More Duration

A governor, Fed, name of Waller
Who previously had been a scholar
Remarked that inflation
Might have more duration
Which could cause a weakening dollar

As well, he explained that his view
Was rate hikes just might soon ensue
Were that to transpire
Then yields would move higher
While equity losses accrue

In what can only be termed a bit surprising, Fed governor Chris Waller, the FOMC member with the shortest tenure, explained yesterday that he is “greatly concerned abut the upside risk that elevated inflation will not prove temporary.”  While refreshing, that is certainly a far cry from the narrative that the Fed has been pushing for many months.  Of course, if one simply looks at the inflation data, which has been trending sharply higher, it seems apparent that transitory is not an apt description.  As well, he is the first Fed member to be honest in the discussion about bottlenecks and supply chain issues as he commented, “bottlenecks have been worse and are lasting longer than I and most forecasters expected, and an important question that no one knows the answer to is how long these supply problems will persist.” [emphasis added].

During the entire ‘transitory inflation’ debate, the issue with which I most disagreed was the working assumption that these transportation bottlenecks and supply chain disruptions would quickly work themselves out.  It was as though the central bank community believed that because economic models explain that higher prices lead to increased production of those goods or services, the result was a magical appearance of additional supply to push prices back down.  Meanwhile, in the real world filled with regulations, restrictions and skill and resource mismatches and misallocations, these things can take a long time to correct themselves.  There is no little irony that government regulations regarding truck drivers have significantly reduced the supply of available truckers which has led to those very bottlenecks that are now bedeviling the economy (and government).  Alas, in the great Rube Goldberg tradition, rather than simplify processes to open up supply chains, it appears that government will be adding new regulations designed to offset the current ones which will almost certainly have other negative consequences down the road.

Finally, Governor Waller was refreshingly honest in his view of things like core inflation and trimmed-mean CPI or PCE calling them, “a way of manipulating data.”  Of course, that is exactly what they are.  Central banks have relied on these lower numbers as a rationale for continuing extraordinarily easy monetary policy despite the very clear rise in inflation.   And despite Mr Waller’s comments, the Powell/Yellen narrative remains inflation is not that high and anyway it’s transitory.

As it happens, though, the bond market seems to have been listening to Waller’s comments as it sold off pretty aggressively yesterday with yields backing up 4 basis points to their highest level since May.  While this morning Treasury yields are unchanged, it is becoming clear that a trend higher in yields is manifesting itself with the market clearly targeting the highs seen in March at 1.75%.

A fair question would be to ask if this price action is occurring elsewhere in the world and the answer would be a resounding yes.  For instance, UK Gilts, which today have actually fallen 3.1bps, are trending sharply higher over the past two months and are at their highest levels since early 2019.  Today’s UK CPI report showed inflation at 3.1%, which was a tick lower than forecast, but still well above their 2.0% target.  In addition, virtually the entire MPC has acknowledged that CPI is likely to rise above 4.0% by December with a very uncertain timeline to fall back.  Governor Bailey has made it clear that they will be raising interest rates at their next meeting in early November and there has been no pushback regarding the market pricing in 3 more rate hikes in 2022.

The upshot of all this is the carefully curated narrative by the Fed and its brethren is being destroyed by events on the ground and in addition to damage control, they are trying very hard to establish the new narrative.  However, it is not clear the market is going to be so willing to go along this time.  Too, all this price pressure is occurring with a backdrop of softening economic data, with yesterday’s Housing data the latest numbers to fall both from the previous month and below forecasts.  As I’ve written before, were I Chairman Powell, I wouldn’t accept renomination even if it is offered.  The Fed chair, when things hit the fan, will not have a very good time.

On the flip side of all this distress there is the equity market, which continues blithely along the trail of rallying on every piece of news, whether good or bad.  Now that we have entered earnings season, with expectations for a strong Q2 (after all, GDP grew at 6.8%), algorithms investors remain ready to buy more of whatever is hot.  Yesterday saw solid gains across all three US indices and we continue to see more strength than weakness overseas.  In Asia, for instance, the Nikkei (+0.15%) edged higher while the Hang Seng (+1.35%) had quite a good day although Shanghai (-0.2%) continues to suffer under the ongoing pressure from the Chinese real estate market.  Today another Chinese real estate developer, Sinic, defaulted on a bond and by the end of the week the 30-day grace period for Evergrande will end and we will see if there are more ramifications there.

As to the rest of the world, both Europe (DAX +0.1%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 +0.1%) and US futures are essentially flat this morning.  The investor question is, can strong earnings offset tighter monetary policy?  While we shall see over the course of the next few weeks, I suspect that a more hawkish Fed, if that is what shows up, will be very difficult to offset for the broad indices.

Commodities have taken a breather today with oil (-1.2%) and NatGas (-1.3%) slipping and dragging most other things down with them.  So, copper (-1.3%) and aluminum (-1.1%) are feeling that pain although gold (+0.7%) and silver (+1.25%) are both benefitting from either the inflation narrative or the fact that the dollar is arguably somewhat softer.

Speaking of the dollar, it is best described as mixed today, with a range of gainers and losers versus the greenback.  In the G10, NOK (-0.45%) is the worst performer, clearly suffering on the back of oil’s decline, with the pound (-0.3%) next in line after CPI printed a tick lower than expected and some thought that might dissuade the BOE from raising rates (it won’t).  But other than those two, everything else is +/- 0.15% which is indicative of nothing happening.

EMG currencies are also mixed with the biggest winners INR (+0.6%) and KRW (+0.4%) both benefitting from equity market inflows amid hopes for stronger growth.  After that, the gainers have been modest at best with nothing really standing out.  On the downside, RUB (-0.2%) following oil and CNY (-0.2%) have been the worst performers.  China is interesting as the PBOC set the fix for a much weaker than expected renminbi as it is clearly becoming a bit uncomfortable with the currency’s recent appreciation (+1.9% in past two months before last night).  Remember, for a mercantilist economy like China, excessive currency strength is an economic problem.  Look for the PBOC to continue to push against further strength.

On the data front, only the Fed’s Beige Book is released this afternoon, but we do hear from 5 more FOMC members.  Remember, nobody expected Waller’s comments to be market moving, so we must keep our antenna up for something else.

In fact, my sense is that the Fed is going to try very hard to reestablish the narrative they want regarding inflation and the future of interest rates.  That implies we are going to hear more and more from Fed speakers.  The risk is that the divide at the Fed between hawks and doves will widen to a point where no consistent narrative is forthcoming.  At that point, markets are likely to pay less attention to the comments and more to the data and expectations.  If forward guidance loses its strength, the Fed will be in a much worse position and market volatility is likely to increase substantially.  However, we have not yet reached that point.  In the meantime, the dollar is searching for its next catalyst.  Until then, consolidation of recent gains continues to be the most likely outcome.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Stop It

There are several central banks which
Are starting to look at a switch
From policy ease
To tight, if you please
As QE they now want to ditch

The Old Lady and RBA
Are two that seem ready to say
Inflation’s too high
And so we must try
To stop it ere it runs away

The dollar is under pressure this morning as investors and traders start to look elsewhere in the world for the next example of policy tightening.  The story of tapering in the US is, quite frankly, getting long in the tooth as it has been a topic of discussion for the past six months and every inflation reading points to the fact that, despite their protestations, FOMC members realize they need to do something.  But in essence, that is already a given in the market, so short of Chairman Powell explaining in his Friday appearance that the FOMC is likely to end QE entirely next month, this is no longer market moving activity.  The dollar has already benefitted from the relatively higher yields that are extant in the Treasury market, and expectations for a further run up are limited.

However, the same is not true elsewhere in the world as central bank plans are only recently crystalizing alongside the universally higher inflation prints.  So, the BOE, which has been more vocal than most, seems to be working hard to prepare markets for a rate hike and the market has taken the ball and run with it.  Thus, UK yields in the short end of the curve have moved rapidly higher with 3-year gilt yields higher by 53 basis points in the past 6 weeks and 15 bps in the past three sessions.  On Sunday we heard from BOE Governor Bailey that they will “have to act” soon to address rapidly rising inflation, and traders continue to push UK yields higher and take the pound along with it.  This morning, pound Sterling is higher by 0.75% and amongst the leading FX gainers on this ongoing activity.

Perhaps more interesting is the market reaction to the RBA Minutes last night, where discussion regarding rising real estate prices and the need to do something about them has encouraged the investment community to push yields much higher, challenging the RBA’s YCC in the 3-year AGB.  In fact, despite the RBA explicitly reiterating that conditions for raising rates “will not be met before 2024”, yields continue to rise sharply as fears that inflation will outpace current RBA expectations grow widespread.  Given this price action, one cannot be surprised that the Aussie dollar (+0.85%) has also risen quite sharply this morning.

The thing is, there are a number of conundrums here as well.  For instance, the euro is performing well this morning, up 0.4%, and there has been absolutely zero indication that the ECB is considering tighter monetary policy.  It is widely known that the PEPP will expire in March, but it is also very clear that the previous QE program, the APP, is going to be expanded and extended in some manner to make up for the PEPP.  The only question here is exactly what form it will take.  Similarly, there is no indication that the BOJ is even considering the end of QE or NIRP or YCC, yet the yen has managed to gain 0.3% this morning as well.

In fact, today’s price action is looking much more like broad-based dollar weakness abetted by some other idiosyncratic features rather than other stories driving the market.  This becomes clearer when viewing the commodity markets where virtually every commodity price is higher this morning led by oil (+1.25%), gold (+0.75%), copper (+1.15%) and aluminum (+1.6%).  Today is very much a classic risk-on type session with the dollar under pressure and other assets performing well in sync.

For instance, equity markets are in the green everywhere (Nikkei +0.65%, Hang Seng +1.5%, Shanghai +0.7%, DAX +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.1%) with US futures also pointing higher by roughly 0.4% across the board.  At the same time, bond yields are creeping higher (Bunds +1.8bps, OATs +2.1bps, Gilts +1.8bps) as investors jettison their haven assets in order to jump on the risk bandwagon.  Treasury yields, though, are unchanged on the day although still trending higher from the levels seen late last week.

Adding it up; rising equity prices, rising commodity prices, falling bond prices, and a weaker dollar (with EMG currencies also firmer across the board) results in a clear risk-on framework.  This will warm the cockles of every central bankers’ heart as they will all see it as a vote of confidence in the job they are doing.  Whether that is an accurate representation is another question entirely, but you can’t fight the tape.  Risk is clearly in vogue today.

It is, however, worth asking if this positive attitude is misplaced.  After all, the recent data has hardly been the stuff of dreams.  Yesterday’s US releases were uniformly awful (IP -1.3%, Capacity Utilization 75.2%) with both significantly worse than forecast.  The upshot is that the Atlanta Fed GDPNow number fell to 1.165%, another step lower and an indication that despite (because of?) high inflation, growth is slowing more rapidly.  Meanwhile, Eurozone Construction Output fell -1.3% in August, continuing the down trend that began in March of this year.

I recognize it is earnings season and the initial releases for Q2 have been quite positive.  But I ask, is slowing growth and rising inflation really a recipe for continued earnings growth?  History tells us the answer is no, and I see no reason to believe this time is different.  Today’s price action seems anomalous to the big picture ideas, so be cognizant of that fact.  While markets can remain irrational longer than we can remain solvent, that does not mean it is sensible to go ‘all-in’ on risk because there is one very positive market day.  Tread carefully.

This morning’s US data brings Housing Starts (exp 1613K) and Building Permits (1680K) and that is all.  Though these are unlikely to get the market excited, we also hear from four Fed speakers, Daly, Barkin, Bostic and Waller, where efforts at recapturing the narrative will be primary.  It is growing increasingly clear that the Fed is annoyed that the persistent inflation narrative is gaining traction as it may force their hand in tightening policy before they would like.  Just remember, as important as the Fed is (and every central bank in their own economy), the market is much bigger.  And if the market determines that the Fed is no longer leading the way, or will soon need to change tack, it will force the issue.  On this you can depend.

While today everything is coming up roses, the lesson is that the Fed’s control over markets is beginning to wane.  Eventually that will be quite a negative for the dollar, but for now, despite today’s decline, I think the trend remains for a higher dollar.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Protests Are Growing

In China the growth impulse waned
As policy makers have strained
To maintain control
While reaching the goal
Of growth that Xi has preordained

In other news protests are growing
By pundits that markets are showing
Too much in the way
Of rate hikes today
Since wags think inflation is slowing

Risk is getting battered this morning, but interestingly, so are many havens.  It seems that the combination of slowing growth and higher inflation is not all that positive for assets in general, at least not financial ones.  Who would have thunk it?

Our story starts in China where Q3 GDP was released at a slower than expected 4.9% down from 7.9% in Q2 and 18.3% in Q1.  If nothing else, the trend seems to be clear.  And, while Retail Sales there rose a more than expected 4.4%, IP (3.1%) and Fixed asset Investment (7.3%), the true drivers of the Chinese economy, both slumped sharply from last quarter and were well below estimates.  In other words, the Chinese economy is not growing as quickly as the punditry, and arguably, the market had expected.  This is made clear by the ongoing lackluster performance in Chinese equity markets which are also being accosted by President Xi’s ongoing transformation of the Chinese economy to one more of his liking.  (In this vein, the latest is the attack on the press such that all media must now be state-owned.  Clearly there is no 1st Amendment there.)  Of course, if the press is state-controlled, it is much easier for the government to prevent inconvenient stories about things like Evergrande from becoming widespread inside the country.  That being said, we know the Evergrande situation is under control because the PBOC told us so!

Ultimately, this matters to markets because China has been a significant growth engine for the global economy and if it is slowing more rapidly than expected, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the world.  Apparently ongoing energy shortages in China continue to wreak havoc on manufacturing companies and hence supply chains around the world.  But don’t worry, factory gate inflation there is only running at 10.7%, so there seems little chance of inflationary pressures seeping into the rest of the world.  In the end, risk appetite is unlikely to increase substantially if the narrative turns to one of slower growth ahead, unable to support earnings expectations.

With this in mind, it is understandable why equity markets are under pressure this morning which has been true in almost every major market; Nikkei (-0.15%), Shanghai (-0.1%), DAX (-0.5%), CAC (-0.8%), FTSE 100 (-0.2%). US futures (-0.3%), with only the Hang Seng (+0.3%) bucking the trend.  Funnily enough, though, bond markets are also under universal pressure (Treasuries +4.4bps, Bunds +4.4bps, OATs +4.7bps, Gilts +6.7bps, Australia GBs +9.0bps, China +5.3bps, and the pièce de résistance, New Zealand +15.5bps) as it seems investors are beginning to fret more seriously over inflation and ensuing policy action by central bankers.

Yesterday, BOE Governor Andrew Bailey explained that the BOE will “have to act” to curb inflationary forces.  That is a pretty clear statement of intent and one based on the reality that inflation is well above their target and trending higher.  Interest rate markets quickly priced in rate hikes in the UK with the first expected next month and a second by February.  In fact, by next September, the market is now pricing in 4 rate hikes, expecting the base rate to be 1.00% vs. the current rate of 0.10%.  In New Zealand, meanwhile, CPI printed at 4.9% last night, well above the expected 4.2% and the market quickly adjusted its views on interest rates there as well, with a 0.375% increase now price for the late November meeting and expectations that in one year’s time, the OCR (overnight cash rate) will be up at 1.95% compared to today’s 0.50%.

Naturally, this price action doesn’t suit the central bank narrative and so there has been a concerted push back on the higher inflation story from many sectors.  My personal favorite is from the pundits who are focusing on the Fed staff economists with the claim that they are far more accurate than the Street and their current forecast of 2022 inflation of 1.7% should be the baseline.  But we have heard from others with vested interests in the low inflation narrative like Blackrock (who gets paid by the Fed to manage the purchases of assets) as well as a number of European central bankers (Villeroy and Vizco) who maintain that it is critical the ECB keep policy flexibility when PEPP ends.  This appears to be code for ignore the inflation and keep buying bonds.

The point of today’s story is that the carefully controlled narrative that has been fostered by the central banking community is under increasing pressure, if not falling apart completely.  Markets are pricing in rate hikes despite protests by central bankers, as they see rising inflation trends as becoming much more persistent than those central bankers would like you to believe.  At this point, no matter what inflation statistic you consider (CPI, PCE, trimmed-mean CPI, median CPI, sticky CPI) all are running well above the Fed’s 2.0% target and all are trending higher.  The same situation obtains in almost every major nation as the combination of 18 months of excessive money-printing and significant fiscal spending seems to have done the trick with respect to reviving both inflation and inflation expectations.  If I were the Fed, I’d be taking a victory lap as they have been fighting deflation for a decade.  Clearly, they have won!

So, if stocks and bonds are both falling, what is rising?  I’m sure you won’t be surprised that oil (+1.6%) is leading the way higher as demand continues to rise while supply doesn’t.  OPEC+ has refused to increase production any further and the US production situation remains under pressure from Biden administration policies.  While NatGas in the US is softer (-1.8%), in Europe, it is much firmer again (+16.2%) as Russia continues to restrict supply.  Precious metals remain unloved (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.2%) but industrial metals are firm (Cu +0.9%, Al +0.45%, Sn +1.2%) along with the agriculturals.

Finally, the dollar is definitely in demand rising against 9 of its G10 brethren (only NOK has managed to hold its own on the back of oil’s rally) but with the rest of the bunch falling between 0.1% and 0.5% on general dollar strength. After all, if neither NZD (-0.1%) nor GBP (-0.15%) can rally after interest rate markets have jumped like they have, what chance to other currencies have today?

EMG currencies are also under pressure this morning led by ZAR (-1.0%) and followed by MXN (-0.6%) with both falling despite rising oil and commodity prices.  Both seem to be suffering from a general malaise regarding EMG currencies as concerns grow that rising inflationary pressures are going to slow growth domestically, thus pressuring their central banks to maintain easier policy than necessary to fight rising inflation.  Stagflation is a b*tch.

Turning to the data front, this week sees much less of interest with housing being the focus:

Today IP 0.2%
Capacity Utilization 76.5%
Tuesday Housing Starts 1615K
Building Permits 16680K
Wednesday Fed Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 300K
Continuing Claims 2550K
Philly Fed 25.0
Leading Indicators 0.4%
Existing Home Sales 6.08M

Source: Bloomberg

On the Fed front, 10 more speakers are on the docket across a dozen different venues including Chairman Powell on Friday morning.  At this point, with inflation rising more rapidly than expected everywhere in the world and the market pricing in rate hikes far more aggressively than central banks deem appropriate, the case can be made that the central banks have lost control of the narrative.  I expect this week’s onslaught of commentary to try very hard to regain the upper hand.  However, as I have long maintained, at some point the Fed will speak and act and the market will not care.  We could well be approaching that point.  In that event, the only thing that seems certain is that volatility will rise.

As to the dollar today, I think we need to see some confirmation that this modest corrective decline is over, but for now, the medium-term trend remains for a higher dollar.  I see nothing to change that view yet.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Something Awry

It’s not clear why there’s a concern
Inflation could cause a downturn
Cause stocks keep on rising
Though Jay’s emphasizing
The Fed, QE’s, set to adjourn

But still there is something awry
In how traders, every dip, buy
With growth clearly slowing
Though wages are growing
The value of stocks seems too high

One has to be remarkably impressed with the price action of risk assets these days and their ability to completely ignore growing signs that long-delayed problems are fast approaching.  The first of these problems is clearly inflation, something that has been ignored for decades by investors as long-term factors like globalization and demographics, as well as technological innovation, have served to suppress any significant inflationary impulse throughout the developed world.  Certainly, there were some EMG nations (Argentina, Venezuela, Zimbabwe) that managed to buck that trend and impose policies so horrendous as to negate the long-term benefits of stable prices, but generally speaking, inflation has not been a problem.

Then, Covid came along and the policy response was truly draconian dramatic, essentially shutting down much of the global economy for a number of months.  In hindsight, it cannot be surprising that the disruption to finely tuned supply chains that was imposed has been difficult to repair.  After all, it took years to achieve the true just-in-time nature of manufacturing and distribution across almost every industry.  While there are currently herculean efforts to get things back to the way they were, I suspect we will never again return to the previous situation.  A combination of policy decisions and population adaptations has altered the underlying framework thus there is no going back.

Consider the current energy situation (crisis?) as an example.  What is very clear now is that the price of energy is rising rapidly with both oil (+69% YTD, 0.85% today) and NatGas (+127% YTD, 1.0% today) continuing to climb with no end in sight.  Arguably, there have been a number of deliberate policy choices as well as some investing fashions which have dramatically reduced the investment in the production of these two key energy sources thus not merely reducing current supply but prospects for future supply as well.  Pressure from environmentalists to prevent this investment has done wonders for driving up prices, alas the mooted renewable replacements have yet to demonstrate their long-term effectiveness as uninterrupted power sources.  And this situation is manifest not only in the West, but in China as well, where they are currently suffering from major power shortages amid rapidly rising prices for LNG and coal as well as oil.  This morning’s WSJ has a lead article on how the rising price of NatGas is going to drive up winter heating bills substantially and the negative consequences for lower- and middle-income folks.

And yet…risk appetite remains robust.  You can tell because regardless of the news, equity prices consistently rise.  I grant it is not actually every day, but the trend remains quite clearly higher.  In traditional analysis, it would be difficult to rationalize this price movement as while the current situation may be working fine for companies, the fact is there are numerous issues that are coming, notably rising wages and a shrinking labor force, that are going to pressure margins, and arguably profits, going forward.  Clearly, however, that tradition is dead.  In its stead is the investor view that as long as the Fed keeps supplying liquidity to the markets economy, it will prevent any significant price dislocation.  Trickle Down theory remains alive and well on Wall Street.  This is evident today, where equity markets worldwide are higher, and has been evident in the fact that the recent Evergrande induced scare that resulted in a 5% correction was the first correction of that magnitude in more than a year.  The current investment zeitgeist remains; stocks only go up so buy more.  While I recognize I sound curmudgeonly on this topic, remember, reality is a b*tch and it will win out in the end.  Until then, though, it is unclear what type of catalyst is needed to change views, so risk assets are likely to remain in favor regardless of everything else.

And of course, today is a perfect example where equity markets are all green (Nikkei +1.8%, Hang Seng +1.5%, Shanghai +0.4%) in Asia and Europe (DAX +0.3%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.3%) as well.  Don’t worry, US futures are all pointing higher by 0.25%-0.35% at this hour, so all our 401K’s still look good.

Meanwhile, bonds are not required in a risk-on scenario so it should be no surprise that yields are rallying today with Treasuries (+3.3bps) leading the way but higher yields throughout Europe as well (Bunds +2.0bps, OATs +2.3bps, Gilts +3.7bps).  These price movements have been seen throughout the rest of the continent and in Asia last night with yields rising universally.

Commodity prices are broadly firmer, although with risk appetite robust, precious metals (Au -0.85, Ag -1.2%) are unwanted.  We discussed oil prices and we are seeing strength in the industrial metals (Cu +2.4%, Al +2.4%) as well as the Ags (corn +1.2%, wheat +1.4%, soybeans +0.7%).  In other words, risky assets are the place to be.

You should not be surprised that the dollar (and yen) are suffering on this movement given haven assets serve no purpose today!  In the G10 space, GBP (+0.6%) is leading the way higher followed by NOK (+0.55%) and then everything else is just modestly higher except JPY (-0.6%).  The sterling story seems to revolve around continued belief in BOE rate hikes coming early next year while NOK is simply following oil for now.

Of more interest, I believe, is the yen, which admittedly has been falling quite rapidly, down nearly 5% in the past three weeks, and quite frankly, shows no signs of stopping.  At this point, it doesn’t seem so much like Japanese investment outflows as it does like a speculative move that has discerned there is limited real demand for the currency.  Amazingly, last night, the new FinMin, Shunichi Suzuki, felt compelled to explain that, “stability in currencies is very important.” He further indicated that there was concern a weaker yen could cause prices to rise, especially energy prices.  Now, call me crazy but, BOJ policy for the past decade explicitly and the past three decades with less verve, has been to drive inflation higher.  Abenomics was all about achieving 2.0% inflation, something that had not been seen since before the Japanese bubble collapsed in 1989.  Now, suddenly, with inflation running at 0.2%, they are starting to get concerned that higher energy prices are going to be a problem?  Are they going to raise rates?  Are they going to intervene?  Absolutely not in either case.  Sometimes you have to wonder what animates policy maker comments.

As to EMG currencies, ZAR (+0.6%) and KRW (+0.4%) are the leaders this morning with the former benefitting from higher metals prices while the latter is responding to comments from the BOK governor that a rate hike could be coming at the November meeting.  On the downside here, TRY (-0.4%) continues to suffer from Erdogan’s capriciousness with respect to his central bankers, while THB (-0.3%) appears to be consolidating after a strong rally over the past week.

We have a bunch more data this morning led by Retail Sales (exp -0.2%, +0.5% ex autos) as well as Empire Manufacturing (25.0) and Michigan Sentiment (73.1).  There are two more Fed speakers, Bullard and Williams, but it seems unlikely that either will change the current narrative of a taper coming soon.

The reality is you can’t fight the tape.  As long as risk appetite remains buoyant, the dollar and yen are likely to remain on their back foot.  For the dollar, I see no long-term danger as I believe it will consolidate further before making its next move higher.  the yen, on the other hand, could be a bit more concerning.  If fear has gone missing, and with yields rising elsewhere in the world, a much weaker yen remains a real possibility.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Somewhat Misleading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prices Will Grow

As markets await CPI
It’s funny to watch the Fed try
Explaining inflation
Will lack the duration
To send expectations sky-high

But even their own surveys show
That most people already know
Inflation is here
And well past next year
The level of prices will grow

Each month the Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes the results of a survey of consumer expectations on inflation.  Yesterday, they published the September results and, lo and behold, the data showed that 1-year inflation expectations rose to 5.31%, by far the highest point since the survey began in 2013.  The 3-year data rose to its highest ever level of 4.19%, also well above the Fed’s 2.0% target.  And yet somehow, the authors of the report explained that inflation expectations remain well anchored.  Their claim is that if you look at the 5-year expectations, they remain near the levels seen before the pandemic, indicating that there should be no concern.  I don’t know about you, but 3 years of inflation running above 4.0% seems a lot longer than transitory.

Of course, it’s not just the analysts at the NY Fed who are unwilling to admit to the increasingly obvious situation, we continue to hear the same from other officials.  For instance, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in a televised interview yesterday remarked, “I believe it’s [inflation] transitory, but I don’t mean to suggest these pressures will disappear in the next month or two.”  She then raised the specter of shortages by commenting, “There’s no reason for consumers to panic over the absence of goods they’re going to want to acquire at Christmas.”  Now, don’t you feel better?

In fairness, however, there are several Fed members who have finally admitted that the transitory emperor has no clothes.  Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic explained yesterday, “It is becoming increasingly clear that the feature of this episode that has animated price pressures – mainly the intense and widespread supply-chain disruptions – will not be brief.  By this definition, then, the forces are not transitory.”  As well, we heard from St Louis Fed President James Bullard, “I have to put some probability on a scenario where inflation stays high or even goes higher.”

At this point, it’s fair to ask, which is it?  Clearly there is a split at the Fed with some regional presidents recognizing that inflation has risen sharply and has all the appearances of being persistent, while Fed governors seem more likely to lean toward the transitory fable.  Perhaps what explains this split is the regional presidents have a far different constituency than do the Fed governors.  The Fed presidents are trying to address the issues extant in their respective geographies, so rising inflation matters to them.  Meanwhile, the governors, despite the claim that the Fed is apolitical, serve their masters in Congress and the White House, who believe they need to continue QE and ZIRP forever to continue spending money in unconscionable sums while not suffering from the slings and arrows of the bond market vigilantes.  But remember this too, every Fed governor votes at every meeting while only a handful of regional presidents vote (granted, Bostic is one of those right now.)  I fear we will continue to hear transitory for a while yet.

All this is a prelude to two key pieces of information today, this morning’s CPI release (exp 5.3% headline, 4.0% core) and the FOMC Minutes from the September meeting to be released at 2:00pm.  The one thing that has been very clear lately is that interest rate markets are beginning to buy into the persistence of inflation.  While Treasury yields have edged lower by 1.6bps this morning, in the past 3 weeks, those yields have risen 26 basis points.  And this is a global phenomenon with Bund yields, for instance, having risen 20 basis points over the same period despite a 4.1bp decline today.  Investors are starting to pressure the central bank community with respect to interest rates, driving them higher as fears of rising inflation abound worldwide.  While some, central banks have recognized the reality on the ground (Norway, New Zealand, numerous EMG nations) and others have paid lip service to the idea of raising rates (the UK, Canada), the two biggest players, the Fed and ECB, will not even discuss raising rates, although the Fed continues to tease us with talk of tapering.

However, I will ask again, do you believe the Fed will taper (tighten) policy if GDP growth is more clearly abating?  My view remains that they may actually start to taper, but that it will be a short-lived process as weak GDP growth will dissuade them from doing anything to worsen that side of the ledger.  While eventually, weaker GDP growth will result in demand destruction and reduced price pressures, that is likely to take a very long time.  Hence, the idea of stagflation remains very viable going forward.

Now it’s time to look at markets.  Equities have had a mixed session thus far with Asia (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -1.4%, Shanghai +0.4%) seeing both gainers and losers and Europe (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 -0.1%) seeing similar mixed price action.  UK data showed August GDP was a tick lower than forecast and is clearly slowing from its previous pace, arguably weighing on the FTSE.  As to US futures, they are edging higher ahead of the data with gains in the 0.1%-0.3% range after yesterday’s modest declines.

We’ve already discussed bonds so a look at commodities shows that oil (-0.6%) is retreating for the moment as is NatGas (-1.5%), while we are seeing strength in gold (+0.7%) and copper (+1.7%).  In fact, the entire metals complex is stronger today as apparently, weaker energy prices are good for industrial activities.

As to the dollar, it is under some modest pressure today across the board.  In the G10, SEK (+0.35%) and CHF (+0.35%) lead the way with JPY (0.0%) the laggard.  However, there are no specific stories that seem to be driving things, rather this is a broad-based dollar correction from recent strength.  The same situation holds in the EMG bloc with ZAR (+0.75%) the leader followed by much lesser movement of KRW (+0.4%), CZK (+0.35%) and PLN (+0.35%).  The won has responded to comments from the central bank that it is closely watching the exchange rate and will not be afraid to step in if it becomes destabilized.  That is a euphemism for much weaker, as the currency had fallen nearly 9% in the previous four months.  As to the others, recent weakness seems to merely being consolidated with nothing new driving price action.

While the Fed may not care much about CPI, the rest of us do care.  And really, so do they, but it doesn’t tell their story very well.  At any rate, while it is entirely reasonable that we see a continued flatlining of price rises, the risks remain to the upside as at some point, housing inflation is going to show up in the data.  And that, my friends, is going to be significant and persistent!  Ahead of the number, don’t look for much.  If we see a high print, expect the dollar to regain this morning’s losses, though, as the market will become that much surer the taper is on its way.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Hikes Are Impending

In London on Threadneedle Street
The Old Lady’s not been discrete
Some hikes are impending
With rates soon ascending
Before they shrink their balance sheet

The BOE has made it quite clear that they are itching to raise interest rates pretty soon in order to address rising inflation.  Today’s employment data, which saw the Unemployment Rate fall to 4.5% while employment grew by 235K on a 3M/3M basis, has helped to cement the idea that the economy is continuing to rebound sharply and price pressures are likely to continue to grow.  With CPI at 3.2%, already well above the 2.0% target, and tipped to rise much further by the end of the year given the rapid rise in energy and commodity prices, the BOE has come to believe they need to do something to prevent inflation from getting out of control.  Unlike the Fed, the BOE has also indicated they are quite comfortable raising interest rates before shrinking their balance sheet back to pre-pandemic levels.

The risk they face, which has become the talk of the market today, is that by raising rates so soon, especially before the Fed acts, they will simultaneously destroy the nascent growth impulse while failing to address the cause of the inflation.  And in truth, that could well happen.  Alas, that is a result of trying to address a stagflationary environment with the limited tools available to a central bank.  For the time being, the biggest decision a central bank has is to determine which affliction is a bigger problem, rising prices or slowing economic activity.  Since this seems to be the situation in almost every developed nation, we are going to witness a lot of variations on this theme going forward.

The interesting thing about the pound is that its behavior amid pending rate hikes, as well as the market narrative about the pound, seems to be quite negative.  For some reason, there has been a connection made between an early rate hike in the UK and a falling pound.  This is opposite what we have seen in most other countries, where those rate hikes have been supportive of the currency as would normally be expected.  But there is now talk that the UK is going to make a policy error by tightening ahead of the Fed.  This argument seems specious, however, as economic growth has rarely been a short-term driver of exchange rates, while interest rate changes are critical.  The idea that suddenly traders and investors are critiquing the long-term ramifications of the BOE is preposterous.  Instead, I would offer that any pound weakness, although an early decline after the data release has already been reversed, is far more likely due to the dollar’s continuing broad strength.  So, as I type, the pound is essentially unchanged on the day.

Of course, this begs the question, is the Fed going to start to tighten policy with their potential tapering decision next month.  My answer is leaning towards no.  The reasoning here is that we will have already seen the first estimate of Q3 GDP by the time the Fed meets, and the early indications are that GDP growth has really declined sharply with the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast declining to 1.306% after the payroll data on Friday.  Tightening policy into a clearly slowing economy seems highly improbable for this Fed regardless of the inflation situation.  It seems far more likely that a weak GDP print will result in the Fed walking back their tapering language by describing the slowing growth as an impediment from achieving that vaunted “substantial further progress” on their employment goals and thus tapering is not yet appropriate.  Remember, after nearly a decade of worrying about deflation, not inflation, concern over rising prices is not their normal response.  Despite talk of the tools they have available to fight inflation, there is no indication the Fed has the gumption to use them if the result would be a recession, or more frighteningly for them, a stock market decline.

Thus, the question that remains is, how will the market respond to a Fed that decides not to taper with inflation still rising?  Much of the current discussion regarding the Treasury market is around the idea that tapering is the driver of the steeper yield curve, although there is a strong case to be made it is simply consistently higher inflation readings doing the work.  For our purposes in the FX markets, it’s not clear the underlying driver matters that much.  The key is where do rates and yields go from here.  If they continue to rise, I expect the dollar has further room to rise as well.

Ok, with markets back to full strength today, a look around sees a pretty negative risk sentiment.  Equities in Asia (Nikkei -0.95%, Hang Seng -1.4%, Shanghai -1.25%) were all under pressure with the latter two dealing with yet another property company that is defaulting on a USD bond.  The China story appears to be getting a bit less comfortable as we watch what seems to be a slow motion implosion of the real estate bubble there.  As to Europe, its all red there as well (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.4%) as London is suffering despite the strong data and Germany seems to be feeling the weight of stagflation after PPI (+13.2% Y/Y in Sept) rose to its highest level since 1974 while the ZEW Surveys all fell even further than expected.  At this hour, US futures are either side of unchanged.

On this risk off day, bond markets are seeing a bit of a bid, but in truth, it is not that impressive, especially given how far they have fallen recently.  So, Treasury yields (-1.6bps) have edged just below 1.60% for now while European sovereigns (Bunds -0.6bps, OATs -0.8bps, Gilts -1.4bps) have also seen very modest demand.

Oil prices (+0.4%) continue to lead the way higher for most commodities, although today’s movement has been less consistent.  The trend, however, remains firmly upward in this space.  So, while NatGas (-1.6%) is lower on the session, we are seeing gains in gold (+0.5%) and aluminum (+0.7%) although copper (-0.25%) is consolidating today.  Many less visible commodity prices are rising though, things like lumber (+5.5%) and cotton (+2.3%) which are all part of the same trend.

Finally, the FX markets have seen a very slight amount of dollar weakness net, although there are quite a number of currencies that have fallen vs. the greenback as well.  In the G10, NOK (+0.7%) is the leader on oil price rises while AUD (+0.4%) and NZD (+0.4%) are following on the broader commodity price trend.  Interestingly, JPY (0.0%) is not seeing any bid despite a declining risk appetite.  This seems to be a situation where the spread between Treasuries and JGB’s has widened sufficiently to interest Japanese investors who are selling yen/buying dollars to buy bonds.  As long as Treasury yields continue to rise, look for USDJPY to follow.  After all, it has risen 1.7% in the past week alone.

In the emerging markets, THB (+1.3%) has been the big winner after the government eased restrictions for travelers entering the country thus opening the way for more tourism, a key part of the economy there.  ZAR (+0.85%) and MXN (+0.5%) are the next best performers on the strength of the commodity story.  On the downside, many APAC currencies (TWD (-0.35%, KRW -0.3%, INR -0.2%) saw declines on a combination of continued concerns over the potential implications of the Chinese real estate issue as well as rising commodity prices as all these nations are commodity importers.

Data-wise, NFIB Small Business Optimism was just released at a slightly weaker than expected 99.1, hardly a harbinger of strong future growth, while the JOLTS Jobs report (exp 10.954M) is due at 10:00 this morning.  There are three Fed speakers on the slate with vice-Chair Clarida at the World Bank/IMF meetings and Bostic and Barkin also due.  It will be interesting to see the evolution of the narrative as it becomes clearer that GDP growth is slowing rapidly.  But given that has not yet happened, I expect more taper talk for now.

There is no reason to think that the dollar’s recent strength has reached its peak.  If anything, my take is we are consolidating before the next leg higher so hedge accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Fad that is Passing

Said central banks, stop your harassing
Inflation’s a fad that is passing
By next year we see
(Or by ‘Twenty-three)
More bonds you will all be amassing

But lately some central bank hawks
Explained that the recent price shocks
Could well last much longer
With wage growth much stronger
And that might not be good for stocks

As we walk in on this Columbus Day holiday, where US banks and the Federal Reserve are closed, although equity markets remain open, the most notable price movement has been in oil where WTI (+2.8%) has rallied to its highest price since October 2014 and now sits well above the $80/bbl level.  Fortunately, we’ve been constantly reassured that this is a temporary transitory phenomenon by numerous central bankers around the world, most frequently by Chairman Powell and ECB President Lagarde.  The claim continues to be that the only reason prices keep rising is as a result of constricted supply chains amid a massive recovery (due to their actions) from the Covid pandemic economy-wide shutdowns.  Soon enough, they also exhort, these supply chain snafus will have been corrected and then shortages of stuff will be a distant memory as we revert to the steady growth and low inflation economies we have all come to know and love.  It’s such a nice, neat story and I’m confident that they both tell themselves constantly that it is true.

Alas, reality has a nasty way of intruding upon a good storyline and recent energy price action is pretty clearly pointing to a different story than the one being peddled by Powell and Lagarde.  In fact, some of their own colleagues, as well as brethren from other key central banks like the BOE, are singing a different tune, one much more in line with reality.  For instance, last night, Klaas Knot, the Dutch Central bank president and ECB member warned investors not to underestimate inflation risks, “This risky behavior [excessive leverage] is only sustainable at low inflation and interest rates.  From the perspective of healthy risk management, it is also important to take other scenarios into consideration.”  I wonder what other scenarios he is considering.  Refreshingly, he followed that comment with this, “There is more in the inflation process we don’t understand than we do understand,” as humble a comment as one can ever expect from a central banker!

However, given Knot’s constant hawkish rhetoric, markets did not really react to his comments, as they were not terribly new.  Of more interest were comments from two separate BOE members, Governor Andrew Bailey and Michael Saunders, the most hawkish member of the MPC.  In both cases, they commented that the market was quite right to begin pricing in higher interest rates as inflation was becoming more problematic and could be “very damaging” if policymakers don’t act.  Traders did not need much prompting beyond this to reprice interest rate futures such that a first hike of 15 basis points (to 0.25%) is now expected by December, while by the end of 2022, the market is pricing a base rate of 0.75%, so two more hikes after that.  Given that UK CPI is forecast to hit 4.0% in Q4 this year, that still seems awfully far behind the curve, but then compared to the US, where inflation is already well above 4%, even on the PCE measure, and Fed Funds remained pegged at 0.00%-0.25%, that counts as tight policy.  When the comments were first published, the pound did jump as much as 0.45%, however, that has already largely faded and as I type, the pound is only 0.1% higher on the day.

Perhaps these are the first real signs that the central bank community is recognizing inflation may not be as transitory as their models (and political needs) had indicated was likely (and necessary) respectively.  Instead, its persistence is becoming more evident, even to them, and calls for tighter monetary policy to address inflation are likely to grow.  Of course, given the extraordinary levels of leverage in the global monetary system, higher rates are going to be very difficult to achieve without an ensuing dramatic decline in asset prices.  This is the corner into which the Fed (and the ECB) have painted themselves.  (As I’ve said before, if I were Chairman Powell, I would be happy to step down allowing my successor to deal with the mess that is surely coming.)  Even if the Fed does begin to taper QE purchases, they will remain behind the curve for a very long time, and those vaunted ‘tools’, which they keep describing as available, will likely not be used to full effect.  Not only is inflation going to continue to rise, but central banks are going to continue to remain behind the curve for a long time to come.  Be prepared.

Ok, with that in mind, let’s look at markets overnight.  Equities in Asia had a pretty good session, with the Nikkei (+1.6%) and the Hang Seng (+2.0%) both performing well, although Shanghai was unchanged on the day.  Europe (DAX -0.5%, CAC -0.4%), on the other hand, is a little less optimistic.  The outlier here is the UK (FTSE 100 +0.15%) where it seems investors are happy to hear of a central bank willing to address incipient inflation.  US futures are all pointing lower, however, led by the NASDAQ (-0.7%) but -0.4% losses elsewhere.

The Treasury bond market is closed in the US today, but in Europe, the trend is clear, higher yields across the board, which is exactly what we saw in Asia as well.  So, Bunds (+3.5bps), OATs (+3.0bps) and Gilts (+5.0bps) are all selling off sharply with similar movement seen across the continent.  Asia, too saw sharp declines in bond prices with Australia (+8.0bps) leading the way but even China (+6.0bps) falling sharply despite ordinary efforts to prevent volatility in that market.

In the commodity space, while oil is leading the way, pretty much everything except gold is higher with NatGas (+3.8%), copper (+1.4%) aluminum (+2.3%) and the agricultural products all firmer on the day.  Remember this, the longer food and energy prices continue to climb, the more likely those price rises bleed into “core” inflation and drive that higher as well.

Turning to the dollar, the biggest loser today is JPY (-0.6%) as the widening yield differential in favor of the dollar has reached a point where Japanese investors have started to move money more actively into USD investments on an unhedged basis.  At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for JPY to rally, so a test of 115 seems to be far more likely in the near term.  After that, we shall see.  On the plus side, AUD (+0.5%) has been the biggest beneficiary of the commodity rally while surprisingly, neither NOK nor CAD, both unchanged on the day, have seen a boost from the much higher oil prices.

In the EMG bloc, INR (-0.5%) and PHP (-0.4%) are the laggards of note with RUB (+0.3%) the only notable gainer.  Oil is obviously supporting the ruble while the rupee and peso both suffer on the same story, as both India and the Philippines are major oil importers.

On the data front, nothing is released today due to the holiday, but we get some important things this week:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 99.5
JOLTS Job Openings 10.934M
Wednesday CPI 0.3% (5.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.2% (4.1% Y/Y)
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 320K
Continuing Claims 2686K
PPI 0.6% (8.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (7.1% Y/Y)
Friday Empire Manufacturing 25.0
Retail Sales -0.2%
-ex autos 0.5%
Business Inventories 0.6%
Michigan Sentiment 73.5

Source: Bloomberg

Aside from critical CPI and Retail Sales data, we hear from ten different Fed speakers across more than a dozen events this week, including Governor Brainerd on Wednesday, someone we should be listening to very closely given the rising probability she is named the new Chair.

Right now, the dollar is consolidating its recent gains, but showing no signs of giving any of them back.  I expect that we will see another leg higher in the near future as there is no evidence that either inflation or US yields are going to decline soon.  And right now, I think those are the drivers.  At some point, inflation may become detrimental to the dollar, but for now, buy dollars on dips.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Gordian knot

Now, what if inflation is not
As transit’ry as Powell thought?
And what if there’s slowing
Instead of more growing?
Would that be a Gordian knot?

Well, lately the bond market’s view
Appears to be, in ‘Twenty-two
Inflation will soar
Much higher before
The Fed figures out what to do

The Fed has been pushing the transitory inflation narrative for quite a while now, but lately, they have been struggling to get people to accept it at face value.  You can tell this is the case because pretty much every third story in any newsfeed is about rising prices in some product or service.  Commodities are particularly well represented in these stories, especially energy, as oil, NatGas and coal have all seen dramatic price rises in the past month or so.  It is also important to understand that despite the durm und strang regarding the continued use of coal as an energy source, it remains the largest source of electricity worldwide.  I bring this up because the situation in China is one where the country is restricting energy use due to a lack of coal available to burn.  (Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the Chinese, in a snit over Australia calling them out as to the origins of Covid-19, banned Australian coal imports.)

From an inflation perspective, this has the following consequences: less coal leads to less electricity production which leads to restrictions on electricity use by industry which leads to reduced production of everything.  Given China’s importance in the global supply chain for most products, less production leads to shortages and, presto, higher prices.  And this is not going to end anytime soon.  Much to the Fed’s chagrin, they can print neither coal nor NatGas and help mend those broken supply chains.  Thus, despite their (and every other central bank’s) efforts to repeal the laws of supply and demand, those laws still exist.  So, just as April showers lead to May flowers, less supply leads to higher prices.

The difference in the past week or so is that bond markets worldwide have started to cotton on to the idea that inflation is not transitory after all.  Yields have been rising and curves steepening, but even the front end of yield curves, where central banks have the most impact, have seen yields rise.  So, a quick look at global bond markets today shows yields higher in every major market around the world.  Treasuries (+1.1bps) have not moved that far overnight but are higher by 12bps in the past week.  Gilts (+4.8bps) on the other hand, have seen real selling in today’s session, also rising 12bps in the past week, but on a lower base (10-year Gilts yield 1.125% vs. 1.58% for Treasuries.)  And the same situation prevails in Bunds (+2.6bps, +6.6bps in past week), OATs (+2.5bps) and the rest of Europe.  Asia is not immune to this with even JGB’s (+1.2bps, +4bps in past week) selling off.  The point is that bond investors are starting to recognize that inflation may be more persistent after all.  And if the Fed loses control over their narrative, they have much bigger problems.  Forward guidance remains a key monetary policy tool, arguably more important that the Fed Funds rate these days, so if that is no longer effective, what will they do?

Needless to say, risk attitudes are starting to change somewhat as concern grows that almost the entire central banking community, certainly the Fed and ECB, will be too slow to react to very clear inflation signals.  In this situation, financial assets will definitely suffer.  Keep that in mind as you look ahead.

OK, next we need to look to this morning’s NFP report as that has been a key element of the recent market inactivity.  Investors are looking for confirmation that the Fed is going to begin tapering next month and have certainly been encouraged by both the ADP Employment number as well as yesterday’s much lower than expected Initial Claims data.  Here’s what current median forecasts look like:

Nonfarm Payrolls 500K
Private Payrolls 450K
Manufacturing Payrolls 25K
Unemployment Rate 5.1%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.6% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.8%

Source: Bloomberg

Powell explained that as long as this report was not terrible, he felt the tapering would begin.  Interestingly, the range of forecasts is 0K to 750K, a pretty wide range of disagreement as to how things might play out.  Certainly, a number like last month’s 235K could throw a wrench into the tapering process.  Personally, my take is slightly weaker than median, but not enough to change the taper idea.

On a different note, I cannot help but look at the Average Hourly Earnings forecasts and wonder how any Fed speaker can argue that wages aren’t growing rapidly.  Absent the Covid induced gyrations, 4.6% is the highest number in the series by far going back to early 2007.  Again, this speaks to persistent inflationary pressures, not transient ones.

But we will know shortly how things turn out, so a quick recap before then shows that equity markets had a good session in Asia (Nikkei +1.3%, Hang Seng +0.55%, Shanghai +0.7%) but are less giddy in Europe (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  Meanwhile, US futures are essentially unchanged ahead of the data.

We’ve already discussed the bond market selloff and cannot be surprised that commodity prices are mostly higher led by oil (+0.8%) and NatGas (+0.1%), but also seeing strength in gold (+0.3%).  Industrial metals are having a rougher go of it (Cu -0.3%, Al -0.4%) and Ags are a bit firmer this morning with all three major grains higher by about 0.55%.

As to the dollar, it is mixed this morning ahead of the data with the largest gainer NOK (+0.4%) on the back of oil’s strength, while SEK (+0.3%) is also firmer although with no clear driver other than positioning ahead of the data.  On the downside, JPY (-0.15%) continues under pressure as higher US yields continue to attract Japanese investors.

EMG currencies have seen a more negative session with PLN (-0.6%), TRY (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.5%) all under pressure and the APAC bloc mostly falling, albeit not quite as far.  The zloty story seems to be concerns over a judicial ruling that puts Poland further at odds with the EU which has been sufficient to offset the boost from yesterday’s surprise rate hike.  In Turkey, a story that President Erdogan is “cooling” on his view toward the central bank governor seems to have markets nervous while in Russia, rising inflation and limited central bank response has investors concerned despite oil’s rally.

There are no Fed speakers on the calendar today so it will all be about the NFP number.  Until then, don’t look for much, and afterwards, there is typically a short burst of activity and a slow afternoon.  I don’t think the big trend of dollar strength has ended by any means, but it is not clear today will see much of a gain.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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Risks They Have Wrought

It’s not clear why anyone thought
The ECB ever would not
Continue to buy
More bonds as they try
To safeguard ‘gainst risks they have wrought

So, when PEPP, next March, does expire
A new plan we’ll get to admire
As Christine will ne’er
Be set to foreswear
Her drive to push bond prices higher

If ever anyone was talking their own book, it was Greek central bank president Yannis Stournaras this morning on the subject of the ECB’s potential actions post-PEPP.  “Asset purchases aim at favorable financing conditions, at smooth transition of monetary policy to prevent any kind of fragmentation in jurisdictions in the euro area.  I’m sure that the Governing Council will continue to aim at this.” [author’s emphasis] These comments were in response to a report that the ECB is considering instituting a new asset purchase program when the emergency PEPP expires in March.  This is certainly no surprise as I posited this exact outcome a month ago (Severely Distraught – Sep 7) and the idea has gained credence since then.

One of the features of the ECB’s APP (original QE program from 2015) is that they are required to purchase bonds based on the so-called capital key in order to give the illusion they are not monetizing national debt.  This means that they must buy them in proportion to the relative size of each economy.  Another feature is that the bonds they purchase must be investment grade (IG).  This rules out Greek debt which currently is rated BB-, 3 notches below IG.  The PEPP, however, given the dire emergency created by governments shutting down their economies when Covid-19 first appeared, did away with those inconveniences and was empowered to buy anything deemed necessary.  Not surprisingly, purchases of bonds from the PIGS was far above their relative economic weight which has served to narrow credit spreads across the entire continent.  If the PEPP simply expires and is not replaced, it is unambiguous that PIGS’ debt would fall sharply in price with yields rising correspondingly, and those nations would find themselves in far worse fiscal shape.  In fairness, the ECB can hardly allow that to happen to just a few nations so they will continue their PEPP purchases in some manner or other.  And I assure you they will continue to purchase Greek debt regardless of its credit rating.

It is useful to compare this future to that of the Fed, where Chairman Powell has indicated that as long as the payroll number this Friday is not a complete disaster (currently expected 500K), a reduction in the pace of QE is appropriate. On the surface, it would be quite reasonable to expect the euro to decline further given what is likely to be a divergence in relative yields.  Yesterday’s ADP Employment report (568K) was better than expected and certainly seems to be of sufficient strength to support the Chairman’s view of continued strength in the labor market.  Thus, if the Fed does begin to taper while the ECB discusses its next version of QE, I would look for the euro’s recent decline to continue.

Of course, the big question is, will the Fed continue to taper if the economic situation in the US starts to show much less impetus?  For instance, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast is estimating Q3 GDP growth at 1.333%, MUCH weaker than it had been in the past and a MUCH sharper slowdown than the Fed’s own forecasts.  While the number may well be higher than that, it does speak to a run of weaker than expected economic data in the US.  Inflation, meanwhile, shows no signs of abating soon.  The Fed looks set to find themselves in a very uncomfortable position with the following choices: tighten into slowing growth or let inflation run much hotter than targeted for much longer than anticipated.  (If I were Powell, given the trainwreck that is approaching, I don’t think I would accept the offer of reappointment should it be made!)

In sum, while the decision process in Europe is much easier with slower growth and lower inflation, extending monetary largesse still seems appropriate, in the States, some tough decisions will need to be made.  The problem is that there is not a single person in any Federal position who appears capable of making (and owning) a tough decision.  In fact, it is this lack of demonstrated decision-making prowess that leads to the idea that stagflation is the most likely outcome going forward.

But it is still a few weeks/months before these decisions will need to be made and, in the meantime, Buy Stonks!  Well, at least, that seems to be the investor mindset as fleeting fears over contagion from China Evergrande’s slow motion bankruptcy and comments from Vladimir Putin that Russia would, of course, supply the necessary NatGas for Europe, have been sufficient to remind the equity crowd that a 5% decline from an all-time high price level is an amazing opportunity to buy more stocks.  Hence, yesterday morning’s fears have abated and all is once again right with the world.

(As an aside, it strikes me that relying on a key geopolitical adversary to supply the life’s blood of your economy is a very risky strategy.  But Putin would never use this as leverage for something else, would he?  I fear it could be a very long cold winter in Europe.)

OK, with that in mind, let’s look at markets this morning.  Equity markets are green everywhere ranging from the Nikkei (+0.5%) to the Hang Seng (+3.1%) with all of Europe in between (DAX +1.2%, CAC +1.35%, FTSE 100 +1.0%) while China remains closed.  US futures are also firmer, currently pointing to a 0.75% rise on the open.

Bond markets are in pretty good shape as well.  Yesterday, after substantial early session weakness, they rebounded, and this morning are continuing on that trend.  While Treasuries are only lower by 0.2bps, in Europe we are seeing much better buying (Bunds -1.7bps, OATs -2.1bps, Gilts -1.2bps) with PIGS bonds (Italy -5.1bps, Greece -3.0bps) showing even more strength.

Commodity prices are consolidating after what has been a significant run higher with oil (-1.6%) and NatGas (-2.0%) both off highs seen yesterday morning.  Gold is unchanged on the day while copper (+1.1%) has bounced along with other base metals.  Ags, too, are a bit firmer this morning.

This positive risk attitude has seen the dollar cede some of its recent gains with AUD (+0.35%) leading the way in the G10 on the back of stronger commodity prices, followed by SEK (+0.3%) and NZD (+0.3%) both benefitting from better risk appetite as well.  Only NOK (-0.1%) is under pressure on the back of the oil price decline.  EMG currencies are universally stronger led by ZAR (+0.7%), PHP (+0.6%) and RUB (+0.5%).  ZAR is clearly benefitting from the commodity rally while PHP was higher on some positive growth comments from the central bank there.  The ruble seems to be benefitting from the view that a higher than expected CPI print there will force the central bank to raise rates more than previously anticipated.

On the data front, today brings only Initial (exp 348K) and Continuing (2762K) Claims.  Given tomorrow is payroll day, these are unlikely to move the market.  We also hear from Cleveland Fed president Mester, one of the more hawkish voices, discussing inflation, but my sense is all eyes are on tomorrow’s NFP to make sure that the taper is coming.  As such, today is likely to continue to see risk appetite with higher stock prices and a soft dollar.  But large moves seem unlikely.

Good luck and stay safe
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