Protests Are Growing

In China the growth impulse waned
As policy makers have strained
To maintain control
While reaching the goal
Of growth that Xi has preordained

In other news protests are growing
By pundits that markets are showing
Too much in the way
Of rate hikes today
Since wags think inflation is slowing

Risk is getting battered this morning, but interestingly, so are many havens.  It seems that the combination of slowing growth and higher inflation is not all that positive for assets in general, at least not financial ones.  Who would have thunk it?

Our story starts in China where Q3 GDP was released at a slower than expected 4.9% down from 7.9% in Q2 and 18.3% in Q1.  If nothing else, the trend seems to be clear.  And, while Retail Sales there rose a more than expected 4.4%, IP (3.1%) and Fixed asset Investment (7.3%), the true drivers of the Chinese economy, both slumped sharply from last quarter and were well below estimates.  In other words, the Chinese economy is not growing as quickly as the punditry, and arguably, the market had expected.  This is made clear by the ongoing lackluster performance in Chinese equity markets which are also being accosted by President Xi’s ongoing transformation of the Chinese economy to one more of his liking.  (In this vein, the latest is the attack on the press such that all media must now be state-owned.  Clearly there is no 1st Amendment there.)  Of course, if the press is state-controlled, it is much easier for the government to prevent inconvenient stories about things like Evergrande from becoming widespread inside the country.  That being said, we know the Evergrande situation is under control because the PBOC told us so!

Ultimately, this matters to markets because China has been a significant growth engine for the global economy and if it is slowing more rapidly than expected, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the world.  Apparently ongoing energy shortages in China continue to wreak havoc on manufacturing companies and hence supply chains around the world.  But don’t worry, factory gate inflation there is only running at 10.7%, so there seems little chance of inflationary pressures seeping into the rest of the world.  In the end, risk appetite is unlikely to increase substantially if the narrative turns to one of slower growth ahead, unable to support earnings expectations.

With this in mind, it is understandable why equity markets are under pressure this morning which has been true in almost every major market; Nikkei (-0.15%), Shanghai (-0.1%), DAX (-0.5%), CAC (-0.8%), FTSE 100 (-0.2%). US futures (-0.3%), with only the Hang Seng (+0.3%) bucking the trend.  Funnily enough, though, bond markets are also under universal pressure (Treasuries +4.4bps, Bunds +4.4bps, OATs +4.7bps, Gilts +6.7bps, Australia GBs +9.0bps, China +5.3bps, and the pièce de résistance, New Zealand +15.5bps) as it seems investors are beginning to fret more seriously over inflation and ensuing policy action by central bankers.

Yesterday, BOE Governor Andrew Bailey explained that the BOE will “have to act” to curb inflationary forces.  That is a pretty clear statement of intent and one based on the reality that inflation is well above their target and trending higher.  Interest rate markets quickly priced in rate hikes in the UK with the first expected next month and a second by February.  In fact, by next September, the market is now pricing in 4 rate hikes, expecting the base rate to be 1.00% vs. the current rate of 0.10%.  In New Zealand, meanwhile, CPI printed at 4.9% last night, well above the expected 4.2% and the market quickly adjusted its views on interest rates there as well, with a 0.375% increase now price for the late November meeting and expectations that in one year’s time, the OCR (overnight cash rate) will be up at 1.95% compared to today’s 0.50%.

Naturally, this price action doesn’t suit the central bank narrative and so there has been a concerted push back on the higher inflation story from many sectors.  My personal favorite is from the pundits who are focusing on the Fed staff economists with the claim that they are far more accurate than the Street and their current forecast of 2022 inflation of 1.7% should be the baseline.  But we have heard from others with vested interests in the low inflation narrative like Blackrock (who gets paid by the Fed to manage the purchases of assets) as well as a number of European central bankers (Villeroy and Vizco) who maintain that it is critical the ECB keep policy flexibility when PEPP ends.  This appears to be code for ignore the inflation and keep buying bonds.

The point of today’s story is that the carefully controlled narrative that has been fostered by the central banking community is under increasing pressure, if not falling apart completely.  Markets are pricing in rate hikes despite protests by central bankers, as they see rising inflation trends as becoming much more persistent than those central bankers would like you to believe.  At this point, no matter what inflation statistic you consider (CPI, PCE, trimmed-mean CPI, median CPI, sticky CPI) all are running well above the Fed’s 2.0% target and all are trending higher.  The same situation obtains in almost every major nation as the combination of 18 months of excessive money-printing and significant fiscal spending seems to have done the trick with respect to reviving both inflation and inflation expectations.  If I were the Fed, I’d be taking a victory lap as they have been fighting deflation for a decade.  Clearly, they have won!

So, if stocks and bonds are both falling, what is rising?  I’m sure you won’t be surprised that oil (+1.6%) is leading the way higher as demand continues to rise while supply doesn’t.  OPEC+ has refused to increase production any further and the US production situation remains under pressure from Biden administration policies.  While NatGas in the US is softer (-1.8%), in Europe, it is much firmer again (+16.2%) as Russia continues to restrict supply.  Precious metals remain unloved (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.2%) but industrial metals are firm (Cu +0.9%, Al +0.45%, Sn +1.2%) along with the agriculturals.

Finally, the dollar is definitely in demand rising against 9 of its G10 brethren (only NOK has managed to hold its own on the back of oil’s rally) but with the rest of the bunch falling between 0.1% and 0.5% on general dollar strength. After all, if neither NZD (-0.1%) nor GBP (-0.15%) can rally after interest rate markets have jumped like they have, what chance to other currencies have today?

EMG currencies are also under pressure this morning led by ZAR (-1.0%) and followed by MXN (-0.6%) with both falling despite rising oil and commodity prices.  Both seem to be suffering from a general malaise regarding EMG currencies as concerns grow that rising inflationary pressures are going to slow growth domestically, thus pressuring their central banks to maintain easier policy than necessary to fight rising inflation.  Stagflation is a b*tch.

Turning to the data front, this week sees much less of interest with housing being the focus:

Today IP 0.2%
Capacity Utilization 76.5%
Tuesday Housing Starts 1615K
Building Permits 16680K
Wednesday Fed Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 300K
Continuing Claims 2550K
Philly Fed 25.0
Leading Indicators 0.4%
Existing Home Sales 6.08M

Source: Bloomberg

On the Fed front, 10 more speakers are on the docket across a dozen different venues including Chairman Powell on Friday morning.  At this point, with inflation rising more rapidly than expected everywhere in the world and the market pricing in rate hikes far more aggressively than central banks deem appropriate, the case can be made that the central banks have lost control of the narrative.  I expect this week’s onslaught of commentary to try very hard to regain the upper hand.  However, as I have long maintained, at some point the Fed will speak and act and the market will not care.  We could well be approaching that point.  In that event, the only thing that seems certain is that volatility will rise.

As to the dollar today, I think we need to see some confirmation that this modest corrective decline is over, but for now, the medium-term trend remains for a higher dollar.  I see nothing to change that view yet.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Somewhat Misleading

The latest inflation’ry reading
Showed price rises kept on proceeding
But bond markets jumped
While dollars were dumped
This movement seems somewhat misleading

The two market drivers yesterday were exactly as expected, the CPI report and the FOMC Minutes.  The funny thing is it appears the market’s response to the information was contrary to what would have been expected heading into the session.

Starting with CPI, by now you are all aware that it continues to run at a much hotter pace than the Fed’s average 2.0% target.  Yesterday’s results showed the M/M headline number was a tick higher than forecast at 0.4%, as was the 5.4% Y/Y number.  Ex food & energy, the results were right on expectations at 4.0%, but that is cold comfort.  Here’s a bit of bad news though, going forward for the next 5 months, the monthly comps are extremely low, so the base effects (you remember those from last year, right?) are telling us that CPI is going to go up from here.  Headline CPI is almost certain to remain above 5.0% through at least Q1 22 and I fear beyond, especially if energy prices continue to rise.  The Social Security Administration announced that benefits would be increased by 5.9% next year, the largest increase in 20 years, but so too will FICA taxes increase accordingly.

The initial market movement on the release was perfectly logical with the dollar bouncing off its lows while Treasury yields backed up.  Given the current correlation between those two, things made sense.  However, that price action was relatively short-lived and as the morning progressed into the afternoon, the dollar started to slip along with yields.  Thus, leading up to the Minutes’ release, the situation had already turned in an unusual direction.

The Minutes explained, come November,
Or possibly late as December
The time will have come
Where QE’s full sum
Ought fade like a lingering ember

The Minutes then confirmed what many in the market had expected which was that the taper is on, and that starting in either mid-November or mid-December the Fed would be reducing its monthly asset purchases by $15 billion ($10 billion less Treasuries, $5 billion less mortgages).  This timeline will end their QE program in the middle of next year and would then open the way for the Fed to begin to raise rates if they deemed it necessary.

Oddly enough, the bond rally really took on legs after the Minutes and the dollar extended its losses.  So, while the correlation remains intact, the direction is confusing, at least to this author.  Losing the only price insensitive bond buyer while the government has so much debt to issue did not seem a recipe for higher bond prices and lower yields.  Yet here we are.  The best explanation I can offer is that investors have assessed that less QE will result in slowing growth and reduced inflationary pressures, so much so that there is the beginning of talk about a recession in the US early next year.  Alas, while I definitely understand the case for slowing growth, and have been highlighting the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow trajectory lower, there is nothing about the situation that I believe will result in lower inflation, at least not for quite a while yet.  Thus, a bond market rally continues to seem at odds with the likely future outcome.

Of course, there is one other possible explanation for this behavior.  What if, and humor me here for a moment, the Fed doesn’t actually follow through with a full tapering because equity prices start to fall sharply?  After all, I am not the only one to have noticed that the Fed’s reaction function seems to be entirely based on the level of the S&P 500.  Simply look back to the last time the Fed was trying to remove policy accommodation in 2018.  You may recall the gradual reduction in the size of their balance sheet as they allowed bonds to mature without replacing them while simultaneously, they were gradually raising the Fed funds rate.  However, by Christmas 2018, when the equity market had fallen 20% from its highs, Chairman Powell pivoted from tightening to easing policy thus driving a reversal higher in stocks.  Do you honestly believe that a man with a >$100 million portfolio is going to implement and maintain a policy that will make him poorer?  I don’t!  Hence, I remain of the belief that if they actually do start to taper, still not a given in my mind, it won’t last very long.  But for now, the bond market approves.

Thus, with visions of inflation dancing in our heads, let’s look at this morning’s market activity.  Equity markets are clearly of the opinion that everything is under control, except perhaps in China, as we saw the Nikkei (+1.5%) put in a strong performance and strength throughout most of Asia.  However, the Hang Seng (-1.4%) and Shanghai (-0.1%) were a bit less frothy.  Europe, though, is all in on good news with the DAX (+0.8%), CAC (+0.9%) and FTSE 100 (+0.7%) having very positive sessions.  This has carried over into the US futures market where all three major indices are higher by at least 0.6% this morning.

Bonds, meanwhile, are having a good day as well, with Treasury yields sliding 0.7bps after a nearly 5bp decline yesterday.  In Europe, given those markets were closed during much of the US bond rally, we are seeing a catch-up of sorts with Bunds (-3.7bps), OATs (-3.1bps) and Gilts (-1.6bps) all trading well as are the rest of Europe’s sovereign markets.

On the commodity front, pretty much everything is higher as oil (+1.25%), NatGas (+2.1%) and Uranium (+21.7%!) lead the energy space higher.  Metals, too, are climbing with gold (+0.4%), copper (+0.7%) and aluminum (+3.4%) all quite firm this morning.  Not to worry, your food is going up in price as well as all the major agricultural products are seeing price rises.

As to the dollar, it is almost universally lower this morning with only two currencies down on the day, TRY (-0.9%) and JPY (-0.15%).  The former is suffering as President Erdogan fired three more central bankers who refuse to cut interest rates as inflation soars in the country and the market concern grows that Turkey will soon be Argentina.  The yen, on the other hand, seems to be feeling the pressure from ongoing sales by Japanese investors as they seek to buy Treasury bonds with much higher yields than JGBs.  However, away from those two, the dollar is under solid pressure against G10 (SEK +0.9%, NOK +0.8%, CAD +0.55%) and EMG (THB +0.7%, IDR +0.7%, KRW +0.6%).  Broadly speaking, the story is much more about the dollar than about any of these particular currencies although commodity strength is obviously driving some of the movement as is positive news in Asia on the Covid front where some nations (Thailand, Indonesia) are easing restrictions on travel.

On the data front, this morning brings the weekly Initial (exp 320K) and Continuing (2.67M) Claims numbers as well as PPI (8.7%, 7.1% ex food & energy).  PPI tends to have less impact when it is released after CPI, so it seems unlikely, unless it is a big miss, to matter that much.  However, it is worth noting that Chinese PPI (10.7%) printed at its highest level since records began in 1995 while Korean import and export prices both rose to levels not seen since the Asian financial crisis in 1998.  The point is there is upward price pressure everywhere in the world and more of it is coming to a store near you.

We hear from six more Fed speakers today, but it would be quite surprising to have any change in message at this point.  To recap the message, inflation is proving a bit stickier than they originally thought but will still fade next year, they will never allow stock prices to fall, inflation expectations remain anchored and tapering will begin shortly.

While I still see more reasons for the dollar to rally than decline, I believe it will remain linked to Treasury yields, so if those decline, look for the dollar to follow and vice versa.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prices Will Grow

As markets await CPI
It’s funny to watch the Fed try
Explaining inflation
Will lack the duration
To send expectations sky-high

But even their own surveys show
That most people already know
Inflation is here
And well past next year
The level of prices will grow

Each month the Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes the results of a survey of consumer expectations on inflation.  Yesterday, they published the September results and, lo and behold, the data showed that 1-year inflation expectations rose to 5.31%, by far the highest point since the survey began in 2013.  The 3-year data rose to its highest ever level of 4.19%, also well above the Fed’s 2.0% target.  And yet somehow, the authors of the report explained that inflation expectations remain well anchored.  Their claim is that if you look at the 5-year expectations, they remain near the levels seen before the pandemic, indicating that there should be no concern.  I don’t know about you, but 3 years of inflation running above 4.0% seems a lot longer than transitory.

Of course, it’s not just the analysts at the NY Fed who are unwilling to admit to the increasingly obvious situation, we continue to hear the same from other officials.  For instance, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in a televised interview yesterday remarked, “I believe it’s [inflation] transitory, but I don’t mean to suggest these pressures will disappear in the next month or two.”  She then raised the specter of shortages by commenting, “There’s no reason for consumers to panic over the absence of goods they’re going to want to acquire at Christmas.”  Now, don’t you feel better?

In fairness, however, there are several Fed members who have finally admitted that the transitory emperor has no clothes.  Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic explained yesterday, “It is becoming increasingly clear that the feature of this episode that has animated price pressures – mainly the intense and widespread supply-chain disruptions – will not be brief.  By this definition, then, the forces are not transitory.”  As well, we heard from St Louis Fed President James Bullard, “I have to put some probability on a scenario where inflation stays high or even goes higher.”

At this point, it’s fair to ask, which is it?  Clearly there is a split at the Fed with some regional presidents recognizing that inflation has risen sharply and has all the appearances of being persistent, while Fed governors seem more likely to lean toward the transitory fable.  Perhaps what explains this split is the regional presidents have a far different constituency than do the Fed governors.  The Fed presidents are trying to address the issues extant in their respective geographies, so rising inflation matters to them.  Meanwhile, the governors, despite the claim that the Fed is apolitical, serve their masters in Congress and the White House, who believe they need to continue QE and ZIRP forever to continue spending money in unconscionable sums while not suffering from the slings and arrows of the bond market vigilantes.  But remember this too, every Fed governor votes at every meeting while only a handful of regional presidents vote (granted, Bostic is one of those right now.)  I fear we will continue to hear transitory for a while yet.

All this is a prelude to two key pieces of information today, this morning’s CPI release (exp 5.3% headline, 4.0% core) and the FOMC Minutes from the September meeting to be released at 2:00pm.  The one thing that has been very clear lately is that interest rate markets are beginning to buy into the persistence of inflation.  While Treasury yields have edged lower by 1.6bps this morning, in the past 3 weeks, those yields have risen 26 basis points.  And this is a global phenomenon with Bund yields, for instance, having risen 20 basis points over the same period despite a 4.1bp decline today.  Investors are starting to pressure the central bank community with respect to interest rates, driving them higher as fears of rising inflation abound worldwide.  While some, central banks have recognized the reality on the ground (Norway, New Zealand, numerous EMG nations) and others have paid lip service to the idea of raising rates (the UK, Canada), the two biggest players, the Fed and ECB, will not even discuss raising rates, although the Fed continues to tease us with talk of tapering.

However, I will ask again, do you believe the Fed will taper (tighten) policy if GDP growth is more clearly abating?  My view remains that they may actually start to taper, but that it will be a short-lived process as weak GDP growth will dissuade them from doing anything to worsen that side of the ledger.  While eventually, weaker GDP growth will result in demand destruction and reduced price pressures, that is likely to take a very long time.  Hence, the idea of stagflation remains very viable going forward.

Now it’s time to look at markets.  Equities have had a mixed session thus far with Asia (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -1.4%, Shanghai +0.4%) seeing both gainers and losers and Europe (DAX +0.7%, CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 -0.1%) seeing similar mixed price action.  UK data showed August GDP was a tick lower than forecast and is clearly slowing from its previous pace, arguably weighing on the FTSE.  As to US futures, they are edging higher ahead of the data with gains in the 0.1%-0.3% range after yesterday’s modest declines.

We’ve already discussed bonds so a look at commodities shows that oil (-0.6%) is retreating for the moment as is NatGas (-1.5%), while we are seeing strength in gold (+0.7%) and copper (+1.7%).  In fact, the entire metals complex is stronger today as apparently, weaker energy prices are good for industrial activities.

As to the dollar, it is under some modest pressure today across the board.  In the G10, SEK (+0.35%) and CHF (+0.35%) lead the way with JPY (0.0%) the laggard.  However, there are no specific stories that seem to be driving things, rather this is a broad-based dollar correction from recent strength.  The same situation holds in the EMG bloc with ZAR (+0.75%) the leader followed by much lesser movement of KRW (+0.4%), CZK (+0.35%) and PLN (+0.35%).  The won has responded to comments from the central bank that it is closely watching the exchange rate and will not be afraid to step in if it becomes destabilized.  That is a euphemism for much weaker, as the currency had fallen nearly 9% in the previous four months.  As to the others, recent weakness seems to merely being consolidated with nothing new driving price action.

While the Fed may not care much about CPI, the rest of us do care.  And really, so do they, but it doesn’t tell their story very well.  At any rate, while it is entirely reasonable that we see a continued flatlining of price rises, the risks remain to the upside as at some point, housing inflation is going to show up in the data.  And that, my friends, is going to be significant and persistent!  Ahead of the number, don’t look for much.  If we see a high print, expect the dollar to regain this morning’s losses, though, as the market will become that much surer the taper is on its way.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Gordian knot

Now, what if inflation is not
As transit’ry as Powell thought?
And what if there’s slowing
Instead of more growing?
Would that be a Gordian knot?

Well, lately the bond market’s view
Appears to be, in ‘Twenty-two
Inflation will soar
Much higher before
The Fed figures out what to do

The Fed has been pushing the transitory inflation narrative for quite a while now, but lately, they have been struggling to get people to accept it at face value.  You can tell this is the case because pretty much every third story in any newsfeed is about rising prices in some product or service.  Commodities are particularly well represented in these stories, especially energy, as oil, NatGas and coal have all seen dramatic price rises in the past month or so.  It is also important to understand that despite the durm und strang regarding the continued use of coal as an energy source, it remains the largest source of electricity worldwide.  I bring this up because the situation in China is one where the country is restricting energy use due to a lack of coal available to burn.  (Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the Chinese, in a snit over Australia calling them out as to the origins of Covid-19, banned Australian coal imports.)

From an inflation perspective, this has the following consequences: less coal leads to less electricity production which leads to restrictions on electricity use by industry which leads to reduced production of everything.  Given China’s importance in the global supply chain for most products, less production leads to shortages and, presto, higher prices.  And this is not going to end anytime soon.  Much to the Fed’s chagrin, they can print neither coal nor NatGas and help mend those broken supply chains.  Thus, despite their (and every other central bank’s) efforts to repeal the laws of supply and demand, those laws still exist.  So, just as April showers lead to May flowers, less supply leads to higher prices.

The difference in the past week or so is that bond markets worldwide have started to cotton on to the idea that inflation is not transitory after all.  Yields have been rising and curves steepening, but even the front end of yield curves, where central banks have the most impact, have seen yields rise.  So, a quick look at global bond markets today shows yields higher in every major market around the world.  Treasuries (+1.1bps) have not moved that far overnight but are higher by 12bps in the past week.  Gilts (+4.8bps) on the other hand, have seen real selling in today’s session, also rising 12bps in the past week, but on a lower base (10-year Gilts yield 1.125% vs. 1.58% for Treasuries.)  And the same situation prevails in Bunds (+2.6bps, +6.6bps in past week), OATs (+2.5bps) and the rest of Europe.  Asia is not immune to this with even JGB’s (+1.2bps, +4bps in past week) selling off.  The point is that bond investors are starting to recognize that inflation may be more persistent after all.  And if the Fed loses control over their narrative, they have much bigger problems.  Forward guidance remains a key monetary policy tool, arguably more important that the Fed Funds rate these days, so if that is no longer effective, what will they do?

Needless to say, risk attitudes are starting to change somewhat as concern grows that almost the entire central banking community, certainly the Fed and ECB, will be too slow to react to very clear inflation signals.  In this situation, financial assets will definitely suffer.  Keep that in mind as you look ahead.

OK, next we need to look to this morning’s NFP report as that has been a key element of the recent market inactivity.  Investors are looking for confirmation that the Fed is going to begin tapering next month and have certainly been encouraged by both the ADP Employment number as well as yesterday’s much lower than expected Initial Claims data.  Here’s what current median forecasts look like:

Nonfarm Payrolls 500K
Private Payrolls 450K
Manufacturing Payrolls 25K
Unemployment Rate 5.1%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.6% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.8%

Source: Bloomberg

Powell explained that as long as this report was not terrible, he felt the tapering would begin.  Interestingly, the range of forecasts is 0K to 750K, a pretty wide range of disagreement as to how things might play out.  Certainly, a number like last month’s 235K could throw a wrench into the tapering process.  Personally, my take is slightly weaker than median, but not enough to change the taper idea.

On a different note, I cannot help but look at the Average Hourly Earnings forecasts and wonder how any Fed speaker can argue that wages aren’t growing rapidly.  Absent the Covid induced gyrations, 4.6% is the highest number in the series by far going back to early 2007.  Again, this speaks to persistent inflationary pressures, not transient ones.

But we will know shortly how things turn out, so a quick recap before then shows that equity markets had a good session in Asia (Nikkei +1.3%, Hang Seng +0.55%, Shanghai +0.7%) but are less giddy in Europe (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.4%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  Meanwhile, US futures are essentially unchanged ahead of the data.

We’ve already discussed the bond market selloff and cannot be surprised that commodity prices are mostly higher led by oil (+0.8%) and NatGas (+0.1%), but also seeing strength in gold (+0.3%).  Industrial metals are having a rougher go of it (Cu -0.3%, Al -0.4%) and Ags are a bit firmer this morning with all three major grains higher by about 0.55%.

As to the dollar, it is mixed this morning ahead of the data with the largest gainer NOK (+0.4%) on the back of oil’s strength, while SEK (+0.3%) is also firmer although with no clear driver other than positioning ahead of the data.  On the downside, JPY (-0.15%) continues under pressure as higher US yields continue to attract Japanese investors.

EMG currencies have seen a more negative session with PLN (-0.6%), TRY (-0.5%) and RUB (-0.5%) all under pressure and the APAC bloc mostly falling, albeit not quite as far.  The zloty story seems to be concerns over a judicial ruling that puts Poland further at odds with the EU which has been sufficient to offset the boost from yesterday’s surprise rate hike.  In Turkey, a story that President Erdogan is “cooling” on his view toward the central bank governor seems to have markets nervous while in Russia, rising inflation and limited central bank response has investors concerned despite oil’s rally.

There are no Fed speakers on the calendar today so it will all be about the NFP number.  Until then, don’t look for much, and afterwards, there is typically a short burst of activity and a slow afternoon.  I don’t think the big trend of dollar strength has ended by any means, but it is not clear today will see much of a gain.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Narrative Drift

Today it is more of the same
As energy traders proclaim
No price is too high
For NatGas, to buy
With policy blunders to blame

As such it is not too surprising
Inflation concerns keep on rising
Prepare for a shift
In narrative drift
Which right now CB’s are devising

Perhaps the most interesting feature of markets since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic is the realization that prices for different things, be they equities, bonds, commodities, or currencies, can move so much faster and so much further than previously understood.  The simple truth is that markets as a price discovery mechanism are unparalleled in their brilliance.  Recall, for instance, back in April 2020, when crude oil traded at a negative price.  The implication was that crude oil holders were willing to pay someone to take it off their hands, something never before seen in a physical commodity market.  (Of course, in the interest rate markets, that had become old hat by then.)  Well, today European natural gas markets have gone the other way, rising 40% in both Amsterdam and London and taking prices to levels previously unseen.  Now, much to the chagrin of European policymakers, there is no upper limit on prices.  As winter approaches, with NatGas inventories currently just 74% of their long-term average, and with most of the EU reliant on Russia for its gas supplies, it is not hard to foresee that these prices will go higher still.

The first issue (a consequence of policy decisions) is that deciding to allow a geopolitical adversary to control your energy supply is looking to be a worse and worse decision every day.  Gazprom’s own data shows that they have reduced the flow of gas to Europe via Belarus and Poland by 70% and via Ukraine by 20% in the past week.  It cannot be surprising that prices in Europe continue to rise.  And the knock-on effects are growing.  You may recall two weeks ago when a fertilizer company in the UK shuttered two plants because the NatGas feedstock became so expensive it no longer made economic sense to produce fertilizer.  One consequence of that was there was a huge reduction in a byproduct of fertilizer production, pure CO2, which is used for refrigeration and has impaired the ability of food processors to ship food to supermarkets and stores.  Empty shelves are a result.  Just today, a major ammonia producer shuttered its plants as the feedstock is too expensive for profitable production as well.  The point is that NatGas is used as more than a heating fuel, it is a critical input for many industrial processes.  Shuttering these processes will have an immediate negative impact on economic activity as well as push prices higher.  If you are wondering why there are concerns over stagflation returning, look no further.

The bigger problem is that there is no reason to believe these prices will sell off anytime soon.  Arguably, we are witnessing the purest expression of supply and demand working itself out.  As a consequence of these earlier decisions, the EU will now be forced to respond by spending more money and reducing tax income in order to support their citizens and businesses who find themselves in more difficult financial straits due to the sharp rise in the price of NatGas.

Now, a trading truth is that nothing goes up (or down) in a straight line, so there will certainly be some type of pullback in prices in the short run.  However, the underlying supply-demand dynamic certainly appears to point to a supply shortage and consistently higher prices for a critical power source in Europe.  Slower economic growth and higher prices are very likely to follow, a combination that the ECB has never before had to address.  It is not clear that they will be very effective at doing so, quite frankly, so beware the euro as further weakness seems to be the base case.

The other main story of note
Concerns a new debt ceiling vote
Majority wailing
The other side’s failing
May yet, a default, soon promote

Alas, we cannot avoid a quick mention of the debt ceiling issue as the clock is certainly winding down toward a point where a technical default has become possible.  Political bickering continues and shows no sign of stopping as neither side wants to take responsibility for allowing more spending, but neither do they want to be responsible for a default.  (Perhaps that sums up politicians perfectly, they don’t want to take responsibility for anything!)  This is more than a technical issue though as financial markets are failing to see the humor in the situation and starting to respond.  Hence, today has seen a broad sell-off in virtually every asset, with equities down worldwide, bonds down worldwide and most commodities lower (NatGas excepted).  In fact, the only thing that has risen is the dollar, versus every one of its main counterparts.

The rundown in equities shows Asia (Nikkei -1.05%, Hang Seng -0.6%, Shanghai closed) failing to take heart from yesterday’s US price action.  European investors are very unhappy about the NatGas situation with the DAX (-2.2%), CAC (-2.15%) and FTSE 100 (-1.8%) all sharply lower.  It certainly hasn’t helped that German Factory Orders fell a much worse than expected -7.7% in August either.  US futures are currently lower by about 1.25% as risk is clearly not today’s flavor.

Funnily enough, bond markets are also under pressure today, with Treasuries (+1.6bps), Bunds (+1.6bps), OATs (+2.2bps) and Gilts (+3.0bps) all seeing heavy selling.  It seems that inflation concerns are a more important determinant than risk concerns as the evidence of rising prices being persistent continues to grow.

In the commodity space, pretty much everything, except NatGas (+0.6% to $6.33/mmBTU) is lower as well, although this appears to be consolidation rather than the beginning of a new trend.  So, oil (-0.6%), gold (-0.5%), copper (-1.0%) and aluminum (-0.85%) are all under pressure.  Given the dollar’s strength, this should not be that surprising, although overall, I continue to expect a rising dollar and rising commodity prices.

As to the dollar, it is king today, rising 1.1% vs NZD, despite a 0.25% interest rate increase by the RBNZ last night, 1.0% vs. NOK and 0.85% vs SEK with the latter seeing a negative monthly GDP outcome in a huge surprise, thus marking down growth expectations significantly for the year.  But the rest of the G10 is much softer save JPY, which is essentially unchanged on the day.  Meanwhile, the euro has fallen a further 0.5% and is now approaching modest support at 1.1500.  Look for further declines there.

As to emerging market currencies, all that were open last night or today are lower with MXN (-1.2%) leading the way on a combination of lower oil and higher inflation, but HUF (-0.9%), ZAR (-0.8%) and CZK (-0.8%) all suffering on either weaker commodity prices are concerns over insufficient monetary tightening in an inflationary economy.  Even INR (-0.7%) is feeling the heat from rising inflationary pressures.  It is universal.

On the data front, only ADP Employment (exp 430K) is due this morning and there are no Fed speakers scheduled.  Right now, it feels like the dollar is primed to continue to move higher regardless of the data, or anything else.  Fear is growing among investors and they are searching for the safest vehicles they can find.  The steepening of the yield curve indicates the demand is in the 2yr, not the 10yr space, which makes sense, as in an inflationary environment, you want to hold the shortest duration possible.  Beware the FAANG stocks as they are very long duration equivalents.  Instead, it feels like the dollar is a good place to hang out.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A Beginning, a Middle and End

“A beginning, a middle and end”
Is how Powell outlined the trend
Of current inflation
Which has caused frustration
For central banks who overspend

As Ralph Waldo Emerson so notably observed, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  I am reminded of this each time I read that (little statesman) Jay Powell or (the divine) Madame Lagarde explain that inflation is largely transitory.  Little-minded they certainly appear to be, no?  Every day the evidence grows that inflation is trending higher yet despite this information, they remain consistent in their belief (or at least in their comments) that all of this price appreciation will quickly pass.  Yesterday, at an ECB held virtual symposium, Powell expressed frustration that supply chain bottlenecks have not been resolved as quickly as the Fed’s models indicate they should be.  Or perhaps the frustration stems from the fact that they have been completely wrong about inflation and it is starting to have a serious impact on their idealized world.  Whatever the case, each time they try to gloss over the implications of inflation, they lose just a touch more credibility (to the extent they have any remaining) in the markets’ collective eyes.  While the Fed’s track record for forecasting has always been awful, the current situation appears to be one of either intransigence in the face of new evidence, or more likely, a recognition that a change in their narrative has the potential to lead to much worse outcomes.

Fortunately, they continue to explain that if inflation were to get out of hand, they have the tools to address the issue and they are not afraid to use them!  However, history indicates that is not the case.  Consider that those ‘tools’ consist of the ability to raise interest rates and tighten monetary policy.  We all recall that just 3 years ago, as the Fed was attempting to normalize its balance sheet, allowing purchased assets to mature without being replaced, as well as slowly move interest rates higher, the equity market tumbled 20% in Q4 2018.  This led to the Powell pivot, where he decided that a declining stock market was a negative for his personal balance sheet the economy and instead, the FOMC cut rates in January to mitigate the damage already done.  The situation today appears far more dangerous with market leverage and valuations at historic highs.  Tightening policy in this market condition is likely to result in at least a 20% revaluation of equities, something the Fed can clearly not countenance.  Hence, it is far easier to ignore inflation than to respond to it.  Meanwhile, Paul Volcker spins in his grave!

In the meantime, Eurozone inflation readings released thus far this morning have shown virtually every one at the highest levels since before the GFC, at the very least, if not the highest readings in three decades.  For instance, French CPI printed at 2.7%, its highest print since June 2008.  Italian CPI, at 3.0%, is merely its highest since 2012, but in fairness, prior to the euro’s creation, Italian CPI regularly ran at much higher levels resulting in a continuing depreciation of the lire. Shortly we will see German inflation, with some of its States already reporting levels above 4.2%, their highest prints since the mid 1990’s, which is also the current forecast for the nation as a whole.  The point is, there is absolutely no evidence that inflation is peaking, and while Powell and Lagarde twiddle their thumbs, things are going to get worse before they get better.

So, what does this mean for markets?  Well, we have already seen yield curves steepen in the US and throughout Europe as there is a strong belief that despite rising inflation, neither the Fed nor ECB is going to respond.  Yes, the Fed said they would think about tapering come November, but if anything, that is likely to simply steepen the curve further as the price-insensitive buyer of last resort reduces its purchases.  The real question is, at what point will the Fed decide that yields are too high and adjust policy to rein them in?  SMBC’s house forecast is for 1.80% by the end of the year, which is in line with much of the Street.  The conundrum, however, is that Street forecasts are for continued higher prices in equities as well, and it seems to me that the two scenarios are unlikely to be achieved simultaneously.  If rates do continue higher, while I think the short-term impact will be USD positive, I fear the equity market may not be quite as sanguine.

Overnight, markets continue to wrestle with the conflicting ideas of rising inflation and central bank sanguinity on its transitory nature.  While we have seen a sharp rise in yields over the past week, last night was a consolidating session with bond market movement quite limited.  Treasury yields have edged higher by 1.2bps, but at 1.53% remain a few ticks below the peak seen Monday.  We have seen similar, modest, price action on the continent (Bunds +0.5bps, OATs +0.4bps) although Gilts (+2.4bps) have responded to better-than-expected GDP results for Q2, which showed year on year growth of 23.6%.  Not surprisingly, this has helped the pound as well, which is firmer this morning by 0.1%.

Equity markets have also had mixed reviews with Asia (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.4%, Shanghai +0.9%) not giving consistent direction and Europe following suit (DAX -0.2%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 +0.2%).  US futures are higher by about 0.5% at this hour as traders await this morning’s data releases.

While oil prices have slipped a bit this morning (WTI -0.8%) the same cannot be said for NatGas (+2.7%) as the energy situation remains fraught in Europe and the UK (and Asia).  The rest of the commodity space is generally under pressure as well with copper (-1.7%) and aluminum (-0.4%) both falling while the precious sector is essentially unchanged on the day.

The dollar, while mixed in the overnight session, saw significant strength yesterday which has seen the euro fall below 1.1600 for the first time since July 2020, and looking for all the world like it has further to run.  Unless yields in the US stop rising, my take is we could well see 1.12 before long.  But in the past two days we have seen some sharp declines; NOK (-1.5%), NZD (-1.3%) and EUR (-0.9%) have all suffered.  Even the yen (-0.45%) is declining here despite some evidence of risk mitigation.  In fact, it has weakened to its lowest point since the beginning of the Covid situation in February 2020, and here, too, looks as though it as room to run.  115 anyone?

EMG currencies have shown similar price behavior, falling sharply yesterday with a more mixed overnight session.  But the breadth of the decline is indicative of a dollar story, not any idiosyncratic issues in particular countries.  While those clearly exist, they are not driving the market right now.

This morning’s data calendar brings the weekly Initial (exp 330K) and Continuing (2790K) Claims data as well as the third look at Q2 GDP (6.6%).  Then at 9:45 we see Chicago PMI (65.0).  While the GDP data contains inflation information, it is not widely followed or used in models.  However, it is interesting to note that the Core PCE calculation there is at 6.1%, which happens to be the highest print since Q3 1983!  Perhaps this is why it is ignored.

We also hear from six Fed speakers in addition to Powell and Yellen sitting down in front of the House Financial Services Committee.  Of course, Powell has made clear his views on the transitory nature of inflation and I’m confident no question from a Congressman will get him to admit anything different.  Rather, I expect a staunch defense of the two disgraced Fed regional presidents who resigned after their insider trading was made known, and both he and Yellen to beseech Congress to raise the debt ceiling and not allow the government to shut down.  In other words, nothing new will occur.

The dollar has pretty clearly broken out of its recent range and I expect that this move has some legs.  I would be buying dollars on dips when the opportunity arises.  For payables hedgers, pick your spots and lock in comfortable rates.  The trend is now your friend.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

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
Adf

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

CHINA TELLS EVERGRANDE TO AVOID NEAR-TERM DEFAULT ON BONDS

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
Adf

Flames of Concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Outmoded

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
Adf