‘Bout Enough

A storm in the bond market’s brewing

As some central banks start eschewing

The idea QE

Forever, should be

Thus, traders, their longs are undoing

Meanwhile, in the markets for stuff

The Chinese have had ‘bout enough

As prices there soar

Xi’s minions call for

Restraint, or they’ll have to get tough

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend in the US, there are two stories making the rounds this morning.  The first is the latest discussion regarding tapering of QE by central banks around the world while the second is a growing discussion on the commodity markets and the impact the Chinese are having via both economic growth and governmental efforts to prevent prices from rising further. 

During the past month we have gained more clarity from four key central banks on their future QE activities, but the big three (Fed, ECB and BOJ) have not yet come out with any real guidance.  Certainly, we have heard several members of the FOMC opining that the time is coming soon where they will start to consider the idea, if growth continues at its current accelerated pace and if the employment situation improves dramatically.  This is, however, by no means the universal view in Washington, at least not yet.  With respect to the BOJ, the next MPC member who talks about tapering JGB buying will be the first one to do so.  The Japanese have been so invested in this strategy for more than 20 years it will be extraordinarily difficult to even consider a change.

In Frankfurt, however, there is far more disagreement as to the proper steps forward.  Unfortunately for the ECB, the lack of a common fiscal framework in the Eurozone is becoming a bigger problem as they remain the only institution capable of supporting the entire group of nations.  This is made clear by recent data, which shows that there are very different growth and inflation scenarios, potentially requiring different monetary policy responses, in different countries.

For instance, inflation in Germany, at 2.3% is running a lot hotter than in Italy, at 1.0%.  And while the Continent’s average may be around 1.6% right now, it is the Germans that see things as more problematic.  Consider that while the Weimar hyperinflation of nearly 100 years ago may seem ancient to most, it was the most searing economic event in the nation’s history and has informed the entire German zeitgeist of thrift and frugality.  (Contrast this to the Great Depression, with the concomitant deflation that occurred in the US, and which has informed the US zeitgeist with respect to fear of prices and the economy collapsing.)  Remember, the only way to get the Germans to agree to the euro was to promise that the ECB would essentially be a clone of the Bundesbank.  That meant keeping a lid on inflation at all times.  However, the current situation, where the economic circumstances across the continent are so widely disparate, has put the ECB in a bind.  Efforts to support those economies that remain weak with a low inflationary impulse, like Italy, Ireland and Greece, will result in increasing price pressures on those economies that are further ahead in the economic rebound like Germany and the Netherlands.

It is this conundrum that has different ECB speakers saying different things.  On the one hand, we have recently heard from Italy’s Panetta, France’s Villeroy and Madame Lagarde that tapering is not appropriate.  Yet this morning, Germany’s Isabel Schnabel was far more circumspect with respect to maintaining current policy as she commented, “Rising yields are precisely what we want to see.”  That does not seem the comment of someone keen to keep buying bonds.  However, for now, the Germans remain in the minority and so the idea that the ECB will mention the tapering of asset purchases at the June meeting seems unlikely.

As to the commodity story, in the past two weeks we have heard from at least seven different Chinese officials and key organizations about the need for both reducing upward pressure on commodities as well as reducing upward pressure on the renminbi.  For the past twenty years, China has been the marginal buyer of most commodities as their economy has grown at a remarkable pace and they have built up extraordinary infrastructure of roads, airports and cities.  Thus, they have consumed countless tons of steel, copper and other industrial materials.  However, a little considered impact of the pandemic was the dramatic reduction in the capex of mining for industrial metals, which means that future supplies are likely to be less available as the world continues to reopen and growth expands.  The natural result has been rising prices as markets anticipate surplus demand relative to forecast supply. 

Apparently, the powers that be in China have figured out that rising prices are not conducive to their domestic plans and are now caught between a situation where they benefit from a stronger currency if it puts downward pressure on inflation, but suffer from a stronger currency if it reduces the attractiveness of their export sector.  They seem to believe that if they can prevent further strength in CNY while simultaneously talking down commodity prices, they can achieve both their ends.  While they have had some success over the past several weeks on the commodity front, CNY has steadily appreciated, gaining more than 3.25% since April 1st.  I guess this is one of the difficulties of trying to manage growth, inflation and your currency’s value simultaneously.  Something’s gotta give.  Right now, it looks like the currency and further strength there should not be a surprise.

As to our holiday shortened session, European equity markets are uniformly higher this morning (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE100 +0.3%) although Asia had a more mixed picture with the Nikkei (+2.1%) quite strong but the Hang Seng (0.0%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) less enthusiastic about things.  US futures are all green to the tune of about 0.5%, so pending this morning’s data, the rally should continue.

Bond markets are little changed this morning with Treasuries, which saw yields rise 3.5bps yesterday essentially unchanged this morning.  EGB’s are generally a tick or two higher with yields lower by less than 1 basis point, as there is much more focus on stocks today.

In the commodity space, oil (+0.5%) continues to rebound from last week’s dip while precious metals are modestly softer this morning (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.8%).  The Chinese seem to be having some success in their efforts to push down metals prices with Cu (-1.0%) and Al (-0.4%) leading the way lower.

The dollar, despite the positive risk sentiment in equities, is stronger vs. all its G10 peers, with NZD (-0.85%) and AUD (-0.6%) the worst performers on the day.  In truth, the magnitude of this move smacks of position adjustments after the RBNZ’s surprisingly hawkish tone earlier this week led to significant buying in both currencies.  But the dollar’s strength is universal as generally positive data releases throughout Europe have not been able to encourage currency buying. 

Emerging markets have seen a different picture as the dollar was universally soft overnight and APAC currencies all showed strength while those markets were open, but since then, EEMEA and LATAM currencies have come under pressure.  The most notable mover here has been TRY (-0.95%) as ongoing inflation worries continue to undermine faith in the currency both at home and internationally.

The data story today has the chance to be quite interesting with Personal Income (exp -14.2%), Personal Spending (0.5%) and Core PCE (0.6% M/M, 2.9% Y/Y) all coming at 8:30.  Then at 10:00 we see Chicago PMI (68.0) and Michigan Sentiment (83.0).  In my mind, Core PCE is the number that matters.  Given the current market discussion on tapering, a higher than anticipated number there could easily see a bond market sell-off and further support for the dollar.  Frankly, based on the fact that every inflation reading this month has been higher than forecast, I see no reason for this to be any different.  Look for a high print and the dollar to remain well-bid into the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Clearly Annoyed

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

(Or, the second variation on this theme)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Bloomberg

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

To Make Jay Concerned

On Friday the payroll report
Surprised folks by coming up short
Is growth really slowing?
Or else, is this showing
A government data distort?

This morning, though, all eyes have turned
To metals and stuff that is burned
As those prices soar
They seem to have more
Potential to make Jay concerned

With all that anticipation leading up to the payroll report on Friday, it sure turned out differently than expected.  You may recall that the median forecast for the headline number was a cool million new jobs, with a survey range from 700K to 2.1 million.  The result, 266K plus a reduction of 140K from the previous month was, in a word, awful.  In fact, it was the largest statistical miss since the data began.  Now, the analyst community is busy trying to figure out what went wrong.

There are a couple of possible answers, each with its own implications.  The simplest explanation is that the combination of exiting from an unprecedented, government-imposed economic shutdown is not easily modeled and when combined with the vagaries of seasonal adjustments to the data, analysts’ models were simply wrong.  It is important to remember that the seasonal adjustments in this data stream are quite large relative to the reported data, so this is quite a viable explanation.

A second possible explanation, and one favored by the current administration, is that the data shows the economy needs more government support as too many people are falling through the cracks.  On the other hand, the business community continues to complain how difficult it is to hire qualified employees, especially in the service sector, as the ongoing government unemployment largesse is paying more than many low paying service sector jobs.  (The story of the entire workforce of a Dollar General store upping and quitting en masse is the quintessential symbol of this concept.)  Another facet of this argument is the skills mismatches that exist as, for example, erstwhile airline staff may not be able to analyze data for an IT firm, effectively resulting in a hiring need and unemployed worker at the same time.

While skills mismatches certainly exist, they always have, arguably one way for businesses to obtain staffing is to pay more for the roles in question.  The risk in that strategy is, especially for small businesses, increased labor costs will force companies to raise prices at the risk of losing business.  Based on Friday’s report, this is clearly not yet the default choice of the small business owner.  Odds are, though, especially as demand for all products and services increases with the reopening of the economy more generally, that this is going to be the outcome.  Higher wages to get workers and higher prices for goods and services.

Occam’s Razor suggests that the first explanation, data uncertainty, is the most likely cause for Friday’s massive statistical miss.  However, don’t expect the other two arguments to disappear as they are each very compelling for the currently competing political narratives.  Ultimately, we will find out more through the data for the rest of this month and get to do this all over again in June.

On the topic of rising prices, though, this morning has much more to offer, specifically in the commodity space.  The big weekend news has been about a cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, which happens to be the largest pipeline for oil products like gasoline and diesel, to the East Coast.  With the pipeline shut, (apparently the pipeline can still carry the products, but the company cannot track how much fuel is being consumed, and thus charge accordingly), gasoline and product prices are rising, dragging up oil prices as well (WTI +0.5%).  But of more interest is the metals sector where prices are exploding higher.  Not only are precious metals (Au +0.45%, AG +1.25%) higher, but industrial base metals are really rocking (Fe +5.1%, Cu +2.6%, Al +1.9%, Ni +0.8%).  This is, of course, one of the key features of the inflation is coming narrative, sharply rising commodity prices will work their way into the price of stuff.  But inflation is a measure of the ongoing change in prices over time.  The Fed’s argument is that these prices will have an impact in the short run, but unless commodity prices continue rise year after year, the effect will be ‘transitory’.

The counter to the Fed’s argument is that we are currently embarking on the beginning of a commodity super-cycle, a price phenomenon where prices trend in one direction for many years on end, often 10-15 years.  If this argument is correct, and the prices of copper and iron ore are just beginning their climb, then the Fed is going to find themselves with a whole lot of trouble in the future.  But right now, it is merely dueling forecasts and narratives, so nothing is clear.

With all the excitement in commodities, things are pretty quiet in the financial markets.  Equity markets in Asia were a bit higher (Nikkei +0.55%, Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai +0.25%) while European bourses are mixed (DAX -0.25%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.15%).  US futures are also mixed with Dow (+0.3%) continuing last week’s rally while NASDAQ (-0.25%) continues to feel pain from the ongoing rotation out of tech.

Bond markets are not buying the inflation narrative at this point with Treasuries (-0.5bps) seeing slightly lower yields while Bunds and OATs are essentially unchanged on the day.  The only real mover is the Gilt market (+1.7bps) which has rallied after weekend elections failed to give the Scottish National Party a majority in the Scottish Parliament and thus the prospect of a referendum to allow Scotland to leave the UK seems to be pushed back.

The outcome of the Scottish vote helped the pound as well, with GBP rallying 0.9% this morning, far and away the best performer in the FX markets.  Amid broad-based dollar weakness, the pound’s performance still stands out.  Next in line, in the G10, is AUD (+0.5%) which is a clear beneficiary of the rise in commodity prices.  In fact, iron ore is Australia’s largest commodity export.  NZD and CAD (both +0.2%) are lesser beneficiaries and the rest of the block, save JPY (-0.2%) is slightly firmer.  The yen seems to be suffering from the latest poll showing PM Suga’s popularity continuing to slide and bringing some uncertainty to the situation there with an election due by the end of the year.

Asian currencies were the big beneficiary in the EMG space led by KRW (+0.7%), IDR (+0.6%) and CNY (+0.3%).  The story there continues to be the anticipated strong growth rebound combined with the dollar’s weakness.  Remember, Chairman Powell has essentially promised that US rates are going to remain at zero regardless of what happens for at least another year.  As it happens, TWD (+0.3%) has traded to its strongest level since 1997, as the robust economic situation, plus the huge demand for semiconductors has more than offset any geopolitical concerns.

Data this week is back-loaded as follows:

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 100.8
JOLTs Job Openings 7.5M
Wednesday CPI 0.2% (3.6% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.3% (2.3% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 495K
Continuing Claims 3.64M
PPI 0.3% (5.8% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (3.7% Y/Y)
Friday Retail Sales 1.0%
-ex autos 0.9%
IP 1.0%
Capacity Utilization 75.1%
Michigan Sentiment 90.1

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, CPI will be very interesting, as will Retail Sales.  We also hear from 13 more Fed speakers this week, all of whom are certain to repeat the mantra that the economy needs more support and they will not be changing policy anytime soon.  Remember, inflation is transitory…until it’s not.

The dollar is starting the week off on the back foot.  If we continue to hear Fed speakers insist that policy is not going to change, and we continue to see inflationary consequences rise, the dollar will weaken further.  In the end, 10-year Treasury yields remain the key number to watch.  As long as they remain within the recent range, the dollar is likely to remain soft.  If they should break higher, though, watch out.

Good luck and stay safe
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