Would That, Fear, Provoke?

Remember when everyone said
That Jay and his friends at the Fed
Would taper their buying
While still pacifying
Investors, lest screens all turn red?

Well, what if before the Fed spoke
That Evergrande quickly went broke?
Would traders still bet
The buying of debt
Will end? Or would that, fear, provoke?

Fear is in the air this morning as concerns over the status of China Evergrande’s ability to repay its mountain of debt seriously escalate.  Remember, Evergrande is the Chinese property developer with more than $300 billion in debt outstanding, and that has said they will not be repaying an $84 million loan due today, with the prospect for interest payments due this Thursday also gravely in doubt.  One cannot be surprised that the Hang Seng (-3.3%) reacted so negatively this morning, after all, that is the Evergrande’s main listing exchange.  Other property developers listed there came under substantial pressure as well, with one (Sinic Holdings Group) seeing its price fall 87% before trading was suspended.

Of equal interest to the fact that equity markets are trembling on the Evergrande story is the plethora of press that continues to explain that even if Evergrande goes bust, any fallout will be limited.  Columnists and pundits point to the damage that occurred when the Fed allowed Lehman Brothers to go bust and explain that will never be allowed again.  And while I’m certain they are correct, financial officials have exactly zero interest in allowing that type of situation to repeat, it remains far from clear they can prevent it.  That is, of course, unless the Chinese government is going to step in and pay the debts, something that seems highly unlikely.  As I continue to read and hear how this situation is nothing like Lehman, having had a front row seat to that disaster, I cannot help but see a great many parallels, including many assurances that the underlying cause of that contagion, subprime mortgage loans, was a small portion of the market and any fallout would be controlled.  We all know how well that worked out.

Remember, too, that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been aggressively attacking different sectors of the Chinese economy, specifically those sectors where great wealth (and power) was amassed and has implemented numerous changes to the previous rules.  This is the key reason the Shanghai stock market has underperformed the S&P 500 by 25% over the past year.  One of Xi’s problems is that property development has been a critical part of the growth of China’s economy and a source of significant income to all the provinces and cities.  Proceeds from the sales of property have funded infrastructure as well as helped moderate taxes.  If Evergrande goes under, the impact on the entire Chinese economy seems likely to be significant.  And all this is happening while the growth in China’s credit impulse has been declining rapidly, portending slower growth there anyway.

History has shown that situations of this nature are rarely effectively contained and there is usually fallout across numerous different areas.  Consider that global equity market indices have been hovering just below all-time high levels with stretched valuations on any measure on the basis of TINA and FOMO.  But between the two key emotions evident in investing, fear and greed, I assure you, fear is by far the more powerful.  While anything can still happen, fear is starting to spread more widely today than last week as evidenced by the sea of red across all equity markets today.

If you think that the Fed is going to taper their asset purchases into a period of market weakness, you are gravely mistaken.  The combination of slowing growth and market fear will induce a call for more support, not less, and history has shown that ever since October 1987 and Alan Greenspan’s response to Black Monday, the Fed will respond with more money.  The question this time is, will it be enough to stop the fall?  Interesting times lie ahead.

Most of Asia was on holiday last night, with only Hong Kong and Australia (ASX 200 -2.1%) open.  But Europe is open for business and the picture is not pretty.  The FTSE 100 (-1.55%) is the best performing market today with the continent (DAX -2.15%, CAC -2.1%) emblematic of every market currently open.  US futures, meanwhile, are the relative winners with losses ‘only’ ranging from the NASDAQ (-1.1%) to the Dow (-1.6%).  Now, don’t you feel better?

It can be no surprise that bonds are in demand this morning as risk is undeniably ‘off’ across all markets.  Treasury yields have fallen 3.6bps amid a flattening yield curve, while European sovereigns have all seen price gains as well with yields there slipping between 2.6bps (OATs) and 3.2 bps (Bunds).  In every case, we are seeing yield curves flatten, which tends to imply an increasing expectation of weaker economic activity.

Commodity prices are broadly under pressure as well this morning, with oil (-2.0%) leading the way but weakness across industrial metals (Cu -2.0%, Al -0.65%, Sn -1.2%) and agriculturals (corn -1.6%, wheat -0.9%, soybeans -1.0%) as well.  Gold (+0.2%) on the other hand, seems to have retained some of its haven status.

Speaking of havens, the dollar, yen and Swiss franc remain the currencies of choice in a crisis, so it should be no surprise they are today’s leaders.  Versus the dollar, the yen (+0.4%) and franc (+0.2%) are the only gainers on the day.  Elsewhere in the G10, AUD (-0.55%), SEK (-0.5%), CAD (-0.5%) and NOK (-0.4%) are the worst performers.  Obviously, oil’s decline is weighing on the krone and Loonie, but AUD is feeling it from the rest of the commodity complex, notably iron ore (Australia’s largest export by value) which has fallen to $105/ton, less than half its price on July 15th!

In the emerging markets, RUB (-0.8%) is feeling the heat from oil, while ZAR (-0.55%) has metals fatigue.  But every EMG currency that was open last night or is trading right now is down versus the dollar, with no prospects of a rebound unless risk attitude changes.  And that seems unlikely today.

On the data front, aside from the Fed on Wednesday, it is a housing related week.

Tuesday Housing Starts 1550K
Building Permits 1600K
Wednesday Existing Home Sales 5.88M
FOMC Rate Decision 0.00%-0.25%
Thursday Initial Claims 320K
Continuing Claims 2630K
Flash PMI Manufacturing 60.8
Friday New Home Sales 710K

Source: Bloomberg

As well as the Fed, on Thursday the Bank of England meets and while there is no expectation of a policy move then, there is increasing talk of tighter policy there as well.  Again, if fear continues to dominate markets, central banks are highly unlikely to tighten, and, in fact, far more likely to add yet more liquidity to the system.  Once the Fed meeting has passed, the FOMC members will get back out on the circuit to insure we understand what they are trying to do.  so, we will hear from five of them on Friday, and then a bunch more activity next week.

Today’s watchword is fear.  Markets are afraid and risk is being tossed overboard.  Absent a comment or event that can offset the China Evergrande led story, I see no reason for the dollar to do anything but rally.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Flames of Concern

While Fed commentary is banned
Inflation has certainly fanned
The flames of concern
And soon we’ll all learn
If prices are acting as planned

Meanwhile transitory’s the word
Jay’s used to describe what’s occurred
But most people feel
Inflation is real
And denial is naught but absurd

It is CPI day in the US today and recently the results have gained nearly as much attention as the monthly payroll data.  This seems reasonable given that pretty much every other story in the press touches on the subject, although as is constantly highlighted, the Fed pays attention to PCE, not CPI.  Nonetheless, CPI is the data that is designed to try to capture the average rate of increases in price for the ordinary consumer.  As well, virtually all contracts linked to inflation are linked to CPI.  So Social Security, union wage contracts and TIPS all use CPI as their benchmark.

Of course, the reason inflation is the hot topic is because it has been so hot over the past nine months.  Consider that since Paul Volcker was Fed Chair and CPI peaked at 14.8%, in 1980, there has been a secular decline for 40 years.  Now, for the first time since 1990, we are likely to have four consecutive Y/Y CPI prints in excess of 5.0%.  Although Powell and the FOMC have been very careful to avoid defining ‘transitory’, every month that CPI (and PCE) prints at levels like this serves to strain their credibility.

This is evidenced by a survey conducted by the New York Fed itself, which yesterday showed that the median expectation for inflation in one year’s time has risen to 5.2% and in three years’ time to 4.0%.  Both of these readings are the highest in the survey’s relatively short history dating back to 2013.  But the point is, people are becoming ever more certain that prices will continue rising.  And remember, while inflation may be a monetary phenomenon, it is also very much a psychological one.  If people believe that prices will rise in the future, they are far more likely to increase their demand for things currently in order to avoid paying those future high prices.  In other words, hoarding will become far more normal and expectations for higher prices will become embedded in the collective psyche.

In fact, it is this exact situation that the Fed is desperately trying to prevent, hence the constant reminders that inflation is transitory and so behavioral changes are unnecessary.  This is what also leads to absurdities like the White House trying to explain that except for the prices of beef, pork and poultry, food prices are in line with what would be expected.  Let’s unpack that for a minute.  Beef, pork and poultry are the three main protein sources consumed in this country, if not around the world, so the fact that those have risen in price makes it hard to avoid the idea that prices are rising.  But the second half of the statement is also disingenuous, “in line with what would be expected” does not indicate prices haven’t risen, only that they haven’t risen as much as beef etc.  I’m sure that when each of you heads to the supermarket to stock up for the week, you have observed the price of almost every item is higher than it was, not only pre-Covid, but also at the beginning of the year.  Alas, at this point, there is no reason to expect inflation to slow down.

Median expectations according to Bloomberg’s survey of economists show that CPI is forecast to have risen 0.4% in August with the Y/Y increase declining to 5.3% from last month’s 5.4% reading.  Ex food and energy, the forecasts are +0.3% and 4.2% respectively.  Now, those annual numbers are 0.1% lower than the July readings, which have many economists claiming that the peak is in, and a slow reversion to the lowflation environment we experienced for the past twenty years is going to return.  Counter to that argument, though, is the idea that the economy is cyclical and that includes inflation.  As such, even if there is an ebb for now, the next cycle will likely return us to these levels once again, if not higher.  PS, if the forecasts are accurate, as I mentioned before, this will still be the fourth consecutive month of 5+% CPI, a fact which makes it much easier for the masses to believe inflation has returned.  You can see why Powell and the entire FOMC continue to harp on the transitory concept, they are desperate to prevent expectations from changing because, as we’ve discussed before, they cannot afford to raise interest rates given the amount of leverage in the system.

Keeping all this in mind, it is easy to understand why the CPI data release has gained so much in importance, even to the Fed, who ostensibly focuses on PCE.  We shall see what the data brings.

In the meantime, the markets overnight have been mostly quiet with a few outlying events.  China Evergrande, the massively indebted Chinese property company has hired two law firms with expertise in bankruptcy.  This is shaking the Chinese markets as given the massive amount of debt involved (>$300 billion of USD debt) there is grave concern a bankruptcy could have significant knock-on repercussions across all sub-prime markets.  It should be no surprise that Chinese equity markets fell last night with Shanghai (-1.4%) and the Hang Seng (-1.2%) both under continued pressure.  However, the Nikkei (+0.7%) rose to its highest level since 1990, although still well below the peak levels from the Japanese bubble of the late ‘80s.  Europe is also mixed with the DAX (+0.1%) managing to eke out some gains while the rest of the continent slides into the red (CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.3%). US futures are basically unchanged this morning as we all await the CPI data.

Interestingly, despite a lot of equity uncertainty and weakness, bonds are also under pressure with yields rising across the board.  Treasuries (+1.2bps), Bunds (+1.9bps), OATs (+1.6bps) and Gilts (+3.8bps) have all sold off, with only Gilts making some sense as UK employment data was generally better than expected and indicative of a rebound in growth.

In the commodity markets, oil (WTI + 0.6%) continues to rebound as another hurricane hits the Gulf Coast and is shutting in more production.  But metals prices are under pressure led by copper (-1.25%) and aluminum (-1.0%).

As to the dollar, mixed is the best description I can give this morning.  In the G10, AUD (-0.5%) is the laggard after RBA Governor Lowe questioned why market participants thought the RBA would be raising rates anytime soon despite potential tapering in the US and Europe.  Australia is in a very different position and unlikely to raise rates before 2024.  On the plus side, NOK (+0.4%) continues to benefit from oil’s rebound and the rest of the bloc has seen much more modest movement, less than 0.2%, in either direction.

EMG markets are a bit weaker this morning, seemingly responding to the growing risk off sentiment as we see ZAR (-0.65%) and RUB (-0.5%) both under a fair amount of pressure with a long list of currencies declining by lesser amounts.  While declining metals prices may make sense as a driver of the rand, the ruble seems to be ignoring the oil price rally, as traders await the CPI data.  On the plus side, KRW (+0.45%) was the best performer as positions locally were adjusted ahead of the upcoming holiday there.

And that’s really the story as we await the CPI release.  The dollar, while softening slightly from its best levels recently, continues to feel better rather than worse, so I suspect we could see modest further strength if CPI is on target.  However, a miss in the print can have more significant repercussions, with a high print likely to see the dollar benefit  initially.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Could Be Dead

The tapering talk at the Fed
Continues as they look ahead
Though growth’s clearly slowing
Inflation is growing
So, QE, next year, could be dead

In Europe, though, it’s not the same
As price rises largely are tame
But plenty of squawks
From ECB hawks
Have feathered the doves with great shame

Central bank meetings continue to be key highlights on the calendar and this week is no different.  Thus far we have already heard from the RBA, who left policy unchanged, as despite inflation running at 3.8% Q/Q, are unwilling to tighten policy amid a massive nationwide lockdown.  After all, how can they justify tighter policy as growth continues to sag?

This morning the BOC meets, and the universal view is that the Overnight Lending rate will be left unchanged at 0.25%.  However, you may recall that the BOC has actually begun to taper its QE purchases, reducing the weekly amount of purchases to C$2 billion from its peak setting of C$4 billion.  Most of the punditry believe that there will be no change in the rate of QE at this meeting as the bank will want to evaluate the impact of the delta variant on the Canadian economy more fully, but most also believe that the next step lower will occur in October.  In either event, though, it seems the currency markets remain far more focused on the US half of the equation than on what the other central bank is doing.  After all, since the BOC began to taper policy in April, the Loonie has weakened by more than 1%, although it did show initial strength in the wake of the surprise announcement.

Turning to tomorrow’s ECB meeting, there has also been a clear delineation between the hawks and doves as to the proper steps going forward.  Given the macroeconomic situation in Europe, where growth is slowing from relatively modest levels and inflation remains far below levels seen in either the US or Canada (or Australia or the UK), it would seem that the doves should retain the upper hand in the discussion.

But one of the key, inherent, flaws in the Eurozone is that different countries tend to have very different economies as well as very different fiscal policies, and so the individual economic outcomes vary greatly.  Thus, while Spain remains mired with excessively high unemployment and lackluster growth prospects, as does Italy, Germany has seen rising prices in a much more sustained fashion, with CPI there running a full percentage point above the Eurozone as a whole.  Given that German DNA is vehemently anti-inflation (a result of the suffering of the Weimar Hyperinflation of the 1920’s), this situation has resulted in Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and some of his closest colleagues (Austria’s Holtzmann and the Netherlands’ Knot) vociferously calling for a reduction in the rate of purchases in the PEPP.  However, most of the rest of the committee sees no need to slow things down.  The question tomorrow is whether or not Madame Lagarde will be able to tether the hawks.  While there is market talk that tapering will occur, my money is on no change in the pace of purchases.  The direct impact of this should be further modest weakness in the euro and a rebound in European sovereign bond market prices.

As to the Fed, they meet in two weeks’ time and after Powell’s Jackson Hole performance, I think there are vanishingly few players who believe they are going to even announce the tapering schedule then.  However, that does not mean that the segment of the FOMC who are adamantly pro-taper will be quiet, and so expect to hear a steady stream of tapering talk until the quiet period begins on Saturday.  In fact, just last night St Louis President Bullard was interviewed by the FT and reiterated his vocal stance that tapering needs to begin right away.  As well, we will hear from Dallas’ Kaplan later today with his message guaranteed to be the same.  Of more interest will be NY’s Williams, who speaks this afternoon at 1:10pm, and who has yet to voice his tapering opinion.  If he does say tapering is necessary, that would be an important signal, so we must pay close attention.

With all that in mind, markets overnight have started to take a somewhat dimmer view of risk, especially in Europe.  In fact, looking around, only the Nikkei (+0.9%) has been able to see any positivity as the rest of Asia (Hang Seng -0.1%, Shanghai -0.1%) edged lower while Europe (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 -0.5%) are seeing much greater selling.  That said, the situation on the Continent was worse earlier in the session with losses everywhere greater than 1.0%.  US futures, meanwhile, are essentially unchanged on the morning, although leaning slightly lower.

In the bond market, buyers have returned with Treasury yields falling 2.4bps, reversing half of yesterday’s climb.  But Europe, too, is seeing demand for havens with Bunds (-1.2bps), OATs (-1.5bps) and Gilts (-1.0bps) all decently bid this morning.  Certainly, if the ECB does reduce its PEPP purchases you can expect yields across the board in Europe to rise.  And, in fact, that is why I don’t expect that to occur!

In a bit of a conundrum, commodity prices are generally higher, alongside the dollar.  Looking at WTI (+1.4%), it seems that energy is on the rise everywhere.  (Pay attention to Uranium, which has rallied 32% in the past month and is structurally bullish as current demand is significantly greater than the run rate of production.)  But weirdly, other than copper (-0.8%) every other key commodity is higher this morning with Au (+0.3%), Al (+0.5%) and Soybeans (+0.7%) leading the way.

This is strange because the dollar is broadly, albeit generally modestly, higher this morning.  In the G10, EUR, CAD and DKK are all softer by 0.2% while only NZD (+0.1%) has managed any gains on the back of the strength in commodity prices.  In the emerging markets, the situation is far more pronounced with TRY (-1.0%) leading the way lower after the central bank indicated rate cuts were coming, although we also saw weakness overnight in KRW (-0.75%), THB (-0.5%) and TWD (-0.4%).  All of these Asian currencies suffered on a pure risk-off viewpoint as equity markets in these nations fell as well.  But it’s not just APAC currencies as we are seeing weakness in EMEA with HUF (-0.5%) and PLN (-0.3%) also under pressure.

On the data front, today brings the JOLTS Job Openings report (exp 10.049M) which continues to indicate the labor market is quite tight despite the payroll data last week.  And after that we get the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00.  To my mind, Williams’ speech at 1:10pm is the most important story of the day, so we will need to pay close attention when he starts speaking.

Overall, it appears that the dollar bulls have regained the upper hand and are slowly pushing the greenback higher versus most counterparts.  If Williams does agree tapering is needed, I expect the dollar to take another leg higher.  But if he is clear that there is no rush, especially with the delta variant impact, look for the dollar to cede some of its recent gains and equity markets to regain a little spring in their step.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Severely Distraught

At Jackson Hole, Powell explained
Inflation goals have been attained
But joblessness still
Is high, so they will
Go slow ere their bond buying’s waned

The market heard slow and they thought
The stock market had to be bought
So, prices keep rising
And it’s not surprising
The hawks are severely distraught

In my absence, clearly the biggest story has been Chairman Powell’s Jackson Hole speech, where he promised at some point that the Fed would begin to taper their bond purchases, but that it was still a bit too early to do so.  He admitted that inflation had achieved their target but was still quite concerned over the employment portion of the Fed’s mandate, hence the ongoing delay in the tapering.  And perhaps he was prescient as after Jackson Hole the NFP number was a massively disappointing miss, just 235K vs 733K median forecast.  And to be clear, that number was well below the lowest forecast of 70 estimates.  The point is, the evolution of the economy is clearly not adhering to the views expressed by many, if not most, FOMC members.  We have begun to see significant reductions in GDP growth forecasts for the second half of the year, with major investment banks all cutting their forecasts and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow number falling to a remarkably precise 3.661% for Q3.

With this as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that the dollar has fallen dramatically during the past two weeks.  For instance, in the G10, NOK (+4.2%) and NZD (+4.2%) both led the way higher as commodity prices rebounded, oil especially, and the US interest rates fell.  In fact, the only currency to underperform the dollar since my last note has been the Japanese yen (-0.15%), which is essentially unchanged.  The story is the same in the EMG space with virtually every currency rising led by ZAR (+6.9%) and BRL (+4.1%).  In fact, only Argentina’s peso (-0.65%) managed to decline over the previous two weeks.  The point is, the belief in a stronger dollar, based on the idea of the Fed tapering QE and then eventually raising interest rates, has come a cropper.  The question is, where do we go from here?

With Jay in the mirror, rearview
It’s Christine’s time, now, to come through
On Thursday we’ll hear
If she’s set to steer
The ECB toward Waterloo

As the market walks in after the Labor Day holiday in the US, we are seeing the beginnings of a correction of the past two week’s price action, at least in the FX markets.  Surveying the overnight data shows a minor dichotomy in Germany, where IP (+1.0%) rose a bit more than expected although the ZEW Surveys were both softer than expected.  Meanwhile, Eurozone GDP grew at a slightly better than previously reported 2.2% quarterly rate in Q2, although that does not include the most recent wave of delta variant imposed lockdowns.  In other words, we are no longer observing either uniform strength or weakness in the data, with different parts of each national economy being impacted very differently by Covid-19.  One other thing to note here is the decline in support for the ruling CDU party in Germany where elections will be held in less than two weeks.  It seems that despite 16 years of relative prosperity there, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the populace is looking for a change.  This matters to the FX markets as a change in German economic policy priorities is going to have a major impact on the Eurozone, and by extension the euro.  Of course, at this point, it is too early to tell just what that impact may be.

Of more immediate interest to the market will be Thursday’s ECB meeting, where, while policy settings will not be altered, all eyes and ears will be on Madame Lagarde to understand if the ECB, too, is now beginning to consider a tapering of its QE purchases.  Last week, CPI data from the Eurozone printed at 3.0%, its highest level since September 2008, and well above the ECB’s 2.0% target (albeit not quite as far above as in the US).  This has some of the punditry starting to expect that the ECB, too, is ready to begin to taper QE.  However, the Eurozone growth impulse remains significantly slower than that in the US, and with the area unemployment rate still running at an uncomfortably high 7.6%, (much higher in the PIGS), it remains difficult to see why they would be so keen to begin removing accommodation.  Given the ECB storyline, similar to the Fed, is that inflation is transitory, there is no reason to believe the ECB is getting set to move soon.  Rather, I expect that although the PEPP may well end next March on schedule, it will simply be replaced with either an extension or expansion of the original APP, and likely both.  The reality is that the bulk of the Eurozone would see a collapse in growth without the ongoing support of the ECB.

Turning away from that happy news, a quick survey of markets shows that equities in Asia have continued their recent strong performance (Nikkei +0.9%, Hang Seng +0.7%, Shanghai +1.5%), all of which have rallied sharply in the past two weeks.  Europe, however, has not embraced today’s data, or is nervous about potential ECB action, as markets there are a bit softer (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.4%).  US futures markets are essentially unchanged at this hour, continuing their recent very slow grind higher.

Of more interest today is the bond market, where Treasury yields have rallied 4.1 basis points and we are seeing higher yields throughout Europe as well (Bunds +3.9bps, OATs +4.3bps, Gilts +3.2bps).  During my break, yields have managed to rally 10bps (including today) which really tells you that the market is still completely in thrall to the transitory story.  Either that, or the Fed continues to absorb any excess paper around.  However, higher yields seem to be helping the dollar more than other currencies despite similar size movements.

While the movement has not been significant, especially compared to the dollar weakness seen during the past two weeks, we are seeing strength in the dollar vs G10 currencies (AUD -0.5%, CAD -0.4%); EMG currencies (ZAR -0.6%, TRY -0.6%); and commodities (WTI -0.6%, Au -0.7%, Cu -1.1%).  Looking at today’s price action, it appears that US rate movement has been the dominant driver.

On the data front, it is a remarkably quiet week with just a handful of numbers:

Wednesday JOLTs Job Openings 10.0M
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 335K
Continuing Claims 2744K
PPI 0.6% (8.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (6.6% Y/Y)

Source: Bloomberg

We also hear from six Fed speakers, with NY President Williams the most important voice.  But thus far, the Fed’s messaging has been quite effective as they continue to assuage fixed income investors with the transitory tale and thus interest rates remain near their longer-term lows.  While at some point I expect this narrative to lose its hold on the investment community, it does not appear to be an imminent threat.

While I was out, the market flipped its views from concern over tapering leading to higher interest rates, to when tapering comes, it will be “like watching paint dry”*.  FX investors and traders determined there was no cause for a much stronger dollar, and so the buck gave back previous gains and now sits back in the middle of its trading range.  As such, we need to search for the next potential catalyst to change big picture views.  While my money is on the collapse of the transitory narrative, and ensuing dollar weakness, you can be certain the Fed will fight hard to keep that story going.  In other words, I expect that the trading range will remain intact for the foreseeable future.  Trade accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

*June 15, 2017 comments from then Fed Chair Janet Yellen regarding the normalization of Fed policy and the balance sheet, where she described the process as similar to watching paint dry.  It turns out, that policy process was a bit more exciting, especially in Q4 2018 when equity markets fell 20% and Chair Powell was forced to abandon that policy.

Nothing Will Thwart

Inflation continues to be
The problem the Fed will not see
The latest report
Shows nothing will thwart
Their views that it’s transitory

Perspective is a funny thing; it has the ability to allow different people to see the same events in very different ways.  For example, yesterday’s CPI report, which printed at 5.4% headline and 4.3% ex food & energy, was fodder for both those with an inflationary bias and those who are in the transitory camp.  As predicted here yesterday morning, any number that was not higher than the June report would be touted as proof inflation is transitory.  And so it has been.  The highlighted facts are the month on month reading was ‘only’ 0.5%, much lower than the previous three months’ readings of 0.9%.  Of course, that is true, but it ignores the fact that a monthly rate of 0.5% annualizes to 6.16%, still dramatically higher than the target.  As well, there was much ink spilled on the fact that used car prices, which had admittedly been rising remarkably quickly due to the unusual circumstances of the semiconductor shortage impeding new car production, fell back to a more normal pace of growth.  The problem with that story is despite one of the ostensible key reasons inflation had been misleadingly higher, used car prices, ceasing to be an issue, inflation still printed at 5.4%!  Clearly there are other things at work here.

Another aspect of perspective comes in the form of the averaging concept, which is the Fed’s latest ruse in rationalizing higher inflation.  For instance, those in the transitory camp, which seems to include the entire FOMC, but also much of the punditry, remain hostile to the idea of inflation settling in at a rate of 1.8%, slightly below the Fed’s target, but are entirely sanguine about that same statistic running at 2.8% for a while to help make up for lost time.  It is this distorted lens that seems to drive the description of inflation as ‘too-low’.  From up here in the cheap seats, inflation cannot be too low.  The idea that we are all better off with prices rising is wrong on its face.

And the idea that wage increases drive inflation also needs to be reconsidered.  After all, if that were the case, we would all be rooting for inflation as that means our wages would be rising quickly.  However, as we know simply by living our lives, and as has been demonstrated by the data, wage increases are broadly lagging inflation.  In fact, yesterday, as part of the Bureau of Labor Statistics data dump, Real Average Hourly and Weekly Earnings showed Y/Y declines of -1.2% and -0.7% in July.  It is no secret that inflation destroys the real value of your earnings, and yet the Fed continues to target a higher level of inflation than had been seen during the past decade and remains comfortable that the current sharply higher numbers are inconsequential in the long run.

However, in the end, whether we agree or disagree with the Fed’s current policy stance and its impacts, the reality is we are not going to have any say in the matter.  All we can do is strive to understand their reaction functions and manage our risks accordingly.  Ultimately, I continue to see the biggest risk as a significantly higher rate of inflation in the US, which will eventually drive nominal yields somewhat higher and real yields still lower than current levels.  That cannot be good for the dollar but will likely help the prices of ‘stuff’.  In the end, be long anything on the periodic table, as that will maintain its value.

The summer doldrums continue as market movement remains fairly limited across equities, bonds, commodities and currencies.  This is not to say there aren’t individual things that move or are trending, just that the broader picture is one of a decided lack of activity.

Last night, for instance, Asian equity markets (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng -0.5%, Shanghai -0.2%) were all lower, but only just.  European markets are more mixed, with both gainers (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.2%) and losers (FTSE 100 -0.1%) but as can be seen, the movements are not terribly exciting.  This morning saw the release of a plethora of UK data led by Q/Q GDP (+4.8%) and then many of its details showing Consumption by both the government and the population at large grew dramatically, while businesses slowed down somewhat, with IP and Construction both lagging estimates.  I guess investors were generally unimpressed as both the stock market and the pound (-0.1%) have edged somewhat lower after the reports.  Finally, US futures are either side of unchanged again, with the NASDAQ continuing to lag in the wake of the recent rise in US 10-year yields.

Speaking of yields, after the very sharp rise seen in the previous five sessions, yesterday’s Treasury price action was far less exciting and this morning we see the 10-year yield higher by just 1.0 basis point after a decline of similar magnitude Wednesday.  European sovereigns show Bunds (+0.8bps) and OATs (+0.7bps) modestly softer while Gilts (+2.5bps) seem to believe that the UK data was actually better than other market impressions.

Commodity prices are mixed this morning as oil (-0.2%) has given up early gains, along with gold (-0.1%) and the agricultural space.  Copper, however, is bucking the trend and higher by 0.8%.

Lastly, the dollar can only be characterized as mixed this morning, with some weakness in AUD and NZD (-0.25% each) and some strength in NOK (+0.2%) and otherwise a lot of nothing in between.  It is hard to make a case that there is much market moving news in any of these currencies as the UK was the only country with significant new information.

Emerging market currencies are also split, with KRW (-0.4%) continuing to lag the rest of the space as concern grows over the semiconductor manufacturing sector leading to continued equity market outflows and currency sales.  I would imagine that the recent rantings by Kim Jong-Un’s little sister about increased nuclear activity cannot be helping the situation there, but it is not getting headline press in financial discussions.  Otherwise, PLN (-0.3%) is the next weakest currency in the bloc today which seems to be a reaction to some legislation passed that would ostensibly restrict media and speech in the country.  On the plus side, TRY (+1.0%) is today’s champion as traders and investors respond to the central bank’s moderately more hawkish than expected statement after leaving interest rates unchanged (at 19.0%!) as widely expected.  Otherwise, there is nothing noteworthy in the space.

Data today brings the weekly Initial Claims (exp 375K) and Continuing Claims (2.9M) data as well as PPI (7.2%, 5.6% ex food & energy).  However, with CPI already having been released, this data seems relatively insignificant.  There are no scheduled Fed speakers as most FOMC members seem to be going on vacation ahead of the Jackson Hole conference in two weeks’ time.

For now, the dollar seems to be tracking yields pretty well, so if we see movement in the bond market, look for the dollar to follow.  Otherwise, we are likely to remain rangebound for the time being.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Chorus has Grown

T’was only a few months ago
When Kaplan from Dallas said, whoa
The time has arrived
Where growth has revived
And bond buying needs to go slow

Since then, though, the chorus has grown
As seven more members have shown
That they all agree
It’s time for QE
To end and leave markets alone

We continue to hear from more FOMC members that it is time to taper the Fed’s purchases of both Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.  Last Wednesday, of course, the big news was that Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida came out so hawkishly in his comments, not only calling for tapering bond purchases but also raising rates sooner than the median forecast had anticipated.  Yesterday, three Fed speakers were all on the same page, with Boston’s Eric Rosengren the newest name added to the tapering crew (Bostic and Barkin were already known taperers.)  That takes the count to at least eight (Clarida, Bostic, Barkin, Rosengren, Bullard, Daly, Waller and Kaplan) with the two most hawkish FOMC members, Loretta Mester and Esther George, on the docket for today and tomorrow respectively.  It is not unreasonable, based on their respective histories, to expect both of them to call for tapering as well.  That would make ten of the seventeen members as confirmed supporters of the process.

The question is, will that be enough?  The Fed’s power core for the last several years has been concentrated in four members, Powell, Clarida, Williams and Brainerd.  Of this group, only Clarida has publicly proclaimed it has come time to taper.  And potentially, his importance is diminishing as his term ends within months and he is seen as highly unlikely to be reappointed.  Rather, the talk of the town is that Chairman Powell is also losing fans in the Senate with respect to his reappointment, and that Governor Lael Brainerd is the new leading candidate to become Fed Chair.  As it happens, neither of those two have come out for tapering soon, and in fact, last week, Ms Brainerd was adamant in her belief it was far too early to do so.  The point is, the Fed has never been a democratic institution although it is an extremely political one.  Having a majority of members agree on a view only matters if it is a majority of the right members.  By my count, that is not yet the case.  Perhaps come Jackson Hole in two plus weeks, we will hear the Chairman agree, but tapering is not yet a done deal.

Traders, however, see the world very differently than pundits, and certainly very differently than the Fed itself.  And what has become very clear in the past several days is that traders are increasingly placing bets that tapering is coming…and coming soon.  The combination of all those Fed speakers talking about tapering, the very strong NFP data as well as yesterday’s JOLTs blowout (>10 million jobs are open), and the constant stream of stories about rising wages (just this morning a BBG story on JPM raising salaries to compete to hold onto staff is simply the latest) have been sufficient to logically conclude that it is time for the Fed to begin removing accommodation.  Hence, Treasury yields have backed up nearly 20 basis points from the lows seen last Wednesday morning, the dollar has risen against all its counterparts and the price of oil has fallen by more than 4%.

Looking ahead, the question becomes, is this likely to continue?  Or have we reached a peak?  It is not unreasonable to assume that both George and Mester will call for tapering this week.  It is also not unreasonable to assume that the CPI data tomorrow is going to point to a still rising price environment, whether it ticks slightly higher or lower than last month’s 5.4% headline print.  Any number in that vicinity remains far above the Fed’s average target of 2.0%.  The point is that there is nothing obvious on the horizon that should cause the tapering hawks to back off, at least not until the end of the month.  As such, hedgers need to be prepared for a continuation of the recent price action.

Meanwhile, a look at today’s markets shows that these recent trends remain intact.  While Asian equity markets continue to follow their own drummer (Nikkei +0.25%, Hang Seng +1.25%, Shanghai +1.0%), European bourses continue to struggle (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.1%) as do US futures with all three major indices either side of unchanged.  Asia seems to be benefitting from the view that the PBOC is preparing to ease policy further as China responds to the increased lockdowns due to the delta variant of Covid that has been spreading quite rapidly there, in addition to the fact that the Chinese authorities have not named a new target in its seemingly random crackdown of successful companies.

Bond markets, while edging higher today, have been generally losing ground.  So, while Treasury yields are lower by 0.5bps this morning, they are at 1.32%, well off the lows seen last week.  European sovereigns are generally a touch firmer as well, with yields down by between 0.5bps and 1 bp but they, too, have seen yields climb back a bit lately.

Commodity prices, which have been under severe pressure, are rebounding slightly this morning, although this has the appearance of a trading bounce more than a sea change in view.  Commodity prices are likely to be amongst the hardest hit if the Fed really does start to tighten policy.  But this morning, oil (+2.0%) has rebounded nicely although gold (0.0%) has been unable to bounce from yesterday’s massive sell-off.  Copper (+0.65%) is leading base metals modestly higher and ags have bumped up a bit as well.

As to the dollar, right now it is arguably slightly stronger overall, but only just as there are a mix of gainers and losers vs. the greenback.  In the G10 space, the euro (-0.1%) is continuing toward its test of key support at 1.1704, albeit quite slowly.  The entire space, though, is +/- 0.2% or less, which is indicative of position adjustments rather than news driven activity.

EMG currencies are also mixed with KRW (-0.5%) the weakest of the bunch on the back of concerns over the impact of the delta variant as well as equity market outflows by international investors.  PLN (-0.4%) is the next weakest as central bank comments seemed to delay the timing of a mooted rate hike.  On the flip side, TRY (+0.6%) is the leader as Unemployment data there was released at a much lower than expected 10.6%.

Data today showed that Small Business Optimism has suffered lately with the NFIB Index falling to 99.7.  At 8:30 we see Nonfarm Productivity (exp 3.2%) and Unit Labor Costs (+1.0%), although it is unlikely either will have a big market impact.  Arguably, market participants are all waiting for tomorrow’s CPI data for the next big piece of news.

At this point, the dollar’s modest uptrend remains in place and I see no reason to believe that will change.  At least not until we hear differently from Powell or the data turns much worse.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Dire Straits

The Vice-Chair explained he foresees
A time when the Fed, by degrees
Will taper their buying
Of bonds while they’re trying
To offset the spread of disease

Soon after they finish that deed
Most members already agreed
To raise interest rates
Unless dire straits
In markets don’t let them succeed

Fed Vice-Chair Richard Clarida certainly surprised markets yesterday with his speech as he laid out his reasoning that the tapering of the Fed’s current QE purchases will occur sooner than many had previously expected.  While he started out with the caveat that the Fed will not be responding to forecasts, but rather to actual economic outcomes, he then proceeded to forecast the exact sequence of events that will occur and create the proper environment for the Fed to first, taper bond purchases and second, eventually raise interest rates.  The market response was immediate, with the bond market selling off sharply, the dollar rallying and equity markets ceding early gains alongside most commodity prices.  After all, a tighter Fed is not nearly as supportive of risk assets, but neither does it imply lower interest rates.  It is also worth noting that coincident with the release of the text of his speech was the release of the ISM Services number which printed at a much higher than expected, and record level, 64.1.  So, a positive data print and a hawkish Fed speaker were sufficient to change a lot of opinions.

But not this author’s, at least not yet.  My baseline view continues to be that the Fed remains in an extremely difficult position where inflation continues at much higher levels than which they expected or with which they are comfortable, but the employment market remains far away from their restated goal of maximum employment.  As well, as Clarida noted yesterday, and as has been repeated by numerous other Fed speakers, they promise they are not going to move on forecasts or survey data, but instead wait for actual numbers (read the NFP data and core PCE) to achieve their preferred levels before altering policy.  This means that tomorrow’s NFP data will be scrutinized even more closely than usual, as Clarida’s comments yesterday imply that even more FOMC members are ready to move.

One problem with the early taper thesis is that the data may not meet the FOMC’s requirements, at least not in the near term.  For instance, yesterday’s ADP Employment release printed at 330K, less than half the expected 690K and basically one-third of the forecasts for NFP tomorrow.  While the month to month correlation between the two data points is not perfect (0.784 over the past 5 years) it is certainly high enough to imply a strong relationship between the two.  The point is that if tomorrow’s NFP number disappoints, which cannot be ruled out, and assuming that the Fed is true to their word regarding waiting for actual data to reach their preferred levels, it would certainly suggest a delay to the tapering story.  Keep in mind, as well, that the Citi Economic Surprise Index, which measures actual releases vs. forecasts, remains in negative territory, implying that the economy is slowing further rather than extending gains seen earlier in the year.  In fact, after the much worse than expected GDP print last week, it appears that growth is already slipping back toward pre-Covid trends of 1.5% – 2.0%.  Oh yeah, none of this includes the impact of the delta variant, which has resulted in numerous lockdowns around the world and augers still slower growth.

On the flip side, though, is the fact that we have seen an increasing number of FOMC members start to accept the idea that tapering will soon be appropriate.  In addition to Clarida, yesterday we also heard from SF Fed President Daly, an avowed dove, who said, “Fed will do something on asset purchases end ’21 / early ’22.”  By my count, that makes at least six different FOMC members who have indicated tapering is coming soon.  Of this group, Clarida is by far the most important, but if even the doves like Daly are coming round to that view, tapering cannot be ruled out.

To taper or not remains the $64 trillion question for all markets, and while the recent trend of the narrative seems to be pushing in that direction, without support from ongoing improvements in employment data (after all, inflation is well through their target), it will still come to naught.

One last thing on inflation.  As the Fed tries to retake the narrative from the market, be prepared for a new description of inflation.  No longer will it be transitory, but rather, perhaps, tolerable.  In other words, they will accept that it is running hotter than their target and make the excuse that it is far more important to get the nation back to work first, at which point they can use those vaunted tools they frequently mention to address rapidly rising prices.

With all this in mind, the next question is, how will these changes impact the markets?  Yesterday’s price action is likely to be a very good case study if the data continues to support an early tapering of purchases.  Any interruption in the flow of money into the capital markets will be felt by both equities and bonds in the same way, they will fall in price, while the dollar is very likely to find a lot of support vs. both G10 and EMG counterparts.  As to commodities, my inclination is that the past year’s rally will pause, at the very least, but given they remain massively undervalued vs. other asset classes, they likely still have some upside.

On to today.  Overnight price action was mixed with the Nikkei (+0.5%) rising somewhat while Chinese shares (Hang Seng -0.8%, Shanghai -0.3%) were under pressure as stories about the next sectors to feel the wrath of regulators (sin stocks) were rampant with those falling and dragging the indices with them.  fortunately, they represent a much smaller portion of the market than the tech sector, so will have a smaller negative impact if that is, indeed, the situation.  Europe is mixed this morning (DAX +0.1%, CAC +0.35%, FTSE 100 -0.2%) as the morning data was inconclusive and investors there are far more concerned with the Fed than anything else.  As to US futures, they are all modestly higher this morning, about 0.2%.

Bond markets are showing the difference between central bank policy this morning with Treasuries consolidating yesterday’s declines and unchanged on the day, while European sovereigns (Bunds -1.0bps, OATs -1.2bps) continue to see support from an ECB that is nowhere near tightening policy.  Gilts (+2.0bps) on the other hand, are selling off a bit as the BOE meeting, just ending, revealed several things.  First, they are prepared to go to negative interest rates if they need to.  Second, they will continue their current QE pace of £3.4 billion per week, and third, that they expect inflation to reach 4.0% in Q4 of this year.  They did, however, explain that if things proceed as expected, some tightening, read higher interest rates, may be appropriate.  while the initial move in the GBP was a sharp jump higher, it has already retraced those steps and at +0.2% is only modestly up on the day.

Commodity prices are mixed with oil consolidating after yesterday’s rout and unchanged on the day.  In fact, the same is true of precious and most base metals, as traders are trying to figure out their next move, so likely waiting for tomorrow’s data.

And the dollar, interestingly, is modestly softer vs. the G10 this morning, but that is after a strong rally yesterday in the wake of the Clarida speech.  The commodity bloc is leading the way (AUD +0.35%, NOK +0.3%, NZD +0.25%) despite the lack of commodity price action.  And this also sems to ignore the 6th lockdown in Melbourne since the pandemic began last year, as the delta variant continues to wreak havoc around the world.  The rest of the G10 though, has seen much less movement.  In the emerging markets, PHP (-1.0%) was by far the worst performer overnight as the covid caseload soared to record numbers and concerns over growth expanded.  After that, TRY (-0.6%) is the next worst, as President Erdogan came out with calls for a rate cut despite rampant inflation.  However, away from those two currencies, movement has been on the order of +/- 0.2%, indicating nothing very special.  Essentially, these markets have ignored Clarida.  One last thing to note here is yesterday, the central bank of Brazil raised its SELIC rate by 1.0% to 5.25%, as inflation is exploding there.  However while BRL has been modestly stronger over the past several sessions, this was widely priced in so there was no big movement.

Data-wise, today brings Initial Claims (exp 383K), Continuing Claims (3255K) and the Trade Balance (-$74.2B), none of which seem likely to change any opinions.  Rather, at this point, all eyes are on tomorrow’s NFP data.  We also hear from two Fed speakers, Governor Waller and Minneapolis President KashKari, who is arguably the most dovish of all.  certainly if he starts talking taper, then the die is cast.  We shall see.

As I said, if tapering is on the cards, the dollar will likely test its highs from March/April, so be prepared.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Jay’s Watershed

The PMI data released
This morning show prices increased
As bottlenecks build
With orders unfilled
Inflation has shown it’s a beast

The question is, how will the Fed
Respond as they’re looking ahead
Will prices be tamed
Or else be inflamed
This may well be Jay’s watershed

Yesterday’s ECB meeting pretty much went according to plan.  There is exactly zero expectation that Lagarde and her crew will be tightening policy at any point in the remote future.  In fact, while she tried to be diplomatic over a description of when they would consider tightening policy; when they see inflation achieving their 2.0% target at the “midpoint” of their forecast horizon of two to three years, this morning Banque de France Governor Villeroy was quite explicit in saying the ECB’s projections must show inflation stable at 2.0% in 12-18 months.  In truth, it is rare for a central banker to give an explicit timeframe on anything, so this is a bit unusual.  But, in the end, the ECB essentially promised that they are not going to consider tightening policy anytime soon.  They will deal with the asset purchase programs at the next meeting, but there is no indication they are going to reduce the pace of purchases, whatever name they call the program.

One cannot be surprised that the euro fell in the wake of the ECB meeting as the market received confirmation of their previous bias that the Fed will be tightening policy before the ECB.  But will they?

Before we speak of the Fed let’s take a quick look at this morning’s PMI data out of Europe.  The most notable feature of the releases, for Germany France and the Eurozone as a whole was the rapid increase in prices.  Remember, this is a diffusion index, where the outcome is the difference between the number of companies saying they are doing something (in this case raising prices) and the number saying they are not.  In Europe, the input price index was 89, while the selling price index rose to 71.  Both of these are record high levels and both indicate that price pressures are very real in Europe despite much less robust growth than in the US.  And remember, the ECB has promised not to tighten until they see stable inflation in their forecasts 18 months ahead.  (I wonder what they will do if they see sharply rising inflation in that time frame?)

While the latest CPI reading from the Eurozone was relatively modest at 2.0%, it strikes me that price pressures of the type described by the PMI data will change those numbers pretty quickly.  Will the ECB respond if growth is still lagging?  My money is on, no, they will let prices fly, but who knows, maybe Madame Lagarde is closer in temperament to Paul Volcker than Arthur Burns.

Which brings us back to the Fed and their meeting next week.  The market discussion continues to be on the timing of any tapering of asset purchases as well as the details of how they will taper (stop buying MBS first or everything in proportion).  But I wonder if the market is missing the boat on this question.  It seems to me the question is not when will they taper but will they taper at all?  While we have not heard from any FOMC member for a week, this week’s data continues to paint a picture of an economy that has topped out and is beginning to roll over.  The most concerning number was yesterday’s Initial Claims at a much higher than expected 419K.  Not only does that break the recent downtrend, but it came in the week of the monthly survey which means there is some likelihood that the July NFP report will be quite disappointing.  Given the Fed’s hyper focus on employment, that will certainly not encourage tapering.  The other disappointing data release was the Chicago Fed National Activity Index, a number that does not get a huge amount of play, but one that is a pretty good descriptor of overall activity.  It fell sharply, to 0.09, well below both expectations and last month’s reading, again indicating slowing growth momentum.

This morning we will see the flash PMI data for the US (exp 62.0 Mfg, 64.5 Services) but of more interest will be the price components here.  Something tells me they will be in the 80’s or 90’s as prices continue to rise everywhere.  While I believe the Fed should be tapering, and raising rates too, I continue to expect them to do nothing of the sort.  History has shown that when put in these circumstances, the Fed, and most major central banks, respond far too slowly to prevent inflation getting out of hand and then ultimately are required to become very aggressive, à la Paul Volcker from 1979-82, to turn things around.  But that is a long way off in the future.

But for now, we wait for Wednesday’s FOMC statement and the following press conference.  Until then, the narrative remains the Fed is going to begin tapering sometime in 2022 and raising rates in 2023.  With that narrative, the dollar is going to remain well-bid.

Ok, on a summer Friday, it should be no surprise that markets are not very exciting.  We did see some weakness in Asia (Hang Seng -1.45%, Shanghai -0.7%, Nikkei still closed) but Europe feels good about the ECB’s promise of easy money forever with indices there all nicely higher (DAX +1.0%, CAC /-1.0%, FTSE 100 +0.8%).  US futures are higher by about 0.5% at this hour, adding to yesterday’s modest gains.

Bond markets are behaving as one would expect in a risk-on session, with yields edging higher.  Treasuries are seeing a gain of 1.3bps while Europe has seen a bit more selling pressure with yields higher by about 2bps across the board.

Commodity price are broadly higher this morning with oil (+0.1%) consolidating its recent rebound but base metals (Cu +0.4%, Al +0.7% and Sn +1.1%) all performing well.  All that manufacturing activity is driving those metals higher.  Precious metals, meanwhile, are under pressure (Au -0.5%. Ag -1.1%).

Finally, the dollar is doing well this morning despite the positive risk attitude.  In the G10, JPY (-0.3%) is the laggard as Covid infections spread, notably in the Olympic village, and concerns over the situation grow.  But both GBP (-0.25%) and CHF (-0.25%) are also under pressure, largely for the same reasons as Covid infections continue to mount.  The only gainer of note is NZD (+0.2%) which is the beneficiary of short covering going into the weekend.

In the emerging markets, ZAR (-0.55%) is the worst performer, falling as concerns grow that the SARB will remain too dovish as inflation rises there.  Recall, they just saw a higher than expected CPI print, but there is no indication that policy tightening is on the way.  HUF (-0.5%) is the other noteworthy laggard as the ongoing philosophical differences between President Orban and the EU have resulted in delays for Hungary to receive further Covid related aid that is clearly needed in the country.  The forint remains weak despite a much more hawkish tone from the central bank as well.

Other than the PMI data, there is nothing else to be released and we remain in the Fed’s quiet period, so no comments either.  Right now, the market is accumulating dollars on the basis of the idea the Fed will begin tapering soon.  If equities continue to rally, this goldilocks narrative could well help the dollar into the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

On Command

As Covid infections expand
Worldwide, and more meetings get banned
The worry is that
Growth’s surge will fall flat
And stocks will not rise on command

But Monday’s price action was fleeting
As dip buyers now are competing
To add to their stash
Of low value trash
Before the Fed’s next monthly meeting

Come with me on a journey to the past.  A time when investors considered risks as well as rewards and if those risks seemed elevated, those very same investors would consider actually selling stocks and running to the (relative) safety of the government bond market.  Risks could include slower growth, higher inflation or even the recurrence of a global pandemic.  Naturally, under circumstances of that nature, investors displayed caution.  Now, fortunately, situations like that don’t seem to happen very often anymore, although if you think back to…Monday, that seemed to be the developing narrative.   Ahh, but as Dinah Washington crooned so fantastically in 1959, What a Difference a Day Makes.

Monday’s price action and narrative might as well have occurred in 2008 during the GFC given how long ago it seems and how short memories have become over time.  So, all of the angst regarding the spread of the delta variant and additional lockdowns around the world, as well as the impact that would have on the global growth scenario has essentially been expunged from the record and it’s now all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows going forward.  At least, that’s the way it seems this morning.

Yesterday saw a significant rebound in the equity market and a sharp sell-off in Treasury and other government bond markets as the bargain hunters were out in force taking advantage of the 2% dip seen Monday.  After all, it’s not as though there was any new news released to encourage a change in view.  The only data release was Housing Starts which were marginally better than expected, but then everybody knows the housing market is en fuego.  With both the Fed and ECB in their quiet periods ahead of upcoming meetings, there were no central bank statements to help ameliorate concerns that had become manifest on Monday.  Which leads to the conclusion that nothing in the zeitgeist has changed; buy the dip because there is no alternative remains the single most powerful underlying force in markets today.

Which brings us to this morning’s situation, where the rally continues in equity markets, bond markets continue to retreat from their recent highs and commodity markets are getting their feet under themselves again.  What about inflation you may ask?  Bah, old news.  Clearly it is transitory as there hasn’t been a higher than expected print in more than a week!  (Well, that’s not strictly true as this morning South African CPI was released at a higher than expected 4.9% which has pushed back on the growing narrative that the SARB might be able to back off its mooted tightening.)  But South Africa is insignificant in the broad scheme of things, so the combination of increasing infections there along with rioting over the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma has just not been enough to concern investors in other markets.

One has to give props to the central banking community for their ability to convince economists, politicians and investors that the worsening inflation situation is really a very short-term blip, and that the big problem remains deflation.  Of course, it is not hard to convince politicians once they understand this stance allows for more spending.  Economists tend to be lost in their models so aren’t that important anyway.  Investors, however, have historically taken these things with a bit more skepticism, and the fact that the market is responding in exactly the manner central banks want is the truly surprising outcome.  Nothing has changed my view that this entire house-of-cards-like market will come tumbling down at some point, but it is very clear that as John Maynard Keynes explained in 1924, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”  In other words, calling the timing of any significant pullback is a fool’s errand, and I will endeavor not to be foolish today.

As to markets today, it is very clear by now that risk is back on.  Equities in Asia were generally higher (Nikkei +0.6%, Hang Seng -0.1%, Shanghai +0.7%) and are quite strong in Europe (DAX +0.9%, CAC +1.4%, FTSE 100 +1.7%).  US futures you ask?  Generally higher as well, with DOW +0.4%, although NASDAQ futures are actually -0.1% at this hour.  The rotation into value seems to be this morning’s view.

The bond market is behaving as expected with investors quickly getting out of their recently added long positions.  Treasury yields are higher by 2.2bps, while Bunds, OATs and Gilts are all about 1.5bps higher this morning.  There is certainly no reason to own bonds when stocks are on the move!

Commodity markets are mixed this morning, although the most important of the bunch, oil, is higher by 1.5% and continuing to rebound from Monday’s substantial declines.  That price action on Monday was clearly technical in nature and shook out a great many weak hands.  The case for higher oil prices remains strong in my view, as the lack of capex in the sector as well as the ESG efforts to starve the industry of capital will result in a supply demand mismatch over time that will only resolve itself with higher prices.  As to the rest of the commodity space, precious metals are mixed (Au -0.5%, Ag 0.7%), as are base metals (Cu -0.2%, al +0.2%) and Ags (Soybeans -0.4%, Wheat +0.4%).  In other words, there is no directional bias here.

Finally, in the currency markets, movement has been a bit more muted overall, and mixed just like elsewhere.  In the G10 bloc, NOK (+0.35%) is following oil higher and JPY (-0.25%) is seeing its haven status work against it as it reverts to form, with the rest of the bloc +/- 0.1% meaning there is nothing to discuss.  In the emerging markets, there is a bit more weakness with ZAR (-0.4%) still suffering from the increased spread of Covid as are KRW (-0.3%) and the CE4 (HUF -0.3%, CZK -0.3%, PLN -0.25%).  On the plus side there is only CNY (+0.2%) which was supported by comments from the central bank claiming they will keep the yuan “basically stable”.

There is no data and no speakers today which means that the FX market is left to watch other markets for its cues.  With risk back in vogue, I expect that the dollar could cede some ground against the majors, but the ongoing issues throughout different emerging markets are likely to continue to weigh on currencies in that sector.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

How They Debase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
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