Somewhat Concerned

Investors seem somewhat concerned
That risk, in all forms, has returned
Thus, stocks are backsliding
While Jay is deciding
If QE should soon be adjourned

With the FOMC beginning its two-day meeting this morning, and PPI data due at 8:30am, it is clear that investors are taking a more precautionary view of the world today.  Certainly, yesterday’s US equity market price action, where the major indices all closed on their session lows, has not helped sentiment, nor has the current market narrative of imminently tighter policy from the Fed.  As such, it should be no great surprise that risk assets across the board are under pressure while more traditional havens have found some support.

But let us ask ourselves, is this current market (not Fed) narrative realistic?  Again, I would contend the market expectations for tomorrow are that the Fed will double the pace of its QE tapering come January, which will have them finish QE by the end of March.  And it is easy to see the merits of the argument given the persistence and magnitude of price gains seen over the past twelve to fifteen months.  This is especially so given there is no obvious reason to believe prices will decline other than the economists’ mantra that supply will be created to fill the demand.  (While this is certainly true in the long run, as Keynes pointed out back in 1923, in the long run we are all dead, so timing matters here.)

However, there are counterarguments also being made that will carry weight, especially with the political bent of the current administration.  Specifically, the maximum employment piece of the Fed mandate, which Mr Powell highlighted last year when announcing the Fed’s new policy initiatives, remains an open question.  It appears that the current Fed view is that NAIRU (full employment) is reached when the Unemployment Rate reaches 3.8%.  The November NFP report showed Unemployment has declined to 4.2%, as measured, and recall that pre-pandemic, the Unemployment Rate had fallen to 3.5%, its lowest point in half a century.  Thus, the new view is that full employment will only be reached at near historic lows.  Yet, is that maximum employment in the current vernacular?

The Fed’s policy review used the terms “broad-based and inclusive” to describe maximum employment, by which they were considering not merely the statistical headline, but the makeup of the data when broken down by various subcategories, notably race.  That November report indicated that the Unemployment rate for minorities was 6.7%, considerably higher than for the white cohort which saw Unemployment of just 3.7%.  That disparity is at the heart of the question as to whether the Fed believes its employment mandate has been fulfilled.

You will not be surprised to know that there is vocal advocacy by some that the ratio that currently exists reflects bias and the Fed must do more to alleviate the problem, even at the expense of higher inflation.  Nor would you be surprised that others make the case that rising inflation is a greater burden on the lower and middle classes, so seeking those last few jobs results in a significantly worse outcome for all, especially those for whom the policies are intended to help.

The point is it is not a slam-dunk that the Fed is going to be as aggressively hawkish as the current market narrative claims.  While Chairman Powell clearly indicated that the pace of tapering would increase, do not be surprised if it rises from $15B/month to $20B or $25B/month rather than the baseline market assumption of $30B/month.  If that is the case, then another repricing in markets will be coming, with risk assets getting a reprieve while the dollar is likely to suffer.  While this is not my base case, I would ascribe at least a 30% probability to the idea that tomorrow’s FOMC is less hawkish than currently priced.  Stay on your toes.

In the meantime, here is what has been happening since you all went home last evening.  As mentioned, risk is under pressure with Asian equity markets (Nikkei -0.7%, Hang Seng -1.3%, Shanghai -0.5%) all following the US markets lower while European markets opened in a similar vein.  However, it appears that recent omicron news regarding the efficacy of current vaccinations with respect to moderating illness has begun to turn sentiment around and we now see both the DAX and CAC flat on the day while the FTSE 100 (+0.4%) has risen, embracing the new omicron news along with better than expected employment data from the UK (Unemployment fell to 4.2% with Weekly Earnings rising 4.9%).  Alas, US futures remain lower despite that Covid news, led by the NASDAQ (-0.6%).

Bond markets, which had earlier been modestly firmer (yields lower) have reversed course on the omicron news and we now see Treasury yields (+1.9bps) rising alongside the European sovereign market (Bunds +1.5bps, OATs +1.2bps, Gilts +2.3bps).  It seems market participants continue to be whipsawed between concerns over tighter policy and positive omicron news.

Commodity prices, too, have begun to reverse course as early session declines have now been erased with oil (0.0%) back to flat on the day from a nearly 1% decline a few hours ago.  While NatGas (-2.6%) in the US remains stable and under $4/mmBTU, the situation in Europe remains dire with prices rising another 3.6% as ongoing concerns over Nordstream 2 pressure the situation.  In the metals’ markets, there is mostly red with precious (Au -0.1%) softer and base (Cu -0.1%, Al -0.7%) also under pressure.  Agricultural products are falling as well today.

The dollar is on its back foot this morning as positivity permeates the markets with only NOK (-0.15%) softer in the G10, still feeling the lingering pain of oil while we see CHF (+0.35%) and EUR (+0.3%) lead the way higher.  Much of this movement, I believe, is position related as there has been little data or commentary to drive things, and the broader dollar gains that we have seen over the past months are seeing some profit-taking ahead of the FOMC and ECB meetings in the event that my case above for a more dovish outcome occurs.  Remember, too, given the market’s long dollar positioning, even a hawkish Fed could see a ‘sell the news’ result.

EMG currencies are showing similar trends with TRY (-3.3%) the true outlier as the lira quickly melts on ongoing policy concerns.  But elsewhere, HUF (+0.8%) has gained as the central bank reduced its QE purchases and expectations of further rate hikes are rampant.  CZK (+0.5%) is also benefitting from hawkish central bank news as the head there explained he saw rates closer to 4.0% than 3.0% next year (current 2.75%).  After those stories, there is much less movement overall.

Data this morning showed the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index edge slightly higher to 98.4 while PPI (exp 9.2%, 7.2% ex food & energy) is due at 8:30.  If the market takes hold of the latest omicron news, I would expect the equity market to turn around, but also the dollar as less Covid worries allows the Fed to be more hawkish.  But really, all eyes are on tomorrow afternoon, so don’t look for too much movement in either direction today.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Dire Straits

In Europe, the UK, and States
The central banks face dire straits
Inflation’s ascending
But omicron’s trending
So, what should they do about rates?

First Jay will most certainly say
More tapering is on the way
But Andrew is stuck
With Covid amok
While Christine, a choice, will delay

It is central bank week and all eyes are on the decisions and statements to be made by the Fed on Wednesday and the BOE and ECB on Thursday.  In fact, the BOJ will be meeting Friday, but by that time, given the fact that markets are likely to be exhausted from whatever occurs earlier in the week and the assumption nothing there will change, that news seems unlikely to matter much.

By this time, the market narrative (as opposed to the Fed’s preferred narrative) has evolved to the Fed must taper QE even more rapidly with doubling that rate seen as the bare minimum.  You may recall that in November, the Fed announced it would be reducing its QE purchases by $15 billion / month until such time as QE ended.  At that point, they would then consider the idea about raising interest rates assuming inflation remained a concern.  Of course, since then, no matter how you measure inflation, (CPI, core PCE, Trimmed Mean, Sticky) it has risen to levels not seen since the early 1980’s.  This has resulted in a near hysterical call by the punditry for much faster tapering and nearly immediate interest rate hikes.  The longer the Fed delays the process, the fact that rising inflation forces real yields lower means that monetary conditions are easing during a period of extraordinary fiscal policy led demand.  This simply exacerbates the inflation situation feeding this self-reinforcing loop.  Quite frankly, I believe the punditry is correct on this issue, but also expect that the Fed will do less than has become widely believed is necessary because inaction is their default setting.

The dollar, which is largely firmer across the board this morning, continues to benefit from the anticipated hawkishness that this new narrative has evoked.  Arguably, that sets up the opportunity for a sell-off in the greenback if Powell doesn’t deliver the goods, and realistically, even if he does on a ‘sell the news’ outcome.

Turning to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, Governor Andrew Bailey has already drawn the ire of financial markets (and some members of Parliament) with his comments from October that many took as a ‘promise’ to raise the base rate then in an effort to address rising inflation in the UK.  But he didn’t do so, and blamed market participants for hearing what he said as such a promise.  That led to investors and traders assuming the rate hike would be coming this week, with more to follow, and that the base rate, currently at 0.10%, would be raised to 1.25% by the end of 2022.  However, omicron has thrown a wrench into the works as the Johnson government is now considering Plan B, or C or D (I lose count) as their newest lockdown strictures to prevent the spread of the latest variant.  Arguably, raising interest rates into a period where the economy is shutting down would be categorized as a policy mistake, and one easily avoided.  Thus, the BOE finds itself in a difficult spot, wait to find out more about omicron despite inflation’s rapid and persistent rise, or address inflation at the risk of tightening into a slowing economy.

The pound, despite expectations which had been focused on the BOE leading the interest rate cycle amongst the big four central banks, has traded back down to its lowest level in a year, although realistically to its average over the past five years.  The trend, though, is clearly lower and any reasonable hawkishness by the Fed is likely to see Sterling test, and break below, 1.30, in my view.  At this point, I feel like the pound is completely beholden to Powell, not Bailey.

Finally, the ECB also announces their policy decisions on Thursday, just 45 minutes after the BOE.  Here the discussion has been around what happens when the PEPP, which is due to expire in March 2022, ends and what type of additional support will they be pumping into the economy.  It has already become clear that the original QE program, the APP, will be expanded in some form, but one of the things about that was the requirement that the ECB stick to the capital key with respect to its purchases, and the inability of that program to purchase non-IG debt.  The problem there is that Greece remains junk credit, but also the Greek government bond market remains entirely dependent on the ECB’s purchases to continue to function.  At the same time, Germany, where inflation is running the hottest (Wholesale Prices rose 16.6% in November, the highest level ever in the series back to June 1968) is where the largest proportion of bonds is purchased, easing local financial conditions even further thus exacerbating the inflation story there.  In many ways, it is understandable as to why there is less clarity on the ECB’s potential actions.  As many problems as the Fed has created for themselves, the ECB probably has more, and Madame Lagarde is not a central banker by trade, but rather a politician.  As such, she is far more likely to push for a politically comfortable solution than an economically sound one.

The euro had been trending steadily lower until Thanksgiving when we saw a bounce and it has been consolidating ever since.  However, my take is the ECB is likely to be more dovish, rather than less, and in the wake of a Fed that is clearly tightening policy and will be seen to have to tighten further going forward, the euro is likely to feel more pressure to decline going forward.  Look for a test of 1.10 sometime early in Q1.

OK, now that we’ve set the stage for the week ahead, let’s quickly tour the overnight activity.  After yet another rally in the NY afternoon, Asia was mostly higher (Nikkei +0.7%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.4%) with Europe showing a similar type of performance (DAX +0.9%, CAC +0.15%, FTSE 100 -0.1%).  US futures are all pointing a bit higher, but only about 0.2%.  Net, risk appetite seems to be modest today ahead of the meetings this week.

Interestingly, despite decent equity market performance, and despite no end in sight for inflation pressures, bond markets have generally rallied today with yields edging lower.  Treasury yields have slipped by 1.4bps, while Bunds (-1.0bps), OATs (-1.5bps) and Gilts (-1.7bps) all show similar yield declines.  This seems a little odd given the inflation narrative remains strong, but perhaps is a response to concerns over a policy mistake, or three, amongst the central banks.

Commodity prices are mixed this morning with oil (-0.7%) under pressure while NatGas (+1.5%) is making gains based on colder weather.  (PS, European NatGas is up 9.3% this morning to $38.33/mmBTU, compared to US NatGas at $3.98/mmBTU).  That is NOT a typo, almost 10x the price.  It seems that colder weather and the ongoing Russia/Ukraine/Belarus issues are having a big impact.  Metals prices are generally firmer with precious (Au +0.4%, Ag +0.4%) looking solid while industrial (Cu +0.3%, Al +1.2%) also perform well although some of the lesser metals like Ni (-0.6%) and Sn (-0.2%) are underperforming.

As to the dollar, it is universally stronger vs. the G10 with NOK (-0.6%) and AUD (-0.5%) the laggards although CAD (-0.3%) is also under the gun.  It seems oil is an issue as well as the Chinese economy with respect to the Aussie.  EMG currencies are broadly softer, but other than TRY (-2.0%) which continues to trade to new historic lows amid policy blunders, the movement has not been excessive.  MYR (-0.4%) is the next worst performer, consolidating recent gains as traders await presumed hawkish news from the Fed, with most other currencies showing similar types of losses on the same story.  The exceptions to this rule are ZAR (+0.5%) which rallied on the strength of the metals complex and IDR (+0.2%) which benefitted based on a reduced borrowing plan for the government.

On the data front, ahead of the Fed we see PPI and Retail Sales plus a bit more stuff later in the week.

Tuesday NFIB Small Biz Optimism 98.4
PPI 0.5% (9.2% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.4% (7.2% Y/Y)
Wednesday Empire Manufacturing 25.0
Retail Sales 0.8%
-ex autos 0.9%
Business Inventories 1.1%
FOMC Meeting
Thursday Initial Claims 195K
Continuing Claims 1938K
Housing Starts 1566K
Building Permits 1660K
Philly Fed 29.6
IP 0.7%
Capacity Utilization 76.8%

Source: Bloomberg

The demand story certainly seems robust based on Retail Sales, and that has to continue to influence the Fed.  I find the inventories data interesting as firms evolve from just-in-time to just-in-case models, another inflationary process.  But in the end, this week is all about the Fed (and BOE and ECB) so until we know more from there, look for choppy markets with no real direction.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Fugacious

For months the Fed had been mendacious
In calling inflation fugacious
But that view’s expired
And Jay has retired
The word that had been so fallacious

So, later this morning we’ll see
The reason that transitory
Is out on its ear
As it will be clear
Inflation’s not hyperbole

Chairman Powell must be chomping at the bit this morning as he awaits, along with the rest of us, the release of the November CPI data.  For us, it will be the latest data point to which the inflationistas will point and say, ‘see? I told you so.’  But, given the timing of the release, just days before the FOMC is scheduled to meet and therefore during the Fed’s self-imposed quiet period, whether the print is higher than the expected (0.7% M/M, 6.8% Y/Y) number or lower, no Fed speaker will be able to try to shape the discussion.  Instead, they will be left to the mercy of the punditry and the markets, something with which they have never been comfortable, at least not since Paul Volcker retired from the Fed.

Of course, they are not completely without capabilities as you can be sure the WSJ is going to run an article later this morning by Nick Timiraos, the current Fed Whisperer, which will be designed to explain the Chairman’s views without attribution.  However, given the recent history of the median forecast, which have consistently underestimated the rise in CPI (and PCE for that matter), it seems likely the official narrative will fall further behind the curve.  Speaking of the curve, looking at the Fed funds futures markets, expectations are for the first rate hike to come in either May or June of next year, which means if the Fed truly wants to finish QE before raising rates, current expectations for a doubling of the speed of tapering may be underestimating the pace.

We have also heard recently from former Fed officials, who clearly remain in contact with the current group, and virtually every one of these has forecast that the dot plot will show a median of two rate hikes next year with a chance of three and then another four in 2023 with the eventual neutral rate still anchored at 2.50%.  And yet, this quasi-official view remains at odds with all the other information we have regarding inflation expectations.  For instance, later today we see the University of Michigan stack of data which last month showed 1-year inflation expectations at 4.9% and the 5-10-year figure at 3.0%.  Since the Fed is one of the greatest champions of the inflation expectations theory (i.e. inflation can be self-fulfilling, so higher expectations lead to higher actual inflation), it would seem that if the dot plot does indicate long-term rates ought be centered around 2.50%, the Fed believes the neutral rate is negative in real terms.  Either that, or they are willing to dismiss data that doesn’t suit the narrative.  However, it is more difficult to understand how they are willing to dismiss the data they themselves compile, like the NY Fed’s Consumer Expectations survey which indicates 1-year inflation is expected at 5.7% and 3-year at 4.2%.

Ultimately, there is nothing that we have seen of late that indicates either inflation or inflation expectations are peaking.  In addition, inflation continues to be a major topic on Capitol Hill, so for now, it seems clear the Fed will continue to preen its hawkish feathers.  This speaks to the dollar resuming its upward trend and calls into question the ability of the equity markets to maintain their euphoria.  In fact, a reversal in equity markets will pose a very real conundrum for the Fed as to how to behave going forward; fight inflation or save the stock market.  You already know my view is they will opt for the latter.

Anyway, with all eyes set to be on the tape at 8:30, here’s what we have seen overnight.  After a late sell-off in the US, equity markets in Asia (Nikkei-1.0%, Hang Seng -1.1%, Shanghai -0.2%) all suffered although European bourses have managed to recoup early weakness and are essentially unchanged across the board as I type.  The only data of note has come from the UK, where October GDP rose a less than expected 0.1% pouring some more cold water on the BOE rate hike thesis for next week.  US futures, however, are trading higher at this hour, with all three major indices looking at gains of 0.3% or so.

The bond market is under modest pressure this morning, with yields edging higher in the US (+1.4bps) as well as Europe (Bunds +2.4bps, OATs +1.9bps, Gilts +2.8bps) as investors around the world continue to prepare for a higher interest rate environment.  Remember, just because the G10 central banks have been slow to tighten policy doesn’t mean that is true everywhere in the world.  For instance, Brazil just hiked rates by 150 bps to 9.25% and strongly hinted they would be raising them another 150bps in February given inflation there just printed at 10.74% this morning.  Mexico, too, has been steadily raising rates with another 25bps expected next week, and throughout Eastern Europe that has been the norm.  The point is that bond markets have every chance of remaining under pressure as long as inflation runs rampant.  In fact, that is exactly what should happen.

In the commodity world, early weakness in the oil price has been reversed with WTI (+1.1%) now firmly higher on the day.  NatGas (+1.3%) is also firmer although we are seeing much less movement from the metals and agricultural spaces with virtually all of these products withing 0.1% or so of yesterday’s closing levels.

As to the dollar, it is broadly firmer again this morning, albeit not by very much.  NZD (-0.25%) and JPY (-0.25%) are the laggards in the G10, although one is hard-pressed to come up with a rationale other than position adjustments ahead of the data release this morning.  In fact, that is true with all the G10 currencies, with movements other than those two of less than 0.2%.

The same cannot be said for the EMG space, where TRY (-1.05%) continues to slide as the combination of rampant inflation and a leadership that is seeking to cut interest rates as a means to fight it is likely to undermine the lira for the foreseeable future.  Thus far, TRY has not quite reached 14.00 to the dollar, up from 9.00 in mid-October.  But there is nothing to prevent USDTRY from trading up to 20 or higher as long as this policy mix continues.  Elsewhere, KRW (-0.6%) fell on the news that Covid infections grew at their fastest pace in a year and concerns over potential government actions to slow its spread.  Otherwise, weakness in PLN (-0.4%), INR (-0.35%) and CLP (-0.3%), for instance, all seem to revolve around expectations for tighter US monetary policy rather than local weakness.

In addition to the headline CPI discussed above, expectations are for core (+0.5% M/M, +4.9% Y/Y) and Michigan Sentiment is expected at 68.0.  Until the data is released, there should be very little in the way of movement.  Afterwards, though, I would look for the dollar to rally on higher than expected data and vice versa.  We shall see.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

No Longer Taboo

The omicron variant seems
No longer to haunt people’s dreams
Thus, stocks are advancing
And markets financing
The craziest, wildest schemes

So, risk is no longer taboo
As narrative changes ensue
Chair Powell’s regained
Control, and contained
The fallout from his last miscue

Risk appetite is remarkably resilient these days as evidenced not only by yesterday’s US equity rally, but by the follow-on price action in Asia last night as well as Europe this morning.  In fact, it seems the rare market that has not rallied at least 2% this morning.  Naturally, this raises the question as to what is driving this sudden return to bullishness?  Is it a widening view that the omicron variant is not going to result in more draconian government lockdowns?  Well, based on the news that NYC has imposed new restrictions on people, requiring vaccinations for everyone aged 5 and older to enter any public building, that may not be the case.  Perhaps the news that Austria has established fines of €600 for the first time someone is found not to be vaccinated with an increasing scale and jail time in that person’s future if they do not correct the situation, is what is easing concern.

At this point, arguably, it is too early to truly understand the nature of the omicron variant and its level of virulence, although it is clearly highly transmissible.  Early indications are that it is not as deadly but also that none of the currently approved vaccines does much with respect to preventing either infection or transmission of this variant.  However, global equity investors have clearly spoken and decided that any potential issues are either likely to be extremely short-term or extremely mild.

Perhaps this renewed risk appetite has been whetted by the idea that the Fed’s tapering will be a net positive for the market.  On the surface, of course, that doesn’t seem to accord with the idea that it has been the Fed’s (and ECB’s) largesse of adding constant liquidity to the system that has been the major support for the equity rally.  I’m sure you all have seen the graph that shows the growth in the Fed’s balance sheet overlain on the price action in the S&P 500, where the two lines are essentially the same.  So, if more central bank liquidity has been the key driver of higher stock prices, how can reduced liquidity and threats(?) or indications of higher interest rates coming sooner help support stocks.  That seems to run contra to both that thesis as well as the idea that inflation is good for stocks, with the second idea suffering from the concept that tighter monetary policy is designed to fight inflation.

But maybe, that is the key.  For the cognitive dissonant equity bull, loose policy and high inflation are good for equity markets because loose policy will keep the economy growing faster than inflation can reduce real returns.  On the other hand, tighter policy will fight inflation thus allowing lower nominal returns to remain competitive on a real basis.  Or something like that.  Frankly, it has become extremely difficult to understand the ever-changing rationales of equity bulls.  But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been right for a long time now, despite changes in underlying macroeconomic trends.

From its peak on November 22, to its bottom Friday, the S&P 500 fell about 5.25%, not even a correction, as defined in the current vernacular.  That requires a 10% pullback.  So, for all intents and purposes, this bull market has done nothing more than pause for a few days and is apparently trying to regain all its lost ground as quickly as possible.  Remember this, though, trees do not grow to the sky, nor do markets rally forever.  There continue to be numerous red flags as to the performance of equities; notably potentially tighter monetary policy, extremely high valuations, narrowing breadth of index performance and questions over future earnings growth amongst others.  And any of these, as well as the many potential issues that are not even currently considered, can be a catalyst for a more significant risk-off event.  In fact, the situation in the Treasury market, the curve is flattening quite rapidly, seems to be one clear warning that the future may not be as rosy as currently priced by the stock market.  Do not take for granted that risk appetite will remain this robust indefinitely and plan accordingly.

But today that is not a concern!  Risk is ON and in a big way.  After yesterday’s US rally, we saw all green in Asia (Nikkei +1.9%, Hang Seng +2.7%, Shanghai +0.2%) and Europe (DAX +2.1%, CAC +2.2%, FTSE 100 +1.2%) with US futures all higher between 1.0% (DOW) and 1.8% (NASDAQ).  In other words, all is right with the world!  Interestingly, one of the stories making the rounds today is about yesterday’s Chinese reduction in the RRR, but that was literally yesterday’s news, well known throughout the entire session.  I feel like there is something else driving things.

As to the bond market, while prices have fallen slightly, the movement is a lot less than would be expected given the strength of the equity rally.  Treasury yields are higher by just 0.2bps while Bunds (+1.5bps), OATs (+0.9bps) and Gilts (+2.4bps) are all responding a little more in line with what would normally be expected.  Data from Europe was slightly better than forecast with German IP (2.8%) and ZEW Expectations (29.9) both showing the economy there holding up better despite the ongoing lockdowns.  Asian bonds also saw yields climb a bit making the process nearly universal.

Commodity prices are following the risk narrative with oil (+2.8%) rallying sharply for the second consecutive day and now trading nearly 15% off the lows seen Thursday!  NatGas (+2.2%) is rebounding but still well below its highs seen in early October, while metals prices are all higher as well led by Cu (+0.7%) and Al (+1.2%) although both gold (+0.25%) and silver (+0.3%) are a bit firmer as well.

It will come as no surprise that the dollar is somewhat softer this morning given the environment as we see AUD (+0.7%), CAD (+0.5%) and NOK (+0.4%) all benefit from firmer commodity prices while the euro (-0.25%) is actually the laggard on the day, despite the rally in equities there.  Perhaps the single currency is gaining some haven characteristics.  In the emerging markets, TRY (+0.7%) is the leading gainer followed by THB (+0.6%) and BRL (+0.5%).  One can simply recognize the extreme volatility in the lira given the ongoing policy missteps, so a periodic rally should be no surprise.  As to the baht, it seems buyers are looking for China’s RRR cut to support the Chinese economy and by extension the Thai economy as well.  Brazil is a more straightforward commodity story I believe.  On the downside, CZK (-0.4%) and HUF (-0.3%) are the laggards as traders express mild concern that the central banks there may not keep up with rising inflation when they meet this week and next.

On the US data front, Nonfarm Productivity (exp -4.9%) and Unit Labor Costs (+8.3%) lead along with the Trade Balance (-$66.8B) at 8:30.  One cannot help but look at the productivity and labor cost data and wonder how equity markets can continue to rally.  Those seem to point to the worst of all worlds.  As to the Fed, they are in their quiet period ahead of next Wednesday’s meeting, so nothing to report there.

While I may not agree with its underpinnings, risk is clearly in vogue this morning and I don’t see any reason for that to change today.  In general, I would look for the dollar to continue to soften slightly, but also see limited scope for a large move.  All eyes have turned to the Fed next week and will be anxiously awaiting Chair Powell’s explanations for whatever moves they make.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Doves in Retreat

It seems the transition’s complete
As every Fed dove’s in retreat
From Powell to Daly,
And like Andrew Bailey,
They want to end QE tout de suite

Regarding the Fed’s hawks, Mester, George, Bostic and Bullard, we already knew they were ready to end QE.  They have been saying so since much earlier this year, before two of their kettle were forced to resign in disgrace (you remember Rosengren and Kaplan).  Just yesterday, Cleveland’s Loretta Mester reiterated she was “very open” to quickening the tapering process in order to give the Fed the option to raise rates early next year if they deem it necessary.  But of more interest has been the transition of the erstwhile dovish contingent with Mary Daly’s apparent desire to quicken the taper amongst the most surprising given her consistently dovish leanings.  In fact, the only holdout that I can determine is Neel Kashkari from Minneapolis, who has yet to agree inflation is a problem.  However, no one is more important than Chairman Powell, who over the past two days, in testimony to Congress, made it clear that come the FOMC meeting on December 15th, the pace of tapering will be increased.

At least, that is the view to which the market is turning.  Equity market weakness, a flattening yield curve and rising volatility all demonstrate that investors and traders are beginning to adjust the strategies they have been following since QE1 in the wake of the GFC.  This helps explain how the stock market could decline more than 1% two days in a row (!) and why it has fallen, already, nearly 5% from its all-time-high set back on November 22.  While I am being somewhat facetious with respect to dramatizing the recent declines, there are many in the market who seem to believe these are unprecedented moves.

And it is this last issue which is likely to become a major concern for the Fed going forward.  More than a decade of Fed easy money has taught people to buy every dip in asset prices.  Post Covid Fed policy has encouraged people to lever up when they buy those dips and so margin debt has reached historic highs on both a nominal ($581 billion) and percentage of GDP (2.5%) basis.  The problem here arises if when stock prices decline, and margin calls are made. Just like the Fed is a price insensitive buyer of Treasuries, and index funds are price insensitive buyers of equities, margin calls result in price insensitive selling of equities.  When this happens, equity prices can decline VERY quickly.  Know, too, that exchanges can raise margin requirements intra-day, so if a decline starts at the open, they can raise margin requirements by lunchtime to protect their members.  All this matters because the sudden hawkish tilt by the Fed could cause a very severe reaction in the financial markets.  And if there is one thing about which we should all be sure, it is that a very sharp decline, anything over 10% in a short period, will be met with a change in behavior by those very same Fed hawks.  Talk is cheap.  Sticking to their guns because they are trying to address rampant inflation will make them all very unpopular, something which the current denizens of the Marriner Eccles building seem unlikely to be able to handle very well.

Is this the beginning of the end?  I don’t believe so, especially as nothing has actually changed yet.  However, when it comes to sentiment shifts, they can occur in a heartbeat, so do not rule anything out.  Of more importance, though, is what we can expect if the shift comes.

In a classic risk-off scenario, where margin selling is rampant and equity prices are falling sharply, there is very likely to be contagion, so equities worldwide will decline.  We are very likely to see Treasuries, Bunds and Gilts in demand, with yields there declining sharply.  However, I would expect that the sovereign debt of the PIGS nations will more likely follow the equity market than Bunds, so spreads will widen.  Commodity prices will come under severe pressure as this will be seen as a precursor to a recession. And the dollar will rise sharply vs. its EMG counterparts as well as the commodity bloc of the G10.  JPY and CHF are both likely to do very well while the enigma is the euro, although my sense is the single currency would decline, just not as aggressively as, say, SEK.  We are not at that point but be aware that the current market setup is such that the opportunity for a move of that nature is quite real.  If you read Mark Buchanan’s terrific book, Ubiquity, you will recognize the “fingers of instability” described there as being present in every market.  It just seems that those fingers are more prevalent currently. (If you haven’t read the book, I cannot recommend it highly enough.)

Ok, let’s take a tour of markets today.  Yesterday’s late day US equity decline saw a continuation in Tokyo (Nikkei -0.65%) although the Hang Seng (+0.55%) managed to rally while Shanghai (-0.1%) was roughly flat.  I believe HK benefitted from the word that China was going to force the tech companies listed in the US to delist likely driving them to the HK market.  Europe, too, has been following that late day sell-off with the DAX (-1.3%) leading the major exchanges lower, followed by the CAC (-1.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.8%).  However, US futures are all pointing higher led by the DOW (+0.9%) as it seems two down days in a row are enough.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the bond market is behaving in a split fashion as well, with Treasury yields (+3.4bps) rising while European sovereigns (Bunds -1.2bps, OATs -2.0bps, Gilts -1.4bps) all slipping as risk is shed on the Continent.

The rebound thesis is alive and well in oil markets with WTI (+0.4%) edging higher, although it is off its early session highs.  NatGas (+0.15%) is a touch firmer while precious metals are mixed (Au -0.3%, Ag +0.4%).  Mixed also defines the industrial space with copper (+0.5%) doing well while aluminum (-0.6%) is under a bit of pressure.  One thing that is universal today, though is the ags, all of which are higher by between 0.5% and 1.5%.

Finally, mixed describes the dollar as well, with half the G10 rising and the other half falling on the session.  NOK (-0.35%) is the laggard, while GBP (+0.3%) is the leader.  However, given the relatively modest movement, and the lack of news or data, there can be many things leading to these movements.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+1.1%) is the leader despite (because of?) the omicron variant spreading so rapidly there.  Information on the issue of omicron’s impact remains very difficult to come by, but the market appears to be taking the stance that it will not be a very big deal as the rand has rallied 3.5% from its lows seen last week when the news first hit.  Away from that, RUB (+0.7%) and MXN (+0.7%) are the next best performers although both are outperforming their key export, oil.  On the downside, TRY (-1.2%) continues to fall with no end in sight.  Yesterday, President Erdogan sacked his FinMin and replaced him with a new, more pliant deputy, in order to be certain the central bank will continue cutting interest rates in the face of quickly rising inflation.  This currency has much further to fall.  Away from this, the decliners have been far less impressive led by THB (-0.4%) as local traders see concerns over the impact of the omicron variant.

On the data front, Initial (exp 240K) and Continuing (2003K) Claims are on the docket as all eyes turn to tomorrow’s NFP report.  Yesterday’s ADP data was right on expectations which will give comfort to those looking for 545K in the NFP tomorrow.

Bostic, Quarles, Daly and Barkin take the stage today on behalf of the Fed and I would expect to hear more about a faster taper from all of them as this is clearly the new message.  Looking at the dollar with all this in mind, it still appears to be following the 10-year trade more than the 2-year trade.  As such, if the curve continues to flatten, I would look for the dollar to continue to consolidate its recent gains.

One last thing, I will be out tomorrow so there will be no poetry.  However, my take is the NFP data is likely to be in line with expectations so not have much impact overall.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

Transitory is Dead

Said Jay, transitory is dead
And now when we’re looking ahead
To our consternation
It seems that inflation
Has climbed up to levels we dread

The market heard this and was stunned
Thus, equities quickly were shunned
The dollar was bought
And everyone thought
They’re better off buying the Bund

Finally!  It only took Chairman Powell 9 months to accept the reality on the ground that inflation is not likely to disappear anytime soon.  He officially ‘retired’ the word transitory as a description and confessed that inflation has been more persistent than he and the Fed had forecast.  The question that was not addressed is why the Fed thought that the supply chain bottlenecks were going to be short-lived to begin with.  After all, the primary use of ultra-cheap funding by the corporate community has been capital structure rebalancing (i.e. share repurchases) as that was the most efficient way to improve company valuations.  At least their stock market valuations.  Thus, there was never any evidence that investment was flowing toward areas that were bottle(necke)d up.

Ironically, this was partly Powell’s fault as his continued confidence that inflation was transitory, and bottlenecks would ease discouraged any company from making the investments to ease those very same bottlenecks.  Consider this, why would a company spend money to increase capacity if the benefits to be gained would be so short-lived?  And so, investments were not made, capacity remained the same and the bottlenecks persisted.

But now the Fed has acknowledged that inflation is a problem and Mr Powell has indicated that the pace of tapering QE ought to be increased.  The market read this as a doubling of the pace and so QE is now set to end in March, at least according to the punditry.  We will find out more precisely come the FOMC meeting in two weeks’ time.

Ultimately, the problem for Powell and the Fed is that a more aggressive timeline to tighten policy could potentially have a fairly negative impact on both stock and bond markets.  If that is the case, and there is no reason to believe it won’t be, Mr Powell may find himself in a similar situation as Q4 2018, when comments regarding the fact that the Fed was “nowhere near neutral” interest rates, which implied further tightening, resulted in a 20% decline in the S&P 500 Index and led to the infamous Powell Pivot on Boxing Day, when the Fed stopped tightening and began to ease policy.  Can Powell withstand a 20% decline in the S&P 500 today?  I doubt it.  10%?  Even that will be tough.  In essence, Powell now finds himself caught between President Biden’s growing concerns over inflation and the market’s likely concerns over tighter policy.  If nothing else, we should finally learn the Fed’s true master as this plays out.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at how markets have responded overnight.  While yesterday saw an immediate rejection of risk assets, the first bargain hunters have returned and equity markets were largely in the green overnight and on into this morning.  The Nikkei (+0.4%), Hang Seng (+0.8%) and Shanghai (+0.35%) all managed to rally amid mixed data (Japan’s PMI rising to 54.5, China’s Caixin PMI falling to 49.9) and despite ongoing concerns the omicron variant would lead to further lockdowns.

European bourses (DAX +1.4%. CAC +1.3%, FTSE 100 +1.3%) are all much firmer after the PMI data there was generally better than expected.  This is despite the fact that the OECD released its latest forecasts, slightly downgrading global growth for 2021 although maintaining its 2022 global growth forecast of 4.5%.  Pointed comments about the risks of the omicron variant accompanied the release as all the work was done before that variant became known.  Perhaps investors are looking at omicron and assuming it will delay tightening further, thus support equity values.  Finally, US futures are all pointing sharply higher this morning, at least 1.0% with NASDAQ futures +1.5% at this hour.

It should be no surprise, given risk is back in vogue, that bonds are selling off again.  The one thing that has been evident is that volatility in markets has increased and shows no signs of abating until there is a more coherent story and clarity on ultimate central bank policy.  This morning, Treasury yields (+3.6bps) have jumped as have Bunds (+2.7bps), OATs (+3.1bps) and Gilts (+5.6bps).  Perhaps more surprising is that Italian BTPs (+6.5bps) have been the worst performer on the continent as during a risk-on session, these bonds tend to outperform.  Asian bond markets performed in a similar manner as yields rallied everywhere there.

Commodity prices are at least making sense today as we are seeing strength virtually across the board.  Oil (+4.5%) is leading the energy space higher, although NatGas (-3.4%) remains disconnected and is the sole outlier.  Metals are firmer as both precious (Au +0.7%, Ag +0.2%) and industrial (Cu +0.45%, Al +0.7%, Sn +0.3%) see buying interest and agricultural prices are firmer as well.

The dollar, though, has less direction today with the G10 seeing commodity currencies stronger (NZD +0.35%, AUD +0.3%, CAD +0.25%) while financials are under modest pressure (CHF -0.2%, JPY -0.15%, EUR -0.15%).  Now, in fairness, none of these moves are that large and most likely they represent position adjustment more than anything else.  In the emerging markets, TRY (+1.8%) remains the most volatile, rising sharply (more than 8.5% at its peak) after the central bank announced they were intervening due to “unhealthy price formations” in the market.  It seems those price formations have been the result of President Erdogan continuing his campaign to lower interest rates in the face of soaring inflation.  But there were other gainers of note including MXN (+0.9%) backed by oil’s rebound, KRW (+0.8%) on the strength of stronger than forecast output data and CLP (+0.7%) on the rise in copper prices.

Data this morning brings ADP Employment (exp 525K), ISM Manufacturing (61.2) and Prices Paid (85.5) and at 2:00 this afternoon, the Fed releases the Beige Book.  Chairman Powell and Secretary Yellen testify to the House Financial Services Committee starting at 10:00, and remember, that was when the fireworks started yesterday.  I doubt we will see the same type of movement but be alert.

The dollar story has lost its conviction as previously, the thought of a more aggressive Fed would have led to a much firmer dollar.  However, we are not witnessing that type of price action here.  While I still believe that will impact the currency’s near-term movement, right now it appears that many currencies are trading on their own idiosyncratic issues without the benefit of the big picture.  If the Fed does taper more quickly and begin to raise rates, I do expect the dollar will benefit and we can see 1.10 or lower in the euro as there is absolutely no indication the ECB is going to follow suit.  However, I suspect that equity market pain will become too much for the Fed to tolerate, and that any dollar strength will be somewhat short-lived.  Payables hedgers should take advantage over the next few weeks/months, but if you are a receivables hedger, I think patience may be a virtue here.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Before Omicron

There once was a narrative told
Explaining the Fed still controlled
The market’s reaction
Preventing contraction
Thus, making sure stocks ne’er got sold

But that was before Omicron
Evolved and put more pressure on
The future success
Of Fed’ral largesse
With no real conclusion foregone

So, later this morning we’ll hear,
When Janet and Jay both appear,
In front of the Senate
If they’ve still the tenet
That all will be well by next year

Perhaps all is not right with the world.  At least that would be a conclusion easily drawn based on market activity this morning.  Once again, risk is being shed rapidly and across the board.  Not only that, but the market is completely rethinking the idea of tighter monetary policy by the Fed with the growing conclusion that it is just not going to happen, at least not on the timeline that had been assumed a few short days ago.

It seems that the Omicron variant of Covid is proving to be a bigger deal in investor’s eyes than had been originally assumed.  When this variant was first identified by South African scientists, the initial belief was it was more virulent but not as acute as the Delta variant.  So, while it was spreading quite rapidly, those who were infected displayed milder symptoms than previous variants.  (If you think about the biology of this, that makes perfect sense.  After all, every organism’s biologic goal is to continue to reproduce as much as possible.  If a virus is so severe that its host dies, then it cannot reproduce very effectively.  Thus, a more virulent, less severe strain is far more likely to remain in the world than a less virulent, more deadly strain, which by killing its hosts will die off as well.)

In the meantime, financial markets have been trying to determine just what type of impact this new strain is going to have on economies and whether it will induce another series of lockdowns slowing economic activity, or if it will be handled in a different manner.  And so far, there is no clear conclusion as evidenced by the fact that we saw a massive sell-off in risk assets Friday, a major rebound yesterday and another sell-off this morning.  If pressed, I would expect lockdowns to come back into vogue as despite questions over their overall efficacy, their imposition allows government officials to highlight they are ‘doing something’ to prevent the spread.  Additional bad news came from the CEO of Moderna, one of the vaccine manufacturers, when he indicated that the nature of this variant would likely evade the vaccines’ defense.

So, story number one today is Omicron and how this new Covid variant is going to impact the global economy.  Ironically, central bankers around the world must be secretly thrilled by this situation as the focus there takes the spotlight off their problem, rapidly rising inflation.

For instance, after yesterday’s higher than expected CPI prints in Spain and Germany, one cannot be surprised that the Eurozone’s CPI printed this morning at 4.9%, the highest level since the Eurozone was born in 1997, and far higher than any of the 40 economist forecasts published.  Madame Lagarde wasted no time explaining that this was all temporary and that by the middle of next year inflation would be back to its pre-pandemic levels, but it seems fewer and fewer people are willing to believe that story.  Do not mistake the run to the relative safety of sovereign bonds as a vote of confidence in the central bank community.  Rather that is simply seen as a less risky place to park funds than the equity market, which by virtually every measure, remains significantly overvalued.

This leads to the third major story of the day, the upcoming testimony by Chairman Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen in front of the Senate Banking Committee.  The pre-released opening comments focus on Omicron and how it can be a risk for both growth and inflation thus once again trying to divert attention from Fed policies as a problem by blaming exogenous events beyond their control.  Of course, this story will resolve itself starting at 10:00, so we will all listen in then.

Ok, with all that as prelude, a quick tour of markets shows just how much risk is in disfavor this morning.  Overnight in Asia we saw broad weakness (Nikkei -1.6%, Hang Seng -1.6%) although once again Shanghai was flat.  Europe is completely in the red (DAX -1.45%, CAC -1.25%, FTSE 100 -1.0%) and US futures are also pointing lower (DOW -1.2%, SPX -1.0%, NASDAQ -0.5%).

Meanwhile, bond markets are ripping higher with Treasuries (-5.1bps) leading the way as yields fall back to levels last seen in early September.  In Europe, Bunds (-2.1bps), OATs (-2.2bps) and Gilts (-4.0bps) are all seeing demand pick up with the rest of the Continent all looking at lower yields despite rising inflation.  Fear is clearly a powerful motivator.  Even in Asia we saw JGB’s (-1.9bps) rally as did Australian and New Zealand paper.

Commodity markets are having quite a day with some really mixed outcomes.  Oil (-2.5%) is back in the red after yesterday’s early morning rebound faded during the day, and although oil did close higher, it was well of the early highs.  NatGas (-5.0%) is falling sharply, which at this time of year is typically weather related.  On the other hand, gold (+0.5%) is bouncing from yesterday and industrial metals (Cu +1.4%, Al +1.6%, Sn +2.7%) are in clear demand.  It seems odd that on a risk-off day, these metals would rally, but there you have it.

Finally, the dollar can only be described as mixed this morning, with commodity currencies under pressure (NOK -0.4%, CAD -0.25%) while financial currencies (EUR +0.5%, CHF +0.5%, JPY +0
4%) are benefitting on receding expectations for a tighter Fed.  PS, I’m sure the risk off scenario is not hurting the yen or Swiss franc either.

Emerging market currencies are demonstrating a broader based strength with TRY (-1.6%) really the only major loser as further turmoil engulfs the central bank there and expectations for lower interest rates and higher inflation drive locals to get rid of as much lira as possible.  Otherwise, PLN (+0.8%) is leading the way higher as expectations for the central bank to raise rates grow with talk now the rate hike will be greater than 50 basis points.  But MYR (+0.8%) and CZK (+0.75%) are also showing strength with the ringgit simply rebounding after a 10-day down move as bargain hunters stepped in, while the koruna has benefitted from hawkish comments from the central bank governor.  It appears that most EMG central banks are taking the inflation situation quite seriously and I would look for further rate hikes throughout the space.

Aside from the Powell/Yellen testimony, this morning brings Case Shiller House Prices (exp 19.3%), Chicago PMI (67.0) and Consumer Confidence (111.0).  As well, two other Fed speakers, Williams and Clarida, will be on the tape, but it is hard to believe they will get much notice with Powell front and center.

The dollar appears to be back following the interest rate story, which means that if expectations of Fed tightening dissipate, the dollar will likely fade as well, at least versus the financial currencies.  Commodities have a life of their own and will continue to dominate those currencies beholden to them.  The tension between potential slower growth and rising inflation has not been solved, and while my view is the Fed will allow inflation to burn still hotter, keep in mind that if they do act to tighten policy, the dollar should find immediate support.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Sang the Blues

The President’s finally decided
That Lael and Jay have now divided
The tasks at the Fed
And both of them said
Inflation just won’t be abided

The bond market took in the news
And quickly adjusted its views
Thus, interest rates rose
While gold felt the throes
Of pain as goldbugs sang the blues

By now, we all know that Chairman Powell has been reappointed to his current role as Fed Chair and Governor Brainerd has been elevated to Vice-Chair.  The underlying belief seems to be that the Biden administration was not prepared for what would likely have been a much more difficult confirmation fight to get Brainerd as Chair and decided to husband whatever political capital they still have left to fight for their spending legislation.  Arguably, the most interesting part of the process was that both Powell and Brainerd, in their remarks, indicated that fighting inflation was a key priority.  As Powell said, “We will use our tools both to support the economy and strong labor market, and to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched.”  Now that is a wonderful sentiment, and of course, directly in line with the Fed’s Congressional mandate to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long term interest rates.”  Alas for them both, the tools necessary for the different pieces of the mandate tend to be opposite in their nature.

However, the market response was clear as to its broad belief that tighter Fed policy is on the horizon.  Between those comments and what we heard last week from Governor Waller, vice-Chair Clarida and St Louis Fed President Bullard, it seems clear that the meeting in December is going to be all about the timing of the tapering.  While the progressive wing of the Democratic party remains steadfast in their belief in the power of MMT to deliver prosperity for all, it appears that the reality on the ground, namely that inflation is exploding higher, has become too big a problem to ignore for President Biden.

Here’s the thing.  The traditional tool for fighting rising inflation is to raise interest rates above the rate of inflation to create positive real yields.  Now, depending on how you define inflation; CPI, PCE, the core version of either, or the trimmed mean version of either, given where all of those measures currently stand, the minimum amount of rate increases is going to be 300 basis points, with a chance that it could be 400 or more.  Now, ask yourself how an economy that is leveraged to the hilt (total debt/GDP > 895%) will respond to interest rates rising by 300 or 400 basis points.  How about the stock market, with its current Shiller CAPE (cyclically adjusted P/E) above 39 compared to a median of 15.86 over the past 150 years?  How do you think that will respond to the interest rate curve rising by 300 or 400 basis points?  The picture is not pretty.

It remains to be seen just how much pain the Fed and the Administration can stand if the Fed actually does start to tighten policy more aggressively in the face of rapidly rising inflation.  Consider that in Q4 2018, the last time the Fed was trying to ‘normalize’ policy by allowing the balance sheet to run down slowly while also raising interest rates, stocks fell 20% and the result was the ‘Powell Pivot’ on Boxing Day that year, where the Chairman explained that tightening policy wasn’t actually that critical at the time and would end immediately.  At that time the same measure of debt/GDP was ‘merely’ 763% and the CAPE was 29.  We have much further to fall today, and I expect that when/if that starts to happen, the Fed will not blithely continue tightening policy to fight inflation.  Remember the idea that the Fed has painted themselves into a corner?  Well, this is the corner in which they have painted themselves.  They need to raise rates to fight inflation but doing so is likely to provoke a severely negative market, and potentially economic, reaction.

Now, while we are all waiting for that shoe to drop, let’s take a look at how markets responded to the news.  The first thing to note is the bond market, where 10-year yields rose 9 bps yesterday and that trend has continued this morning with yields higher by another 2.3bps.  With the 10-year currently yielding 1.65%, all eyes are on the 1.75% level, the peak seen in March, and the level many see as a critical technical level, a break of which could open up much higher yields.  It should not be surprising that we have seen higher yields elsewhere as well, with European sovereigns (Bunds +5.9bps, OATs +5.7bps, Gilts +4.8bps) responding to three factors this morning; the US market movement, better than expected preliminary PMI data across the continent and hawkish comments from both Isabel Schnabel and Klaas Knot, two ECB members. You may recall last week when I described some Schnabel comments as apparently dovish, and a potential capitulation of the remaining hawks on the ECB.  Apparently, I was mistaken.  Today she was much clearer about the risks of inflation being to the upside and that they must be considered.  If the hawks are in flight, bonds have further to decline.

In the equity markets, yesterday’s news initially brought a rally in the US, but by the end of the day, as bond yields rose, the NASDAQ, which is effectively a very long duration asset, fell 1.25%, although the rest of the US market fared far better.  The overnight session saw a more modest reaction with the Nikkei (+0.1%) and Shanghai (+0.2%) edging higher although the Hang Seng (-1.2%) suffered on weaker consumer and pharma stocks.  Europe has rebounded from its worst levels but is still lower (DAX -0.7%, CAC -0.25%, FTSE 100 0.0%) despite (because of?) the PMI data.  I guess hawkish monetary policy trumps good economic data, a harbinger of what may be on the horizon.  At this hour, US futures are little changed, so perhaps there is good news in store.

News that the Biden administration is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from the SPR along with releases by India and South Korea has weighed on oil prices (WTI -1.5%) although NatGas (+4.8%) is not following along for the ride.  Gold (-0.5%) got clobbered yesterday and is down 2.7% from Friday’s closing levels.  Clearly, inflation fighting by the Fed is not seen as a positive.  As to the rest of the metals complex, it is generally higher as expectations grow that demand around the world is going to pick back up.

Finally, in the FX market, the truly notable mover today is TRY (-11.2%!) which appears to be starting to suffer from a true run in the wake of President Erdogan’s praise of the recent interest rate cut and claiming that Turkey is fighting an “economic war of independence.”  It seems he’s losing right now.  Relative to that movement, nothing else seems substantial although MXN (-0.8%) is feeling pressure from declining oil prices while other EMG currencies slid on the broad strong dollar theme.  In the G10, NZD (-0.5%) is the weakest performer as long positions were cut ahead of the RBNZ meeting next week, but the bulk of the bloc is modestly lower as US interest rates continue to power ahead.

On the data front, we see the preliminary PMI data (exp 59.1 Mfg, 59.0 Services) and that’s really it.  Yesterday’s Existing Home Sales were better than expected, but really, today’s markets will continue to be driven by interest rates and views on how the Fed is going to behave going forward.  Taking Powell at his word means that tighter policy is coming which should help the dollar amid a broader risk-off sentiment.  Plan accordingly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Prices Keep Rising

In Europe, though prices keep rising
The central bank is emphasizing
No rate hikes are near
In this or next year
So, traders, their views, are revising

Meanwhile in the States the reverse
Is true with inflation much worse
Now traders believe
The Fed’s on the eve
Of trying to tighten their purse

It cannot be surprising that inflation remains topic number one in the markets as its existence is driving virtually every narrative.  For instance, the choice for next Fed Chair is seen as having a direct impact on inflation based on the relative dovishness of Lael Brainerd vs. Jay Powell.  Too, as oil prices have risen so sharply over the past year, driving up the price of gas at the pump and inflation in general, the Biden Administration is now exhorting all nations to release oil from their strategic reserves in order to damp down those price pressures.  And what about wages, you may ask?  As per the WSJ this morning, here is the latest on the just agreed wage deal at Deere & Co, whose workers had been on strike for the past 5 weeks,

“Deere workers returning to assembly plants and warehouses will get an immediate 10% raise, and each worker will receive an $8,500 bonus. Additional 5% pay raises will be provided in 2023 and 2025, and lump-sum bonuses amounting to 3% of workers’ annual pay will be awarded in the three other years.
The deal approved Wednesday also will increase the base pay level for Deere’s continuous-improvement program by about 4%, giving workers more weekly pay from the program if their productivity meets the company’s goals. About two-thirds of UAW-represented Deere workers receive production-based compensation on top of their regular wages, according to the company.”

Apparently, the cost of the settlement is on the order of $3.5 billion, a very substantial portion of their forecast 2021 earnings estimates of $5.8 billion.  It strikes that either Deere is going to be raising prices (likely) to offset that margin compression, or its earnings numbers are going to diminish (also likely) thus putting pressure on its stock over time.  Recall, Chairman Powell has been adamant, and we have heard from numerous other Fed speakers as well, that wage inflation is not imminent and thus recent price rises are likely to be temporary.  This appears to be one more data point that makes the Fed story less plausible.

In Europe, however, there is a full-court press by ECB members to convince the investment and trading communities that they are not going to raise rates anytime soon as inflation there, too, is still transitory.  While it should be no surprise that Mario Centeno, the Portuguese central bank head and ECB member is all-in for never raising rates again, it is a huge surprise that Germany’s Isabel Schnabel is talking about the need to avoid premature tightening as deflation risks still haunt the Eurozone.  Her comments come despite CPI in Germany running at 4.5%, the highest since the reunification in the early 90’s and causing significant domestic strife.  If one was looking for a sign that the ECB doves have coopted the hawks to their side, there is no better indication than this!  As such, traders, who had been pricing for a 10bp rise in the deposit rate by the end of 2022 have pushed that view back nearly 12 months.

In sum, the battle between the central bank narratives and reality continues apace with the central banks, remarkably, holding their own in the face of growing evidence to dispute their claims.  And it is this battle that will continue to drive markets and help maintain volatility as each data point or comment has the ability to alter things at the margin.

So, as we look at markets this morning, remember the backdrop remains, Inflation, friend or foe?

Ok, how has risk appetite been affected by the latest news?  Well, US equities all moved lower yesterday and that carried over into Asia with the Nikkei (-0.3%), Hang Seng (-1.3%) and Shanghai (-0.5%) all in the red.  Part of that is because the Chinese property sector continues to weigh on sentiment there with the latest news that several large property companies, including Evergrande, are set to unload stakes in other companies to raise cash.  While these sales will be at great losses, the imperative for the cash is obvious.  Not surprisingly, selling large stakes of publicly held companies tends to weigh on their stock price and thus the market as a whole.

In Europe, the picture is more mixed (DAX +0.1%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 -0.2%) with the UK seeming to suffer from growing concerns the Johnson government may invoke Article 16 from the Brexit deal which would suspend part of the Northern Ireland solution and could quickly evoke retaliation by the EU.  As to US futures, given it appears to be illegal for two consecutive down days in the equity markets, it should not be surprising that futures are pointing higher by between 0.2% and 0.5% at this hour.

Bond market price action is a very clear result of the central bank narrative as European sovereigns have all seen rallies (lower yields) while Treasuries remain under pressure as investors anticipate higher rates in the States.  This morning the 10-year Treasury yield is higher by 1 basis point while in Europe (Bunds -0.9bps, OATs -1.3bps, Gilts -2.7bps) the entire continent has seen demand pick up and yields decline.  Clearly, if the ECB remains full-bore on QE, it will support these prices for a long time.

Turning to the commodity markets, pretty much the entire space is softer today led by oil (-0.5%), gold (-0.2%) and copper (-0.7%).  But there is weakness across the rest of the industrial and precious metal space as well.  In fact, the only gainers on the day are NatGas (+1.8%) which looks very much like a rebound from its recent sharp sell-off, and the agricultural space, where the big 3 products are all firmer by a bit.

Turning to the FX markets, the dollar is under a bit of pressure this morning, which mostly seems like a pull-back from its recent strength.  Technically, it does seem overbought.  In the G10, NZD (+0.7%) is far and away the leading gainer after the RBNZ published their inflation expectations survey at the highest level in a decade and traders began to price in another 25 basis point rate hike at their meeting next week.  However, after that, the rest of the bloc has seen much more modest strength except for NOK (-0.1%) which is suffering from oil’s recent travails, and JPY (-0.1%) which may be reacting to news that the Kishida government is discussing yet more fiscal stimulus, this time to the tune of ¥78.9 trillion.

Emerging market currencies have a more mixed tone with the outlier continuing to be TRY (-2.1%) as the central bank remained true to form and cut its base rate to 15.0% despite runaway inflation.  Next worst is CLP (-0.7%) which has fallen as the finance ministry has stopped its regular dollar sales to maintain cash balances, but pulling support from the currency, and then we see both MXN (-0.55%) and ZAR (-0.5%) suffering on the back of commodity weakness.  On the plus side, HUF (+0.7%) is the big winner after the central bank raised rates by a more than expected 0.70% in their efforts to fight inflation.

On the data front this morning comes weekly Initial (exp 260K) and Continuing (2120K) Claims as well as the Philly Fed (24.0) and Leading Indicators (0.8%).  The Fed speaker onslaught slows a bit today with only four speakers, although despite yesterday’s plethora of speakers, it doesn’t appear we learned anything new.

For now, the broad narrative remains the Fed is going to be the first large central bank to tighten and that is driving the dollar higher.  While today we seem to be pausing for a bit, this story does not yet appear to have run its course.  Hence, I reiterate for payables hedgers, pick your levels and take advantage of the dollar’s strength for now.  orders are an excellent way to manage this risk.

Good luck and stay safe
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Hawks Now Despair

The imminent news of the day
Is President Joe will convey
His choice for Fed chair
As hawks now despair
Lael Brainerd will soon lead the way

Her bona fides highlight her views
More policy ease she would choose
Inflation? No worry
But she’s in a hurry
For banks to put under the screws

The word from Washington is that President Biden will be announcing his selection for Fed chair imminently.  The very fact that the news was released using that phraseology implies to some (this author included) that we will have a new Fed Chair going forward, Lael Brainerd.  It is widely known that the President interviewed both Brainerd and Powell last week and ostensibly, Ms Brainerd accorded herself quite well.  It is also widely known that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which continues to gain sway over policy decisions, hates Chairman Powell and believes that not only would a Chairwoman Brainerd maintain policies to pay for their wish list, but that she would also be much tougher on the banking industry on a regulatory basis.

Of course, the key question is, can Brainerd win approval from a split Senate?  However, it is not clear that Powell could win approval either.  In Brainerd’s case, the vote would almost certainly be a straight party-line vote with Vice-president Harris casting the tiebreaker if necessary, although, it is quite possible that one or two of the very centrist Republican senators vote yea for her.  Powell, on the other hand, has enemies on both sides of the aisle, as there is a contingent of Republicans who believe he is to blame for the current inflation, while we also know there is a contingent of Democrats, led by Senator Warren, who despise him.  In other words, it doesn’t appear either is a slam dunk despite the fact both are currently on the Fed board and have been approved in the past.

Given we already know how markets have responded to the Powell Chairmanship, let us consider how a Chair Brainerd might be viewed.  Whether it is true or not, the current narrative is that Ms Brainerd would be more dovish than Powell, far less likely to complete the current tapering initiative and potentially seek reasons to further expand the Fed’s balance sheet.  If that were to be the case, one would have to be bullish financial assets with both stocks and bonds benefitting from that policy mix.  In addition, given the current inflationary impulse, and the likelihood that a Chair Brainerd continues to believe in the transitory theory, commodity prices are likely to continue their climb higher.  As to the dollar, based on this thesis, the dollar’s recent rise would likely come to an end, as the ongoing decline in real rates would undermine its value proposition.  You may wonder why bond prices would perform well despite rising inflation and the answer is simple, the ongoing QE purchases would support them, and a change in view regarding the timing of any tightening would likely see the short end of the curve rally, driving rates there much lower as well.

Of course, this is speculation regarding speculation of a particular outcome.  However, based on the market’s previous responses to these types of policy stimuli, I would contend they are reasonable.  Regardless, this all depends on any announcement.

One thing to note is that the case for a dollar decline is relatively strong in the event the market perception changes regarding further Fed policy tightness.  The dollar has been benefitting from the perception that the Fed is leading the way among the major central banks, with respect to removing policy ease.  If that perception were to change, so will the trajectory of the greenback.

Turning to the markets this morning, after a lackluster day in the US yesterday, where the major indices barely moved, we saw a mixed performance in Asia (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng +1.3%, Shanghai -0.3%) as China continues to feel downward pressure from the real estate sector there.  Europe, on the other hand, is having a better day (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.2%) despite growing concerns over NatGas supplies due to some delays in NordStream 2 approvals.  It seems that a combination of ongoing dovish comments from Madame Lagarde and a new analysis by Capital Economics indicating interest rates in Europe will not rise before 2025, have inspired more risk-taking.  Meanwhile, US futures, which had been lower earlier in the session, have now edged back to essentially unchanged on the day.

In the bond market, yesterday saw some very aggressive selling with Treasury yields rising 5 basis points and pretty much dragging the entire space with them.  This morning, however, things have reversed with Treasury yields (-1.9bps) down along with Bunds (-1.9bps), OATS (-2.0bps) and Gilts (-2.0bps).  As long as there is belief in the QE process, bonds will retain a bid.  As an aside, there was an interesting article yesterday from MNI reporting on the fact that Italy and the other PIGS are seeking a permanent change in EU lending rules to insure that they get more money with less strings, as has been occurring during the Covid inspired emergency.  This has all the signs of a new policy that will be enacted, permanently increasing the amount of support that Southern Europe receives from the EU, and likely, over time to build tensions.  I would look for PIGS spreads vs. Bunds to narrow on this conversation, but it will not help the euro.

As to commodities, this morning most are in the green led by oil (+0.4%) which is continuing yesterday’s late day rally although prices are still much lower on the week.  NatGas (+2.8%) is clearly rising in concert with the European story on Nordstream 2 while gold (+0.6%) and silver (+0.85%) continue to confound by rising sharply alongside the dollar.  Ags are a little softer as are base metals (Al -1.6%, Zn -0.9%), so the message from this market is just not clear.

Turning to the dollar, it is broadly stronger this morning with SEK (-0.3%) and CHF (-0.3%) the laggards in the G10 although GBP (+0.25%) and NOK (+0.2%) are both firmer.  Going backwards, NOK is clearly being supported by oil prices while the pound is benefitting from modestly positive employment news amid a spate of releases there.  As to the losers, there is really no news in either currency which implies the general dollar bullish framework continues to be the key driver.  In the emerging markets, TRY (-1.4%) is today’s worst performer as investors fear further rate cuts despite rapidly rising inflation.  Interestingly, RUB (-0.5%) is also under pressure despite oil’s rebound as concerns over rising inflation in Russia are also impacting investment decisions.  CLP (-0.5%) is the other laggard here as a combination of broad dollar strength and concerns over inflation seem to be undermining the peso.

On the data front, we see Retail Sales (exp 1.5%, 1.0% ex autos) as well as IP (0.9%) and Capacity Utilization (75.9%) this morning.  We get the Fed train rolling with five speakers this morning ranging from the most hawkish (George) to the most dovish (Daly).  However, I believe all eyes will be on the Chairmanship story, not comments from underlings.

The dollar broadly continues to rally with the euro having traded to its lowest level since July 2020 and there is nothing that indicates this trend is going to change soon.  While there are good reasons to expect the dollar to eventually decline, right now, higher is the direction of travel so keep that in mind for your hedging.  However, for those with a longer-term view, looking into 2023 and 2024, current levels may well look attractive if payables are the exposure.

Good luck and stay safe
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