Growing Disdain

There is now a silver haired queen
Whose role since she came on the scene
Has been to explain,
With growing disdain,
Inflation is still unforeseen
Her minions, as well, all campaign
To make sure the message is plain
Though prices are rising
They won’t be revising
Their plans, or so said Philip Lane
There is a growing disconnect between the ECB and the rest of the world’s central banks.  While the transitory narrative has been increasingly taken out back and shot, the ECB will not let that story die.  Just today, ECB Chief Economist Philip Lane defended the ECB stance, explaining, “If we look at the situation over the medium term, the inflation rate is still too low, below our 2% target.  This period of inflation is very unusual and temporary, and not a sign of a chronic situation.  The situation we are in now is very different from the 1970’s and 1980’s.”  [author’s emphasis]  In other words, in case Madame Lagarde’s comments from last week that the ECB is “very unlikely” to raise rates next year, were not clear, the ECB is telling us that their mind is made up and there will be no policy tightening in the foreseeable future.
In fairness, raising interest rates will not convince Russia to pump more natural gas through the pipelines to help mitigate the dramatic rise in prices there.  Nor will it help build new semiconductor fabs to alleviate that shortage.  However, what it might do is reduce demand for many things thus easing supply constraints and perhaps encouraging prices to fall.  After all, that is exactly what tighter monetary policy is supposed to do.  The problem with that logic, though, is that there isn’t a central banker on the continent that is willing to risk slowing down growth in order to address rapidly rising prices.  The politics of that move would likely bring more rioters into the streets.  Once again, central banks’ vaunted independence is shown to be a sham.  They are completely political and beholden to the government in charge at any given time.
And so, we are left with a situation where prices continue to rise throughout the world while the two largest economic areas, the US and Eurozone, maintain the easiest monetary policy in history.  Yes, I know the Fed said it would begin to reduce its QE purchases, but even if they do reduce purchases by $15 billion / month, they are still going to expand their balance sheet by a further $420 billion and interest rates are still at zero.  There remains virtually zero chance that inflation is going to fade as long as the current incentive structure remains in place. 
Speaking of the Fed, Friday’s NFP data was substantially better than expected with job growth rising 531K and revisions higher for the previous two months of an additional 235K.  The Unemployment Rate fell to 4.6% and wages continue to climb smartly, +4.9% Y/Y.  (Of course, on a real basis, that is still negative given the current 5.4% CPI with expectations that on Wednesday, the latest release will jump to 5.9%.)  However, Chairman Powell has indicated that the Fed believes there is still a great deal of slack in the labor market, based on the Participation Rate remaining well below pre-pandemic levels, and so raising rates prematurely would be a mistake.  Summing it all up, there is no reason to believe that either US or ECB monetary policy is going to be changing anytime soon, regardless of the data.
The question at hand, then, is what will this mean for markets in general and the dollar in particular?  As long as new, excess liquidity continues to flood the markets, there is little reason to believe that the ongoing bull market in equities, commodities, real estate, and bonds is going to end.  While history has shown that rising inflation will eventually hurt both bonds and stocks, we are not yet at that point, and quite frankly don’t appear to be approaching it that rapidly.  Though there remains a small cadre of old-timers (present company included) who have a difficult time accepting current valuations as normal and who have actually lived through inflationary times, the bulk of the market participants do not carry that baggage and so are unencumbered by negative thoughts of that nature.  But, as an example of how inflation can degrade equity markets, from Q4 1968 through Q1 1980, the S&P 500 fell 1% in nominal terms while inflation averaged 7.1% per year with a high print of 14.8%.  The point is that the last time we had an inflation situation of the current magnitude, holding equities did not solve the problem.  As George Santayana famously told us back in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
With this in mind, let us take a look at markets and the week ahead.  Aside from the ECB comments this morning, arguably the most impactful news from the weekend was the story that Elon Musk is planning to sell $20 billion worth of stock in order to pay his upcoming tax bill.  Not surprisingly Tesla’s stock is lower by nearly 6% on the news and it seems to have put a damper on all equity activity.  After all, if Tesla isn’t going higher, certainly nothing else can have value!
Looking at equity markets, Asia (Nikkei -0.35%, Hang Seng -0.4%, Shanghai +0.2%) were mixed but leaning weaker.  That is an apt description of Europe as well (DAX -0.2%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.1%) although overall, the movement has not been that significant.  US futures, meanwhile, are little changed although NASDAQ futures are slightly lower while the other two major indices are edging higher.
Bonds, on the other hand, are all under pressure with Treasuries (+2.8bps) leading the way although this was after a major rally on Friday that saw the 10-year yield fall 7bps and a total of 15bps since the FOMC last Wednesday.  But European sovereigns, too, are all lower with yields rising (Bunds +2.0bps, OATs +2.1bps, Gilts +2.9bps).  Perhaps bond investors are beginning to register their concern over the inflation story.
On that front, commodity prices are rebounding off the lows seen last week led by energy with oil (+1.25% and back over $82/bbl) and NatGas (+1.1%) both having good days.  The rest of the space, though, is more mixed with copper (+0.2%) and tin (+0.4%) both firmer this morning, while aluminum (-0.2%) and iron ore (-3.25%) are both suffering.  Precious metals are little changed although Friday saw a sharp rally in the barbarous relic.  And yes, the cryptocurrency space is rocking today as well.
As to the dollar, it has had a mixed performance this morning with both gainers and losers across the G10 and EMG spaces.  In the G10, NZD (+0.6%) is the clear leader as the government is talking of ending the draconian lockdown measures by the end of the month.  In fact, we saw similar behavior in the EMG currencies as THB (+0.8%) and IDR (+0.5%) rallied on similar news.  On the flip side, BRL (-0.8%) continues to decline despite the central bank being one of the most aggressive in its rate hike path having raised the SELIC rate from 2% in March to 7.75% last month with expectations growing for yet another hike in December.  Of course, inflation is running at 10.25% there, so real yields remain firmly negative.
On the data front, this is inflation week with both the PPI and CPI on the docket.


NFIB Small Biz Optimism




0.6% (8.6% Y/Y)


-ex food & energy

0.5 (6.8% Y/Y)


Initial Claims



Continuing Claims




0.6% (5.9% Y/Y)


-ex food & energy

0.4% (4.3% Y/Y)


JOLTS Job Openings



Michigan Sentiment


Source: Bloomberg
Of course, the Fed doesn’t care about CPI as its models work better with core PCE, which also happens to be designed to be permanently lower.  The rest of us, however, know better and recognize the pain.  We have a number of Fed speakers on the calendar this week as well, with Chairman Powell headlining 9 planned appearances.  My sense is that there will be a strenuous effort to press the storyline that inflation may take a little longer to fall back, but don’t worry, it will fall again.
If pressed, I would say the dollar is far more likely to continue to grind higher, but that any movement will be slow.  While Treasury yields are not supportive right now, the reality is that amid major currency bonds, Treasuries continue to offer the best combination of yield and liquidity so remain in demand.  I think that along with the need for other economies to buy dollars to buy energy will maintain the bid in the buck.
Good luck and stay safe

5 thoughts on “Growing Disdain

  1. I’m conflicted, ultimately the reason stocks did so poorly in 68-80 was multiple contraction, not necessarily earnings issues. Earnings are the real inflation hedge but when multiple contraction offsets that then equities can be rough. The multiple contraction was because discount rates rose so far so fast to equities yields had to reprice as well. Fast forward to now, earnings on a nominal basis will certainly keep up with inflation yet the risk of multiple contraction seems a lot lower, does anybody really think Fed has willpower to rapidly raise rates? Doubtful, I hate valuations but my gut says earnings will more than offset multiple contraction

    • well, that’s what makes markets. I had written a longwinded response but lost it. in the end, I think the assumption that nominal earnings hold up is where I disagree. high inflation and lagging GDP growth lead me to believe those earnings fail across the bulk of the market. commodities and real estate hold up I think, but they are too small to save the market as a whole.
      hey predictions are hard, especially when they are about the future :O). but thanks for reading

      • Either way I have to say that this euphoria is unsustainable. TSLA, meme junk etc, feels very insane to me what growth trajectory markets seem to be expecting, I have SPX FV @ 3475 for whatever that is worth anymore – and that is already accounting for ZIRP discount. Guess this is what happens when unlimited Fed liquidity chases limited assets. Elites get much wealthier while main street loses in real wages, politics of a revolt in the long term imo.

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