More Systemic

The winding down of the pandemic

Has fostered a massive polemic

Will rising costs fade

As Powell’s portrayed

Or are they a bit more systemic?

The inflation debate continues to be topic number one amongst market participants as the outcome is seen, rightly, as the key to future economic activity and correspondingly future market price action.  This is true across all asset classes which is why everyone cares so much.

However, not every day brings us new and exciting news on the debate which leaves the markets to seek other catalysts for movement, sometimes really stretching to find a good narrative.  Thus far, today falls under the heading of ‘looking for something to say.’

There has been limited new information released overnight which is likely why the fact that the Bank of Korea, though leaving their policy rate unchanged at 0.50%, has been a topic of conversation as they displayed a more hawkish sentiment, raising both GDP growth and inflation forecasts for 2021, and hinted that they would be looking to end their ultra-expansive monetary policy sooner than previously thought.  Earlier expectations had been rates would not begin to rise until 2023, but now the market is pricing in two 25 basis point rate hikes in 2022.  This is the fourth (BOC, BOE and RBNZ are the others) central bank of a major country that is discussing the beginning of the end of easy money.  Granted, the combined GDP of these four nations, at a touch over $7 trillion, is less than one-third that of the US, but three of them are amongst the ten largest economies in the world and the fourth, New Zealand, has a history of leading the way in monetary policy on a global basis, at least since 1988 when they ‘invented’ the inflation targeting mantra that is prevalent today.

This sentiment of considering when to end easy money is making its way more clearly into the Fed’s talking points as well.  Yesterday, Fed Vice-Chair Quarles remarked, “If my expectations about economic growth, employment and inflation over the coming months are borne out, it will become important for the FOMC to begin discussing our plans to adjust the pace of asset purchases at upcoming meetings.”  He is at least the fourth Fed speaker this week to talk about talking about tapering asset purchases which tells us that the discussion is actively ongoing at the Marriner Eccles Building in Washington.  

Perhaps what is even more interesting is the fact that the Treasury market is so nonplussed by the fact that the Fed is clearly considering the timing of a reduction in purchases at the same time we are printing the highest inflation numbers in years and the Federal government is sending out more stimulus checks and spending money like crazy.  You may disagree with Chairman Powell’s policy actions, but you cannot deny the effectiveness of his recent communication policy.  Based on price action in both bond and inflation markets, Powell’s story of transitory inflation has become the accepted truth.  I sure hope he’s right, but my personal, anecdotal observations don’t agree with his thesis.  Whether I’m looking at my cost of living or take a more monetarist view and look at the expansion of the monetary base, both point to a steady rise in prices with no end in sight.  The market, however, cares little about the FX poet’s circumstances and a great deal about Chairman Powell’s pronouncements so until he is proven wrong, it has become clear the market has accepted the transitory story.

With this in mind, a survey of market activity shows pretty limited movement in every asset class.  Equity markets had a mixed session in Asia (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.4%) and are having a similiarly mixed session in Europe (DAX -0.3%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.1%).  In other words, there is no theme of note on the risk side.  Meanwhile, US futures are pointing slightly lower on the open, with the worst performer NASDAQ at -0.4% and the others with lesser declines.  None of this points to a major risk theme.

Bond prices are generally a touch softer this morning with Treasury yields higher by 1.2 basis points while Bunds (+1.0bps), OATs (+0.5bps) and Gilts (+1.7bps) have all sold off slightly.  However, in the bigger picture, all of these key bond markets are currently trading with yields right in the middle of their past three month’s activity.  Again, it is hard to define a theme from today’s price action.

Commodity prices add to the mixed view with oil (WTI -0.8%) slightly softer as it consolidates after last month’s powerful rally.  In the metals markets, precious metals are essentially unchanged this morning while industrial metals continue with the mixed theme as Cu (+0.5%) and Zn (+0.3%) are firmer while Al (-0.4%) and Sn (-0.3%) are softer. Ags have seen similar price action with Soybeans softer while both Wheat and Corn are firmer.  One of the stories here has been the recent consolidation across most commodities which has been attributed to China’s efforts to prevent inflation and the expansion of bubbles in property and housing markets.

The dollar, however, is the one thing which has shown some consistency this morning, falling almost across the board.  In fact, in G10, the dollar has fallen against all its counterparts with GBP (+0.4%) the firmest currency, but solid gains in NZD (+0.35%) and CAD (+0.3%) as well.  The pound’s jump has been in the past few minutes responding to the BOE’s Gertjan Vlieghe’s comments that rate hikes are likely to begin in 2022, again, earlier than the market had been figuring.  

EMG currencies are also gaining this morning led by the CE4 (HUF +0.65%, PLN +0.5%) as well as ZAR (+0.4%).  APAC currencies performed well overnight with CNY (+0.25%) rising for the 12th session in the 15 so far this month.  It has become abundantly clear that the PBOC is willing to allow CNY to continue to strengthen despite the potential impact on exports.  This seems to be driven by their desire to cap inflation, especially in commodity prices, as well as the fact that the inflation narrative elsewhere in the world has shown that export clients have been able to absorb some level of price rises.  To achieve both these aims, a modestly stronger renminbi is an excellent help.

On the data front, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 425K), Continuing Claims (3.68M), the second look at Q1 GDP (6.5%) and Durable Goods (0.8%, 0.7% ex transport).  However, while this is the biggest tranche of data so far this week, tomorrow’s core PCE release remains the most important number of the week in my view as excessive strength there seems to be the only thing that could give the Fed pause in their current views.  Interestingly, we do not hear from another Fed speaker, at least in a scheduled appearance, until next Tuesday, so the data will be our best indication of what is happening.  

Looking at the dollar’s recent price action, we have seen weakness but it has run into pretty strong support.  The link between Treasury yields and the dollar remains strong, and I expect that to be the case until at least the Fed’s June meeting.  In truth, the dollar’s weakness today feels a bit overdone so I anticipate no further declines and potentially, a little rebound.

Good luck and stay safe

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High Tide

The dollar continues to slide
But is risk approaching high tide?
Last night t’was the Kiwis
Who hinted that their ease
Of policy may soon subside

As well, from the Fed yesterday
Three speakers had two things to say
It soon may be time
To change paradigm
Inflation, though, ain’t here to stay

There will come a time in upcoming meetings, we’ll be at the point where we can begin to discuss scaling back the pace of asset purchases.”  So said, Fed Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida yesterday.  “We are talking about talking about tapering,” commented San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly in a CNBC interview yesterday.  And lastly, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans explained, “the recent increase in inflation does not appear to be the precursor of a persistent movement to undesirably high levels of inflation.  I have not seen anything yet to persuade me to change my full support of our accommodative stance for monetary policy or our forward guidance about the path for policy.”

The Fed’s onslaught of forward guidance continues at full speed as virtually every day at least two or three Fed speakers reiterate that policy is perfect for the current situation, but in a nod to the growing chorus of pundits about higher inflation, they are willing to indicate that there will come a time, at some uncertain point in the future, when it may be appropriate to consider rolling back their current policy initiatives.

But ask yourself this; if inflation is going to be transitory, that implies that the current policy settings are not a proximate cause of rising prices.  If that is the case, why discuss tapering?  After all, high growth and low inflation would seem to be exactly the outcome that a central bank wants to achieve, and according to their narrative, that is exactly what they have done.  Why change?

This is just one of the conundra that is attendant to the current Fed policy.  On the one hand, they claim that their policy is appropriate for the current circumstance and that they need to see substantial further progress toward their goals of maximum employment and average 2% inflation before considering changing that policy.  On the other hand, we have now heard from five separate FOMC members that a discussion about tapering asset purchases is coming, which implies that they are going to change their policy.  Allegedly, the Fed is not concerned with survey data, but want to see hard numbers showing they have achieved their goals before moving.  But those hard numbers aren’t here yet, so why discuss changing policy?

The cynical answer is that the Fed actually doesn’t focus on unemployment and inflation, but rather on the equity markets foremost and the bond market secondarily.  Consider, every time there has been a sharp dislocation lower in stocks, the Fed immediately cuts rates to try to support the S&P.  This has been the case since the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, responded to the 1987 stock market crash and has served to inflate numerous bubbles since then.

A more charitable explanation is that they have begun to realize that they are in an increasingly untenable position.  Since the GFC, the Fed has consistently been very slow to reduce policy accommodation when the opportunity arose and so the history shows that rates never regain their previous peak before the next recession comes along.  Recall, the peak in Fed funds since 2009 was just 2.50%, reached in December 2018 just before the Powell Pivot in the wake of a 20% drawdown in the S&P 500.  In fact, since 1980, every peak in Fed Funds has been lower than the previous one.  The outcome of this process is that the Fed will have very little room to cut rates to address the next recession, which is what led to QE in the first place and more importantly has served to reduce the Fed’s influence on the economy.  Arguably, then, a major reason the Fed is keen to normalize policy is to retain some importance in policymaking circles.  After all, if rates are permanently zero, what else can they do?

It is with this in mind that we turn our attention elsewhere in the world, specifically to New Zealand, where the RBNZ signaled that its Official Cash Rate (Fed funds equivalent) may begin to rise in mid-2022.  This is a full year before previous expectations and makes the RBNZ the 3rd G10 central bank to talk about tightening policy sooner than thought.  The Bank of Canada has already started to taper QE purchases and the BOE has explained they will be starting next year as well.  It should be no surprise that NZD (+1.15%) is the leading gainer in the FX market today, nor that kiwi bonds sold off sharply with 10-year yields rising 8bps.

Do not, however, mistake this for a universal change in policy paradigm, as not only is the Fed unwilling to commit to any changes, but the BOJ remains in stasis and the ECB, continues to protest against any idea that they will be tightening policy soon.  For instance, just this morning, ECB Executive Board Member and Bank of Italy President, Fabio Panetta, said, “Only a sustained increase in inflationary pressures, reflected in an upward trend in underlying inflation and bringing inflation and inflation expectations in line with our aim, could justify a reduction in our purchases.  But this is not what we projected in March.  And, since then, I have not seen changes in financing conditions or the economic outlook that would sift the inflation path upward.”

Investors and traders have been moving toward the view that the ECB would be tapering purchases before 2023 as evidenced by the rise in the euro as well as the rise in European sovereign yields.  But clearly, though there are some ECB members (Germany, the Netherlands) who would be very much in favor of that action, it is by no means a universal view.  Madame Lagarde will have her hands full trying to mediate this discussion.

For now, the situation remains that the central bank narrative is still the most important one for markets, and the fact that we are seeing a split amongst this august group is a key reason FX volatility remains under pressure.  The lack of an underlying theme to drive the dollar or any bloc of currencies in one direction or the other leaves price action beholden to short-term effects, large orders and the speculator community.  We need a new paradigm, or at least a reinvigoration of the old one to get real movement.

In the meantime, the dollar continues to drift lower as US yields continue to drift lower.  Right now, the bond market appears to have faith in the Fed narrative of transitory inflation, and as long as that is the case, then a weaker dollar and modestly higher stock prices are the likely outcome.

Today’s price action, NZD excepted, showed that to be the case, with APAC currencies performing well, but otherwise a mixed bag.  Equity markets are marginally higher and bond yields have largely fallen in Europe, although Treasuries are little changed after a 4bp decline yesterday.  Gold is actually the biggest winner lately, having traded back above $1900/oz as investors watch the slow destruction of fiat currency values.  But in the FX space, the USD-Treasury link remains the most important thing to watch.

Good luck and stay safe
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Not Really There

There once was a Fed Reserve Chair
Whose minions explained with fanfare
Though prices were climbing
With all the pump priming
Inflation was not really there

Investors responded with glee
And bought everything they did see
So, risk was a hit
While yields fell a bit
As money remains largely free

Brainerd, Bostic and Bullard, though sounding like a law firm, are actually three FOMC members who spoke yesterday.  In what has been a remarkably consistent performance by virtually every single member of the committee (Robert Kaplan excepted), they all said exactly the same thing: prices will rise due to bottlenecks and shortages in the near-term, but that this was a short-term impact of the pandemic response, and that soon those issues would abate and prices would quickly stabilize again.  They pointed to ‘well-anchored’ inflation expectations and reminded one and all that they have the tools necessary to combat inflation in the event their version of events does not come to pass.  You have to give Chairman Powell credit for convincing 16 ostensibly independent thinkers that his mantra is the only reality.

The market response was one of rainbows and unicorns, with rallies across all assets as risk was snapped up everywhere.  After all, it has been nearly two weeks since the CPI print was released at substantially higher levels than anticipated raising fears amongst investors that the Fed was losing control.  But two weeks of soothing words and relatively benign data has been sufficient to exorcise those inflation demons.  In the meantime, the Fed continues to purchase assets and expand its balance sheet as though the economy is teetering on the brink of destruction while they await the “substantial progress” toward their goals to be met.

One consequence of the Fed’s QE program has been that high-quality collateral for short term loans, a critical part of the financial plumbing of the US (and global) economy has been in short supply.  For the past two months, Treasury bill issues have been clearing at 0.00%, meaning the government’s cost of financing has been nil.  This is due to a combination of factors including the Treasury running down the balances in the Treasury General Account at the Fed (the government’s checking account) and the ongoing Fed QE purchases of $80 billion per month.  This has resulted in the Treasury needing to issue less T-bills while simultaneously injecting more funds into the economy.  Banks, meanwhile, wind up with lots of bank reserves on their balance sheets and no place to put them given the relative dearth of lending.  The upshot is that the Fed’s Reverse Repurchase Program (RRP) is seeing unprecedented demand with yields actually starting to dip below zero.  This is straining other securities markets as well given the bulk of activity in markets, especially derivatives activity, is done on a margin, not cash, basis.  While so far, there have not been any major problems, as the stress in this corner of the market increases, history shows that a weak link will break with broader negative market consequences.  For now, however, the Fed is able to brush off any concerns.

The result of the constant commentary from Fed speakers, with three more on the schedule for today, as well as the fading of the memories of the high CPI print has been a wholesale reengagement of the risk-on meme.  Growth continues to rebound, while zero interest rates continue to force investors out the risk curve to find a return.  What could possibly go wrong?

Today, the answer is, nothing.  Risk is back with a vengeance as evidenced by a strong equity session in Asia (Shanghai +2.4%, Hang Seng +1.75%, Nikkei +0.7%) and a solid one in Europe as well (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.15%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  The Chinese (and Hong Kong) rally seems to be a product of the PBOC focusing their attentions on the commodity market, not equities, as the source of imbalances and a potential target of interventionist policies thus allowing speculators there to run free.  German equities are the beneficiary of better than expected ZEW data, with both the current conditions (95.7) and Expectations (102.9) indices leading the way.  While yesterday’s US equity rally faded a bit late in the day, futures this morning are all pointing higher by about 0.3%.

Arguably, the FOMC trio had a bigger impact on the bond market, where 10-year Treasury yields are now back below 1.60%, down 1 basis point this morning and at their lowest level in more than two weeks.  It is certainly hard to believe that the bond market is remotely concerned about inflation at this time.  Remember, though, Friday we see the core PCE print, which is the number the Fed truly cares about, and while it is forecast to print above the 2.0% target, (0.6% M/M, 2.9% Y/Y) we also know that the Fed strongly believes this is transitory and is no reason to panic.  Markets, however, if that print is even stronger, may not agree with that sentiment.

Commodity prices are having a less positive day as the ongoing concerns about Chinese actions to prevent price rises continues to weigh on sentiment.  Oil has slipped just a bit (-0.3%) but we are seeing declines in Cu (-0.4%), Al (-1.1%) and Fe (-3.1%), all directly in the crosshairs of the Chinese government.  Agricultural product prices are mixed today while precious metals remain little changed.

Finally, the dollar is mostly lower this morning with broad weakness seen in the EMG bloc, but less consistency in G10.  While SEK (+0.5%) leads the way higher, the rest of the bloc has been more mixed.  NOK (-0.2%) is clearly suffering from oil’s decline, while JPY (-0.2%) seems to be giving ground as havens are unloved.  EUR (+0.25%) has been helped by that German ZEW data as well as the beginnings of a perception that the Fed is going to be more aggressively dovish than the ECB for a long time to come.  In that event, the euro will certainly rise further, although it has a key resistance level at 1.2350 to overcome.

ZAR (+0.7%) leads the emerging market parade higher as concerns over inflation there abate, and South Africa continues to have amongst the highest real yields in the world.  KRW (+0.4%) is next in line as consumer sentiment in South Korea rose to its highest level in 3 years.  The other noteworthy move has been CNY (+0.2%) not so much for the size of the move as much as for the fact that it has breached the 6.40 level and the government has indicated they are going to be taking additional steps to open the FX market in China to help local companies hedge their own FX risks. The only laggard of note is TRY (-0.3%) which is suffering as President Erdogan has replaced yet another member of the central bank’s board, inviting concerns inflation will run higher with no response.

Data today shows Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +12.5%) as well as New Home Sales (950K) and Consumer Confidence (119.0), none of which are likely to change either Fed views or market opinions.   As mentioned above, three Fed speakers will regale us with their sermon on transitory inflation, and I expect that the dollar will remain under pressure for the time being.  In fact, until we see core PCE on Friday, it is hard to make a case that the dollar will turn around and only then if the number is higher than expected.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Clearly Annoyed

In China they say speculation
And hoarding is now the causation
Of quite an ordeal
As copper and steel
See prices rise bringing inflation

(Or, the second variation on this theme)

The Chinese are clearly annoyed
That price signals have been destroyed
So, meetings were called
And price rises stalled
As punishment threats were employed

Markets are mixed this morning after a relatively quiet weekend, at least in the more mainstream markets.  Cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, continue to prove they are nothing more than speculative assets with Bitcoin declining 20% before rebounding 16% in the past 36 hours.  The proximate cause of that movement was a comment from the Chinese about cracking down on bitcoin mining, again.  Whether or not this particular initiative succeeds, the one thing that is abundantly clear when it comes to the cryptocurrency space is that more and more governments are lining up against them.  Do not underestimate government interest in regulating the crypto space out of existence, or at the very least to significantly marginalize it, as no government can tolerate a competitor for their incredibly lucrative monopoly of creating money.

Speaking of tolerance, the Chinese have also, this weekend, explained that they have “zero tolerance” for certain activities in the commodity markets like hoarding, speculating or disseminating misinformation. At a hastily called meeting of the heads of top metals producers, those words were used along with the explicit threat of severe punishment for violation of not only the letter, but the spirit, of the law.  Remember, China executed the former head of Huarong, a financial firm, for similar types of issues, so the notion of severe punishment must certainly be taken seriously.  It can be no surprise that metals prices fell in the Chinese session, with steel, iron ore, aluminum, zinc and tin all lower, although copper has maintained some of its recent gains.

From a market’s perspective, these were the only remotely noteworthy stories of the weekend.  While the inflation/deflation debate continues to rage, and rightly so given its importance, and speculation over potential central bank policy changes remains rife, as of now, we have no new information on either of these stories and so it will remain entirely opinion, not fact.  Of course, Friday we get the latest release of core PCE, which will certainly be above the 2.0% Fed target, and will certainly generate much tongue-wagging, but will have virtually no impact on the Fed.

A tour of markets this morning shows that movements have been modest and there is no direction or theme in any of them.  Asian equity markets were mixed (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.3%) and movements were limited.  Europe has seen a bit more positivity, but only a bit (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 +0.2%), hardly the stuff of dreams.  Finally, US futures are the market putting in the best performance, with gains between 0.4% and 0.6% two plus hours ahead of the opening.

Bond markets are showing even less movement than stocks at this hour with Treasury yields lower by 0.5bps while Bunds and OATs are essentially unchanged.  Gilts are the big mover, with the yields declining by 1.1 basis points.  Even peripheral nation yields are essentially unchanged.

On the back of the Chinese comments, commodity prices are mostly lower although oil will have none of it, rising 1.7% this morning.  However, while Cu is unchanged, Fe (-3.9%), Ni (-2.1%) and Zn (-1.1%) have all taken the Chinese to heart.  Precious metals are little changed although ags are a bit softer.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed this morning, with an equal number of gainers and losers in both the G10 and EMG blocs.  And the thing is, those moves have been desultory, at best, with NOK (+0.25%) the leading gainer on the back of oil’s gains, while GBP (-0.15%) is the laggard, on position adjustments.  EMG currencies are seeing similar types of modest movements with nary a story to highlight.

Data this week is also pretty sparse although that core PCE number on Friday will be closely watched.

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices +12.55%
New Home Sales 950K
Consumer Confidence 118.9
Thursday Initial Claims 425K
Continuing Claims 3.68M
Durable Goods 0.8%
-ex transport 0.7%
Q1 GDP 6.5%
Friday Personal Income -14.8%
Personal Spending 0.5%
Core PCE 0.6% (2.9% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 69.0
Michigan Confidence 83.0

Source: Bloomberg

There are several Fed speakers, but we already know what they are going to say, inflation is temporary, I’m sorry, transitory, and they have a significant way to go to achieve their goals.

At this time, given the central banks have all proclaimed themselves data dependent, until we get data that indicates a change in the situation, there is no reason to believe that markets will do more than chop back and forth.  There is, as yet, no clarity in the inflation debate, nor will there be for a number of months to come.  So, for now, the dollar seems likely to continue to chop around until we see a break in interest rates in one direction or the other.  That said, if the inflationist camp is correct, then the first move should be for dollar strength alongside the higher interest rates that will ensue.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Tapering Talk

Despite all the tapering talk
The market did not walk the walk
Now sovereigns worldwide
Have seen their yields slide
While stocks are where people all flock

Remember when the consensus view was that the Fed would begin tapering before the end of 2021 as clues from the FOMC Minutes indicated the discussion about tapering was ongoing?  That was so two days ago.  With the perspective of twenty-four hours to read the entire FOMC Minutes, it appears that many traders have decided they may have been premature to jump to that conclusion.  Instead, a reading of the entire document highlights that while the subject was raised, it was clearly a minority of members interested in the discussion.  Rather, the bulk of the FOMC continue to highlight that not only does “substantial further progress” need to be made toward their goals of maximum employment and steady 2% average inflation, but that they are a long way from achieving those goals.  In other words, tapering is still a long way in the future.

This is not to say the Fed shouldn’t be considering when to end QE, just to point out that the weight of evidence points to the idea that they are not in a hurry to do so.  Remember, they are explicitly reactive on policy, refusing to consider removing accommodation before hard data shows that they have reached their goals.  Do not be misled into believing the Fed is on the cusp of removing accommodation.  They are not!

A quick look at yesterday’s data highlights why they are still a long way off.  While Initial Claims fell to a new post-pandemic low of 455K, a more troubling aspect was the 100K rise in the Continuing Claims data, implying that the rolls of unemployment are not shrinking despite all this economic growth.  As well, the Philly Fed, while still printing at a robust 31.5, fell well short of expectations while price pressures in the sub-indices rose to their highest level ever.  But the Fed has made it clear that; a) they are unconcerned with the transitory nature of price increases; and b) even if those price increases prove to be more long-lasting, they have the tools to deal with the problem.  Meanwhile, underperforming surveys will not dissuade them from the idea that there is much monetary work yet to be completed.

Put it all together and it appears that the market writ large has decided that the risk of Fed tapering is significantly lower than had been anticipated just Wednesday afternoon.  While taper talk made for good headlines, it doesn’t appear to be imminent on the policy radar.

Elsewhere in the world, though, there is also tapering talk as we continue to see economic data demonstrate that the recovery is continuing.  The interesting thing is the contrast between the data from Asia and that from Europe.  It is Flash PMI day, so we started in Japan last night, where Manufacturing PMI remained well above the key 50 level, printing at 52.5.  While a slight decline from the previous month, it is still well into growth territory.  However, renewed lockdowns in Japan (as well as other nations throughout Asia) continues to impede a rebound in services, with the PMI print falling nearly 4 points to 45.7.  There is no indication that the BOJ is going to modify monetary policy and this data certainly does not warrant any change.

European data this morning, however, was far more impressive with strength in both the manufacturing and services data as Europe’s vaccination rate rises (its 20% now) and lockdowns slowly come to an end.  As the market is already pricing in a strong recovery in the US, the surprising strength in Europe has resulted in a more positive outlook and manifested itself in further euro strength.  Although there is no thought that the ECB will tighten policy, the relative change in economic activity is good enough to keep the euro’s upward momentum intact.  While the euro has not moved at all today, it has recouped all its losses from the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday and remains in a modest uptrend.

Lastly, not only was UK PMI data strong, with both manufacturing and services printing well above 60, but UK Retail Sales jumped 9.0% in April, reminding us of just how quickly the UK is exiting the lockdown process and reopening.  The pound continues to be the best performing currency in the G10 this month, with today’s 0.3% gain taking the monthly gain to 3.0%.

Summing up, there appears to be a change of heart regarding the timing of the Fed tapering their QE purchases with the result being lower yields, higher stocks and a weaker dollar.

Speaking of stocks, yesterday’s strong US performance was followed by the Nikkei (+0.8%), but the rest of Asia did not feel the love (Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.6%).  Europe, though, is performing better with the CAC (+0.55%) leading the way higher after the relatively best PMI data, with the DAX (+0.2%) hanging in there.  Disappointingly, the FTSE 100 (-0.1%) seems to have already priced in better growth and earnings and thus is little changed on the day.  US futures are all modestly higher at this point, by roughly 0.25%.

As discussed, bond yields, which had rallied sharply in the wake of the Minutes have fallen back to their pre-Minutes levels, although in the last few moments, the 10-year Treasury has edged lower with the yield backing up 0.9bps.  But in Europe, we are seeing a broadly positive performance with Bunds (-0.5bps) and OATs (-0.7bps) edging higher while the peripherals all show much more strength resulting in tighter spreads.  The growth story in the UK has separated Gilts from the pack and yields there are higher by 1.4bps as I type.

Commodity prices are having a mixed day with oil (+1.4%) the best performer by far, and precious metals (Au +0.15%, Ag +0.35%) also firmer.  However, agricuturals are falling (Soybeans -1.1%, Wheat -0.7%, Corn -1.2%) and industrial metals are mostly under pressure as well (Cu -0.25%, Fe -2.6%, Ni -1.0%) although Aluminum (+0.5%) is bucking the trend.

Finally, the dollar is definitely under pressure this morning, which given the decline in yields, should not be terribly surprising. Versus the G10, only the euro is essentially unchanged while the rest of the bloc is modestly firmer led by the pound (+0.3%) as discussed above.  In the EMG bloc, KRW (+0.5%) was the best performer overnight, responding to a huge export reading (53.3% Y/Y growth in the first 20 days of May).  But most APAC currencies rallied, recouping yesterday’s losses and we are seeing modest strength in ZAR (+0.3%) as well as the CE4.  In fact, at this hour, the only loser of note is MXN (-0.2%) which seems to be caught in a struggle regarding belief in Banxico’s willingness to raise rates further to fight rising inflation.

On the data front, PMI (exp 60.2 Manufacturing and 64.4 Services) is due at 9:45 and Existing Home Sales (6.07M) comes at 10:00.  Four Fed speakers round out the day, but we already have a very good idea of what each will say, with Kaplan retaining his hawkish views while the rest will sound far more dovish.

Nothing has changed my view that as go 10-year yields, so goes the dollar.  If yields continue to back off Wednesday’s highs, look for pressure on the dollar to remain.  If, however, yields reverse higher, the dollar will find its footing immediately.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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Retrogression

To taper or not is the question
Resulting in much indigestion
For traders with views
The Minutes were cues
The Fed’s ready for retrogression

A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases.”  This is the money quote from yesterday’s FOMC Minutes, the one which has been identified as the starting point for the next step in Federal Reserve activity.  Its perceived hawkish tilt led to a decline in both stocks and bonds and saw the dollar rebound nicely from early session weakness.

No one can ever accuse the Fed of speaking clearly about anything, and this quote is full of weasel words designed to hint at but not actually say anything.  So, is this really as hawkish as the commentariat would have us believe?  Let us remember that the April meeting occurred before the surprisingly weak May Nonfarm Payroll report.  Since that report, we have heard many Fed speakers explain that there was still a long way to go before they saw the “substantial progress” necessary to begin to change policy.  Since the meeting, the Citi Economic Surprise Index (an index that seeks to track the difference between economic forecasts and actual data releases) has fallen quite sharply which implies that the economy is not growing as rapidly as forecast at that time.  Of course, since the meeting we have also seen the highest CPI prints on a monthly basis in 15 years (headline) and 40 years (core).

The growing consensus amongst economists is that at the Jackson Hole symposium in August, Chairman Powell will officially reveal the timeline for tapering and by the end of 2021, the Fed will have begun reducing the amount of asset purchases they make on a monthly basis.  That feels like a pretty big leap from “it might be appropriate at some point…to begin discussing…”

Remember, too, the discussion that is important is not what one believes the Fed should do, but rather what one believes the Fed is going to do.  The case for tighter policy is clear-cut in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to act in that fashion.  In fact, based on everything we have heard from various Fed speakers, it seems apparent that there is only a very small chance that the Fed will even consider tapering in 2021. The current roster of FOMC voters includes the Chair, Vice-Chair and Governors, none of whom could be considered hawkish in any manner, as well as the Presidents of Atlanta, Chicago, Richmond and San Francisco.  Of that group, Chicago’s Evans and SF’s Daly are uber-dovish.  Richmond’s Barkin is a middle-of-the-roader and perhaps only Atlanta’s Bostic could be considered to lean hawkish at all.  This is not a committee that is prepared to agree to tighter policy unless inflation is running at 5% and has been doing so for at least 6 months.  Do not get overexcited about the Fed tapering.

Markets, on the other hand, did just that yesterday, although the follow through has been unimpressive.  Yesterday’s session saw US equity markets open lower on general risk aversion and they had actually been climbing back until the Minutes were released.  Upon release, the S&P fell a quick 0.5%, but had recouped all that and more in 25 minutes and then chopped back and forth for the rest of the session.  In other words, it was hardly a rout based on the Minutes.  The overnight session was, in truth, mixed, with the Nikkei (+0.2%) climbing slightly while the Hang Seng (-0.5%) and Shanghai (-0.1%) slipped a bit.  Europe, which fell pretty sharply yesterday, has rebounded this morning (DAX +0.4%, CC +0.5%, FTSE 100 0.0%) although US futures are all in the red this morning by about -0.4%, so whatever positives traders in Europe are seeing have not yet been identified in the US.

As to the bond market, it should be no surprise that it sold off sharply yesterday, with 10-year yields rising 5 basis points at their worst point but closing higher by 3bps, at 1.67%.  But this morning there is no follow through at all as the 10yr has actually rallied with yields slipping 0.5bps.  This is hardly the sign of a market preparing for a Fed change of heart.  European sovereign markets are under modest pressure this morning, with yields a bit higher throughout the continent (bunds +1.8bps, OATs +1.0bps, gilts +1.5bps).  Neither did the Minutes cause much concern in Asia with both Australia and Japan seeing extremely muted moves of less than 1 basis point.

Commodity prices, on the other hand, have definitely seen some movement led by oil (WTI -1.5%) and Iron Ore (-2.8%).  However, the oil story is more about supply and the news that Iranian crude may soon be returning to the market as a deal to lift sanctions is imminent, while iron ore, and steel, were impacted by strong comments from China designed to halt the runaway price train in both, as they seek to reduce production in an effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  The non-ferrous metals are very modestly lower (Cu -0.1%, Al -0.2%, Zn -0.4%) while precious metals are little changed on the day.  Agricultural products, though, maintain their bids with small gains across the board.

Perhaps the most interesting market yesterday was cryptocurrencies where there was a very significant decline across the board, on the order of 20%-30%, which has reduced the value of the space by about 50% since its peak in early April.  This largely occurred long before the FOMC Minutes and was arguably a response to China’s announcement that payment for goods or services with any digital currency other than yuan was illegal rather than a response to any potential policy changes. This morning is seeing Bitcoin rebound very slightly, but most of the rest of the space still under pressure.

Finally, the dollar is under modest pressure today, after rallying nicely in the wake of the FOMC Minutes.  Versus the G10, only NOK (-0.1%) is in the red, suffering from the oil price decline, while the rest of the bloc is rebounding led by CHF (+0.4%) and AUD (+0.3%).  Swiss movement appears to be technically oriented while AUD’s rally is counterintuitive given the modestly worse than expected Unemployment report last night.  However, as a key risk currency, if risk appetite is forming, Aussie tends to rally.

Emerging market currencies that are currently trading have all rebounded led by PLN (+0.5%), TRY (+0.5%) and HUF (+0.45%).  All of these are benefitting from the broad based, but mild, dollar weakness.  The story was a bit different overnight as Asian currencies fell across the board with IDR (-0.6%) the leading decliner, as the highest beta currency with the biggest C/A deficit, but the rest of the space saw weakness on the order of -0.1% to -0.2%.

Data today starts with Initial Claims (exp 450K), Continuing Claims (3.63M) and the Philly Fed (41.0).  Then at 10:00 we see Leading Indicators (1.3%).  On the Fed front, only Dallas’s Kaplan speaks, but we already know that he has to have been one of the voices that wanted to discuss tapering, as he has said that repeatedly for the past month.

Frankly, this market has several cross currents, but my gut tells me that the ostensible hawkishness from yesterday’s Minutes will soon be forgotten and the doves will continue to rule the airwaves and sentiment.  Look for the dollar to drift lower on the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Somewhat Dismayed

The ECB’s somewhat dismayed
That risk appetite, as conveyed
By stocks is excessive
And has made a mess of
Their plans.  Now they’re really afraid

It is interesting that two of the most memorable battle cries in financial markets were coined by men of the driest character and background.  We all remember the beginning of the Eurozone debt crisis, not ten years ago, when the so-called doom loop created by banks in a given country owning excessive amounts of their own government’s debt and when that debt became suspect (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) the banks in those nations went to the wall.  The ECB was forced to step in to save the day, and did so, but things did not calm down until Super Mario Draghi, then ECB President (and now Italian PM) uttered his famous, off-the-cuff, remark of the ECB doing “whatever it takes” to save the euro.

Less of us were involved in the markets in December 1996 when then Fed Chair Alan Greenspan uttered the other famous market expression, “irrational exuberance” while speaking about the inflating of the tech bubble (which inflated for another 3 ½ years) and questioning if prices at that time had run too far ahead of sensible valuations.

In hindsight, both of the problems about which these catch phrases were created were the result of policy failures on the part of governments (debt crisis) or the central bank itself (tech bubble), but in neither case was the speaker able to take an objective view, thus calling out forces beyond their control as the cause of the problem.

Since then, both phrases have become part of the financial lexicon as shorthand for a situation that exists and the willingness of central bankers to address a problem.  This leads us to this morning’s release by the ECB of their Financial Stability Review where a subsection was titled “Financial markets exhibited remarkable exuberance as US yields rose. (author’s emphasis)”  Arguably, the title pales in comparison to ‘irrational exuberance’, but more importantly, it highlights, once again, the inability of a central bank to recognize that the folly of their own policies is what is driving the problems in markets and economies.

Ostensibly they are concerned that a mere 10% decline in US equity markets could result in “…a significant tightening of euro-area financial conditions, similar to around a third of the tightening witnessed after the coronavirus shock in March 2020.”  Wow!  A 10% decline?  If one were looking for a prime example of a fragile economy, clearly the Eurozone is exhibit A.  Once again, what we see is a central bank that is unwilling, or unable, to recognize that the fallout from its own policies is the underlying problem while seeking an alternative scapegoat explanation in order to present themselves in the best possible light.  After all, if the US markets decline, its not the ECB’s fault!

Inadvertently, perhaps, but clearly, the ECB has outlined one truth; given the synchronicity of central bank policies around the world, all economies are more tightly linked together and will rise and fall together.  Although there are those who claim particular markets have better prospects than others, the reality has become that correlations between equity markets around the world are very high, with the only real question how equities correlate to bonds.  It is this last issue where we have seen significant changes lately.  For quite a long time, the correlation between the S&P 500 and the 10-year US Treasury was positive, meaning that both bond and stock prices rallied and fell together.  However, since about February 2021, that relationship has turned around and is now solidly negative, with bond prices rising and stock prices falling.  It is this latter relationship that is the classic risk-on / risk-off meme, something that had gone missing for years.  Apparently, it is coming back, and that terrifies the ECB.

The timing of the report’s release could not have been better as this morning is a very clear risk-off session.  Yesterday afternoon, US equity markets sold off pretty sharply in the last half-hour of the session.  That sell-off has persisted throughout Asia (Nikkei -1.3%, Shanghai -0.5%, Hong Kong was closed) and Europe (DAX -1.3%, CAC -1.1%, FTSE 100 -1.1%).  US futures are also in the red (Dow -0.6%, SPX -0.8%, Nasdaq -1.2%), so the concerns are global in nature.

A bit more interestingly is the bond market’s behavior, where it appears that owning sovereign paper from any nation is unpopular today.  Treasury yields have backed up 2 basis points and we are seeing higher yields throughout Europe as well (Bunds +1.3bps, OATs +0.5bps, Gilts +2.1bps).  Apparently, the bond market concerns stem from the UK’s inflation report which showed that while CPI rose, as expected to 1.5%, RPI (Retail Price Index) rose much more than expected to 2.9% Y/Y.  While both are designed to be measures of average price increases over time, the RPI considers housing prices and mortgages.  Not surprisingly, given the explosion in housing prices, RPI is much higher and rising faster.  It also may represent a more accurate representation of people’s cost of living.  (Here’s a thought experiment: what would US RPI be right now given CPI just jumped to 4.2%?)  At any rate, it appears investors are shunning both stocks and bonds this morning.

Are they buying commodities?  Not on your life!  Prices in this sector are down across the board led by WTI (-1.8%) but seeing Gold (-0.6%) and Silver (-2.0%) suffering along with base metals (Cu -2.4%, Al -0.9%, Zn -0.85%) and foodstuffs (Soy -0.8%, Wheat -1.7%, Corn -0.3%).  Oh yeah, bitcoin, which many believe is a hedge of some sort, is lower by 16% in the past 24 hours and more than one-third in the past week.

So, what are investors buying?  Pretty much the only thing higher today is the dollar which has rallied vs. every currency we track.  In the G10, NZD (-0.9%) is the laggard followed by NOK (-0.8%) and AUD (-0.7%) with the strong theme there being weakness in the commodity sector.  But the European currencies are all under pressure as well, with EUR (-0.2%) and GBP (-0.3%) suffering.  Even JPY (-0.4%) is not holding up its end of the risk-off bargain, declining vs. a robust dollar.

Emerging markets are seeing similar activity with every currency flat to down led by TRY (-0.6%), ZAR (-0.45%) and MXN (-0.4%), all suffering from commodity weakness.  CE4 currencies are also under pressure, following the euro down while APAC currencies had less angst overnight, sliding on the order of 0.2%.

On the data front, today only brings the FOMC Minutes from the April meeting, which will be scrutinized to see how much discussion on tapering took place, if any, but let’s face it, other than Robert Kaplan of Dallas, it seems pretty clear from everybody else that has spoken, that it is not a current topic of conversation.  As it happens, we will hear from 3 more Fed speakers (Bullard, Quarles and Bostsic) as well, but all of them have been on message since the meeting so don’t look for any changes.

Certainly, based on today’s price action, the idea that 10-year yields are driving the dollar remains alive and well.  If yields continue to back up, the dollar will remain bid, and after all, given its recent decline, it has room to move as a simple correction.  I continue to look at 1.2350 as the critical level in the euro, and by extension the dollar writ large.  A break above there opens the chance for a much more substantial dollar decline.  But that does not appear to be on the cards for today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Gazumped

While measured inflation has jumped
And stock markets, Powell has pumped
The dollar is queasy
As money this easy
Has bulls concerned they’ll get gazumped

But its not just Powell who’s saying
That QE and ZIRP will be staying
Almost to a man
The Fed’s master plan
Is printing and buying…and praying

Once again, yesterday, we heard from several FOMC members and each of them highlighted that the data has not yet come close to describing the “substantial progress” they are seeking with respect to reduced unemployment and so it is not nearly time to begin even thinking about tapering.  Well, except for the lone quasi-hawkish voice of Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, who did express concern that the Fed’s actions were part of the reason that asset prices are so high.  But not to worry, Mr Kaplan will not be a voter until 2023, so will not even be able to officially register his disagreement with policy for two more years.  In other words, based on everything we continue to hear, we can expect a series of 9-0 votes every six weeks to maintain current policy.

It is this ongoing messaging, which comes not only from the Fed but from the ECB and BOJ as well, that continues to drive the narrative as well as market prices.  Inflation?  Bah, it’s transitory and while 2021 may see some higher readings, it will all disappear by 2022.  Bubbles?  Bah, central banks cannot detect them and, even if they could, it is not their job to deflate them.  It has become abundantly clear that the three big central banks have jointly decided that the only thing that matters is the unemployment rate, and until that data is back at record low levels, regardless of what else is happening in the economy, the current state of QE and ZIRP/NIRP is going to remain in place.

Thus, it cannot be that surprising this morning that the dollar has begun to slide a bit more in earnest, while risk appetite, as measured by equity prices remains robust.  A very large segment of the punditry continue to harp on concerns over rising inflation and how the Fed and other central banks will be forced to adjust their policy to prevent it from getting out of hand.  But simply listening to virtually every central banker tells us that nothing is going to change.

Through that April employment report, we have not made substantial further progress,” said Fed Vice-Chair Richard Clarida yesterday.  Meanwhile, from the ECB, Francois Villeroy de Galhau explained this morning, “Today there’s no risk of a return of lasting inflation in the euro area, and so there’s no doubt that the ECB’s monetary policy will remain very accommodative for a long time.  I want to say that very clearly.”  I don’t know about you, but it seems pretty clear that the concept of tapering QE purchases, let alone raising interest rates, is not even on the table.

Now, smaller central banks have changed their tune, notably the Bank of Canada and Sweden’s Riksbank, with the former actually reducing QE purchases while the latter has promised to do so shortly.  As well, the Bank of England has begun the discussion about reducing policy support as the economy there continues to open rapidly, and growth picks up.  As such, it should not be that surprising that those three currencies (GBP +2.75%, CAD +2.1%, SEK +1.9%) are the leading gainers vs. the dollar so far this month.

Perhaps what is also interesting is that the euro is strengthening so clearly vs. the dollar despite the strong words by ECB members regarding the maintenance of easy money.  It appears that the market has a stronger belief in the Fed’s willingness to ignore the repercussions of their policy choices than that of the ECB.  Remember, in the end, Europe remains reliant on Germany as its engine of growth and largest economy, and German DNA, ever since the Weimar hyperinflation in the 1920’s favors tighter policy, not looser.  Madame Lagarde will have a tougher battle to maintain easy policy if the data starts to point higher than will Chairman Powell.  Right now, however, that is all theoretical regarding both banks.  Easy money is here for the foreseeable future, which means that risk appetite is likely to remain strong, driving up stock and commodity prices while the dollar sinks.

What about bonds, you may ask?  Haven’t they been the key driver?  The answer is that they have been the key driver,  but a close look at statistics like inflation breakevens, and more importantly, the shape of the breakeven curve, offer indications that even though near-term expectations are for much higher inflation, more and more investors are buying the transitory story.  If that is, in fact, the case, then there is ample room for bonds to rally as well, which would be quite the shock to all the inflationistas out there.

This morning is exhibit A regarding the impact of increased risk appetite.  Equity markets around the world are higher with Asia (Nikkei +2.1%, Hang Seng +1.4%, Shanghai +0.3%) putting in some very strong performances while Europe (DAX +0.25%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.4%) are all green, but have come off their best levels of the morning.  US futures are also pointing higher, with gains ranging from 0.2% (Dow) to 0.7% (Nasdaq).

The bond market, meanwhile, is directionless, with yields for Treasuries (-0.5bps) and European sovereigns (Bunds 0.0bps, OATs -0.7bps, Gilts +0.7bps) all trading in narrow ranges.  If you consider that given the increase in risk appetite as evidence by stocks, commodities and the dollar, the very fact that bonds are not selling off is actually a bullish sign.

Speaking of commodities, Brent crude (+0.6%) traded above $70/bbl for the first time since November 2018 this morning and WTI is firmer by a similar amount.  Metals prices continue to rally (Au 0.0%, Ag +0.8%, Cu +1.0%, Al +0.7%), as do foodstuffs (Soybeans +0.6%, Wheat +0.75%, Corn +1.7%).  While it is not clear how much longer commodity prices will rally, it seems abundantly clear, based on their price action, that the rally has more legs.

And finally, the dollar, which as mentioned above is under pressure, is having a really bad day.  Versus its G10 counterparts, the dollar is softer across the board with NZD (+0.7%), NOK (+0.6%) and CHF (+0.55%) leading the way.  But the euro (+0.45%) is also much firmer and now trading above 1.22 for the first time since early February.  If you recall, 1.2350 was the high seen the first week of January, and in order to truly change opinions, the euro will have to trade through that level.  With the dollar so weak, it certainly seems like there is a good chance to get there soon.

EMG markets are also seeing pretty uniform gains with ZAR (+0.7%), HUF (+0.65%) and PLN (+0.6%) leading the way, the former on the back of commodity price strength while the two CE4 currencies are benefitting from the belief that both central banks may be tightening policy shortly as well as the euro’s strength.  But we saw strength overnight in the APAC currencies as well (KRW +0.4%, SGD +0.4%, TWD +0.35%) as they all are responding to the broad-based dollar weakness.

On the data front, today brings Housing Starts (exp 1702K) and Building Permits (1770K), with both simply showing that the housing market remains on fire.  Meanwhile, only Robert Kaplan is scheduled to speak, but we already know what he thinks (tapering needs to start soon) and we also know his is a lone voice in the wilderness.  It would not surprise me if we had a surprise series of comments from another FOMC member just to counter his views.

Looking ahead to the session, there is no reason to believe that the dollar’s weakness is going to change anytime soon.  Unless Treasury yields start to back up smartly, risk appetite is the dominant story today, and that bodes ill for the dollar.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

To ZIRP They’ll Adhere

The sides of the battle are set
Will shortfalls, inflation, beget
Or is it the call
That prices will fall
Because of those trillions in debt

In circles, official, it’s clear
That no one believes past this year
Inflation will heighten
And so, they won’t tighten
But rather, to ZIRP they’ll adhere

It appears that the market is arriving at an inflection point of some type as the question of inflation continues to dominate most macroeconomic discussions.  For those in the deflation camp, rising prices are not nearly enough to declare that inflation is either upon us or coming soon, while inflationistas are quite comfortable highlighting the steady drumbeat of rising prices across both commodities and finished products as evidence of the new paradigm.  Both sides of this discussion recognize that the CPI data released last week was juiced by the base effects of the economic impact of last year’s government lockdowns and the ensuing price declines we saw in March, April and May of last year.  Which means that the entire argument is based on dueling forecasts of the future beyond that.  In other words, until we see the CPI print covering June but released in the middle of July, we will only have speculation as to the future impact.

What is transitory?  Ultimately, that becomes the biggest question in markets as the Fed has been harping on that word for months now.  According to Merriam-Webster, it describes something of brief duration or temporary.  Which begs the question, what is brief?  Is 3 months brief?  6 months?  Longer?  Arguably, brief depends on the context involved.  For instance, 3 months is an eternity when considering a spot FX trading position, while it is but a blink of an eye when considering a pension fund’s time horizon for investments.

There continue to be strong arguments in favor of both sides of the argument.  On the deflationist side the main points are; debt, demographics, technology and globalization, all of which have been instrumental in essentially killing inflation over the past 40 years.  No one can argue with the fact that the massive amount of debt outstanding will lead to an increasing utilization of resources to service that debt and prevent spending elsewhere driving up prices.  As nations around the world age, the strong belief is that individuals consume less (except perhaps healthcare) and thus reduce demand for everyday items.  Technology essentially exists to reinvent old processes in a more efficient form, thus reducing the cost of providing them, while globalization has been the underlying cause for the excess supply of labor, capping wages and any wage/price spiral.  In addition, they argue that inflation is not a one-off price rise, but a constant series of rising prices that feeds through to every item over time.

Inflationists see the world in a different manner post-Covid, as they highlight the breakdown of globalization with regulations preventing international travel and efforts to reduce the length of supply chains.  In addition, they point to the extraordinary growth in the money supply, with the added fact that unlike in the wake of the GFC, this time there is significant fiscal spending which is pushing that money beyond the confines of financial markets and manifesting itself as rising prices.  We continue to see company after company announce price hikes of 7%-15% for everyday staples which is exactly they type of situation that gets people talking about inflation.  Inflationists highlight the fact that there are shortages of commodity products worldwide and that because of the dramatic shutdowns last year from Covid, capex in mining and energy exploration was decimated thus delaying any opportunity for supply to catch up to current demand, which, by the way, is growing rapidly amidst the fiscal support.  As they are wont to say, the Fed can’t print copper or corn.  The point is, if there are basic product shortages for more than a year and prices continue to rise, is that still transitory?

Right now, there is no clear answer, which is what makes the discussion both entertaining and crucial to the future direction of financial markets.  By now, you are all aware I remain in the inflationist camp and have been for a while.  I cannot ignore the rising prices I see every time I go into a store.  But the deflationists make excellent points.  This argument discussion will rage for at least another two months and the July CPI release.  Until then, the one thing that seems clear is that market volatility is likely to remain significant.

As to markets today, while Asia had a mixed equity session (Nikkei -0.9%, Hang Seng +0.6%, Shanghai +0.8%), Europe has come under pressure as the morning has progressed.  At this time, we are seeing all red numbers led by the FTSE 100 (-0.7%), with the CAC (-0.4%) and DAX (-0.3%) both slipping as well.  US futures, which had been essentially unchanged all night are starting to slip as well, with all three major indices currently lower by 0.3%.

Interestingly, bond yields are edging higher this morning, at least edging describes Treasury yields (+0.2bps) while in Europe, sovereign markets are selling off pretty aggressively.  Bunds (+2.2bps), OATs (+3.1bps) and Gilts (+2.1bps) are all lower, while Italian BTPs (+5.5bps) continue to see their spread vs. bunds widen rapidly, up more than 20bps in the past 3 months.

Commodity prices are having a more complicated session with oil essentially unchanged, gold (+0.3%) and silver (+0.75%) both firmer along with base metals (Cu +0.5%, Al +0.9%, Sn +0.6%) while agricultural products are more mixed (Soybeans +0.4%, Wheat -0.8%, Corn +0.75%).

Finally, the dollar is mixed with gainers and losers across both G10 and EMG blocs.  Even though commodity prices are holding up reasonably well, the commodity bloc in the G10 is weak this morning, led by NZD (-0.7%), NOK (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.3%).  Much of this movement seems to be on the back of positioning rather than fundamental news.  On the plus side, JPY (+0.2%), and EUR (+0.2%) are the leading gainers, but it is hard to get excited about such small movements.

EMG currencies have seen a bit more variance with APAC currencies under pressure (IDR -0.6%, KRW -0.5%, SGD (-0.3%) as concerns grow over another wave of Covid inspired lockdowns slowing recovery efforts in the economies throughout the region.  CNY is little changed after overnight data showed Retail Sales (17.7%) much weaker than the expected 25.0% gain although the other key data points, Fixed Asset Investment (19.9%) and IP (9.8%) were both pretty much in line.  On the positive side we see TRY (+1.0%) on the back of easing Covid restrictions alongside a healthy C/A surplus in April, and HUF (+0.7%) after a central banker intimated that they could be raising interest rates to fight inflation as soon as next month.

Not a ton of data this week, but here is what we see:

Today Empire Manufacturing 23.9
Tuesday Housing Starts 1705K
Building Permits 1770K
Wednesday FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 455K
Continuing Claims 3.64M
Philly Fed 41.9
Friday Existing Home Sales 6.08M

Source: Bloomberg

The Fed speaking calendar is a bit less full this week with only four different speakers although they will speak seven times in total.  Vice-Chair Clarida is the most important voice, but we already know that he is going to simply defend the current policy regardless of data.

With all that in mind, it appears that the dollar remains beholden to the Treasury market, so today’s limited movement, so far, in the 10-year has seen mixed and limited movement in the buck.  This goes back to the opening discussion; if you think inflation is coming, and expect Treasury yields to continue to rise, look for the dollar to follow along.  If you are in the deflationist camp, it’s the opposite.  But remember, at a point in time, inflation will undermine the dollar’s value.  Just not right away.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

They Haven’t the Nerve

It’s not just the Federal Reserve
Who thinks that inflation’s steep curve
Is likely short-term
And so reconfirm
For rate hikes, they haven’t the nerve

In Mexico, Chile, Peru
Each central bank chose to eschew
The chance to raise rates
For like in the States
They pray that inflation’s not true

Inflation remains the key talking point in every market these days.  This means not just equity, bond and commodity markets, but also geographically, not just the US, but literally every country in the world.  And in every one of these situations the two camps remain strongly at odds over the likely permanence of rising prices.  In the US, of the 16 current members of the FOMC, only one, Dallas’s Richard Kaplan, is concerned that inflation may be more than transitory.  Meanwhile the Bank of Canada has already made their move to begin tapering QE over concerns that rising inflation may become a bigger problem in the future.

Of course, inflation is not just a G10 phenomenon, it is a global one, arguably more so an issue in emerging markets than in developed ones.  Given the timing of recent central bank actions, I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at Latin America for a sense of how other nations are dealing with rising prices.

Mexico – Banco de Mexico left its overnight rate at 4.00% for the third consecutive month yesterday despite the fact that CPI is running at 6.08% and they are currently focused on targeting 3.0% inflation.  Clearly, those numbers don’t seem to go together well, but the explanation is that the disappointingly slow rebound in the economy after last year’s Covid induced disaster has the central bank determined to help support economic growth at the risk of allowing higher inflation to become entrenched.  Not only that, they have committed to maintaining policy rates here until growth picks up further.  Look for higher inflation going forward.

Chile – Banco Central de Chile left its overnight rate at a record low of 0.50% yesterday for the 13th consecutive month despite the fact that inflation is running at 3.3%, above its 3.0% target, and trending sharply higher.  While the rise in copper prices has been an extraordinary boon to the country, given its reliance on the metal for so much of its export earnings (nearly 30%), the economy is still recovering from last year and the central bank deemed economic support, especially in this time of political uncertainty, more important than price stability.

Peru – Banco Central de Reserva del Peru left its rate at 0.25%, also a record low, for the 13th consecutive month despite the fact that inflation is running at 2.4% vs. BCRP’s 2.0% target.  Here, too, political considerations are in the mix given the upcoming second round of presidential elections and the concern that a little known left-wing school teacher may become president next month.  Here, too, the board explained that policy was appropriate for the current situation despite higher than desired inflation.

These moves contrast with Brazil, which raised rates last week by 0.75%, to 3.50%, for the second consecutive meeting and are set to do so again in June.  Of course, CPI in Brazil, which is targeted at 3.0%, is currently running at 6.76% and climbing quickly.  If it weren’t for Argentina (CPI 46.3%) Brazil would be suffering the worst inflation in Latin America.  (I exclude Venezuela here as it is impossible to measure the inflation rate given the utter collapse of the economy and monetary system.)

It seems that the central banking community is filled with a great number of people who are either innumerate or highly political.  Neither of these characteristics make for an effective and independent central bank, and given the plethora of central bankers worldwide who exhibit these tendencies, it is a fair bet that rising prices are going to be a feature of our lives, no matter where we live, for a long time to come.  The point is, it is not just the Fed that is willfully blind to the evidence of rising prices, it is a widely held viewpoint.

Today, however, the markets have decided to agree with the predominant central bank view that inflation is a transitory phenomenon as evidenced by the fact that risk appetite is back in vogue.  It starts with the bond market, where Treasury yields are falling (-1.9bps) and now 6 basis points below the levels reached after Wednesday’s CPI data.  Yesterday’s PPI data, though also higher than expected, had virtually no impact on markets.  In Europe, Gilts (-3.1bps) are also rallying along with Bunds (-0.8bps) although French OATs are flat on the day.

This renewed confidence in a lack of inflation scare has had a much bigger impact on the equity markets, where once again, buying the dip seemed to be the correct move.  Asia saw robust gains (Nikkei +2.3%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +1.8%) and Europe is having a solid day as well (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.7%).  US futures are pointing to a continuation of yesterday’s rally with NASDAQ (+1.0%) leading the way, but all three indices higher by at least 0.5%.

Commodity prices are rising led by oil (+1.25%) and precious metals (Au +0.5%, Ag +0.7%) although the base metals are a bit more mixed (Cu -0.8%, Fe -5.2%) after China instituted price restrictions against steel producers in order to try to quash the recent explosion higher in steel prices.

As to the dollar, it should be no surprise that it is broadly softer this morning against both its G10 and EMG counterparts.  NOK (+1.1%) leads the way higher on the back of oil’s rally but we are seeing solid gains in NZD (+0.6%) and SEK (+0.5%) on the back of broadly positive risk appetite.  In the EMG bloc, only TWD (-0.03%) managed to lose any ground after another day of significant foreign equity outflows and an uptick in Covid cases.  Otherwise it is all green led by TRY (+0.85%), HUF (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.45%).  Turkey’s lira, which is approaching all time lows appears to be seeing a simple trading bounce as there is no news to drive things.  Mexico is clearly benefitting from the oil rally while Hungary’s forint is the beneficiary of a growing belief that the central bank there is going to raise rates to fight rising inflation.  As I said, there are several central banks that still try to focus on reality rather than wishful thinking, but they seem to be few and far between.

This morning brings Retail Sales (exp 1.0%, 0.6% ex autos) as well as IP (0.9%), Capacity Utilization (75.0%) and Michigan Sentiment (90.0).  On the central bank front, only Richard Kaplan, the lone hawk standing, speaks today, so look for more discussion about the need to think about tapering QE.  The thing is, the market is fully aware that he has no support in this stance and so it will not likely have any impact.

With the inflation scare behind us for at least another two weeks (Core PCE will be released at the end of the month), it seems the way is open for more risk-on sentiment.  This means bond yields are unlikely to rise very much and the dollar will therefore remain under pressure.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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