Jay’s Watershed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Christine Lagarde’s Goal

This morning, Christine Lagarde’s goal
Is focused on how to cajole
The market to see
That her ECB
Has total command and control

Ahead of the ECB statement and the subsequent press conference this morning, markets are mostly biding their time.  Monday’s risk-off session is but a hazy memory and everyone is completely back on board for the reflation trade despite rising numbers of Covid cases as well as newly imposed lockdowns by governments throughout the world.  While that may seem incongruous, apparently, the belief is that any such lockdowns will be for a much shorter period this time than we saw last year, and so the impact on economic activity will be much smaller.

With a benign backdrop, it is worthwhile, I believe, to consider what we are likely to see and hear from the ECB and how it may impact markets.  We already know that they have changed their inflation target from, “close to, but below 2.0%” to ‘2.0%’.  In addition, we have been told that there is a willingness to accept a period of time where inflation runs above their target as the ECB seeks to fine-tune both the message and the outcome.  Of course, when you think about what CPI measures, it is designed to measure the average rate of price increases for the population as a whole, the idea of fine-tuning something of this nature is ridiculous.  Add to that the extreme difficulty in measuring the data (after all, what exactly makes up the consumer basket? and how does it change over time?  and isn’t it different for literally every person?) and the fact that central banks are concerned if inflation prints at 1.7% or 2.0% is ludicrous.  As my friend @inflation_guy (you should follow him on Twitter) always explains, you cannot reject the null hypothesis that 1.7% and 2.0% are essentially the same thing in this context.  In other words, there is no difference between 2.0% inflation, where central bankers apparently feel comfortable, and 1.7% inflation, where central bankers bemoan the impending deflationary crisis.

As well, the ECB is going to explain their new asset purchase process.  Currently, there are two programs, the Public Sector Purchase Program (PSPP) which is the original QE program and had rules about adhering to the capital key and not purchasing more than 33% of the outstanding debt of any nation in order to prevent monetizing that debt.  Covid brought a second program, the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP), which had no such restrictions regarding what was eligible and how much of any particular nation’s bonds could be acquired but was limited in size and time.  Granted they both expanded the size of the program twice and extended its maturity, but at least they tried to make believe it was temporary.  The recent framework review is likely to allow PEPP to expire in March 2022, as currently planned, but at the same time expand the PSPP and its pace of purchases so that there will be no difference at all to the market.  In other words, though they will attempt to describe their policies as ‘new’, nothing is likely to change at all.

Finally, they apparently will be altering their forward guidance to promise interest rates will remain unchanged at current levels until inflation is forecast to reach or slightly surpass 2% and remain there for some time within the central bank’s projection period of two to three years.  Given the decades long lack of inflationary impulse in the Eurozone due to anemic underlying economic growth and ongoing high unemployment, this essentially means that the ECB will never raise rates again.  The ongoing financial repression being practiced by central banks shows no sign of abating and the ECB’s big framework adjustment will do nothing to change that outcome.

Will any of this matter?  That is debatable.  First, the market is already fully aware of all these mooted changes, so any price impact has arguably already been seen.  And second, have they really changed anything?  I would argue the answer to that is no.  While the descriptions of policies may have changed, the actions forthcoming will remain identical.  Interest rates will not move, and they will continue to purchase the same number of bonds that they are buying now.  As such, despite a lot of tongue wagging, I expect that the impact on the euro will be exactly zero.  Instead, the single currency will remain focused on the Fed’s (remember the FOMC meets next week), interest rate policy and the overall risk appetite in the market.

Turning to markets ahead of the ECB announcement we see that risk remains in vogue with strong gains in Asia (Hang Seng +1.85, Shanghai +0.35%, Nikkei closed) and Europe (DAX +0.9%, CAC +0.8%) although the FTSE 100 is barely changed on the day.  US futures are all green and higher by about 0.2% at this hour.

Bond markets have calmed down after a few very choppy days with Treasury yields backing up 1bp and now back to 1.30%, nearly 18 basis points above the low print seen Monday.  European sovereigns are mixed with Gilts seeing yields edge up by 0.8bps, while OATs have seen yields slide 0.8bps and Bunds are unchanged on the day.  Of course, with the ECB imminent, traders are waiting to see if there is any surprise forthcoming so are being cautious.

Oil prices continue their sharp rebound from Monday’s virtual collapse, rising another 0.6% and now firmly back above $70/bbl.  It turns out that Monday was a great opportunity to buy oil on the cheap!  Precious metals continue to disappoint with gold (-0.4%) slipping back below $1800/oz, although really just chopping around in a range.  Copper is firmer by 0.8% this morning but the rest of the non-ferrous group is slightly softer.

As to the dollar, it is under pressure virtually across the board this morning as there is certainly no fear visible in markets.  In the G10, NOK (+0.9%) is the leader on the back of oil’s rebound with the rest of the bloc seeing broad-based, but shallow, gains.  In the emerging markets, HUF (+0.55%) is the leader after recent comments from a central banker that they will be raising rates until their inflation goal is met.  (So old school!)  Meanwhile, overnight saw strength in APAC currencies (PHP +0.45%, IDR +0.4%, KRW +0.35%) as positive risk sentiment saw foreign inflows into the entire region’s stock markets.

We do get some data this morning starting with Initial (exp 350K) and Continuing (3.1M) Claims at 8:30 as well as Leading Indicators (0.8%) and Existing Home Sales (5.90M).  Fed speakers remain incommunicado due to the quiet period so as long as the ECB meets expectations the dollar should continue to follow its risk theme, which today is risk-on => dollar lower.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

T’won’t be a Disaster

The Minutes explained that the Fed

Continues, when looking ahead

To brush off inflation

And seek job creation

Though prices keep rising instead

Meanwhile, there’s a new policy





That came from Lagarde’s ECB

T’won’t be a disaster

If prices rise faster

So, nothing will stop more QE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Poor Madame Lagarde

As prices worldwide start to rise

And central banks, rates, normalize

Poor Madame Lagarde

May soon find it hard

To ably, her goals, realize

Let me start by saying that I will be out of the office starting tomorrow, returning July 6th.

Despite the fact that the markets in the US are showing only limited signs that the Fed is actually considering tightening, the punditry continues to believe that tapering asset purchases is next up on the Fed’s agenda.  In fact, the discussion is becoming granular with respect to which assets they should consider addressing.  The two current theses are; reduce purchases of both Treasuries and Mortgages at a similar rate, or just reduce Mortgage purchases given the bubble the Fed has blown in the housing market.  And there are FOMC members on both sides of that argument although it cannot be surprising that the more dovish members continue to insist that buying $40 billion / month of Mortgage-backed securities is having absolutely no impact on the housing market.  But the point is that the analyst community is fully on board with the idea the Fed is going to be reducing its asset purchases soon.

I highlight this because when combined with the fact that so many other countries are more definitively moving past unlimited policy ease, with some already tightening, it becomes interesting to consider which nations are not considering any policy changes.  And this is where the ECB comes into view.

As of now, the ECB (and BOJ) insist that there are no plans to change their policy mix anytime soon.  And yet, they seem to have the opposite problem of the Fed, the market is pricing in rate increases there, currently a 0.10% hike by the end of Q3, and bond yields have been rising steadily with German bund yields almost back up to 0.00%.  (As an aside, it continues to be remarkable to me that one can make the statement, back up to 0.00%!)  Given the slower trajectory of growth thus far in Europe, especially with respect to inflation readings, Madame Lagarde and her cadre of central bankers certainly have their work cut out for them to maintain the policy stance they desire and believe is necessary to support the economy there.  Will the ECB be forced to ease further in some manner, like extending PEPP in order to achieve their aims?

In contrast, despite the fact that the Fed is talking about talking about tapering, and the dot plot indicated a majority of FOMC members believe they will be raising rates by the end of 2023, the bond market remains sanguine over the prospect of either higher inflation or higher interest rates.  Go figure.  

So, who do we believe when surveying the current situation?  On the one hand, it is always tough to argue with the market.  Whether or not we understand the actual drivers, the collective intelligence of investors tends to be exceptionally accurate at recognizing trends and future outcomes.  On the other hand, the phrase, ‘don’t fight the Fed’ has been around for a long time because it has proven to be an effective input into any investment thesis.  The problem is, when those two indicators are at odds with each other, choosing the likely outcome is extraordinarily difficult, more so than normal.

One way to think about it is that both can be right if you consider they may have differing timelines.  For instance, the market tends to discount actions in the 9 month to 1year timeframe while the Fed may well be considering more immediate actions.  However, in this case, I feel like the Fed is looking at a similar timeline as the market.  Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned before, it appears the Fed remains completely reactive to market movement.  Thus, right now, regardless of their rhetoric, my take is if the market demands easier policy, they will make it known via a sell-off in equities that will result in the Fed stepping in with support.  If, on the other hand, the market is comfortable with the current situation, a continued benign rise in equities is on the cards.  As the Fed has put themselves in the position of reactivity, my money is on the market this time, not the Fed.  We shall see.

As I was quite delayed this morning, a very quick recap of the overnight session shows that risk was under pressure in Asia but that Europe has responded very well to much stronger than expected confidence indicators for manufacturing and consumers across the continent.  So while all three main Asian indices fell about 1.0%, Europe has seen gains of at least 0.6% with the DAX up 1.2%.

As it happens this morning, Treasury prices have edged a bit lower with the 10-year yield rising 2bps, but that was after a nice rally yesterday, so we continue to trade right around 1.50%.  Big picture here is nothing has changed.  European sovereigns are softer as risk appetite improves on the continent, with 2.0bp rises in the major markets.

While oil prices (+0.5%) are a bit firmer, the metals complex is under pressure this morning with gold and silver both down sharply (-1.4%) and base metals also falling (Cu -1.0%, Al -0.7%).

The metals’ movement is more in sync with the dollar, which has rallied against all its G10 peers and most EMG currencies.  AUD (-0.7%) and NZD (-0.7%) are the laggards here with NOK (-0.6%) next in line.  Obviously, oil is not the driver, although Aussie and Kiwi would suffer from metal price declines.  However, it appears that Covid continues to haunt many countries and the market seems to be responding to perceptions that growth will be slowing rather than continuing its recent uptrend.  

In EMG, RUB (-0.8%), PLN (0.65%) and ZAR (-0.6%) are amongst the worst performers with ruble and rand clearly impacted by metals prices while the zloty seems to be suffering from a more classical interpretation of inflation’s impact on a currency, as higher inflation expectations are leading to a weaker currency.

On the data front, Case Shiller House Prices rose 14.88%, higher than expected and continuing the trend that has been in place for more than a year.  Later we get Consumer Confidence exp (119.0) although it seems unlikely with payrolls coming on Friday, that the market will pay much attention.

Only Thomas Barkin from Richmond speaks on behalf of the Fed today, but there is no reason to believe that it will change any views.  The narrative is still the same.

The dollar is feeling quite strong this morning and seems likely to maintain those gains as the day proceeds.  If the market truly believes the Fed is going to taper, we should see the evidence in the bond market with higher yields.  But for now, the dollar’s strength feels more like short-covering than a change in the long-term view of ultimate dollar weakness.  However, this can persist for a while (just like inflation 😊)

Good luck, and have a great holiday weekend.  I will be back on the 6th.

Adf

Yields Are Repressed

You have to be mighty impressed
The bond market’s not even stressed
Although CPI
Has reached a new high
One wonders if yields are repressed

Clearly, there is only one story of import these days, and that is whether or not inflation is transitory.  Chairman Powell and his minions have spent the last several months harping on this idea, and although there was a time when several FOMC members seemed to get nervous and wanted to discuss tapering QE, it seems highly likely that next week’s FOMC meeting will focus on the fact that “substantial progress” has not yet been made toward the Fed’s goals of maximum employment and 2% average inflation.  Well, at least on the goal of maximum employment.  It seems pretty clear that they have made some progress on the inflation front.

While the headline Y/Y print of 5.0% was clearly impressive, and the highest since August 2008, personally, I am more impressed with the core M/M print of 0.7% as that is not impacted by what happened during the pandemic.  And the fact that this followed last month’s 0.9% print could indicate that inflation is becoming a bit less transitory.  But the Fed has done a wonderful job of selling its story.  One has to believe that Chairman Powell could not have wanted a better outcome than yesterday’s market price action with the S&P 500 making new highs while the bond market rallied sharply with the 10-year yield falling 6 basis points to 1.43%.

For a moment, let us try to unpack this price action.  On the one hand, it is easy to understand the equity rally as the decline in nominal yields alongside the rising recorded inflation has led to a dramatic fall in real yields.  One view, which many utilize, is that real 10-year yields are simply the 10-year yield less the current headline CPI rate.  Of course, right now, that comes to -3.57%, a level only seen a handful of times in the past, all of which occurred during significant inflationary periods in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Negative real yields are a boon for stocks, but historically are awful for the dollar and yet the dollar actually rallied slightly yesterday.  It seems to me that a more consistent outcome would require the dollar to decline sharply from here.  After all, even using Bund yields, currently -0.284%, and Eurozone CPI (2.0%), one sees real yields in the Eurozone far higher (-2.284%) than here in the US.  Something seems amiss.

Something else to consider is bond positioning.  There continues to be a great deal of discussion pointing to the bond market rally as a massive short squeeze.  Last week’s CFTC data was hardly indicative of that type of movement, although we will learn more this afternoon.  However, there is another place where both hedge funds and retail investors play, the ETF market, and when it comes to bond speculation, TLT is the product of choice.  Interestingly, more than 37% of the shares outstanding have been shorted in this ETF, a pretty good indication that there were a lot of bets for a higher yield.  But the word is that a significant portion of these shorts were closed out yesterday, on the order of $7 billion in short covering in total, which would certainly explain the sharp rally in the bond market.  This begs the question, is the price action technical in nature rather than a reflection of the views that inflation is truly transitory?  The problem with this question is we will not be able to answer it with any certainty for at least another three to four months.  But for now, the Fed has the upper hand.  In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to adjust policy next week at all.  Why taper if the current policy mix is working?

Speaking of policy mixes that seem to be working, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ECB meeting yesterday resulted in exactly…nothing.  Policy was left unchanged, Madame Lagarde promised to continue to buy assets at a faster pace than the first quarter, and then she spent an hour in her press conference saying virtually nothing.  It may have been her finest performance in the role.

The bond market seems to have made up its mind that the Fed is correct although there remain many pundits who disagree.  I expect that we will be continuing this discussion all summer long and with every high CPI print, you can look for the punditry to pump up the volume of their critiques of the Fed. However, we need only see one dip in the data for the Fed to claim victory and move on from the inflation discussion.  Next month’s CPI report will truly be important as the base effects will have disappeared.  Last year, the June M/M CPI was 0.5%.  If inflation is truly with us, we need to see M/M in June 2021 to be at least that high, if not a repeat of the 0.6%-0.8% numbers we have been seeing lately.  Between now and then we will see a number of price indicators including the Fed’s favorite core PCE.  For the past several months, every price indicator has been high and surprising on the high side.  The next months’ worth of data will be very important to both the Fed and the markets.  Enjoy the ride.

With two of the three key near-term catalysts now out of the way, all eyes will turn to next Wednesday’s FOMC meeting.  But that leaves us 4 sessions to trade in the interim.  Right now, with the fed narrative of transitory inflation dominating, it is easy to expect continued risk-on market performance.  Interestingly, that was not actually the case in Asia as the Nikkei (0.0%) was flat and Shanghai (-0.5%) fell although the Hang Seng (+0.35%) managed to close higher on the day.  Europe, however, got the memo and is green across the board (DAX +0.4%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.5%).  US futures, too, are picking up buyers as they all trade 0.25% or so higher at this hour.  

Meanwhile, in the bond market, Treasury yields have backed up 1.3bps, which looks far more technical than fundamental.  After all, they have fallen 18 bps in the past week, a rebound is no surprise.  However, European sovereign markets were closed before the bond party really started yesterday afternoon and they are in catch up mode today.  Bunds (-2.0bps) and OATS (-2.1bps) are performing well, but nothing like Gilts (-4.6bps), nor like the PIGS, all of which are seeing yield declines of at least 4bps.

Commodity prices are generally higher led by oil (WTI +0.5%) with the industrial metals all performing well (Cu +1.9%, Fe +1.0%, Sn +0.6%) although despite the dramatic decline in yields, gold (-0.5%) continues to underperform.  That feels like it is going to change soon.

Finally, in FX markets, the dollar is king of the G10, rising against all of its counterparts here with NZD (-0.4%) and SEK (-0.4%) leading the way down.  While the kiwi price action appears to be technical after having seen a decent rally lately, Sweden’s krona continues to suffer from its lower CPI print yesterday, once again delaying any idea that they may need to tighten policy in the near term.  The rest of the bloc is softer, but the movement has been far less impressive.

What makes that price action interesting is the fact that EMG currencies have actually had a much better performance with IDR (+0.4%), KRW (+0.4%) and TRY (+0.4%) all showing modest strength.  In Turkey, FinMin comments regarding the divergence between CPI and PPI were taken somewhat hawkishly.  In Seoul, a BOK governor mentioned the idea that one or two rate hikes should not be seen as tightening given the current record low level of interest rates (currently 0.50%).  However, it seems the market would see 50bps of tightening as tightening.  And lastly, the rupiah continues to benefit from foreign buying of bonds with inflows rising for a third consecutive week.

Data this morning brings Michigan Sentiment (exp 84.4) and careful attention will be paid to the inflation expectation readings, with the 1yr expected at 4.7%.  Remember, the Fed relies on those well-anchored inflation expectations, so if they are rising here, that might cause a little indigestion in Washington.

At this stage, just as we are seeing the bond market rally ostensibly on short covering, my sense is the dollar is behaving in the same way.  The data and rates would indicate the dollar should fall, but it continues to grind higher right now.  In the end, “the fundamentals things apply, as time goes by”1, and right now, they all point to a weaker dollar.  

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

1.	Apologies to Wilson Dooley 

Out of Gas

Though prices are forecast to rise
The Treasury market implies
That Jay has it right
And this is the height
Inflation will reach at its highs

Instead, once the base effects pass
Inflation will run out of gas
So there is no need
For Powell to heed
The calls to halt QE en masse

This morning we finally get to learn about two of the three potential market catalysts I outlined on Monday, as the ECB announces their policy decision at 7:45 EDT with Madame Lagarde speaking at a press conference 45 minutes later.  And, as it happens, at 8:30 EDT we will also see the May CPI data (exp 0.5% M/M, 4.7% Y/Y headline; 0.5% M/M, 3.5% Y/Y ex food & energy).  Obviously, these CPI prints are far higher than the Fed target of an average of 2.0% over time, but as we have been repeatedly assured, these price rises are transitory and due entirely to base effects therefore there is no need for investors, or anybody for that matter, to fret.

And yet…one cannot help but notice the rising prices that we encounter on a daily basis and wonder what the Fed, and just as importantly, the bond market, is thinking.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the current inflation discussion is that despite an enormous amount of discussion on the topic, and anecdotes galore about rising prices, the one market that would seem to be most likely to respond to these pressures, the Treasury market, has traded in exactly the opposite direction expected.  Yesterday, after a very strong 10-year auction, where the coverage ratio was 2.58 and the yield fell below 1.50%, it has become clear that bond investors have completely bought into the Fed’s transitory story.  All of the angst over the massive increases in fiscal spending and huge growth in the money supply have not made a dent in the view that inflation is dead.

Recall that as Q1 ended, 10-year yields were up to 1.75% and forecasters were falling all over themselves to revise their year-end expectations higher with many deciding on the 2.25%-2.50% area as a likely level for 10-year yields come December.  The economy was reopening rapidly and expectations for faster growth were widespread.  The funny thing is that those growth expectations remain intact, yet suddenly bond investors no longer seem to believe that growth will increase price pressures.  Last week’s mildly disappointing NFP report is a key reason as it was the second consecutive report that indicated there is still a huge amount of labor slack in the economy and as long as that remains the case, wage rises ought to remain capped.  The counter to that argument is the heavy hand of government, which is both increasing the minimum wage and paying excessive unemployment benefits thus forcing private companies to raise wages to lure workers back to the job.  In effect, the government, with these two policies, has artificially tightened the labor market and historically, tight labor markets have led to higher overall inflation.

The last bastion of the inflationists’ views is that the recent rally in Treasuries has been driven by short-covering and that has basically been completed thus opening the way for sellers to reemerge.  And while I’m sure that has been part of the process, my take, also anecdotal, is that fixed income investors truly believe the Fed at this time, despite the Fed’s extraordinarily poor track record when it comes to forecasting literally anything.  

As an example, two weeks ago, I was playing golf with a new member of my golf club who happened to be a portfolio manager for a major insurance company.  We spent 18 holes discussing the inflation/deflation issue and he was 100% convinced that inflation is not a problem.  More importantly, he indicated his portfolio is positioned for that to be the case and implied that was the house view so his was not the only portfolio so positioned.  This helps explain why Treasury yields are at 1.49%, 25 basis points lower than on April 1.  However, it also means that while today’s data, whatever it is, will not be conclusive to the argument, as the summer progresses and we get into autumn, any sense that the inflation rate is not heading back toward 2.0% will likely have major market consequences.  Stay tuned.

As to the ECB, it seems highly unlikely that they will announce any policy changes this morning with the key issue being their discussion of the pace of QE purchases.  You may recall that at the April meeting, the key words were, “the Governing Council expects purchases under PEPP over the current quarter to continue to be conducted at a significantly higher pace than during the first months of the year.”  In other words, they stepped up the pace of QE to roughly €20 billion per week, from what had been less than €14 billion prior to that meeting.  While the data from Europe has improved since then, and reopening from pandemic induced restrictions is expanding, it would be shocking if they were to change their view this quickly.  Rather, expectations are for no policy change and no change in the rate of QE purchases for at least another quarter.  The inflationary impulse in the Eurozone remains far lower than in the US and even though they finally got headline CPI to touch 2.0% last month, there is no worry it will run away higher.  Remember, too, there is no way the ECB can countenance a stronger euro as it would both impair its export competitiveness as well as import deflation.  As long as the Fed continues to buy bonds at the current rate you can expect the ECB to do the same.

In the end, we can only wait and see what occurs.  Until then, a brief recap of markets shows that things have continued to trade in tight ranges as investors worldwide await this morning’s news.  Equity markets in Asia were very modestly higher (Nikkei +0.3%, Shanghai +0.5%, Hang Seng 0.0%) and in Europe the movement has been even less pronounced (DAX +0.1%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 +0.3%).  US futures are mixed as well with the three major indices within 0.2% of closing levels.

Bond markets, after a strong rally yesterday, have seen a bit of profit taking with Treasury yields edging higher by 0.8bps while Europe (Bunds +1.0bps, OATs +1.6bps, Gilts +0.7bps) have moved up a touch more.  But this is trader position adjustments ahead of the news, not investors making wholesale portfolio changes.

Commodity markets are mixed with crude oil (+0.1%) barely higher while precious metals (Au -0.5%, Ag -0.4%) are under a bit of pressure.  Base metals, however, are seeing more selling pressure (Cu -1.5%, Al -0.2%, Sn -0.7%) while foodstuffs are mixed as wheat is lower though corn and soybeans have edged higher.

Finally, in the FX market, the G10 is generally mixed with very modest movement except for one currency, NOK (-0.5%) which has fallen sharply after CPI data came out much lower than expected thus relieving pressure on the Norgesbank to tighten policy anytime soon.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+0.6%) is the leading gainer after its C/A surplus was released at a much stronger than expected 5.0% indicating finances in the country are improving.  But away from that, things have been much less exciting as markets await today’s data and ECB statements.

In addition to the CPI data this morning, as it is Thursday, we will see Initial Claims (exp 370K) and Continuing Claims (3.65M).  Interestingly, those may be more important data points as the Fed is clearly far more focused on employment than on inflation.  But they will not be sensational, so will not get the press.  FWIW my money is on a higher than expected CPI print, 5.0% or more with nearly 4.0% ex food & energy.  However, even if I am correct, it is not clear how big a market impact it will have beyond a very short-term response.  In the end, if Treasury yields continue to fall, I believe the dollar will follow.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf


 


So Slyly

The stock market’s feeling some pains
As word is that capital gains
Will soon be taxed highly
As Biden, so slyly
Pays tribute to John Maynard Keynes

It can be no surprise that the Biden administration has begun to float trial balloons regarding higher tax rates as they were a key plank in Biden’s presidential campaign.  Given the remarkable amount of money that this administration seems to want to spend, there needs to be some additional revenue to help pay for things, although the gap between the spending plans and forecast revenue enhancements remains extremely wide.  For instance, while the mooted price tag for the American Jobs Plan, the latest proposal, is on the order of $2.3 trillion, the estimated revenues of the capital gains tax rise is somewhere in the $500 billion to $1 trillion zone.  That’s still a pretty big gap that needs to be filled.  Of course, we know that the Treasury will simply borrow the difference, and based on current form, the Fed will buy most of that.  Who knows, maybe MMT really does work, and everything will work out fine.

Investors, though, seeing the world through a slightly different prism than policymakers, may decide that while the extraordinary equity market rally has been lots of fun, it might be time to take some money off the table.  When the first headlines about a doubling of capital gains taxes hit the tape, US markets fell about 1.3% and finished lower on the day.  Now, we are still a long way from those tax laws being enacted, but do not be surprised if equity markets have more difficulty making new highs going forward.  After all, if the government is going to tax away your gains, the risk/reward equation will change for the worse.  (While on the subject of taxes, there was a rumor that the Treasury was talking about 70% marginal tax rates on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency gains.  It should be no surprise they suffered as well.)

Attempting, us all, to assure
Lagarde said, t’would be “premature”
To taper our buying
Since we are still trying
To help the recovery endure

Yesterday’s other big story was the ECB meeting where, while policies were left unchanged as expected, there was a great deal of anticipation that Madame Lagarde might offer some hints as to the structural reforms due to be announced in June, or even give a bit more guidance on the current situation within the PEPP.  Alas, the information quotient from this meeting was pretty limited.  Lagarde insisted that increased buying in the PEPP, which was a key outcome from the March meeting, would remain in place, although the pace of purchases does not seem to have increased all that much.  Yet when asked directly about the probability of tapering those purchases, Lagarde was adamant that it was “simply premature” to discuss that subject.

What is becoming apparent at the ECB is that there is a growing divide between the hawks and doves regarding how policy should evolve.  The Frugal four are clearly seeing improved economic activity and the beginnings of rising prices while the more profligate southern countries continue to lag in both economic activity and rate of vaccinations.  It is becoming clear that a single monetary policy is no longer going to be efficient for both groups of countries simultaneously.  When Super Mario was ECB President, he simply ran roughshod over the hawks, but then he had the policy chops to do so on his own.  It remains to be seen if Madame Lagarde will have the same ability.  The upshot is that we could be looking at some more volatility in Eurozone markets if the hawks start speaking in concert and do not back Lagarde.  We shall see.

Away from those stories, though, the market this morning is ostensibly focused on the better than expected PMI data that we have seen around the world.  Starting with Australia last night, and on to Japan and most of Europe and the UK, the big gainer was Services PMI, which is back above 50 everywhere except Japan, which printed at 48.3.  But Australia, the Eurozone and the UK are all back in expansionary territory as anticipation of the great reopening takes hold.  In this regard, the Japanese data makes sense as the nation is about to impose lockdowns again for the next two weeks in Tokyo, Kyoto and two other prefectures, closing bars and restaurants and banning public gatherings.

In addition to the PMI data, UK Retail Sales was quite strong, rising 4.9% M/M ex fuel, as were Japanese Department Store Sales (+21.8%).  With all of this positive data, it can be no surprise that the dollar is under pressure this morning, but it is a bit surprising that equity markets in Europe are under pressure (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.4%) and sovereign bond yields are softer (Bunds -1.3bps, OATs -1.2bps, Gilts -0.7bps).  While buy the rumor, sell the news is always a viable thought process, it strikes me that there were no rumors of this type of economic strength.

Finishing the market recap, commodities are firmer (WTI +0.5%, Au +0.1%, Cu +0.8%), which syncs well with the dollar’s weakness.  In the G10 space, the dollar is softer versus the entire spectrum of currencies, with EUR (+0.3%) and GBP (+0.3%) leading the way while JPY (+0.1%) is the laggard today.  In the EMG space, RUB (+0.6%) is the leading gainer after the Bank of Russia raised their base rate by 0.50% to 5.00% in a surprise as only 25bps was expected.  Away from that, the CE4 are all following the euro higher and then commodity currencies are also edging higher, but by much lesser amounts (ZAR +0.2%, MXN +0.2%).  There are a few decliners here, TRY (-0.2%), INR (-0.1%) but the size of the move is indicative of the lack of general interest.  Certainly, both those nations have been suffering more significantly with Covid lately, and it would not be a surprise to see both currencies continue to lag until that situation changes.

On the data front this morning, New Home Sales (exp 885K) is the major number, although preliminary PMI data (61.0 Mfg, 61.5 Services) is also due.  In the US, though, there is far more focus on ISM than PMI.  With the Fed coming up next week, there is no Fedspeak to be had, so as we head into the weekend, it is reasonable to expect a quiet session.  Equity futures are currently slightly in the green, roughly 0.15%, so perhaps the gut reaction to the tax news has passed and won’t have an impact.  But the one thing of which we can be certain appears to be that higher taxes are on the way.  That is a double whammy for equities as higher corporate tax rates will reduce earnings while higher cap gains taxes will encourage selling before those taxes come into effect.

In the end, though, nothing has changed the underlying market driver, the 10-year Treasury.  If yields there continue to slide, the dollar will remain weak across the board.  If they reverse, look for the dollar to rebound.  Next week, after the Fed, we see Core PCE data on Friday.  Currently, that is forecast to rise 1.8%.  a high side surprise there could well shake things up with regard to views on tapering with a corresponding impact on all markets.  But until the Fed on Wednesday, it seems we are in for some slow times.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Powell Won’t Waver

The story last quarter was prices
Would rise, leading up to a crisis
So, bond markets dropped
The dollar, she popped
And gold bugs all made sacrifices

But now a new narrative line
Explains that inflation’s benign
So, bonds are in favor
As Powell won’t waver
While dollars resume their decline

All year long the market story has been driven by the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond.  Ever since the run-off elections in Georgia in the beginning of January, market anticipation has been for significant growth in the US on the heels of increased vaccination rates and increased fiscal stimulus.  In Q1, Treasury yields rose dramatically, touching as high as 1.77% at their top toward the end of March.  Meanwhile, the dollar, which had been slated to decline all year, rallied versus every emerging market currency and all but CAD, GBP and NOK in the G10.

But, as of the first of this month, the world appears to be a different place, as Treasury bonds have rallied driving yields lower and supporting equity and commodity markets.  At the same time, the dollar has come under broad-based pressure and reversed a large portion of its Q1 gains.

Currently, the narrative appears to be along the following lines: US GDP growth in 2021 is going to be spectacular, well above 6.0% and its strongest since 1984.  Inflation, meanwhile, will print at higher levels for Q2 purely as a result of base effects, but will then resume its long-term downtrend and the Fed will be required to continue to support the economy aggressively in order to meet their goals.  By the way, the Fed’s newly articulated goal is for maximum employment, not full employment, and they have promised to become completely reactive, waiting for hard data to confirm positive results in employment and wages, before considering any efforts to rein in rising prices.

Equity markets still love the story as the implication is that interest rates will not be rising at all this year, nor next year for that matter, at least in the front end of the curve.  Treasury markets, which appeared to get a little panicked in Q1 have reverted to form and seem to be pricing one of two things; either less impressive economic growth, or anticipation that the Fed will expand QE or YCC as Powell and friends seek to prevent any significant rise in yields.  Meanwhile, the dollar is falling again, gold is rising and commodity prices (the one true constant) remain firm.

Have we reached economic nirvana?  Some skepticism might be in order given the myriad issues that can undermine this narrative.  The primary issue is, of course, another wave of Covid spreading throughout the US and the world.  As the virus mutates, it is not clear that the current vaccines are going to be effective preventatives to new strains.  While the vaccination progress in the US and UK has been excellent, with 40% and 50% of their respective populations receiving at least the first dose, the same cannot be said elsewhere in the world.  In fact, the newsworthy item of the day is that India reported 315,800 new cases just yesterday!  Alongside Brazil and Turkey, these three nations, with a combined population of nearly 1.7 billion find themselves in the midst of another serious wave of infection.  Remember that a huge part of the reopening and growth narrative is the ending of the pandemic.  It is still too early to make that claim, and so, perhaps a bit early to count the 2021 GDP growth figures as a given.

However, there is a second issue of note that cannot be ignored, and that is the inflation story.  While it is clear that the Fed has convinced themselves inflation is not a concern, that the elevated readings that are almost certain to come over the next three months will be ‘transitory’, there is a case to be made that rising inflation may have a more lasting impact.

Consider that oil prices have risen dramatically from their levels this time last year and continue to trend higher.  Now, while the Fed looks at core prices, ex food & energy, the reality is that rising energy prices feed into everyday items beyond the cost of filling your gas tank.  Given that virtually everything produced and consumed requires energy to create, eventually higher energy prices feed into the cost of all those products.  It can be even more direct for services such as shipping, where energy price surcharges are common.  But just because something is labeled a surcharge doesn’t mean it hasn’t raised the price of the item consumed.  The point is, rising energy prices and rising commodity prices in general, are leading to higher input costs which will eventually lead to higher prices.  We continue to see the evidence in data like PPI and the price indices in the PMI and ISM data.

And these are just the two largest known issues.  Less probable, but potentially highly significant, we could see increased tension in US-China relations, with a stepped-up trade war, or even a confrontation over the situation in Taiwan.  Neither can one rule out more mischief from Russia, or Middle Eastern strife that could easily impact the supply of oil and hence its price.  The point is, it seems early to declare that the worst is behind us and price securities and risk as though that is the case.

Market activity today is relatively muted as investors and traders await the latest word(s) from Madame Lagarde and the ECB.  Expectations are there will be no changes to policy, but the real hope is that she will give clearer guidance on their plans going forward.  You may recall at the last meeting they expressed some dismay that bond yields had risen as much as they had and promised to increase PEPP purchases.  Since then, while they have increased those purchases, the amount of increase has been less than impressive and yields in Europe, while not rising further, have not returned to previous lower levels.  At the same time, as US yields have fallen back more than 20bps from their recent highs, the euro (+0.2%) has resumed its climb and is back above 1.20 for the first time since early March.  One thing we know is that the ECB can ill afford a stronger euro, so some type of response may be forthcoming.

Speaking of central banks, yesterday’s big surprise came from north of the border as the Bank of Canada, while leaving policy on hold, changed their tune on the timing for the end of QE.  They brought forward their tapering timeline and the market brought forward the rate hike timeline in response.  It seems that the employment situation in Canada has returned far closer to pre-Covid levels than in the US, with more than 90% of the jobs lost having been regained.  While CAD has given up 0.1% this morning, this is after a nearly 1.0% rise yesterday in the wake of the BOC announcement.

A quick look at equity markets around the world shows that Asia had a pretty good session (Nikkei +2.4%, Hang Seng +0.5%, Shanghai -0.25%) while Europe is all green and has been steadily climbing all day (DAX +0.45%, CAC +0.6%, FTSE 100 +0.1%).  US futures, however, are ever so slightly softer, down about 0.15% across the board, although this was after solid rallies yesterday afternoon.  Meanwhile, bond markets are under the barest of pressures with yields edging higher in the US (+0.5bps) and Europe (Bunds +0.4bps, OATs +0.8bps, Gilts -0.4bps), really showing a market waiting for the next piece of data.

Energy prices are under modest pressure this morning (WTI -0.5%), as are precious metals (Au -0.3%, Ag -0.6%) and industrials (Cu 0.0%, Zn -0.2%, Al -0.2%).

It can be little surprise that the dollar is mixed this morning, given the lack of a coherent market theme, although there are some modest surprises.  NOK (+0.25%) for example is stronger in the face of weaker oil prices.  Meanwhile NZD (-0.3%) is the weak link in the G10, on the back of market internals and stop-loss selling.  EMG currencies have a few more substantial movers with RUB (+1.25%) the leading gainer by far after President Putin’s state of the nation address focused entirely on domestic issues rather than feared saber rattling.  This encouraged bond buying and strength in the ruble.  On the other end of the spectrum is TRY (-0.8%) which has seen further investor outflow after reports that the US administration is prepared to raise the issue of the Armenian genocide and put further pressure to isolate President Erdogan.  However, away from those two movers, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.2% or less.

Aside from the ECB meeting, the US data slate brings Initial Claims (exp 610K), Continuing Claims (3.6M), Leading Indicators (1.0%) and Existing Home Sales (6.11M).  Clearly the Claims data is the most important of the bunch with a strong number possibly helping to halt the Treasury rally and potentially support the dollar.  We are in the Fed quiet period, so no speakers there.

The rest of the day will take its tone from Madame Lagarde, but if she is less than forceful, I would expect the current trend (modestly lower yields, modestly higher equities and modestly weaker dollar) to continue.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

As Much As They Want

Said Madame Lagarde with some jaunt
“They can test us as much as they want”
We’ve exceptional tools
And we still make the rules
These are words that could come back to haunt

If there were any questions as to the key driver in the markets, Madame Lagarde answered them tacitly this morning in a televised interview.  The number one driver of all things financial continues to be the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond and its knock-on effects for other markets.  Hence, when asked about the rising yields in the European sovereign markets, where similar to the Treasury market, yields are broadly at or near one-year high levels, she uttered what almost seemed like a challenge, “They can test us as much as they want.  We have exceptional circumstances to deal with at the moment and we have exceptional tools to use at the moment, and a battery of those.  We will use them as and when needed in order to deliver on our mandate and deliver on our pledge to the economy.”  While this doesn’t quite rise to Signor Draghi’s famous “whatever it takes” comment, it is certain that Lagarde was trying for the same impact.

Perhaps, however, something is lost in the translation from Italian to French, as the bond market stifled a collective yawn at her comments and yields continue to climb higher this morning, albeit not quite as dramatically as yesterday. So, a quick tour of European bond markets shows yields on the Bunds, OATs and Gilts all about 1 basis point higher, following right along with Treasury yields which are 2.2bps above yesterday’s close as I type.  While there is no doubt that this move higher in yields is getting a bit long in the tooth, and it would not be surprising to see a short-term respite, the underlying drivers, which remain a combination of anticipated excess new supply and rising prices, are still very much in place.  In fact, later today apparently President Biden is going to introduce his newest spending bill with a $2.25 trillion price tag.  This merely adds fuel to that fire of excess supply expectations.

There is one other thing that seems to belie the image of strength put forth by Lagarde, as well as by Chair Powell; the fact that they both go out of their way to explain that if when the time ever comes that they are actually going to slow down monetary injections, let alone actually reverse them, they will do so only after having given ample warning well in advance of such actions.  In other words, they remain terrified that taper tantrums are going to occur if they ever stop expanding their balance sheet, with a resulting decline in asset prices.  Now, the one thing that is abundantly clear, especially in the US, is that while there is a great deal of Fedspeak about achieving maximum employment, the Fed’s key indicator is the S&P 500.  Thus, a falling stock market will bring about a change in Fed policy faster than anything else.  However, it seems to me advance notice of tapering would not change the market reaction, merely its timing, so it is not clear what benefit they see in the idea.

Nonetheless, it remains the working thesis of central banks everywhere, that they must give significant forward guidance in order to be effective.  Yet once the market perceives an inflection point in that guidance, it is going to react immediately, even if the promised policy change is not until some future date.  My personal belief is that central banks would be far better off simply changing policies as they deem necessary without forward guidance and allow markets to find a new equilibrium after the policy change.  But that is a radical idea in today’s world.

In any case, there has been nothing new to change the ongoing narrative which remains the reflationary story is driving yields higher and the dollar along with them.  meanwhile, equity prices are beginning to struggle in the face of those rising yields as fixed income has started to become a viable alternative investment to equities, and the discount factor for future growth continues to point to lower current prices.  Thus, while markets this morning are taking a pause on their recent trajectory, with the dollar modestly softer along with most equity markets and commodities, much of this can be attributed to the fact that it is month and quarter end (and fiscal year end for many Asian nations), so recent positions may be reduced for balance sheet purposes.

So, let’s take a look at markets today.  Equity markets in Asia were mostly under pressure with the Nikkei (-0.9%), Hang Seng (-0.7%) and Shanghai (-0.4%) all weaker on the close.  Europe has seen a more mixed picture as the DAX (0.0%) has recovered from mild early losses, but the CAC (-0.2%) and FTSE 100 (-0.3%) are both feeling a bit of pressure.  US futures, meanwhile, continue their bipolar activities, this time with the NASDAQ (+0.65%) rising while the DOW (-0.2%) is under the gun.  However, remember that much rebalancing is likely to be seen again today given the calendar, so do not be surprised if there are short-term reversals to recent trends.

As to commodities, oil prices (-0.4%) are a touch softer this morning while gold (+0.1%) and silver (+0.25%) seem to have stabilized for the time being.  The base metal story is more mixed with Cu (+0.7%) on the day, but the rest of the main trading metals generally softer by a similar amount.

Finally, the dollar is under some pressure today, although given its run over the past week, this appears merely to be a short-term corrective.  In the G10, NOK (+0.5%) is the leading gainer, despite oil’s modest decline, as the market continues to look at the Norwegian economy and forecast Norgesbank may be the first G10 bank to raise interest rates. Inflation pressures appear to be building in the country and growth remains on the upswing.  Away from the krone, the rest of the bloc is firmer by between 0.2% and 0.3% with modest impact from CPI data across Europe showing prices rising compared to February, but a tick less than forecast in the major countries.  The one exception is JPY (-0.25%) which is simply cratering of late and has now declined about 7.5% in 2021. It appears that we are beginning to see an increase in unhedged Treasury buying by Japanese investors, with the 10-year yield spread now above 165 basis points, a level that historically has seen significant interest from the Japanese investment community.  In fact, if drawing a long-term trend line from its recent peak in early 2017, USDJPY appears to be breaking higher with a target of 112.00 a very real near-term possibility.

Regarding EMG currencies, there is general strength there as well, led by ZAR (+0.7%) and RUB (+0.6%) which have been two of the overall better performers for the week.  But in a broader sense, we are seeing modest reversals of what had been EMG currency weakness for the past week or more.

On the data front, ADP Employment (exp 550K) is the first part of the employment picture this morning with some whisper numbers growing for the NFP on Friday to over 1 million new jobs as the economy reopens.  We also see Chicago PMI (61.0), which should show continued growth in the manufacturing sector.  Overnight, Chinese PMI data (Composite 55.3) was much better than expected and indicates that the Chinese economy has moved past the Lunar New year lull.  There are no Fed speakers, but really, people will be focused on the new spending package, and more importantly, the indications of how it will be funded.  The less tax discussion, the likelihood of the bigger negative impact on the bond market.

As to the dollar today, the current trend remains clearly higher, but with month-end rebalancing taking place here as well, a touch of further weakness is quite viable on the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Tempting the Fates

What everyone now can assume
Is Jay and his friends in the room
Will never raise rates
Thus, tempting the fates
In search of a ne’er ending boom

Well, that’s that!  To anyone who thought that the Fed was concerned over rising back-end yields and a steeper yield curve, Chairman Powell made it abundantly clear that it is not even on their radar.  No longer will the Fed be concerned with mere forecasts of economic strength or pending inflation.  As in the Battle of Bunker Hill, they will not “…fire until they see the whites of [inflation’s] eyes”.   “Until we give a signal, you can assume we are not there yet,” Powell explained when asked about the timing of tapering asset purchases and tightening policy.  It would seem that is a pretty clear statement of intent on the Fed’s part, to maintain the current policy for years to come.

To recap, the Fed raised their forecasts for GDP growth to 6.5% in 2021, 3.3% in 2022 and 2.2% in 2023, while increasing their inflation forecasts (core PCE) to 2.2%, 2.0% and 2.1% respectively for the same years.  Finally, their view on unemployment adjusted to 4.5% this year with declines to 3.9% and 3.5% in ’22 and ’23.  All in all, they have quite a rosy view of the future, above trend growth, full employment and no inflation.  I sure hope they are correct, but I fear that the world may not turn out as they currently see it through their rose-tinted glasses.  The market’s biggest concern continues to be inflation, which, after decades of secular decline, appears to be at an inflection point for the future.  This can be seen in the bond market’s reaction to yesterday’s activities.

Prior to the FOMC statement, (which, by the way, was virtually verbatim with the January statement, except for one sentence describing the economic situation), risk was under pressure as equity markets were slipping, 10-year Treasury yields were rallying to new highs for the move and the dollar was firming up.  But the statement release halted those movements, and once the press conference got underway, Powell’s dovishness was evident.  This encouraged all three markets to reverse early moves and stocks closed higher, bonds flat and the dollar softer.  It seems, there was a great deal of positive sentiment at that time.

However, over the ensuing 16 hours, there has been a slight shift in sentiment as evidenced by the fact that the 10-year Treasury is now down 2/3’s of a point with the yield higher by 8 basis points, rising to 1.72%.  This is the highest yield seen since January 2020, pre-pandemic, but certainly shows no sign of stopping here.  In fact, 30-year Treasuries now yield 2.5%, their highest level since July 2019, and here, too, there is no evidence that the move is slowing down.  If anything, both of these bonds appear to be picking up speed in their race to higher levels.  Meanwhile, TIP yields are climbing as well, but not quite as quickly taking the 10-year breakeven to 2.31%.  In other words, that is the market forecast for inflation.  FYI, this is the highest level in this measure since May 2013.  As mentioned above, it appears there is a secular change in inflation on the way.

Perhaps what makes this most remarkable is the dramatic difference in the Fed’s stance and that of some other major central banks.  On the one hand, Madame Lagarde informed us last week that the ECB would be speeding up their PEPP purchases to counter the effect of rising yields.  Again, this morning she explained, “what we are responding to is a yield increase that could get ahead of the expected economic recovery.”   On the other hand, the Norges Bank, while leaving rates on hold at 0.00% this morning predicted it would start raising rates in the “latter half” of this year, far sooner than previous expectations.  Meanwhile, in the emerging markets, we have an even more aggressive story, with the Banco Central do Brazil raising the overnight SELIC rate by a more than expected 0.75% last night, as despite Covid continuing to ravage the country and the economy stuttering, inflation is starting to move higher at a faster pace.

The point here is that after almost a full year of synchronous monetary policy around the world, things are starting to change at different rates in different places.  The one thing almost certain to follow from this change in policies is that market volatility, across all asset classes, is likely to increase.  And since most markets either get measured in dollars, or versus dollars, and the inherent volatility in the US bond market is increasing, we may soon be testing central bank limits of control, especially the Fed’s.  After all, if the 2yr-10-yr spread widened to 2.75%, a level it has reached numerous times in the past, will the Fed remain sanguine on the subject?  Will the stock market implode?  Will the dollar race higher?  These are the questions that are likely to be on our lips going forward.  The fun is just beginning as the Fed embarks on its new policy roadway.

With all that in mind, what is this morning’s session doing?  Based on the different central bank activities, things are performing as one would expect.  The initial warm glow following the FOMC meeting followed into Asia with gains in most major markets there (Nikkei +1.0%, Hang Seng +1.3%, Shanghai +0.5%) although Australia’s ASX 200 fell 0.7% during the session.  Meanwhile, Lagarde’s comments, reiterating that the ECB would be buying more bonds has encouraged equity investors in Europe with gains across the board led by the DAX (+1.2%), although the rest of the set are far less impressive (CAC +0.25%, FTSE 100 +0.1%).  However, US futures tell a different story, as the rising long bond yields are continuing to have a severe impact on the NASDAQ with futures there -1.0% and dragging SPX (-0.3%) down with it although DOW futures have actually edged higher by 0.2%.  This is the ongoing rotation story, out of growth/big tech and into value and cyclical stocks.

In the bond market, the damage is severe with Treasuries leading the way followed by Gilts (+5.5bps) as the market awaits the BOE meeting results, and then much smaller rises in yields on the continent (Bunds +2.6bps, OATs +1.9bps, Italian BTPs +1.7bps) as traders recognize that the ECB is going to prevent a dramatic decline there.

Perhaps the most surprising outcome this morning is in the commodity bloc, where virtually all commodity prices are lower, albeit not by too much.  Oil (-0.3%), gold (-0.5%) and copper (-0.3%) are uniformly under pressure.  This could be a response to the Fed’s benign inflation forecasts, but I think it is more likely a response to the dollar’s strength.

Speaking of the dollar, it is mostly stronger this morning, recouping the bulk of yesterday afternoon’s losses.  In the G10, only AUD (+0.25%) is higher of note after the employment report released overnight showed far more strength than expected (Unemployment Rate fell to 5.8%).  But otherwise, the rest of the bloc is under pressure, once again led by SEK (-0.45%) and CHF (-0.35%), with both currencies seeing outflows on the back of higher USD yields.  In the EMG bloc, TRY (+2.0%) has just jumped higher after the central bank there surprised the market and raised rates by 2.0% rather than the 1.0% expected.  So, like Brazil, despite economic concerns, inflation is rearing its ugly head. However, beyond that, last night saw strength in KRW (+0.6%) after the BOK indicated they will not allow excessive market volatility (read declines) in the wake of the FOMC meeting.  And that was really the extent of the positives.  On the downside, PLN (-0.9%) is the laggard, as the market is concerned over additional Covid closures slowing any comeback and encouraging easier monetary policy further into the future than previously thought.  The rest of the CE4 are in similar, if not as dire straits this morning as the euro’s softness is undermining the whole group.  As to LATAM, the peso is starting the day unchanged and the rest of the continent has not yet opened.

On the data front, today brings Initial Claims (exp 700K), Continuing Claims (4.034M), Philly Fed (23.3) and Leading Indicators (0.3%).  In addition, we hear from the BOE, with no policy change expected, and then Chairman Powell speaks around noon at the BIS conference.  My guess is that there will be a great deal of interest in what he has to say and if he tries to walk back the idea that the Fed is comfortable with the yield curve steepening as quickly as it is. One thing to recognize is that markets can move much faster than anticipated when given a green light.  With the 10-year yield currently at 1.737%, a move to 2.0% by the end of the month is quite realistic.  And my sense is that might raise a few eyebrows at the Mariner Eccles building.

As to the dollar, follow the yields.  If they continue to rise, so will the dollar.  If they stop, I expect the dollar will as well.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf