are a few more from which to choose as THB (-0.8%) is the worst performer followed by KRW (-0.7%) and ZAR (-0.6%).  The baht suffered as international investors sold stocks and bonds locally and repatriated currency.  Korea’s won seemed to suffer on broader based dollar strength despite decent export data, but talk is the future looks dimmer as growth around the world slows.  Meanwhile, the rand fell over ongoing concerns that the SARB, when it meets later this month, will disappoint on the rate rise front.

It is, of course, a big data week between the Fed and Friday’s NFP report:

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.5
IS Prices Paid 82.0
Wednesday ADP Employment 400K
ISM Services 62.0
Factory Orders 0.0%
FOMC Rate decision 0.00%-0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 275K
Continuing Claims 2136K
Nonfarm Productivity -3.2%
Unit Labor Costs 6.9%
Trade Balance -$79.9B
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 450K
Private Payrolls 400K
Manufacturing Payrolls 28K
Unemployment Rate 4.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.9% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.8%

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, the FOMC on Wednesday is the primary focus closely followed by Friday’s payroll report.  Before then, tonight’s RBA meeting will have the market’s attention and we cannot forget the BOE on Thursday.  All in all, it could be quite an eventful week.  As to the dollar, for now, especially against the euro, it feels like there is further room for appreciation as the market continues to see the Fed as far more hawkish than the ECB.  Quite frankly, I think both sides of that discussion will be comfortable with the outcome as a stronger dollar should help check inflation while a weaker euro can help rekindle the export engine.  Look for it to continue.

Good luck and stay safe