The Tapering Walk

For those who expected a hawk
When Powell completed his talk
T’was somewhat depressing
That Jay was professing
They’d not walk the tapering walk

Then last night, from China, we learned
A falling stock market concerned
The powers that be
Thus, they did agree
To pander to those who’d been burned

Apparently, the Fed is not yet ready to alter its policy in any way.  That is the message Chairman Powell delivered yesterday through the FOMC statement and following press conference.  Though it seems clear there was a decent amount of discussion regarding the tapering of asset purchases, in the end, not only was there no commitment on the timing of such tapering, there was no commitment on the timing of any potential decision.  Instead, Chairman Powell explained that while progress had been made toward their goals, “substantial further progress” was still a ways away, especially regarding the employment situation.

When asked specifically about the fact that inflation was currently much higher than the FOMC’s target and whether or not that met the criteria for averaging 2%, he once again assured us that recent price rises would be transitory.  Remember, the dictionary definition of transitory is simply, ‘not permanent’.  Of course, the question is exactly what does the Fed mean is not going to be permanent?  It was here that Powell enlightened us most.  He explained that while price rises that have already occurred would likely not be reversed, he was concerned only with the ongoing pace of those price rises.  The Fed’s contention is that the pace of rising prices will slow down and fall back to levels seen prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Of course, no Powell Q&A would be complete without a mention of the “tools” the Fed possesses in the event their inflation views turn out to be wrong.  Jay did not disappoint here, once again holding that on the off chance inflation seems not to be transitory, they will address it appropriately.  This, however, remains very questionable.  As the tools of which they speak, higher interest rates, will have a decisively negative impact on asset markets worldwide, it is difficult to believe the Fed will raise rates aggressively enough to combat rising inflation and allow asset markets to fall sharply.  In order to combat inflation effectively, history has shown real interest rates need to be significantly positive, which means if inflation is running at 5%, nominal rates above 6% will be required.  Ask yourself how the global economy, with more than $280 Trillion of debt outstanding, will respond to interest rates rising 600 basis points. Depression anyone?

At any rate, the upshot of the FOMC meeting was that the overall impression was one of a more dovish hue than expected going in, and the market response was exactly as one might expect.  Equity markets rebounded in the US and have continued that path overnight.  Bond markets rallied a bit in the US, although with risk appetite back in vogue, have ceded some ground this morning.  Commodity prices are rising and the dollar is under pressure.

Speaking of risk appetite, the other key story this week had been China and the apparent crackdown on specific industries like payments and education.  While Tuesday night’s comments by the Chinese helped to stabilize markets there, that was clearly not enough.  So, last night we understand that the China Securities Regulatory Commission gathered a group of bankers to explain that China was not seeking to disengage from the world nor prevent its companies from accessing capital markets elsewhere.  They went on to explain that recent crackdowns on tech and educational companies were designed to help those companies “grow in the proper manner”, a statement that could only be made by a communist apparatchik.  But in the end, the assurances given were effective as equity markets in Hong Kong and China were sharply higher and those specific companies that had come under significant pressure rebounded on the order of 7%-10%.  So, clearly there is no reason to worry.

Now, I’m sure you all feel better that things are just peachy everywhere.  The combination of Chairman Powell removing any concerns over inflation getting out of hand and the Chinese looking out for our best interests regarding the method of growth in its economy has led to a strongly positive risk sentiment.  As such, it should be no surprise that equity prices are higher around the world.  Asia started things (Nikkei +0.75%, Hang Seng +3.3%, Shanghai +1.5%) and Europe has followed suit (DAX +0.45%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.9%).  US futures have not quite caught the fever with the NASDAQ (-0.2%) lagging, although the other two main indices are slightly higher.

In the bond market, investors are selling as they no longer feel the need of the relative safety there, with Treasury yields higher by 3bps, while Bunds (+2bps), AOTs (+1bp) and Gilts (+2.7bps) are all under pressure.  But remember, yields remain at extremely low levels and real yields remain deeply negative, so a few bps here is hardly a concern.

Commodity prices have waived off concerns over the delta variant slowing the economy down and are higher across the board.  Oil (+0.25%), gold (+0.85%), copper (+1.1%) and the entire agricultural space are embracing the renewed growth narrative.

Finally, the dollar, as would be expected during a clear risk-on session and in the wake of the Fed explaining that tapering is not coming to a screen near you anytime soon, is lower across the board.  In the G10 space, NZD (+0.6%) and NOK (+0.55%) are leading the way higher, which is to be expected given the movement in commodity prices.  CAD (+0.45%) is next in line.  But even the yen (+0.1%) has edged higher despite the positive risk attitude.  One could easily describe this as a pure dollar sell-off.

In the emerging markets, HUF (+0.85%) is the leader as traders are back focused on the hawkishness of the central bank and an imminent rate hike, now ignoring the lack of EU funding that remains an open issue.  ZAR (+0.8%) is next on the commodity story with KRW (+0.7%) in the bronze medal position as exporters took advantage of the weakest won in nearly a year to sell dollars and then Samsung’s earnings blew away expectations on the huge demand for semiconductors, and funds flowed into the equity market.

We get our first look at Q2 GDP this morning (exp 8.5%) with the Consumption component expected to rise 10.5% on a SAAR basis.  We also see Initial Claims (385K) and Continuing Claims (3183K).  Recall, last week Initial Claims were a much higher than expected 419K, so weakness here could easily start to cause some additional concern at the Fed and delay the tapering discussion even further.  With the FOMC behind us, we can look forward to a great deal more Fedspeak, although it appears many of the committee members are on vacation, as we only have two scheduled in the next week, and they come tomorrow.  I imagine that calendar will fill in as time passes.

Putting it all together shows that any Fed hawks remain in the distinct minority, and that the party will continue for the foreseeable future.  Overall, the dollar has been trading in a range and had been weakly testing the top of that range.  It appears that move is over, and we seem likely to drift lower for the next several sessions at least, but there is no breakout on the horizon.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Tougher for Jay

The Fed once again will convey
Inflation just ain’t here to stay
But every release
That shows an increase
Makes life that much tougher for Jay

Meanwhile, Chinese comments last night
Explained everything was alright
They further suggested
That more be invested
To underscore risk appetite

As we await the FOMC meeting’s conclusion this afternoon, markets have generally remained calm, even those in China.  Apparently, 20% is the limit as to how far any government will allow equity markets to decline. After three raucous sessions in China and Hong Kong, as investors fled from those companies under attack review by the Chinese government for their alleged regulatory transgressions, the Chinese press was out in force explaining that there were no long term problems and that both the economy and stock markets were just fine and quite safe.  “Recent declines are unsustainable” claimed the Securities Daily, a state-owned financial paper.  We shall see if that is the case, especially since there is no indication that the government has finished its regulatory crackdown across different industries.

However, the carnage of the past several sessions was not evident last night as the Hang Seng (+1.5%) rebounded nicely while Shanghai (-0.6%) managed to close 1.5% above the lows seen early in the session.  It hardly seems coincidental that the Chinese reacted to the declines after a 20% fall as that seems to be the number that defines concern.  Recall, in Q4 2018, Chairman Powell, who had been adamant there were no issues and was blissfully allowing the Fed’s balance sheet to slowly shrink while simultaneously raising interest rates made a quick 180˚ turn on Boxing Day when the S&P’s decline had reached 20%.  It seems that no central banker or government is willing to allow a bear market on their watch, even those that need never face the voters.

While forecasting the future is extremely difficult, it seems likely that if President Xi turns his sights on another industry, (Real Estate anyone?) then we could easily see another wave lower across these markets.  While instability is not desired, when push comes to shove, Xi’s ideology trumps all other concerns, and if he believes it is being threatened by the growth and power of an industry, you can be certain that industry will be targeted.  Caveat investor!

As to the Fed, the universal expectation is there will be no policy changes, so interest rates will remain the same and the asset purchase program will continue at its monthly pace of $120 billion.  The real questions center around tapering (will they mention it in the statement and how will Powell address it in the press conference) and the nature of inflation.  While clearly the latter will be described as transitory, will there be some acknowledgement that it is running hotter than they ever expected?

At Powell’s Congressional testimony several weeks ago, he was clear that “substantial further progress” toward their goals of maximum employment and average inflation stably at 2.0%, had not yet been made.  Has that progress been made in the interim?  I think not.  This implies, to me at least, that there is no policy change in the offing for a long time to come.  While there are many analysts who are looking for a more hawkish turn from the Fed in response to the clearly rising price pressures, the hallmark of this (and every previous) committee is that they will stick to their narrative regardless of the situation on the ground.  I expect they will ignore the much higher than expected inflation prints and that when asked at the press conference, Powell will strongly maintain inflation is transitory and will be falling soon.  Monday, I explained my concern that CPI is likely to moderate for a short period of time before heading sharply higher again, and that Powell and the Fed will take that moderation as victory.  Nothing has changed that view, nor the view that the Fed will fall far behind the curve when it comes to fighting inflation.  But that is the future.  For now, the Fed is very likely to remain calm and stick to their story.

OK, with that out of the way, we can peruse the markets, which, as I mentioned above, have been vey quiet awaiting the FOMC.  The other key Asian market, the Nikkei (-1.4%) fell overnight after having rallied during the Chinese fireworks, as the spread of the delta variant of Covid-19 and ongoing lockdowns in Japan have started to concern investors.

Europe, on the other hand, is all green on the screen led by the CAC (+0.75%) with both the DAX (+0.2%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) up similar but lesser amounts.  You’re hard pressed to point to the data as a driver as the little we saw showed German Import prices rise 12.9%, the highest level since September 1981, while French Consumer Confidence fell a tick to 101.  Hardly the stuff of bullish sentiment.  US futures, currently, sit essentially unchanged as traders and investors await Powell’s pronouncements.

The bond market is mixed this morning, with Treasury yields edging higher by 1 basis point while most of Europe is seeing a very modest decline in yields, less than 1bp.  Essentially, this is the price action of positions being adjusted ahead of key data.

Commodity prices show oil rising (+0.5%) but very little movement anywhere else in the space with both metals and agricultural prices either side of unchanged on the day.

Lastly, the dollar is ever so slightly stronger vs. most G10 counterparts, with AUD (-0.25%) and NZD (-0.2%) the laggards as concern grows over the economic impact of the ongoing spread of the delta variant.  CAD (+0.25%) is the one gainer of note, seemingly following oil’s lead.  EMG currencies have had a more mixed session with KRW (-0.4%) the worst performer on the back of rising Covid cases and ongoing concerns over what is happening in China.  The only other laggard of note is HUF (-0.3%) which is still suffering from its ongoing political fight with the EU and the result that EU Covid aid has been indefinitely delayed.  On the plus side, RUB (+0.35%) is following oil while CNY (+0.2%) seems to be benefitting from the calm imposed on markets last night.  Otherwise, movement in this space has been minimal.

All eyes are on the FOMC at 2:00 this afternoon, with only very minor data releases before then.  My read is that the market is looking for a slightly hawkish tilt to the Fed as a response to the rapidly rising inflation.  However, I disagree, and feel the risk is a more dovish than expected outcome. The fact that US economic data continues to mildly disappoint will weigh on any decision.  If I am correct, I think the dollar will have the opportunity to sink a bit further, but only a bit.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Time to Flee

No longer will President Xi
Allow billionaires to run free
His edict last night
Proved his grip is tight
And showed traders t’was time to flee

The biggest story overnight was the continued crackdown by Chinese authorities on any private industry that has developed a measure of power in the Chinese economy.  While the tale of Didi Chuxing, the Chinese Uber, was seen as a warning, apparently, the government is becoming more impatient over the pace of adherence to the new view.  Briefly, Didi went public and then several days later the Chinese government forced them to remove their app from public availability and crushed their business under the pretext of data security.  Didi shares fell sharply.  Last night the government explained that private education companies, which were teaching the CCP curriculum, were to cease being profit-making companies “hijacked by capitalism”, and essentially will be forced to delist.  It can be no surprise that the prices of these shares fell dramatically, in one case by 98/%, as investors flee as quickly as possible.  This resulted in sharp declines across all indices there with the Hang Seng (-4.1%) and Shanghai (-2.35%) and led to a general risk-off tone.

Apparently, President Xi is no longer willing to accept that anybody else in China can have some measure of power or influence beyond his control.  Other changes involve the payment networks Alipay and Wechat, which are on the verge of being subsumed by China’s upcoming CBDC, the e-yuan.  Exclusive rights for things like music licenses are being removed and essentially, it appears that capitalism with Chinese characteristics is morphing into a full-blown state-owned economy.  We cannot be too surprised by this; after all, Xi Jinping has been ruling with an increasingly tighter grip on all segments of the economy and he is a clear adherent to strict communism.  Remember, the definition of communism is that all property is publicly (read government) owned.  We have not seen the last of this process so be careful going forward.

The ECB told us that they
Would no longer stand in the way
Of prices that rise
Until they surmise
That growth has made major headway

Now later this week from the Fed
Some pundits think, shortly ahead,
They’ll slow down their buying
Of bonds, as they’re trying,
To counter, inflation, widespread

Inflation (whether CPI or PCE), is a price series that demonstrates characteristics similar to every other price series like stocks or bonds or currencies.  There are trend movements, there are overshoots in both directions that tend to correct and there are periods of consolidation.  One of the best definitions of a trend is a series that makes either higher lows and higher highs, or conversely, lower highs and lower lows.  In other words, something that is trending higher will typically trade to a new high level and then after a period, pull back somewhat, a normal correction, before moving on to further new highs.  When the uptrend is in force, each high is higher than the last, and, more importantly, each low is higher than the last.  I make this point because I am concerned that when looking at the backgrounds of all the FOMC members, not one of them has any trading history.

This is important because, my sense on the inflation story is that it is quite realistic that we see a slowdown in price growth in the next several months, where 5.4% headline CPI falls to 4.8% and 4.5% and so forth, as this price series goes through a correction just like the stock, bond and currency markets.  Of course, if this is what we see, it is almost guaranteed that Chairman Powell, and his band of merry men (and women) will be all over the tape crowing over the transitory nature of inflation.

Alas, my concern is that given what I believe is a strong uptrend in inflation, this retracement in CPI (and PCE) will stop at a higher level than the previous lows and set itself up for another, more powerful move higher.  In the meantime, the Fed will have waved away any concerns over inflation as they continue to pump unlimited liquidity into the system to run the economy as hot as possible.  After all, in their collective mind, they will have proven inflation is transitory.  However, the next leg higher in CPI and PCE is liable to be far more severe, occurring far more quickly than the Fed expects, and lead to a more permanent unanchoring of inflation expectations.

It will also put the Fed in an even tighter bind than they currently find themselves.  This is because if CPI prints 6%, or 7% or more, the market is far less likely to accept their jawboning as a reason to maintain low yields and high stock prices.  Rather, they will be forced to decide between addressing inflation, which means raising interest rates sharply and significantly impacting, in a very negative way, the real economy, as well as asset markets; or they will have to come up with some other way to measure inflation such that it is not rising at such a ferocious clip but is still seen as credible.  One of their dilemmas is that, politically, inflation is already becoming a problem for the Biden administration, and that is at 5%.  Be prepared for the Misery Index (a Ronald Reagan invention that was the sum of CPI and the Unemployment Rate) to become a popular meme from all of President Biden’s opponents going forward.

Oh yeah, if you think that letting inflation run hot like that is going to goose equity market returns, especially when starting from such incredibly steep valuations, you would be wrong.  History shows that when inflation rises above 5%, equity markets do not provide any type of real hedge.  Let me be clear that this is not going to play out by autumn 2021, but could very well be the case come summer or autumn 2022, a particularly difficult time for the incumbent party in Washington as mid-term elections will be upcoming and the party in power tends to get the blame for economic problems.

What about the dollar you may ask?  In this scenario, the dollar is very likely to suffer greatly, so keep that in mind as you look ahead to your hedging needs for next year and beyond.

In the meantime, the Chinese inspired sell-off has led to some risk concerns, but not (yet) a widespread sell-off.  For instance, the Nikkei (+1.0%) managed to rally in the face of the Chinese equity market declines although, outside Japan, the screens are basically all red in Asia.  European bourses are somewhat lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.25%, FTSE 100 -0.25%) as they respond to the general negative tone in risk as well as a much weaker than expected German IFO reading of 101.2, well down from last month’s reading.  However, these levels are well off the session lows, as are US futures, which are down on the order of -0.25%, although were much lower earlier.

Bond markets are a little more mixed as Treasury yields fall 3.2bps (taking real yields to historic lows of -1.12%) but European sovereigns are more mixed with Bunds unchanged and OATs (+0.8bps) and Gilts (-0.8bps) not giving us any direction.

Commodity prices are mostly lower led by oil (-0.8%), although gold (+0.3%) is showing some positive haven characteristics.  Clearly, declining real yields are also supporting the precious metals.  Foodstuffs are softer (about which everyone except farmers are happy) and base metals are mixed with copper (+1.35%) leading the way higher although both Al (-0.4%) and Sn (-0.3%) are under pressure.

Finally, the dollar is not exhibiting its ordinary risk-off attitude this morning, as it is broadly softer vs. its G10 counterparts with only AUD (-0.1%) down on the day, arguably given concerns of changes with the Chinese economy.  But the rest of the bloc is marginally higher as I type led by SEK (+0.35%) and GBP (+0.3%), both of which are seeming to respond to reopening economies.

In the EMG space, however, there are many more decliners than gainers, led by RUB (-0.45%) on the back of oil’s weakness, but also KRW (-0.4%) which is feeling the pinch of the change in tone from China.  This story is going to be the second biggest driver, after the Fed, for a while, I think.

Of course, this week brings the FOMC meeting, but also Q2 GDP and Core PCE, so there is much to look forward to here.

Today New Home Sales 800K
Tuesday Durable Goods 2.0%
-ex Transport 0.8%
Case Shiller Home Prices 16.2%
Consumer Confidence 124.0
Wednesday FOMC Rate Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
IOER 0.15%
Thursday Q2GDP 8.5%
Initial Claims 380K
Continuing Claims 3192K
Friday Personal Income -0.4%
Personal Spending 0.7%
Core PCE 0.6% (3.7% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 63.3
Michigan Sentiment 80.8

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, the Fed is the big story as the data that comes before will not be seen as critical.  The GDP print will be quite interesting, but it is widely accepted that this is the peak and we will be slowing down from here.  However, Friday’s Core PCE number will really be scrutinized as another high print will make Powell’s task that much harder with respect to convincing people that inflation is transitory, especially if their favorite indicator keeps running higher.  Ultimately, I expect we will see a short-term retracement on the rate of inflation before the next leg up and that is the one about which we should all be concerned.

As to today’s market, if equity markets manage to shake off their concerns over Chinese activities, the dollar seems likely to continue with today’s soft tone.  If not, though, look for a rebound.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

T’won’t be a Disaster

The Minutes explained that the Fed

Continues, when looking ahead

To brush off inflation

And seek job creation

Though prices keep rising instead

Meanwhile, there’s a new policy





That came from Lagarde’s ECB

T’won’t be a disaster

If prices rise faster

So, nothing will stop more QE

There is no little irony in the fact that the one-two punch of the Fed and ECB reconfirming that ‘lower for longer’ remains the driving force behind central bank policy has resulted in a pretty solid risk-off session this morning.  After all, I thought ‘lower for longer’ was the driver of ongoing risk appetite.

However, that is the case, as yesterday the FOMC Minutes essentially confirmed that while there are two camps in the committee, the one that matters (Powell, Clarida, Williams and Brainerd) remain extremely dovish.  Inflation concerns are non-existent as the transitory story remains their default option, and although several members expressed they thought rates may need to rise sooner than their previous expectations, a larger group remains convinced that current policy is appropriate and necessary for them to achieve their goals of average 2% inflation and maximum employment.  Remember, they have yet to achieve the undefined ‘substantial further progress’ on the jobs front.  Funnily enough, it seems that despite 10 years of undershooting their inflation target, there are several members who believe that the past 3 months of overshooting has evened things out!  Ultimately, my take on the Minutes was that the market’s initial reaction to the meeting 3 weeks ago was misguided.  There is no hawkish tilt and QE remains the norm.  In fact, if you consider how recent data releases have pretty consistently disappointed vs. expectations, a case can be made that we have seen peak GDP growth and that we are rapidly heading back toward the recent trend levels or lower.  In that event, increased QE is more likely than tapering.

As to the ECB, the long-awaited results of their policy review will be released this morning and Madame Lagarde will regale us with her explanations of why they are adjusting policies.  It appears the first thing is a change in their inflation target to 2.0% from ‘below, but close to, 2.0%’.  In addition, they are to make clear that an overshoot of their target is not necessarily seen as a problem if it remains a short-term phenomenon.  Given that last month’s 2.0% reading was the first time they have achieved that milestone in nearly 3 years, there is certainly no indication that the ECB will be backing off their QE programs either.  As of June, the ECB balance sheet, at €7.9 trillion, has risen to 67.7% of Eurozone GDP.  This is far higher than the Fed’s 37.0% although well behind the BOJ’s 131.6% level.  Perhaps the ECB has the BOJ’s ratio in mind as a target!

Adding up the new policy information results in a situation where…nothing has changed.  Easy money remains the default option and, if anything, we are merely likely to hear that as central banks begin to try to tackle issues far outside their purview and capabilities (climate change and diversity to name but two) there is no end in sight for the current policy mix. [This is not to say that those issues are unimportant, just that central banks do not have the tools to address them.]

But here we are this morning, after the two major central bank players have reiterated their stance that no policy changes are imminent, or if anything, that current ultra-easy monetary policy is here to stay, and risk is getting tossed aside aggressively.

For instance, equity markets around the world have been under significant pressure.  Last night saw the Nikkei (-0.9%), Hang Seng (-2.9%) and Shanghai (-0.8%) all fall pretty substantially.  While the Japanese story appears linked to the latest government lockdowns imposed, the other two markets seem to be suffering from some of the recent actions by the PBOC and CCP, where they are cracking down on international equity listings as well as the ongoing crackdown on freedom in HK.  European bourses are uniformly awful this morning with the DAX (-1.7%) actually the best performer as we see the CAC (-2.25%) and FTSE 100 (-1.9%) sinking even further.  Even worse off are Italy (-2.7%) and Spain (-2.6%) as investors have weighed the new information and seemingly decided that all is not right with the world.  As there has been no new data to drive markets, this morning appears to be a negative vote on the Fed and ECB.  Just to be clear, US futures are down uniformly by 1.4% at this hour, so the risk-off attitude is global.

Turning to the bond market, it should be no surprise that with risk being jettisoned, bonds are in high demand.  Treasury yields have fallen 6.5bps this morning, taking the move since Friday to 21bps with the 10-year now yielding 1.25%, its lowest level since February.  Is this really a vote for transitory inflation?  Or is this a vote for assets with some perceived safety? My money is on the latter.  European sovereigns are also rallying with Bunds (-4.1bps), OATs (-2.7bps) and Gilts (-4.8bps) all putting in strong performances.  The laggards here this morning are the PIGS, where yields are barely changed.

In the commodity space, yesterday saw a massive reversal in oil prices, with the early morning 2% rally completely undone and WTI finishing lower by 1.7% on the day (3.6% from the peak).  This morning, we are lower by a further 0.4% as commodity traders are feeling the risk-off feelings as well.  Base metals, too, are weak (Cu -1.75%, Al -0.3%, Sn -0.4%) but gold (+0.7%) is looking quite good as real yields tumble.

As to the dollar, in the G10 space, commodity currencies are falling sharply (NZD -0.75%, AUD -0.7%, CAD -0.6%, NOK -0.6%) while havens are rallying (CHF +0.9%, JPY +0.8%).  The euro (+0.45%) is firmer as well, which given the remarkable slide in USD yields seems long overdue.

Emerging market currencies are seeing similar behavior with the commodity bloc (MXN -0.75%, RUB -0.5%) sliding along with a number of APAC currencies (THB -0.65%, KRW -0.6%, MYR -0.5%).  It seems that Covid is making a serious resurgence in Asia and that has been reflected in these currencies.  On the plus side, the CE4 are all firmer this morning as they simply track the euro’s performance on the day.

On the data front, our last numbers for the week come from Initial (exp 350K) and Continuing (3.35M) Claims at 8:30 this morning.  Arguably, these numbers should be amongst the most important given the Fed’s focus on the job situation.  However, given the broad risk off sentiment so far, I expect sentiment will dominate any data.  There are no further Fed speakers scheduled this week, which means that the FX markets are likely to take their cues from equities and bonds.  Perhaps the correlation between yields and the dollar will start to reassert itself, which means if the bond market rally continues, the dollar has further to decline, at least against more haven type currencies.  But if risk continues to be anathema to investors, I expect the EMG bloc to suffer more than the dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Real Savoir Faire

There once was an aging Fed Chair

With poise and some real savoir faire

He claimed the foundation

Of rising inflation

Were objects that, right now, were rare

But soon when supply chains are mended

And joblessness falls as intended

Inflation will sink

To levels we think

Are fine, and the world will be splendid

Remember when the FOMC Statement and following press conference were seen as hawkish?  That was sooo last week!  There was talk of rate hikes in only TWO YEARS!  There was talk about talk about tapering the purchase of assets as monetary policy started to ‘normalize’.  (Not for nothing but given we have had the same monetary policy for effectively the past 13 years, ZIRP and QE might be considered normal now, not positive real rates and a stable balance sheet.)  Well, apparently the market reaction was not seen as appropriate by Chairman Jay and his cadre of central bankers, so we have heard a definitive retreat on those concepts in the ensuing six days.  

Just since Monday, we have heard from six different FOMC members and every one of them has essentially said, “just kidding!”  Yesterday, Chairman Powell testified to a House Subcommittee on Covid and was forced to explain, yet again, that policy changes were still a long way down the road and that inflation remains transitory.  It was not, however, just Powell delivering that message.  It was also Cleveland’s Loretta Mester, SF’s Mary Daly and NY’s John Williams amongst others.  Current policy settings are appropriate, inflation is transitory and there is still a long way to go before that elusive substantial further progress toward the Fed’s dual mandates will have been achieved.

History has shown that the Fed’s effective reaction function, at least since Alan Greenspan was Chair, is defined by an equity market decline of a certain amount.  This is especially true if the decline happens quickly whereupon they will jump in and ease policy.  It appears that the amount of market angst necessary to get the Fed to change their tune regarding infinite liquidity and monetary support continues to shrink.  It used to take a decline on the order of 15%-20% to get the Fed nervous.  This time, the S&P 500 fell less than 2% before virtually the entire committee was on the tape walking back their tough talk.  And yet, they would have you believe that when inflation is roaring higher for the rest of the year, they have the intestinal fortitude to fight it effectively by raising interest rates or reducing QE.  As actions speak louder than words, my money is on the Fed being completely unable to address rising inflation.  Be prepared.

This topic continues to be the primary narrative in markets around the world, with many other countries now grappling with the transitory inflation story as well.  Nothing else really matters, and rightly so.  If inflation is building a head of steam and will be rising around the world, central banks are going to be forced to respond.  Some will respond more forcefully and more quickly than others, and it is those currencies which are likely to outperform going forward.  Investors today are generally unfamiliar with investing in an inflationary environment.  The 1970’s were the last time we really saw inflation of substance and even I was still in college (and I am almost certainly much older than you) when that was the situation, with many, if not most, of the current investment community not yet even born.

A quick look at the chart of the Dollar Index (DXY) from that time shows that from the autumn of 1971, right after President Nixon closed the gold window and ended Breton Woods, through the end of 1979, right after Paul Volcker was named Fed Chair and had just started his inflation fight, the dollar declined about 28% (roughly 4% per annum).  Of course, once Volcker got going and US interest rates were raised dramatically to kill off inflation, the dollar rose more than 75% in the following four years.

The point is that while we may disparage the Fed’s actions as being wrong-headed, their policies matter immensely.  Jay Powell may wind up with his reputation in tatters akin to Arthur Burns and G. William Miller, the Fed Chairs who oversaw the sharp rises in inflation in the 1970’s preceding Mr Volcker.  It seems unlikely this outcome is his goal, however, his insistence on toeing the political line rather than hewing to sound money policies bodes ill for the future.

Anyway, while US equity markets have essentially retraced all their post FOMC losses, the rest of the world has seen a more mixed outcome.  In Asia last night, the Nikkei (0.0%) was essentially flat although there were gains in the Hang Seng (+1.8%) and Shanghai (+0.25%).  Europe, on the other hand, is under some pressure this morning with both the DAX (-0.5%) and CAC (-0.4%) feeling some pain based on softer than expected, though still strong, Flash PMI data.  The UK, however, is seeing a much better performance (FTSE 100 +0.35%) as not only was the PMI data stronger than expected, but there apparently is a breakthrough on the lingering Brexit issues of treating goods in Northern Ireland.  Meanwhile, US futures are essentially unchanged this morning, perhaps waiting for some more encouragement from today’s roster of Fed speakers.

Bond markets, after a very choppy few days, have calmed down greatly with Treasuries (+1.2bps) softening a bit while European sovereigns (Bunds -1.4bps, OATs -1.4bps) are seeing some demand.  UK Gilts are little changed as the market there awaits tomorrow’s BOE meeting, where some believe there is a chance for a more hawkish tilt.

Commodity prices are definitely firmer this morning led by oil (+0.7%) but also seeing strength in precious metals (Au +0.25%, Ag +0.7%), base metals (Cu +0.7%, Fe +1.4%, Sn +0.2%) and agricultural products (Soybeans +0.5%, Wheat +1.2%, Corn +0.4%).  Clearly the commodity markets see inflation in the future.

Finally, the dollar is mixed this morning but, in truth, the relatively small movements indicate a lack of interest.  Commodity currencies like NOK (+0.1%), AUD (+0.2%) and NZD (+0.2%) are the leading G10 gainers while JPY (-0.35%) continues to come under pressure, arguably suffering from the fact that Japan imports virtually all its commodities.

In the EMG space, the picture is also mixed with HUF (+0.7%) the leading gainer after the central bank raised its benchmark rate to 0.9% yesterday a 0.3% increase that was expected.  But the idea that they are joining the several other EMG central banks in tightening mode (Brazil, Russia, Ukraine) has investors buying up the forint.  Away from that, ZAR (+0.4%) is clearly benefitting from higher commodity prices as are RUB (+0.2%) and MXN (+0.1%) although the latter two are quite modest.  On the downside, KRW (-0.5%) saw the sharpest declines as a combination of equity outflows as well as a sharp rise in Covid infections was seen quite negatively.  But in truth, most APAC currencies were under some pressure overnight, albeit not to the extent seen in Seoul.

Today’s data brings the Flash PMI (exp 61.5 Mfg, 70.0 Services) as well as New Home Sales (865K).  But more importantly, we have three more Fed speakers set to reiterate the message that policy is not going to change for a while yet, so no need for investors to panic in any market.  The dollar responded logically to the idea that the Fed was going to tighten policy, but now that they have gone out of their way to walk that idea back, I expect the dollar is more likely to drift lower for now.  Perhaps when it becomes clearer that the Fed is actually going to move, we could see some strength again.  But that is likely still a few weeks or months away.  Trade the range for now.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Bears Have Retreated

At first, no one thought it could be

That Powell would lessen QE

But less than a week

Was needed to wreak

Destruction ‘pon his new decree

The bond market bears have retreated

With steepeners now all deleted

While stocks are unsure

If this is the cure

And just how this news should be greeted

Last week’s FOMC meeting continues to be the main topic of market discussion as many assumptions have been questioned, especially those of the inflationist camp.  The change in the dot plot was clearly unforeseen and has been the talk of the market ever since.  Arguably, there are two key questions that have arisen in the wake of the meeting; 1) what happened to the Fed’s insistence that they would not adjust policy preemptively based on forecasts? and 2) is maximum employment no longer deemed to be an Unemployment Rate near 3.5%?

What has been made very clear, however, is that the market still believes the Fed can address inflation, or at the very least, that the market buys the Fed’s transitory inflation narrative.  Regarding the latter, it relies almost entirely on the idea that supply-side bottlenecks will be quickly addressed, thus forcing prices lower and reducing the inflationary threat.  My question is, why do so many assume that restarting production can be accomplished so quickly?  In many cases, businesses have closed, thus no longer manufacturing products.  In others, businesses are running shorter or fewer shifts due to the inability to hire/retain staff to operate.  Glibly, many say that those businesses can simply raise wages to attract staff.  And while that may be true, you can be sure that will result in rising prices as well.  So, if supply returns at a higher price point, is that not still inflationary? 

Under the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words, I have created a decision matrix that outlines my sense of how things may play out over the coming months.  Having observed the Fed and its reaction function to market situations for quite a long time, I remain convinced that despite all the rhetoric regarding maximum employment or inflation expectations, the single most important data point for the Fed is the S&P 500.  History has shown that when it declines sharply, between 10%-20%, they will step in, ease policy in some manner and seek to assuage the investment community regardless of trivialities like inflation, GDP growth or unemployment.  Thus far, nothing the Fed has done has changed that opinion.

Remember, these are my personal views and I assigned rough probabilities along with estimates of what could happen under the defined scenarios.  Ultimately, the question that keeps haunting me is; if inflation is transitory, why would they need to taper policy easing?  After all, the underlying assumption is that the current policy remains economically supportive without negative inflationary consequences, so why change?  I believe the answer to this question belies the entire Fed narrative.  But that’s just me.  The highlighted area is the expected outcome in one year’s time based on Friday’s closing markets (BCOM = Bloomberg Commodity Index).  Interestingly, the math worked out where I saw weaker stocks, higher yields, a weaker dollar and higher commodities.  In truth, if inflation is in our future, that does not seem to be wrong.

As to markets this morning, while Asian equity markets were largely under pressure (Nikkei -3.3%, Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai +0.1%), still reeling from the Fed’s allegedly hawkish stance, Europe is modestly firmer (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.2%).  Perhaps hawks only fly East.  US futures are also higher this morning, by roughly 0.5%, as the early concerns over tighter policy have clearly been allayed, by what though, I’m not sure.

Of course, all the real action has been in the bond market, where yields worldwide have fallen sharply since the FOMC meeting.  Not only have yields fallen, but curves have flattened dramatically as well with movement on both ends of the curve, shorter dated yields have risen under the new assumption that the Fed will be raising rates, while the bank end has rallied sharply with yields declining as investors ostensibly believe that inflation is, in fact, transitory.  While the overnight session has seen minimal movement (Treasuries 0.0bps, Bunds =0.4bps, Gilts -0.3bps), the movement since Wednesday has been impressive.  The $64 billion question is, will this new movement continue into a deeper trend, or reverse as new data is released.

Commodity prices have not yet abandoned the inflation story, at least some of them haven’t.  Oil (+0.2%) continues to perform well as demand continues apace and supply remains in the crosshairs of every ESG focused investor.  Precious metals have rallied on the back of declining yields, both real and nominal, but base metals have slipped as there is a growing belief that they were massively overbought on an inflation scare that has now been defused.  Funnily enough, I always had the commodity/inflation relationship the other way around, with higher commodity prices driving inflation.

Finally, the dollar this morning is weaker from Friday’s levels, but still generally stronger from its levels post FOMC.  The crosscurrents here are strong.  On the one hand, transitory inflation means less reason for a depreciating currency while on the other, lower rates that come with less inflation make the dollar less attractive.  At the same time, if risk is going to be back in vogue, the dollar will lose support as well. 

On the data front, there is a fair amount of data this week, although nothing of note today.

TuesdayExisting Home Sales5.71M
WednesdayFlash PMI Manufacturing61.5
 Flash PMIM Services70.0
 New Home Sales871K
ThursdayInitial Claims380K
 Continuing Claims3481K
 Durable Goods2.9%
 -ex transport0.7%
 Q1 GDP6.4%
FridayPersonal Income-2.7%
 Personal Spending0.4%
 Core PCE0.5% (3.9% Y/Y)
 Michigan Sentiment86.5

Source: Bloomberg

As well as all of this, we heard from ten different Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell testifying to Congress tomorrow afternoon.  It would seem there will be a significant effort to fine tune their message in the wake of last week’s meeting and the market volatility.

The dollar’s strength had been predicated on the idea that US yields were increasing and if that is no longer the case, my sense is that the dollar is likely to retrace its recent steps higher.  For those who with currency payables, keep that in mind.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

No Exit

So, Powell and friends started talking

‘bout talking, and markets were rocking

Though they won’t stop buying

More bonds, they are trying

To exit QE, which is shocking

The question is how long they last

Ere haunted by all of their past

As Sartre made clear

No Exit is near

Be careful, the trouble is vast

Technically, I am out of the office today and tomorrow, but felt that I needed to quickly opine on yesterday’s FOMC meeting.

While the FOMC statement was virtually identical to the April statement, not really even mentioning the fact that inflation is running much hotter than they had obviously expected, the big news was the dot plot, where the median expectation changed to 0.50% of rate rises by the end of 2023.  Previously, that rate was still expected to be 0.00%, so clearly at least some FOMC members have figured out that inflation is rising.  Substantial further progress on their goal of maximum employment has not yet been made and remains “a way’s off.”

But the market focused on the dot plot as it is the first indication that tighter policy may be coming.  In fact, in the press conference, Powell explicitly said that this was the meeting where they began to talk about talking about policy changes, so perhaps that tired phraseology will be discarded.

The bond market reacted in quite an interesting manner, as every maturity up to the 10-year saw yields rise, but the 30-year was unchanged on the day.  The fact that the 30-year ignored all the fireworks implies that market opinions on growth and inflation have not really changed, just the timing of the eventual movement by the Fed has been altered.  Stock prices sold off a bit, but not very hard, far less than 1.0%, but boy did precious metals get whacked, with gold down nearly 3% on the day and a further 1% this morning.

And finally, the dollar was the star of the markets, rallying against everyone of its major counterparts, with the biggest laggards the commodity focused currencies like NOK (-2.7%), SEK (-2.5%), MXN (-2.5%) and ZAR (-2.3%).  But it was a universal rout.  Markets had been getting shorter and shorter dollars as the narrative had been the rest of the world was catching up to the US and trusting that the Fed was no nearer raising rates now than in April.  I’m guessing some of those opinions have changed.

However, my strong suspicion is that nothing really has changed and that the Fed is still a very long way from actually tapering, let alone raising rates.  Ultimately, the biggest risk they face, at least the biggest risk they perceive, is that if they start to tighten and equity prices decline sharply, they will not be able to sit back and let that happen.  They have well and truly painted themselves into a corner with No Exit.  Thus far, the movement has been insignificant.  But if it begins to build, just like the Powell Pivot on Boxing Day in 2018, the Fed will be back to promising unlimited liquidity forever.  And the dollar, at that point will suffer greatly.

For those who are dollar sellers, take advantage of this movement.  It may last a week or two but will not go on indefinitely.  At least sell some!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Getting Upset

The Chinese are getting upset

Commodity prices, as yet

Continue to rise

As shrinking supplies

Now pose, to their model, a threat

So, naturally, what did they do?

They ordered state firms to eschew

Stockpiling provisions

As now all decisions

Will come from Beijing ‘pon review

With the FOMC meeting on virtually everyone’s mind this morning, market activity overall has been muted.  However, the one place in the world that doesn’t revolve around the Fed is China, and news from there last night is quite interesting.  You may recall my quick story about the Department of Price two weeks’ ago and how that ‘august’ institution warned commodity hoarders and speculators to stop what they were doing.  Well, apparently, not enough people listened to those warnings as last night two more Orwellian entities in China joined the conversation regarding commodity prices.  The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) ordered companies under its purview, the SOE’s, to “control risks and limit their exposure to overseas commodities markets”.  This was clearly the stick to accompany the carrot dangled by the National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration, which has indicated it will soon release state stockpiles of copper, aluminum and zinc amongst other metals.

It is obvious that China has figured out that rising commodity prices may soon start to pass through from the factory to the consumer and drive CPI higher on the mainland.  President Xi is clearly concerned that rising prices could lead to some political unrest given that the bargain he has made with his citizens is to enhance their lives economically so he can control all the levers of power.  Thus, if inflation starts to rise more seriously, the population may call his leadership into question.

The problem for China, however, is that while in the past, they had been the marginal buyer of virtually all commodities as they grew their economic capacity dramatically, that situation no longer holds.  Yes, they still have an impact, but in this post-Covid environment where the rest of the world is rebounding very quickly, demand for commodities outside of China is growing rapidly.  But perhaps more importantly, because the previous decade saw commodity prices lag financial prices, investment in the sector was greatly reduced.  This has led to reduced supplies of many critical things and now that demand is resurgent, not surprisingly the prices of copper, steel and other commodities have been rising rapidly even if China isn’t buying as much as they used to.

Adding to this dynamic is the great conundrum of ESG.  On the one hand, ESG’s goals are to reduce environmental impact of economic activity which has largely played out as trying to substitute electricity for fossil fuels as a power source.  On the other hand, in order to electrify economies, the amount of metals like steel and copper required to achieve the stated goals is dramatically higher than the current model.  So, reducing investment in commodity producers results in much higher prices for the very commodities needed to achieve ESG goals in the long run.  While this is not the only argument to rebut the Fed’s transitory inflation story, it is an important part of the inflationists’ views.  China’s actions will only have a very temporary impact on the prices of the commodities in question, but the long-term demand is here to stay.  Until investment in extraction of commodities increases sufficiently to bring more capacity online, odds are that commodity prices will continue to rise, whether Xi Jinping likes it or not.  And if input prices continue to rise, at some point soon, so will prices of end products.  We have been witnessing the beginnings of that trend, but I fear it has much further to go.

Interestingly, despite all the sturm und drang in Beijing about metals prices, after a sharp decline yesterday, this morning they are edging higher (Cu +0.2%, Al +0.1%, Fe +0.5%, Steel +2.8%) although not nearly reversing yesterday’s moves.  If you ever wanted proof that China no longer calls the shots in commodities, here is exhibit A.

Today Chairman Jay will expound

On growth and its stunning rebound

But do not expect

That he will project

Some changes will shortly gain ground

The other story today, really the biggest for our session, is the FOMC meeting.  Broadly speaking, expectations are that the Fed will not make any policy changes of note, although there will clearly be some tweaking to the statement.  They cannot ignore the 5.0% CPI reading, I think, and they will certainly focus on the idea that the employment situation isn’t improving as rapidly as they would like.  And ultimately, for now, it is the latter issue that will continue to inform policy choices.  So tapering is not going to be on the menu, and when Powell is asked in the press conference, as he surely will be, I expect a response along the lines of, substantial further progress needs to be made before they will change things.

If I were to assess the risks, it feels like there is more risk of a hawkish outcome than a dovish one as the inflation story will not go away.  But that implies to me that the market is according a hawkish twist some real probability, so the big surprise to markets would be if they were excessively dovish.  However, I think Powell will do everything he can to be as nondescript as possible, stay on message and there will be very little movement.

A brief recap of markets overnight shows that Asian equities suffered, led by Shanghai (-1.1%).  Not only are they dealing with rising commodity prices, but the data released (Retail Sales, IP and Fixed Asset Investment) all disappointed vs. expectations.  China’s negativity bled into the Nikkei (-0.5%) and Hang Seng (-0.7%) as well.  Europe, on the other hand, has gone nowhere ahead of the Fed, with virtually every equity index within 0.1% of yesterday’s closes.  It should be no surprise that US futures markets are also essentially unchanged ahead of the Fed.

As to the bond market, we are beginning to see a touch of strength with yields declining ever so slightly.  Treasuries are lower by 0.5bps, while Bunds (-1.1bps), OATs (-0.9bps) and Gilts (-0.7bps) are also performing reasonably well ahead of this afternoon’s announcements.  It remains remarkable to me that with inflation rising universally, bond yields continue to ignore the situation.  One has to give credit to the central banks for selling their transitory story.

In the FX markets, the picture is mixed with gainers and losers evenly split in the G10.  AUD and NZD (+0.3% each) lead the way higher, although there does not appear to be a clear catalyst implying this is a positioning issue.  GBP (+0.25%) has gained on the back of slightly higher than expected CPI readings (2.1% vs. 1.9% expected), as traders look for more concrete tightening of policy there.  On the downside, both NOK and SEK have fallen by 0.35%, despite oil’s modest gains and a lack of other news.  Again, this feels more technical than fundamental.

EMG currencies are also little changed overall, with a touch of weakness seen in the APAC bloc overnight, but only on the order of -0.1%, while RUB (+0.3%) and MXN (+0.25%) are the leaders, clearly helped by oil’s ongoing gains, but also seeming to benefit from some political stories.

Data this morning bring Housing Starts (exp 1630K) and Building Permits (1730K), but they will not be noticed with the Fed story coming later this afternoon.  Yesterday’s data was mixed at best with Retail Sales disappointing for May but seeing large positive revisions in April to offset, while PPI once again printed at much higher than expected levels (6.6%).  But let’s face it, today is Fed day and we are unlikely to see much movement until at least 2:00 when the statement is released if not until 2:30 when Chairman Powell starts to speak.  At this time, any hawkishness is very likely to support the dollar with the opposite true as well, a dovish tilt will lead to a dollar decline.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

No Yang, Only Yin

According to every newspaper

The Fed’s getting ready to taper

With late Twenty-two

The popular view

Of when, QE, they will escape(r)

But what if, before they begin

To taper, to Powell’s chagrin

The bond market tanks

As traders and banks

Believe there’s no yang, only yin

The Fed begins its two-day meeting this morning and the outcome remains the primary topic of conversation within every financial market.  The growing consensus is that there will be some discussion in the meeting of when the Fed should begin to reduce their QE purchases as well as what form that should take.  Given the extraordinary heat in the housing market, there have been numerous calls for the Fed to stop buying mortgage-backed securities first as that market hardly needs any more support.  In the end, however, the details of how they choose to adjust policy matters less than the fact that they are choosing to do so at all.

As pointed out yesterday, the bond market’s rally thus far in Q2 appears to be far more related to the lack of new Treasury supply than increasing demand and declining concerns over future inflation.  If that view is correct, then discussing the timing of tapering QE will seem quite premature.  It is true Treasury Secretary Yellen said that higher interest rates would be a good thing, but it seems highly likely she was not thinking of 10-year yields at 3.0% or more, rather somewhere just south of 2.0%.  In other words, a modest increase from current levels.  History, however, shows that markets rarely correct in a modest manner, rather they tend to move to extremes before retracing to a new equilibrium.  Thus, even if 2.0% is a new equilibrium (and I don’t believe that will be the case) do not be surprised to see yields significantly higher first.

In this view, the impact on markets worldwide is likely to be significant.  It seems unlikely that equity markets anywhere will respond positively to higher interest rates at all, let alone sharply higher rates.  As well, bond markets will, by definition, have been falling rapidly with much higher yields, not just in the US but elsewhere as well.  As to the dollar, it would seem that it will also be a big beneficiary of higher US yields, arguably with USDJPY the most impacted.  A quick look at recent correlations between different currencies and US 10-year yields shows the yen is the only major currency that has a significant correlation to yields (0.46).  But I would not discount the idea that the dollar will rally versus pretty much the rest of the G10 as well as the EMG bloc in a situation where dollar yields are rising sharply.  Consider that in this situation, we will likely be looking at a classic risk-off scenario when the dollar tends to perform best.

Of course, there are many in the camp who believe that the central banking community will remain in control of markets and that inflation is transitory thus allowing them to adjust policy at their preferred pace.  It is this scenario that Ms Yellen clearly is expecting, or at least describing in her desire for higher yields.

And this is the crux of the market’s future decisions; will central banks be able to slowly reduce monetary accommodation as economies around the world slowly return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, or will the dramatic increase in government debt issuance force central banks to maintain their QE programs in order to prevent the economic chaos that could result from sharply higher interest rates?  While my money is on the latter, it remains too soon to determine which broad outcome will occur.  It is also not clear to me that tomorrow’s FOMC announcement is going to be that big a deal in the long run, as it seems doubtful there will be any actual policy changes, even if they begin to discuss how they might do so in the future.  Remember, talk is cheap, even central bank forward guidance!

Markets remain in a holding pattern ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and Powell’s press conference, although there have been some idiosyncratic moves overnight.  For instance, while Japanese equity markets continue to rally (Nikkei +1.0%) on the back of optimism regarding the Olympics and the idea that Covid inspired lockdowns will be ending soon, the same was not true in China where the Hang Seng (-0.7%) and Shanghai (-0.9%) markets both suffered after the PBOC failed to inject any additional liquidity into the money markets there.  With quarter-end approaching, demand for funds by financial institutions is rising and the fact that the PBOC continues to be somewhat parsimonious has been a key support for the renminbi, but not really helped the equity markets there.  Remember, China is quite concerned over what had been a growing housing bubble, and this is designed to help restrict the growth of that situation.

European equity markets are somewhat mixed this morning as the major indices have performed well (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.3%) but both Italy (-0.2%) and Spain (-0.5%) are lagging on the day.  The data of note has been CPI which showed that Germany (+2.5%) continues to feel the most inflationary pressure, while both France (+1.8%) and Italy (+1.2%) remain unable to find much inflationary impulse at all.  This is certainly a far cry from the situation here in the US and speaks to the idea that the ECB is not likely to begin tapering anytime soon.  In fact, it would not be surprising if they wind up either extending PEPP or expanding the original QE known as APP.  US futures, meanwhile, are little changed at this hour after yesterday’s mixed session.

Global bond markets are on hold this morning with none of the major nations seeing movement of even 1 basis point, despite yesterday’s Treasury sell-off raising 10-year yields by nearly 6 bps.  That movement has been described as technical in nature given the complete lack of new information seen.

On the commodity front, oil (WTI +0.8%) continues to power higher driving the entire energy complex in that direction but the rest of the space has seen quite a different outcome.  Precious metals (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.8%) continue their recent weak performance while industrial metals (Cu -3.5%, Al -1.3%, Sn -2.1%) have been absolutely crushed.  Agricultural products are mostly softer on the weather story, although soybeans is bucking that trend with a modest gain on the day.

As to the FX market, the dollar is mixed in both G10 and EMG blocs.  In the G10, AUD (-0.2%) has suffered on the back of dovish RBA Minutes released last night as they indicated it was premature to discuss tapering.  CAD (-0.3%) appears to be suffering on the back of the base metals decline and the pound (-0.25%) is on its back foot after slightly disappointing employment data.  Interestingly, NOK is unchanged on the day despite oil’s rally and CHF’s 0.1% gain, which leads the pack appears to be technical in nature.

In the EMG bloc, TRY (-1.3%) is suffering after the US-Turkey meeting at the G7 meetings was less fruitful than hoped with no breakthroughs achieved.  HUF (-0.7%) is declining after conflicting statements from a central bank member regarding a short-term liquidity facility has traders uncertain if policy accommodation is going to be ended soon or not.  Remember, uncertainty breeds contempt in markets.  Away from those two, however, the rest of the block saw very small movements with no significant stories.

On the data front, we get two important pieces this morning; Retail sales (exp -0.7%, +0.4% ex autos) and PPI (6.2%, 4.8% ex food & energy).  In addition, at 8:30 we see Empire Manufacturing (22.7) and then later we see IP (0.7%) and Capacity Utilization (75.1%).  Retail Sales is likely to dominate the discussion unless PPI is really high, above 7.0%.  But in the end, markets continue to wait for tomorrow’s FOMC, so large movement still seems unlikely today.  That said, if we do see Treasury yields creeping higher, I expect the dollar to perform pretty well.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

No Aberration

In Europe and in the US

The central banks have made a mess

The latter’s seen prices

Rise up to a crisis

The former is still in distress

But one thing the two of them share

Is neither believes in the scare

That higher inflation

Is no aberration

And tapering they’ll soon declare

We have seen another day of modest overnight activity as market participants across asset classes wait for the next key data inputs.  At this point, the three biggest things on the horizon are Thursday’s ECB meeting and US CPI print and then next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting.  Until those data points are known, tight ranges and lack of trading liquidity are likely to be the hallmarks of all markets.

One of the things that has been something of a mystery is the disconnect between the performance of the US Treasury market and the ostensibly rapid rise in inflationary pressures, with the former essentially discounting the latter completely.  In fact, I would argue this is the key question that must be answered in order to better understand the potential future outcomes.  Arguably, it is also this situation which has allowed the Fed to remain sanguine over the recent jumps in CPI and PCE.

Consider that the bond market is generally assumed to have the greatest sensitivity to future economic activity given its very nature.  After all, the meaning of fixed income is that regardless of future economic performance, bondholders get a stated amount of interest.  It is this feature that keeps bond investors so highly attuned to inflation and inflation expectations as these investors want to ensure the real value of their investments does not decline due to rising prices.  Historically, this has certainly been the case, with bond markets selling off before inflation really took off.  This is also the genesis of the term ‘bond vigilantes’, coined during the Clinton administration to describe the bond market’s unwillingness to fund hugely expansionary fiscal plans and run large government deficits.  My, how the world has changed!

But back then, the Federal Reserve was not in the business of QE.  In fact, while it may have been a theoretical concept, even the Japanese had not yet tried it on for size.  Two plus decades later, though, the role of the Fed has clearly changed given the economic stresses suffered in both the GFC and Covid induced crisis.  QE has gone from an emergency tool to address a unique situation to the go-to tool in the Fed’s (and ECB’s) toolkit.  Thus, have grown the central bank balance sheets and so there has been a lid on interest rates, even if not explicitly via yield curve control.

There is, however, another key change in the world since the bond vigilante days of the late 1990’s; the regulatory requirements for large banks known as GSIBs, (Global Systemically Important Banks) imposed after the GFC.  These 30 institutions are required to maintain additional capital buffers and hold them in so-called High-Quality Liquid Assets (HQLA) which, not surprisingly, include Treasury bonds as well as mortgages and excess reserves.  One of the things that all of these banks do is adjust that portfolio of HQLA to maximize the available revenue, which in a world where yields are zero and negative, is very hard to achieve.  While Treasury bills and IOER pay virtually nothing, Treasury securities out the curve do have positive nominal yields and are thus relatively attractive for the purpose.

This leads to a potential alternative reason for the seeming lack of concern by the Treasury market over future inflation; price insensitive demand for bonds required to be held by large banks.  If these banks are buying and holding more Treasuries than they otherwise would have done in an unfettered world, the price signal from those bonds is likely to be somewhat skewed.  In other words, what if the Treasury market is not telling us there is no fear of inflation, but rather telling us that there are so many price insensitive buyers of bonds, even the excess supply being issued is not enough to scare holders out of the market.  In that case, we will need to get our clues about inflation elsewhere, perhaps from commodity markets.  And of course, commodity prices have done nothing but rally sharply across every class for the past year.  While there is no doubt that the first part of that move was to make up for the severe price dislocations seen at the beginning of the Covid crisis, it is not hard to make the case that the more recent price movement is a response to rising demand meeting inelastic supply.  It is the latter that drives inflation.

The point here is that both the ECB and Fed have consistently maintained that there is no reason to worry over recent high inflation prints and that there is no reason for either of them to adjust their policy mix anytime soon.  If the bond market ‘meter’ is malfunctioning, though, both of these central banks may well find themselves on the wrong side of history, yet again.  Rapidly rising inflation could well come to dominate the policy discussion quite quickly in that case, and maximum employment may recede to a pleasant dream.  Food for thought.

As to market activity today, as mentioned above, we have seen modest movements in both directions amid modest trading volumes.  Starting with equities, Asia saw small losses across the board (Nikkei -0.2%, Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.5%) while Europe has been very modestly firmer (DAX 0.0%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.3%).  US futures are mixed as well with DOW (-0.15%) suffering while NASDAQ (+0.3%) are a bit higher and SPX futures are essentially unchanged.  Not much new information here.

Bond markets are mostly a bit firmer this morning with Treasury yields (-1.5bps) falling furthest and European sovereigns all seeing yield declines of about 0.75bps.  With 10-year Treasury yields back to 1.55%, it appears, on the surface, that there is no concern about rising inflation.  But if my proposed thesis is correct, that number could be quite misleading.

Commodity prices are generally coming under pressure this morning, certainly not a sign of imminent inflation, but I would argue this is simple daily price volatility more than anything else.  For example, oil (-0.9%) is leading the pack lower but we are seeing weakness in precious metals (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.5%) and base metals (Cu -0.5%, Ni -0.7%, Fe -1.9%) with only grains continuing to rally as all three major ones are higher by about 1.0% this morning.

Turning to FX, it should be no surprise that there is really no story here this morning either.  The dollar is probably marginally higher overall, but really mostly mixed with small movements in virtually all currencies.  In the G10, NZD (-0.3%) is the biggest mover, but this move has simply taken it back to the middle of its trading range.  And the rest of the bloc has moved far less.  In emerging markets, we have seen two movements of some note with HUF (-0.4%) declining after weaker than expected IP data was released, putting a dent in the idea the central bank may tighten policy, while RUB (+0.4%) rose after yesterday’s higher than expected CPI print has traders believing the central bank is likely to raise rates further.  However, beyond those two moves, there is very little to discuss.

On the data front, the NFIB Small Business Optimism index was released at a disappointing 99.6, below expectations of 101.0 and actually below last month’s reading as well.  That seems to be a result of the difficulty small firms are having in hiring staff.  We also see the Trade Balance (exp -$68.7B) and then the JOLTS Job Openings report (8.2M) later this morning.  But as mentioned at the top, I don’t think anything will matter until Thursday, so look for more range trading until then.

Good luck and stay safe

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