Far From Surreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHINA TELLS EVERGRANDE TO AVOID NEAR-TERM DEFAULT ON BONDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Avoiding a Crash

The Chinese have taken a stand
Regarding the firm, Evergrande
They’ve added more cash
Avoiding a crash
And now feel they’ve got things in hand

So, now all eyes turn to the Fed
And tapering timing, instead
The question at hand
Is can they withstand
Slow growth while still moving ahead?

Fear was palpable on Monday as China Evergrande missed an interest payment and concerns grew that a major disruption in Chinese debt markets, with the ability to spread elsewhere, was around the corner.  Yesterday, however, investors collectively decided that the world was not, in fact, going to end, and dip buyers got to work supporting equity markets.  The buyers’ faith has been rewarded as last night, the PBOC added net CNY70 billion to the markets to help tide over financing issues.  In addition, an oddly worded statement was released that Evergrande had addressed the interest payment due tomorrow via private negotiations with bondholders.  (Critically, that doesn’t mean they paid, just that the bondholders aren’t going to sue for repayment, hence avoiding a bankruptcy filing.)  As is always the case in a situation of this nature, nothing has actually changed at Evergrande so they are still bankrupt with a massive amount of debt that they will never repay in full, but no government, whether communist or democratic, ever wants to actually deal with the problem and liquidate.  This is the enduring lesson of Lehman Brothers.

Which means…it’s Fed day!  As we all know, this afternoon at 2:00 the FOMC will release the statement with their latest views and 30 minutes later, Chairman Powell will face the press.  At this time, the topic of most interest to everyone is the timing of the Fed’s reduction in asset purchases, aka tapering.  When we last left this story (prior to the Fed’s quiet period a week and a half ago, pretty much every Fed regional president (Kashkari excluded) and a few minor governors had indicated that tapering was appropriate soon.  On the other hand, the power center, Powell, Brainerd and Williams, had said no such thing, but had admitted that the conversation had begun.

You may recall that at the August FOMC meeting, the Fed indicated that the goal of “substantial further progress” had not yet been met with regard to the maximum employment mandate, although they begrudgingly admitted that the inflation side of the coin had been achieved.  (As an aside, while there has never been an answer to the question of how long an averaging period the Fed would consider with respect to their revamped average inflation target, simple arithmetic shows that if one averages the core PCE data from May 2020 through July 2021, the result is 2.0%.  If the forecast for the August core number, to be released on October 1, is correct at 3.6%, that means that one can head back to March 2020 and still show an average of 2.0%.  And remember, core PCE is not about to collapse back down to 2.0% or lower anytime soon, so this exercise will continue to expand the averaging period.)

Current expectations are that the initial tapering will start in either November or December of this year, and certainly by January 2022.  Clearly, based on the inflation mandate, we are already behind schedule, but the problem the Fed has is that the recent growth data has been far less impressive.  The August NFP data was quite disappointing at 235K, a 500K miss to estimates.  Not only that, while the July data was strong, the June data was also a major miss, which begs the question, was July the aberration or August?  Ask yourself this, will Chairman Powell, who is up for reappointment shortly, tighten policy into an economy where employment growth is slowing?  There is every possibility that tapering is put on hold for a few more months in order to be sure that monetary stimulus withdrawal is not premature.  The fact that a decision like that will only stoke the inflationary fires further will be addressed by an even more strident statement that inflation is transitory, dammit!  My point is, it is not a slam dunk that they announce tapering today.

For a perfect example as to why this is the case, look no further than the ECB, where today we heard another ECB member, the Estonian central bank chief, explain that when the PEPP runs out in March, it would be appropriate to expand the older APP program to pick up the slack.  In other words, they will technically keep their word and let the PEPP expire, but they will not stop QE.  The Fed, ECB and BOJ have all realized that their respective economies are addicted to QE and that withdrawal symptoms will be remarkably painful, so none of them are inclined to go through that process.  Can-kicking remains these central banks’ strongest talent.

OK, to markets ahead of the Fed.  Asia was mixed as the Nikkei (-0.7%) remains under pressure, clearly unimpressed by the BOJ’s ongoing efforts which were reiterated last night after their meeting.  However, Chinese equities (Hang Seng +0.5%, Shanghai +0.4%), not surprisingly, fared better after the liquidity injection.  In Europe, it is all green as further hints that the ECB will let the PEPP lapse in name only has investors confident that monetary support is a permanent situation.  So, the DAX (+0.55%), CAC (+1.1%) and FTSE 100 (+1.2%) are all poppin’.  US futures have also gotten the message and are firmer by about 0.5% this morning.

Bond markets are ever so slightly softer with yields edging up a bit.  Treasuries have been the worst performer although yields are only higher by 1.4bps.  In Europe, Bunds are unchanged while OATs and Gilts have risen 0.5bps each.

Commodity prices, on the other hand, have performed quite well this morning with oil (WTI +1.5%) leading energy higher and base metals (Cu +2.4%, Al +1.6%, Sn +3.6%) all much firmer although gold (0.0%) is not taking part in the fun.  Ags are also firmer this morning as the commodity space is finding buyers everywhere.

The dollar is somewhat softer this morning with NOK (+0.5%) leading the G10 and the rest of the commodity bloc also strong (CAD +0.3%, AUD +0.25%, NZXD +0.25%).  The one true laggard is JPY (-0.3%) which is suffering from the lack of a need for a haven along with general malaise after the BOJ.  In the EMG space, HUF (-0.75%) is the outlier, falling after the central bank raised rates a less than expected 15 basis points after three consecutive 30 basis point hikes, and hinted that despite inflation’s rise, less hikes would be coming in the future.  Away from that, though, there is a mix of gainers and loser with the commodity bloc strong (CLP +0.45%, ZAR +0.4%, RUB +0.4%) while commodity importers are suffering (INR -0.35%, PHP -0.25%, PLN -0.2%).

Ahead of the Fed we see Existing Home Sales (exp 5.89M), but really, look for a quiet market until 2:00 and the FOMC statement.  My view is they will be less hawkish than the market seems to expect, and I think that will be a negative for the dollar, but at this point, all we can do is wait.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Severely Distraught

At Jackson Hole, Powell explained
Inflation goals have been attained
But joblessness still
Is high, so they will
Go slow ere their bond buying’s waned

The market heard slow and they thought
The stock market had to be bought
So, prices keep rising
And it’s not surprising
The hawks are severely distraught

In my absence, clearly the biggest story has been Chairman Powell’s Jackson Hole speech, where he promised at some point that the Fed would begin to taper their bond purchases, but that it was still a bit too early to do so.  He admitted that inflation had achieved their target but was still quite concerned over the employment portion of the Fed’s mandate, hence the ongoing delay in the tapering.  And perhaps he was prescient as after Jackson Hole the NFP number was a massively disappointing miss, just 235K vs 733K median forecast.  And to be clear, that number was well below the lowest forecast of 70 estimates.  The point is, the evolution of the economy is clearly not adhering to the views expressed by many, if not most, FOMC members.  We have begun to see significant reductions in GDP growth forecasts for the second half of the year, with major investment banks all cutting their forecasts and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow number falling to a remarkably precise 3.661% for Q3.

With this as a backdrop, it can be no surprise that the dollar has fallen dramatically during the past two weeks.  For instance, in the G10, NOK (+4.2%) and NZD (+4.2%) both led the way higher as commodity prices rebounded, oil especially, and the US interest rates fell.  In fact, the only currency to underperform the dollar since my last note has been the Japanese yen (-0.15%), which is essentially unchanged.  The story is the same in the EMG space with virtually every currency rising led by ZAR (+6.9%) and BRL (+4.1%).  In fact, only Argentina’s peso (-0.65%) managed to decline over the previous two weeks.  The point is, the belief in a stronger dollar, based on the idea of the Fed tapering QE and then eventually raising interest rates, has come a cropper.  The question is, where do we go from here?

With Jay in the mirror, rearview
It’s Christine’s time, now, to come through
On Thursday we’ll hear
If she’s set to steer
The ECB toward Waterloo

As the market walks in after the Labor Day holiday in the US, we are seeing the beginnings of a correction of the past two week’s price action, at least in the FX markets.  Surveying the overnight data shows a minor dichotomy in Germany, where IP (+1.0%) rose a bit more than expected although the ZEW Surveys were both softer than expected.  Meanwhile, Eurozone GDP grew at a slightly better than previously reported 2.2% quarterly rate in Q2, although that does not include the most recent wave of delta variant imposed lockdowns.  In other words, we are no longer observing either uniform strength or weakness in the data, with different parts of each national economy being impacted very differently by Covid-19.  One other thing to note here is the decline in support for the ruling CDU party in Germany where elections will be held in less than two weeks.  It seems that despite 16 years of relative prosperity there, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the populace is looking for a change.  This matters to the FX markets as a change in German economic policy priorities is going to have a major impact on the Eurozone, and by extension the euro.  Of course, at this point, it is too early to tell just what that impact may be.

Of more immediate interest to the market will be Thursday’s ECB meeting, where, while policy settings will not be altered, all eyes and ears will be on Madame Lagarde to understand if the ECB, too, is now beginning to consider a tapering of its QE purchases.  Last week, CPI data from the Eurozone printed at 3.0%, its highest level since September 2008, and well above the ECB’s 2.0% target (albeit not quite as far above as in the US).  This has some of the punditry starting to expect that the ECB, too, is ready to begin to taper QE.  However, the Eurozone growth impulse remains significantly slower than that in the US, and with the area unemployment rate still running at an uncomfortably high 7.6%, (much higher in the PIGS), it remains difficult to see why they would be so keen to begin removing accommodation.  Given the ECB storyline, similar to the Fed, is that inflation is transitory, there is no reason to believe the ECB is getting set to move soon.  Rather, I expect that although the PEPP may well end next March on schedule, it will simply be replaced with either an extension or expansion of the original APP, and likely both.  The reality is that the bulk of the Eurozone would see a collapse in growth without the ongoing support of the ECB.

Turning away from that happy news, a quick survey of markets shows that equities in Asia have continued their recent strong performance (Nikkei +0.9%, Hang Seng +0.7%, Shanghai +1.5%), all of which have rallied sharply in the past two weeks.  Europe, however, has not embraced today’s data, or is nervous about potential ECB action, as markets there are a bit softer (DAX -0.3%, CAC -0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.4%).  US futures markets are essentially unchanged at this hour, continuing their recent very slow grind higher.

Of more interest today is the bond market, where Treasury yields have rallied 4.1 basis points and we are seeing higher yields throughout Europe as well (Bunds +3.9bps, OATs +4.3bps, Gilts +3.2bps).  During my break, yields have managed to rally 10bps (including today) which really tells you that the market is still completely in thrall to the transitory story.  Either that, or the Fed continues to absorb any excess paper around.  However, higher yields seem to be helping the dollar more than other currencies despite similar size movements.

While the movement has not been significant, especially compared to the dollar weakness seen during the past two weeks, we are seeing strength in the dollar vs G10 currencies (AUD -0.5%, CAD -0.4%); EMG currencies (ZAR -0.6%, TRY -0.6%); and commodities (WTI -0.6%, Au -0.7%, Cu -1.1%).  Looking at today’s price action, it appears that US rate movement has been the dominant driver.

On the data front, it is a remarkably quiet week with just a handful of numbers:

Wednesday JOLTs Job Openings 10.0M
Fed’s Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 335K
Continuing Claims 2744K
PPI 0.6% (8.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (6.6% Y/Y)

Source: Bloomberg

We also hear from six Fed speakers, with NY President Williams the most important voice.  But thus far, the Fed’s messaging has been quite effective as they continue to assuage fixed income investors with the transitory tale and thus interest rates remain near their longer-term lows.  While at some point I expect this narrative to lose its hold on the investment community, it does not appear to be an imminent threat.

While I was out, the market flipped its views from concern over tapering leading to higher interest rates, to when tapering comes, it will be “like watching paint dry”*.  FX investors and traders determined there was no cause for a much stronger dollar, and so the buck gave back previous gains and now sits back in the middle of its trading range.  As such, we need to search for the next potential catalyst to change big picture views.  While my money is on the collapse of the transitory narrative, and ensuing dollar weakness, you can be certain the Fed will fight hard to keep that story going.  In other words, I expect that the trading range will remain intact for the foreseeable future.  Trade accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

*June 15, 2017 comments from then Fed Chair Janet Yellen regarding the normalization of Fed policy and the balance sheet, where she described the process as similar to watching paint dry.  It turns out, that policy process was a bit more exciting, especially in Q4 2018 when equity markets fell 20% and Chair Powell was forced to abandon that policy.

Beyond His Control

Next week look for Jay to extol
His record, when in Jackson Hole,
He offers the view
Equality’s skew
Is mostly beyond his control

Now keep that in mind when you hear
That China has also made clear
Division of wealth
Is better for health
Thus, taxes will soon be severe

In a market with muted price action across all asset classes overnight, two stories this morning seem to encapsulate the current zeitgeist.  First is the fact that, in what can only be described as extraordinarily ironic, when Chairman Powell regales us next week regarding the evils of inequality and all the things the Fed is heroically doing to right those wrongs, he will be doing so from the seat of the richest county in the United States.  That’s right, Teton County has the nation’s highest per capita income from wealth.  Apparently, irony is second only to hypocrisy when considering political commentary.  And make no mistake, the Fed is completely political.

The other story of note, and one that follows directly from the recent Chinese attacks on their own successful tech companies, is that China has now made clear that wealth in the country needs to be more evenly divided.  Given the fact that China is ostensibly a communist country, or at the very least clearly run by a communist party, it also seems a bit ironic that there is so much concern over wealth inequality.  One would have thought the Gini coefficient would have been far lower there.  But I guess, equality is the new freedom, a valuable political slogan if not an actual goal.  The reason this matters, however, is that it implies the recent Chinese efforts to rein in certain highly successful companies, and especially their high profile bosses, has no end in sight.  From an investment point of view, it appears the Chinese equity markets are going to have any gains severely impeded.  Look, too, for new taxes on estates and wealth there, all of which will have a decided impact on international investing.

Remarkably, beyond those stories, it is difficult to come up with anything that is truly meaningful regarding markets today.  The RBNZ did wind up leaving interest rates on hold, backing away from the expected 0.25% increase, as the fact that the nation has reverted to a complete and total lockdown due to the single case of Covid that was detected last week, has given them pause on their views of future growth.  NZD (-0.4%) is the worst G10 currency performer today on the back of that policy activity (or lack thereof), but given the tiny size of the nation, it has not had any other significant impact.

Inflation data was released in both Europe (2.2%, 0.7% core) as expected and the UK (CPI 2.0%, 1.9% core) with both of those readings 0.2% lower than forecast.  So, while inflation is seemingly running quite hot in the US, it appears to have potentially plateaued across the pond.  While we can be certain that the ECB is not going to change its current policy stance anytime soon, there has been a great deal more discussion regarding the BOE.  Hawkish vibes were emanating from Threadneedle Street recently, but if inflation is not going to rise further, then those views may soon be called into question.  However, there is a case to be made that this is a temporary lull in the CPI data and that looking ahead, readings will push up toward 4.0%, at least, as previously announced price increases start to be felt throughout the economy.  Thus far, the FX impact from this data has been essentially nil, but equity markets in Europe and the UK are all under modest pressure this morning (DAX -0.1%, CAC -0.35%, FTSE 100 -0.35%).

As to markets elsewhere, Asia saw some rebounding from its recent travails, with the Nikkei (+0.6%), Hang Seng (+0.5%) and Shanghai (+1.1%) all having their first positive day in five sessions.  We also saw a reversal in some currency activity there as KRW (+0.7%) was the best performer after comments from the central bank describing the recent weakness as an overshoot and that the Finance Ministry is monitoring things closely.

A look at bonds shows that Treasury yields have backed up 1.2bps this morning after having fallen by about 10bps in the prior three sessions.  European sovereigns, though, continue to find support as the ECB continues to hoover up virtually all the paper issued.  As such, Bunds, OATs and Gilts have all seen yields slip about 1 basis point.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed this morning, with movement in the G10, aside from kiwi’s decline, pretty minimal, <0.2%, although with an equal number slightly lower and higher.  EMG currencies show the same pattern, with most movement quite limited and only one notable laggard (TRY -0.7%) which also seems to be a trading response to its recent strong rally (+3.3% in the past 5 sessions).  In other words, there is very little to discuss at all today.

On the data front, after yesterday’s disappointing Retail Sales number (-1.1%, exp -0.3%), this morning brings Housing Starts (exp 1600K) and Building Permits (1610K) and then this afternoon, we get the potentially most interesting news, the FOMC Minutes.

On the Fedspeak front, thus far, the only three FOMC members who have not advocated for tapering are Powell, Williams and Brainerd, as even Kashkari, yesterday, said he could see the case for tapering by early next year.  But Powell gave no indication he is ready to go down that road, so barring an insurrection at the Fed, one has to believe any tighter policy is still some ways away.  Today, we hear from Bullard, but he has already made his tapering bona fides known.

And that is really all there is today.  It truly has all the hallmarks of a summer doldrums day, with limited price action and limited news, unless something shocking comes from the Minutes.  My money is on nothing, and a range trading day ahead of us.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Chorus has Grown

T’was only a few months ago
When Kaplan from Dallas said, whoa
The time has arrived
Where growth has revived
And bond buying needs to go slow

Since then, though, the chorus has grown
As seven more members have shown
That they all agree
It’s time for QE
To end and leave markets alone

We continue to hear from more FOMC members that it is time to taper the Fed’s purchases of both Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.  Last Wednesday, of course, the big news was that Vice-Chairman Richard Clarida came out so hawkishly in his comments, not only calling for tapering bond purchases but also raising rates sooner than the median forecast had anticipated.  Yesterday, three Fed speakers were all on the same page, with Boston’s Eric Rosengren the newest name added to the tapering crew (Bostic and Barkin were already known taperers.)  That takes the count to at least eight (Clarida, Bostic, Barkin, Rosengren, Bullard, Daly, Waller and Kaplan) with the two most hawkish FOMC members, Loretta Mester and Esther George, on the docket for today and tomorrow respectively.  It is not unreasonable, based on their respective histories, to expect both of them to call for tapering as well.  That would make ten of the seventeen members as confirmed supporters of the process.

The question is, will that be enough?  The Fed’s power core for the last several years has been concentrated in four members, Powell, Clarida, Williams and Brainerd.  Of this group, only Clarida has publicly proclaimed it has come time to taper.  And potentially, his importance is diminishing as his term ends within months and he is seen as highly unlikely to be reappointed.  Rather, the talk of the town is that Chairman Powell is also losing fans in the Senate with respect to his reappointment, and that Governor Lael Brainerd is the new leading candidate to become Fed Chair.  As it happens, neither of those two have come out for tapering soon, and in fact, last week, Ms Brainerd was adamant in her belief it was far too early to do so.  The point is, the Fed has never been a democratic institution although it is an extremely political one.  Having a majority of members agree on a view only matters if it is a majority of the right members.  By my count, that is not yet the case.  Perhaps come Jackson Hole in two plus weeks, we will hear the Chairman agree, but tapering is not yet a done deal.

Traders, however, see the world very differently than pundits, and certainly very differently than the Fed itself.  And what has become very clear in the past several days is that traders are increasingly placing bets that tapering is coming…and coming soon.  The combination of all those Fed speakers talking about tapering, the very strong NFP data as well as yesterday’s JOLTs blowout (>10 million jobs are open), and the constant stream of stories about rising wages (just this morning a BBG story on JPM raising salaries to compete to hold onto staff is simply the latest) have been sufficient to logically conclude that it is time for the Fed to begin removing accommodation.  Hence, Treasury yields have backed up nearly 20 basis points from the lows seen last Wednesday morning, the dollar has risen against all its counterparts and the price of oil has fallen by more than 4%.

Looking ahead, the question becomes, is this likely to continue?  Or have we reached a peak?  It is not unreasonable to assume that both George and Mester will call for tapering this week.  It is also not unreasonable to assume that the CPI data tomorrow is going to point to a still rising price environment, whether it ticks slightly higher or lower than last month’s 5.4% headline print.  Any number in that vicinity remains far above the Fed’s average target of 2.0%.  The point is that there is nothing obvious on the horizon that should cause the tapering hawks to back off, at least not until the end of the month.  As such, hedgers need to be prepared for a continuation of the recent price action.

Meanwhile, a look at today’s markets shows that these recent trends remain intact.  While Asian equity markets continue to follow their own drummer (Nikkei +0.25%, Hang Seng +1.25%, Shanghai +1.0%), European bourses continue to struggle (DAX +0.2%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.1%) as do US futures with all three major indices either side of unchanged.  Asia seems to be benefitting from the view that the PBOC is preparing to ease policy further as China responds to the increased lockdowns due to the delta variant of Covid that has been spreading quite rapidly there, in addition to the fact that the Chinese authorities have not named a new target in its seemingly random crackdown of successful companies.

Bond markets, while edging higher today, have been generally losing ground.  So, while Treasury yields are lower by 0.5bps this morning, they are at 1.32%, well off the lows seen last week.  European sovereigns are generally a touch firmer as well, with yields down by between 0.5bps and 1 bp but they, too, have seen yields climb back a bit lately.

Commodity prices, which have been under severe pressure, are rebounding slightly this morning, although this has the appearance of a trading bounce more than a sea change in view.  Commodity prices are likely to be amongst the hardest hit if the Fed really does start to tighten policy.  But this morning, oil (+2.0%) has rebounded nicely although gold (0.0%) has been unable to bounce from yesterday’s massive sell-off.  Copper (+0.65%) is leading base metals modestly higher and ags have bumped up a bit as well.

As to the dollar, right now it is arguably slightly stronger overall, but only just as there are a mix of gainers and losers vs. the greenback.  In the G10 space, the euro (-0.1%) is continuing toward its test of key support at 1.1704, albeit quite slowly.  The entire space, though, is +/- 0.2% or less, which is indicative of position adjustments rather than news driven activity.

EMG currencies are also mixed with KRW (-0.5%) the weakest of the bunch on the back of concerns over the impact of the delta variant as well as equity market outflows by international investors.  PLN (-0.4%) is the next weakest as central bank comments seemed to delay the timing of a mooted rate hike.  On the flip side, TRY (+0.6%) is the leader as Unemployment data there was released at a much lower than expected 10.6%.

Data today showed that Small Business Optimism has suffered lately with the NFIB Index falling to 99.7.  At 8:30 we see Nonfarm Productivity (exp 3.2%) and Unit Labor Costs (+1.0%), although it is unlikely either will have a big market impact.  Arguably, market participants are all waiting for tomorrow’s CPI data for the next big piece of news.

At this point, the dollar’s modest uptrend remains in place and I see no reason to believe that will change.  At least not until we hear differently from Powell or the data turns much worse.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Jay Powell’s Story

This weekend the Chinese reported
That PMI growth has been thwarted
This likely implies
They’ll increase the size
Of stimulus, when all is sorted

Meanwhile, as the week doth progress
Investors will need to assess
If Jay Powell’s story
About transitory
Inflation means more joblessness

The conventional five-day work week clearly does not apply to China.  On a regular basis, economic data is released outside of traditional working hours as was the case this past weekend when both sets of PMI data, official and Caixin (targeting small companies), were reported.  And, as it happens, the picture was not very pretty.  In fact, it becomes easier to understand why the PBOC reduced the reserve requirement for banks several weeks ago as growth on the mainland is quite evidently slowing.  The damage can be seen not only in the headline manufacturing numbers (PMI 50.4, Caixin 50.3) but also in the underlying pieces which showed, for example, new export orders fell to 47.7, well below the expansion/contraction line.

While it is one of Xi’s key goals to wean China from the dominance of exports as an economic driver, the reality is that goal has come nowhere near being met.  China remains a mercantilist, export focused economy, where growth is defined by its export sector.  The fact that manufacturing is slowing and export orders shrinking does not bode well for China’s economy in the second half of the year.  To the extent that the delta variant of Covid is responsible for slowing growth elsewhere in the world, apparently, China has not escaped the impact as they claim.

However, in today’s upside-down world, weakening Chinese growth is seen as a positive for risk assets.  The ongoing ‘bad news is good’ meme continues to drive markets and this weaker Chinese data was no exception.  Clearly, investors believe that the Chinese are going to add more stimulus, whether fiscal or monetary being irrelevant, and have responded by snapping up risk assets.  The result was higher equity prices in Asia (Nikkei +1.8%, Hang Seng +1.1%, Shanghai +2.0%) as well as throughout Europe (CAC +0.8%, FTSE 100 +0.95%, DAX +0.1%) with the DAX having the most trouble this morning.  And don’t worry, US futures are all higher by around 0.5% as I type.

But it was not just Chinese equities that benefitted last night, investors snapped up Chinese 10-year bonds as well, driving yields lower by 5bps as expectations of further policy ease are widespread in the investment community there. That performance is juxtaposed versus what we are witnessing in developed market bonds, where yields are actually slightly firmer, although by less than 1 basis point, as the risk-on attitude encourages investors to shift from fixed income to equity weightings.

Of course, all this price action continues to reflect the fact that the Fed, last week, was not nearly as hawkish as many had expected with the tapering question remaining wide open, and no timetable whatsoever with regard to rate movement.  And that brings us to the month’s most important data point, Non-farm Payrolls, which will be released this Friday.  At this early point in the week, the median forecast, according to Bloomberg, is 900K with the Unemployment Rate falling to 5.7%.

Given we appear to be at an inflection point in some FOMC members’ thinking, I believe Friday’s number may have more importance than an August release would ordinarily demand.  Recall, the recent trend of US data has been good, but below expectations.  Another below expectations outcome here would almost certainly result in a strong equity and bond rally as investors would conclude that the tapering story was fading.  After all, the Fed seems highly unlikely to begin tapering into a softening economy.  Last week’s GDP data (6.5%, exp 8.5%) and core PCE (3.5%, exp 3.7%) are just the two latest examples of a slowing growth impulse in the US.  That is not the time when the Fed would historically tighten policy, and I don’t believe this time will be different.

There is, however, a lot of time between now and Friday, with the opportunity for many new things to occur.  Granted, it is the beginning of August, a time when most of Europe goes on vacation along with a good portion of the Wall Street crowd and investment community as a whole, so the odds of very little happening are high.  But recall that market liquidity tends to be much less robust during August as well, so any new information could well lead to an outsized impact.  And finally, historically, August is one of the worst month for US equities, with an average decline of 0.12% over the past 50 years.

Keeping this in mind, what else has occurred overnight?  While bad news may be good for stock prices, as it implies lower rates for even longer, slowing growth is not an energy positive as evidenced by WTI’s (-1.8%) sharp decline.  Interestingly, gold (-0.25%) is not benefitting either, as arguably the reduced inflation story implies less negative real yields.  More surprisingly, copper (+0.7%) and Aluminum (+0.6%) are both firmer this morning, which is a bit incongruous on a weaker growth story.

As to the dollar, it is broadly weaker, albeit not by much, with G10 moves all less than 0.2% although we have seen some much larger gains in the EMG space.  On top of that list sits ZAR (+1.15%) and TRY (+1.1).  The former is quite surprising given the PMI data fell by a record amount to 43.5, 14 points below last month’s reading as rioting in the wake of the Zuma arrest had a huge negative impact on business sentiment and expectations.  Turkey, on the other hand, showed a solid gain in PMI data, which bodes well for the economy amid slowing growth in many other places.  After those two, the gains were far more modest with HUF (+0.5%) and RUB (+0.35%) the next best performers with both the forint and the ruble benefitting from more hawkish central bank comments.

Obviously, it is a big data week as follows:

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.9
ISM Prices Paid 88.0
Construction Spending 0.5%
Tuesday Factory Orders 1.0%
Wednesday ADP Employment 650K
ISM Services 60.5
Thursday Initial Claims 382K
Coninuing Claims 3260K
Trade Balance -$74.0B
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 900K
Private Payrolls 750K
Manufacturing Payrolls 28K
Unemployment Rate 5.7%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.9% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.7%
Consumer Credit $22.0B

Source: Bloomberg

Beyond the data, surprisingly, we only hear from three Fed speakers as many must be on holiday.  But at this point, the market is pretty sure that it is only a matter of time before the Fed starts to taper, so unless they want to really change that message, which I don’t believe is the case, they can sit on the sidelines for now.  of course, that doesn’t mean they are going to taper, just that the market expects it.

While the dollar is opening the week on its back foot, I don’t expect much follow through weakness, although neither do I expect much strength.  I suspect many participants will be biding their time ahead of Friday’s report unless there is some exogenous signal received.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Tapering Walk

For those who expected a hawk
When Powell completed his talk
T’was somewhat depressing
That Jay was professing
They’d not walk the tapering walk

Then last night, from China, we learned
A falling stock market concerned
The powers that be
Thus, they did agree
To pander to those who’d been burned

Apparently, the Fed is not yet ready to alter its policy in any way.  That is the message Chairman Powell delivered yesterday through the FOMC statement and following press conference.  Though it seems clear there was a decent amount of discussion regarding the tapering of asset purchases, in the end, not only was there no commitment on the timing of such tapering, there was no commitment on the timing of any potential decision.  Instead, Chairman Powell explained that while progress had been made toward their goals, “substantial further progress” was still a ways away, especially regarding the employment situation.

When asked specifically about the fact that inflation was currently much higher than the FOMC’s target and whether or not that met the criteria for averaging 2%, he once again assured us that recent price rises would be transitory.  Remember, the dictionary definition of transitory is simply, ‘not permanent’.  Of course, the question is exactly what does the Fed mean is not going to be permanent?  It was here that Powell enlightened us most.  He explained that while price rises that have already occurred would likely not be reversed, he was concerned only with the ongoing pace of those price rises.  The Fed’s contention is that the pace of rising prices will slow down and fall back to levels seen prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Of course, no Powell Q&A would be complete without a mention of the “tools” the Fed possesses in the event their inflation views turn out to be wrong.  Jay did not disappoint here, once again holding that on the off chance inflation seems not to be transitory, they will address it appropriately.  This, however, remains very questionable.  As the tools of which they speak, higher interest rates, will have a decisively negative impact on asset markets worldwide, it is difficult to believe the Fed will raise rates aggressively enough to combat rising inflation and allow asset markets to fall sharply.  In order to combat inflation effectively, history has shown real interest rates need to be significantly positive, which means if inflation is running at 5%, nominal rates above 6% will be required.  Ask yourself how the global economy, with more than $280 Trillion of debt outstanding, will respond to interest rates rising 600 basis points. Depression anyone?

At any rate, the upshot of the FOMC meeting was that the overall impression was one of a more dovish hue than expected going in, and the market response was exactly as one might expect.  Equity markets rebounded in the US and have continued that path overnight.  Bond markets rallied a bit in the US, although with risk appetite back in vogue, have ceded some ground this morning.  Commodity prices are rising and the dollar is under pressure.

Speaking of risk appetite, the other key story this week had been China and the apparent crackdown on specific industries like payments and education.  While Tuesday night’s comments by the Chinese helped to stabilize markets there, that was clearly not enough.  So, last night we understand that the China Securities Regulatory Commission gathered a group of bankers to explain that China was not seeking to disengage from the world nor prevent its companies from accessing capital markets elsewhere.  They went on to explain that recent crackdowns on tech and educational companies were designed to help those companies “grow in the proper manner”, a statement that could only be made by a communist apparatchik.  But in the end, the assurances given were effective as equity markets in Hong Kong and China were sharply higher and those specific companies that had come under significant pressure rebounded on the order of 7%-10%.  So, clearly there is no reason to worry.

Now, I’m sure you all feel better that things are just peachy everywhere.  The combination of Chairman Powell removing any concerns over inflation getting out of hand and the Chinese looking out for our best interests regarding the method of growth in its economy has led to a strongly positive risk sentiment.  As such, it should be no surprise that equity prices are higher around the world.  Asia started things (Nikkei +0.75%, Hang Seng +3.3%, Shanghai +1.5%) and Europe has followed suit (DAX +0.45%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.9%).  US futures have not quite caught the fever with the NASDAQ (-0.2%) lagging, although the other two main indices are slightly higher.

In the bond market, investors are selling as they no longer feel the need of the relative safety there, with Treasury yields higher by 3bps, while Bunds (+2bps), AOTs (+1bp) and Gilts (+2.7bps) are all under pressure.  But remember, yields remain at extremely low levels and real yields remain deeply negative, so a few bps here is hardly a concern.

Commodity prices have waived off concerns over the delta variant slowing the economy down and are higher across the board.  Oil (+0.25%), gold (+0.85%), copper (+1.1%) and the entire agricultural space are embracing the renewed growth narrative.

Finally, the dollar, as would be expected during a clear risk-on session and in the wake of the Fed explaining that tapering is not coming to a screen near you anytime soon, is lower across the board.  In the G10 space, NZD (+0.6%) and NOK (+0.55%) are leading the way higher, which is to be expected given the movement in commodity prices.  CAD (+0.45%) is next in line.  But even the yen (+0.1%) has edged higher despite the positive risk attitude.  One could easily describe this as a pure dollar sell-off.

In the emerging markets, HUF (+0.85%) is the leader as traders are back focused on the hawkishness of the central bank and an imminent rate hike, now ignoring the lack of EU funding that remains an open issue.  ZAR (+0.8%) is next on the commodity story with KRW (+0.7%) in the bronze medal position as exporters took advantage of the weakest won in nearly a year to sell dollars and then Samsung’s earnings blew away expectations on the huge demand for semiconductors, and funds flowed into the equity market.

We get our first look at Q2 GDP this morning (exp 8.5%) with the Consumption component expected to rise 10.5% on a SAAR basis.  We also see Initial Claims (385K) and Continuing Claims (3183K).  Recall, last week Initial Claims were a much higher than expected 419K, so weakness here could easily start to cause some additional concern at the Fed and delay the tapering discussion even further.  With the FOMC behind us, we can look forward to a great deal more Fedspeak, although it appears many of the committee members are on vacation, as we only have two scheduled in the next week, and they come tomorrow.  I imagine that calendar will fill in as time passes.

Putting it all together shows that any Fed hawks remain in the distinct minority, and that the party will continue for the foreseeable future.  Overall, the dollar has been trading in a range and had been weakly testing the top of that range.  It appears that move is over, and we seem likely to drift lower for the next several sessions at least, but there is no breakout on the horizon.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Tougher for Jay

The Fed once again will convey
Inflation just ain’t here to stay
But every release
That shows an increase
Makes life that much tougher for Jay

Meanwhile, Chinese comments last night
Explained everything was alright
They further suggested
That more be invested
To underscore risk appetite

As we await the FOMC meeting’s conclusion this afternoon, markets have generally remained calm, even those in China.  Apparently, 20% is the limit as to how far any government will allow equity markets to decline. After three raucous sessions in China and Hong Kong, as investors fled from those companies under attack review by the Chinese government for their alleged regulatory transgressions, the Chinese press was out in force explaining that there were no long term problems and that both the economy and stock markets were just fine and quite safe.  “Recent declines are unsustainable” claimed the Securities Daily, a state-owned financial paper.  We shall see if that is the case, especially since there is no indication that the government has finished its regulatory crackdown across different industries.

However, the carnage of the past several sessions was not evident last night as the Hang Seng (+1.5%) rebounded nicely while Shanghai (-0.6%) managed to close 1.5% above the lows seen early in the session.  It hardly seems coincidental that the Chinese reacted to the declines after a 20% fall as that seems to be the number that defines concern.  Recall, in Q4 2018, Chairman Powell, who had been adamant there were no issues and was blissfully allowing the Fed’s balance sheet to slowly shrink while simultaneously raising interest rates made a quick 180˚ turn on Boxing Day when the S&P’s decline had reached 20%.  It seems that no central banker or government is willing to allow a bear market on their watch, even those that need never face the voters.

While forecasting the future is extremely difficult, it seems likely that if President Xi turns his sights on another industry, (Real Estate anyone?) then we could easily see another wave lower across these markets.  While instability is not desired, when push comes to shove, Xi’s ideology trumps all other concerns, and if he believes it is being threatened by the growth and power of an industry, you can be certain that industry will be targeted.  Caveat investor!

As to the Fed, the universal expectation is there will be no policy changes, so interest rates will remain the same and the asset purchase program will continue at its monthly pace of $120 billion.  The real questions center around tapering (will they mention it in the statement and how will Powell address it in the press conference) and the nature of inflation.  While clearly the latter will be described as transitory, will there be some acknowledgement that it is running hotter than they ever expected?

At Powell’s Congressional testimony several weeks ago, he was clear that “substantial further progress” toward their goals of maximum employment and average inflation stably at 2.0%, had not yet been made.  Has that progress been made in the interim?  I think not.  This implies, to me at least, that there is no policy change in the offing for a long time to come.  While there are many analysts who are looking for a more hawkish turn from the Fed in response to the clearly rising price pressures, the hallmark of this (and every previous) committee is that they will stick to their narrative regardless of the situation on the ground.  I expect they will ignore the much higher than expected inflation prints and that when asked at the press conference, Powell will strongly maintain inflation is transitory and will be falling soon.  Monday, I explained my concern that CPI is likely to moderate for a short period of time before heading sharply higher again, and that Powell and the Fed will take that moderation as victory.  Nothing has changed that view, nor the view that the Fed will fall far behind the curve when it comes to fighting inflation.  But that is the future.  For now, the Fed is very likely to remain calm and stick to their story.

OK, with that out of the way, we can peruse the markets, which, as I mentioned above, have been vey quiet awaiting the FOMC.  The other key Asian market, the Nikkei (-1.4%) fell overnight after having rallied during the Chinese fireworks, as the spread of the delta variant of Covid-19 and ongoing lockdowns in Japan have started to concern investors.

Europe, on the other hand, is all green on the screen led by the CAC (+0.75%) with both the DAX (+0.2%) and FTSE 100 (+0.2%) up similar but lesser amounts.  You’re hard pressed to point to the data as a driver as the little we saw showed German Import prices rise 12.9%, the highest level since September 1981, while French Consumer Confidence fell a tick to 101.  Hardly the stuff of bullish sentiment.  US futures, currently, sit essentially unchanged as traders and investors await Powell’s pronouncements.

The bond market is mixed this morning, with Treasury yields edging higher by 1 basis point while most of Europe is seeing a very modest decline in yields, less than 1bp.  Essentially, this is the price action of positions being adjusted ahead of key data.

Commodity prices show oil rising (+0.5%) but very little movement anywhere else in the space with both metals and agricultural prices either side of unchanged on the day.

Lastly, the dollar is ever so slightly stronger vs. most G10 counterparts, with AUD (-0.25%) and NZD (-0.2%) the laggards as concern grows over the economic impact of the ongoing spread of the delta variant.  CAD (+0.25%) is the one gainer of note, seemingly following oil’s lead.  EMG currencies have had a more mixed session with KRW (-0.4%) the worst performer on the back of rising Covid cases and ongoing concerns over what is happening in China.  The only other laggard of note is HUF (-0.3%) which is still suffering from its ongoing political fight with the EU and the result that EU Covid aid has been indefinitely delayed.  On the plus side, RUB (+0.35%) is following oil while CNY (+0.2%) seems to be benefitting from the calm imposed on markets last night.  Otherwise, movement in this space has been minimal.

All eyes are on the FOMC at 2:00 this afternoon, with only very minor data releases before then.  My read is that the market is looking for a slightly hawkish tilt to the Fed as a response to the rapidly rising inflation.  However, I disagree, and feel the risk is a more dovish than expected outcome. The fact that US economic data continues to mildly disappoint will weigh on any decision.  If I am correct, I think the dollar will have the opportunity to sink a bit further, but only a bit.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Time to Flee

No longer will President Xi
Allow billionaires to run free
His edict last night
Proved his grip is tight
And showed traders t’was time to flee

The biggest story overnight was the continued crackdown by Chinese authorities on any private industry that has developed a measure of power in the Chinese economy.  While the tale of Didi Chuxing, the Chinese Uber, was seen as a warning, apparently, the government is becoming more impatient over the pace of adherence to the new view.  Briefly, Didi went public and then several days later the Chinese government forced them to remove their app from public availability and crushed their business under the pretext of data security.  Didi shares fell sharply.  Last night the government explained that private education companies, which were teaching the CCP curriculum, were to cease being profit-making companies “hijacked by capitalism”, and essentially will be forced to delist.  It can be no surprise that the prices of these shares fell dramatically, in one case by 98/%, as investors flee as quickly as possible.  This resulted in sharp declines across all indices there with the Hang Seng (-4.1%) and Shanghai (-2.35%) and led to a general risk-off tone.

Apparently, President Xi is no longer willing to accept that anybody else in China can have some measure of power or influence beyond his control.  Other changes involve the payment networks Alipay and Wechat, which are on the verge of being subsumed by China’s upcoming CBDC, the e-yuan.  Exclusive rights for things like music licenses are being removed and essentially, it appears that capitalism with Chinese characteristics is morphing into a full-blown state-owned economy.  We cannot be too surprised by this; after all, Xi Jinping has been ruling with an increasingly tighter grip on all segments of the economy and he is a clear adherent to strict communism.  Remember, the definition of communism is that all property is publicly (read government) owned.  We have not seen the last of this process so be careful going forward.

The ECB told us that they
Would no longer stand in the way
Of prices that rise
Until they surmise
That growth has made major headway

Now later this week from the Fed
Some pundits think, shortly ahead,
They’ll slow down their buying
Of bonds, as they’re trying,
To counter, inflation, widespread

Inflation (whether CPI or PCE), is a price series that demonstrates characteristics similar to every other price series like stocks or bonds or currencies.  There are trend movements, there are overshoots in both directions that tend to correct and there are periods of consolidation.  One of the best definitions of a trend is a series that makes either higher lows and higher highs, or conversely, lower highs and lower lows.  In other words, something that is trending higher will typically trade to a new high level and then after a period, pull back somewhat, a normal correction, before moving on to further new highs.  When the uptrend is in force, each high is higher than the last, and, more importantly, each low is higher than the last.  I make this point because I am concerned that when looking at the backgrounds of all the FOMC members, not one of them has any trading history.

This is important because, my sense on the inflation story is that it is quite realistic that we see a slowdown in price growth in the next several months, where 5.4% headline CPI falls to 4.8% and 4.5% and so forth, as this price series goes through a correction just like the stock, bond and currency markets.  Of course, if this is what we see, it is almost guaranteed that Chairman Powell, and his band of merry men (and women) will be all over the tape crowing over the transitory nature of inflation.

Alas, my concern is that given what I believe is a strong uptrend in inflation, this retracement in CPI (and PCE) will stop at a higher level than the previous lows and set itself up for another, more powerful move higher.  In the meantime, the Fed will have waved away any concerns over inflation as they continue to pump unlimited liquidity into the system to run the economy as hot as possible.  After all, in their collective mind, they will have proven inflation is transitory.  However, the next leg higher in CPI and PCE is liable to be far more severe, occurring far more quickly than the Fed expects, and lead to a more permanent unanchoring of inflation expectations.

It will also put the Fed in an even tighter bind than they currently find themselves.  This is because if CPI prints 6%, or 7% or more, the market is far less likely to accept their jawboning as a reason to maintain low yields and high stock prices.  Rather, they will be forced to decide between addressing inflation, which means raising interest rates sharply and significantly impacting, in a very negative way, the real economy, as well as asset markets; or they will have to come up with some other way to measure inflation such that it is not rising at such a ferocious clip but is still seen as credible.  One of their dilemmas is that, politically, inflation is already becoming a problem for the Biden administration, and that is at 5%.  Be prepared for the Misery Index (a Ronald Reagan invention that was the sum of CPI and the Unemployment Rate) to become a popular meme from all of President Biden’s opponents going forward.

Oh yeah, if you think that letting inflation run hot like that is going to goose equity market returns, especially when starting from such incredibly steep valuations, you would be wrong.  History shows that when inflation rises above 5%, equity markets do not provide any type of real hedge.  Let me be clear that this is not going to play out by autumn 2021, but could very well be the case come summer or autumn 2022, a particularly difficult time for the incumbent party in Washington as mid-term elections will be upcoming and the party in power tends to get the blame for economic problems.

What about the dollar you may ask?  In this scenario, the dollar is very likely to suffer greatly, so keep that in mind as you look ahead to your hedging needs for next year and beyond.

In the meantime, the Chinese inspired sell-off has led to some risk concerns, but not (yet) a widespread sell-off.  For instance, the Nikkei (+1.0%) managed to rally in the face of the Chinese equity market declines although, outside Japan, the screens are basically all red in Asia.  European bourses are somewhat lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.25%, FTSE 100 -0.25%) as they respond to the general negative tone in risk as well as a much weaker than expected German IFO reading of 101.2, well down from last month’s reading.  However, these levels are well off the session lows, as are US futures, which are down on the order of -0.25%, although were much lower earlier.

Bond markets are a little more mixed as Treasury yields fall 3.2bps (taking real yields to historic lows of -1.12%) but European sovereigns are more mixed with Bunds unchanged and OATs (+0.8bps) and Gilts (-0.8bps) not giving us any direction.

Commodity prices are mostly lower led by oil (-0.8%), although gold (+0.3%) is showing some positive haven characteristics.  Clearly, declining real yields are also supporting the precious metals.  Foodstuffs are softer (about which everyone except farmers are happy) and base metals are mixed with copper (+1.35%) leading the way higher although both Al (-0.4%) and Sn (-0.3%) are under pressure.

Finally, the dollar is not exhibiting its ordinary risk-off attitude this morning, as it is broadly softer vs. its G10 counterparts with only AUD (-0.1%) down on the day, arguably given concerns of changes with the Chinese economy.  But the rest of the bloc is marginally higher as I type led by SEK (+0.35%) and GBP (+0.3%), both of which are seeming to respond to reopening economies.

In the EMG space, however, there are many more decliners than gainers, led by RUB (-0.45%) on the back of oil’s weakness, but also KRW (-0.4%) which is feeling the pinch of the change in tone from China.  This story is going to be the second biggest driver, after the Fed, for a while, I think.

Of course, this week brings the FOMC meeting, but also Q2 GDP and Core PCE, so there is much to look forward to here.

Today New Home Sales 800K
Tuesday Durable Goods 2.0%
-ex Transport 0.8%
Case Shiller Home Prices 16.2%
Consumer Confidence 124.0
Wednesday FOMC Rate Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
IOER 0.15%
Thursday Q2GDP 8.5%
Initial Claims 380K
Continuing Claims 3192K
Friday Personal Income -0.4%
Personal Spending 0.7%
Core PCE 0.6% (3.7% Y/Y)
Chicago PMI 63.3
Michigan Sentiment 80.8

Source: Bloomberg

Obviously, the Fed is the big story as the data that comes before will not be seen as critical.  The GDP print will be quite interesting, but it is widely accepted that this is the peak and we will be slowing down from here.  However, Friday’s Core PCE number will really be scrutinized as another high print will make Powell’s task that much harder with respect to convincing people that inflation is transitory, especially if their favorite indicator keeps running higher.  Ultimately, I expect we will see a short-term retracement on the rate of inflation before the next leg up and that is the one about which we should all be concerned.

As to today’s market, if equity markets manage to shake off their concerns over Chinese activities, the dollar seems likely to continue with today’s soft tone.  If not, though, look for a rebound.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Progress, Substantial

To everyone who thought the Fed
Was ready to taper, Jay said
‘Til progress, substantial,
Is made, no financial
Adjustments are reckoned ahead

If, prior to yesterday, you were worried that the Fed was getting prepared to taper its asset purchases, stop worrying.  It doesn’t matter what Dallas Fed President Kaplan, or even SF Fed President Daly says about the timing of tapering.  The only ones who matter are Powell, Clarida, Williams and Brainerd, and as the Chairman made clear once again yesterday, they ain’t going to taper anytime soon.

In testimony to the House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jay sent a clear message; nothing is changing until the Fed (read the above-mentioned four) sees “substantial further progress” on their twin goals of maximum employment and an average inflation rate of 2.0%.  Obviously, they have moved a lot closer on the inflation front, with many pundits (present company included) saying that they have clearly exceeded their goal and need to address that issue.  But for as much vitriol as is reserved for our previous president, both the Fed and Congress are clearly all-in on the idea that the 3.5% Unemployment Rate achieved during his term just before the pandemic emerged, which was the lowest in 50 years, is actually the appropriate level of NAIRU.

NAIRU stands for the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment and is the economic acronym for the unemployment rate deemed to be the lowest possible without causing increased wage pressures leading to rising inflation.  For the longest time, this rate was thought to be somewhere in the 4.5%-5.5% area, but in the decade following the GFC, as policymakers pushed to run the economy as hot as possible, the lack of measured consumerinflation, despite record low unemployment, forced economists to rethink their models.  Arguably, it is this change in view that has led to the fascination with MMT and the willingness of the current Fed to continue QE despite the evident froth in the asset markets.  Of course, now those asset markets are not just paper ones like stocks and bonds, but also housing and commodities.

But that is the situation today, despite what appears to be very clear evidence that inflationary pressures are not just high, but longer lasting as well, the Fed has their story and they are sticking to it.  They made this clear to everyone last year with the new policy framework that specifically explains they will remain behind the curve on inflation because they will not adjust policy until they see real data, not surveys, that demonstrate growth is overheating.  Yet, given the Fed’s history, where they have often tightened policy in anticipation of higher inflation and thereby reduced growth, or even caused recessions, the market has learned to expect that type of response.  While I personally believe prudent policy would be to tighten at this time, I take Mr Powell at his word, they are not going to change anytime soon.  I assure you that of the dots in the last dot plot, Jay Powell’s was not one of the ones expecting interest rates to be 0.50% by the end of 2023.

One of the things that makes this so interesting is the difference of this policy with that of an increasing number of other central banks, where recognition of rising inflation is forcing them to rethink their commitment to ZIRP.  Earlier this week, the RBNZ abruptly ended QE and explained rates may rise before the summer is over.  Yesterday, the Bank of Canada reduced its QE purchases by another C$1 billion/week, furthering the progress they started in June, and Governor Macklem made clear that if inflation did persist, they would react appropriately.  Last night it was the Bank of Korea’s turn to explain that economic activity was picking up quickly and inflationary pressures alongside that which would make them consider raising the base rate at their next meeting.  Finally, all eyes are turning toward the BOE as this morning’s employment report showed that the recovery is still picking up pace and that wage growth, at a 7.3% Q/Q rise, is really starting to take off.  Market talk is now focused on whether the Old Lady will be the next to start to tighten.

In truth, the only three central banks that have made clear they are not ready to do so are the big 3, the Fed, ECB and BOJ.  The BOJ meets tonight with no changes to policy expected as they seem to be focused on what they can do to address climate change (my sense is they can have the same success on climate change as they have had on raising inflation, i.e. none).  Next week the ECB will unveil their new framework which seems likely to include the successor to the PEPP as well as their already telegraphed new symmetrical inflation target of 2.0%.  And then the Fed meets the following week, at which point they will work very hard to play down inflation in the statement but will not alter policy regardless.

As you consider the policy changes afoot, as well as the trajectory of inflation, and combine that with your finance 101 models that show inflation undermines the value of a currency in the FX markets, it would lead you to believe that the dollar has real downside opportunity vs. many currencies, just not the euro or the yen.  But markets are fickle, so don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

Turning to today’s activities, while Chinese equity markets performed well (Hang Seng +0.75%, Shanghai +1.0%) after Chinese GDP data was released at 7.9% for Q2, just a tick lower than forecast, and the rest of the data, Retail Sales and Fixed Asset Investment all beat expectations, the rest of the world has been much less exuberant.  For instance, the Nikkei (-1.15%) stumbled along with Australian and New Zealand indices, although the rest of SE Asia actually followed China higher.  Europe has been under pressure from the start this morning led by the DAX (-0.9
%) although the CAC (-0.75%) and FTSE 100 (-0.7%) are nothing to write home about.  US futures are also under pressure (Dow -0.5%, SPX -0.3%) although the NASDAQ continues to power ahead (+0.2%).

In this broadly risk-off session, it is no surprise that bond markets are rallying.  Treasuries, after seeing yields decline 7bps after Powell’s testimony, are down another 2bps this morning.  Similarly, we are seeing strength in Bunds (-1.4bps) and OATs (-1.1bps) although Gilts (+1.4bps) seem to be concerned about potential BOE policy changes.

On the commodity front, oil fell sharply after the Powell testimony and has continued its downward move, falling 1.8% this morning.  Gold, which had been higher earlier in the session is now down 0.15%, although copper (+0.6%) remains in positive territory.  At this point, risk has come under pressure across markets although there is no obvious catalyst.

It should not be surprising that as risk is jettisoned, the dollar is rebounding.  From what had been a mixed session earlier in the day, the dollar is now firmer against 9 of the G10 with NOK (-0.5%) the laggard although the entire commodity bloc is suffering.  The only gainer is the pound (+0.1%) which seems to be on the back of the idea the BOE may begin to tighten sooner than previously expected.

EMG currencies that are currently trading are all falling, led by ZAR (-0.7%), PLN (-0.5%) and HUF (-0.5%).  The rand is very obviously suffering alongside the commodity story, while HUF and PLN are under pressure as a story about both nations losing access to some EU funds because of their stance on issues of judicial and immigration policies is seen as a negative for their fiscal balances.  Overnight we did see strength in KRW (+0.6%) and TWD (+0.4%) with the former benefitting from the BOK’s comments on tightening policy while the latter saw substantial equity market inflows driving the currency higher.

Data today includes Initial (exp 350K) and Continuing (3.3M) Claims as well as Empire Mfg (18.0), Philly Fed (28.0), IP (0.6%) and Capacity Utilization (75.6%).  Yesterday’s PPI was also much higher than forecast, but that can be no surprise given the CPI data on Tuesday.  In addition, Chairman Powell testifies before the Senate Banking Panel today, with the same prepared testimony but a whole new set of questions.  (I did reach out to my Senator, Menendez, to ask why Chairman Powell thinks forcing prices higher is helping his constituents, but I’m guessing it won’t make the cut!)

And that’s the day.  Right now, with risk under pressure, the dollar has a firm tone.  But the background of numerous other central banks starting to tighten as they recognize rising inflation and the Fed ignoring it all does not bode well for the dollar in the medium term.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf