More Price Inflation

The story of civilization
Is growth due to carbonization
But fears about warming
Have started transforming
Some policies ‘cross most each nation

Alas, despite recent fixation
On policy coordination
Alternatives to
Nat Gas are too few
Resulting in more price inflation

Perhaps there is no greater irony (at least currently) than the fact that governments around the world must secretly be praying for a very warm winter as their policies designed to forestall global warming have resulted in a growing shortage of fuels for heating and transportation.  Evergrande has become a passé discussion point as the overwhelming consensus is that the Chinese government will not allow things to get out of hand.  (I hope they’re right!)  This has allowed the market to turn its attention to other issues with the new number one concern the rapidly rising price of natural gas.  One of the top stories over the weekend has been the shuttering of petrol stations in the UK as they simply ran out of gasoline to pump.  Meanwhile, Nat Gas prices have been climbing steadily and are now $5.35/mmBTU in the US, up 4.2% today and 110% YTD.  As to the Europeans, they would kill for gas that cheap as it is currently running 3x that, above $16.00/mmBTU.

Apparently, policies designed to reduce the production of fossil fuels have effectively reduced fossil fuel production.  At the same time, greater reliance on less stable energy sources, like wind and solar power, have resulted in insufficient overall energy production.  While during the initial stages of Covid shutdowns, when economic activity cratered, this didn’t pose any problems, now that economies around the world are reopening with substantial pent-up demand for various goods and services, it has become increasingly clear that well-intentioned policies have resulted in dramatically bad outcomes.  While Europe appears to be the epicenter of this problem, it is being felt worldwide and the result is that real economic activity will decline across the board.  Hand-in-hand with that outcome will be even more price pressures higher throughout the world.  Policymakers, especially central bankers, will have an increasingly difficult time addressing these issues with their available toolkits.  After all, central banks cannot print natural gas, only more money to chase after the limited amount available.

The important question for market observers is, how will rising energy prices impact financial markets?  It appears that the first impacts are being felt in the bond markets, where in the wake of the FOMC meeting last week, yields have been climbing steadily around the world.  In the first instance, the belief is that starting in November, the Fed will begin reducing its QE purchases, which will lead to higher yields from the belly to the back of the curve.  But as we continue to see yields climb (Treasuries +3.3bps today), you can be sure the rationale will include rising inflation.  After all, our textbooks all taught us that higher inflation expectations lead to higher yields.

The problem for every government around the world, given pretty much all of them are massively overindebted, is that higher yields are unaffordable.  Consider that, as of the end of 2020, the global government debt / GDP ratio was 105%, while the total debt /GDP ratio was 356% (according to Axios).  That is not an environment into which central banks can blithely raise interest rates to address inflation in the manner then Fed Chair Volcker did in the late 1970’s. In fact, it is far more likely they will do what they can to prevent interest rates from rising too high.  This is the reason I continue to believe that while the Fed may begin to taper at some point, tapering will not last very long.  They simply cannot afford it.  So, while bond markets around the world are under pressure today (Bunds +1.8bps, OATs +2.8bps, Gilts +2.9bps), and by rights should have significant room to decline, this movement will almost certainly be capped.

Equity markets, on the other hand, have room to run somewhat further, as despite both significant overvaluation by virtually every traditional metric, as well as record high margin debt, in an inflationary environment, a claim on real assets is better than a claim on ‘paper’ assets like bonds.  While Asian markets (Nikkei 0.0%, Hang Seng +0.1%, Shanghai -0.8%) have not been amused by the rise in energy prices, European bourses are behaving far better (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.2%).  As an aside, part of the German story is clearly the election, where the Social Democrats appear to have won a small plurality of seats, but where there is no obvious coalition to be formed to run the country.  It appears Germany’s role on the global stage will be interrupted as the nation tries to determine what it wants to do domestically over the next few weeks/months.  In the meantime, early session strength in the US futures markets has faded away with NASDAQ futures (-0.4%) now leading the way lower.

Turning to the key driver of markets today, commodity prices, we see oil (WTI +1.25%) continuing its recent rally, and pushing back to $75/bbl.  We’ve already discussed Nat Gas and generally all energy prices are higher.  But this is not a broad-based commodity rally, as we are seeing weakness throughout the metals complex (Au -0.1%, Cu -0.3%, Al -0.2% and Sn -4.8%).  Agricultural prices are slightly softer as well.  It seems that the idea energy will cost more is having a negative impact everywhere.

Finally, the dollar is a beneficiary of this price action on the basis of a few threads.  First, given energy is priced in dollars, they remain in demand given higher prices.  Second, the energy situation in the US is far less problematic than elsewhere in the world, thus on a relative basis, this is a more attractive place to hold assets.  So, in the G10 we see SEK (-0.5%) as the laggard, followed by the traditional havens (CHF -0.25%, JPY -0.2%), as the dollar seems to be showing off its haven bona fides today. In the EMG bloc, THB (-0.8%) leads the way lower followed by ZAR (-0.7%) and PHP (-0.7%), with other currencies mostly softer and only TRY (+0.5%) showing any strength on the day.  The baht has suffered on traditional macro issues with concerns continuing to grow regarding its current account status, with the Philippines seeing the same issues.  Rand appears to have reacted to the metals complex.  As to TRY, part of this is clearly a rebound from an extremely weak run last week, and part may be attributed to news of a Nat Gas find in the Black Sea which is forecast to be able to provide up to one-third of Turkey’s requirements in a few years.

As it is the last week of the month, we do get some interesting data, although payrolls are not released until October 8th.

Today Durable Goods 0.6%
-ex Transportation 0.5%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 20.0%
Consumer Confidence 115.0
Thursday Initial Claims 330K
Continuing Claims 2805K
GDP Q2 6.6%
Chicago PMI 65.0
Friday Personal Income 0.2%
Personal Spending 0.6%
Core PCE 0.2% (3.5% Y/Y)
Michigan Sentiment 71.0
ISM Manufacturing 59.5
ISM Prices Paid 77.5

Source: Bloomberg

Naturally, all eyes will be on Friday’s PCE data as the Fed will want to be able to show that price pressures are moderating, hence their transitory story is correct (it’s not.) But I cannot help but see the House Price index looking at a 20.0% rise in the past twelve months and think about how the Fed’s inflation measures just don’t seem to capture reality.

Rising yields in the US seem to be beginning to attract international investors, specifically Japanese investors as USDJPY has been moving steadily higher over the past two weeks.  The YTD high has been 111.66, not far from current levels.  Watch that for a potential breakout and perhaps, the beginning of a sharp move higher in the dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

Far From Surreal

The Fed explained that they all feel
A taper is far from surreal
The goal for inflation
Has reached satiation
While job growth ought soon seal the deal

Heading into the FOMC meeting, the consensus was growing around the idea that the Fed would begin tapering later this year, and the consensus feels gratified this morning.  Chairman Powell explained that, if things go as anticipated, tapering “could come as soon as the next meeting.”  That meeting is slated for November 2nd and 3rd, and so the market has now built this into their models and pricing.  In fact, they were pretty clear that the inflation part of the mandate has already been fulfilled, and they were just waiting on the jobs numbers.

An interesting aspect of the jobs situation, though, is how they have subtly adjusted their goals.  Back in December, when they first laid out their test of “substantial further progress”, the employment situation showed that some 10 million jobs had been lost due to Covid-19.  Since then, the economy has created 4.7 million jobs, less than half the losses.  Certainly, back then, the idea that recovering half the lost jobs would have been considered “substantial further progress” seems unlikely.  Expectations were rampant that once vaccinations were widely implemented at least 80% of those jobs would return.  Yet here we are with the Fed explaining that recovering only half of the lost jobs is now defined as substantial.  I don’t know about you, but that seems a pretty weak definition of substantial.

Now, given Powell’s hyper focus on maximum employment, one might ask why a 50% recovery of lost jobs is sufficient to move the needle on policy.  Of course, the only answer is that despite the Fed’s insistence that recent inflation readings are transitory and caused by supply chain bottlenecks and reopening of the economy, the reality is they have begun to realize that prices are rising a lot faster than they thought likely.  In addition, they must recognize that both housing price and rent inflation haven’t even been a significant part of the CPI/PCE readings to date and will only drive things higher.  in other words, they are clearly beginning to figure out that they are falling much further behind the curve than they had anticipated.

Turning to the other key release from the FOMC, the dot plot, it now appears that an internal consensus is growing that the first rate hike will occur in Q4 2022 with three more hikes in 2023 and an additional three or four in 2024.  The thing about this rate trajectory is that it still only takes Fed Funds to 2.00% after three more years.  That is not nearly enough to impact the inflationary impulse, which even they acknowledge will still be above their 2.0% target in 2024.  In essence, the dot plot is explaining that real interest rates in the US are going to be negative for a very long time.  Just how negative, though, remains the $64 trillion question.  Given inflation’s trajectory and the current school of thought regarding monetary policy (that lower rates leads to higher growth), I fear that the gap between Fed Funds and inflation is likely to be much larger than the 0.2% they anticipate in 2024.  While this will continue to support asset prices, and especially commodity prices, the impact on the dollar will depend on how other central banks respond to growing inflation in their respective economies.

Said China to its Evergrande
Defaulting on bonds is now banned
So, sell your assets
And pay dollar debts
Take seriously this command


This headline flashed across the screens a short time ago and I could not resist a few words on the subject.  It speaks to the arrogance of the Xi administration that they believe commanding Evergrande not to default is sufficient to prevent Evergrande from defaulting.  One cannot help but recall the story of King Canute as he commanded the incoming tide to halt, except Canute was using that effort as an example of the limits of power, while Xi is clearly expecting Evergrande to obey him.  With Evergrande debt trading around 25₵ on the dollar, and the PBOC continuing in their efforts to wring leverage out of the system, it is a virtual guaranty that Evergrande is going under.  I wouldn’t want to be Hui Yan Ka, its Chairman, when he fails to follow a direct order.  Recall what happened to the Chairman of China Huarong when that company failed.

Ok, how are markets behaving in the wake of the FOMC meeting?  Pretty darn well!  Powell successfully explained that at some point they would begin slowing their infusion of liquidity without crashing markets.  No tantrum this time.  So, US equities rallied after the FOMC meeting with all three indices closing higher by about 1%.  Overnight in Asia we saw the Hang Seng (+1.2%) and Shanghai (+0.4%) both rally (Japan was closed for Autumnal Equinox Day), and we have seen strength throughout Europe this morning as well.  Gains on the continent (DAX and CAC +0.8%) are more impressive than in the UK (FTSE 100 +0.2%), although every market is higher on the day.  US futures are all currently about 0.5% higher, although that is a bit off the earlier session highs.  Overall, risk remains in vogue and we still have not had a 5% decline in the S&P in more than 200 trading days.

With risk in the fore, it is no surprise that bond yields are higher, but the reality is that they continue to trade in a pretty tight range.  Hence, Treasury yields are higher by 2.4bps this morning, but just back to 1.324%.  Essentially, we have been in a 1.20%-1.40%% trading range since July 4th and show no sign of that changing.  In Europe, yields have also edged higher, with Bunds (+1.6bps) showing the biggest move while both OATs (+0.9bps) and Gilts (+0.6bps) have moved less aggressively.

Commodity prices are mixed this morning with oil lower (-0.7%) along with copper (-0.25%) although the rest of the base metal complex (Al +0.6%, Sn +0.55%) are firmer along with gold (+0.3%).  Not surprisingly given the lack of consistency, agricultural prices are also mixed this morning.

The dollar, however, is clearly under pressure this morning with only JPY failing to gain, while the commodity bloc performs well (CAD +0.8%, NOK +0.6%, SEK +0.5%).  EMG currencies are also largely firmer led by ZAR (+0.9%) on the back of gold’s strength and PLN (+0.6%) which was simply reversing some of its recent weakness vs. the euro.  On the downside, the only notable decliner is TRY (-1.4%), which tumbled after the central bank cut its base rate by 100 basis points to 18% in a surprise move.  In fact, TRY has now reached a record low vs. the dollar and shows no signs of rebounding as long as President Erdogan continues to pressure the central bank to keep rates low amid spiraling inflation.  (This could be a harbinger of the US going forward if we aren’t careful!)

It is Flash PMI day and the European and UK data showed weaker than expected output readings though higher than expected price readings.  We shall see what happens in the US at 9:45. Prior to that we see Initial Claims (exp 320K) and Continuing Claims (2.6M) and we also see Leading Indicators at 10:00 (0.7%).  The BOE left policy on hold, as expected, but did raise their forecast for peak inflation this year above 4%.  However, they are also in the transitory camp, so clearly not overly concerned on the matter.

There are no Fed speakers today although we hear from six of them tomorrow as they continue to try to finetune their message.  The dollar pushed up to its recent highs in the immediate aftermath of the FOMC meeting, but as risk was embraced, it fell back off.  If the market is convinced that the Fed really will taper, and if they actually do, I expect it to support the dollar, at least in the near term.  However, my sense is that slowing economic data will halt any initial progress they make which could well see the dollar decline as long positions are unwound.  For today, though, a modest drift higher from current levels seems reasonable.

Good luck and stay safe

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


In Germany prices exploded
While confidence there has eroded
Now all eyes will turn
Back home where we’ll learn
On Tuesday if QE’s outmoded

The most disturbing aspect of the inflation argument (you know, is it transitory or not) is the fact that those in the transitory camp are willing to completely ignore the damage inflation does to household budgets.  Their attitude was recently articulated by the chief European economist at TS Lombard, Dario Perkins, thusly, “There is nothing inherently dangerous about inflation settling in, say, a 3-5% range instead of the 1-2% that’s been normal for the past decade.”  He continued, “the bigger risk is that hitherto dovish central bankers lose their nerve and raise interest rates until it causes a recession, like they’ve done in the past.”

Let’s consider that for a moment.  The simple math shows that at a 2% inflation rate, the price of something rises about 22% over the course of a decade.  So, that Toyota Camry that cost $25,000 in 2011 would cost $30,475 today.  However, at a 5% inflation rate over that time, it would cost $40,725, a 63% increase.  That’s a pretty big difference.  Add in the fact that wage gains have certainly not been averaging 5% per year and it is easy to see how inflation can be extremely damaging to anybody, let alone to the average wage earner.  The point is, while to an economist, inflation appears to be an abstract concept that is simply a number input into their models, to the rest of us, it is the cost of living.  And there is nothing that indicates the cost of living will stop rising sharply anytime soon.

This was reinforced overnight when Germany released its wholesale price index, which rose 12.3% in the past twelve months.  That is the highest rate of increase since 1974 in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo.  Now fortunately, the ECB is on the case.  Isabel Schnabel, the ECB’s head of markets explained, “The prospect of persistently excessive inflation, as feared by some, remains highly unlikely.  But should inflation sustainably reach our target of 2% unexpectedly soon, we will act equally quickly and resolutely.”  You know, they have tools!

On the subject of Wholesale, or Producer, Prices, while Germany’s were the highest print we’ve seen from a major economy, recall last week that Chinese PPI printed at 9.5%, in the US it was 8.3% and even in Japan, a nation that has not seen inflation in two decades, PPI rose 5.6% last month.  It appears that the cost of making “stuff” is rising pretty rapidly.  And even if the pace of these increases does slow down, the probability of prices declining is essentially nil.  Remember, the current central bank mantra is deflation is the worst possible outcome and they will do all they can to prevent it.  All I can say is, I sure hope everyone’s wages can keep pace with inflation, because otherwise, we are all at a permanent disadvantage compared to where things had been just a year or two ago.

Well, I guess there is one beneficiary of higher inflation…governments issuing debt.  As long as inflation grows faster than the size of their debt, a government’s real obligations decline.  And you wonder why the Fed insists inflation is transitory.  Oh yeah, for all of you who think that higher inflation will lead to higher interest rates, I wouldn’t count on that outcome either.  Whether or not the Fed actually tapers, they have exactly zero incentive to raise rates anytime soon.  And as to bonds, they have shown before (post WWII) that they are willing to cap yields at a rate well below inflation if it suits their needs.  And I assure you, it suits their needs right now.

So, what will all this do to the currency markets?  As always, FX is a relative game so what matters is the degree of change from one currency to the next.  The medium-term bearish case for the dollar is that inflation in the US will run hotter than in Europe, Japan or elsewhere, while the Fed caps yields in some manner.  The resultant expansion of negative real yields will have a significant negative impact on the dollar.  This argument will fail if one of two things occurs; either other central banks shoot for even greater negative yields, or, more likely, the Fed allows the back end of the curve to rise thus moderating the impact of negative real yields.  In either case, the dollar should benefit.  In fact, this is why the taper discussion is of such importance to the FX market, tapering implies higher yields in the back end of the US yield curve and therefore an opportunity for a stronger dollar.  Remember, though, there are many moving pieces, so even if the Fed does taper, that is not necessarily going to support the dollar all that much.

Ok, let’s look at this morning’s markets, where risk is largely being acquired, although there is no obvious reason why that is the case.  Equity markets in Asia were mixed with both gainers (Nikkei +0.2%, Shanghai +0.3%) and Losers (Hang Seng (-1.5%) as the ongoing Chinese crackdown on internet companies received new news.  It seems that the Chinese government is going to split up Ant Financial such that its lending business is a separate company under stricter government control.  Ali Baba, which is listed in HK, not Shanghai, fell sharply, as did other tech companies in China, hence the dichotomy between the Hang Seng and Shanghai indices.  But excluding Chinese tech, stocks were in demand.  The same is true in Europe where the screen is entirely green (DAX +1.1%, CAC +0.8%, FTSE 100 +0.8%) as it seems there is little concern about a passthrough of inflation, but great hope that reopening economies will perform well.  US futures are also looking robust this morning, with all three major indices higher by at least 0.5% as I type.

Funnily enough, despite the risk appetite in equities, bond prices are rallying as well, with 10-year Treasury yields lower by 1.7bps, and European sovereigns also seeing modest yield declines of between 0.5 and 1.0 bps. Apparently, as concerns grow over the possibility of a technical US default due to a debt ceiling issue, the safety trade is to buy Treasuries.  At least that is the explanation being offered today.

On the commodity front, oil (WTI +0.8%) is leading the way higher although we are seeing gains in many of the industrial metals as well, notably aluminum (+1.6%), which seems to be feeling some supply shortages.  Copper (-0.45%), surprisingly, is softer on the day, but the rest of that space is firmer.  I mentioned Uranium last week, and as an FYI, it is higher by 5% this morning as more and more people begin to understand the combination of a structural shortage of the metal and the increasing likelihood that any carbonless future will require nuclear power to be far more prevalent.

Finally, the dollar is broadly, although not universally, stronger this morning.  In the G10, only NOK (+0.2%) and CAD (+0.1%) have managed to hold their own this morning on the strength of oil’s rally.  Meanwhile, CHF (-0.7%) is under the most pressure as havens lose their luster, although the rest of the bloc has only seen declines of between -0.1% and -0.3%.  In the EMG bloc, THB (-0.75%) and KRW (-0.6%) lead the way lower as both nations saw equity market outflows on weakness in Asian tech stocks.  But generally, almost all currencies here are softer by between -0.2% and -0.4%.  the exceptions are TRY (+0.3%) and RUB (+0.25%) with the latter supported by oil while the former is benefitting from hope that the central bank will maintain tight policy to fight inflation.

On the data front, we have both CPI and Retail Sales leading a busy week:

Today Monthly Budget Statement -$175B
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 99.0
CPI 0.4% (5.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.3% (4.2% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 18.0
IP 0.4%
Capacity Utilization 76.4%
Thursday Initial Claims 320K
Continuing Claims 2740K
Retail Sales -0.8%
-ex auto -0.1%
Philly Fed 19.0
Friday Michigan Sentiment 72.0

Source: Bloomberg

With no recent stimulus checks, Retail Sales are forecast to suffer greatly.  Meanwhile, the CPI readings are forecast to be a tick lower than last month, but still above 5.0% for the third consecutive month.  Certainly, my personal experience is that prices continue to rise quite rapidly, and I would not be surprised to see a higher print.  Mercifully, the Fed is in its quiet period ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting, so we no longer need to hear about when anybody thinks tapering should occur.  The next information will be the real deal from Chairman Powell.

The tapering argument seems to be the driver right now, with a growing belief the Fed will reduce its QE purchases and US rates will rise, at least in the back end.  That seems to be the genesis of the dollar’s support.  As long as that attitude exists, the dollar should do well.  But if the data this week points to further slowing in the US economy, I would expect the taper story to fade along with the dollar.

Good luck and stay safe

They Cannot Wait

While Jay and the FOMC
Are certain it’s transitory
Inflation elsewhere
Has forced some to pare
Their policy stance by degree

Thus none of us ought be amazed
That yesterday Banxico raised
Its overnight rate
As they cannot wait
Til prices (and people) get crazed

Last week the central bank of Brazil raised its overnight rate by 1.0%, taking it back to 5.25%, and promised to continue raising rates until they get inflation back under control.  This seems pretty reasonable since the latest inflation reading there was 8.99%.  Currently, the market is pricing in a 1.25% rate hike next month.  Yesterday afternoon, Mexico’s central bank raised the overnight rate by 25 basis points for the second consecutive meeting, taking it up to 4.50%.  Given that the latest reading on inflation there is 5.81%, it seems they, too, have further to raise rates in order to tame rising prices.

In fact, this is a scenario we are witnessing around the world in emerging markets, where inflation has been rising quite rapidly and the monetary authorities, recognizing that they don’t have infinite capacity to borrow in either their local currency or in dollars, find themselves in a very uncomfortable position.  Either attack inflation now by raising rates and earning the wrath of their government, or let it rip and watch the country descend into more dire straits, akin to Argentina, Turkey, or worst of all, Venezuela.

But that the Fed would respond to inflation in the same manner.  Instead, we continue to get high inflation readings (yesterday’s PPI jumped to 7.8%, 6.2% ex food & energy) and a steady stream of pablum about the transitory nature of inflation in the US.  While only time will actually tell if higher inflation is truly here to stay, there certainly seems to be a lot of evidence that is the case.  One cannot open a newspaper (or perhaps scroll a newsfeed) without immediately seeing a story about how fast food restaurants, or food manufacturers or…fill in the blank, are raising prices because of a combination of higher input and shipping costs.  Perhaps, what is more surprising is that these companies have gained confidence that higher prices will not scare off their customers, meaning these price rises will stick.

On the wage front, this morning’s story of how newly minted college graduates taking (getting?) a job at Evercore Securities will now be paid a starting salary of $120,000 per year seems a pretty good indication that wages are rising.  Given the JOLTS data showing there are over 10 million open positions in the country, it is not surprising that ‘finding qualified people to hire’ remains the top problem of small businesses according to the NFIB survey.  The implication is wages are going to continue to rise and prices alongside them.

Speaking of shipping costs, we continue to see record rises in shipping rates as well as huge delays in timing.  China closed one-quarter of its Ningbo port, the third largest in China, because of concerns over the spread of the delta variant of Covid.  While US ports have not yet closed because of this, the backlog of ships waiting to unload continues to run near record high levels, and now delays from China will result in even bigger logistical and supply chain problems.  All in all, it remains difficult for this author to see a future, at least a near future, where prices do anything but go much higher.

Into that environment we continue to see the key Fed leadership remain sanguine over the prospects of inflation, maintaining the narrative that any price rises are transitory.  Apparently, this has come to mean prices will stop going up so rapidly but are unlikely to come back down.  While there is a growing chorus of FOMC members, mostly regional presidents, that believe it is coming time to taper QE purchases, until we hear that from Powell or Williams or Brainerd, I think it remains a 50:50 proposition at best.    But even if they do start to taper, given their history of responding to asset valuations, any stock market decline, which would seem likely given the current valuations are entirely built on the ‘lower forever’ interest rate scenario, would almost certainly see them stop quickly.  Painting a picture where real yields do anything but fall deeper into negative territory continues to be a difficult thing.  And that, ultimately, is going to be a negative for the dollar.

But when is ultimately?  It is still a little ways off.  Until then, it appears that the market is set up for the dollar to strengthen somewhat further.  The dollar’s relationship with 10-year yields, which had been strong in Q1 and broke in Q2, seems to be back on track.  All the taper talk has bond traders looking for a further backup in yields, and correspondingly, a further rise in the dollar.  While today it is drifting lower vs. most of its counterparts, this can easily be explained by the fact that it is a summer Friday and traders are paring positions going into the weekend.  But the medium-term view needs to be that higher US yields will support the dollar.

As to the rest of the markets, Asian equity markets continue to struggle as the spread of the delta variant accelerates and more countries in the region consider more drastic responses.  Last night saw losses in all the major markets (Nikkei -0.15%, Hang Seng -0.5%, Shanghai -0.25%) and as long as these nations have difficulty managing the resurgence of infections, investors seem to believe that the growth story will be negatively impacted.  Europe, on the other hand, is all green this morning (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.35%, FTSE 100 +0.35%) as there is a greater belief that Covid issues are under better control.  Vaccination rates have risen quite rapidly and so while infection rates may be rising, hospitalizations are not, just like in the US.  Many analysts continue to believe European equity markets, writ large, are undervalued vs. their US counterparts, and while there is tapering talk here, there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that the ECB is going to do anything but continue to print money.

Treasury yields have drifted lower by 1.3bps this morning, which helps explain the dollar’s modest decline, but they remain right at 1.35% and show no signs of retracing last week’s sharp move higher.  European sovereigns, on the other hand, are a bit softer this morning, classic risk-on behavior, with Bunds (+0.9bps) and OATs (+1.4bps) slipping into the weekend.  Gilts are essentially unchanged, as it happens.

The commodity market is showing no clear directional bias of late, with both oil (-0.35%) and gold (+0.4%) having retraced a portion of major price declines over the past two weeks, but neither showing signs of either a break higher or the next leg down.  Rather, they are both a bit choppy right now.

Finally, the dollar is mostly softer against its G10 counterparts, with NOK (+0.3%) the leader and the euro pushing up 0.25%.  Frankly, both of these appear to be trading moves, as both had shown weakness all week, so positions are likely being pared into the weekend.

In the emerging market space, KRW (-0.65%) continues to be the bloc’s biggest laggard, falling for the fifth consecutive day as the combination of the record level of Covid infections, and concerns over the semiconductor space in the KOSPI have seen sellers come out of the woodwork for both stocks and the currency.  Away from the won, weakness was evident throughout the APAC currencies, albeit to a much lesser extent, as the Covid spread story is regionwide.  On the plus side, both CE4 and LATAM currencies are performing well, with MXN (+0.4%) the leader on the back of Banxico’s rate hike, and RUB (+0.4%) seeing position unwinding after a particularly weak trading period this week.

Data this morning brings Michigan Sentiment (exp 81.2) as well as some further secondary price indices, Import and Export prices, which have been running well above 10% each.  The point is there is inflationary pressure everywhere.

It is not surprising that after a week where the dollar was broadly stronger, it softens on Friday, but nothing has changed the short-term view that modestly higher US yields will lead to further dollar strength.  Keep an eye on the 1.1704 level in EURUSD, which I believe can be a catalyst for a much larger move higher in the dollar if it breaks.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Nowhere Near

Charles Evans, on Tuesday, explained
Inflation can well be contained
In fact, his concern
Is prices could turn
Back lower ere targets are gained

“I’m going to be very regretful if we sort of claim victory on averaging 2% and then we find ourselves in 2023 with about a 1.8% inflation rate, sustainable, going forward. That would be a challenge for our long-run framework,” he [Evans] said. “We ought to be willing to average inflation above 2%—frankly, well above 2%. [author’s emphasis]”

One cannot overstate the hubris associated with the above quote from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans.  The fact that he legitimately believes the Fed’s powers are such that they can fine-tune a $24 trillion economy to the point that measured estimates of particular features of that economy are able to be managed to a decimal place of an annualized percentage outcome is extraordinary.  It is the perfect illustration of the fact that the Fed is completely out of touch with the economy in which you and I live and completely ensconced in a model driven framework where data represents reality.  But it is exactly this hubris that has resulted in the policy decisions that have brought the world negative interest rates and a defense of debt monetization.  As long as central bankers, notably the Fed, continue to believe that their models are the economy, rather than a simplified representation of the economy, they are likely to continue to make decisions with significant unintended consequences from which we all will suffer.

This morning the market awaits
The latest inflation updates
What’s patently clear
Is they’re nowhere near
An outcome to end the debates

Speaking of inflation, this morning brings the latest CPI data with expectations running as follows: Headline (0.5%, 5.3% Y/Y) and ex food & energy (0.4%, 4.3% Y/Y).  Both of those forecasts are slightly lower than the prints seen in July, and if realized, you can be sure that we will hear a chorus of FOMC members highlighting the transitory nature of inflation.  Of course, if the outcomes are higher than forecast, something we have seen in each of the past twelve reports, we will also hear a chorus of FOMC members explaining that this remains a temporary phenomenon and that inflation is transitory.  [Perhaps when Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1841, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” he was anticipating the Fed.]  However, financial markets may not be quite as sanguine over the results, especially if they continue their year-long streak of outperforming the median estimate.

Markets, of late, have been starting to discern between those products that will benefit from altered policy and those products that will suffer.  Nowhere is this clearer than in the US equity markets where we have seen the NASDAQ underperform its brethren indices.  Recall, given the NASDAQ’s strong bias toward high growth (and low profit) companies that benefit greatly from extremely low interest rates, the index behaves very much like a very long-duration bond.  So, in a scenario where inflation is rising and market expectations are for tapering of asset purchases to begin soon(ish), it should be no surprise that the NASDAQ falls alongside the price of bonds.  At the same time, if the implication is that rising inflation is being caused by rebounding growth, rather than supply-chain blockages, there is an opportunity for more mundane, value-type companies to outperform.  Hence, the differing performance of the DOW vs. the NASDAQ.
Of course, the place where inflation is likely to have the most direct effect is the bond market, where long-term yields are theoretically supposed to reflect inflation expectations.  And while we have certainly seen yields rise over the past week, there is no way they currently reflect those expectations.  They cannot do so as long the Fed continues to buy all the new issuance, and then some, thus artificially driving up prices and driving down yields.  Ask yourself this, does it make sense that US 10-year yields are at 1.36% if inflation is at 5.4%?  Of course, the answer to that is a resounding ‘No!’  Yet, that is the current situation.  To observe the bond market and believe it is not artificially inflated (everywhere in the world, mind you) is akin to believing that the moon is made of green cheese.  It just ain’t so!

At any rate, ahead of this morning’s CPI release, investors have generally been biding their time as they wait to determine if they need to adjust their world view.  Equity markets are generally a bit firmer as Asia mostly eked out some gains (Nikkei +0.6%, Hang Seng +0.2%, Shanghai 0.0%) with Europe following suit (DAX 0.0%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.5%).  US futures are split with the NASDAQ (-0.2%) slipping following yesterday’s losses, while the other two main indices are essentially unchanged.  All in all, it appears that there is some hope that CPI prints on the low side to allow the Fed narrative to continue apace, and therefore to allow rates to remain lower for longer.

Bond markets, though, are starting to get a bit antsy these days with Treasury yields edging higher again (+1.7bps) with similar type gains seen throughout Europe (Gilts +1.4bps, OATs +1.8bps, Bunds +0.8bps).  At this point, 10-year Treasury yields have risen 0.25% in the space of a week, which is a very substantial move, especially when considering that the base at the beginning was just 1.12%.  One has to believe the Fed is watching extremely closely as they do not want to see the market run too far ahead of their mooted tapering and create Taper tantrum #2 inadvertently.  It is here where a higher than forecast CPI print could have quite an impact and which may force the Fed to reconsider the idea of tapering.  After all, they cannot afford for 10-year yields to rise to 2.0% while they are still purchasing $120 billion per month of paper.

Commodity prices are mixed today with oil (-1.1%) feeling the pressure of higher yields while gold (+0.5%) seems to be ignoring that same pressure.  Of course, gold was just subject to a significant sell-off, so this could easily be a simple trading bounce.  As it happens, both agricultural and base metal prices are showing a mixture of gainers and losers and no real underlying theme.

Finally, the dollar is definitely stronger again this morning.  While the movement vs. its G10 brethren has not been large, it is unanimous, with all currencies in the red today.  A particular shout-out goes to the euro, which is trading just pips from the key support level of 1.1704.  Watch that carefully as a break there is likely to open up much lower levels.  In the emerging markets, KRW (-0.6%) has been the laggard, followed by TRY (-0.5%) and HUF (-0.4%).  The won has been suffering from a combination of rising covid cases, with a record high 2200 reported yesterday, which has been encouraging the liquidation by foreign investors of Korean equities.  Meanwhile, TRY is under pressure as traders are concerned the President Erdogan will once again interfere in the central bank’s business and prevent them from raising rates at tomorrow’s meeting.  Finally, the forint seems to be suffering for the sins of its neighbors as concerns over German growth, a key market, and Polish politics, a close neighbor, have encouraged selling.

And that’s really it for today.  All eyes will be on the CPI at 8:30. More than just watching the tape, I always pay attention to @inflation_guy on Twitter as he does an excellent job breaking down the drivers of the number and offering insight into how things may evolve.  I highly recommend following him.

As to the dollar, the slow grind higher continues and as long as US rates are rising, I think so will the dollar.  If we break the 1.1704 level in the euro, look for a bit of an acceleration.  But don’t be surprised if we reject the move given it is the first test of the support level since it was established back in March.

Good luck and stay safe


The narrative is resolute
That though prices did overshoot
They’re certain to fall
And that, above all,
The Fed’s in control, absolute

However, concern is now growing
That growth round the world’s started slowing
Though Friday’s report
On jobs was the sort
To help the bull market keep going

Clearly, my concerns over a weak payroll report were misplaced as Friday’s data was strong on every front, although perhaps too strong on some.  Nonfarm payrolls grew a robust 943K with net revisions higher of 119K for the past two months.  The Unemployment Rate crashed to 5.4%, down one-half percent, and Average Hourly Earnings rose 4.0% Y/Y.  It is the last of these that may generate some concern, at least from the perspective of the transitory inflation story.

While it is unambiguously good news for the working population that their wages are rising, something that has been absent for the past two decades, as with Newton’s first law (every action has an equal and opposite reaction) the direct result of rising wages tends to be rising prices.  So, while getting paid more is good, if the things one buys cost more, the net impact may not be as positive.  And in fact, consider that while the 4.0% annual rise is the highest (excluding the distortions immediately following the  Covid-19 lockdowns) in the series since at least the turn of the century, when compared to the most recent CPI data (you remember, 5.4%) we find that the average employee continues to fall behind on a real basis.

When discussing inflation, notice that the Fed harps on things like used car prices or hotel prices as the key drivers of the recent rise in the data.  They also tend to explain that commodity prices play a role, and that is something they cannot control.  But when was the last time Chairman Powell talked about rapidly rising wages or housing prices as an underlying cause of inflation?  In fact, when asked about whether the Fed should begin tapering mortgage-backed securities purchases sooner because of rapidly rising house prices, he claimed the Fed’s purchases have no impact on house prices, but rather it was things like the temporary jump in lumber prices that were the problem.  Oh yeah, and see, lumber prices have fallen back down so there is nothing to worry about.

Of course, wages are not part of CPI directly.  Rising wages are reflected in the rising prices of everything as companies both large and small find it necessary to raise prices to maintain their profitability.  Certainly, there are some companies that have more pricing power than others and so are quicker to raise prices, but in the end, rising wages result in one of two things, higher prices or lower margins, and oftentimes both.  In the broad scheme of things, neither of these outcomes is particularly positive for generating real economic growth, which is arguably the goal of all monetary policies.

Consider, to the extent rising wages force companies to raise the price of their product or service, the result is an upward bias in inflation that is independent of the price of oil or lumber or copper.  In fact, one of the key features of the past 40 years of disinflation has been the fact that labor’s share of the economic pie has fallen substantially compared to that of capital.  This has been the result of the globalization of the workforce as the addition of more than 1 billion new workers from developing nations was sufficient to keep downward pressure on wages.

Arguably, this has also been one of the key reasons corporate profit margins have risen and stock prices along with them.  Now consider what would happen if that very long-term trend was in the process of reversing.  There is a likelihood of rising prices of goods and services, otherwise known as inflation.  There is also a likelihood of a revaluation of equity prices if margins start to decline. And nothing helps margins decline like rising labor costs.

Consider, also, this is the sticky type of inflation, exactly the opposite of all the transitory claims.  This is the widely (and rightly) feared wage-price spiral.  I am not saying this is the current situation, at least not yet, but that things are falling into place that could easily result in this outcome.

Now put yourself in Chairman Powell’s shoes.  Prices have begun rising more rapidly as companies respond to rising wage pressures.  The employment situation has been improving more rapidly so there is less concern over the attainment of that part of your mandate.  But…the amount of leverage in the system is astronomical with government debt running at record high levels (Federal government at 127%) and all debt, including household and corporate at 400% of GDP.  Do you believe that the economy can withstand higher interest rates of any substance?  After all, in order to tackle inflation, real rates need to be positive.  What do you think would happen if the Fed raised rates to 6%?  And this is my point as to why the Fed has painted themselves into the proverbial corner.  They cannot possibly respond to inflation with their “tools” because the negative ramifications would be far too large to withstand.  It is also why I don’t’ believe the Fed will make any substantive policy changes despite all the tapering talk.  They simply can’t afford to.

Ok, on to the markets.  One of the notable things overnight was the flash crash in the price of gold, which tumbled $73 as the session began on a huge sell order in the futures market, although has since regained $54 and is currently down 1.1% from Friday’s close.  The other things was the release of Chinese CPI (1.0%) and PPI (9.0%), both of which printed a few ticks higher than expected.  Obviously, there is not nearly as much pass-through domestically from producer to consumer prices in China, but that tends to be a result of the fact that consumption is a much smaller share of the Chinese economy.  However, higher prices on the production side, despite the government’s efforts to stop commodity speculation and hoarding, does not bode well for the transitory story.  And while discussing EMG inflation readings, early this morning we saw Brazil (1.45% M/M) and Mexico (5.86% Y/Y) both print higher than forecast results.  Certainly, it is no surprise that both central banks are in tightening mode.

A quick peak at equity markets showed Asia performed reasonably well (Nikkei +0.3%, Hang Seng +0.4%, Shanghai +1.0%) although Europe has been struggling a bit (DAX -0.2%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.4%).  US futures, meanwhile, are either side of unchanged with very modest moves.

Treasury yields have given back 2 basis points from Friday’s post-NFP surge of 7.5bps, although there are many who continue to believe the short-term down trend has been ended.  European sovereigns are also rallying a bit, with Bunds (-1.3bps), OATs (-1.3bps) and Gilts (-3.5bps) leading a screen that has seen every European bond rally today.

Commodity prices are perhaps the most interesting as oil prices have fallen quite sharply (-4.0%) with WTI back to $65.50/bbl, its lowest level since late May.  This appears to be a recognition of the growth of the Delta variant and how more and more nations are responding with another wave of lockdowns and restrictions on movement, thus less travel and overall economic activity.  As such, it should be no surprise that copper (-1.5%) is lower or that the metals space as a whole is under pressure.

Interestingly, the dollar is not showing a clear trend at all today, with gainers and losers about evenly mixed and no particularly large moves.  In the G10, NOK (-0.3%) is the laggard, clearly impacted by oil’s decline, but away from that, the mix is basically +/- 0.1%, in other words, no real change.  In the emerging markets, ZAR (+0.3%) is the leader, although this appears more to be a response to its sharp weakness last week than to any specific news.  And that is the only EMG currency that moved more than 0.2%, again, demonstrating very little in the way of new information.

Data this week brings CPI amongst a bunch of lesser numbers:

Today JOLTS Jobs Openings 9.27M
Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 102.0
Nonfarm Productivity 3.2%
Unit Labor Costs 0.9%
Wednesday CPI 0.5% (5.3% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (4.3% Y/Y)
Thursday Initial Claims 375K
Continuing Claims 2.88M
PPI 0.6% (7.1% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (5.6% Y/Y)
Friday Michigan Sentiment 81.2

Source: Bloomberg

At this point, the response to the CPI data will be either of the following; a high number will be ignored (transitory remember), and a low number will be proof they are correct.  So, while we may all be suffering, the narrative will have no such problems!

There are a handful of Fed speakers this week as well, with the two most hawkish voices (Mester and George) on the calendar.  Right now, the narrative has evolved to tapering is part of the conversation and Jackson Hole will give us more clarity.  The market is pricing the first rate hike by December 2022 based on the recent commentary.  We shall see.  Until then, I don’t anticipate a great deal as many desks will be thinly staffed due to summer vacations.  Just be careful if you have a large amount to execute.

Good luck and stay safe

Some Water to Tread

The quickening pace of the spread
Of delta means looking ahead
The prospects for both
Inflation and growth
Seem likely, some water, to tread

The upshot is central bank staff
Will trot out some chart or some graph
Highlighting that rates
In all nation states
Should once more be cut, least in half

The talk of the markets is the pace of the spread of the delta variant of Covid and how the latest wave of lockdowns and other measures has reduced growth forecasts for the second half of the year.  This is especially true throughout Asia as nations that had seemingly weathered the initial wave of Covid with aplomb find themselves woefully unprepared for the current situation.  A combination of less widespread vaccinations and less effective health infrastructure has resulted in the fast spreading virus wreaking havoc.  China, for instance, finds itself in this position as half of its 32 provinces are reporting cases and officials there have closed major tourist destinations because of the spread.  This is a far cry from their earlier claims of having controlled the virus better than anyone else.  But the same situation exists throughout Europe and the Americas as the delta variant runs its course.

The clearest market response to this situation has been from bond markets where yields continue to fall around the world on the weaker prospects for growth.  The amount of negative yielding debt worldwide has risen back to $16.7 trillion, up from $12.9 trillion at the end of June, although still below the $18.3 trillion reached in December of last year.  However, the trajectory of this move, which is approaching vertical, offers the possibility that we could easily take out those old highs in the next week or two.

The problem is that rapidly declining bond yields do not accord easily with higher inflation or inflation expectations.  Yet higher inflation continues to be present and inflation expectations continue to rise.  This is the great conundrum in markets right now.  How can markets be anticipating slower growth while inflation measures continue to rise?  Shouldn’t slower growth lead to lower inflation?

In ordinary economic environments, there has certainly been a strong relationship between growth and inflation, but I challenge anyone to describe this economic situation as ordinary.  Rather, as a result of collective government responses to the pandemic, with whole swaths of various economies around the world being closed, along with massive fiscal and monetary stimulus being added to those same economies, a series of supply shocks have been created.  Thus, when the artificially stoked demand (from the stimulus) meets the constrained supply (from the lockdowns) the natural response is for prices to rise in order to achieve a new equilibrium.  The point is that the supply constraints continue to drive much of the pricing behavior, and therefore the inflation story, while the central banks can only really affect the demand side of the equation.  After all, while they may be able to print lots of money, they cannot print chickens, toilet paper or semiconductors, all things that have seen supply reduced.

A large part of the central banks’ transitory inflation theme stems from the fact that their models tell them that supply will be replenished and therefore prices will ease.  Alas, there has been little indication that the real world is paying attention to central bank models, as we continue to see shipping delays, manufacturing delays and higher raw materials prices as the supply infrastructure remains under significant strain.

Perhaps the most telling feature regarding the current views on inflation, even more than the rise in economic statistics, is the growth in the number of stories in the mainstream media regarding why different ordinary products and services have become more expensive.  Just this morning, the WSJ explained why both vacations and patio furniture are more expensive, and a quick Google trends search shows the term “more expensive” is being searched at near peak levels virtually daily.  The central bank community has put themselves in a significant bind, and while some nations are beginning to respond, the big 3, Fed, ECB and BOJ, show absolutely no signs of changing their behavior in the near term.  As such, the outlook is for more printed money, the same or few available goods and higher prices across the board.

Turning to markets, all that money continues to be a positive for equity investors as a great deal of that liquidity keeps finding its way into equity markets.  While Japan (Nikkei -0.2%) lagged last night, the rest of Asia rebounded with both the Hang Seng and Shanghai indices rising 0.9%.  Europe, too, continues to perform well with the DAX (+0.8%), CAC (+0.4%) and FTSE 100 (+0.4%) all in the green after PMI Services indices were released.  While all of those data points were strong, they all missed expectations and were slightly softer than last month.  In other words, the trajectory continues to be lower, although the absolute readings remain strong.  Perhaps despite what Timbuk 3 explained, you won’t need shades for the future after all.

As to the bond market, we continue to see demand as yields are lower almost everywhere.  Treasury yields have fallen 1 basis point, with European sovereigns even stronger (Bunds -1.7bps, OATs -2.0bps, Gilts -1.3bps).  In fact, the only bond market to sell off overnight was in New Zealand (+5bps) as comments from the central bank indicated they are likely to raise rates next week, and as many as 3 times by the end of the year as inflation continues to rise while the unemployment rate fell to a surprisingly low 4.0%.

Commodity prices continue to lack direction, although the negativity on the economy has impacted oil prices which are down 1.1% this morning.  However, gold (+0.4%) is looking up, as are agricultural prices with the big three products all higher by between 0.3%-0.6%.  Base metals, though, are under pressure (Cu -0.4%, Sn -0.3%) which given the evolving economic sentiment makes some sense.

Finally, the dollar is ever so slightly softer this morning with only NZD (+0.7%) showing real movement and dragging AUD (+0.3%) along with it.  Otherwise, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.1% from yesterday’s closing levels.  The EMG picture is a bit more mixed with gainers and losers on the order of 0.4%, although even that is only a few currencies.  The leader today is KRW (+0.4%) which responded to increased expectations that the BOK would be raising interest rates soon, perhaps later this month, with some analysts even floating the idea for a 50bp hike.  We have seen a similar gain in HUF (0.4%) as the market continues to digest hawkish commentary from the central bank there, but after those two, gainers have been far less impressive.  On the downside, TRY (-0.4%) is the laggard du jour as the market grows increasingly concerned that the central bank will not be able to keep up with rising inflation there.  Elsewhere, THB (-0.35%) fell on weakening growth prospects and the rest of the space was less interesting.

Two notable data points are to be released today with ADP Employment (exp 683K) early and then the ISM Services (60.5) index released at 10:00. The ADP number will be seen by many as a harbinger of Friday’s NFP, so could well have a big impact if it surprises in either direction.

Interestingly, the dollar continues to hold its own lately despite declining yields as it appears investors are buying dollars to buy Treasuries.  After all, as more and more debt turns into negative yields, Treasuries look that much more attractive.  At least until the Fed admits that inflation is going to be more persistent than previously discussed.

Good luck and stay safe


The ECB just must be thrilled
Inflation they’ve tried hard to build
Is finally growing
Though Germany’s showing
The growth impulse there has been chilled

The news from the Continent this morning would seem to be pretty good.  GDP, which rose 2.0% Q/Q in Q2 was substantially higher than the forecast 1.5%.  The growth leadership came from Spain (2.8%) and Italy (2.7%) although France (0.9%) was somewhat lackluster and Germany (1.5%) was extremely disappointing, coming in well below expectations.  At the same time, Eurozone CPI rose to 2.2% in July, above both the expected 2.0% print, and the ECB’s target rate.  Given everything we have heard from Madame Lagarde and virtually every ECB speaker over the past months, this must be quite exciting as it is a demonstration of success of their policies.  It seems that buying an additional €3.3 trillion in assets was finally sufficient to drive inflation higher.  (Well, arguably, what that did was drive up the price of virtually every commodity while government lockdowns were able to reduce productive capacity sufficiently to create massive bottlenecks in supply chains forcing prices higher.)  Nonetheless, the ECB gets to take a victory lap as they have achieved their target.

As an aside, you may recall yesterday’s data that showed German CPI rose a shockingly high 3.8%, a level at which the good people of that nation are very likely horrified.  While the Eurozone, as a whole, continues to recover pretty well, there must be a little concern that Germany is facing a period of stagflation, with subpar growth and higher prices.  Of course, this is the worst possible outcome for policymakers as the remedy for the two aspects require opposite policies and thus a choice must be made that will almost certainly result in greater pain for the economy initially.  Forty years ago, Fed Chair Paul Volcker was able to withstand the political heat when making this decision, but I fear there is not a central banker in the seat who could do so today.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all this is that European equity markets are all in the red, with not a single one responding positively to the data.  Ironically, Spain’s IBEX (-1.0%) is the laggard, despite Spain’s top of the list growth.  Then comes the DAX (-0.8%) and the CAC (-0.25%).  For good measure, the FTSE 100 (-0.9%) is following suit although its GDP data won’t be published for two more weeks.  Arguably, despite this positive news, the ongoing spread of the delta variant seems to be undermining both confidence and actual activity at some level.

Of course, European markets tend to take their cues from what happens in Asia before they open, and last night was another risk-off session there with the Nikkei (-1.8%), Hang Seng (-1.35%) and Shanghai (-0.4%) all sliding.  There are two stories here, one Japanese and one Chinese.  From Japan, the issue is clearly the resurgence of Covid as the recently imposed emergency lockdown has been extended further amid a spike in daily cases to near 10K, higher than the peaks seen in both January and May of this year.  The rapid spread of the disease has policymakers there quite flustered and investors are beginning to show their concern.

China, on the other hand, assures us that they have no Covid problems, rather markets there are suffering over policy decisions.  One observation that might be made is that the government is enhancing regulations on very specific segments of the economy in order to achieve their stated goals from the most recent 5-year plan.  So, education is very clearly seen as critical, far too important for capitalism to have any influence, and I would expect that this industry sector will ultimately privatize and turn into the suggested non-profit organizations.  On the tech side, China is all about hardware type tech, and will do all they can to support companies in that space.  However, companies like Didi, AliBaba and Tencent don’t produce anything worthwhile, they simply consume resources to provide retail services, none of which lead toward Xi Jinping’s ultimate goals.  As such, they are likely to find increasing restrictions on what they do in order to reduce their influence on the economy.

And as I hinted at the other day, there appears to be growing concern that the real estate bubble that exists in China has been a key feature of their demographic problems.  Couples are less likely to have children if they cannot afford to buy a house, and the damage from China’s one-child policy will take generations to repair, although that is a key focus of the government.  As such, do not be surprised if real estate firms come under pressure with respect to things like restrictions on margins and pricing as the government tries to deflate that bubble.  This opens the possibility that yet another sector of the Chinese equity market is going to come under further pressure.  To the extent that Asian markets set the tone for the global day, that does not bode well for the near future.

Interestingly, despite a lackluster performance by the European and Asian equity markets (and US futures, which are all lower this morning), the bond markets are not exactly on fire.  While it is true that Treasury yields have slipped 2.5bps, European sovereigns are either side of unchanged today, with nothing moving more than 0.3bps in either direction.  I would have expected a bit better performance given the equity risk-off signal.

Commodity markets are generally a bit softer with oil (-0.2%) slipping a bit although it has recovered almost all of its losses from two weeks ago and sits at $73.50/bbl.  Gold, after a huge rally yesterday is unchanged this morning, while base metals are mixed (Cu -0.2%, Al +1.4%, Sn +0.15%).  Finally, ags are all softer this morning as weather conditions in key growing areas have improved lately.

Lastly, the dollar can best be described as mixed, with NOK (-0.4%) and AUD (-0.35%) the laggards amid softer oil and  commodity prices while EUR (+0.1%) and CHF (+0.1%) have both edged higher on what I would contend is the ongoing decline in real US interest rates.

Emerging market currencies have performed far better generally with TRY (+0.6%) and PHP (+0.6%) the leaders although both EEMEA and other APAC currencies have performed well.  The lira responded to the Turkish central bank raising its inflation forecast thus implying rates would remain higher there for the foreseeable future.  Meanwhile, the peso seemed to benefit from the idea that the renewed covid lockdown would reduce its balance of payments issues by reducing its trade deficit.  On the other side of the ledger was KRW (-0.3%) which continues to suffer from the uncertainty over Chinese business activity.

On the data front today, we get the Fed’s key inflation reading; Core PCE (exp 3.7%) as well as Personal Income (-0.3%), Personal Spending (0.7%), Chicago PMI (64.1) and Michigan Sentiment (80.8).  Clearly all eyes will be on the PCE number, where a higher print will likely encourage more taper talk.  However, if it is below expectations, look for a very positive market response.  We also hear from two Fed speakers, Bullard and Brainerd, the former who has turned far more hawkish and has been calling for a taper, while Ms Brainerd is not nearly ready for such action.  And in the end, Brainerd matters more than Bullard for now.

I expect the market will take its cues from the PCE data, with a higher print likely to undermine the dollar while a softer print could well see a bit of a rebound from the past several sessions’ weakness.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

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