Ready to Pop

Investors are having some trouble
Determining if the stock bubble
Is ready to pop
Or if Jay will prop
It up, ere it all turns to rubble

So, volatile markets are here
Most likely the rest of this year
Then, add to this fact
A Russian attack
On Ukraine.  I’d forecast more fear

One has to be impressed with yesterday’s equity markets in the US, where the morning appeared to be Armageddon, while the afternoon evolved into euphoria.  Did anything actually change with respect to information during the day?  I would argue, no, there was nothing new of note.  The proximate cause of the stock market’s decline appeared to be fear over escalating tensions in the Ukraine.  Certainly, that has not changed.  Russia continues to mass troops on its border and is proceeding with live fire drills off the coast of Ireland.  The Pentagon issued an order for troops to be ready for rapid deployment, which Russia claimed was fanning the flames of this issue.  While the key protagonists continue to talk, as of yet, there has been no indication that a negotiated solution is imminent.  With that in mind, though, today’s market reactions indicate somewhat less concern over a kinetic war.  European equity markets are all nicely higher (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.8%, FTSE 100 +0.75%) and NatGas in Europe (-2.4%) has retraced a bit of yesterday’s surge.  Granted, these reversals are only a fraction of yesterday’s movement, but at least markets are calmer this morning.

However, one day of calm is not nearly enough to claim that the worst is behind us.  And, of course, none of this even considers the FOMC meeting which begins this morning and from which we will learn the Fed’s latest views tomorrow afternoon.  The punditry is virtually unanimous in their view that the first Fed funds hike will come in March and there will be one each quarter thereafter.  In fact, if there are any outliers, they expect a faster pace of rate hikes with five or more this year as the Fed makes a more concerted effort to temper rising prices.

Now, we have not heard from a Fed speaker since January 13th, nearly two weeks ago, although at that time there was a growing consensus that tighter policy needed to come sooner and via both rate hikes and balance sheet reduction.  But let’s take a look at the data we have seen since then.  Retail Sales were awful, -1.9%; IP -0.1% and Capacity Utilization (76.5%) both disappointed as did the Michigan Sentiment indicator at 68.8, its lowest print since 2011.  While the housing market continues to perform well, Claims data was much higher than anticipated and the Chicago Fed Activity Index fell sharply to -0.15, where any negative reading is seen as a harbinger of future economic weakness.  Finally, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow indicator has fallen to 5.14%, down from nearly 10% in December.  The point is, the data story is not one of unadulterated growth, but rather of an economy that is struggling somewhat.  It is this issue that informs my decision that the Fed is likely to sound far more dovish than market expectations tomorrow,  The policy error that has been discussed by the punditry is the Fed tightening policy into an economic slowdown and exacerbating the situation.  I think they are keenly aware of this and will move far more slowly to tackle inflation, especially given their underlying view that inflation is going to return to its previous trend on its own once supply chains are rebuilt.

For now, barring live fire in Ukraine, it seems the market is quite likely to remain rangebound until we hear from Mr Powell tomorrow afternoon.  As such, it is reasonable to expect a bit less market volatility than we saw yesterday.  But, do not discount the fact that markets remain highly leveraged in all spaces and that the reduction of high leverage has been a key driver of every market correction in history.  Add that to the fact that a Fed that is tightening policy may push rates to a point where levered accounts are forced to respond, and you have the makings of increased market volatility going forward.  While greed remains a powerful emotion, nothing trumps fear as a driver of market activity.  Yesterday was just an inkling of how things may play out.  Keep that in mind as we go forward.

Touring the markets this morning, while Europe is bouncing from yesterday’s movement as mentioned above, Asia saw no respite with sharp declines across the board (Nikkei -1.7%, Hang Seng -1.7%, Shanghai -2.6%).  US futures, too, are under pressure at this hour with NASDAQ (-1.7%) leading the way, but the other main indices much lower as well.

Looking at bond markets, European sovereigns are all softer with yields backing up as risk is re-embraced (Bunds +2.1bps, OATs +1.4bps, Gilts +4.4bps) as are Treasury markets (+0.7bps), despite the weakness in equity futures.  Bond investors are having a hard time determining if they should respond to ongoing high inflation prints or risk reduction metrics.  In the end, I continue to believe the latter will be the driving force and yields will not rise very high despite rising inflation.  The Fed, and most central banks, are willing to live with rising prices if it means they can stabilize bond yields at relatively low levels.

In the commodity markets, oil (+0.1%), after falling sharply from its recent highs yesterday has rebounded slightly.  NatGas (-1.4%) in the US is also dipping although remains right around $4/mmBTU in the US and $30/mmBTU in Europe.  Gold (-0.25%) and Copper (-0.3%) continue to consolidate as prospects for weaker growth hamper gains of the latter while uncertainty over inflation continue to bedevil the former.

As to the dollar, it is stronger for a second day in a row today, with substantial gains against both G10 (NOK -0.7%, CHF -0.7%, SEK -0.6%) and EMG (PLN -0.75%, RON -0.5%, MXN -0.45%) currencies.  Clearly, the Ukraine situation remains a problem for those countries in proximity to the geography, while Mexico responds to slightly disappointing GDP growth data just released.  But in the end, the dollar remains the haven of choice during this crisis and is likely to remain well bid for now.  However, if, as I suspect, the Fed comes across as less hawkish tomorrow, look for the greenback to give up some of its recent gains.

This morning brings only second tier data; Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 18.0%) and Consumer Confidence (111.1).  So, odds are that the FX market will continue to take its cues from equities, and if the sell-off resumes in stocks, I would expect the dollar to remain firm.  For payables hedgers, consider taking advantage of this strong dollar as I foresee weakness in its future as the year progresses.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Becoming a Bane

Twixt Europe and Russia, Ukraine
Is feeling incredible strain
As diplomats leave
The markets perceive
That risk is becoming a bane

The fear is that war is in view
At which time the best thing to do
Is buy francs and yen
And Treasuries, then
Be ready for stocks to eschew

While it is true that the Fed meeting on Wednesday is of significant importance to market participants, there is another, much greater concern that has risen to the top of the list today, the growing sound of war drums in the Ukraine.  Both sides seem to be increasing both their activities and their rhetoric, and financial markets are really starting to take notice.  The immediate losers have been on the Russian side as the MOEX (Russian stock market index) is down 6.1% so far this morning and 15% YTD.  In addition, RUB (-1.5%) is the worst performing EMG currency today and this year, having fallen -5.0% so far.  The implication is that international investors are fleeing given the threats of retaliation by the EU and NATO in the event Russia actually does invade.

The latest headline from the EU is, FURTHER MILITARY AGGRESSION TO COME AT SEVERE COST.  You can see why owning Russian assets seems quite risky here as on a military basis, there is probably very little the EU or NATO can do in response to an invasion.  But they can certainly impose much more severe economic sanctions and even boot Russia from the SWIFT system, removing the nation’s access to dollars for any transactions.  Of course, given the fact that Germany is so reliant on Russia for its natural gas supply, which by the way has seen prices explode higher this morning in Europe by 12.3%, it does seem unlikely that the most severe sanctions will be imposed.

Will this devolve into war?  There is no way to know at this time.  My take is neither side wants a hot war as those are extremely expensive and difficult to prosecute, but President Putin has an agenda with respect to the West’s attitude toward the Ukraine and what constitutes the Russian sphere of influence.  Arguably, one of the big concerns is that leadership in the West lacks both real world experience and any mandate to “protect” the Ukraine.  However, they also don’t want to look either foolish or weak to their own constituents.  I fear that pride and hubris on both sides could result in a much worse outcome than needs to occur.  For a long time, I read the Ukraine tensions as a negotiating tactic by Putin to achieve a greater buffer zone around Russia.  Alas, the situation seems to have deteriorated pretty severely and pretty quickly.  At this time, one must be prepared for a more dramatic and negative outcome, one which is likely to see traditional havens like yen, Swiss francs, the dollar, and Treasuries rise dramatically.

Apparently, President Xi
Does not like the FOMC
As Jay keeps implying
That rates will be flying
And Xi can’t force growth by decree

While Covid has been an extraordinary burden on the world in so many different ways, as with all things, there has been a modicum of good as a result as well.  For instance, the WEF has been downgraded to a bunch of Zoom calls with no elite hobnobbing and very little press overall.  However, that elite cadre persist in their efforts to rule the world by decree and I thought it worth highlighting something that didn’t get much press last week when it occurred but offers an indication of China’s current economic thinking.  President Xi’s speech included the following, (emphasis added) “Second, we need to resolve various risks and promote steady recovery of the world economy. The world economy is emerging from the depths, yet it still faces many constraints. The global industrial and supply chains have been disrupted. Commodity prices continue to rise. Energy supply remains tight. These risks compound one another and heighten the uncertainty about economic recovery. The global low inflation environment has notably changed, and the risks of inflation driven by multiple factors are surfacing. If major economies slam on the brakes or take a U-turn in their monetary policies, there would be serious negative spillovers. They would present challenges to global economic and financial stability and developing countries would bear the brunt of it.”

Boiled down, this comes to Xi Jinping basically asking (telling?) Jay Powell to avoid raising rates as that would be a problem for China, as well as other EMG economies.  Now, I don’t believe that Chairman Powell is overly concerned about China, but I do believe that while the tightening of policy is very likely to start, it will be short-lived as the economic situation proves to be less robust than currently thought.  However, I thought it instructive as backdrop for recent actions by the PBOC and as a harbinger of the future, where interest rates there are likely to continue declining.  However, nothing has changed my view that the renminbi (+0.2%) is going to continue to strengthen this year.

Ok, so a tour of markets makes for some pretty sad reading this morning.  While the Nikkei (+0.25%) managed to eke out a gain, the Hang Seng (-1.25%) could not despite ostensible positive news regarding Chinese property developers being able to sell some properties.  Europe, though, is bleeding badly on the Russia/Ukraine story (DAX -1.8%, CAC -1.7%, FTSE 100 -1.2%) with the UK clearly the least impacted for now.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had spent the bulk of the evening in the green, are now lower by -0.25% across the board.

Treasuries are playing their haven role like Olivier, rallying further with yields declining another 2.5bps, taking them 15bps from recent highs.  Bunds (-2.4bps), OATs (-1.9bps) and Gilts (-3.3bps) are all seeing strong demand as well as investors flee to the relative safety of fixed income.

Turning to commodities, oil (-0.2%) is in consolidation mode, although the uptrend remains strong.  NatGas in the US (-1.0%) is clearly dislocated from that in Europe but feels very much like it is developing a base around $4/mmBTU.  Gold (+0.4%) is proving more of a haven these days despite the dollar’s strength, although industrial metals (Cu -1.8%, Al -0.85%) are under pressure today.

And finally, the dollar is showing its traditional haven characteristics as well, rallying against all its G10 counterparts and most EMG currencies.  SEK (-0.8%) and NOK (-0.75%) are leading the way lower, arguably because of the proximity of those nations to the Ukraine and the escalation of military and naval activity in the Baltic and North Seas with both Russian and NATO ships and submarines seen.  AUD (-0.7%) is obviously feeling the impact of weakening commodity prices as well as the general dollar strength.  The rest of the bloc is all weaker, just not quite to this extent.

Aside from the RUB (now -2.0%), PLN (-0.9%), ZAR (-0.9%) and CZK (-0.85%) are the worst performers this morning in the EMG bloc.  The zloty story is interesting given central bank comments that “Polish rates should rise more than the market expects”, which would ordinarily be seen as currency bullish, however, given Poland’s proximity to the Ukraine, one cannot be surprised to see investors selling the currency.  The same is true of CZK, although frankly, other than a pure risk-off play, I can see no news from South Africa.

This is a big data week with far more than the Fed on tap.

Today PMI Manufacturing 56.7
PMI Services 54.8
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 18.2%
Consumer Confidence 111.8
Wednesday New Home Sales 765K
FOMC Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 260K
Continuing Claims 1650K
Durable Goods -0.5%
-ex Transport 0.3%
Q4 GDP 5.3%
Q4 Personal Consumption 2.9%
Friday Employment Cost Index 1.2%
Personal Income 0.5%
Personal Spending -0.6%
PCE Deflator 0.4% (5.8% Y/Y)
Core PCE Deflator 0.5% (4.8% Y/Y)
Michigan Sentiment 68.8

Source: Bloomberg

So, while of course the FOMC meeting is the primary piece of data, both the Claims and PCE data is going to be carefully scrutinized as well for indicators of the current economic situation and the Fed’s likely reaction function.  As of now, no Fed speakers are scheduled after the meeting for the rest of the week, although I imagine we will hear from several by the end of the week.

As to the dollar, right now, its haven status is all that matters.   Look for it to continue to perform will unless there is a real de-escalation of the Ukraine situation.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Bears are All Thrilled

Kuroda explained
The future is like the past
Ergo, rates unchanged

The BOJ concluded their latest policy meeting last night and the results were…nothing changed.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  Their economic and inflation forecasts were tweaked to arrive at a revised path to the same outcome.  So, instead of faster growth this year, they decided it would be delayed a year before falling back to its long-term 1.0% trend while inflation is now forecast to jump up to… 1.1% for the next two years, from a previous expectation of 1.0%. Now that’s precision!  Kuroda-san’s term expires in April 2023 and despite 12 years of extraordinarily easy money, with QE, YCC and NIRP all employed to drive inflation higher, at this time it seems likely that he will have failed dismally in his only task.  (As an aside, I would wager if you surveyed the Japanese population, there would be scant few demands for higher prices in their purchases.  Just sayin’.)  As to the yen, it is essentially unchanged on the day and when asked about the currency, Kuroda explained it should move stably (whatever that means), but that a weaker yen would ultimately be desired.  Plus ça change.

Excitement has started to build
And bond market bears are all thrilled
With One point Eight breached
The story they’ve preached
Is finally being fulfilled

Arguably, however, the biggest story today is that the US 10-year yield has finally traded above 1.80% (as I type it is +3.2bps at 1.816%) for the first time since before the pandemic in February 2020.  For those market participants who have been preaching that rising inflation would lead to higher yields, this is a clear milestone.  Regarding the transitory vs. persistent inflation narrative, this also indicates a growing number of investors are moving toward the persistent side of the argument.  The key question, of course, is why has this happened today?  Are there specific catalysts or was it simply time?

Perhaps the first place to look is the oil market, where WTI (+1.2%) has rallied more than $1.00/bbl and is trading back above $85/bbl for the first time since October 2014.  We all know that higher oil prices tend to have a very clear impact on both actual prices and price expectations.  Today’s oil rally seems to be the result of a few different issues.  First has been the news that there was a drone attack on oil facilities in the UAE raising the specter of market disruptions from the Middle East.  A background story there is that the amount of spare capacity available in OPEC+ members may also be somewhat overstated as evidenced by the fact that OPEC’s last production increase of 400K barrels per day fell short because several members simply couldn’t pump enough to meet their quotas.  Meanwhile, demand seems pretty robust as 1) the omicron variant is quickly becoming seen as akin to the common cold and so not too disruptive; and 2) with NatGas prices so high in Europe and Asia, utilities are turning to both oil and coal to power their countries adding to oil demand.

Of course, the other key feature of the US interest rate market is forecasting what the Fed is going to do this year and how that will impact things.  It is worth noting that while 10-year yields have jumped 3+ basis points this morning, 2-year yields are higher by more than 6 basis points and back above 1.0% for the first time since before the pandemic as well.  But that means that the yield curve continues to flatten, a harbinger of slower future growth.  Now, one might expect that slower future growth would help reduce inflationary fears and ordinarily that would be a good thought.  However, there is nothing ordinary about the current policy settings nor their recent history and it is those features that are likely to drive market sentiment for at least a little longer.

Remember, monetary policy works with “long and variable lags” which historically has been calculated as somewhere between 24 and 30 months.  This implies that whatever action the Fed takes next week will not start to impact the economy until 2024.  It also means that the actions they took at the beginning of the pandemic, about 22 months ago, are likely starting to be felt in the real economy.  Money supply rose >35% for many months throughout 2020 and the early part of 2021, and it is fair to expect that the impact of all that extra cash floating around has not yet completely been seen.  The point is that inflation remains built up in the system and is likely to be with us for quite some time to come.  With this in mind, it is easy to see why yields are rising.

And there is one more thing to add to the puzzle, QT.  Remember, too, comments from a number of FOMC members hinted at an increasing desire to start reducing the size of their balance sheet.  If they do follow through with that process, it seems likely that Treasury yields will move even higher across the curve as the only price insensitive buyer leaves the market.  The question then becomes, at what point do yields rise enough to make the Treasury uncomfortable when it comes to refinancing the current debt?  I make no claims that I know where that level lies, but I remain confident that as soon as carrying costs for debt start to climb as a percentage of GDP, QT is going to end.  Summing up, there is a lot happening and it feels like we may be at the beginning of some significant trend changes.

How has all this activity impacted markets today?  You will not be surprised to know that risk has been significantly reduced across the board.  Looking at equity markets, red is the predominant color on screens this morning with only one exception, Shanghai (+0.8%) as traders react to easing monetary policy and support for property markets in China.  Otherwise, it is not pretty (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.4%, DAX -1.0%, CAC -1.0%, FTSE 100 -0.6%).  US futures are also under severe pressure led by the NASDAQ (-1.8%) although both the DOW and SPX are lower by -1.0% at this hour.  It seems that rising yields are pretty bad for growth stocks and I believe that story has legs.

Global bond markets had all been much softer earlier in the session but have since recouped their losses so that European sovereigns are essentially unchanged at this hour.  The one outlier, again, in Asia was China, where CGB’s saw yields decline 4.4bps last night as investors pile in looking for further policy ease.

On the commodity front, we have already discussed oil, which is by far the most interesting thing out there.  NatGas in the US is little changed on the day and actually slightly lower in Europe.  Gold (-0.3%) has fallen which should be no surprise given the rise in yields across the curve, and copper (-0.85%) is also under pressure as the flatter curve and declining stocks hint at weaker future growth.

As to the dollar, it is generally firmer this morning although not universally so.  SEK (-0.5%) is the laggard in the G10 on a combination of residual belief the Riksbank will remain relatively dovish and the beginnings of concern over election outcomes when the Swedes go to the polls in September.  After that, AUD (-0.4%) and NZD (-0.4%) are next in line, both suffering from weakness in metals and agricultural markets.  The rest of the bloc is softer by about 0.2% or so save CAD (+0.1%) which is benefitting from oil’s rise.

In the emerging markets, TRY (-0.8%) volatility continues to dominate, but INR (-0.45%), PHP (-0.45%) and HUF (-0.45%) are all under pressure as well.  The first two are feeling the effects of higher Treasury yields as well as concerns over potential CNY weakness after PBOC comments about preventing one-way trading (meaning continued strength).  As to HUF, it and the rest of the CE4 look simply to be displaying their relatively high betas with respect to the euro (-0.2%).

On the data front, Empire Manufacturing (exp 25.0) is today’s only number of note and we will need a big surprise in either direction to have a market impact.  Rather, today’s trend seems pretty clear, higher yields, weaker stocks and a stronger dollar.  Will it continue much longer?  That, of course, is the key question.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

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

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

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

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

Dire Straits

In Europe, the UK, and States
The central banks face dire straits
Inflation’s ascending
But omicron’s trending
So, what should they do about rates?

First Jay will most certainly say
More tapering is on the way
But Andrew is stuck
With Covid amok
While Christine, a choice, will delay

It is central bank week and all eyes are on the decisions and statements to be made by the Fed on Wednesday and the BOE and ECB on Thursday.  In fact, the BOJ will be meeting Friday, but by that time, given the fact that markets are likely to be exhausted from whatever occurs earlier in the week and the assumption nothing there will change, that news seems unlikely to matter much.

By this time, the market narrative (as opposed to the Fed’s preferred narrative) has evolved to the Fed must taper QE even more rapidly with doubling that rate seen as the bare minimum.  You may recall that in November, the Fed announced it would be reducing its QE purchases by $15 billion / month until such time as QE ended.  At that point, they would then consider the idea about raising interest rates assuming inflation remained a concern.  Of course, since then, no matter how you measure inflation, (CPI, core PCE, Trimmed Mean, Sticky) it has risen to levels not seen since the early 1980’s.  This has resulted in a near hysterical call by the punditry for much faster tapering and nearly immediate interest rate hikes.  The longer the Fed delays the process, the fact that rising inflation forces real yields lower means that monetary conditions are easing during a period of extraordinary fiscal policy led demand.  This simply exacerbates the inflation situation feeding this self-reinforcing loop.  Quite frankly, I believe the punditry is correct on this issue, but also expect that the Fed will do less than has become widely believed is necessary because inaction is their default setting.

The dollar, which is largely firmer across the board this morning, continues to benefit from the anticipated hawkishness that this new narrative has evoked.  Arguably, that sets up the opportunity for a sell-off in the greenback if Powell doesn’t deliver the goods, and realistically, even if he does on a ‘sell the news’ outcome.

Turning to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, Governor Andrew Bailey has already drawn the ire of financial markets (and some members of Parliament) with his comments from October that many took as a ‘promise’ to raise the base rate then in an effort to address rising inflation in the UK.  But he didn’t do so, and blamed market participants for hearing what he said as such a promise.  That led to investors and traders assuming the rate hike would be coming this week, with more to follow, and that the base rate, currently at 0.10%, would be raised to 1.25% by the end of 2022.  However, omicron has thrown a wrench into the works as the Johnson government is now considering Plan B, or C or D (I lose count) as their newest lockdown strictures to prevent the spread of the latest variant.  Arguably, raising interest rates into a period where the economy is shutting down would be categorized as a policy mistake, and one easily avoided.  Thus, the BOE finds itself in a difficult spot, wait to find out more about omicron despite inflation’s rapid and persistent rise, or address inflation at the risk of tightening into a slowing economy.

The pound, despite expectations which had been focused on the BOE leading the interest rate cycle amongst the big four central banks, has traded back down to its lowest level in a year, although realistically to its average over the past five years.  The trend, though, is clearly lower and any reasonable hawkishness by the Fed is likely to see Sterling test, and break below, 1.30, in my view.  At this point, I feel like the pound is completely beholden to Powell, not Bailey.

Finally, the ECB also announces their policy decisions on Thursday, just 45 minutes after the BOE.  Here the discussion has been around what happens when the PEPP, which is due to expire in March 2022, ends and what type of additional support will they be pumping into the economy.  It has already become clear that the original QE program, the APP, will be expanded in some form, but one of the things about that was the requirement that the ECB stick to the capital key with respect to its purchases, and the inability of that program to purchase non-IG debt.  The problem there is that Greece remains junk credit, but also the Greek government bond market remains entirely dependent on the ECB’s purchases to continue to function.  At the same time, Germany, where inflation is running the hottest (Wholesale Prices rose 16.6% in November, the highest level ever in the series back to June 1968) is where the largest proportion of bonds is purchased, easing local financial conditions even further thus exacerbating the inflation story there.  In many ways, it is understandable as to why there is less clarity on the ECB’s potential actions.  As many problems as the Fed has created for themselves, the ECB probably has more, and Madame Lagarde is not a central banker by trade, but rather a politician.  As such, she is far more likely to push for a politically comfortable solution than an economically sound one.

The euro had been trending steadily lower until Thanksgiving when we saw a bounce and it has been consolidating ever since.  However, my take is the ECB is likely to be more dovish, rather than less, and in the wake of a Fed that is clearly tightening policy and will be seen to have to tighten further going forward, the euro is likely to feel more pressure to decline going forward.  Look for a test of 1.10 sometime early in Q1.

OK, now that we’ve set the stage for the week ahead, let’s quickly tour the overnight activity.  After yet another rally in the NY afternoon, Asia was mostly higher (Nikkei +0.7%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.4%) with Europe showing a similar type of performance (DAX +0.9%, CAC +0.15%, FTSE 100 -0.1%).  US futures are all pointing a bit higher, but only about 0.2%.  Net, risk appetite seems to be modest today ahead of the meetings this week.

Interestingly, despite decent equity market performance, and despite no end in sight for inflation pressures, bond markets have generally rallied today with yields edging lower.  Treasury yields have slipped by 1.4bps, while Bunds (-1.0bps), OATs (-1.5bps) and Gilts (-1.7bps) all show similar yield declines.  This seems a little odd given the inflation narrative remains strong, but perhaps is a response to concerns over a policy mistake, or three, amongst the central banks.

Commodity prices are mixed this morning with oil (-0.7%) under pressure while NatGas (+1.5%) is making gains based on colder weather.  (PS, European NatGas is up 9.3% this morning to $38.33/mmBTU, compared to US NatGas at $3.98/mmBTU).  That is NOT a typo, almost 10x the price.  It seems that colder weather and the ongoing Russia/Ukraine/Belarus issues are having a big impact.  Metals prices are generally firmer with precious (Au +0.4%, Ag +0.4%) looking solid while industrial (Cu +0.3%, Al +1.2%) also perform well although some of the lesser metals like Ni (-0.6%) and Sn (-0.2%) are underperforming.

As to the dollar, it is universally stronger vs. the G10 with NOK (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.5%) the laggards although CAD (-0.3%) is also under the gun.  It seems oil is an issue as well as the Chinese economy with respect to the Aussie.  EMG currencies are broadly softer, but other than TRY (-2.0%) which continues to trade to new historic lows amid policy blunders, the movement has not been excessive.  MYR (-0.4%) is the next worst performer, consolidating recent gains as traders await presumed hawkish news from the Fed, with most other currencies showing similar types of losses on the same story.  The exceptions to this rule are ZAR (+0.5%) which rallied on the strength of the metals complex and IDR (+0.2%) which benefitted based on a reduced borrowing plan for the government.

On the data front, ahead of the Fed we see PPI and Retail Sales plus a bit more stuff later in the week.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 98.4
PPI 0.5% (9.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (7.2% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 25.0
Retail Sales 0.8%
-ex autos 0.9%
Business Inventories 1.1%
FOMC Meeting
Thursday Initial Claims 195K
Continuing Claims 1938K
Housing Starts 1566K
Building Permits 1660K
Philly Fed 29.6
IP 0.7%
Capacity Utilization 76.8%

Source: Bloomberg

The demand story certainly seems robust based on Retail Sales, and that has to continue to influence the Fed.  I find the inventories data interesting as firms evolve from just-in-time to just-in-case models, another inflationary process.  But in the end, this week is all about the Fed (and BOE and ECB) so until we know more from there, look for choppy markets with no real direction.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Fugacious

For months the Fed had been mendacious
In calling inflation fugacious
But that view’s expired
And Jay has retired
The word that had been so fallacious

So, later this morning we’ll see
The reason that transitory
Is out on its ear
As it will be clear
Inflation’s not hyperbole

Chairman Powell must be chomping at the bit this morning as he awaits, along with the rest of us, the release of the November CPI data.  For us, it will be the latest data point to which the inflationistas will point and say, ‘see? I told you so.’  But, given the timing of the release, just days before the FOMC is scheduled to meet and therefore during the Fed’s self-imposed quiet period, whether the print is higher than the expected (0.7% M/M, 6.8% Y/Y) number or lower, no Fed speaker will be able to try to shape the discussion.  Instead, they will be left to the mercy of the punditry and the markets, something with which they have never been comfortable, at least not since Paul Volcker retired from the Fed.

Of course, they are not completely without capabilities as you can be sure the WSJ is going to run an article later this morning by Nick Timiraos, the current Fed Whisperer, which will be designed to explain the Chairman’s views without attribution.  However, given the recent history of the median forecast, which have consistently underestimated the rise in CPI (and PCE for that matter), it seems likely the official narrative will fall further behind the curve.  Speaking of the curve, looking at the Fed funds futures markets, expectations are for the first rate hike to come in either May or June of next year, which means if the Fed truly wants to finish QE before raising rates, current expectations for a doubling of the speed of tapering may be underestimating the pace.

We have also heard recently from former Fed officials, who clearly remain in contact with the current group, and virtually every one of these has forecast that the dot plot will show a median of two rate hikes next year with a chance of three and then another four in 2023 with the eventual neutral rate still anchored at 2.50%.  And yet, this quasi-official view remains at odds with all the other information we have regarding inflation expectations.  For instance, later today we see the University of Michigan stack of data which last month showed 1-year inflation expectations at 4.9% and the 5-10-year figure at 3.0%.  Since the Fed is one of the greatest champions of the inflation expectations theory (i.e. inflation can be self-fulfilling, so higher expectations lead to higher actual inflation), it would seem that if the dot plot does indicate long-term rates ought be centered around 2.50%, the Fed believes the neutral rate is negative in real terms.  Either that, or they are willing to dismiss data that doesn’t suit the narrative.  However, it is more difficult to understand how they are willing to dismiss the data they themselves compile, like the NY Fed’s Consumer Expectations survey which indicates 1-year inflation is expected at 5.7% and 3-year at 4.2%.

Ultimately, there is nothing that we have seen of late that indicates either inflation or inflation expectations are peaking.  In addition, inflation continues to be a major topic on Capitol Hill, so for now, it seems clear the Fed will continue to preen its hawkish feathers.  This speaks to the dollar resuming its upward trend and calls into question the ability of the equity markets to maintain their euphoria.  In fact, a reversal in equity markets will pose a very real conundrum for the Fed as to how to behave going forward; fight inflation or save the stock market.  You already know my view is they will opt for the latter.

Anyway, with all eyes set to be on the tape at 8:30, here’s what we have seen overnight.  After a late sell-off in the US, equity markets in Asia (Nikkei-1.0%, Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai -0.2%) all suffered although European bourses have managed to recoup early weakness and are essentially unchanged across the board as I type.  The only data of note has come from the UK, where October GDP rose a less than expected 0.1% pouring some more cold water on the BOE rate hike thesis for next week.  US futures, however, are trading higher at this hour, with all three major indices looking at gains of 0.3% or so.

The bond market is under modest pressure this morning, with yields edging higher in the US (+1.4bps) as well as Europe (Bunds +2.4bps, OATs +1.9bps, Gilts +2.8bps) as investors around the world continue to prepare for a higher interest rate environment.  Remember, just because the G10 central banks have been slow to tighten policy doesn’t mean that is true everywhere in the world.  For instance, Brazil just hiked rates by 150 bps to 9.25% and strongly hinted they would be raising them another 150bps in February given inflation there just printed at 10.74% this morning.  Mexico, too, has been steadily raising rates with another 25bps expected next week, and throughout Eastern Europe that has been the norm.  The point is that bond markets have every chance of remaining under pressure as long as inflation runs rampant.  In fact, that is exactly what should happen.

In the commodity world, early weakness in the oil price has been reversed with WTI (+1.1%) now firmly higher on the day.  NatGas (+1.3%) is also firmer although we are seeing much less movement from the metals and agricultural spaces with virtually all of these products withing 0.1% or so of yesterday’s closing levels.

As to the dollar, it is broadly firmer again this morning, albeit not by very much.  NZD (-0.25%) and JPY (-0.25%) are the laggards in the G10, although one is hard-pressed to come up with a rationale other than position adjustments ahead of the data release this morning.  In fact, that is true with all the G10 currencies, with movements other than those two of less than 0.2%.

The same cannot be said for the EMG space, where TRY (-1.05%) continues to slide as the combination of rampant inflation and a leadership that is seeking to cut interest rates as a means to fight it is likely to undermine the lira for the foreseeable future.  Thus far, TRY has not quite reached 14.00 to the dollar, up from 9.00 in mid-October.  But there is nothing to prevent USDTRY from trading up to 20 or higher as long as this policy mix continues.  Elsewhere, KRW (-0.6%) fell on the news that Covid infections grew at their fastest pace in a year and concerns over potential government actions to slow its spread.  Otherwise, weakness in PLN (-0.4%), INR (-0.35%) and CLP (-0.3%), for instance, all seem to revolve around expectations for tighter US monetary policy rather than local weakness.

In addition to the headline CPI discussed above, expectations are for core (+0.5% M/M, +4.9% Y/Y) and Michigan Sentiment is expected at 68.0.  Until the data is released, there should be very little in the way of movement.  Afterwards, though, I would look for the dollar to rally on higher than expected data and vice versa.  We shall see.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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A Mishap

When most of us think of an APP
It’s something on phones that we tap
But Madame Christine,
The ECB queen,
Fears PEPP’s end would be a mishap

So, word is next week when they meet
Expansion of APP they’ll complete
Thus, PEPP they’ll retire
But still, heading higher
Are PIGS debt on their balance sheet

Over the next seven days we will hear from the FOMC, ECB and BOE with respect to their policies as each meets next week.  Expectations are for the Fed to increase the speed at which they are tapering their QE purchases, with most pundits looking for that to double, thus reducing QE by $30 billion/month until it is over.  Rate hikes are assumed to follow shortly thereafter.  However, if they sound quite hawkish, do not be surprised if the equity market sells off and all of our recent experience shows that the Fed will not allow too large a decline in stock prices before blinking.  Do not be envious of Chairman Powell’s job at this point, it will be uncomfortable regardless of what the Fed does.

As to the ECB, recent commentary has been mixed with some members indicating they believe continued support for the economy is necessary once the PEPP expires in March, and that despite internal rules prohibiting the ECB from buying non IG debt, they should continue to support Greece via the Asset Purchase Program.  The APP is their original QE tool, and has been running alongside the PEPP throughout the crisis.  Both the doves on the ECB and the punditry believe that any unused capacity from the PEPP will simply be transferred to the APP so there is more buying power, and by extension more support for the PIGS.  However, we are hearing more from the hawks recently about the fact that QE has been inflating asset prices and inflation, and perhaps it needs to be reined in.  When considering ECB activity, though, one has to look at who is running the show, just like with the Fed.  And Madame Christine Lagarde has never given any indication that she is considering reducing the amount of support the ECB is providing to the Eurozone economy.  Rather, just last week she explained that inflation’s path is likely to be a “hump” which will fall back down to, and below, their 2.0% target in the near future, so there is no need to be concerned over recent data.

Finally, the BOE finds itself in a sticky situation because of the relatively larger impact of the omicron variant in the UK versus elsewhere.  While Governor Bailey had indicated back in October that higher rates were on the way, the BOE’s failure to act last month was a shock to the markets and futures traders are now far less certain that UK interest rates will be rising in order to fight rapidly rising prices there.  Instead, there is increased discussion of the negative impact of omicron and the fact that the Johnson government appears to be setting up for yet another nationwide lockdown, something that will clearly reduce demand pressure.  So, there is now only a 20% probability priced into the BOE raising rates to 0.25% next week from the current 0.10% level.  This is not helping the pound’s performance at all.

And lastly, the PBOC
Adjusted a rare policy
FX RRR
Was raised to a bar
Two points o’er its prior degree

One last piece of news this morning was the PBOC announcement that they were raising the FX Reserve Ratio Requirement from 7% to 9% effective the same day the RRR for bank capital is being cut.  This little-known ratio is designed to help the PBOC in its currency management efforts by forcing banks to increase their FX liquidity.  This is accomplished by local banks buying dollars and selling renminbi.  It is a clear sign that the PBOC was getting uncomfortable with the renminbi’s recent strength.  Today is the second time they have raised the FX RRR this year with the first occurring at the end of May.  Prior to that, this tool had not been used since 2007!  Also, if you look at the chart, following this move in May, USDCNH rose 2.25% in the ensuing three weeks.  Since the announcement at 6:10 this morning, USDCNH is higher by 0.5% already.  It can be no surprise that the Chinese are fighting the strength of the yuan as it remains a key outlet valve for economic pressures.  And while Evergrande is officially in default, as well as several other Chinese property developers, the PBOC maintains that is not a problem.  But it is a problem and they are trying to figure out how to resolve it without flooding the economy with additional liquidity and without losing face.

With all that in mind, let’s see how markets have behaved.  Yesterday’s ongoing rebound in US equity markets only partially carried over to Asia with the Nikkei (-0.5%) failing to be inspired although the Hang Seng (+1.1%) and Shanghai (+1.0%) both benefitted from PBOC comments regarding the resolution of Evergrande.  European bourses are in the red, but generally not by that much (DAX -0.35%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.2%).  There was little in the way of data released in the Eurozone or UK, but Schnabel’s comments about PEPP purchases inflating assets have put a damper on things.  US futures, too, are sliding this morning with all three major indices lower by about -0.4% or so.

One cannot be surprised that bonds are rallying a bit, between the large declines seen yesterday and the growing risk-off sentiment, so Treasuries (-2.2bps) are actually lagging the move in Europe (Bunds -3.6bps, OATs -3.8bps, Gilts -4.7bps) and even PIGS bond yields have slipped.  Clearly bonds feel like a better investment this morning.

After a 1-week rally of real significance, oil (-0.7%) is consolidating some of those gains and a bit softer on the day.  NatGas (-0.7%) is also lower and we are seeing weakness in metals prices, both precious (Au -0.2%. Ag -0.7%) and industrial (Cu -1.4%).  Foodstuffs are also under pressure this morning, but at this time of year that is far more weather related than anything else.

As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger this morning with the only G10 currency to gain being the yen (+0.1%) and the rest of the bloc under pressure led by NOK (-1.0%) and AUD (-0.45%) feeling the heat of weaker commodity prices.  I must mention the euro (-0.3%) which seems to be adjusting based on the slight change in tone of the relative views of FOMC and ECB policies, with the ECB dovishness back to the fore.

EMG currencies are also mostly softer although there are a few outliers the other way.  The laggards are ZAR (-1.0%) on the back of softer commodity prices and TRY (-0.9%) which continues to suffer from its current monetary policy stance and should continue to do so until that changes.  We’ve already discussed CNY/CNH and see HUF (-0.5%) also under pressure as the 0.2% rise in the deposit rate was not seen as sufficient by the market to fight ongoing inflation pressures.  On the plus side, the noteworthy gainer is CLP (+0.5%) which seems to be responding to the latest polls showing strength in the conservative candidate’s showing.  Also, I would be remiss if I did not highlight BRL’s 1.5% gain since yesterday as the BCB raised rates by the expected 1.50% and hawkish commentary indicating another 1.50% rate rise in February.

On the data front, Initial (exp 220K) and Continuing (1910K) Claims are really all we see this morning, neither of which seem likely to have an FX impact.  Tomorrow’s CPI data, on the other hand, will be closely watched.

The current narrative remains the Fed is quickening the pace of tapering QE in order to give themselves the flexibility to raise rates sooner given inflation’s intractable rise.  As long as that remains the story, the dollar should remain well supported, and I think that can be the case right up until the equity markets respond negatively.  Any sharp decline will be met with a dovish Fed response and the dollar will suffer at that point.  Be prepared.

Good luck and stay safe
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