Far From Benign

Was yesterday’s market decline
A flash or a longer-term sign
Of things gone astray
That might well give way
To outcomes quite far from benign

Is this the end?  Have we seen the top in the equity markets?  That seems to be the question being asked this morning as both traders and investors try to determine if the first risk-off session in a number of months is the beginning of a trend, or merely a symptom of some short-term position excesses.  While Asian markets (Nikkei -1.0%, Hang Seng -0.85%, Shanghai -0.1%) continued along the theme of greater problems to come, Europe is not quite as worried, at least not in the equity space.  Interestingly, despite the rebound in Europe (DAX +0.1%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.3%) European sovereign debt has continued its rally with yields there lower by a pretty consistent 3 basis points across the board.

Meanwhile, after a tremendous rally in the Treasury market yesterday, where 10-year yields fell 10 basis points and the 2yr-10-yr spread flattened to below 100bps, buyers are still at large with the 10-year declining a further 1.2bps as I write.

It seems the narrative that is beginning to take hold is that the economic rebound from the Covid recession has reached its peak and that going forward, growth will quickly revert to trend.  This newer narrative has been reinforced by the spread of the delta variant of Covid throughout Asia and Europe (and the US, although lockdowns don’t seem to be on the agenda here) and the renewed closures being imposed around the world.  For instance, half of Australia has been put back under lockdown, as has New Zealand and growing parts of Southeast Asia including Singapore and Indonesia.  Europe, too, is feeling the pressure with rising caseloads n the UK, Spain and France resulting in calls for further restrictions.   The upshot of this is that earnings will struggle to rise as much as previously expected and that inflation pressures will quickly abate, and the concept of transitory inflation may be proven correct.

Chair Powell and friends are quite sure
Inflation, we won’t long endure
But pundits abound
Who’ll gladly expound
On why it’s the problem du jour

This brings us back to the big question hanging over markets, is inflation transitory or persistent?  Certainly, the recent trend in the data might argue for persistence as we continue to see higher prints than both the previous period as well as than forecasted.  As long as that is the case, it will be more and more difficult for the central banks to declare victory.  While commodity futures markets are well off their highs, a broad index of basic materials prices, things where there are no futures markets, is at all-time highs and rising.  Wages continue to rise as well, as the disconnect between the number of unemployed people and the number of job openings is forcing business to increase pay to get workers to come on board.  All of these things point to continued higher prices going forward, as do surveys of both consumers and businesses who virtually all agree higher prices are in our future.

However, the evidence from the bond market, the market that is historically seen as the most attuned to inflationary pressures, would argue that the inflation scare has passed.  With yields tumbling, US 10-year yields are more than 60 basis points off their late March highs, and the yield curve flattening.  All indications are that bond investors are sanguine over the inflation threat and are actually more worried about deflation.

The argument on this side remains that temporary bottlenecks have resulted in price pressures during the reopening of economies from the Covid lockdowns.  Economists’ models point to those very price pressures as the impetus for increased supply and, thus, lower prices in the future.  The problem is that the timeline for increasing supply is very different across different products.  Perhaps the most widely known shortage is semiconductors which has led to reductions in the production of cars, washing machines and consumer electronics.  But it takes at least 2 years to build a semiconductor factory, so it is quite possible the shortage will not be alleviated anytime soon.  Similarly, with mined raw materials, it takes multiple years to open up new mines, so shortages in copper or tin may not be alleviated for a number of years yet.  Of course, if growth is slowing, demand for these items will diminish and price pressures are likely to fade as well.

Let’s consider a few things about which we are certain.  First, securities prices do not travel in a straight line, and in fact, there are many short-term reversals involved in long-term trends.  Thus, if inflation is indeed persistent, the recent bond rally may well be the result of short-term factors and position reductions.  Recall, higher yields were the consensus Wall Street forecast three months ago, with expectations for the 10-year to be yielding between 2.0% and 2.5% in December.  Large fund managers were on board with that idea and built large positions, which take time to unwind.  It is entirely possible we are seeing the last throes of those position adjustments right now.

Another thing about which we are (pretty) certain is that during the Fed’s quiet period, we will not hear from any Fed speakers.  This means that in the event the market really does continue yesterday’s declines and starts to accelerate, the Fed will be hamstrung in their ability to try to jawbone things back to a smoother path.  Would Powell break the quiet period if markets fell 5% or 8% in a day?  My sense is he might, but that is exactly the type of thing that markets like to test.

Finally, let’s not forget that markets are hugely imperfect forecasters of the future.  After all, it was only 3 months ago when markets were forecasting much greater inflation while anticipating no change in Fed policy until 2024.  So, just because the current market view points to a potential slowing of economic growth and reduced inflation pressures, the economy behaves independently of the markets, and may well show us that the views from March were, in fact, correct.

Having already touched on equity and bond markets, a quick look at the FX markets shows that the dollar continues to power ahead vs. its G10 counterparts with NOK (-0.7%) and NZD (-0.65%) the laggards this morning.  NOK continues to suffer from oil’s remarkable 7.5% decline yesterday, while New Zealand is suffering on renewed lockdown fervor, and this after the RBNZ just last week explained they were about to tighten policy!  But we are seeing weakness in the pound (-0.45%) and AUD (-0.35%) both of which seem to be Covid shutdown related, while JPY (0.0%) is the only currency holding up in the bloc today despite further negative news regarding the Olympics and athletes contracting Covid as well as sponsors pulling out.

Emerging markets have been more varied with losers in Asia (SGD -0.35%, KRW -0.25%) on the back of Covid lockdowns, while gainers have included TRY (+0.4%), INR (+0.35%) and RUB (+0.3%).  The ruble seems to be reacting to the end of oil’s decline, unlike NOK, while INR saw equity market inflows driving the currency higher.  TRY, which is on holiday today, is benefitting from a higher inflation reading than expected and expectations of further policy tightening by the central bank there.

On the data front today we see Housing Starts (exp 1590K) and Building Permits (1696K).  We all know the housing market remains hot, so these data points are unlikely to move markets.  Rather, watch carefully for a continuation of yesterday’s risk off session and a stronger dollar.  I have a feeling that this morning’s price action is more pause than trend.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Bears’ Great Delight

As Covid renews its broad spread
Investors have started to shed
Their risk appetite,
To bears’ great delight,
And snap up more havens instead

Risk is off this morning on a global basis.  Equity markets worldwide have fallen, many quite sharply, while haven assets, like bonds, the yen and the dollar, are performing quite well.  It seems that the ongoing increase in Covid infections, not only throughout emerging markets, but in many developed ones as well, has investors rethinking the strength of the economic recovery.

The latest mutation of Covid, referred to as the delta variant, is apparently significantly more virulent than the original.  This has led to a quickening of the pace of infections around the world.  Governments are responding in exactly the manner we have come to expect, imposing lockdowns and curfews and restricting mobility.  Depending on the nation, this has taken various forms, but in the end, it is clearly an impediment to near-term growth.  Recent examples of government edicts include France, where they are now imposing fines on anyone who goes to a restaurant without a vaccine ‘passport’ as well as on the restaurants that allow those people in.  Japan has had calls to cancel the Olympics, as not only will there be no spectators, but an increasing number of athletes are testing positive for the virus and being ruled out of competition.

A quick look at hugely imperfect data from Worldometer shows that 8 of the 10 nations with the most reported new cases yesterday are emerging markets, led by Indonesia and India.  But perhaps of more interest is that the largest number of new cases reported was from the UK.  Today is ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK, where the lockdowns have ended, and people were to be able to resume their pre-Covid lives.  However, one has to wonder if the number of infections continues to rise at this pace, how long it will be before further restrictions are imposed.  Clearly, market participants are concerned as evidenced by the >2.0% decline in the FTSE 100 as well as the 0.45% decline in the pound.

While this story is not the only driver of markets, it is clearly having the most impact.  It has dwarfed the impact of the OPEC+ agreement to raise output thus easing supply concerns for the time being.  Oil (WTI – 2.75%) is reacting as would be expected given the large amount of marginal supply that will be entering the market, but arguably, lower oil prices should be a positive for risk appetite.  As I indicated, today is a Covid day.  The other strong theme is in agricultural products where prices are rising in all the major grains (Soybeans +0.6%, Wheat +1.4%, Corn +1.7%) as the weather is having a detrimental impact on projected crop sizes.  The ongoing drought and extreme heat in the Western US have served to reduce estimates of plantings and heavy rains have impacted crops toward the middle of the country.

With all that ‘good’ news in mind, it cannot be surprising that risk assets have suffered substantially, and havens are in demand.  For instance, Asian equity markets were almost universally in the red (Nikkei -1.25%, Hang Seng -1.85%, Shanghai 0.0%), while European markets are performing far worse (DAX -2.0%, CAC -2.0%, FTSE MIB (Italy) -2.9%).  US futures are all pointing lower with the Dow (-1.0%) leading the way but the others down sharply as well.

Bonds, on the other hand, are swimming in it this morning, with demand strong almost everywhere.  Treasuries are leading the way, with yields down 4.7bps to 1.244%, their lowest level since February, and despite all the inflation indications around, sure look like they are headed lower.  But we are seeing demand throughout Europe as well with Bunds (-2.4bps, OATs -2.0bps and Gilts -3.6bps) all well bid.  The laggards here are the PIGS, which are essentially unchanged at this hour, but had actually seen higher yields earlier in the session.  After all, who would consider Greek bonds, where debt/GDP is 179% amid a failing economy, as a haven asset.

We’ve already discussed commodities except for the metals markets which are all lower.  Gold (-0.35%) is not performing its haven function, and the base metals (Cu -1.7%, Al -0.1%, sn -0.7%) are all responding to slowing growth concerns.

Ahh, but to find a market where something is higher, one need only look at the dollar, which is firmer against every currency except the yen, the other great haven.  CAD (-1.2%) is the laggard today, falling on the back of the sharp decline in oil and metals prices.  NOK (-0.9%) is next in line, for obvious reasons, and then AUD (-0.7%, and NZD (-0.7%) as commodity weakness drags them lower.  The euro (-0.25%) is performing relatively well despite the uptick in reported infections, as market participants start to look ahead to the ECB meeting on Thursday and wonder if anything of note will appear beyond what has already been said about their new framework.  In addition, consider that weakness in commodities actually helps the Eurozone, a large net importer.

In the EMG space, it is entirely red, with RUB (-0.75%) leading the way lower, but weakness in all regions.  TRY (-0.7%), KRW (-0.7%), CZK (-0.55%) and MXN (-0.5%) are all suffering on the same story, weaker growth, increased Covid infections and a run to safety and away from high yielding EMG currencies.

Data this week is quite sparse, with housing the main theme

Tuesday Housing Starts 1590K
Building Permits 1700K
Thursday Initial Claims 350K
Continuing Claims 3.05M
Leading Indicators 0.8%
Existing Home Sales 5.90M
Friday Flash PMI Mfg 62.0
Flash PMI Services 64.5

Source: Bloomberg

The Fed is now in their quiet period, so no speakers until the meeting on the 28th.  Thursday, we hear from the ECB, where no policy changes are expected, although further discussion of PEPP and the original QE, APP, are anticipated.  So, until Thursday, it appears that the FX markets will be beholden to both exogenous risks, like more Covid stories, and risk sentiment.  If the equity market remains under pressure, you can expect the dollar to maintain its bid tone.  If something happens to turn equities around (and right now, that is hard to see) then the dollar will likely retreat in a hurry.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

How They Debase

The world’s central banks, as a whole
Have signaled they need to control
Not only the pace
Of how they debase
Their cash, but of digging for coal

Thus, now the Big 3 have explained
The policies they have ordained
Will fund, efforts, green
But not what is seen
Endorsing ‘brown’ growth unrestrained

Last night’s BOJ meeting resulted in exactly zero monetary policy surprises but did serve to confirm that the central banking community has decided to take on a task well outside their traditional purview; climate change.  While they left policy unchanged, as universally expected, they announced that they would be introducing a new funding measure targeting both green and sustainability-linked loans and bonds.  In other words, as well as purchasing JGB’s, equities and ETF’s, they are going to expand their portfolio into ESG bonds.  The interesting thing is that the universe of ESG bonds in Japan is not that large, so the BOJ is going to wind up buying non-JPY denominated assets.  In other words, they are going to be selling a bunch of newly printed yen and converting it into other currencies to achieve their new goals.  This sounds suspiciously like FX intervention, but dressed in more politically correct clothing.  The impact, however, is likely to be a bias for a somewhat weaker yen over time.  For those of you with yen assets, keep that in mind.

Meanwhile, we have already heard from both the Fed and ECB that they, too, are going to increase their focus on climate.  Here, too, one might question whether this is an appropriate use of central bank resources.  After all, it’s not as though the economy in either place is humming along with solid growth, low inflation and excellent future prospects based on strong productivity.  But hey, combatting climate change is far trendier than the boring aspects of monetary policy, like trying to address rapidly rising inflation without tightening policy and risking a crash in equity markets.

In the end, the only thing this shift in policy focus will achieve is longer-lasting inflation.  The effort to develop new and cleaner energy by starving current energy production of capital will result in higher prices for the stuff we actually use.  Over a long enough time horizon, this strategy can make sense; alas we live our lives in the here and now and need energy every day to do so.  Germany is the perfect example of what can happen when politics overrides economics. Electricity prices in Germany average $0.383 (€0.324) per kWh.  In the US, that number is $0.104 per kWh.  Ever since the Fukushima earthquake led to Germany scrapping their nuclear fleet of power reactors, the price of electricity there has more than tripled.  I fear this is in our future if monetary policymakers turn their attention away from their primary role.

Of course, higher inflation is in our future even if they don’t do this, and there is no evidence yet, at least from the Fed or ECB, that they are about to change the current monetary policy stance that is exacerbating that inflation.  However, almost daily we are seeing markets respond to data and comments from other countries that are far more concerned with the inflationary outlook.  Last week the RBNZ ended QE abruptly and indicated they may start raising rates soon.  Last night, CPI there jumped to 3.3%, the highest level since 2011 and above their target band.  It should be no surprise that NZD (+0.45%) rose after the print as did local yields as expectations for a rate hike accelerated.  In fact, I believe this is what the immediate future will look like; smaller countries with rising inflation will tighten monetary policy and their currencies will appreciate accordingly.

Turning to today’s markets, risk was under pressure overnight after a generally weak US session.  Led by the Nikkei (-1.0%), most of Asia was softer, but not all (Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.7%, Australia +0.2%).  Europe, which had been higher on the opening has since drifted down and is now mixed with the DAX (0.0%) unchanged while the CAC (-0.5%) lags the rest of the continent and the FTSE 100 (+0.2%) has managed to hold its early gains.  US futures have also held onto small gains with all three indices up about 0.2%.

Bond markets are somewhat mixed as Treasuries (+2.5bps) sell off after yesterdays rally where yields fell 5bps.  However, European sovereigns are all in demand this morning with yield declines ranging from 1.0 to 1.8 basis points.  Commodity markets show crude slightly higher (+0.15%), gold under pressure (-0.7%) and base metals mixed (Cu -0.3%, Al +0.3%, Sn +0.7%).

In the FX markets, aside from kiwi, NOK (+0.25%) has rallied on oil’s rebound from its lows earlier this week, but the rest of the G10 is softer.  It should be no surprise JPY (-0.35%) is the worst performer, while the other currencies are simply drifting slightly lower, down in the 0.1% – 0.2% range.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+1.5%) is the big winner as it regains some of the ground it lost earlier in the week on the back of the rioting there.  The government has sent in the army to key hot spots to quell the unrest and so far, it seems to be working thus international investors are returning.  Otherwise, we see gains in RUB (+0.3%) and MXN (+0.3%), both of which benefit from oil and tighter monetary policy from their respective central banks.  On the downside, TWD (-0.4%) has been the worst performer in the bloc as dividend repatriation from foreign equity holders pressured the currency.  This is not a long-term issue.   Away from that, some of the CE4 are drifting lower alongside the euro but there has not been much other news of note.

On the data front this morning we see Retail Sales (exp -0.3%, +0.4% ex autos) as well as Michigan Sentiment (86.5).  After two days of Powell testimony, where he continued to maintain there would be no policy tightening and that inflation is transitory, today we hear from NY’s Williams, one of the key members of the FOMC, and someone who has remains steadfastly dovish.

The dollar’s recent strength seems to have reached its limit so I expect that we could see a bit of a pullback if for no other reason than traders who got long during the week will want to square up ahead of the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Progress, Substantial

To everyone who thought the Fed
Was ready to taper, Jay said
‘Til progress, substantial,
Is made, no financial
Adjustments are reckoned ahead

If, prior to yesterday, you were worried that the Fed was getting prepared to taper its asset purchases, stop worrying.  It doesn’t matter what Dallas Fed President Kaplan, or even SF Fed President Daly says about the timing of tapering.  The only ones who matter are Powell, Clarida, Williams and Brainerd, and as the Chairman made clear once again yesterday, they ain’t going to taper anytime soon.

In testimony to the House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jay sent a clear message; nothing is changing until the Fed (read the above-mentioned four) sees “substantial further progress” on their twin goals of maximum employment and an average inflation rate of 2.0%.  Obviously, they have moved a lot closer on the inflation front, with many pundits (present company included) saying that they have clearly exceeded their goal and need to address that issue.  But for as much vitriol as is reserved for our previous president, both the Fed and Congress are clearly all-in on the idea that the 3.5% Unemployment Rate achieved during his term just before the pandemic emerged, which was the lowest in 50 years, is actually the appropriate level of NAIRU.

NAIRU stands for the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment and is the economic acronym for the unemployment rate deemed to be the lowest possible without causing increased wage pressures leading to rising inflation.  For the longest time, this rate was thought to be somewhere in the 4.5%-5.5% area, but in the decade following the GFC, as policymakers pushed to run the economy as hot as possible, the lack of measured consumerinflation, despite record low unemployment, forced economists to rethink their models.  Arguably, it is this change in view that has led to the fascination with MMT and the willingness of the current Fed to continue QE despite the evident froth in the asset markets.  Of course, now those asset markets are not just paper ones like stocks and bonds, but also housing and commodities.

But that is the situation today, despite what appears to be very clear evidence that inflationary pressures are not just high, but longer lasting as well, the Fed has their story and they are sticking to it.  They made this clear to everyone last year with the new policy framework that specifically explains they will remain behind the curve on inflation because they will not adjust policy until they see real data, not surveys, that demonstrate growth is overheating.  Yet, given the Fed’s history, where they have often tightened policy in anticipation of higher inflation and thereby reduced growth, or even caused recessions, the market has learned to expect that type of response.  While I personally believe prudent policy would be to tighten at this time, I take Mr Powell at his word, they are not going to change anytime soon.  I assure you that of the dots in the last dot plot, Jay Powell’s was not one of the ones expecting interest rates to be 0.50% by the end of 2023.

One of the things that makes this so interesting is the difference of this policy with that of an increasing number of other central banks, where recognition of rising inflation is forcing them to rethink their commitment to ZIRP.  Earlier this week, the RBNZ abruptly ended QE and explained rates may rise before the summer is over.  Yesterday, the Bank of Canada reduced its QE purchases by another C$1 billion/week, furthering the progress they started in June, and Governor Macklem made clear that if inflation did persist, they would react appropriately.  Last night it was the Bank of Korea’s turn to explain that economic activity was picking up quickly and inflationary pressures alongside that which would make them consider raising the base rate at their next meeting.  Finally, all eyes are turning toward the BOE as this morning’s employment report showed that the recovery is still picking up pace and that wage growth, at a 7.3% Q/Q rise, is really starting to take off.  Market talk is now focused on whether the Old Lady will be the next to start to tighten.

In truth, the only three central banks that have made clear they are not ready to do so are the big 3, the Fed, ECB and BOJ.  The BOJ meets tonight with no changes to policy expected as they seem to be focused on what they can do to address climate change (my sense is they can have the same success on climate change as they have had on raising inflation, i.e. none).  Next week the ECB will unveil their new framework which seems likely to include the successor to the PEPP as well as their already telegraphed new symmetrical inflation target of 2.0%.  And then the Fed meets the following week, at which point they will work very hard to play down inflation in the statement but will not alter policy regardless.

As you consider the policy changes afoot, as well as the trajectory of inflation, and combine that with your finance 101 models that show inflation undermines the value of a currency in the FX markets, it would lead you to believe that the dollar has real downside opportunity vs. many currencies, just not the euro or the yen.  But markets are fickle, so don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

Turning to today’s activities, while Chinese equity markets performed well (Hang Seng +0.75%, Shanghai +1.0%) after Chinese GDP data was released at 7.9% for Q2, just a tick lower than forecast, and the rest of the data, Retail Sales and Fixed Asset Investment all beat expectations, the rest of the world has been much less exuberant.  For instance, the Nikkei (-1.15%) stumbled along with Australian and New Zealand indices, although the rest of SE Asia actually followed China higher.  Europe has been under pressure from the start this morning led by the DAX (-0.9
%) although the CAC (-0.75%) and FTSE 100 (-0.7%) are nothing to write home about.  US futures are also under pressure (Dow -0.5%, SPX -0.3%) although the NASDAQ continues to power ahead (+0.2%).

In this broadly risk-off session, it is no surprise that bond markets are rallying.  Treasuries, after seeing yields decline 7bps after Powell’s testimony, are down another 2bps this morning.  Similarly, we are seeing strength in Bunds (-1.4bps) and OATs (-1.1bps) although Gilts (+1.4bps) seem to be concerned about potential BOE policy changes.

On the commodity front, oil fell sharply after the Powell testimony and has continued its downward move, falling 1.8% this morning.  Gold, which had been higher earlier in the session is now down 0.15%, although copper (+0.6%) remains in positive territory.  At this point, risk has come under pressure across markets although there is no obvious catalyst.

It should not be surprising that as risk is jettisoned, the dollar is rebounding.  From what had been a mixed session earlier in the day, the dollar is now firmer against 9 of the G10 with NOK (-0.5%) the laggard although the entire commodity bloc is suffering.  The only gainer is the pound (+0.1%) which seems to be on the back of the idea the BOE may begin to tighten sooner than previously expected.

EMG currencies that are currently trading are all falling, led by ZAR (-0.7%), PLN (-0.5%) and HUF (-0.5%).  The rand is very obviously suffering alongside the commodity story, while HUF and PLN are under pressure as a story about both nations losing access to some EU funds because of their stance on issues of judicial and immigration policies is seen as a negative for their fiscal balances.  Overnight we did see strength in KRW (+0.6%) and TWD (+0.4%) with the former benefitting from the BOK’s comments on tightening policy while the latter saw substantial equity market inflows driving the currency higher.

Data today includes Initial (exp 350K) and Continuing (3.3M) Claims as well as Empire Mfg (18.0), Philly Fed (28.0), IP (0.6%) and Capacity Utilization (75.6%).  Yesterday’s PPI was also much higher than forecast, but that can be no surprise given the CPI data on Tuesday.  In addition, Chairman Powell testifies before the Senate Banking Panel today, with the same prepared testimony but a whole new set of questions.  (I did reach out to my Senator, Menendez, to ask why Chairman Powell thinks forcing prices higher is helping his constituents, but I’m guessing it won’t make the cut!)

And that’s the day.  Right now, with risk under pressure, the dollar has a firm tone.  But the background of numerous other central banks starting to tighten as they recognize rising inflation and the Fed ignoring it all does not bode well for the dollar in the medium term.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

QE’s Paradigm

Said Daly, this “pop” was expected
But basically, we have projected
This only will last
A few months, then pass
Thus, higher rates we have rejected

Said Bullard, it may well be time
To alter QE’s paradigm
By end of this year
It ought to be clear
That tapering is not a crime

And finally, today Chairman Jay
Is like to have something to say
‘Bout why rising prices
Do not mean a crisis
Is brewing and soon on the way

The one thing about writing this note on a daily basis is that you really get to see the topic du jour.  In fact, arguably, that is the purpose of the note.  When Brexit happened in 2016, it was likely the topic of 75% of my output.  Covid dominated last year for at least 3 months, where virtually every discussion referenced its impact.  And now we are onto the next topic which just will not go away.  In fact, if anything it is growing in importance.  Of course, I mean inflation.

By now you are all aware that June’s CPI reading was 5.4% on a headline basis and 4.5% ex food & energy with both readings substantially higher than forecasted by the punditry.  The monthly gains in both series was 0.9%.  Now my rudimentary math skills tell me that if I annualized 0.9%, I would wind up with an inflation rate of 11.4%.  I don’t know about you, but to me that number represents some real problems.  Of course, despite the reality on the ground, the FOMC cannot possibly admit that their policies are driving the economy into a ditch, so they continue to spin a tale of transitory price gains that are entirely due to short-term impacts on supply chains and gains relative to last year’s extremely depressed prices on the back of Covid inspired lockdowns.  And while, last year’s Covid-inspired lockdowns did have a major negative impact on prices, the idea that supply chain disruptions are short-term are more an article of faith, based on economic textbook theories, than a description of reality.

In addition, the other key leg of the Fed thinking is that inflation expectations remain ‘well-anchored.’  Alas, I fear that anchor may have come loose and is starting to drift with the current of inflation prints to a higher level.  This was made evident in the NY Fed’s survey of inflation expectations released on Monday showing that people expected inflation to be 4.8% in one year’s time.  The Fed also likes to point to inflation breakevens in the market (the difference between nominal Treasury yields and their TIPS counterparts) and how those have fallen.  It is true, they are lower than we saw at the peak in mid-May (2.56%), but in the past week, they have risen 15 basis points, to 2.37%, and appear to be headed yet higher.

And this is not merely a US phenomenon.  For instance, just this morning CPI in the UK printed at 2.5%, rising a more than expected 0.4% from last month, and we have seen this occur around the world, as both developed countries (e.g. Germany, Canada and Spain) and developing nations (e.g. Brazil, India and Mexico) have all been suffering from prices rising faster than expected.  Now, there are some nations that are addressing the issue with monetary policy by tightening (Brazil, Mexico and Hungary being the latest).  But there are others that continue to whistle pass this particular graveyard and remain adamant there is no problem (US, UK Europe).

Chairman Powell testifies to the House today (my apologies for mistakenly explaining it would be yesterday) and it has the opportunity to be quite interesting.  While there will not doubt be a certain amount of fawning by some members of the committee, at least a few members have a more conservative bent and may ask uncomfortable questions.  I keep waiting to hear someone ask, ‘Chairman Powell, can you please explain why you believe my constituents are better off when paying higher prices for the items they regularly purchase?  After all, isn’t that what Fed policy to raise inflation is all about?’  Alas, I don’t expect anyone to be so bold.

In the end, based on a lot of history, Powell will never directly answer a question on inflation other than to say that it is transitory and that the current monetary policy settings are appropriate.  If pressed further, he will explain the Fed “has the tools” necessary to combat inflation, but it is not yet time to use them.  While it is possible he has a Freudian slip and reveals his true thinking, he has become pretty polished in these affairs and the audience is generally not sharp enough to throw him off his game.

To sum it all up, inflation is screaming higher rising rapidly and the Fed remains sanguine and unlikely to adjust their policies in the near future.  While Daly and Bullard, two doves who spoke yesterday, indicated that tapering QE would likely be appropriate at some point, there was no evident hurry in their views.  Consumer prices are going higher from here, count on it.

There are some nations, however, that are willing to address inflation.  We already see several raising rates and last night, the RBNZ explained they would be ending QE by next week.  This was quite a surprise to the market and so we saw 10-year yields in New Zealand jump 7.3 basis points while NZD (+1.0%) has been the best performing currency in the world as expectations are now that the RBNZ will begin raising rates by the end of the summer.  But that the Fed had this type of common sense.

Ok, enough ranting on inflation.  Let’s see how this string of higher CPI prints has been impacting markets.  On the equity front, it has not been a happy period.  Yesterday saw US markets sell off, albeit only in the 0.3%-0.4% range. But Asia was far worse (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -0.6%, Shanghai -1.1%) and Europe is entirely in the red as well (DAX -0.2%, CAC -0.25%, FTSE 100 -0.6%) with the UK leading the way lower after that CPI print.  US futures, though, have had enough of the selling and are very modestly higher at this time.  Perhaps they think Powell will save the day.

Did I mention the 30-year bond auction was a disaster yesterday?  Apparently, with inflation running at 5.4%, locking in a yield of 1.975% for 30-years does not seem very attractive to investors.  Hence, the abrupt move to 2.05% after the auction announcement, with a long tail.  While yields are a touch lower this morning (10-year -2.0bps, 30-year -2.6bps) that has more to do with the jettisoning of equity risk than a desire to earn large negative real returns.  In Europe, it should be no surprise that Gilt yields are higher, +3.6bps, after the CPI print, but the continent is largely unchanged on the day.

Oil prices have backed off a bit, falling 0.8% this morning, but WTI remains just below $75/bbl and the trend is still firmly higher.  Gold is perking up a bit as declining real yields always helps the barbarous relic and is higher by 0.5% with silver +0.8%.  Base metals, however, are in a different place with Cu (-0.75%) and Al (-0.5%) leading the way lower.  Foodstuffs are generally higher, which of course explains the ongoing unrest in a growing list of developing countries.

As to the dollar, it is broadly weaker vs. its G10 counterparts, with kiwi far and away the leader while the rest of the bloc is firmer by between 0.1%-0.3%.  That feels much more like a dollar consolidation than any other stories beyond NZD and GBP’s inflation print.  In the EMG bloc, the picture is more mixed with PHP (-0.6%) the laggard as capital continues to flow out of the country amid foreign reserve levels sinking.  The rest of the APAC bloc was also soft, but much of that came yesterday in NY’s session with little adjustment from those levels.  On the plus side, MXN (+0.3%) is the leading gainer and the CE4 are all higher by about 0.2%, but this remains dollar consolidation after a run higher.

Somewhat anticlimactically we are going to see PPI this morning (exp 6.7%, 5.1% ex food & energy), but given the CPI has already been released, it will have to be really special to have an impact.  The Fed’s Beige Book is released at 2:00 but the highlight will be the Chairman at noon.  Frankly, until then, I don’t expect very much at all, but the market will be hanging on every word he speaks.

Broadly, the dollar remains well bid.  Yesterday saw the market anticipate the Fed being forced to tighten sooner than previously expected.  Powell has the opportunity to squelch that view or encourage it.  While I believe he will lean toward the former, that is the key market risk right now.  If I were a hedger, I would think about getting things done this morning, not this afternoon.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Like Tides in the Sea

Though Jay and the FOMC
Refuse to accept it can be
Most prices worldwide
Can be certified
As rising like tides in the sea

Back in 2011, wedged between the GFC and the European debt crisis, the world witnessed the Arab Spring.  This was a series of populist protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa that were triggered by a confluence of events including a desire for more freedom and democracy by a group of populations that had been oppressed by kleptocratic and authoritarian rulers.  But one of the key issues that was apparent in each of the nations involved was the fact that inflation, specifically food prices, were rising rapidly and the impoverished citizenry of many of these nations could no longer afford to feed themselves or their families.  Ultimately, while there was much angst at the time about changes in ruling regimes and much hope that the siren song of freedom would be heard in heretofore brutal dictatorships, very little changed except the name of the authoritarian and kleptocratic leader.

From our perspective in the markets, the importance of this lesson is the potential impact that sharply rising food prices can have on both financial markets and political outcomes.  This appears topical given the rioting that has begun in two very different countries, Cuba and South Africa.  In Cuba, the list of complaints could have been written in Tunisia in 2011, as the people there are growing tired of the conditions under which they are forced to live by Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel, the heirs to the Fidel Castro regime.  The economy is in tatters and food shortages are rampant with little hope of change as long as the government remains in place.  South Africa, meanwhile, has had a different catalyst, the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, but the conditions on the ground, where inflation is rising sharply, and growth has been lagging are not dissimilar to what precedes this behavior anywhere.

While two countries don’t yet make a trend, it will be important to pay close attention to other EMG nations who are experiencing the same types of pressures.  Remember, just because the Fed, ECB and BOJ are not ready to raise rates as they studiously ignore rising inflation, the same has not been true in a number of emerging markets like Brazil, Hungary and Mexico, whose central banks are responding to the obvious rise in price pressures by raising their policy rates.  Inflation is insidious as it impacts all that we do and eventually weighs on how we approach our everyday tasks.  Yesterday, the NY Fed released its monthly survey of inflation expectations and it jumped to 4.8% in the one-year category, the highest level since the survey began.  While inflation is frequently described as a monetary phenomenon, it is also a psychological one.  When you expect prices to rise, you tend to err on the side of buying things sooner rather than waiting.  And that behavior drives prices as well.  As the evidence of more persistent price rises continues to increase, there will come a denouement between the Fed and reality.  It is at that point that we could see some cracks in the current narrative of “stonks to the moon!”  Remember, being hedged ahead of a significant policy change makes a great deal of sense, so don’t wait until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, the market story today is one of a modest continuation of recent trends with no substantial outliers.  It appears investors are waiting for more information from the ECB on their new policy framework next week, as well as this morning’s testimony by Chairman Powell at the House of Representatives.

After yesterday’s late day rally in the US, Asian equity markets were all in the green (Nikkei +0.5%, Hang Seng +1.6%, Shanghai +0.3%) with the big data release Chinese trade numbers showing their exports climbed more than forecasts, clearly a positive sign for both China and global growth.  Europe has been a bit more mixed with extremely modest movement either side of unchanged and no story or data to discuss while US futures show the NASDAQ (+0.35%) continuing to power ahead although the other two main indices have done nothing.

Bond markets are rallying ever so slightly with Treasury yields lower by 0.8bps and similar declines throughout Europe (Bunds -0.7bps, OATs -1.5bps, Gilts -1.1bps).  As to commodity markets, they are mixed this morning with oil (+0.1%) marginally higher along with gold (+0.1%), while copper (-1.1%) is lagging.  The long-term trend for most commodities remains higher, although we continue to see short-term consolidation.

In the FX market, the most notable mover has been ZAR (-1.35%) which is continuing to suffer on the back of the rioting in the country and the likely negative impact it will have on the economy.  Other laggards in the EMG bloc are HUF (-0.5%), PLN (-0.5%) and MXN (-0.4%), as traders respond to differing issues in each nation.  Poland’s central bank has hinted that they will extend QE at a moment’s notice in the event the delta variant of Covid becomes a bigger problem, while Hungary seems to be suffering for its unwillingness to agree to a global corporate tax rate.  As to Mexico, the nominee for central bank governor, Arturo Herrera, explained he would not expect Banxico to begin a tightening cycle, despite the fact they have already raised rates once.  On the plus side, RUB (+0.4%) leads the way as traders anticipate future gains in the oil price.

In the G10 space, while the dollar is broadly firmer, the biggest movers have been GBP (-0.3%) and NOK (-0.3%), hardly the stuff of excitement.  Arguably, what we continue to see is short USD covering as positions remain overly short, albeit somewhat reduced from where things stood at the beginning of the quarter.

This morning, in addition to the Powell testimony, we see CPI (exp 4.9%, 4.0% ex food & energy), which ought to be quite interesting.  If the forecast is correct, it would be the first time that the Y/Y data fell since last November.  As well, if this is the case, Chair Powell will almost certainly point to the outcome in his comments today as a strong sign the Fed’s transitory inflation story playing out exactly as they anticipate.  Of course, a higher than expected print will require a bit more tap dancing on Powell’s part.

The FX market continues to consolidate with no large trend driving things currently.  Now that the relationship between the dollar and Treasuries has seemingly broken, traders are looking for new short-term drivers and waiting for clarification as to how the next trend will derive.  In other words, we are likely to continue to see somewhat choppy and directionless trading for the next several weeks unless we get something of real note.  So, paraphrasing Samuel Beckett, it appears we are ‘Waiting for Powell.”

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Capitalism is Spurned

When looking through history’s pages

It seems there are only two stages

At times capital

Has markets in thrall

At others, it’s all about wages

Four decades past Maggie and Ron

Convinced us, for things to move on

T’was capital needed

For growth unimpeded

But seemingly those days are gone

Instead, now the cycle has turned

As two generations have learned

That labor should take

The bulk of the cake

While capitalism is spurned

The upshot is that now inflation

Will percolate throughout the nation

While central banks claim

That prices are tame

Your costs will increase sans cessation

With markets fairly quiet this morning I thought it would be an interesting idea to step back to a more macro view of the current financial and economic framework as I strongly believe it is important to understand the very big picture in order to understand short term market activities.

A number of prominent historians and economists contend that both history and the economy are cyclical in nature although long-term trends underlie the process.  One might envision a sine wave overlaying an upward sloping line as a description.  Now the period and amplitude of the sine wave are open to question, but I would offer that a full cycle occurs in the timeframe of 80-100 years.  As per Neil Howe’s excellent book, The Fourth Turning, this encompasses four generations over which time each generation’s response to their upbringing and the events that occurred during those formative years result in fairly similar outcomes every fourth generation.

Ultimately, I believe it is valid to consider the cyclical nature in terms of the importance of the two key inputs to economic activity; capital and labor.  It is the combination of these two inputs that creates all the economic wealth that exists.  However, depending on the government regulatory situation and the societal zeitgeist, one will always dominate the other.

If we look back 100 years to the Roaring Twenties, it was clear capital had the upper hand as the administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge maintained a very laissez faire attitude to the economy and watched as large companies grew to dominate the economy.  Of course, the Great Depression ended that theme and resulted in FDR’s New Deal and ultimately the ensuing 40 years of government intervention in the economy alongside labor’s growing power.  Forty years on from the Depression saw the height of government interventionism with the ‘guns and butter’ strategy of LBJ, the Vietnam War, the Great Society and also, the seeds of the next change, the Summer of Love.  At that point, the economic effects of the government’s heavy hand were starting to have a negative impact, restricting growth and driving inflation higher.

Like day follows night, this led to a change in the zeitgeist and a change in the relationship between capital and labor.  The Reagan/Thatcher revolution arose at a time when people saw only the negatives of government and led to a reduction of government control and activity (on a relative basis), as well as the beginnings of the financialization of the economy.  Arguably, that peaked in the dot com bubble in 2001, or perhaps in the GFC in 2008, but certainly, ever since the latter, we have seen a significant adjustment in the relationship of the government and the governed.

My contention is that we are entering into a new period of labor’s ascendancy versus capital and increased government involvement in every facet of life.  While this has manifest itself in numerous ways, from the perspective of markets, what this means is that the heavy hand of central banks is going to weigh even more greatly on events than it has until now. The myth of the independent central bank is no longer even discussed.  Rather, central banks and finance ministries are now working hand in hand as partners in trying to manage their respective economies.  And ultimately, what that means is that QE has become a permanent part of the financial landscape as debt monetization is required in order to fund every new government initiative.  If this thesis is correct, the idea that the Fed may begin to taper its QE purchases starting next year seems highly unlikely.  Instead, as I have written before, it seems more likely they will increase those purchases as the latest ‘sugar high’ of fiscal stimulus wanes and the economy once again slows down.

Interestingly, the most salient comments made today appear to back up this thesis.  Madame Lagarde was interviewed on Bloomberg TV this morning and explained that a new policy shift would be forthcoming in the near future from the ECB.  Recognizing that the PEPP was due to expire come March and recognizing that the Eurozone economy was not growing anywhere near its desired rate, the ECB is already preparing for the PEPP’s successor.  In other words, QE will not end at its originally appointed time.  In addition, she explained that they would be adjusting their forward guidance as the previous model clearly did not achieve their goals.  (Might I suggest, QE Forever?  It’s catchy and sums things up perfectly!)

So, to recap; the broad cycles of history are turning through an inflection point and we are very likely to see capital’s importance diminish relative to labor going forward.  This means that profit margins will shrink amid higher wages and greater regulatory burdens.  Equity returns will suffer accordingly, especially on a real basis as price pressures will continue to rise.  However, debt monetization will prevent yields from rising, so negative real yields are also likely here to stay for a while.  As to currencies, their value will depend on the relative speed with which different countries adapt to the new realities, so it is not yet clear how things will turn out.  It is also largely why currencies have range-traded for so long, the outcome is not yet clear.

With that to consider as a background, I would offer that market activity remains fairly unexciting.  For now, the ongoing themes remain in place, so, central bank liquidity continues to be broadly supportive of asset markets and arguably will continue to be so for the time being.

Turning to today’s session shows that Asian equity markets followed Friday’s US lead by rallying nicely (Nikkei +2.2%, Hang Seng and Shanghai +0.6%) as markets continue to respond to the PBOC’s modest policy ease announced last week regarding the RRR reduction.  Europe, though, is a bit less bubbly this morning (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE 100 -0.6%).  Finally, US futures are mixed with the NASDAQ continuing its run higher (+0.2%) but the other two markets less happy with modest declines.

Bond markets, after selling off Friday in what was clearly a short-term profit taking act, have rallied back a bit this morning with yields declining in Treasuries (-1.5bps), Bunds (-1.5bps), OATs (-2.0bps) and Gilts (-2.0bps).

Commodity prices are under pressure, with oil (-1.4%) leading the way lower, but weakness across both precious (Au -0.45%) and base (Cu –1.4%) metals and most ags.  In other words, the morning is shaping up as a risk-off session.

This is true in the FX market as well with the dollar broadly firmer in both the G10 and EMG blocs.  Commodity currencies are the biggest laggards (NOK -0.6%, CAD -0.45%, AUD -0.4%) but the dollar is higher universally in the G10.  As to the EMG bloc, ZAR (-1.8%) is by far the worst performer as a combination of increased Covid spread and local violence after the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma has seen capital flee the nation.  However, here too, the bulk of the bloc is softer with the commodity currencies (MXN -0.5%, RUB -0.45%) next worse off.

While there is no data today, this week does bring some important news, including the latest CPI reading tomorrow:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 99.5
CPI 0.5% (4.9% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (4.0% Y/Y)
Wednesday PPI 0.5% (6.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (5.0% Y/Y)
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 350K
Continuing Claims 3.5M
Philly Fed 28.0
Empire Manufacturing 18.0
IP 0.6%
Capacity Utilization 75.6%
Friday Retail Sales -0.4%
-ex autos 0.4%
Michigan Sentiment 86.5

Source: Bloomberg

On the Fed front, the highlight will be Chairman Powell testifying before the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday, with only a few other speakers slated for the week.

At this point, the market question is; will the dollar rally that has been quite impressive for the past weeks, albeit halted on Friday, continue, or have we seen the top?  Given the breakdown in the treasury yield – dollar relationship, my gut tells me the dollar has a bit further to go.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Covid’s Resurgence

Covid’s resurgence Has begun to detract from Asia’s second spring

It seems the global economic rebound is starting to falter.  At least, that is what one might conclude from the run of data we are seeing from virtually every nation, as well as the signals we are starting to get from the global central banking community.  For instance, on the data front, this morning’s UK numbers showed that growth, while still quite positive, is not quite living up to expectations.  May’s GDP reading was 0.8%, a very good number (it would annualize to nearly 10% GDP growth) but far below analysts forecasts of 1.5%.  Similarly, IP also printed at 0.8%, again well above last month’s data but falling far short of the 1.4% expectations.  The point is that economists’ views of the reopening burst seem to have been a bit overexuberant.  The UK is hardly alone in this situation with Italy also showing disappointing IP data for May (-1.5% vs. +0.3% expected).  And we saw the same thing from both Germany and France earlier this month.  In a nutshell, it appears that the European economy, while certainly growing more robustly than Q1, may well have seen its best days.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the delta variant of Covid-19 has become a much larger problem, with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand particularly hard hit.  You have probably heard that the Olympics will be spectatorless this year in Tokyo as the Suga government has implemented yet another emergency lockdown order that is not due to expire until the end of August.  In South Korea, infections are rising as well and the government has increased curbs on gatherings of more than 5 people, while Thailand has once again closed ‘non-essential’ businesses to prevent the spread of the disease.  Vaccination rates throughout Asia have been much lower than elsewhere, with most of Europe and the US having seen between 40% and 50% of the population vaccinated while Asian countries are in the 5% – 10% range.  The issue is that while the virus continues to spread, economic activity will continue to be impaired and that means that markets in those economies are going to feel the pain, as likely will their currencies.

Of course, the US has not been immune from this run of disappointing data as virtually every reading in the past month has failed to meet expectations.  Two broader indicators of this slowdown are the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow number, which is currently at 7.78%, obviously a strong number, but down from 13.71% two month’s ago.  As well, the Citi Economic Surprise index has fallen from 270 a year ago to essentially 0.0 today.  This measures actual data vs. median expectations and is indicative of the fact that data continues to miss its targets in the US as well as throughout the rest of the world.

Arguably, it is this downturn in economic activity that has been the key driving force in the bond market’s remarkable rally for the past two months, although this morning, it appears that some profit taking is underway as Treasury yields have backed up 4.8bps.  Keep in mind, though, that yields had fallen more than 25bps at their lowest yesterday in just the past two weeks, so a reprieve is no real surprise.  

The question at hand has become, is this just a pause in activity, or have we already seen the peak and now that fiscal stimulus is behind us, growth is going to revert to its pre-pandemic trend, or worse?  My sense is the latter is more likely and given the extraordinary amount of debt that was issued during the past year, the growth trend is likely to be even worse than before the pandemic.  However, slowing growth is not necessarily going to be the death knell for inflation by any means.  Lack of investment and shortages of key inputs will continue to pressure prices higher, as will the demand from consumers who remain flush with cash.  The worst possible outcome, stagflation, remains entirely realistic as an outcome.

And on that cheery note, let’s survey markets quickly.  While yesterday was a clear risk-off session, this morning it is just the opposite, with equity markets rebounding and bonds under some pressure.  While the Nikkei (-0.6%) failed to rebound, we did see the Hang Seng (+0.7%) pick up some while Shanghai (0.0%) was flat.  The big news in China was the PBOC reduced the RRR for banks by 0.5%, to be implemented next week.  Remember, the Chinese continue to try to fight the blowing up of bubbles in markets, both financial and real estate, but are looking for ways to loosen policy.  Remember, too, that inflation in China remains quite high, at least at the factory gate, with PPI released last night at 8.8% Y/Y.  This reading was exactly as forecast and a touch lower than last month’s reading.  But it is still 8.8%!  If this starts to trend lower over the coming months, that will be a strong signal regarding global inflationary concerns, but we will have to wait to see.

European markets, though, are uniformly stronger, led by the CAC (+1.75%) although the DAX (+0.9%) and FTSE 100 (+0.7%) are both doing well this morning despite the weaker data.  It appears that investors remain comforted by the ECB’s continued commitment to supporting the economy and their commitment to not withdraw that support if inflation readings start to tick higher.  As to US futures, while the NASDAQ is unchanged at this hour, both SPX and DOW futures are higher by around 0.5%.

It is not only Treasuries that are selling off, but we are seeing weakness in Gilts (+3.8bps), Bunds (+1.1bps) and OATs +0.5bps) as well.  After all, every bond market rallied over the past weeks, so profit-taking is widespread.

On the commodity front, oil continues to trade in a hugely volatile manner, currently higher by 1.15% after rebounding more than 3% from its lows yesterday.  Base metals are also moving higher (Cu +1.7%, Al +0.6%, Sn +0.1%) although gold (-0.2%) continues to range trade around the $1800/oz level.

As to currencies, the picture is mixed with commodity currencies strong this morning alongside the commodity rally (NOK +0.8%, AUD +0.55%, NZD +0.3%) while the yen (-0.3%) is giving up some of yesterday’s haven related gains.  EMG currencies are behaving in a similar manner with RUB (+0.75%), ZAR (+0.6%) and MXN (+0.3%) all benefitting from higher commodity prices.  However, we are also seeing HUF (+0.85%) rise sharply as inflation surprised to the high side at 5.3% Y/Y and encouraged traders to bet on tighter monetary policy given its resurgence.  On the downside, the Asian bloc suffered the most (PHP -0.4%, THB -0.4%, KRW -0.3%) as traders sold on the negative Covid news.

There is no data today nor any Fed speakers.  That means that FX markets will be looking to equities and bonds for it’s cues, with equity markets seeming to have the stronger relationship right now.  The bond/dollar correlation seems to have broken down lately.    While the dollar is soft at this time, I see no reason for a major sell-off in any way.  As it is a summer Friday, I would look for a relatively quiet session with a drift lower in the dollar as long as risk assets perform well.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

T’won’t be a Disaster

The Minutes explained that the Fed

Continues, when looking ahead

To brush off inflation

And seek job creation

Though prices keep rising instead

Meanwhile, there’s a new policy





That came from Lagarde’s ECB

T’won’t be a disaster

If prices rise faster

So, nothing will stop more QE

There is no little irony in the fact that the one-two punch of the Fed and ECB reconfirming that ‘lower for longer’ remains the driving force behind central bank policy has resulted in a pretty solid risk-off session this morning.  After all, I thought ‘lower for longer’ was the driver of ongoing risk appetite.

However, that is the case, as yesterday the FOMC Minutes essentially confirmed that while there are two camps in the committee, the one that matters (Powell, Clarida, Williams and Brainerd) remain extremely dovish.  Inflation concerns are non-existent as the transitory story remains their default option, and although several members expressed they thought rates may need to rise sooner than their previous expectations, a larger group remains convinced that current policy is appropriate and necessary for them to achieve their goals of average 2% inflation and maximum employment.  Remember, they have yet to achieve the undefined ‘substantial further progress’ on the jobs front.  Funnily enough, it seems that despite 10 years of undershooting their inflation target, there are several members who believe that the past 3 months of overshooting has evened things out!  Ultimately, my take on the Minutes was that the market’s initial reaction to the meeting 3 weeks ago was misguided.  There is no hawkish tilt and QE remains the norm.  In fact, if you consider how recent data releases have pretty consistently disappointed vs. expectations, a case can be made that we have seen peak GDP growth and that we are rapidly heading back toward the recent trend levels or lower.  In that event, increased QE is more likely than tapering.

As to the ECB, the long-awaited results of their policy review will be released this morning and Madame Lagarde will regale us with her explanations of why they are adjusting policies.  It appears the first thing is a change in their inflation target to 2.0% from ‘below, but close to, 2.0%’.  In addition, they are to make clear that an overshoot of their target is not necessarily seen as a problem if it remains a short-term phenomenon.  Given that last month’s 2.0% reading was the first time they have achieved that milestone in nearly 3 years, there is certainly no indication that the ECB will be backing off their QE programs either.  As of June, the ECB balance sheet, at €7.9 trillion, has risen to 67.7% of Eurozone GDP.  This is far higher than the Fed’s 37.0% although well behind the BOJ’s 131.6% level.  Perhaps the ECB has the BOJ’s ratio in mind as a target!

Adding up the new policy information results in a situation where…nothing has changed.  Easy money remains the default option and, if anything, we are merely likely to hear that as central banks begin to try to tackle issues far outside their purview and capabilities (climate change and diversity to name but two) there is no end in sight for the current policy mix. [This is not to say that those issues are unimportant, just that central banks do not have the tools to address them.]

But here we are this morning, after the two major central bank players have reiterated their stance that no policy changes are imminent, or if anything, that current ultra-easy monetary policy is here to stay, and risk is getting tossed aside aggressively.

For instance, equity markets around the world have been under significant pressure.  Last night saw the Nikkei (-0.9%), Hang Seng (-2.9%) and Shanghai (-0.8%) all fall pretty substantially.  While the Japanese story appears linked to the latest government lockdowns imposed, the other two markets seem to be suffering from some of the recent actions by the PBOC and CCP, where they are cracking down on international equity listings as well as the ongoing crackdown on freedom in HK.  European bourses are uniformly awful this morning with the DAX (-1.7%) actually the best performer as we see the CAC (-2.25%) and FTSE 100 (-1.9%) sinking even further.  Even worse off are Italy (-2.7%) and Spain (-2.6%) as investors have weighed the new information and seemingly decided that all is not right with the world.  As there has been no new data to drive markets, this morning appears to be a negative vote on the Fed and ECB.  Just to be clear, US futures are down uniformly by 1.4% at this hour, so the risk-off attitude is global.

Turning to the bond market, it should be no surprise that with risk being jettisoned, bonds are in high demand.  Treasury yields have fallen 6.5bps this morning, taking the move since Friday to 21bps with the 10-year now yielding 1.25%, its lowest level since February.  Is this really a vote for transitory inflation?  Or is this a vote for assets with some perceived safety? My money is on the latter.  European sovereigns are also rallying with Bunds (-4.1bps), OATs (-2.7bps) and Gilts (-4.8bps) all putting in strong performances.  The laggards here this morning are the PIGS, where yields are barely changed.

In the commodity space, yesterday saw a massive reversal in oil prices, with the early morning 2% rally completely undone and WTI finishing lower by 1.7% on the day (3.6% from the peak).  This morning, we are lower by a further 0.4% as commodity traders are feeling the risk-off feelings as well.  Base metals, too, are weak (Cu -1.75%, Al -0.3%, Sn -0.4%) but gold (+0.7%) is looking quite good as real yields tumble.

As to the dollar, in the G10 space, commodity currencies are falling sharply (NZD -0.75%, AUD -0.7%, CAD -0.6%, NOK -0.6%) while havens are rallying (CHF +0.9%, JPY +0.8%).  The euro (+0.45%) is firmer as well, which given the remarkable slide in USD yields seems long overdue.

Emerging market currencies are seeing similar behavior with the commodity bloc (MXN -0.75%, RUB -0.5%) sliding along with a number of APAC currencies (THB -0.65%, KRW -0.6%, MYR -0.5%).  It seems that Covid is making a serious resurgence in Asia and that has been reflected in these currencies.  On the plus side, the CE4 are all firmer this morning as they simply track the euro’s performance on the day.

On the data front, our last numbers for the week come from Initial (exp 350K) and Continuing (3.35M) Claims at 8:30 this morning.  Arguably, these numbers should be amongst the most important given the Fed’s focus on the job situation.  However, given the broad risk off sentiment so far, I expect sentiment will dominate any data.  There are no further Fed speakers scheduled this week, which means that the FX markets are likely to take their cues from equities and bonds.  Perhaps the correlation between yields and the dollar will start to reassert itself, which means if the bond market rally continues, the dollar has further to decline, at least against more haven type currencies.  But if risk continues to be anathema to investors, I expect the EMG bloc to suffer more than the dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Likely to Fade

The bond market’s making it clear

Inflation, while higher this year,

Is likely to fade

Just like Jay portrayed

While bottlenecks soon disappear





The data though’s yet to support

Inflation’s rise will be cut short

Perhaps CPI

Next week will supply

The data the Fed does purport

For the past month, virtually every price indicator in the G20 has printed higher than forecast, which continues a multi-month trend and has been a key support of the inflationist camp.  After all, if the actual inflation readings continue to rise more rapidly than econometric models indicate, it certainly raises the question if there is something more substantial behind the activity.  At the same time, there has been a corresponding increase of commentary by key central bank heads that, dammit, inflation is transitory!  Both sides of this debate have been able to point to pieces of data to claim that they have the true insight, but the reality is neither side really knows.  This fact is made clear by the story-telling that accompanies all the pronouncements.  For instance, the transitory camp assures us that supply-chain bottlenecks will soon be resolved as companies increase their capacities, and so price pressures will abate.  But building new plant and equipment takes time, sometimes years, so those bottlenecks may be with us for many months.  Meanwhile, the persistent camp highlights the idea that the continued rise in commodity prices will see input costs trend higher with price rises ensuing.  But we have already seen a significant retreat from the absolute peaks, and it is not clear that a resumption of the trend is in the offing.  The problem with both these stories is either outcome is possible so both sides are simply talking their books.

While I remain clearly in the persistent camp, my take is more on the psychological effects of the recent rise in so many prices.  After all, even the Fed is focused on inflation expectations.  So, considering that recency bias remains a strongly inbred human condition, and that prices have risen recently, there is no question many people are expecting prices to continue to rise.  At the same time, one argument that had been consistently made during the pre-pandemic days was that companies could not afford to raise prices due to competition as they were afraid of losing business.  But now, thanks to multiple rounds of stimulus checks, the population, as a whole, is flush with cash.  As evidenced by the fact that so many companies have already raised prices during the past year and continue to sell their wares, it would appear that the fear of losing business over higher prices has greatly diminished.

And yet…the bond market has accepted the transitory story as gospel.  This was made clear yesterday when both Treasury and Gilt yields tumbled 8 basis points while Bund and OAT yields fell 6bps.  That is not the behavior of a bond market that is worried about runaway inflation.  

So, which is it?  That, of course, is the $64 trillion question, and one for which nobody yet has the answer.  What we can do, though, is try to determine how markets may move in either circumstance.

If inflation is truly transitory it would seem that we can look forward to a continued bull flattening of yield curves with the level of rates falling alongside the slope of the yield curve.  Commodity prices will arguably have peaked as new production comes online and equity markets will benefit significantly from lower interest rates alongside steady growth.  As to the dollar, it seems unlikely to change dramatically as lower yields alongside lower inflation means real yields will be stable.

On the other hand, if prices rise persistently for the next quarters (or years), financial markets are likely to respond very differently.  At some point the bond market will become uncomfortable with the situation and yields will start to rise more sharply amid a steeper yield curve as the Fed will almost certainly remain well behind the curve and continue to suppress the front end.  Commodity prices will have resumed their uptrend as they will be a key driver in the entire inflationary story.  Energy, especially, will matter as virtually every other product requires energy to be created, so higher energy prices will feed into the economy at large.  Equity markets may find themselves in a more difficult situation, especially the high growth names that are akin to very long duration bonds, although certain sectors (utilities, staples, REITs) are likely to hold their own.  And the dollar?  If, as supposed, the Fed remains behind the curve, the dollar will suffer significantly, as real yields will decline sharply.  This will be more evident if we continue to see policy tightening from the group of countries that have already begun that process.

In the end, though, we are all just speculating with no inside knowledge of the eventual outcome.  It is for this reason that hedging is so important.  Well designed hedge strategies help moderate the outcome regardless of the eventual results, and that is a worthy goal in itself. Hedging can reduce earnings/cash flow volatility.

Onward to today’s markets.  Starting with bonds, after yesterday’s huge rally, we continue to see demand as, though Treasury yields are unchanged, European sovereign yields have fallen by between 0.3bps (Gilts) and 1.5bps (Bunds), with the rest of the major nations somewhere in between.

Equity markets have been more mixed but are turning higher.  Last night saw the Nikkei (-1.0%) and Hang Seng (-0.4%) follow the bulk of the US market lower, but Shanghai (+0.7%) responded positively to news that the PBOC may soon be considering cutting rates to support what is a clearly weakening growth impulse in China.  (Caixin PMI fell to 50.3 in Services and 51.3 in Manufacturing, both far lower than expected in June.)  European markets have been in better stead with the DAX (+0.9%) leading the way and FTSE 100 (+0.5%) putting in a solid performance although the CAC (+0.1%) is really not doing much.  The big news here was the European Commission publishing their latest forecasts for higher growth this year and next as well as slightly higher inflation.  Finally, US futures markets are all pointing higher with the NASDAQ (+0.5%) continuing to lead the way.

Commodity prices are definitely higher this morning with oil (+1.5%) a key driver, but metals (Au +0.6%, Ag +1.0%, Cu +2.0% and Al +0.3%) all finding strong bids.  Agricultural products are also bid this morning and there is more than one analyst who is claiming we have seen the bottom in the commodity correction with higher prices in our future.

As to the dollar, it is somewhat mixed, but arguably, modestly weaker on the day.  In the G10, NZD (+0.4%), NOK (+0.3%) and AUD (+0.3%) are the leaders with all three benefitting from the broad-based commodity rally.  SEK (-0.25%) is the laggard as renewed discussion of moderating inflation pressures has investors assuming the Riksbank will be late to the tightening party thus leaving the krona relatively unattractive.

In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+0.5%), MXN (+0.35%) and RUB (+0.25%) are the leading gainers, with all three obviously benefitting from the commodity story this morning.  CNY (+0.25%) has also gained after investor inflows into the Chinese bond market supported the renminbi.  On the downside, KRW (-0.7%) and PHP (-0.6%) fell the most although the bulk of those moves came in yesterday’s NY session as the dollar rallied across the board and these currencies gapped lower on the opening and remained there.  Away from these, though, activity has been less impressive with few stories to drive things.

Two pieces of data today are the JOLTS Job Openings (exp 9.325M) and the FOMC Minutes this afternoon.  The former will simply serve to highlight the mismatch in skills that exists in the US as well as the fact that current policy with enhanced unemployment insurance has kept many potential workers on the sidelines.  As to the Minutes, people will be focused on any taper discussion as well as the conversation on interest rates and why views about rates changed so much during the quarter.

Our lone Fed speaker of the week, Atlanta Fed President Bostic, will be on the tape at 3:30 this afternoon.  To date, he has been in the tapering sooner camp, so I would expect that will remain the situation.  

Yesterday’s dollar rally was quite surprising given the decline in both nominal and real yields in the US.  However, it has hardly given back any ground.  At its peak in early April, the dollar index traded up to 93.4 and the euro fell to 1.1704.  We would need to break through those levels to convince of a sustained move higher in the dollar.  In the meantime, I expect that the odds are the dollar can cede some of its recent gains.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf