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