No Delay

Investors have not yet digested
The truth of what Jay has suggested
There’ll be no delay
QT’s on the way
(Unless the Dow Jones is molested)

Given the change in tone from the Fed and a number of other central banks, where suddenly hawkishness is in vogue, the fact that risky assets (read stocks) have only given back a small proportion of their year-long gains is actually quite remarkable.  The implication is that equity investors are completely comfortable with the transition to positive real interest rates and that valuations at current nosebleed levels are appropriate.  The problem with this thesis is that one of the key arguments made by equity bulls during the past two years has been that negative real interest rates are a crucial support to the market, and as long as they remain in place, then stocks should only go higher.

But consider how high the Fed will have to raise interest rates to get back to real ZIRP, let alone positive real rates.  If CPI remains at its current level of 6.8% (the December data is to be released on Wednesday and is expected to print at 7.0%), that implies twenty-seven 0.25% rate hikes going forward!  That’s more than four years of rate rises assuming they act at every meeting.  Ask yourself how the equity market will perform during a four-year rate hiking cycle.  My take is there would be at least a few hiccups along the way, and some probably pretty large.  Consider, too, that looking at the Fed funds futures curve, the implied Fed funds rate in January 2026 is a shade under 2.0%.  In other words, despite the fact that we saw some pretty sharp movement across the interest rate markets last week, with 10-year yields rising 25 basis points and 2-year yields rising 13 basis points, those moves would just be the beginning if there was truly belief that the Fed was going to address inflation.

Rather, the evidence at this stage indicates that the market does not believe the Fed’s tough talk, at least not that they will do “whatever it takes” to address rising inflation.  Instead, market pricing indicates that the Fed will try to show they mean business but have no appetite to allow the equity market to decline any substantial amount.  If (when) stocks do start to fall, the current belief is the Fed will come to the rescue and halt any tightening in its tracks.  As I have written previously, Powell and his committee are caught in a trap of their own design, and will need to make a decision to either allow inflation to keep running hot to try to prevent an equity meltdown, or take a real stand on inflation and let the (blue) chips fall where they may.  The similarities between Jay Powell and Paul Volcker, the last Fed chair willing to take the latter stand, stop at the fact neither man had an economics PhD.  But Jay Powell is no Paul Volcker, and it seems incredibly unlikely that he will have the fortitude to continue the inflation fight in the face of sharply declining asset markets.

What does this mean for markets going forward?  As we remain in the early stages (after all, the Fed is still executing QE purchases, albeit fewer than they had been doing previously) tough talk and modest policy changes are likely to continue for now.  Equity markets are likely to continue their performance from the year’s first week and continue to slide, and I would expect that bond markets will remain under pressure as well.  And with the Fed leading the way vis-à-vis the ECB and BOJ, I expect the dollar should continue to perform fairly well against those currencies.

However, there will come a point when investors begin to grow wary of the short- and medium-term outlooks for risk assets amid a rising rate environment.  This will be highlighted by the fact that inflation will remain well above the interest rate levels, and in order to contain the psychology of inflation, the Fed will need to continue its tough talk.  Already, when looking at the S&P 500, despite being just 3% below its all-time highs, more that 50% of its components are trading below their 50-day moving averages (i.e. are in a down-trend) which tells you just how crucial the FAANG stocks are.  And none of those mega cap stocks will benefit from higher interest rates.  In the end, there is significant room for equity (and all risk asset) declines if the Fed toes the tightening line.

Looking at markets this morning shows that no new decisions have been taken as both equity and bond markets are little changed since Friday.  Perhaps investors are awaiting Wednesday’s CPI data to determine the likely path going forward.  Or perhaps they are awaiting the comments from both Powell and Brainerd, both of whom will be facing the Senate this week for confirmation hearings for their new terms.  However, we do continue to hear hawkish comments with Richmond Fed President Barkin explaining that a March rate hike would suit him, and ex-Fed member Bill Dudley explaining that there is MUCH more work to be done raising rates.

So, after Friday’s late sell-off in the US, equities in Asia rebounded a bit (Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +0.4%, Nikkei closed) although European bourses are all modestly in the red (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.1%). US futures are also turning red with NASDAQ futures (-0.35%) leading the way down.

Meanwhile, bond markets are mixed this morning with Treasury yields edging higher by just 0.4bps as I type, albeit remaining at its highest levels since before the pandemic, while we are seeing modest yield declines in Europe (Bunds -1.0bps, OATS -1.5bps, Gilts -0.3bps).  The biggest mover though are Italian BTPs (-5.3bps) as they retrace some of their past two-week underperformance.

On the commodity front, oil (-0.2%) has edged back down a few cents although remains much closer to recent highs than lows, while NatGas (+4.4%) has jumped on the back of much colder weather forecasts in the US Northeast and Midwest areas.  Gold (+0.3%) continues to trade either side of $1800/oz, although copper (-0.2%) is under a bit of pressure this morning.

As to the dollar, it is mixed today with SEK (-0.4%), CHF (-0.35%) and EUR (-0.3%) all under pressure while JPY (+0.25%) is showing its haven bona fides.  This definitely feels like a risk move as there was virtually no data or commentary out overnight.  In the EMG space, RUB (+0.9%) is the leading gainer as traders continue to look for further tightening by the central bank despite the fact that real rates there are actually back to positive already.  INR (+0.35%) and IDR (+0.35%) also gained with the rupee benefitting from equity market inflows while the rupiah responded to word that the government would soon lift the coal export ban.  On the downside, the CE4 are in the worst shape, but those are merely following the euro’s decline.

There is a decent amount of data coming up this week as follows:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 98.5
Wednesday CPI 0.4% (7.0% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (5.4% Y/Y)
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 200K
Continuing Claims 1760K
PPI 0.4% (9.8% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (8.0% Y/Y)
Friday Retail Sales -0.1%
-ex autos 0.2%
IP 0.2%
Capacity Utilization 77.0%
Michigan Sentiment 70.0

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to the data, we hear from seven Fed speakers and have the nomination hearings for Powell (Tuesday) and Brainerd (Thursday), so plenty of opportunity for more hawk-talk.

For now, I continue to like the dollar for as long as the Fed maintains the hawkish vibe.  However, I also expect that if risk assets start to really underperform, that talk will soften in a hurry.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Wrong Turn

In Europe, the reading today
For CPI led to dismay
With prices still rising
Lagarde’s now revising
The timing for QE’s decay

Then later this morning we’ll learn
If Jay has a cause for concern
Should payrolls be strong
It will not be long
Til stock markets take a “wrong” turn

There seem to be three stories of note today with varying impacts on market behavior, and in the end, they are all loosely tied together.  Starting in Europe, CPI printed at a higher than forecast 5.0% in December, rising to a historic high for the Eurozone as currently constituted.  While energy prices were the largest driver of the data, even excluding those, CPI rose 2.6%, well above the current ECB target.  Given the series of remarkable energy policy blunders that have been made by the Europeans, one has to believe that it will be many more months before energy inflation has any chance of abating.  And as long as the continent remains reliant on Russia for its natural gas supplies, it will almost certainly be held hostage across other issues.  Remember, too, the more money spent on energy, where those funds leave the continent as they don’t really produce much of their own, the less money available for things like manufacturing and consumption of other goods.

The problem for the ECB is that the specter of slowing growth conflicts with their alleged desire to reduce QE and allow policy to “normalize”.  As we see in virtually every nation, the tension between addressing inflation and stifling growth is the crux of central bank decision making.  Madame Lagarde finds herself between the proverbial rock and hard place here.  As things currently stand, I fear the Eurozone is going to find itself in a position dangerously close to stagflation as the year progresses.  Do not be surprised if there are some major electoral changes this year.  PS, none of this is actually very good for the single currency, so keep that in mind as well.  While it has seemed to have stabilized over the past two months, another leg lower feels like it is still on the cards.  What Will Christine Do? History shows that central banks almost always err on the side of higher inflation, so do not be surprised if that is the case here as well.

Turning to the States, it is payroll day with the following forecasts:

Nonfarm Payrolls 447K
Private Payrolls 405K
Manufacturing Payrolls 35K
Unemployment Rate 4.1%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.9%

Source: Bloomberg

With the market and investors still absorbing what seemed to be an even more hawkish set of FOMC Minutes than anticipated, where they extensively discussed QT, this has all the trademarks of a ‘good news is bad’ set-up, such that a strong print (>600K) will result in a bond and stock market sell-off as investors flee duration assets.  Remember, too, the ADP number printed at 807K, nearly double expectations and the highest since May21.  Since that release, forecasts have risen by about 50K and whispers even more.  The point is that if US data really starts to show significantly more strength, expectations are going to grow for more rate hikes this year as well as a quicker pace of allowing the balance sheet to shrink.  And that, my friends, will not be a good look for risky assets.

There once was a firm, Evergrande
In China, that bought tons of land
In order to build
Apartment blocks filled
With people, but now must disband

The problem for China is they
Explained, when this firm went astray
Twas under control
And they would cajole
Investors, their sales, to delay

Finally, before we move on to today’s markets, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a change of tone from China overnight, one that was not officially announced but is true nonetheless.  You may remember back in September when we first heard about China Evergrande and the fact that the second largest property developer in that country, and the most indebted, was having trouble repaying its loans.  Initially there was talk by the doomsayers that this was China’s Lehman moment, and everything would unravel quickly.  Of course, that did not happen, although what we have seen since is a slower unraveling of that company and many others in the sector.  It turns out that when your business model is premised on borrowing excessive amounts of money to build apartment blocks in ghost cities, there could be problems down the line.

At any rate, the PBOC was adamant that everything was under control and that, anyway, China Evergrande’s borrowings weren’t that big compared to China’s GDP.  (That always sounded an awful lot like Bernanke’s comments regarding subprime mortgages.)  More recently, the PBOC imposed three ‘red lines’ regarding the ability of property developers to borrow money as they were really trying to squeeze the speculation out of the property market, but without causing the bubble to actually burst, simply deflate.  These rules, though, meant that Evergrande, and the other very weak companies in the space, suddenly had no source of funding.  Well, last night it was discovered that the PBOC has actually instructed banks to lend to property companies more aggressively.  Apparently the PBOC’s red lines have as much value as Qaddafi’s or Obama’s, in other words, none.  It can be no surprise that the PBOC has reversed course given the potential problems that exist in the Chinese property sector.  Just beware as things there remain opaque and in flux, although I doubt the renminbi is set to move dramatically soon.

Ok, quickly, after yesterday’s US equity fizzle, where markets slid slightly, Asia was mostly the same although the Hang Seng (+1.8%) did manage to rally sharply after it became clear Evergrande would get more funding.  Europe has done essentially nothing, despite a generally weak mix of data (German IP -0.2%, French IP -0.4%) as investors seem to be waiting for the payroll number to assess the Fed’s actions.  US futures are little changed at this hour as well.

We are seeing similar lack of activity in the bond market as here, too, investors await the payroll numbers.  Yesterday saw essentially no change in the 10-year Treasury yield although shorter maturity bonds did see yields rise a couple of ticks as the market continues to look for rate hikes sooner rather than later.  Europe is also biding its time to see what comes from NFP, with no major markets having moved even 1 basis point from yesterday’s levels.

Oil prices continue to rise (+0.75%) with WTI now above $80/bbl for the first time in two months.  But we are seeing strength throughout this space with NatGas (+1.4%) and Uranium (+3.5%) showing all energy is bid.  In fairness, the Uranium story is squarely on the back of the uprising in Kazakhastan where some 40% of global uranium is mined.)  On the metals front, both precious (Au +0.2%, Ag +0.2%) and base (Cu +0.3%, Al +0.5%, Zn +2.7%) are all in favor with only agricultural prices under pressure today.

As to the dollar, it is somewhat softer but not universally so.  SEK (+0.4%) and NOK (+0.3%) are the leading gainers in the G10 with oil helping the latter while the former continues to benefit from perceptions of still strong economic activity despite the latest wave of omicron.  However, other than these, movement is 0.1% or less in either direction, signifying absolutely nothing.  EMG currencies, though, have definitely seen more strength with ZAR (+0.7%), RUB (+0.7%) and CLP (+0.5%) all responding positively to the commodity rally.

And that is really it for the day.  My take on the NFP data is that good news (i.e. a strong print) will be a negative for risk assets as estimates will be that the Fed needs to move that much quicker to alleviate the inflation pressures.  That means a classic risk-off scenario of stronger dollar, stronger yen and weaker equities.  Bonds, however, are likely to see curve flattening more than higher rates, as the front end will be sold aggressively while the back lags appreciably.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Somewhat Bizarre

Apparently, no one expected
The Fed, when they last met, detected
Their actions thus far
Were somewhat bizarre
And so, a new stance was erected

Not only would they halt QE
But also, a shrinkage they see
In balance sheet sizing
So, it’s not surprising
The bond market filled bears with glee

“…it may become warranted to increase the federal funds rate sooner or at a faster pace than participants had earlier anticipated.”
“… participants judged that the appropriate timing of balance sheet runoff would likely be closer to that of policy rate liftoff than in the Committee’s previous experience.”
“Many participants judged that the appropriate pace of balance sheet runoff would likely be faster than it was during the previous normalization episode.”

These were the words from the FOMC Minutes of the December meeting that roiled markets yesterday afternoon.  Arguably there were more as well, but these give the gist of the issue.  Suddenly, the Fed sounds so much more serious about their willingness to not only taper QE quickly, and not only begin to raise the Fed Funds rate, but also to actually shrink their balance sheet.  If the Fed does follow through on this, and finishes QE by March, starts raising the Fed Funds rate and also begins to reduce the size of the balance sheet, then you can expect that the global risk appetite is going to be pretty significantly reduced.  In fact, I would contend it is the last of these steps that is going to undermine risk assets, as balance sheet reduction will likely result in higher long-term bond yields and less liquidity available to flow into risky assets.  As I have highlighted in the past, in 2018, the last time the Fed was both raising interest rates and shrinking the balance sheet, the resulting 20% equity market decline proved too much to withstand.  Are they made of sterner stuff this time?

One other thing to note was that while omicron was mentioned in the Minutes, it was clearly not seen as a major impediment to economic growth in the economy.   The fact that, at least in the US, there doesn’t appear to be any appetite/willingness for complete lockdowns implies that the nation is beginning to move beyond the pandemic fear to a more relaxed attitude on the issue.  Granted there are still several city and state governments that are unwilling to live and let live, but for the nation writ large, that does not seem to be the case.  From an economic perspective, this means less demand interruptions but also, likely, less supply interruptions.  The inflationary impact on this change in attitude remains uncertain, but the underlying inflationary trends remain quite strong, especially housing.  Do not be surprised to see CPI and PCE peak in Q1, but also do not be looking for a return to 2.0% levels anytime soon, that is just not in the cards.

And really, that was the driving force in yesterday’s market activity and is likely to be the key feature going forward for a while.  We will certainly need to pay close attention to Fed comments to try to gauge just how quickly these changes will be coming, and we will need to pay attention to the data to insure that nothing has changed in the collective view of a strong employment situation, but in the US, at least, this is the story.

The question now is how did other markets respond to the Minutes and what might we expect there?  Looking at equities, the picture was not pretty.  Following the release, US equity markets sold off sharply with the NASDAQ falling 3.3% on the day and both the Dow (-1.1%) and S&P500 (-1.9%) also suffering.  Activity in Asia was also broadly weaker with the Nikkei (-2.9%) and Australia’s ASX (-2.75%) both sharply lower although Chinese stocks were less impacted (Hang Seng +0.7%, Shanghai -0.25%).  The story there continues to revolve around the property sector and tech crackdowns, but recall, both of those markets had been massively underperforming prior to this Fed news.  As to Europe this morning, red is the color of the day (DAX -1.0%, CAC -1.2%, FTSE 100 -0.5%) as the data mix showed continued high inflation in Germany with every Lander having reported thus far printing above 5.1%.  As to US futures, they are not buying the bounce just yet in the NASDAQ (-0.5%), but the other two indices are faring a bit better, essentially unchanged on the day.

It can be no surprise that the bond market is under further pressure this morning as the Fed has clearly indicated they are biased to not only stop new purchases but allow old ones to mature and not be replaced.  (There is no indication they are considering actually selling bonds from the portfolio.  That would be truly groundbreaking!)  At any rate, after the Minutes, yields jumped an additional 3bps and have risen another 2.8bps this morning.  This takes the move in 10-year yields to 23 basis points since the beginning of the week/year.  Technically, we are pushing very significant resistance levels in yields as these were the highs from last March.  If we do break higher, there is some room to run.  As well, the rise in Treasury yields is driving markets worldwide with European sovereigns all selling off (Bunds +3.5bps, OATs +4.2bps, Gilts +5.5bps) and similar price action in Asia, where even JGB’s (+2.0bps) saw yields rise. Real yields have risen here, although as we have not seen an inflation print in the US since last month, that is subject to change soon.

On the commodity front, the picture is mixed today with oil (+1.2%) higher while NatGas (-1.2%) continues to slide on milder weather.  Uranium (+3.9%) has responded to the fact that Kazakhastan is the largest producer and given the growing unrest in the country, concerns have grown about its ability to deliver on contracts.  With yields higher, gold (-0.6%) and silver (-2.2%) are both softer as are copper (-1.4%) and aluminum (-0.5%).  Clearly there are growing concerns that higher interest rates are going to undermine economic growth.

Finally, in the FX markets, the broader risk-off tone is manifesting itself as a generally stronger dollar (AUD -0.7%, NZD -0.6%, NOK -0.35%) with only the yen (+0.25%) showing strength in the G10.  In the EMG bloc, the picture is a bit more mixed with laggards (THB -0.9%, CLP -0.7%, MYR -0.5%) and some gainers (ZAR +0.8%, RUB +0.7%, HUF +0.5%).  Rand is the confusing one here as the ruble is clearly benefitting from oil’s rise and the forint from bets on even more aggressive monetary policy.  However, I can find no clear rationale for the rand’s strength though I will keep looking.  On the downside, THB is suffering from an increase in the lockdown levels while MYR appears to be entirely dollar driven (higher US rates driving dollar demand) while the peso seems to be suffering from concerns over fiscal changes regarding the pension system.

On the data front, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 195K), Continuing Claims (1680K) and the Trade Balance (-$81.0B) at 8:30 then ISM Services (67.0) and Factory Orders (1.5%, 1.1% ex transport) at 10:00.  But tomorrow’s payroll report is likely to have far more impact.  And the Fed calendar starts to fill out again with Daly and Bullard both on the slate for today and seven more speakers over the next week plus the Brainerd vice-chair hearings.

I’m a bit surprised the dollar isn’t stronger in the wake of the new Fed attitude, but perhaps that is a testimony to the fact there are many who still don’t believe they will follow through.  However, for now, I expect the dollar will continue to benefit from this thesis, albeit more gradually than previously believed, but if we do see risk appetite diminish sharply, look for a little less tightening enthusiasm from Mr Powell and friends, and that will change sentiment again.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

On the Brink

Most pundits worldwide seem to think
The Fed is now right on the brink
Of both raising rates
And having debates
On how soon the BS should shrink

And so, today’s Minutes are key
To see if the FOMC
Has made up its mind
That they’re now behind
The curve, and need hurry QT

I am old enough to remember the last time the Fed decided that they wanted to shrink their balance sheet and normalize policy, way back in 2018.  As I recall, when first mooted, then Fed Chair Janet Yellen (she of Treasury Secretary fame) described the process of the gradual reduction as ‘like watching paint dry.’  Who knew drying paint was so exciting!  Of course, she couldn’t bring herself to even start the process.  Ultimately, the combination of slowly raising the Fed Funds rate and simultaneously reducing the size of the balance sheet (which all occurred on Powell’s watch) led to a declining stock market throughout Q4 2018 with the largest Christmas Eve sell-off ever seen in stocks as the culmination of the events.  Two days later, Chairman Powell explained he was just kidding, and tighter monetary policy was a thing of the past.

But that was then.  It’s different this time!

Actually, it’s not.  In fact, what we have learned from observing markets for many years is that it is never different.  While the catalysts may change, market responses remain pretty much the same time and again.  So, here we are three years later with the Fed’s balance sheet having more than doubled in the intervening period, equity markets having made 70 record highs in the past twelve months and the 10-year bond yielding half what it was back then. Inflation is raging, as opposed to the situation back then, and GDP, while higher than back then, has clearly peaked and is reversing some of the pandemic-induced policy giddiness.  But human nature is still the same.  Greed and fear remain the constants and investor and trader responses to policy decisions are pretty cut and dried.  You can be confident that if longer date interest rates rise, whether in a steepening or flattening yield curve, the rationale for the mega cap stocks to maintain their value is going to diminish quickly.  And as they are the ‘generals’ of the equity market rally, when they start to fall, so will everything else, including the indices.  Ask yourself how long the Fed, whose members are virtually all multi-millionaires and hold large equity portfolios, are going to sit by and allow the stock market to correct just because some Austrian school monetary hawks believe in sound money.  Exactly.

However, we have not yet reached the point where the markets have started to decline substantially, as, of course, the Fed has not yet started to even raise interest rates, let alone shrink the balance sheet.  But that is the growing consensus view amongst the punditry, that today’s FOMC Minutes from the December meeting are going to reveal the level of interest to begin that part of policy normalization.  Many analysts continue to highlight the fact that inflation is becoming such a problem that the Fed will be forced to stay the course this time.  I wish it were so, but strongly believe that history has shown they will not.  Rather, they will change the inflation calculations and continue to explain that the alternative is worse.

Yesterday, Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, the most dovish of all FOMC members, explained that he believes the Fed Funds rate needs to rise 0.50% this year as, “…inflation has been higher and more persistent than I had expected.”   It is comments such as this that have the analyst community convinced the Fed is really going to tighten this time.  But we have heard these before as well.  This is not to say that the Minutes won’t hint at QT, they very well could do so.  However, when the rubber meets the road and risk assets are falling sharply in price, the Fed will exhibit its underlying Blepharospasm, and tighter policy will be a thing of the past (as will a stronger dollar!)

Now, leading up to the Minutes, let’s take a look at what happened last night.  In the wake of a bit of equity market schizophrenia in the US, we have seen a mixed picture.  Yesterday saw the NASDAQ fall sharply (there’s that concern over higher rates) while the Dow managed to rally.  Overnight saw the Nikkei (+0.1%) bide its time but the Hang Seng (-1.6%) and Shangahi (-1.0%) both suffer on a combination of the ongoing property sector problems as well as more lockdowns in country.  Europe, on the other hand, has managed to stay in the green (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.2%) after PMI Services data was released a little bit softer than forecast, but still seen as quite positive.  In a way, this was a ‘bad news is good’ idea as softening growth means the ECB doesn’t need to respond to Europe’s very high inflation readings so dramatically.  Alas, US futures are flat except for NASDAQ futures, which are lower by -0.4%.

In the bond market, while yesterday saw an early sell off in Treasuries, it was mostly unwound by the end of the day and this morning yields are little changed at 1.645%.  As to Europe, yesterday also saw Gilt yields rally sharply, 12.5 bps, but they have consolidated today, falling 1bp while the rest of the continent has seen much less movement.  Clearly, there is far less concern over ECB activity than either Fed or BOE.

As to the commodity space, oil (+0.3%) is edging higher and NatGas (+2.3%) is firming on the cold weather in the Northeast.  (Of course, compared to what happened in Kazakhastan, where the government was kicked out by the president because of high energy prices, this seems rather tame!)  Metals prices are mixed with gold (+0.2%) still hanging around $1800, while copper (-0.6%) is clearly less enamored of the current economic situation.

Finally, the dollar is under modest pressure this morning, with SEK (+0.5%) the leading G10 gainer after printing the strongest PMI data around, while JPY (+0.4%) has simply rebounded from its very sharp decline yesterday, although it remains in a very clear downtrend for now.  the rest of the G10 is modestly firmer vs. the dollar at this hour, but nothing to write home about.

In the EMG space, ZAR (+0.9%) is the leader, also seeming to benefit on the back of last week’s liquidity induced decline and seeing a rebound.  We are also seeing strength in PHP (+0.7%) and CZK (+0.6%) with the latter benefitting from expectations for further rate hikes while the former benefitted from a much lower than expected CPI print of just 3.6%.  Meanwhile, on the downside, IDR (-0.4%) was the worst performer as the infection rate rose sharply and KRW (-0.25%) fell after North Korea launched another ballistic missile and rejected further talks with the US.

On the data front, ADP Employment (exp 410K) leads this morning and then the Minutes are released at 2:00pm.  Aside from the Minutes, there are no speakers scheduled, so the dollar will need to take its cues from other markets.  Keep an eye on the 10-year as a continued rally in yields should see further dollar strength.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Out of Place

The holiday season has passed
And this year the reigning forecast
Is for higher rates
Right here in the States
Thus, dollars will soon be amassed

But frequently, as is the case
Consensus is, here, out of place
Though some nations will
Raise rates, like Brazil
The Fed soon will turn about-face

Reading the many forecasts that are published this time of year, the consensus certainly appears to be that the Fed is going to continue to tighten policy and the only question is how soon they will begin raising interest rates; March, May or June?  The Fed narrative has evolved from there is no inflation, to inflation is transitory to inflation is persistent and we will address it with our tools.  But will they?  Since Paul Volcker retired as Fed Chair (1979-1987) we have had a steady run of people in that seat who like to talk tough, but when there is any hiccup in the market, are instantly prepared to add more liquidity to the system.  Starting with the Maestro himself, in the wake of the October 1987 stock market crash, to Bennie the Beard, the diminutive Ms Yellen and on up to today’s Chair Powell, history has shown that there is always a reason NOT to tighten policy because the consequences of doing so are worse than those of letting things run hotter.  Ultimately, I see no reason for this time to be any different than the past 35 years and expect that as interest rates begin to climb here, and equity markets reprice assumptions, the Fed will not be able to withstand the pain.

But for now, the higher US interest rate story remains front and center.  This was made clear yesterday when 10-year yields rallied 12 basis points in a thin session, trading back to levels last seen in November.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the dollar reversed its late year losses as well, rallying vs. almost all its counterparts with the yen (-0.7%) by far the worst performer in the G10.  It seems that the Japanese investor community has decided that a 155 basis point spread in the10-year, in an environment where expectations for a stronger dollar are rampant is a sufficient reason to sell yen and buy dollars.

And the truth is that given inflation is a global phenomenon these days, there are only a handful of nations where expectations don’t include higher interest rates.  For instance, Japan, though they have stopped QE are not even contemplating higher interest rates.  The ECB has indicated QE will be reduced to some extent (they claim cut in half, but I will believe that when I see it) but is certainly not considering higher interest rates.  Turkey is kind of a special case as President Erdogan continues to try his unorthodox inflation fighting methodology, but if the currency reprises the late 2021 collapse, which is entirely realistic, if not probable, that is subject to change.

However, there is one more nation of note that is almost certainly going to be working against the grain of higher interest rates this year, China.  President Xi has a growing list of economic problems that will result in further policy ease regardless of any inflationary consequences at this time.  The fundamental flaw is the Chinese property market, which has obviously been under severe pressure since the problems at China Evergrande came to light.  This is fundamental because it represents more than 30% of the Chinese economy and has been THE key reason that Chinese GDP has been growing as rapidly as it has over the past two decades.  With Evergrande and several (many?) other property developers going to the wall, the property sector is going to have a much slower growth trajectory, if it is positive at all, and that is going to drag on the entire economy.  After all, if they are not going to build ghost cities (Evergrande’s specialty), they don’t need as much concrete, steel, copper, etc., and the whole support framework that has been created for the industry will slow down as well.  The upshot is that the PBOC seems highly likely to continue to ease policy in various ways including RRR cuts, as well as reductions in interest rates.

On the surface, one would expect that to work against CNY strength and fit smoothly with the stronger dollar thesis.  However, the competing view is that President Xi is more focused on the long-term viability of the renminbi as a stable store of value and strong currency, and I expect that imperative will dominate this year and in the future.  Thus, while your textbooks would explain the renminbi should fall, I beg to differ this year.  We shall see as things evolve.

Ok, starting the year, there is clearly a solid risk appetite.  Yesterday saw strong gains in the US equity market which was followed by the Nikkei (+1.8%) last night, although Shanghai (-0.2%) and the Hang Seng (0.0%) failed to follow suit.  Europe (DAX +0.7%, CAC +1.4%, FTSE 100 +1.4%) are all bullish this morning as are US futures (+0.35% across the board).  Record Covid infections are clearly not seen as a problem anymore.

After yesterday’s dramatic sell-off in Treasuries, this morning yields there have consolidated and are essentially unchanged.  In Europe, though, there has been a mixed picture with Gilts (+8.3bps) following the US lead, while the continent (Bunds -1.5bps, OATs -2.5bps) are clearly more comfortable that interest rates have no reason to rise sharply there anytime soon.

In the commodity markets, oil (+0.3%) is continuing its run higher from last year and, quite frankly, shows no sign of stopping.  This is a simple supply demand imbalance with not nearly enough supply for ongoing demand.  NatGas (+1.8%) continues to trade well as cold weather in the NorthEast and much of Europe and a lack of Russian deliveries to the continent continue to demonstrate the supply demand imbalance there as well.  Gold (+0.25%) has bounced after getting roasted yesterday, although it spent the last weeks of the year grinding higher, so we remain around $1800/oz.  Industrial metals, though, are mixed with copper (-0.8%) under some pressure while aluminum (+1.4%) and zinc (+2.4%) are both having good days.

As to the dollar, aside from the yen’s sharp decline, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.15% or less, not enough to consider for a story rather than position adjustments at the beginning of the year.  In the EMG space, though, the dollar has had a bit more positivity with ZAR (-0.9%) and RUB (-0.8%) the worst performers (I need to ignore TRY given the insanity ongoing there).  In both cases, rapidly rising inflation continues to outpace the central bank efforts to rein it in and the currency is weakening accordingly.  In fact, that is largely what we are seeing throughout this bloc, with central banks throughout lagging the rise in prices.  In the EMG space, this trend has room to run.

On the data front, we get a decent amount of stuff this week, culminating in the payroll report:

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.0
ISM Prices Paid 79.3
JOLTS Job Openings 11,100K
Wednesday ADP Employment 420K
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 195K
Continuing Claims 1682K
Trade Balance -$81.0B
Factory Orders 1.5%
-ex transport 1.1%
ISM Services 67.0
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 424K
Private Payrolls 384K
Manufacturing Payrolls 35K
Unemployment Rate 4.1%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.9%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to the data, we start to hear from FOMC members again with Kashkari, Bullard, Daly and Bostic all on the calendar this week.  My impression is that investors and traders will be looking for hints as to the timing of rates liftoff.  But we are a long way from that happening yet.

For now, though, the narrative is clear, and a firmer dollar seems the most likely outcome in the near term.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Visit from Chair Jay

With Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Tis the first day of trading in Aught Twenty-Two
And everyone’s asking just what will come true
Will Jay and his brethren, the taper, complete?
Or when stocks start falling, will they beat retreat?
Will Omicron’s spread lead to waves of despair?
Or will people choose to live life and not care?
And what of stock markets, will their recent rise
Have legs? Or will problems lead to their demise?
To these and more questions I’ll try to respond
With forecasts for currencies, stocks and the bond

To start, let’s consider, with brush strokes quite broad
How policymakers’ decisions are flawed
Consider inflation and how it is tracked
To most it is real but to Jay, just abstract
This led to the idea of average inflation
A policy blunder condemned to damnation
So, late to the party, the Fed shall arrive
Thus, CPI next year will still be ‘bove Five

While interest rates then ought most certainly rise
Jay can’t let that happen, and so we surmise
Despite all the talk of the taper to come
By Christmas this year they’ll have grown QE’s sum
And so, ten-year yields, when this year’s finally done
Will print on your screen at percentage of One

And what about stocks after last year’s huge gains
Are more in the future?  Or will we feel pains?
Alas, what I fear is though real rates will sink
So too, GDP, will not grow, though not shrink
Instead, when the history’s written next year
A stagnant economy will bring no cheer
Thus, stocks will deflate, though I don’t think crash land
But don’t be surprised if we fall ‘neath Four Grand

Let’s turn now to things you can see and can feel
Commodities, which unlike stocks, are quite real
For oil the first thing to note is the lack
Of funding, which has caused a drilling cutback
The thing is demand has not fallen in sync
Thus, causing the policymakers to blink
And rather than forcing the drillers to freeze
Instead, are now begging, drill more pretty please
But in the meantime, ere those new wells are sunk
One Hundred per barrel is near a slam-dunk

The barbarous relic we also must view
As many believe it contains value, true
Though there’s now a camp that claims it’s been replaced
By Bitcoin and Ether and feel gold’s a waste
But whether a hodler or gold bug are you
Their trends will diverge throughout Aught Twenty-Two
In gold’s case there will be strong growth in demand
And at year’s end it will have flown ‘bove Two Grand
But Bitcoin has shown with stonks it’s correlated
As they fall, so too, will Bitcoin be deflated
Come Christmas next do not be very surprised
If Bitcoin, to $30K, has been revised

And finally, let ‘s turn to foreign exchange
Where this year I think we shall see quite a range
At first while belief remains Jay is a hawk
More strength in the dollar is likely a lock
But as things progress and the ‘conomy slows
Then Jay will be forced to adjust the Fed’s prose
From hawkish to dovish is what we will get
And H2 next year will, the dollar, beset

The euro, at first, will, new lows, likely test
But when it comes clear that QT’s not progressed
As well as the fact that Lagarde’s ECB
Has quietly lessened their rampant QE
Investors will find that when euros are sought
At year’s end, One-Thirty is where they’ll be bought

A similar story in England abounds
Where tightening money will strengthen their pounds
The Old Lady, sited on Threadneedle Street
Will not, on inflation, decide to retreat
Instead, rates will rise there four times through this year
And Sterling, One-Sixty, on screens will appear

From here let’s head east to the nation whose Wall
Was built in an effort, the Huns, to forestall
In modern times, though, their economy’s grown
With output that spans T-shirts to the iPhone
With exports remaining the key to success
A weaker renminbi will help reduce stress
The thing is the goal of the President, Xi
Is not really growth but a strong currency
The upshot is when this year comes to an end
Five-Ninety renminbi we’ll all comprehend

A bit further east lies a nation of isles
Which taught us that Zen leads to healthy lifestyles
This nation, despite lacking metals or oil
Grew rich on the sheer dint of well-designed toil
Its yen has developed a clear reputation
For safety since the GFC dislocation
So, this year when growth disappoints round the earth
One Hundred and Five yen the buck will be worth

Our eastward excursion is not yet complete
As Canada’s Loonie moves to the front seat
Up north they have already started the shift
From policy ease to a much tighter drift
Responding to prices that have been on fire
And trying to stop them from going still higher
Thus, don’t be surprised when the CAD follows rates
And reaches One-Ten come the year’s final dates

And lastly let’s make a right turn and head toward
The nation where all that tequila is poured
Already, Banxico is fighting the fight
To hold back inflation with all of its might
The problem for them is inflation’s a bear
And so hard to halt when it’s rampant elsewhere
So, this year despite all the central bank’s drive
To Twenty-Two look for the peso to dive.

Now let’s turn to something of greater import
How much I appreciate all your support
As we begin yet one more year in this game
There’s one thing I must very clearly exclaim
May Twenty-Two be a year of, tidings, glad
With happiness, health and no cause to be sad

Have a very happy and healthy Twenty Twenty-Two!

Walking the Walk

Two central banks managed to shock
The market by walking the walk
The Old Lady jacked
By fifteen, in fact
Banxico then doubled the talk

So, now that it’s all said and done
C bankers, a new tale have spun
The virus no longer
Is such a fearmonger
Inflation’s now job number one

Talk, as we all know, is cheap, but from the two largest central banks, that’s mostly what we got.  While Chairman Powell got a positive market response from his erstwhile hawkish comments initially, yesterday investors started to rethink the benefits of tighter monetary policy and decided equity markets might not be the best place to hold their assets.  This is especially true of those invested in the mega-cap tech companies as those are the ones that most closely approximate an extremely long-duration bond.  So, the NASDAQ’s -2.5% performance has been followed by weakness around the globe and NASDAQ futures pointing down -0.9% this morning.  As many have said (present company included) the idea that the Fed will be aggressively tightening monetary policy in the face of a sharp sell-off in the stock market is pure fantasy.  The only question is exactly how far stocks need to fall before they blink.  My money is on somewhere between 10% and 20%.

Meanwhile, Madame Lagarde continues to pitch her view that inflation remains transitory and that while it is higher than the target right now, by next year, it will be back below target and the ECB’s concerns will focus on deflation again.  So, while the PEPP will indeed be wound down, it will not disappear as it is always available for a reappearance should they deem it necessary.  And in the meantime, they will increase the APP by €40 billion/month while still accepting Greek junk paper as part of the mix.  Even though inflation is running at 4.9% (2.6% core) as confirmed this morning, they espouse no concern that it is a problem.  Perhaps the most confusing part of this tale is that the EURUSD exchange rate rallied on the back of a more hawkish Fed / more dovish ECB combination.  One has to believe that is a pure sell the news result and the euro will slowly return to recent lows and make new ones to boot.

One final word about the major central banks as the BOJ concluded its meeting last night and…left policy unchanged as universally expected.  There is no indication they are going to do anything different for a long time to come.

However, when you step away from the Big 3 central banks, there was far more action in the mix, some of it quite surprising.  First, the BOE did raise the base rate by 15 basis points to 0.25% and indicated that it will be rising all throughout next year, with expectations that by September it will be 1.00%.  The MPC’s evaluation that omicron would not derail the economy and price pressures, especially from the labor market, were reaching dangerous levels led to the move and the surprise helped the pound rally as much as 0.7% at one point.  Earlier yesterday, the Norges Bank raised rates 25bps, up to 0.50%, and essentially promised another 25bp rise by March.  Then, in the afternoon, Banco de Mexico stepped in and raised their overnight rate by 0.50%, twice the expected hike and the largest move since they began this tightening cycle back in June.  It seems they are concerned about “the magnitude and diversity” of price pressures and do not want to allow inflation expectations to get unanchored, as central bankers are wont to say.

Summing up central bank week, the adjustment has been significant from the last round of meetings with inflation clearly now the main focus for every one of them, perhaps except for Turkey, where they cut the one-week repo rate by 100 basis points to 14.0% and continue to watch the TRY (-7.0%) collapse.  It is almost as if President Erdogan is trying to recreate the Weimar hyperinflation of the 1920’s without the war reparations.

Will they be able to maintain this inflation fighting stance if global equity markets decline?  That, of course, is the big question, and one which history does not show favorably.  At least not the current crop of central bankers.  Barring the resurrection of Paul Volcker, I think we know the path this will take.

This poet is seeking his muse
To help him define next year’s views
Thus, til New Year’s passed
Do not be aghast
My note, you’ll not have, to peruse

Ok, for my final note of the year, let’s recap what has happened overnight.  As mentioned above, risk is under pressure after a poor performance by equity markets in the US.  So, the Nikkei (-1.8%), Hang Seng (-1.2%) and Shanghai (-1.2%) all fell pretty sharply overnight.  This morning, Europe has also been generally weak, but not quite as badly off as Asia with the DAX (-0.65%) and CAC (-0.7%) both lower although the FTSE 100 (+0.3%) is bucking the trend after stronger than expected Retail Sales data (+1.4%).  Meanwhile, Germany has been dealing with soaring inflation (PPI 19.2%, a new historic high) and weakening growth expectations as the IFO (92.6) fell to its lowest level since January and is trending sharply lower.  US futures are also pointing lower at this hour.

Bond markets, meanwhile, are generally firmer although Treasury yields are unchanged at this time.  Europe, though, has seen declining yields across the board led by French OATs (-2.6bps) and Bunds (-1.8bps) with the peripherals also doing well.  Gilts are bucking this trend as well, with yields unchanged this morning.

In the commodity space, oil (-1.75%) is leading the energy sector lower along with NatGas (-1.9%), but metals markets are going the other way.  Gold (+0.5%, and back above $1800/oz) and silver (+0.7%) feel more like inflation hedges this morning, and we are seeing strength in the industrial space with copper (+0.45%), aluminum (+2.1%) and tin (+1.8%) all rallying.  

Lastly, looking at the dollar, on this broad risk-off day, it is generally stronger vs. its G10 counterparts with only the yen (+0.2%) showing its haven status.  Otherwise, NZD (-0.5%) and AUD (-0.4%) are leading the way lower with the entire commodity bloc under pressure.  As to the single currency, it is currently slightly softer (-0.1%) but I believe it has much further to run by year end.  

In the EMG bloc, excluding TRY’s collapse, the biggest mover has actually been ZAR (+0.6%) after it reported that the hospitalization rate during the omicron outbreak has collapsed to just 1.7% of cases being admitted.  This speaks to the variant’s less pernicious symptoms despite its rapid spread.  Other than that, on the plus side KRW (+0.25%) benefitted from central bank comments that they would continue to support the economy but raise rates if necessary.  On the downside, CLP (-0.4%) is opening poorly as traders brace for this weekend’s runoff presidential election between a hard left and hard right candidate with no middle ground to be found.  However, beyond those moves, there has been much less activity.

There is no economic data today and only one Fed speaker, Governor Waller at 1:00pm.  So, the FX market will once again be seeking its catalysts from other markets or the tape.  At this point, if risk continues to be shed, I expect the dollar to continue to recoup its recent losses and eventually make new highs.

As I mention above, this will be the last daily note for 2021 but the FX Poet will return with his forecasts on January 3rd, 2022, and the daily will follow afterwards.  To everyone who continues to read, thank you for your support and I hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday season.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Til ‘flation Responds

Apparently, Powell has learned
Why everyone’s been so concerned
With prices exploding
The sense of foreboding
‘Bout ‘flation seemed very well earned

So, Jay and his friends at the Fed
Said by March, that they would stop dead
The buying of bonds
Til ‘flation responds
(Or til stocks fall deep in the red)

By now you are all aware that the FOMC will be reducing QE twice as rapidly as their earlier pace, meaning that by March 2022, QE should have ended.  Chairman Powell was clear that inflation has not only been more persistent than they had reason to believe last year but has also moved much higher than they thought possible, and so they are now forced to respond.  Interestingly, when asked during the press conference why they will take even as long as they are to taper policy rather than simply stop buying more assets now if that is the appropriate policy, Powell let slip what I, and many others, have been saying all along; by reducing QE gradually, it will have a lesser impact on markets.  In other words, the Fed is more concerned with Wall Street (i.e. the stock market) than it is with Main Street.  Arguably, despite a more hawkish dot plot than had been anticipated, with the median expectation of 3 rate hikes in 2022 and 3 more in 2023, the stock market rallied sharply in the wake of the press conference.  If one is seeking an explanation, I would offer that Chairman Powell has just confirmed that the Fed put remains alive and well and is likely struck far closer to the market than had previously been imagined, maybe just 10% away.

One other thing of note was that Powell referred to the speed with which this economic cycle has been unfolding, much more rapidly than the post-GFC cycle, and also hinted that the Fed would consider reducing the size of its balance sheet as well going forward.  Recall, however, what happened last time, when the Fed was both raising the Fed funds rate and allowing the balance sheet to run off by $50 billion/month back in 2018; stocks fell 20% in Q4 and the Powell Pivot was born.  FWIW my sense is that the Fed will not be able to raise rates as much as the dot plot forecasts.  Rather, the terminal rate will be, at most, 2.00% (last time it was 2.50%), and that any shrinkage of the balance sheet will be minimal.  The last decade of monetary policy has permanently changed the role of central banks and defined their behavior in a new manner.  While not described as such by those “independent” central banks, debt monetization (buying government bonds) is now a critical role required to keep most economies functioning as debt/GDP ratios continue to climb.  In other words, MMT is the reality and it will require a much more dramatic, and long-lasting, negative shock for that to change.

One last thing on this; the bond market has heard what Powell said and immediately rallied.  The charitable explanation is that bond investors are now comforted by the Fed’s recognition that inflation is a problem and will be addressed.  Powell’s explanation about foreign demand seems unlikely, at least according to the statistics showing foreign net sales of bonds.  Of more concern would be the explanation that bond investors are concerned about a policy mistake here, where the Fed is tightening too late and will drive the economy into a recession, as they always have done when they tighten policy.

With Jay and the Fed finally past
The market will get to contrast
The Fed’s hawkish sounds
With Europe’s shutdowns
And watch Christine hold rates steadfast

But beyond the Fed, this has been central bank policy week with so many other central bank decisions today.  Last night the Philippines left policy on hold at 1.50%, as did Indonesia at 3.50%, both as expected.  Then, this morning the Swiss National Bank (-0.75%) left rates on hold and explained the franc remains “highly valued”.  Hungary raised their Deposit rate by 0.30% as expected and Norges Bank raised by 0.25%, also as expected, while promising another 0.25% in March.  Taiwan left rates unchanged at 1.125%, as expected and Turkey continue their unique inflation fighting policy by cutting the one-week repo rate by 1.00%, down to 14.00% although did indicate they may be done cutting for now.  As to the Turkish lira, if you were wondering, it has fallen another 3.8% as I type and is now well through 15.00 to the dollar.  YTD, TRY has fallen more than 51% vs. the dollar and quite frankly, given the more hawkish turn at the Fed, seems like it has further to go!

Which of course, brings us to the final two meetings today, the ECB and the BOE.  Madame Lagarde and most of her minions have been very clear that they are not about to change policy, meaning they will continue both the PEPP and APP and are right now simply considering how they are going to manage policy once the PEPP expires in March.  That is another way of saying they are trying to figure out how to continue to buy as many bonds as they are now, while losing one of their programs.  I’m not worried about them finding a way to continue QE ad infinitum, but the form that takes is the question at hand.  While European inflation pressures have certainly lagged those in the US, they are still well above their 2.0% target, and currently show no signs of abating.  If anything, the fact that electricity prices on the continent continue to skyrocket, I would expect overall prices to only go higher.  But Madame Lagarde is all-in on MMT and will drag the few monetary hawks in the Eurozone down with her.  Do not be surprised if the ECB sounds dovish today and the euro suffers accordingly.

As to the BOE, that is much tougher to discern as inflation pressures there are far more prevalent and members of the MPC have been more vocal with respect to discussing how they need to respond by beginning to raise the base rate.  But with the UK flipping out over the omicron variant and set to cancel Christmas impose more lockdowns, it is not clear the BOE will feel comfortable starting their tightening cycle into slower economic activity.  Ahead of the meeting, the futures market is pricing in just a 25% probability of a 0.15% rate hike.  My money is on nothing happening, but we shall see shortly.

Oh yeah, tonight we hear from the BOJ, but that is so anticlimactic it is remarkable.  There will be no policy shifts there and the yen will remain hostage to everything else that is ongoing.  Quite frankly, given the yen has been sliding lately, I expect Kuroda-san must be quite happy with the way things are.

And that’s really the story today.  Powell managed to pull off a hawkish turn and get markets to embrace risk, truly an impressive feat.  However, over time, I expect that equity markets will decide that tighter monetary policy, especially if central bank balance sheets begin to shrink, is not really a benefit and will start to buckle.  But right now, all screens are green and FOMO is the dominant driver.

In the near term, I think the dollar has further to run higher, but over time, especially when equity markets reverse course, I expect the dollar will fall victim to the impossible trilemma, where the Fed can only prop up stocks and bonds simultaneously, while the dollar’s decline will be the outlet valve required for the economy.  But that is many months away.  For now, buy dollars and buy stocks, I guess.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Apparently, Powell has learned
Why everyone’s been so concerned
With prices exploding
The sense of foreboding
‘Bout ‘flation seemed very well earned

So, Jay and his friends at the Fed
Said by March, that they would stop dead
The buying of bonds
Til ‘flation responds
(Or til stocks fall deep in the red)

By now you are all aware that the FOMC will be reducing QE twice as rapidly as their earlier pace, meaning that by March 2022, QE should have ended.  Chairman Powell was clear that inflation has not only been more persistent than they had reason to believe last year but has also moved much higher than they thought possible, and so they are now forced to respond.  Interestingly, when asked during the press conference why they will take even as long as they are to taper policy rather than simply stop buying more assets now if that is the appropriate policy, Powell let slip what I, and many others, have been saying all along; by reducing QE gradually, it will have a lesser impact on markets.  In other words, the Fed is more concerned with Wall Street (i.e. the stock market) than it is with Main Street.  Arguably, despite a more hawkish dot plot than had been anticipated, with the median expectation of 3 rate hikes in 2022 and 3 more in 2023, the stock market rallied sharply in the wake of the press conference.  If one is seeking an explanation, I would offer that Chairman Powell has just confirmed that the Fed put remains alive and well and is likely struck far closer to the market than had previously been imagined, maybe just 10% away.

One other thing of note was that Powell referred to the speed with which this economic cycle has been unfolding, much more rapidly than the post-GFC cycle, and also hinted that the Fed would consider reducing the size of its balance sheet as well going forward.  Recall, however, what happened last time, when the Fed was both raising the Fed funds rate and allowing the balance sheet to run off by $50 billion/month back in 2018; stocks fell 20% in Q4 and the Powell Pivot was born.  FWIW my sense is that the Fed will not be able to raise rates as much as the dot plot forecasts.  Rather, the terminal rate will be, at most, 2.00% (last time it was 2.50%), and that any shrinkage of the balance sheet will be minimal.  The last decade of monetary policy has permanently changed the role of central banks and defined their behavior in a new manner.  While not described as such by those “independent” central banks, debt monetization (buying government bonds) is now a critical role required to keep most economies functioning as debt/GDP ratios continue to climb.  In other words, MMT is the reality and it will require a much more dramatic, and long-lasting, negative shock for that to change.

One last thing on this; the bond market has heard what Powell said and immediately rallied.  The charitable explanation is that bond investors are now comforted by the Fed’s recognition that inflation is a problem and will be addressed.  Powell’s explanation about foreign demand seems unlikely, at least according to the statistics showing foreign net sales of bonds.  Of more concern would be the explanation that bond investors are concerned about a policy mistake here, where the Fed is tightening too late and will drive the economy into a recession, as they always have done when they tighten policy.  

With Jay and the Fed finally past
The market will get to contrast
The Fed’s hawkish sounds
With Europe’s shutdowns
And watch Christine hold rates steadfast

But beyond the Fed, this has been central bank policy week with so many other central bank decisions today.  Last night the Philippines left policy on hold at 1.50%, as did Indonesia at 3.50%, both as expected.  Then, this morning the Swiss National Bank (-0.75%) left rates on hold and explained the franc remains “highly valued”.  Hungary raised their Deposit rate by 0.30% as expected and Norges Bank raised by 0.25%, also as expected, while promising another 0.25% in March.  Taiwan left rates unchanged at 1.125%, as expected and Turkey continue their unique inflation fighting policy by cutting the one-week repo rate by 1.00%, down to 14.00% although did indicate they may be done cutting for now.  As to the Turkish lira, if you were wondering, it has fallen another 3.8% as I type and is now well through 15.00 to the dollar.  YTD, TRY has fallen more than 51% vs. the dollar and quite frankly, given the more hawkish turn at the Fed, seems like it has further to go!

Which of course, brings us to the final two meetings today, the ECB and the BOE.  Madame Lagarde and most of her minions have been very clear that they are not about to change policy, meaning they will continue both the PEPP and APP and are right now simply considering how they are going to manage policy once the PEPP expires in March.  That is another way of saying they are trying to figure out how to continue to buy as many bonds as they are now, while losing one of their programs.  I’m not worried about them finding a way to continue QE ad infinitum, but the form that takes is the question at hand.  While European inflation pressures have certainly lagged those in the US, they are still well above their 2.0% target, and currently show no signs of abating.  If anything, the fact that electricity prices on the continent continue to skyrocket, I would expect overall prices to only go higher.  But Madame Lagarde is all-in on MMT and will drag the few monetary hawks in the Eurozone down with her.  Do not be surprised if the ECB sounds dovish today and the euro suffers accordingly.

As to the BOE, that is much tougher to discern as inflation pressures there are far more prevalent and members of the MPC have been more vocal with respect to discussing how they need to respond by beginning to raise the base rate.  But with the UK flipping out over the omicron variant and set to cancel Christmas impose more lockdowns, it is not clear the BOE will feel comfortable starting their tightening cycle into slower economic activity.  Ahead of the meeting, the futures market is pricing in just a 25% probability of a 0.15% rate hike.  My money is on nothing happening, but we shall see shortly.

Oh yeah, tonight we hear from the BOJ, but that is so anticlimactic it is remarkable.  There will be no policy shifts there and the yen will remain hostage to everything else that is ongoing.  Quite frankly, given the yen has been sliding lately, I expect Kuroda-san must be quite happy with the way things are.

And that’s really the story today.  Powell managed to pull off a hawkish turn and get markets to embrace risk, truly an impressive feat.  However, over time, I expect that equity markets will decide that tighter monetary policy, especially if central bank balance sheets begin to shrink, is not really a benefit and will start to buckle.  But right now, all screens are green and FOMO is the dominant driver.

In the near term, I think the dollar has further to run higher, but over time, especially when equity markets reverse course, I expect the dollar will fall victim to the impossible trilemma, where the Fed can only prop up stocks and bonds simultaneously, while the dollar’s decline will be the outlet valve required for the economy.  But that is many months away.  For now, buy dollars and buy stocks, I guess.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf




Not Quite Right

The data from China last night
Could, President Xi, give a fright
While IP was fine
Consumption’s decline
Show’s everything there’s not quite right

Now, turning our focus back home
The question that’s facing Jerome
Is should he increase
The speed that they cease
QE?  Or just leave it alone?

Clearly, the big news today is the FOMC meeting with the statement to be released at 2:00 and Chair Powell to face the press 30 minutes later.  As has been discussed ad nauseum since Powell’s Congressional testimony two weeks ago, expectations are for the Fed to reduce QE purchases more quickly than the previously outlined $15 billion/month with many looking for that pace to double.  If that does occur, QE will have concluded by the end of March.  This timing is important because the Fed has consistently maintained that they would not raise the Fed funds rate while QE was ongoing.  Hence, doubling the pace of reduction opens the door for the first interest rate hike as soon as April.

And let’s face it, the Fed has fallen a long way behind the curve with the latest evidence yesterday’s PPI data (9.6%, 7.7% core) printing much higher than expected and at its highest level since the series was renamed the PPI from its previous Wholesale Price Index in 2010.  Prior to that, it was in the 1970’s that last saw prices rising at this rate.  So, ahead of the meeting results, investors are trying to analyze just how quickly US monetary policy will be changing.  Recall, yesterday I made a case for a slower reduction than currently assumed, but as of now, nobody really knows.

What we do know, however, is that the economic situation in China is not playing out in the manner President Xi would like.  Last night China released its monthly growth data which showed Retail Sales (3.9% Y/Y) Fixed Asset Investment (5.2% Y/Y) and Property Investment (6.0% Y/Y) all rising more slowly than forecast and more slowly than last month. Only IP (3.8% Y/Y) managed to grow.  As well, Measured Unemployment rose to 5.0%, higher than expected and clearly not the goal.  For the past several years China has been ostensibly attempting to evolve its economy from the current mercantilist state, where production for export drives growth, to a more domestically focused consumer-led economy like the West.  Alas, they have been unable to make the progress they would have liked and now have to deal with not only Covid, but the ongoing meltdown in the property sector which will only serve to hold the consumer back further.  Interestingly, the PBOC did not adjust the Medium-term Lending Rate as some pundits had expected, keeping it at 2.95%, and so, it should not be that surprising that the renminbi has maintained its strength, although has appeared to stop rising.  A 2.95% coupon in today’s world remains quite attractive, at least for now, and continues to draw international investment.

Aside from these stories, the other headline of note was UK inflation printing at 5.1%, its highest level since 2011 and clearly well above the BOE’s 2.0% target.  Remember, the BOE (and ECB) meet tomorrow and there remains a great deal of uncertainty surrounding their actions given the imminent lockdown in the UK as the omicron variant spreads rapidly.  Can the BOE really tighten into a situation where growth will clearly be impaired?  It is this uncertainty that has pushed the timing of the first interest rate hike by the BOE back to February, at least according to futures markets.  But as you can see, the BOE is in the same position as the Fed, inflation is roaring but there are other concerns that prevent it from acting to stem the problem.  In sum, the betting right now is the Fed doubles the pace of taper and the BOE holds off on raising rates until February, but either, or both, of those remain far less than certain.  Expect some more market volatility across all asset classes today and tomorrow.

With all that in mind, here’s a quick look at markets overnight.  Equities in Asia (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng -0.9%, Shanghai -0.4%) mostly followed the US declines of yesterday, although Japan did manage to eke out a small gain and stop its recent trend lower.  Europe, on the other hand, is having a better go of it with the DAX (+0.3%) and CAC (+0.6%) both performing well as inflation data there was largely in line with expectations, albeit far higher than targets, and there is little concern the ECB is going to do anything tomorrow to rock the boat.  In the UK, however, that higher inflation print is weighing on equities with the FTSE 100 (-0.2%) underperforming the rest of Europe.  Ahead of the open, and the FOMC, US futures are little changed in general, although NASDAQ futures continue to slide, down (-0.25%) as I type.

The rally in European stocks has encouraged a risk-on attitude and so bond markets are selling off a bit with yields edging higher.  Well, edging except in the UK, where Gilts (+3.7bps) are clearly showing their concern over the inflation print.  But in the US (Treasuries +0.3bps), Germany (Bunds +1.2bps) and France (OATs +0.9bps) things are far less dramatic.  Given the imminent rate decisions, I expect that there is a chance for more movement later and most traders are simply biding their time for now.

The commodity picture is a little gloomier this morning with oil (-1.2%) leading the way lower and weakness in metals (Cu -1.5%, Ag -0.5%, Al -1.4%) widespread.  Gold is little changed on the day and only NatGas (+2.1%) is showing any life.  These markets are looking for a sign to help define the next big trend and so are also awaiting the FOMC outcome today.

Finally, the dollar continues to consolidate its recent gains but has been range trading for the past month.  The trend remains higher, but we will need confirmation from the FOMC today to really help it break out I believe.  In the G10, the biggest gainer has been AUD (+0.4%), but that appears to be positional, as Aussie has been sliding for the past week and seems to be taking a breather.  Otherwise, in this bloc there are an equal number of gainers and laggards with none moving more than 0.2%, so essentially trendless.

In the emerging markets, TRY (-2.1%) continues its decline toward oblivion with no end in sight.  Elsewhere, ZAR (-0.6%) has suffered on continue high inflation and the SARB’s unwillingness to fight it more aggressively.  INR (-0.5%) suffered on the back of a record high trade deficit and concerns that if the Fed does tighten, funding their C/A gap will get that much more expensive.  Beyond those, though, there has been far less movement and far less interest overall.

We do have some important data this morning led by Empire Mfg (exp 25.0) and Retail Sales (0.8%, 0.9% ex autos) at 8:30 and then Business Inventories (1.1%) at 10:00 before the FOMC at 2:00.  The inventory data bears watching as an indication of whether companies are beginning to stockpile more and more product given the supply chain issues that remain front and center across most industries.

And that’s really what we have at this point in time.  A truly hawkish Fed should help support the dollar further, while anything else is likely to see the dollar back up as hawkish is the default setting right now.

Good luck and stay safe
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