No Exit

So, Powell and friends started talking

‘bout talking, and markets were rocking

Though they won’t stop buying

More bonds, they are trying

To exit QE, which is shocking

The question is how long they last

Ere haunted by all of their past

As Sartre made clear

No Exit is near

Be careful, the trouble is vast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe

Adf

Getting Upset

The Chinese are getting upset

Commodity prices, as yet

Continue to rise

As shrinking supplies

Now pose, to their model, a threat

So, naturally, what did they do?

They ordered state firms to eschew

Stockpiling provisions

As now all decisions

Will come from Beijing ‘pon review

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

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

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

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

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

Today Chairman Jay will expound

On growth and its stunning rebound

But do not expect

That he will project

Some changes will shortly gain ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

No Yang, Only Yin

According to every newspaper

The Fed’s getting ready to taper

With late Twenty-two

The popular view

Of when, QE, they will escape(r)

But what if, before they begin

To taper, to Powell’s chagrin

The bond market tanks

As traders and banks

Believe there’s no yang, only yin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

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 

More Systemic

The winding down of the pandemic

Has fostered a massive polemic

Will rising costs fade

As Powell’s portrayed

Or are they a bit more systemic?

The inflation debate continues to be topic number one amongst market participants as the outcome is seen, rightly, as the key to future economic activity and correspondingly future market price action.  This is true across all asset classes which is why everyone cares so much.

However, not every day brings us new and exciting news on the debate which leaves the markets to seek other catalysts for movement, sometimes really stretching to find a good narrative.  Thus far, today falls under the heading of ‘looking for something to say.’

There has been limited new information released overnight which is likely why the fact that the Bank of Korea, though leaving their policy rate unchanged at 0.50%, has been a topic of conversation as they displayed a more hawkish sentiment, raising both GDP growth and inflation forecasts for 2021, and hinted that they would be looking to end their ultra-expansive monetary policy sooner than previously thought.  Earlier expectations had been rates would not begin to rise until 2023, but now the market is pricing in two 25 basis point rate hikes in 2022.  This is the fourth (BOC, BOE and RBNZ are the others) central bank of a major country that is discussing the beginning of the end of easy money.  Granted, the combined GDP of these four nations, at a touch over $7 trillion, is less than one-third that of the US, but three of them are amongst the ten largest economies in the world and the fourth, New Zealand, has a history of leading the way in monetary policy on a global basis, at least since 1988 when they ‘invented’ the inflation targeting mantra that is prevalent today.

This sentiment of considering when to end easy money is making its way more clearly into the Fed’s talking points as well.  Yesterday, Fed Vice-Chair Quarles remarked, “If my expectations about economic growth, employment and inflation over the coming months are borne out, it will become important for the FOMC to begin discussing our plans to adjust the pace of asset purchases at upcoming meetings.”  He is at least the fourth Fed speaker this week to talk about talking about tapering asset purchases which tells us that the discussion is actively ongoing at the Marriner Eccles Building in Washington.  

Perhaps what is even more interesting is the fact that the Treasury market is so nonplussed by the fact that the Fed is clearly considering the timing of a reduction in purchases at the same time we are printing the highest inflation numbers in years and the Federal government is sending out more stimulus checks and spending money like crazy.  You may disagree with Chairman Powell’s policy actions, but you cannot deny the effectiveness of his recent communication policy.  Based on price action in both bond and inflation markets, Powell’s story of transitory inflation has become the accepted truth.  I sure hope he’s right, but my personal, anecdotal observations don’t agree with his thesis.  Whether I’m looking at my cost of living or take a more monetarist view and look at the expansion of the monetary base, both point to a steady rise in prices with no end in sight.  The market, however, cares little about the FX poet’s circumstances and a great deal about Chairman Powell’s pronouncements so until he is proven wrong, it has become clear the market has accepted the transitory story.

With this in mind, a survey of market activity shows pretty limited movement in every asset class.  Equity markets had a mixed session in Asia (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.4%) and are having a similiarly mixed session in Europe (DAX -0.3%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.1%).  In other words, there is no theme of note on the risk side.  Meanwhile, US futures are pointing slightly lower on the open, with the worst performer NASDAQ at -0.4% and the others with lesser declines.  None of this points to a major risk theme.

Bond prices are generally a touch softer this morning with Treasury yields higher by 1.2 basis points while Bunds (+1.0bps), OATs (+0.5bps) and Gilts (+1.7bps) have all sold off slightly.  However, in the bigger picture, all of these key bond markets are currently trading with yields right in the middle of their past three month’s activity.  Again, it is hard to define a theme from today’s price action.

Commodity prices add to the mixed view with oil (WTI -0.8%) slightly softer as it consolidates after last month’s powerful rally.  In the metals markets, precious metals are essentially unchanged this morning while industrial metals continue with the mixed theme as Cu (+0.5%) and Zn (+0.3%) are firmer while Al (-0.4%) and Sn (-0.3%) are softer. Ags have seen similar price action with Soybeans softer while both Wheat and Corn are firmer.  One of the stories here has been the recent consolidation across most commodities which has been attributed to China’s efforts to prevent inflation and the expansion of bubbles in property and housing markets.

The dollar, however, is the one thing which has shown some consistency this morning, falling almost across the board.  In fact, in G10, the dollar has fallen against all its counterparts with GBP (+0.4%) the firmest currency, but solid gains in NZD (+0.35%) and CAD (+0.3%) as well.  The pound’s jump has been in the past few minutes responding to the BOE’s Gertjan Vlieghe’s comments that rate hikes are likely to begin in 2022, again, earlier than the market had been figuring.  

EMG currencies are also gaining this morning led by the CE4 (HUF +0.65%, PLN +0.5%) as well as ZAR (+0.4%).  APAC currencies performed well overnight with CNY (+0.25%) rising for the 12th session in the 15 so far this month.  It has become abundantly clear that the PBOC is willing to allow CNY to continue to strengthen despite the potential impact on exports.  This seems to be driven by their desire to cap inflation, especially in commodity prices, as well as the fact that the inflation narrative elsewhere in the world has shown that export clients have been able to absorb some level of price rises.  To achieve both these aims, a modestly stronger renminbi is an excellent help.

On the data front, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 425K), Continuing Claims (3.68M), the second look at Q1 GDP (6.5%) and Durable Goods (0.8%, 0.7% ex transport).  However, while this is the biggest tranche of data so far this week, tomorrow’s core PCE release remains the most important number of the week in my view as excessive strength there seems to be the only thing that could give the Fed pause in their current views.  Interestingly, we do not hear from another Fed speaker, at least in a scheduled appearance, until next Tuesday, so the data will be our best indication of what is happening.  

Looking at the dollar’s recent price action, we have seen weakness but it has run into pretty strong support.  The link between Treasury yields and the dollar remains strong, and I expect that to be the case until at least the Fed’s June meeting.  In truth, the dollar’s weakness today feels a bit overdone so I anticipate no further declines and potentially, a little rebound.

Good luck and stay safe

Adf

Not Really There

There once was a Fed Reserve Chair
Whose minions explained with fanfare
Though prices were climbing
With all the pump priming
Inflation was not really there

Investors responded with glee
And bought everything they did see
So, risk was a hit
While yields fell a bit
As money remains largely free

Brainerd, Bostic and Bullard, though sounding like a law firm, are actually three FOMC members who spoke yesterday.  In what has been a remarkably consistent performance by virtually every single member of the committee (Robert Kaplan excepted), they all said exactly the same thing: prices will rise due to bottlenecks and shortages in the near-term, but that this was a short-term impact of the pandemic response, and that soon those issues would abate and prices would quickly stabilize again.  They pointed to ‘well-anchored’ inflation expectations and reminded one and all that they have the tools necessary to combat inflation in the event their version of events does not come to pass.  You have to give Chairman Powell credit for convincing 16 ostensibly independent thinkers that his mantra is the only reality.

The market response was one of rainbows and unicorns, with rallies across all assets as risk was snapped up everywhere.  After all, it has been nearly two weeks since the CPI print was released at substantially higher levels than anticipated raising fears amongst investors that the Fed was losing control.  But two weeks of soothing words and relatively benign data has been sufficient to exorcise those inflation demons.  In the meantime, the Fed continues to purchase assets and expand its balance sheet as though the economy is teetering on the brink of destruction while they await the “substantial progress” toward their goals to be met.

One consequence of the Fed’s QE program has been that high-quality collateral for short term loans, a critical part of the financial plumbing of the US (and global) economy has been in short supply.  For the past two months, Treasury bill issues have been clearing at 0.00%, meaning the government’s cost of financing has been nil.  This is due to a combination of factors including the Treasury running down the balances in the Treasury General Account at the Fed (the government’s checking account) and the ongoing Fed QE purchases of $80 billion per month.  This has resulted in the Treasury needing to issue less T-bills while simultaneously injecting more funds into the economy.  Banks, meanwhile, wind up with lots of bank reserves on their balance sheets and no place to put them given the relative dearth of lending.  The upshot is that the Fed’s Reverse Repurchase Program (RRP) is seeing unprecedented demand with yields actually starting to dip below zero.  This is straining other securities markets as well given the bulk of activity in markets, especially derivatives activity, is done on a margin, not cash, basis.  While so far, there have not been any major problems, as the stress in this corner of the market increases, history shows that a weak link will break with broader negative market consequences.  For now, however, the Fed is able to brush off any concerns.

The result of the constant commentary from Fed speakers, with three more on the schedule for today, as well as the fading of the memories of the high CPI print has been a wholesale reengagement of the risk-on meme.  Growth continues to rebound, while zero interest rates continue to force investors out the risk curve to find a return.  What could possibly go wrong?

Today, the answer is, nothing.  Risk is back with a vengeance as evidenced by a strong equity session in Asia (Shanghai +2.4%, Hang Seng +1.75%, Nikkei +0.7%) and a solid one in Europe as well (DAX +0.8%, CAC +0.15%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  The Chinese (and Hong Kong) rally seems to be a product of the PBOC focusing their attentions on the commodity market, not equities, as the source of imbalances and a potential target of interventionist policies thus allowing speculators there to run free.  German equities are the beneficiary of better than expected ZEW data, with both the current conditions (95.7) and Expectations (102.9) indices leading the way.  While yesterday’s US equity rally faded a bit late in the day, futures this morning are all pointing higher by about 0.3%.

Arguably, the FOMC trio had a bigger impact on the bond market, where 10-year Treasury yields are now back below 1.60%, down 1 basis point this morning and at their lowest level in more than two weeks.  It is certainly hard to believe that the bond market is remotely concerned about inflation at this time.  Remember, though, Friday we see the core PCE print, which is the number the Fed truly cares about, and while it is forecast to print above the 2.0% target, (0.6% M/M, 2.9% Y/Y) we also know that the Fed strongly believes this is transitory and is no reason to panic.  Markets, however, if that print is even stronger, may not agree with that sentiment.

Commodity prices are having a less positive day as the ongoing concerns about Chinese actions to prevent price rises continues to weigh on sentiment.  Oil has slipped just a bit (-0.3%) but we are seeing declines in Cu (-0.4%), Al (-1.1%) and Fe (-3.1%), all directly in the crosshairs of the Chinese government.  Agricultural product prices are mixed today while precious metals remain little changed.

Finally, the dollar is mostly lower this morning with broad weakness seen in the EMG bloc, but less consistency in G10.  While SEK (+0.5%) leads the way higher, the rest of the bloc has been more mixed.  NOK (-0.2%) is clearly suffering from oil’s decline, while JPY (-0.2%) seems to be giving ground as havens are unloved.  EUR (+0.25%) has been helped by that German ZEW data as well as the beginnings of a perception that the Fed is going to be more aggressively dovish than the ECB for a long time to come.  In that event, the euro will certainly rise further, although it has a key resistance level at 1.2350 to overcome.

ZAR (+0.7%) leads the emerging market parade higher as concerns over inflation there abate, and South Africa continues to have amongst the highest real yields in the world.  KRW (+0.4%) is next in line as consumer sentiment in South Korea rose to its highest level in 3 years.  The other noteworthy move has been CNY (+0.2%) not so much for the size of the move as much as for the fact that it has breached the 6.40 level and the government has indicated they are going to be taking additional steps to open the FX market in China to help local companies hedge their own FX risks. The only laggard of note is TRY (-0.3%) which is suffering as President Erdogan has replaced yet another member of the central bank’s board, inviting concerns inflation will run higher with no response.

Data today shows Case Shiller Home Prices (exp +12.5%) as well as New Home Sales (950K) and Consumer Confidence (119.0), none of which are likely to change either Fed views or market opinions.   As mentioned above, three Fed speakers will regale us with their sermon on transitory inflation, and I expect that the dollar will remain under pressure for the time being.  In fact, until we see core PCE on Friday, it is hard to make a case that the dollar will turn around and only then if the number is higher than expected.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Retrogression

To taper or not is the question
Resulting in much indigestion
For traders with views
The Minutes were cues
The Fed’s ready for retrogression

A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases.”  This is the money quote from yesterday’s FOMC Minutes, the one which has been identified as the starting point for the next step in Federal Reserve activity.  Its perceived hawkish tilt led to a decline in both stocks and bonds and saw the dollar rebound nicely from early session weakness.

No one can ever accuse the Fed of speaking clearly about anything, and this quote is full of weasel words designed to hint at but not actually say anything.  So, is this really as hawkish as the commentariat would have us believe?  Let us remember that the April meeting occurred before the surprisingly weak May Nonfarm Payroll report.  Since that report, we have heard many Fed speakers explain that there was still a long way to go before they saw the “substantial progress” necessary to begin to change policy.  Since the meeting, the Citi Economic Surprise Index (an index that seeks to track the difference between economic forecasts and actual data releases) has fallen quite sharply which implies that the economy is not growing as rapidly as forecast at that time.  Of course, since the meeting we have also seen the highest CPI prints on a monthly basis in 15 years (headline) and 40 years (core).

The growing consensus amongst economists is that at the Jackson Hole symposium in August, Chairman Powell will officially reveal the timeline for tapering and by the end of 2021, the Fed will have begun reducing the amount of asset purchases they make on a monthly basis.  That feels like a pretty big leap from “it might be appropriate at some point…to begin discussing…”

Remember, too, the discussion that is important is not what one believes the Fed should do, but rather what one believes the Fed is going to do.  The case for tighter policy is clear-cut in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to act in that fashion.  In fact, based on everything we have heard from various Fed speakers, it seems apparent that there is only a very small chance that the Fed will even consider tapering in 2021. The current roster of FOMC voters includes the Chair, Vice-Chair and Governors, none of whom could be considered hawkish in any manner, as well as the Presidents of Atlanta, Chicago, Richmond and San Francisco.  Of that group, Chicago’s Evans and SF’s Daly are uber-dovish.  Richmond’s Barkin is a middle-of-the-roader and perhaps only Atlanta’s Bostic could be considered to lean hawkish at all.  This is not a committee that is prepared to agree to tighter policy unless inflation is running at 5% and has been doing so for at least 6 months.  Do not get overexcited about the Fed tapering.

Markets, on the other hand, did just that yesterday, although the follow through has been unimpressive.  Yesterday’s session saw US equity markets open lower on general risk aversion and they had actually been climbing back until the Minutes were released.  Upon release, the S&P fell a quick 0.5%, but had recouped all that and more in 25 minutes and then chopped back and forth for the rest of the session.  In other words, it was hardly a rout based on the Minutes.  The overnight session was, in truth, mixed, with the Nikkei (+0.2%) climbing slightly while the Hang Seng (-0.5%) and Shanghai (-0.1%) slipped a bit.  Europe, which fell pretty sharply yesterday, has rebounded this morning (DAX +0.4%, CC +0.5%, FTSE 100 0.0%) although US futures are all in the red this morning by about -0.4%, so whatever positives traders in Europe are seeing have not yet been identified in the US.

As to the bond market, it should be no surprise that it sold off sharply yesterday, with 10-year yields rising 5 basis points at their worst point but closing higher by 3bps, at 1.67%.  But this morning there is no follow through at all as the 10yr has actually rallied with yields slipping 0.5bps.  This is hardly the sign of a market preparing for a Fed change of heart.  European sovereign markets are under modest pressure this morning, with yields a bit higher throughout the continent (bunds +1.8bps, OATs +1.0bps, gilts +1.5bps).  Neither did the Minutes cause much concern in Asia with both Australia and Japan seeing extremely muted moves of less than 1 basis point.

Commodity prices, on the other hand, have definitely seen some movement led by oil (WTI -1.5%) and Iron Ore (-2.8%).  However, the oil story is more about supply and the news that Iranian crude may soon be returning to the market as a deal to lift sanctions is imminent, while iron ore, and steel, were impacted by strong comments from China designed to halt the runaway price train in both, as they seek to reduce production in an effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  The non-ferrous metals are very modestly lower (Cu -0.1%, Al -0.2%, Zn -0.4%) while precious metals are little changed on the day.  Agricultural products, though, maintain their bids with small gains across the board.

Perhaps the most interesting market yesterday was cryptocurrencies where there was a very significant decline across the board, on the order of 20%-30%, which has reduced the value of the space by about 50% since its peak in early April.  This largely occurred long before the FOMC Minutes and was arguably a response to China’s announcement that payment for goods or services with any digital currency other than yuan was illegal rather than a response to any potential policy changes. This morning is seeing Bitcoin rebound very slightly, but most of the rest of the space still under pressure.

Finally, the dollar is under modest pressure today, after rallying nicely in the wake of the FOMC Minutes.  Versus the G10, only NOK (-0.1%) is in the red, suffering from the oil price decline, while the rest of the bloc is rebounding led by CHF (+0.4%) and AUD (+0.3%).  Swiss movement appears to be technically oriented while AUD’s rally is counterintuitive given the modestly worse than expected Unemployment report last night.  However, as a key risk currency, if risk appetite is forming, Aussie tends to rally.

Emerging market currencies that are currently trading have all rebounded led by PLN (+0.5%), TRY (+0.5%) and HUF (+0.45%).  All of these are benefitting from the broad based, but mild, dollar weakness.  The story was a bit different overnight as Asian currencies fell across the board with IDR (-0.6%) the leading decliner, as the highest beta currency with the biggest C/A deficit, but the rest of the space saw weakness on the order of -0.1% to -0.2%.

Data today starts with Initial Claims (exp 450K), Continuing Claims (3.63M) and the Philly Fed (41.0).  Then at 10:00 we see Leading Indicators (1.3%).  On the Fed front, only Dallas’s Kaplan speaks, but we already know that he has to have been one of the voices that wanted to discuss tapering, as he has said that repeatedly for the past month.

Frankly, this market has several cross currents, but my gut tells me that the ostensible hawkishness from yesterday’s Minutes will soon be forgotten and the doves will continue to rule the airwaves and sentiment.  Look for the dollar to drift lower on the day.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Seeds of Inflation

Inflation continues to be
A topic where some disagree
The Fed has the tools
As well as the rules
To make sure it’s transitory

But lately, the data has shown
The seeds of inflation are sown
So later this year
It ought to be clear
If Jay truly has a backbone

Yet again this weekend, we were treated to a government official, this time Janet Yellen, explaining on the Sunday talk show circuit that inflation would be transitory, but if it’s not, they have the tools to address the situation.  It is no coincidence that her take is virtually identical to Fed Chair Powell’s, as the Fed and the Treasury have clearly become joined at the hip.  The myth of Fed independence is as much a victim of Covid-19 as any of the more than 3.2 million unfortunate souls who lost their lives.  But just because they keep repeating they have the tools doesn’t mean they have the resolve to use them in the event that they are needed.  (Consider that the last time these tools were used, in the early 1980’s, Fed Chair Paul Volcker was among the most reviled government figures in history.)

For instance, last Friday’s data showed that PCE rose 2.3% in March with the Core number rising 1.8%.  While both those results were exactly as forecast, the trend for both remains sharply higher.  The question many are asking, and which neither Janet nor Jay are willing to answer, is how will the Fed recognize the difference between sustained inflation and transitory inflation?  After all, it is not as though the data comes with a disclaimer.  Ultimately, a decision is going to have to be made that rising prices are becoming a problem.  Potential indicators of this will be a sharply declining dollar, sharply declining bond prices and sharply declining stock prices, all of which are entirely realistic if/when the market decides that ‘transitory’ is no longer actually transitory.

For now, though, this issue remains theoretical as there is virtually unanimous agreement that the next several months are going to show much higher Y/Y inflation rates given the base effects of comparisons to the depth of the Covid inspired recession.  The June data will be the first test as that monthly CPI print last year was a robust 0.5%.  Should the monthly June print this year remain at that level or higher, it will deepen the discussion, if not at the Fed, then certainly in the investor and trader communities.  But in truth, until the data is released, all this speculation is just that, with opinions and biases on full display, but with no way to determine the outcome beforehand.  In fact, it is this uncertainty that is the primary rationale for corporate hedging.  There is no way, ex ante, to know what prices or exchange rates will be in the future, but by hedging a portion of the risk, a company can mitigate the variability of its results.  FWIW my view continues to be that the inflation genie is out of the bottle and will be far more difficult to tame going forward, despite all those wonderful tools in the Fed’s possession.

This week is starting off slowly as it is the so-called “golden week” in both China and Japan, where there are holidays Monday through Wednesday, with no market activity ongoing.  Interestingly, Hong Kong was open although I’m guessing investors were less than thrilled with the results as the Hang Seng fell a sold 1.3%.  Europe, on the other hand, is feeling frisky this morning, with gains across the board (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.45%. FTSE 100 +0.1%) after the final PMI data was released and mostly confirmed the preliminary signs of robust growth in the manufacturing sector.  In addition, the vaccine news has been positive with Germany crossing above the 1 million threshold for the first time this weekend while Italy finally got to 500,000 injections on Saturday.  The narrative that is evolving now is that as Europe catches up in vaccination rates, the Eurozone economy will pick up speed much faster than previously expected and that will bode well for both Eurozone stocks and the single currency.  Remember, on a relative basis, the market has already priced in the benefits of reopening for the US and UK, while Europe has been slow to the party.

Adding to the story is the bond market, where European sovereigns are softening a bit in a classic risk-on scenario of higher stocks and lower bonds.  So, yields have edged higher in Germany (Bunds +1.5bps) and France (OATs +1.3bps) although Gilts are unchanged.  Meanwhile, Treasury yields are creeping higher as well, +1.6bps, and remain a critical driver for most markets.  Interestingly, the vaccine news has inspired the latest comments about tapering PEPP purchases by the ECB, although it remains in the analyst community, not yet part of the actual ECB dialog.

Most commodity prices are also in a quiet state with oil unchanged this morning although we continue to see marginal gains in Cu (+0.4%) and Al (+0.2%).  The big story is agricultural prices where Corn, Wheat and soybeans continue to power toward record highs.  Precious metals are having a good day as well, with both gold (+0.55%) and silver (+0.85%) performing nicely.

It should be no surprise with this mix that the dollar is under pressure as the pound (+0.4%) and euro (+0.3%) lead the way higher.  Only JPY (-0.1%) and CHF (-0.1%) are in the red as haven assets are just not needed today.  Emerging market currencies are mostly stronger with the CE4 all up at least as much as the euro and ZAR (+0.55%) showing the benefits of dollar weakness and gold strength.  There was, however, an outlier on the downside, KRW (-1.0%) which fell sharply overnight after its trade surplus shrunk much more than expected with a huge jump in imports fueling the move.

As it is the first week of the month, get ready for lots of data culminating in the NFP report on Friday.

Today ISM Manufacturing 65.0
ISM Prices Paid 86.1
Construction Spending 1.7%
Tuesday Trade Balance -$74.3B
Factory Orders 1.3%
-ex transport 1.8%
Wednesday ADP Employment 875K
ISM Services 64.1
Thursday Initial Claims 540K
Continuing Claims 3.62M
Nonfarm Productivity 4..2%
Unit Labor Costs -1.0%
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 978K
Private Payrolls 900K
Manufacturing Payrolls 60K
Unemployment Rate 5.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.0% (-0.4% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.9
Participation Rate 61.6%
Consumer Credit $20.0B

Source: Bloomberg

As well, we hear from five Fed speakers, including Chairman Powell this afternoon.  Of course, since we just heard from him Wednesday and Yellen keeps harping on the message, I don’t imagine there will be much new information.

Clearly, all eyes will be on the payroll data given the Fed has explained they don’t care about inflation and only about employment, at least for now and the near future.  Given expectations are for nearly 1 million new jobs, my initial take is we will need to see a miss by as much as 350K for it to have an impact.  Anything inside that 650K-1350K is going to be seen as within the margin of error, but a particularly large number could well juice the stock market, hit bonds and benefit the dollar.  We shall see.  As for today, given Friday’s Chicago PMI record print at 72.1, whispers are for bigger than forecast.  While the dollar is under modest pressure right now, if we see Treasury yields backing up further, I expect to see the dollar eventually benefit.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Filled With Froth

Said Jay, markets seem filled with froth
But let me tell you, we are loth
To even discuss
The tapering fuss.
To ZIRP and QE we are troth

Now, ask yourself what markets heard
Jay cooed like his favorite white bird
So, dollars were sold
Investors bought gold
With equity bulls undeterred

The Chairman was very clear yesterday afternoon in his press conference, the Fed is not anywhere near thinking about changing their current policy mix.  While paying lip service to the idea that if inflation turns out not to be ‘transitory’ they have the tools to address it, the overwhelming belief in the Mariner Eccles Building appears to be that by autumn, inflation will be a thing of the past and the Fed will still have their foot on the proverbial accelerator.

This does raise the question that, if economic growth is rebounding so smartly, why does the Fed need to buy $120 billion of assets each month and maintain their policy rate at 0.00%?  While I am just an FX guy, it seems to me that the current policy stance is more appropriate for an apocalyptic economic crisis, something like we suffered last year or in 2008-9, rather than for an economy that is growing at 7.0% or more.  But that’s just me.  Clearly, Chairman Powell and his committee are concerned that the economy cannot continue to grow on its own, else they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.

When it comes to the tapering of asset purchases, Powell was also explicit that it is not nearly time to consider the idea.  Yes, we had one good NFP number, but we need a string of them to convince the Fed that we are past the worst of things.  Remember, the opening two lines of the Fed statement continue to be about Covid.  “The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals.  The COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world.”  Until such time as that statement changes, we don’t need to hear the press conference to know that nothing is going to change.

With this in mind, let us consider the potential impact on markets.  Starting with Treasuries, it seems reasonable to assume that yields are reflective of investors collective view on inflation going forward.  The Fed has been purchasing $120 billion / month since last June and is not about to change.  At this stage, it would appear the market has factored those purchases into the current yield.  This means, future movements are far more likely to be indicative of the evolving view on inflation.  Yesterday, after the press conference, 10-year yields slipped by 4bps, but this morning, they have recouped those losses and we currently sit at 1.65%.  With commodity prices clearly still on a massive roll (WTI +1.4%, Cu +0.8%), while the Fed is convinced that any inflation will be transitory, it is not obvious that the rest of the market agrees.  Powell said the Fed would need to see a string of strong data.  Well, next week the early expectations for NFP are 888K, which would be two very strong months in a row.  Is that a string?  Certainly, it’s a line.  But I doubt it will move the needle at the Fed.  Maximum employment is still a long way off, and there will be no changes until then.  As inflation readings climb, and they will, Treasury yields will continue to climb as well.  There is nothing magical about 1.75%, the level reached at the end of March, and I expect that by the end of Q2, we will be looking at 10-year yields close to, or above 2.0%.

If Treasury yields are at 2.0%, what happens to equity markets?  In this case, it is not as clear cut as one might think.  First off, this Fed clearly has a different reaction function to data than previous iterations as they have been explicit that pre-emptive tightening to prevent potential future inflation is not going to happen.  This implies that any rise in yields is not reflective of expected Fed policy changes, but rather as a response to rising inflationary pressures.  History has shown that when inflation rises but stays below 3.0%, equity markets can remain buoyant, but once that threshold has been breached, it is a different story.  Remember, especially in the tech sector, but in truth quite generally, the reason low rates boost the stock market is because any discount cash flow model, when discounting at ultra-low rates means current values should be higher.  This is why rising yields become a problem for equity prices. In fact, it is reasonable to analogize being long growth stocks to being long bond duration, so when bond prices fall and yields rise accordingly the same thing happens to those stocks.  If this relationship holds going forward, and inflationary concerns do continue to percolate in the market, it would appear equity prices could be in for a bumpy ride.

Clearly, that is not yet the case (after all, inflation hasn’t yet reared its ugly head), as evidenced by the overnight price action in the wake of Powell’s comments.  Asia was strong (Nikkei +0.2%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +0.5%) and most of Europe is as well (CAC +0.55%, FTSE 100 +0.7%) although the German DAX (-0.25%) is a bit of a laggard this morning as concerns over Q1 GDP rise due to the third Covid wave.  US futures, though, are all-in with Jay, rising between 0.5% (Dow) and 1.0% (NASDAQ).  That makes sense given the assurances that there will be no tapering forever the foreseeable future.

As to the dollar, there are two different narratives at odds here.  On the one hand, the fundamentalists continue to point to a weaker dollar in the future as rising inflation tends to devalue a currency, and when combined with the massive fiscal deficit policy, a dollar decline becomes the only outlet available for pressure on the economy.  On the other hand, rising yields tend to support the dollar, so as Treasury yields continue to rise, if they stay ahead of the inflation statistics, there is reason to believe that the dollar has further to gain from here.  Of course, if inflation outstrips the rise in nominal yields such that real yields decline, we could easily have a situation with higher nominal Treasury yields and a much weaker dollar.  For now, the inflation data is lagging the Treasury market, but I suspect that by the end of May, that will not be the case, meaning the long-awaited dollar decline has a much better chance to get started then.

In the meantime, the dollar has softened ever so slightly this morning.  Versus G10 currencies, only JPY (-0.25%) has declined as the rebound in Treasury yields this morning seems to be garnering interest in the Japanese investment community.  But, while the dollar is softer vs. everything else, nothing has even moved 0.2%, which implies there is no news beyond the Fed.  In the EMG space, the dollar is also largely softer, led by HUF (+0.5%), THB (+0.45%) and INR (+0.45%).  HUF continues to benefit from the relatively hawkish stance of the central bank, while the baht rallied despite a reduction in the 2021 GDP estimate to 2.3% as Covid infections increase in the nation.  Meanwhile, INR appears to be the beneficiary of the Fed’s stance as clearly, the ongoing domestic disaster regarding its response to the latest wave of Covid infections cannot be seen as a positive.

On the data front, we start with Initial Claims (exp 540K) and Continuing Claims (3.59M) but also see the first look at Q1 GDP (6.6%), with a range of estimates from 4.5% to 10.0%!  With the Fed meeting behind us, we should start to hear from FOMC members again, but today only has Governor Quarles discussing financial regulation, a much drier subject than inflation.  Tomorrow, however, we will see the latest Core PCE data, and that has the chance to move things around.

As of now, the dollar remains on its back foot given the Fed’s clear message that tapering is a long way off and easy money is here for now.  However, if Treasury yields start to rise further, especially if they get back toward the 1.75% level, I expect the dollar will rebound.  On the other hand, if Treasuries remain quiet, the dollar probably has further to fall.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Lower Forever’s Outdated

A little bit later today
The FOMC will convey
Its thoughts about both
Inflation and growth
And when QE might fade away

The punditry’s view has migrated
Such that ‘Low Forever’s’ outdated
Instead, many think
That QE will shrink
By Christmas, when growth’s stimulated

Attention today is entirely on the Federal Reserve as they conclude their two-day meeting and release the latest statement at 2:00pm.  Thirty minutes later, Chairman Powell will begin his press conference and market activity will slow down dramatically as all eyes and ears will be focused on his latest musings.

What makes this situation so interesting is there is absolutely no expectation for a change to monetary policy today.  Fed funds will remain between 0.00% and 0.25% and asset purchases will continue at a pace of ‘at least’ $80 billion / month of Treasuries and $40 billion / month of mortgage backed securities.  So, what’s all the hubbub?

Recent economic data has been quite strong (Retail Sales +9.8%, Philly Fed at record high 50.2, Housing Starts +19.4%) and is forecast to continue to show strength going forward.  In addition, the first glimmers of rising prices are starting to be seen (Import Price Index +6.9%, Export Price Index +9.1%) which begs the question, how long can the Fed allow things to heat up before they start to remove monetary stimulus.  As the Fed has been in its quiet period for the past two weeks, we have not heard a peep regarding their thoughts in the wake of the most recent, very strong data.  Thus, with no new Fed guidance, the fertile minds of Wall Street economists have created a narrative that explains the continued robust US growth will lead the Fed to begin to remove policy accommodation by tapering asset purchases before the end of the year.  And they well could do so.

However, while Fed policy may or may not be appropriate, the one thing that has remained consistent throughout the Fed’s history is that when they say something, they generally stick to it.  And the last words we heard from Powell were that there was no reason to consider tapering until “substantial further progress” had been made toward their goals of maximum employment and average inflation of 2.0%.  No matter how great the data has been in the past two weeks, two weeks of data will not qualify as substantial.  In fact, I doubt two months will qualify.  If forced to anticipate a timeline for the Fed, it will not be before September, earliest, and more likely December that they will begin to lay the groundwork to potentially reduce asset purchases.  I think the market is way ahead of itself on this issue.

Consider, as well, this puzzle.  The market has pushed yields higher all year in anticipation of much faster growth and inflation generated by the combination of the end of lockdowns and federal stimulus money.  As federal spending continues to massively outstrip federal revenues, the Treasury continues to issue more and more new debt, also leading to higher yields.  Naturally, the higher the level of yields, the more expensive it is for the US government to service its debt which reduces its capacity to spend money on the things it is targeting with the new debt.  One of the key expectations of many of the same pundits calling for tapered purchases is yield curve control (YCC), which is exactly the opposite of tapering, it is unlimited purchasing of bonds.  So, how can we reconcile the idea of YCC with the idea of the Fed tapering purchases?  Personally, I cannot do so, it is one or the other.

Which brings us to what can we expect today?  Based on everything we have heard from Fed speakers in the past month, I believe talk of tapering is extremely premature and the Fed will not mention anything of the sort in the statement.  As well, I expect that Chairman Powell will be quite clear in the press conference when asked (and he will be asked) that the economy is not out of the woods and that they have much further to go before even considering altering monetary policy.

Arguably, this line of conversation should be risk positive, helping equities push higher and the dollar lower, but as we have seen for at least the past several months, the 10-year Treasury yield remains the absolute key driver in markets.  If supply concerns (too much supply) continue to grow and yields resume their march higher, I expect the dollar will rally and equities will come under pressure.  However, if the bond market is assuaged by Powell’s words, then I would expect a dollar decline and all other assets priced in dollars (stocks, bonds and commodities) to continue to climb in price.  We shall see starting at 2:00 today.

As to the markets leading up to the FOMC drama this afternoon, equities are generally firmer while bond yields are rising as well along with the dollar and base metals.  Overnight, the Nikkei (+0.2%), Hang Seng (+0.45%) and Shanghai (+0.4%) all had solid sessions.  Europe has seen gains through most markets (DAX +0.35%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.35%) although Sweden’s OMX (-1.3%) is significantly underperforming in what apparently is a hangover from yesterday’s mildly bearish economic views by the Riksbank.

Bond markets are uniformly lower this morning, with Treasury yields higher by 1.8 basis points after a 5 basis point rally yesterday.  In Europe, Gilts (+4.7bps) are the worst performers but we are seeing weakness of at least 3bps across the board (Bunds +3.2bps, OATS +3.3bps).  There has been precious little data released to explain these price declines, and if anything, the fact that German GfK Confidence (-8.8) was released at a much worse than expected level would have argued for lower rates.  By the way, that low print seems to be a consequence of the spread of Covid in Germany and reinstituted lockdowns.

On the commodity front, oil (+0.4%) is modestly firmer and remains well above the $60/bbl level.  While gold (-0.5%) and silver (-1.3%) are underperforming, we continue to see demand for industrial metals (Al +0.65%, Sn +1.8%) although copper (-0.15%) has given back a tiny amount of its recent gargantuan run higher.

The dollar is generally firmer vs. the G10 with GBP (-0.35%) today’s laggard followed by AUD (-0.25%) and JPY (-0.2%).  The market seems to have taken sides with the doves in the BOE as virtually every member spoke today and a majority implied that policy would remain accommodative despite expectations for faster growth.  Away from these 3 currencies, movements were extremely modest although leaned toward currency weakness.

EMG currencies are a bit more mixed, with a spread of gainers and losers this morning.  On the negative side, PLN (-0.5%) is in the worst shape as investors express concern over a judicial ruling due tomorrow on the status of Swiss franc mortgages that were taken out by Polish citizens a decade ago and have caused massive pain as the franc appreciated dramatically vs the zloty.  A negative ruling could have a major impact on Poland’s banking sector and by extension the economy.  Away from that, losses in CZK (-0.3%) and KRW (-0.2%) are next on the list, but it is hard to pin the movement to news.  On the positive side, TRY (+0.5%) continues to benefit from the perceived reduction in tension with the US while traders have seemingly embraced INR (+0.4%) on the idea that despite a horrific Covid situation, relief, in the form of massive vaccine imports, is on the way to help address the situation.

Ahead of the FOMC the only data point is the Advanced Goods Trade Balance (exp -$88.0B), but that is unlikely to have an impact.  Equity futures are biding their time as are most market participants as we all await Mr Powell.  Treasury yields continue to be the main driver in my view, so if they continue to rally, they are already 10bps clear of the recent lows, I expect the dollar will continue to regain some of its recent lost ground.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf