The story of civilization
Is growth due to carbonization
But fears about warming
Have started transforming
Some policies ‘cross most each nation
Alas, despite recent fixation
On policy coordination
Nat Gas are too few
Resulting in more price inflation
Perhaps there is no greater irony (at least currently) than the fact that governments around the world must secretly be praying for a very warm winter as their policies designed to forestall global warming have resulted in a growing shortage of fuels for heating and transportation. Evergrande has become a passé discussion point as the overwhelming consensus is that the Chinese government will not allow things to get out of hand. (I hope they’re right!) This has allowed the market to turn its attention to other issues with the new number one concern the rapidly rising price of natural gas. One of the top stories over the weekend has been the shuttering of petrol stations in the UK as they simply ran out of gasoline to pump. Meanwhile, Nat Gas prices have been climbing steadily and are now $5.35/mmBTU in the US, up 4.2% today and 110% YTD. As to the Europeans, they would kill for gas that cheap as it is currently running 3x that, above $16.00/mmBTU.
Apparently, policies designed to reduce the production of fossil fuels have effectively reduced fossil fuel production. At the same time, greater reliance on less stable energy sources, like wind and solar power, have resulted in insufficient overall energy production. While during the initial stages of Covid shutdowns, when economic activity cratered, this didn’t pose any problems, now that economies around the world are reopening with substantial pent-up demand for various goods and services, it has become increasingly clear that well-intentioned policies have resulted in dramatically bad outcomes. While Europe appears to be the epicenter of this problem, it is being felt worldwide and the result is that real economic activity will decline across the board. Hand-in-hand with that outcome will be even more price pressures higher throughout the world. Policymakers, especially central bankers, will have an increasingly difficult time addressing these issues with their available toolkits. After all, central banks cannot print natural gas, only more money to chase after the limited amount available.
The important question for market observers is, how will rising energy prices impact financial markets? It appears that the first impacts are being felt in the bond markets, where in the wake of the FOMC meeting last week, yields have been climbing steadily around the world. In the first instance, the belief is that starting in November, the Fed will begin reducing its QE purchases, which will lead to higher yields from the belly to the back of the curve. But as we continue to see yields climb (Treasuries +3.3bps today), you can be sure the rationale will include rising inflation. After all, our textbooks all taught us that higher inflation expectations lead to higher yields.
The problem for every government around the world, given pretty much all of them are massively overindebted, is that higher yields are unaffordable. Consider that, as of the end of 2020, the global government debt / GDP ratio was 105%, while the total debt /GDP ratio was 356% (according to Axios). That is not an environment into which central banks can blithely raise interest rates to address inflation in the manner then Fed Chair Volcker did in the late 1970’s. In fact, it is far more likely they will do what they can to prevent interest rates from rising too high. This is the reason I continue to believe that while the Fed may begin to taper at some point, tapering will not last very long. They simply cannot afford it. So, while bond markets around the world are under pressure today (Bunds +1.8bps, OATs +2.8bps, Gilts +2.9bps), and by rights should have significant room to decline, this movement will almost certainly be capped.
Equity markets, on the other hand, have room to run somewhat further, as despite both significant overvaluation by virtually every traditional metric, as well as record high margin debt, in an inflationary environment, a claim on real assets is better than a claim on ‘paper’ assets like bonds. While Asian markets (Nikkei 0.0%, Hang Seng +0.1%, Shanghai -0.8%) have not been amused by the rise in energy prices, European bourses are behaving far better (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.2%). As an aside, part of the German story is clearly the election, where the Social Democrats appear to have won a small plurality of seats, but where there is no obvious coalition to be formed to run the country. It appears Germany’s role on the global stage will be interrupted as the nation tries to determine what it wants to do domestically over the next few weeks/months. In the meantime, early session strength in the US futures markets has faded away with NASDAQ futures (-0.4%) now leading the way lower.
Turning to the key driver of markets today, commodity prices, we see oil (WTI +1.25%) continuing its recent rally, and pushing back to $75/bbl. We’ve already discussed Nat Gas and generally all energy prices are higher. But this is not a broad-based commodity rally, as we are seeing weakness throughout the metals complex (Au -0.1%, Cu -0.3%, Al -0.2% and Sn -4.8%). Agricultural prices are slightly softer as well. It seems that the idea energy will cost more is having a negative impact everywhere.
Finally, the dollar is a beneficiary of this price action on the basis of a few threads. First, given energy is priced in dollars, they remain in demand given higher prices. Second, the energy situation in the US is far less problematic than elsewhere in the world, thus on a relative basis, this is a more attractive place to hold assets. So, in the G10 we see SEK (-0.5%) as the laggard, followed by the traditional havens (CHF -0.25%, JPY -0.2%), as the dollar seems to be showing off its haven bona fides today. In the EMG bloc, THB (-0.8%) leads the way lower followed by ZAR (-0.7%) and PHP (-0.7%), with other currencies mostly softer and only TRY (+0.5%) showing any strength on the day. The baht has suffered on traditional macro issues with concerns continuing to grow regarding its current account status, with the Philippines seeing the same issues. Rand appears to have reacted to the metals complex. As to TRY, part of this is clearly a rebound from an extremely weak run last week, and part may be attributed to news of a Nat Gas find in the Black Sea which is forecast to be able to provide up to one-third of Turkey’s requirements in a few years.
As it is the last week of the month, we do get some interesting data, although payrolls are not released until October 8th.
|Tuesday||Case Shiller Home Prices||20.0%|
|Core PCE||0.2% (3.5% Y/Y)|
|ISM Prices Paid||77.5|
Naturally, all eyes will be on Friday’s PCE data as the Fed will want to be able to show that price pressures are moderating, hence their transitory story is correct (it’s not.) But I cannot help but see the House Price index looking at a 20.0% rise in the past twelve months and think about how the Fed’s inflation measures just don’t seem to capture reality.
Rising yields in the US seem to be beginning to attract international investors, specifically Japanese investors as USDJPY has been moving steadily higher over the past two weeks. The YTD high has been 111.66, not far from current levels. Watch that for a potential breakout and perhaps, the beginning of a sharp move higher in the dollar.
Good luck and stay safe