No Paradox

In Europe, the ECB hawks
Explained in their most recent talks
The rising of late
In THE 10-year rate
Was normal and no paradox

At home, hawks are also reduced
To cheering the 10-year yield’s boost
Since Powell’s a dove
And rules from above
The hawks can’t shake him from his roost

In a world where every central bank is adding massive amounts of liquidity, how can you determine which central bankers are hawks and which are doves?  Since no one is allowed to make the case that short-term rates should be raised to try to slow down rising inflation, the next best thing for the hawks to do is to cheer on the rise in longer term yields.  And that continues to be the number one story in markets around the world, rising bond yields.  Yesterday saw Treasury yields rise 9 basis points as investors continue to see US data point to rising inflationary pressures.  The ISM Services Price Index rose to its highest level since 2008, just like we saw in the Manufacturing Index on Monday.  Even official inflation measures continue to print a bit higher than forecast, a sign that underlying price pressures are quite widespread.

In the past, this type of economic data would encourage the hawkish contingent of every central bank to argue for raising the short-term rate.  But hawkish views appear to have been written by Dr Seuss, as they have been removed from the canon of financial discussion.  Which leaves the back end of the curve the only place where they can express their views.  And so, we now hear from Klaas Knot, Dutch central bank president that rising government bond yields are a “positive story”, while Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president explained that these moves are not “a particularly worrisome development.”  We have heard the same thing from Fed speakers as well, although not universally, as the doves, notably Lael Brainerd, hint at Fed action to prevent an unruly market.  My take is an unruly market is one that goes in the opposite direction to their desires.

But despite the central bank commentary, it is becoming ever clearer that inflationary pressures are rising around the world.  We have spent the past 40 years in an environment of constantly decreasing inflation as a combination of globalization and technological advancement have reduced the cost of so many things.  And while technology continues to march forward, globalization is under severe attack, even from its previous political cheerleaders.  This is evident in the current US administration, where strengthening and localizing supply chains is a goal, something that will clearly increase costs.  Add to that increased shipping costs alongside capacity shortages and rising energy costs, and you have the makings of a higher price regime.  (An anecdote on rising price pressures: a friend of mine who lives in Paris told me the prices of the following foods; fresh salmon €60/kg, 1 grapefruit €2.25 and 1 avocado €2.65.  I checked my supermarket app and found the following prices here in New Jersey; fresh salmon $9.99/lb, 1 grapefruit $1.00 and 1 avocado $2.50.  Prices are high and rising everywhere!)

The final piece of this puzzle is broad economic activity, which the data continues to show has seen a real burst in the US, although there is still concern over the employment situation.  Every survey has shown the US economy growing rapidly in Q1 with the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast currently at 10%.  Adding it all up leads to the following understanding; it is not only the Fed that is willing to run the economy hot, but every G10 central bank, which means that monetary support will continue to flow for years to come.  Combining that activity with the massive fiscal support and the still significant supply bottlenecks that were a result of the government shutdowns in response to Covid brings about a scenario where there is a ton of money in the system and not enough goods to satisfy the demand.  If central banks don’t tap the breaks, rising prices and price expectations will lead to rising yields, and ultimately to declining equities.  The only asset class that will continue to perform is commodities, because owning “stuff” will be a better trade than owning paper assets.  And that’s enough of those cheery thoughts.

On to today’s markets, where, alas, risk is being jettisoned around the world.  After yesterday’s tech led selloff in the US, Asian equity markets really got hammered (Nikkei -2.1%, Hang Seng -2.1%, Shanghai -2.1%) and European markets are also under the gun (DAX -0.45%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE 100 -1.0%).  US futures?  All red at this hour, down about 0.3%, although that is off the lows seen earlier this morning.

Bond yields, meanwhile, despite my discussion of how they are rising, have actually slipped back a bit this morning in classic risk-off price action.  So, Treasuries (-1.9bps), Bunds (-2.6bps), OATs (-2.1bps) and Gilts (-4.1bps) are all rallying.  But this is not a trend change, it is merely indicative of the fact that now that yields have backed up substantially, the concept of government bonds as an effective risk mitigant is coming back in vogue.  After all, when 10-yr Treasuries yield 0.7%, it hardly offers protection to a portfolio, but at more than double that rate, it is starting to help a little in times of stress.

Commodity prices are mixed this morning with oil taking back early session losses to sit unchanged as I type, but base metals in the midst of a modest correction after a remarkable rally for the past several months.  This morning copper (-4.1%) and Nickel (-8.2%) are leading the way lower, but with the ongoing economic activity and absence of new capacity, these are almost certainly temporary moves.  Gold, which has been under significant pressure lately seems to have found a floor, perhaps only temporarily, at $1700, but given the dollar’s ongoing strength, it cannot be surprising gold remains under pressure.

As to the dollar, I would say it is very modestly stronger today, although what had earlier been virtually universal has now ebbed back a bit.  In the G10, CHF (-0.4%) and JPY (-0.3%) are the worst performers, which given the risk attitude is actually quite surprising.  I think the Swiss story is actually a Polish one, where Poland has refused to support local banks who took out CHF loans and have been suffering from currency strength far outstripping the interest rate benefits.  It seems, concern is growing that these loans may be restructured and ultimately impact the Swiss banks and Swiss economy.  Meanwhile, the yen’s weakness stems from a poor response to a 30-year bond sale last night, where yields rose 3.5 bps amid a very weak bid-to-cover ratio for the sale.  Perhaps even the Japanese are getting tired of zero rates!  But away from those two currencies, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.2% or less, indicating nothing of real interest is going on.

EMG currencies are also mixed with Asian currencies suffering amid the broad risk off environment overnight and CE4 currencies lower on the back of euro weakness.  On the plus side, BRL (+0.7%) and MXN (+0.6%) are the leading gainers, which appears to be an ongoing reaction to aggressive central bank of Brazil intervention to try to prevent further weakness there.  In this space too, the broad risk appetite will continue to remain key.

On the data front we see a bunch of stuff starting with Initial Claims (exp 750K) and Continuing Claims (4.3M), but we also see Nonfarm Productivity (-4.7%), Unit Labor Costs (6.6%) and Factory Orders (2.1%) this morning.  Perhaps of more importance we hear from Chairman Powell today, right at noon, and all eyes and ears will be focused on how he describes recent market activity as well as to see if he hints at any type of Fed response.  Many pundits, this one included, believe there is a cap to how high the Fed will allow yields to rise, the question is, what is that cap.  I have heard several compelling arguments that 2.0% is where things start to become uncomfortable for the Fed, but ultimately, I believe that it will depend on the data.  If the data starts to show that the economy is under pressure before 2.0% is reached, the Fed will step in at that time and stop the madness.  Until then, as we have heard from central bankers worldwide, higher yields in the back end are a good thing, so they will continue to be with us for the foreseeable future.  And yes, that means that until US inflation data starts to print higher, and real yields start to decline, the dollar is very likely to retain its bid.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

More Terrified

The narrative starting to form
Is bond market vol’s the new norm
But Jay and Christine
Explain they’re serene
Regarding this new firestorm

However, the impact worldwide
Is some nations must set aside
Their plans for more spending
As yields are ascending
And FinMins grow more terrified

Confusion is the new watchword as investors are torn between the old normal of central bank omnipotence and the emerging new normal of unfettered chaos.  Now, perhaps unfettered chaos overstates the new normal, but price action, especially in the Treasury and other major government bond markets, has been significantly more volatile than what we had become used to since the first months of the Covid crisis passed last year.  And remember, prior to Covid’s appearance on the world stage, it was widely ‘known’ that the Fed and its central bank brethren had committed to insuring yields would remain low to support the economy.  Of course, there was the odd hiccup (the taper tantrum of 2013, the repo crisis of 2018) but generally speaking, the bond market was not a very exciting place to be.  Yields were relatively low on a long-term historical basis and tended to grind slowly lower as debt deflation central bank action guided inflation to a low and stable rate.

But lately, that story seems to be changing.  Perhaps it is the ~$10 trillion of pandemic support that has been (or will soon be) added to the global economy, with the US at $5 trillion, including the upcoming $1.9 trillion bill working its way through Congress, the leading proponent.  Or perhaps it is the fact that the novel coronavirus was novel in how it impacted economies, with not only a significant demand shock, but also a significant supply shock.  This is important because supply shocks are what tend to drive inflation with the OPEC oil embargos of 1973 and 1979 as exhibits A and B.

And this matters a lot.  Last week’s bond market price action was quite disruptive, and the terrible results of the US 7-year Treasury auction got tongues wagging even more about how yields could really explode higher.  Now, so far this year we have heard from numerous Fed speakers that higher yields were a good sign as they foretold a strong economic recovery.  However, we all know that the US government cannot really afford for yields to head that much higher as the ensuing rise in debt service costs would become quite problematic.  But when Chairman Powell spoke last week, he changed nothing regarding his view that the Fed was committed to the current level of support for a substantially longer time.

Yesterday, however, we heard the first inkling that the Fed may not be so happy about recent bond market volatility as Governor Brainerd explained that the sharp moves “caught her eye”, and that movement like that was not appropriate.  This is more in sync with what we have consistently heard from ECB members regarding the sharp rise in yields there.  At this point, I count at least five ECB speakers trying to talk down yields by explaining they have plenty of flexibility in their current toolkit (they can buy more bonds more quickly) if they deem it necessary.

But this is where it gets confusing.  Apparently, at least according to a top story in Bloomberg this morning which explains that ECB policymakers see no need for drastic action to address the rapidly rising yields of European government bonds, everything is fine.  But if everything is fine, why the onslaught of commentary from so many senior ECB members?  After all, the last thing the ECB wants is for higher yields to drive the euro higher, which would have the triple negative impact of containing any inflationary impulses, hurting export industries and ultimately slowing growth.  To me, the outlier is this morning’s story rather than the commentary we have been hearing.  Now, last week, because of a large maturity of French debt, the ECB’s PEPP actually net reduced purchases, an odd response to concerns over rising yields.  Watch carefully for this week’s action when it is released next Monday, but my sense is that number will have risen quite a bit.

And yet, this morning, bond yields throughout Europe and the US are strongly higher with Treasuries (+5.3bps) leading the way, but Gilts (+3.6bps), OATs (+2.7bps) and Bunds (+2.4bps) all starting to show a near-term bottom in yields.  The one absolute is that bond volatility continues to be much higher than it has been in the past, and I assure you, that is not the outcome that any central bank wants to see.

And there are knock-on effects to this price action as well, where less liquid emerging and other markets are finding fewer buyers for their paper.  Recent auctions in Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, Italy and Germany all saw much lower than normal bid-to-cover ratios with higher yields and less debt sold.  Make no mistake, this is the key issue going forward.  If bond investors are unwilling to finance the ongoing spending sprees by governments at ultra-low yields, that is going to have significant ramifications for economies, and markets, everywhere.  This is especially so if higher Treasury yields help the dollar higher which will have a twofold effect on emerging market economies and really slow things down.  We are not out of the woods yet with respect to the impact of Covid and the responses by governments.

However, while these are medium term issues, the story today is of pure risk acquisition.  After yesterday’s poor performance by US equity markets, Asia turned things around (Nikkei +0.5%, Hang Seng +2.7%, Shanghai +1.9%) and Europe has followed along (DAX +0.9%, CAC +0.6%, FTSE 100 +0.8%).  US futures are right there with Europe, with all three indices higher by ~0.6%.

As mentioned above, yields everywhere are higher, as are oil prices (+1.5%).  However, metals prices are soft on both the precious and base sides, and agricultural prices are mixed, at best.

And lastly, the dollar, which had been softer all morning, is starting to find it footing and rebound.  CHF (-0.3%) and JPY (-0.25%) are the leading decliners, but the entire G10 bloc is lower except for CAD (+0.1%), which has arguably benefitted from oil’s rally as well as higher yields in its government bond market.  In what cannot be a great surprise, comments from the ECB’s Pablo Hernandez de Cos (Spanish central bank president) expressed the view that they must avoid a premature rise in nominal interest rates, i.e. they will not allow yields to rise unopposed.  And it was these comments that undermined the euro, and the bulk of the G10 currencies.

On the EMG front, overnight saw some strength in Asian currencies led by INR (+0.9%) and IDR (+0.55%) as both were recipients of foreign inflows to take advantage of the higher yield structure available there.  On the downside, BRL (-0.7%) and MXN (-0.5%) are the laggards as concerns grow over both governments’ ongoing response to the economic disruption caused by Covid.  We have seen the Central Bank of Brazil intervening in markets consistently for the past week or so, but that has not prevented the real from declining 5% during that time.  I fear it has further to fall.

On the data front, ADP Employment (exp 205K) leads the day and ISM Services (58.7) comes a bit later.  Then, this afternoon we see the Fed’s Beige Book.  We also hear from three more Fed speakers, but it would be shocking to hear any message other than they will keep the pedal to the metal for now.

Given all the focus on the Treasury market these days, it can be no surprise that the correlation between 10-year yields and the euro has turned negative (higher yields leads to lower euro price) and I see no reason for that to change.  The story about the ECB being unconcerned with yields seems highly unlikely.  Rather, I believe they have demonstrated they are extremely concerned with European government bond yields and will do all they can to prevent them from moving much higher.  While things will be volatile, I have a sense the dollar is going to continue to outperform expectations of its decline for a while longer.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Fated To Burst

While here in the US the word
Is stimulus, more, is preferred
The UK is thinking
‘Bout how they’ll be shrinking
Their deficit, or so we’ve heard

Meanwhile, China, last night, explained
That excesses would be contained
The bubble inflated
By Powell is fated
To burst, as it can’t be sustained

If you look closely enough, you may be able to see the first signs of governments showing concern about the excessive policy ease, both fiscal and monetary, that has been flooding the markets for the past twelve months.  This is not to say that the end is nigh, just that there are some countries who are beginning to question how much longer all this needs to go on.

The first indication came last night from China, remarkably, when the Chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, and Party secretary for the PBOC, explained that aside from reducing leverage in the Chinese property market to stay ahead of systemic risks, he was “very worried” about the risks from bubbles in the US equity markets and elsewhere.  Perhaps bubbles can only be seen from a distance of 6000 miles or more which would explain why the PBOC can recognize what is happening in the US better than the Fed.  Or perhaps, the PBOC is the only central bank left in the world that has the ability, in the words of legendary Fed Chair William McChesney Martin “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going”.  We continue to hear from Fed speakers as well as from Treasury secretary Yellen, that the Fed has the tools necessary if inflation were to return, and that is undoubtedly true.  The real question is do they have the fortitude to use them (take away that punch bowl) if the result is a recession?

The second indication that free money and government largesse may not be permanent comes from the UK, where Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is set to present his latest budget which, while still offering support for individuals and small businesses, is now also considering tax increases to start to pay for all the previous largesse.  The UK budget deficit is running at 17% of GDP, which in peacetime is extremely large.  And, as with the US, the bulk of that money is not going toward productive investment, but rather to maintenance of the current situation which has been crushed by government lockdowns.  However, the UK does not have the world’s reserve currency and may find that if they continue to issue gilts with no end, there is a finite demand for them.  This could easily result in the worst possible outcome, higher interest rates, slowing growth and a weakening currency driving inflation higher.  The pound has been amongst the worst performers during the past week, falling 1.4% (-0.1% today), as investors start to question assumptions about the ability of the UK to continue down its current path.

But not to worry folks, here in the US, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is starting to get considered in the Senate, where some changes will need to be made before reconciliation with the House, but where it seems certain to get the clearance it needs for passage and eventual enactment within the next two weeks.  So, the US will not be heeding any concerns that going big is no longer the right strategy, despite what has been a remarkable run of economic data.  In the current Treasury zeitgeist, as we learned from Florence + The Machine in 2017, “Too Much is Never Enough”!

Where does that leave us today?  Well, risk struggled in the overnight session on the back of the PBOC concerns about bubbles and threats to reduce liquidity (Nikkei -0.9%, Hang Seng -1.2%, Shanghai -1.2%), but after a weak start, European bourses have decided that Madame Lagarde will never stop printing money and have all turned positive at this time (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.6%).  And, of course, that is a valid belief given that we continue to hear from ECB speakers that the PEPP can easily be adjusted as necessary to insure continued support.  The most recent comments come from VP Luis de Guindos, who promised to prevent rising bond yields from undermining easy financing conditions.  US futures, meanwhile, while still lower at this hour by about 0.2%, have been rallying back from early session lows of greater than -0.7%.

Treasury yields continue to resume their climb higher, up another 2.9 basis points this morning, although they remain below the 1.50% level.  In Europe, bunds (+2.0bps), OATs (+2.7bps) and Gilts (+0.6bps) are all giving back some of yesterday’s rally, as risk appetite is making a comeback.  Also noteworthy are ACGBs Down Under with a 5.2 bp rise last night although the RBA did manage to push 3-year yields, their YCC target, even lower to 0.087%.

Commodity prices seem uncertain which way to go this morning, with oil virtually unchanged, although still above $60/bbl, and gold and silver mixed.  Base metals are very modestly higher with ags actually a bit softer.  In other words, no real direction is evident here.

As to the dollar, the direction is higher, generally, although not universally.  In the G10, NOK (+0.6%) is the leading gainer followed by AUD (+0.3%) which has held its own after the RBA stood pat and indicated they would not be raising rates until 2024! That doesn’t strike me as a reason to buy the currency, but that is the word on the Street.  But the rest of the bloc is softer, although earlier declines of as much as 0.5% have been whittled down.

EMG currencies have also seen a few gainers (RUB +0.4%, INR +0.25%) but are largely softer led by BRL (-0.7%) and ZAR (-0.7%).  It is difficult to derive a theme here as the mixed commodity markets are clearly impacting different commodity currencies differently.  However, the one truism is that the dollar is definitely seeing further inflows as its broad-based strength is undeniable today.

There is no data released today in the US, although things certainly pick up as the week progresses from here.  On the speaker front we hear from two arch doves, Brainerd and Daly, neither of whom will indicate that a bubble exists or that it is time to cut back on any type of stimulus.  Perhaps at this point, markets have priced in the full impact of the stimulus bill, and the fact that the Fed is on hold, and is looking at other central bank activities as the driver of rates.  After all, if other central banks seek to expand policy, as we have heard from the ECB, then those currencies are likely to come under pressure.

Here’s the thing; investors remain net short dollars against almost every currency, so every comment by other central banks about further support is going to increase the pain level unless the Fed responds.  Right now, that doesn’t seem likely, but if yields do head back above 1.5%, don’t be surprised to see something out of the FOMC meeting later this month.  However, until then, the dollar seems likely to hold its recent bid.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Their Bond Vigilantes

Down Under, the RBA bought
Four billion in bonds as they fought
Their bond vigilantes
Who came back from Dante’s
Ninth circle with havoc they wrought

Investors responded by buying
More bonds and more stocks fortifying
The view central banks
All still deserve thanks
For making sure markets keep flying

Atop the reading list of every G10 central banker is the book written by Mario Draghi in 2012 and titled, How to Keep Interest Rates Lower for Longer*, and every one of those bankers is glued to page one.  At this point, there is no indication that higher interest rates will be tolerated for any length of time, and while jawboning is always the preferred method of moving markets in the desired direction, sometimes these bankers realize they must act.  And act they did, well at least Phillip Lowe, the RBA Governor, did.  Last night, the RBA bought $4 billion in 3-year ACGB’s, doubling the normal and expected amount of purchases as he fought back against the idea that the RBA would not be able to maintain control of the yield curve as they have announced.  The response must have been quite gratifying as not only did 3-year yields nose back below 0.10%, the target, but 10-year yields tumbled 0.25% as investors regained their confidence and took advantage of the sudden increase in yields available to increase their holdings.

So, last week’s price action is now deemed to have been nothing more than a hiccup, or a bad dream, with market activity today seen as the reality.  At least that is the story all the world’s central banks keep telling themselves, and arguably will continue to do for as long as possible.  It seems that the fact the RBA was willing to be so aggressive was seen by investors as a harbinger of what other central banks are willing and capable of enacting with the result being a massive asset rally worldwide.  Think about that for a moment, the purchase of an extra $1.5 billion of ACGBs has resulted in asset price increases on the order of $1 trillion worldwide.  That, my friends, is bang for your buck!

Of course, the question that remains is, will investors continue to accept this worldview, or will data, and ever-increasing debt supply, return us to last week’s market volatility and force a much bigger response by much bigger players?  My money is on the latter, as there is no sign that deficit spending is being reined in, and the signs of higher inflation remain clear, even in Europe!

But clearly, today is not one for calling out central bankers.  While ongoing conversations in Tokyo highlight the question of whether the BOJ needs to intervene ahead of their mid-month meeting when they are to present their Policy Review, and ECB members continue to warn about unwarranted tightening of financial conditions, thus far, we have not seen any increase in activity by either central bank.  However, at 9:45 this morning we will see the latest data from the ECB regarding their purchases during the last week in the PEPP, and it will be instructive to see if those purchases increased, or if they simply maintained their regular pace of activity.  An increase could be taken positively, shoring up investor belief that the ECB has their back, but given how poorly the European government bond market performed last week, it could also be seen as a sign that the ECB is losing its sway in markets.

The one truism is that market volatility, despite central banks’ fervent desire for it to decrease, remains on a higher trajectory as the possible economic outcomes for the world as a whole, as well as for individual countries, diverge.  And this is, perhaps, the hardest thing for investors to accept and understand; after a forty year period of declining inflation and volatility, if the cycle is turning back higher for both of these characteristics, which have a high correlation, then the future will be more difficult to navigate than the recent past.

So, just how impressive was the RBA’s action?  Pretty impressive.  For instance, equity markets in Asia all rose sharply (Nikkei +2.4%, Hang Sent +1.6%, Shanghai +1.2%) and are all higher in Europe as well (DAX +0.7%, CAC +1.1%, FTSE 100 +1.0%).  US futures, meanwhile, are powering ahead by approximately 1.0% across the board.

As to bonds, while the ACGB move was the most impressive, we did see a halt to the rise in 10-year JGB yields, and in Europe, the rally is powerful with Bunds (-5.0bps), OATs (-5.5bps) and Gilts (-4.1bps) all paring back those yield hikes from last week.  Interestingly, Treasury yields (+2.2bps) are not holding to this analysis, as perhaps the news that the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed the House this weekend has investors a bit more nervous.  After all, passage implies increased issuance of $1.9 trillion, and it remains an open question as to how much demand there will be for these new bonds, especially after last week’s disastrous 7-year auction.  And that’s really the key question, will there be natural demand for all this additional paper, or will the Fed need to expand QE in order to prevent yields from rising further?

On the commodity front, we are seeing strength across the board with oil (+1.0%) leading energy higher on the reflation idea, both base and precious metals markets rallying and agricultural products seeing their ongoing rallies continue.  Stuff continues to cost more, despite the Fed’s claims of low inflation.

As to the dollar, it is mixed this morning, with commodity currencies performing well (NOK +0.4%, CAD +0.35%, AUD +0.3%) while the European commodity users are all under pressure (SEK -0.5%, CHF -0.5%, EUR -0.25%).  The euro’s weakness seems a bit strange given the manufacturing PMI data released this morning was positive and better than expected.  As well, German CPI, which is released on a state by state basis, is showing a continued gradual increase.

In the emerging markets, TRY (+2.5%) is the runaway leader as the lira offers the highest real yields around and as fear recedes, hot money flows there quickest.  But away from that, RUB (+0.6%) on the back of oil’s rally, and CLP (+0.45%) on the back of copper’s ongoing rally are the best performers.  With the euro softer, the CE4 are all weaker and we saw desultory price action in Asian currencies overnight.

On the data front, this is a big week, culminating in the payroll report.

Today ISM Manufacturing 58.6
ISM Prices Paid 80.0
Wednesday ADP Unemployment 180K
ISM Services 58.6
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 755K
Continuing Claims 4.3M
Nonfarm Productivity -4.7%
Unit Labor Costs 6.7%
Factory Orders 1.8%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 180K
Private Payrolls 190K
Manufacturing Payrolls 10K
Unemployment Rate 6.4%
Participation Rate 61.4%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.2% (5.3% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Trade Balance -$67.4B
Consumer Credit $12.0B

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to all this, we hear from Chairman Powell on Thursday, as well as six other Fed speakers a total of nine times this week.  But we already know what they are going to say, rising long end yields are a positive sign of growth and with unemployment so high, we are a long way from changing our policy.  History shows that the market will test those comments, especially once the Fed goes into its quiet period at the end of the week.

As for today, risk is quite clearly ‘on’ and it seems unlikely that will change without a completely new catalyst.  The RBA has fired the shot across the bow of the pessimists, and for now it is working.  While the euro seems to be under pressure on the assumption the ECB will act as well, as long as commodities continue to rally, that is likely to support the growth story and commodity currencies.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

*a fictional work conceived by the author

The Fed’s Nonchalance

The view from the Fed’ral Reserve
When viewing the present yield curve
Is that higher rates
Show, here in the States
The ‘conomy’s showing some verve

Contrast that with Europe’s response
To rising yields, where at the nonce
Ms Schanbel’s the third
Of speakers we heard
All lacking the Fed’s nonchalance

All I can say about yesterday’s market activity was that we cannot be too surprised that the imbalances that have been building up for the past year (or more accurately 13 years) resulted in some significant market volatility across every asset class.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was that virtually every asset class was sold aggressively, with no obvious havens available.  Stocks fell, bonds fell, gold fell, the dollar fell, Bitcoin fell; just what did people buy with those proceeds?

But of more interest to me was the central bank responses we have seen to the recent rise in long-term yields around the world.  Arguably, this has been the catalyst to all the market activity, so remains the first place we need to look for answers.

And what did we hear?  Well, four separate FOMC members (Williams, Bostic, Bullard and George) explained that rising yields were a good thing as it shows confidence in the economic growth story.  And oh, by the way, yields are still quite low so they shouldn’t have a negative impact on the economy.  While they may well be sincere in those views, these comments smack more of whistling past the graveyard than wholehearted support of market price action.  After all, the one thing the Fed has demonstrated since the GFC in 2008 is that unrestrained market price action is the last thing they want to see.  Rather, they want to make sure they control the game and the market price action proceeds slowly and calmly in their preferred direction.  You know, like watching paint dry.

And of course, in the broad scheme of things, yields do remain quite low.  Even at yesterday’s high point, the 10-year Treasury was yielding only 1.61%, which is still in the lowest decile of yields during the 10-year’s history.  Interestingly, the ECB has not been quite as sanguine regarding bond yields, despite the fact that bond yields throughout the entire continent are much lower than US yields.  On Monday Madame Lagarde explained they were “closely monitoring” bond yields.  Yesterday, ECB Chief Economist, and the ECB member with the most policy chops, Philip Lane, explained they would use the flexibility of the PEPP to prevent any undue tightening in financial conditions.  Then this morning, Isabel Schnabel, an Executive Board member, was more forthright, explaining the ECB may need to boost policy support if real long-term yields rise too early in the recovery process.  In other words, since they don’t believe that inflation is coming, rising yields need to be stopped.

What if, however, all these central bankers are completely wrong about the future of inflation?  What if, they have been reading their own narrative and now believe that there is no inflation on the way, thus rates should never need to rise?  That, my friends, has the chance to lead to some serious policy errors going forward.

So, let’s take a look at the most recent inflation indicators we have seen, and consider the situation.  Last night, Tokyo CPI was released at -0.3% Y/Y, which while obviously low, was higher than last month and forecast.  Then, this morning French PPI printed positive (+0.4%) for the first time in more than a year while French CPI rose a more than expected 0.7% in February.  Meanwhile, German Import Prices rose a much more than expected 1.9% in January, the biggest jump since September 1990!  And finally, here in the States, the GDP is released with a price index which rose to 2.1%, a tick above expectations.  Now, none of this is a description of raging inflation, but boy, there does seem to be a decent amount of price pressure building in the system.  Perhaps, just perhaps, bond yields are rising on rising inflation concerns, whether economic growth is present or not.

This idea is important because a key ingredient for market forecasts this year has been the trajectory of real interest rates.  At face value, the combined comments of Fed and ECB speakers this week tells us that the Fed is going to allow long-term yields to continue to rise while the ECB is going to step in and stop the madness.  If that is actually how things play out, I assure you that the euro will be hard pressed to move any higher, and that a sharp decline could be in the offing.  In fact, that is true for virtually every currency, where the dollar may very well reassert itself if that is the interest rate scenario that plays out.

Of course, I don’t believe the Fed will allow yields to simply rise unabated, as the cost to the Federal government in increased interest payments will be extremely uncomfortable, so I still look for QE to be expanded and extended, perhaps as soon as the March meeting if yields continue to rally from here.  At 1.75% on the 10-year, the Fed will be feeling the pinch, especially if equity markets continue to suffer under a rising yield scenario.  Thus, I am still in the camp of the dollar eventually falling more sharply as rising inflation rates outstrip capped interest rates.  But the latest comments from the central banks have certainly raised the risk on that view!

Ok, we all know that yesterday was a rout in the markets.  This morning, is unfortunately, not looking much better. Asian equity markets last night followed the US lead and fell sharply (Nikkei -4.0%, Hang Seng -3.6%, Shanghai -2.1%) and European markets, which all fell yesterday, are lower again this morning (DAX -0.8%, CAC -1.1%, FTSE 100 -1.4%).  And, don’t be looking for a bounce in the US as futures are pointing lower as well, between -0.3% and -0.6% at this hour.

Bonds?  Well, Asian yields continued to rise, notably Australia’s ACGBs (+17.2bps), but most of Europe has reversed course this morning after the trio of ECB speakers seem to have calmed some jitters.  So, Bunds (-1.6bps) and OATs (-1.7bps) have seen modest rallies.  Gilts (+4.0bps), though, have had no commentary to support them and continue to sell off.  Treasury yields are lower by 4.1bps at this hour, which feels very much like a trading reaction (after all yields rose 26bps since Tuesday), but all eyes will be on this morning’s Core PCE data, which if it does print higher than the expected 1.4%, could well start the selling all over again.

Oil prices (-2.2%) are having their worst session in more than two months, but the uptrend remains intact.  Precious metals prices continue to suffer as well, as real yields rise alongside nominal yields, although base metals are holding in a bit better.

And finally, the dollar is stronger pretty much across the board this morning. With AUD (-1.5%) the worst G10 performer and the two havens (CHF and JPY) both lower by just -0.1%.  Down Under, the market finally forced the RBA’s hand regarding their YCC, and the RBA bought $A3 billion of 3-year notes to push yields back below their 0.10% target.  This had the additional impact of discouraging FX investors from owning the currency.  In fact, this is exactly what I would expect of the euro if (when) the ECB does the same thing.

On the EMG side of things, Asian markets last night tried to catch up with the routs seen in LATAM and EEMEA markets yesterday, with INR (-1.4%) and KRW (-1.4%) the leading decliners, but substantial weakness even in the more stable currencies like SGD (-0.3%) and CNY (-0.2%).  This morning, CLP (-0.9%) and MXN (-0.7%) are leading the way lower in this time zone.  And, of course, this is all the same story of shedding risk.

On the data front, a bunch more is coming starting with Personal Income (exp 9.5%), Personal Spending (2.5%) and the aforementioned Core PCE (1.4%) all at 8:30.  Then later in the morning we see Chicago PMI (61.0) and Michigan Sentiment (76.5), but I believe the PCE number is the most important.  Mercifully, there are no further Fed speakers today, but after all, we already know what they think.  Accommodation is going to be with us for a looooong time and higher yields are a sign of confidence, so no problem.

The wrinkle in the higher inflation argument is if the Fed truly does let yields run higher and other countries cap theirs, the stronger dollar will rein in price pressures.  And for now, that appears to be what the market is starting to believe.  I maintain the Fed will not allow yields to continue running higher unabated, but until they act, the dollar should perform well.  Maybe we do retest the 1,1950 level in the euro, and who knows, 107.00 USDJPY is not out of the question.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Cash Will Be Free

The Chairman was, once again, clear
The theory to which they adhere
Is rates shall not rise
Until they apprise
That joblessness won’t reappear

The market responded with glee
Assured, now, that cash will be free
The dollar got whacked
And traders, bids, smacked
In bonds, sending yields on a spree

It does not seem that Chairman Powell could have been any clearer as to what the future holds in store for the FOMC…QE shall continue, and Fed Funds shall not rise under any circumstance.  And if there was any doubt (there wasn’t) that this was the committee’s view, Governor Brainerd reiterated the story in comments she made yesterday.  The point is that the Fed is all-in on easy money until maximum employment is achieved.

What is maximum employment you may ask?  It is whatever they choose to make it.  From a numerical perspective, it appears that the FOMC is now going to be looking at the Labor Force Participation rate as well as the U-6 Unemployment Rate, which counts not only those actively seeking a job (the familiar U-3 rate), but also those who are unemployed, underemployed or discouraged from looking for a job.  As an example, the current Unemployment Rate, or U-3, is 6.8% while the current U-6 rate is 12.0%.  Given the current estimated labor force of a bit over 160 million people, that difference is more than 8 million additional unemployed.

When combining this goal with the ongoing government lockdowns throughout the country, it would seem that the Fed will not be tightening policy for a very long time to come.  There is, of course, a potential fly in that particular ointment, the inflation rate.  Recall that the Fed’s mandate requires them to achieve both maximum employment and stable prices, something which they have now defined as average inflation, over an indefinite time, of 2.0%.  As I highlighted yesterday, the Fed remains sanguine about the prospects of inflation rising very far for any length of time.  In addition, numerous Fed speakers have explained that they have the tools to address that situation if it should arise.

But what if they are looking for inflation in all the wrong places?  After all, since 1977, when the Fed’s current mandate was enshrined into law, the U-3 Unemployment Rate was the benchmark.  Now, it appears they have determined that no longer tells the proper story, so they have widened their focus.  In the same vein, ought not they ask themselves if Core PCE is the best way to monitor price movement in the economy?  After all, it consistently underreports inflation relative to CPI and has done so 86% of the time since 2000, by an average of almost 0.3%.  Certainly, my personal perspective on prices is that they have been rising smartly for a number of years despite the Fed’s claims.  (I guess I don’t buy enough TV’s or computers to reap the benefits of deflation in those items.)  But the word on the street is that the Fed’s models all “work” better with PCE as the inflation input rather than CPI, and so that is what they use.

Carping by pundits will not change these things, nor will hectoring from Congress, were they so inclined.  In fact, the only thing that will change the current thinking is a new Fed chair with different views, a reborn Paul Volcker type.  Alas, that is not coming anytime soon, so the current Fed stance will be with us for the foreseeable future.  And remember, this story is playing out in a virtually identical manner in every other major central bank.

Which takes us to the market’s response to the latest retelling of, ‘How to Stop Worrying (about prices) and Start Keep Easing.’ (apologies to Dale Carnegie).  It can be no surprise that after the Fed chair reiterated his promise to keep the policy taps wide open that equity markets around the world rallied, that commodity prices continued to rise, and that the dollar has come under pressure.  Oh yeah, bond markets worldwide continue to sell off sharply as yields, from 10 years to 30 years, all rise.

Let’s start this morning’s tour in the government bond market where yields are not merely higher, but mostly a LOT higher in every major country.  The countdown looks like this:

US Treasuries +7.5bps
UK Gilts +7.3bps
German Bunds +5.4bps
French OATs +5.9bps
Italian BTPs +8.0bps
Australian ACGBs +11.8bps
Japanese JGBs +2.5bps

Source: Bloomberg

Folks, those are some pretty big moves and could well be seen as a rejection of the central banks preferred narrative that inflation is not a concern.  After all, even JGB’s, which the BOJ is targeting in the YCC efforts has found enough selling pressure to move the market.  Suffice it to say that current yields are the highest in the post-pandemic markets, although there is no indication that they are topping anytime soon.

On the equity front, Asia looked great (Nikkei +1.7%, Hang Seng +1.2%, Shanghai +0.5%) but Europe, which started off higher, is ceding those early gains and we now see the DAX (-0.4%), CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) with quite pedestrian showings.  Perhaps a bit more ominous is the US futures markets where NASDAQ futures are -1.0%, although the S&P (-0.3%) and DOW (0.0%) are not showing the same concerns.  It seems the rotation from tech stocks to cyclicals is in full swing.

Commodity prices continue to rise generally with oil up, yet again, by a modest 0.25%, but base metals all much firmer as copper leads the way higher there on the reflation inflation trade.  Precious metals, though, are suffering (Gold -1.0%, Silver -0.2%) as it seems investors are beginning to see the value in holding Treasury bonds again now that there is actually some yield to be had.  For the time-being, real yields have been rising as nominal yields rise with no new inflation data.  However, once that inflation data starts to print higher, and it will, look for the precious metals complex to rebound.

Finally, the dollar is…mixed, and in quite an unusual fashion.  In the G10, the only laggard is JPY (-0.25%) while every other currency is firmer.  SEK (+0.55%) leads the way, but the euro (+0.5%) is right behind.  Perhaps the catalyst in both cases were firmer than expected Confidence readings, especially in the industrial space.  You cannot help but wonder if the central banks even understand what the markets are implying, but if they do, they are clearly willing to ignore the signs of how things may unfold going forward.

Anyway, in the G10 space, currencies have a classic risk-on stance.  But in the EMG space, things are very different.  The classic risk barometers, ZAR (-1.8%) and MXN (-1.4%) are telling a very different story, that risk is being shunned.  And the thing is, there is no story that I can find attached to either one.  For the rand, there is concern over government fiscal pledges, but I am confused by why fiscal prudence suddenly matters.  The only Mexican news seems to be a concern that the economy there is slower in Q1, something that I thought was already widely known.  At any rate, there are a number of other currencies in the red, BRL (-0.3%), TRY (-0.9%) that would also have been expected to perform well today.  The CE4 is tracking the euro higher, and Asian currencies were generally modestly upbeat.

As to data today, we see Durable Goods (exp 1.1%, 0.7% ex transport), Initial Claims (825K),  Continuing Claims (4.46M) and GDP (Q4 4.2%) all at 8:30.  Beware on the Claims data as the deep freeze and power outages through the center of the country could easily distort the numbers this week.  On the Fed front, now that Powell has told us the future, we get to hear from 5 more FOMC members who will undoubtedly tell us the same thing.

While the ECB may be “closely monitoring” long-term bond yields, for now, the market does not see that as enough of a threat to be concerned about capping those yields.  As such, all FX eyes remain on the short end of the curve, where Powell’s promises of free money forever are translating into dollar weakness.  Look for the euro to test the top of its recent trading range at 1.2350 in the coming sessions, although I am not yet convinced we break through.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

More Havoc

Said Jay, ‘don’t know why you believe
That just because people perceive
Inflation is higher
That we would conspire
To raise rates, that’s really naïve

Instead, interest rates will remain
At zero until we attain
The outcome we seek
Although that may wreak
More havoc than financial gain

The economy is a long way from our employment and inflation goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved.”  So said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at his Senate testimony yesterday morning.  If that is not a clear enough statement that the Fed will not be adjusting policy, at least in a tightening direction, for years to come, I don’t know what is.  Essentially, after he said that, the growing fears that US monetary policy would be tightening soon quickly dissipated, and the early fears exhibited in the equity markets, where the NASDAQ fell almost 4% at its worst level, were largely reversed.

However, the much more frightening comment was the hubris he demonstrated regarding inflation, “I really do not expect that we’ll be in a situation where inflation rises to troubling levels.  Inflation dynamics do change over time, but they don’t change on a dime, and so we don’t really see how a burst of fiscal support or spending that doesn’t last for many years would actually change those inflation dynamics.” [author’s emphasis].  Perhaps he has forgotten the 2017 tax cut package or the $2.2 trillion CARES act or the $900 billion second stimulus package last December, but it certainly seems like we have been adding fiscal support for many years.  And, of course, if the mooted $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passes through Congress, that would merely be adding fuel to the fire.

If one wanted an explanation for why government bond yields around the world are rising, one needs look no further than the attitude expressed by the Chairman.  Bond investors clearly see the threat of rising prices as a much nearer term phenomenon than central bankers.  The irony is that these rising prices are the accompaniment to a more robust recovery than had been anticipated by both markets and central bankers just months ago.  In other words, this should be seen as good news.  But the central banks fear that market moves in interest rates will actually work against their interests and have made clear they will fight those moves for a long time to come.  We have heard this from the ECB, the BOE, the RBA and the RBNZ just in the past week.  Oh yeah, the BOJ made clear that continued equity market purchases on their part will not be stopping either.  History has shown that when inflation starts to percolate, it can rise extremely rapidly in a short period of time, even after central bank’s change their policies.  Ignoring this history has the potential to be quite problematic.

But for now, the central banks have been able to maintain their control over markets, and every one of them remains committed to keeping the monetary taps open regardless of the data.  So, while the longest dated debt is likely to continue to see rising yields, as that is the point on the curve where central banks generally have the least impact, the fight between inflation hawks and central banks at the front of the curve is very likely to remain a win for the authorities, at least for now.

Turning our attention to today’s session we see that while Asian equity markets were uniformly awful (Nikkei -1.6%, Hang Seng -3.0%, Shanghai -2.0%), part of the problem was the announcement of an increased stamp duty by the Hong Kong government, meaning the tax on share trading was going higher.  Look for trading volumes to decrease a bit and prices to lag for a while.  Europe, however, has shown a bit more optimism, with the DAX (+0.6%) benefitting from a slightly better than expected performance in Q4 2020, where GDP was revised higher to a 0.3% gain from the original 0.1% estimate.  While Q1 2021 is going to be pretty lousy, forecast at -1.5% due to the lockdowns, Monday’s IFO Survey showed growing confidence that things will get better soon.  Meanwhile, the CAC (0.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.1%) are not enjoying the same kind of performance, but they are certainly far better than what we saw in Asia.  And finally, US futures are mixed as NASDAQ futures (-0.2%) continue to lag the other indices, both of which are flat at this time.  Rising bond yields are really starting to impact the NASDAQ story.

Speaking of bonds, Treasury yields, after a modest reprieve yesterday, are once again selling off, with the 10-year seeing yields higher by 2.6bps.  Similarly, Gilts (+2.6bps) are under pressure as inflation expectations rise in the UK given their strong effort in vaccinating the entire population.  However, both Bunds and OATs are little changed this morning, as the ECB continues to show concern over rising yields, “closely monitoring” them which is code for they will expand purchases if yields rise too much.

On the commodity front, oil continues to rally, up a further 0.5%, and we are seeing a bit of a bid in precious metals as well (gold +0.2%).  Base metals have been more mixed, although copper continues to soar, and the agricultural space remains well bid.  Food costs more.

As to the dollar, mixed is a good description today with NZD (+0.7%) the leading gainer after some traders read the RBNZ comments as an indication less policy ease was needed.  As well, NOK (+0.5) is benefitting from oil’s ongoing rally, with CAD (+0.25%) a lesser beneficiary.  On the flip side, JPY (-0.5%) is the laggard, as carry trades using the yen as funding currency are gaining adherents again.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the pound (+0.2%), for its 13th trading gain in the past 15 sessions, during which it has risen over 4.3%.

In the EMG bloc, it is the commodity currencies that are leading the way higher with RUB (+1.2%) on the back of oil’s strength on top of the list, followed by CLP (+0.7%) on copper’s continued rally, MXN (+0.7%), oil related, and ZAR (+0.5%) on general commodity strength.  The only notable loser today is TRY (-0.8%), after comments by President Erdogan that Turkey is determined to reduce inflation and cut interest rates.

On the data front, New Home Sales (exp 856K) is the only release, although we hear from Chairman Powell again, as well as vice-Chairman Clarida.  Powell’s testimony to the House is unlikely to bring anything new and he will simply reiterate that their job is not done, and they will maintain current policy for a long time to come.

It seems to me that the dollar is trapped in its recent trading range and will need a significant catalyst to change opinions.  If the US yield curve continues to steepen, which seems likely, and that results in equity markets repricing to some extent, I think the dollar could retest the top of its recent range.  However, as long as the equity narrative continues to play out, that the Fed will prevent any sharp declines and the front end of the yield curve will stay put for years to come, I think an eventual break down in the dollar is likely.  That will be accelerated as inflation data starts to print higher, but that remains a few months away.  So, range trading it is for now.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Yield Hawks Reappear

The market is starting to fear
Inflation is soon coming here
So, tech stocks got hammered
But nobody clamored
For bonds as yield hawks reappear

European markets are having a tough day as it appears investors want nothing to do with either stocks or bonds and only commodities have seen any demand.  Apparently, despite a strong desire for higher inflation, the ECB is not enamored of higher bond yields.  This was made abundantly clear yesterday when Madame Lagarde explained the ECB is “closely monitoring” the government bond market, with a special emphasis on German bunds.  Clearly, this was prompted by the fact that 10-year bund yields have risen nearly 25 basis points in less than a month, similar to the rise in 10-year Treasury yields and are now well above the ECB’s deposit rate.  As Banque de France Governor Villeroy noted, the ECB will ensure financing conditions remain favorable, and seemingly, -0.306% 10-year yields have been determined to be too tight.

This is a perfect indication of the difficulty that the central banks have brought upon themselves by constantly easing monetary policy into every market hiccup and then getting upset when investors don’t obey their every wish.  After all, if the underlying problem in Europe is that inflation is too low (a story they have been pushing for more than a decade) then one would think that rising bond yields, signaling rising inflation expectations would be a welcome sight.  Of course, the flaw is that rising bond yields often lead to declining share prices, something that apparently no major central bank can countenance.  Thus, the conundrum.  Essentially central banks want higher inflation but simultaneous low yields and high stock prices.  That’s not so much a goldilocks scenario as a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy where they are the Dungeon Master.  In other words, it cannot occur in the real world, at least for any extended period of time.

Hence, the comments by Lagarde and Villeroy, and the great expectations for those from Chairman Powell later this morning.  Exactly what can the central banking community do to achieve their desired goals?  Markets are beginning to question the narrative of central bank omnipotence, and those central banks are starting to fear that they will lose control over the situation.  As I have written before, at some point, the Fed, or ECB or some other central bank will implement some new program and the market will ignore it and continue on its merry way.  And when that is happening, that ‘way’ will be down.  At the end of the day, while central banks have shown they have extraordinary power to sway markets, they are not bigger than markets.

Back in the 1990’s, the term bond vigilantes was quite popular as a description of bond market traders who responded negatively to budget deficits and drove yields higher and stocks lower accordingly, thus keeping government spending in line.  In fact, that was the last time the US ran budget surpluses.  With the proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus bill still seemingly on its way, it is entirely possible that those long-dead vigilantes may be rising from the grave.  Back then, the Maestro would never consider capping yields or QE as a response, but the world is a different place today.  If bonds continue to sell off further, the $64 billion question is, how will the Fed respond?  It is this scenario, which could well be starting as we speak, that has brought the idea of YCC to the fore.  We have already seen tech stocks begin to suffer, weighing heavily on major indices, and those other harbingers of froth, Bitcoin and Tesla, have reversed course lately as well.  As I wrote last week, long tech stocks is like being short a Treasury bond put, as they will suffer greatly with higher yields.  At what point will the Fed decide yields are high enough?  Perhaps Chairman Powell will give us a hint today, but I doubt it.

Ahead of his testimony, here is what is happening in markets, where I would characterize things as inflation concerned rather than risk off.  Bond markets in Europe, as mentioned, are selling off sharply, with Bunds (+4.1bps), OATs (+4.8bps) and Gilts (+4.0bps) all feeling the pain of rising inflation expectations.  In fact, every country in Europe is seeing their bonds suffer today.  Treasuries, at this hour, are relatively flat, but continue to hover at their highest level in a year.  Interestingly, the first clue of central bank response came from Australia last night, where the RBA was far more aggressive buying the 10-year sector and pushed yields back down by 4.1bps.  However, their YCC on the 3-year is still in trouble as yields there remain at 0.12%.

Equity markets are almost universally weaker in Europe (only Spain is showing life at +0.6% as a raft of holiday bookings by frustrated UK citizens has seen strength in the tourist sector of the economy).  But otherwise, all red with the DAX (-1.1%) leading the way, followed by the FTSE 100 (-0.3%) and CAC (-0.2%).  Asia was a bit of a different story, as the Hang Seng (+1.0%) managed to benefit from ongoing inflows from the mainland, although Shanghai (-0.2%) was more in line with the global story.  The Nikkei was closed for the Emperor’s birthday.  As to US futures, tech stocks remain under pressure with NASDAQ futures lower by 1.5%, although SPU’s are down by just 0.5%.

Commodities are where its at this morning, though, with oil, after a powerful rally yesterday, up another 0.7% and over $62/bbl for WTI now.  Copper is up a further $200/ton and pushing to the all-time high of $9600/ton set back in 2010.  With all the talk of the elimination of combustion engine vehicles, it turns out EV’s need 3 times as much copper, hence the demand boost.  Meanwhile, the rest of the base metals are also performing well although precious metals are little changed on the day.  Of course, gold at flat is a lot better off than Bitcoin, which is down more than 16% on the day.

And lastly, the dollar, is having a mixed session.  The pound is the leading gainer, +0.2%, as plans for the reopening of the economy as the vaccine rate continues to lead the G10, has investors looking on the bright side of everything.  On the flip side, CHF (-0.45%) is the laggard on what appear to be market technical movements as price action has taken USDCHF above the top of a downtrend channel.  Otherwise, the G10 space is showing little movement in either direction.

As to emerging market currencies, after some terrible performances yesterday, BRL (+0.3%) and MXN (+0.3%) are opening firmer on a rebound along with CLP (+0.4%) following Copper prices higher.  However, the rest of the bloc is +/-0.2% which is the same thing as unchanged in this context.

On the data front, yesterday saw Leading Indicators a touch better than expected and two lesser followed Fed regional indices print strongly.  This morning Case Shiller home prices (exp 9.90%) and Consumer Confidence (90.0) are the highlights, neither of which is that high.  In fact, the true highlight comes at 10:00 when Chairman Powell testifies to the Senate Banking Committee.  It will be interesting to see if he touches on the recent rise in yields, especially expressing concern over their movement.  But more likely, in my view, is that he will simply agree that more fiscal stimulus is critical for the economy and that the Fed will continue to support the economy until “substantial further progress” is made on their objectives.

Adding it all up tells me that risk is going to continue under pressure for now, although given the magnitude of the move we have seen in bond yields, it would not be surprising to see them consolidate or reverse for a while in a trading correction.  As to the dollar, higher yields ought to prevent any sharp declines, but it still looks like we have seen the extent of the correction already and it will continue to trade in its recent range.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Crash Landing

The Narrative tells us the Fed
Will let prices rise up ahead
But if that’s the case
Then how will they pace
The rise in the 2’s-10’s yield spread

And what if this spread keeps expanding
Will stocks markets see a crash landing?
Or will Chairman Jay
Once more save the day
And buy every bond that’s outstanding?

Remember when the Narrative explained that record high traditional valuation measures of the stock market (like P/E or CAPE or P/S) were irrelevant because in today’s world, permanently low interest rates guaranteed by the Fed meant there was no limit for valuations?  That was soooo last month.  Or, remember when economists of all stripes explained that all the slack in the economy created by the government shutdowns meant that inflation wouldn’t reappear for years?  (The Fed continues to push this story aggressively as every member explains there is no reason for them to consider raising rates at any time in the remotely near future.)  This, too, at least in the bond market’s eyes, is ancient history.  So, something is changing in the market’s collective perception of the future, and prices are beginning to reflect this.

The bond market is the appropriate place to begin this conversation as that is where all the action is lately.  For instance, this morning, 10-year Treasury yields have risen another 2.4bps and are trading at their highest level in almost exactly one year, although remain far below longer-term averages.  Meanwhile, 30-year Treasuries have risen even more, and are now yielding 2.155%.  Again, while this is the highest in a bit more than a year, it is also well below longer term averages.  The point is, there seems to be room for yields to run higher.

Something else that gets a lot of press is the shape of the yield curve and its increasing steepness.  Today, the 2yr-10yr spread is 125bps.  This is the steepest it has been since the end of 2016, but nowhere near its record gap of 8.42% back in late 1975.  The Narrative tells us this is the reflation trade, with the bond market anticipating the reopening of the economy combined with a flood of new stimulus money driving business activity higher and prices along with that business.

Now, the question that has yet to be answered is how the Fed will respond to these rising yields.  We are all aware that Federal debt outstanding has been growing rapidly as the Treasury issues all that paper to fund the stimulus packages.  And we have all heard the argument that the size of the debt doesn’t matter because debt service costs have actually fallen over time as interest rates have collapsed with the Fed’s help.  The last part is true, at least over the past several years, where in 2020, it appears Federal debt service amounted to 2.43% of GDP, a decline from both 2018 and 2019, although modestly higher than 2017.  But, if the yield curve continues to steepen as 10yr through 30yr yields continue to rise, as long as the Treasury continues to issue debt in those maturities, the cost to the Federal government is going to rise as well.  The question is, how much can the government afford?  And the answer is, probably not much.  A perfect anecdote is that the increased interest cost of a 50 basis point rise in average Treasury yields will cost the government the same amount as funding the US Navy for a year!  If yields truly begin to rise across the curve, Ms Yellen will have some difficult choices to make.

But this is not just a US phenomenon, it is a global phenomenon.  Yields throughout the developing world are rising pretty rapidly, despite central bank efforts to prevent just that from occurring.  As an example, we can look at Australia, where the RBA has established YCC in the 3yr space, ostensibly capping yields there at 0.10%.  I say ostensibly because as of last night, they were trading at 0.12%.  Now, 2 basis points may not seem like much, but what it shows is that the RBA cannot buy those bonds fast enough to absorb the selling.  And the problem there is it brings into question the RBA’s credibility.  After all, if they promise to keep yields low, and yields rise anyway, what is the value of their promises?  Oh yeah, Aussie 10yr yields jumped 16.9 basis points last night!  It appears that the RBA’s QE program is having some difficulty.

In fact, despite pressure on stocks throughout the world, bond yields are rising sharply.  In other words, the haven status of government bonds is being questioned right now, and thus far, no central bank has provided a satisfactory answer.  Perhaps, the bigger question is, can any central bank provide that answer?  As influential as they are, central banks are not larger than the market writ large, and if investor psychology changes such that bonds are no longer seen as worthwhile investments because those same central banks get their wished for inflation, all financial securities markets could find themselves in some difficult straits.  This is not to imply that a collapse is around the corner, just that the working assumption that the central banks can always save the day may need to be revised at some point.

So, can yields continue to go higher without a more substantive response from the Fed or ECB or BOE or RBA or BOC?  Certainly, all eyes will be on Chairman Powell to see his response.  My view has been the Fed will effectively, if not explicitly, try to cap yields at least out to 10 years.  If I am correct, the dollar should suffer substantially.  Again, this is not to say this is due this morning, just that as this story unfolds, that is the likely trend.

And what else is happening in markets?  Well beyond the bond market declines (Gilts +2.3bps, Treasuries now +4.1bps, even Bunds +0.5bps), European bourses are falling everywhere (DAX -0.6%, CAC -0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.7%) after weakness throughout most of Asia (Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai -1.5%, although Nikkei +0.5% was the outlier).  US futures? All red and substantially so, with NASDAQ futures lower by 1.3% although the other indices are not quite as badly off, between -0.5% and -0.7%.

Commodity prices, however, continue to rise, with oil (+1.0%) leading energy mostly higher while both base and precious metals are higher as well.  So, too, are prices of grains rising, as we continue to see the price of ‘stuff’ rise relative to the price of financials.

Finally, turning to the dollar, it is broadly stronger against its EMG counterparts, but more mixed vs. the G10.  In the former, MXN (-1.4%) and ZAR (-1.35%) are leading the way lower, although BRL is called down by more than 2.0% at the opening there.  But the weakness is pervasive in this space with APAC and CE4 currencies also suffering.  However, G10 is a bit different with AUD (+0.2%) leading the way higher on the back of the record high prices in tin and copper alongside the rising rate picture and reduced covid infection rates.  On the flip side, NOK (-0.3%) is the weakest of the bunch, despite oil’s rebound, which appears to be a reaction to strength seen late last week.  In other words, it is market internals, not news, driving the story there.

On the data front we do get a fair amount of new information this week as follows:

Today Leading Indicators 0.4%
Tuesday Case Shiller House Prices 9.90%
Consumer Confidence 90.0
Wednesday New Home Sales 855K
Thursday Durable Goods 1.0%
-ex transport 0.7%
Initial Claims 830K
Continuing Claims 4.42M
GDP Q4 4.2%
Friday Personal Income 9.5%
Personal Spending 2.5%
PCE Core 0.1% (1.4% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 61.0
Michigan Sentiment 76.5

Source: Bloomberg

Beyond the data, with GDP and Personal Spending likely the keys, we hear from a number of Fed speakers, most importantly from Chairman Powell tomorrow and Wednesday as he testifies before the Senate Banking Committee and then the House Financial Services Committee.  The one thing about which you can be sure is that Congress will ask him to support their stimulus plan and that he will definitely do so.  It strikes me that will just push Treasury yields higher.  In fact, perhaps the March FOMC meeting is starting to shape up as a really important one, as the question of higher yields may need to be addressed directly.  We shall see.

For now, yield rises are outstripping inflation prints and so real yields are rising as well.  This is supporting the dollar and will undermine strength in some securities markets.  However, history has shown that the Fed is unlikely to allow real yields to rise too far before responding.  For now, the dollar remains in its trading range and is likely to stay there.  But as the year progresses, I continue to see the Fed stopping yields and the dollar falling accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Misled

Said Janet, do not be misled
Strong growth is no sub for widespread
Support from the bill
In Congress which will
Insure budget’s stay in the red
Insure higher yields lay ahead
Insure every table has bread

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who polished her dovish bona fides as Fed Chair from 2013 to 2017, has taken her act to the executive branch and is vociferously trying to make the case that recent positive data is of no concern at this time and that the $1.9 trillion package that is slowly wending its way through Congress remains critical for the economy.  “It’s very important to have a big package that addresses the pain this has caused.  The price of doing too little is much larger than the price of doing something big,” was her exact quote in an interview yesterday.  I wonder, is ‘going big’ the new zeitgeist, replacing YOLO?  After all, not only has Ms Yellen been harping on this theme, which has been taken up by others in government, but there is even a weekly TV Show with that name that opens the door to some of the more remarkable, if ridiculous, things people are willing to do to get on TV.

But go big it is, with no indication that the current administration is concerned about potential longer term negative fiscal outcomes.  The pendulum has swung from the Supply Side rationale for fiscal stimulus (cutting taxes to drive incentives) to the MMT rationale for fiscal stimulus (as long as we borrow in our native currency, we can always repay any amount).  History will almost certainly show that this side of the pendulum is no less damaging than the other side, but given that politics is a short-term phenomenon, only concerned with the time until the next election, we are virtually guaranteed to continue down this road to perdition.

Thus far, the results have been relatively benign, first off because the bill has not yet been made into law, although markets clearly assume it will be, and secondly because the depths of the government induced recession from which we are emerging were truly historic, so it takes some time to go from collapse to explosive growth.  The gravest concern for some (this author included) is that we are going to see significant price inflation in the real economy, not just in asset prices, and in the end, the economy will simply suffer from different problems.  But then, isn’t that what elections are really about?  When administrations change it is a cry to address different issues, not improve the overall situation.

So, with that in mind on this Friday, let’s take a tour of the markets.  Today is one of the few sessions so far this year where the major themes entering 2021 are actually playing out according to plan.  As such, we are seeing continued support in the equity space, with yesterday’s modest sell-off being reversed in most markets.  We are seeing bond markets continue to come under pressure with yields rising on the reflation narrative, and we are watching the dollar decline, albeit still firmly in the middle of the trading range it has traced out this year.

In the equity space, while the Nikkei (-0.7%) was under modest pressure, we saw small gains in the Hang Seng (+0.2%) and Shanghai (+0.5%).  Also noteworthy was the Sydney /ASX 200 (-1.3%) which fell after a widely followed analyst Down Under increased his forecast for interest rates by nearly 50 basis points by year end.  Not surprisingly, this helped AUD (+1.0%) which is the best performing currency today.  As to Europe, the gains are more broad-based with both the CAC and DAX rising by 0.5% although the FTSE 100 is basically flat on the day.  Here, too, there was data that helped drive the market narrative with UK Retail Sales disastrous in January (-8.2%, -8.8% ex fuel) weighing on the FTSE despite stronger than expected preliminary PMI data from the UK (Composite PMI rising to 49.8, up more than 8 points from last month).  Meanwhile, German PPI data jumped sharply (+1.4% in Jan), its largest rise since 2008.  I find it quite interesting that we saw a similarly large rise in the US earlier this week.  It appears that inflationary pressures are starting to bubble up, at least in some economies.  French and Italian CPI data remain mired well below 1.0%, a sign that neither economy is poised to rebound sharply quite yet.  As to US futures, they are all green, but with gains on the order of 0.2%-0.3%, so hardly earth-shattering.

Bond markets, however, continue to sell off around most of the world which is feeding a key conundrum.  One of the rationales for the never-ending stock market rally is the low yield environment, but if bond yields keep rising, that pillar may well be pulled out with serious consequences to the bull case.  But in true reflationary style, Treasury yields have backed up 1 basis point and we are seeing larger yield gains in Europe (Bunds +1.7bps, OATs +1.2bps, Gilts +2.1bps).  In fact, the only bonds in Europe rallying today are Super Mario bonds Italian BTPs (-1.5bps) as the market continues to give Draghi the benefit of the doubt with respect to his ability to save Italy’s economy.

In the commodity space, oil has ceded some of its recent gains with WTI (-2.25%) back below $60/bbl, although still higher by 22% this year.  Precious metals are slightly softer and base metals are mixed with Copper (+1.9%) the true outperformer.

Finally, in the FX market, the dollar is under pressure against the entire G10 space and much of the emerging market space.  In G10, we already discussed Aussie, which has helped drag NZD (+0.7%) higher in its wake.  But the rest of the bloc is seeing solid gains of the 0.3%-0.4% variety with the pound (+0.15%) the laggard after that Retail Sales data.  However, the pound did trade above 1.40 briefly this morning for the first time since April 2018, nearly three years ago.

In the Emerging markets, CNY (+0.5%) has been the biggest gainer with CLP (+0.4%) right behind on the strong copper showing.  However, the CE4 have all tracked the euro higher and are performing well today.  On the downside, BRL (-0.6%), ZAR (-0.5%) and MXN (-0.4%) are the laggards, with the real suffering after cryptic comments from President Bolsonaro regarding fuel price rises by Petrobras and potential government action there.  Meanwhile, the peso has been under pressure of late after Banxico’s 25bp rate cut last week, and growing talk that there could be others if inflation remains quiescent.  And lastly, South Africa suffered almost $1 billion of outflows from the local bond market there, with ensuing pressure on the rand.

On the data front this morning we get Existing Home Sales (exp 6.6M) and the preliminary US PMI data (58.8 Mfg, 58.0 Composite), although as we already learned, strong US data is irrelevant in the fiscal decision process right now.  Two more Fed speakers, Barkin and Rosengren, are on the docket for today, but again, until we hear of a change from Chairman Powell, it is unlikely that the other Fed speakers are going to have much impact.

Summing things up, right now, the reflation trade, as imagined on January 1st, is playing out.  Quite frankly, the dollar is simply trading in a new range (1.1950/1.2150) and until the euro can make new highs, above 1.2350, I would not get too excited.  The one thing that is very true is that market liquidity is shallower than it has been in the past which explains the choppiness of trading, but also should inform hedging expectations.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf