In China the growth impulse waned
As policy makers have strained
To maintain control
While reaching the goal
Of growth that Xi has preordained
In other news protests are growing
By pundits that markets are showing
Too much in the way
Of rate hikes today
Since wags think inflation is slowing
Risk is getting battered this morning, but interestingly, so are many havens. It seems that the combination of slowing growth and higher inflation is not all that positive for assets in general, at least not financial ones. Who would have thunk it?
Our story starts in China where Q3 GDP was released at a slower than expected 4.9% down from 7.9% in Q2 and 18.3% in Q1. If nothing else, the trend seems to be clear. And, while Retail Sales there rose a more than expected 4.4%, IP (3.1%) and Fixed asset Investment (7.3%), the true drivers of the Chinese economy, both slumped sharply from last quarter and were well below estimates. In other words, the Chinese economy is not growing as quickly as the punditry, and arguably, the market had expected. This is made clear by the ongoing lackluster performance in Chinese equity markets which are also being accosted by President Xi’s ongoing transformation of the Chinese economy to one more of his liking. (In this vein, the latest is the attack on the press such that all media must now be state-owned. Clearly there is no 1st Amendment there.) Of course, if the press is state-controlled, it is much easier for the government to prevent inconvenient stories about things like Evergrande from becoming widespread inside the country. That being said, we know the Evergrande situation is under control because the PBOC told us so!
Ultimately, this matters to markets because China has been a significant growth engine for the global economy and if it is slowing more rapidly than expected, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the world. Apparently ongoing energy shortages in China continue to wreak havoc on manufacturing companies and hence supply chains around the world. But don’t worry, factory gate inflation there is only running at 10.7%, so there seems little chance of inflationary pressures seeping into the rest of the world. In the end, risk appetite is unlikely to increase substantially if the narrative turns to one of slower growth ahead, unable to support earnings expectations.
With this in mind, it is understandable why equity markets are under pressure this morning which has been true in almost every major market; Nikkei (-0.15%), Shanghai (-0.1%), DAX (-0.5%), CAC (-0.8%), FTSE 100 (-0.2%). US futures (-0.3%), with only the Hang Seng (+0.3%) bucking the trend. Funnily enough, though, bond markets are also under universal pressure (Treasuries +4.4bps, Bunds +4.4bps, OATs +4.7bps, Gilts +6.7bps, Australia GBs +9.0bps, China +5.3bps, and the pièce de résistance, New Zealand +15.5bps) as it seems investors are beginning to fret more seriously over inflation and ensuing policy action by central bankers.
Yesterday, BOE Governor Andrew Bailey explained that the BOE will “have to act” to curb inflationary forces. That is a pretty clear statement of intent and one based on the reality that inflation is well above their target and trending higher. Interest rate markets quickly priced in rate hikes in the UK with the first expected next month and a second by February. In fact, by next September, the market is now pricing in 4 rate hikes, expecting the base rate to be 1.00% vs. the current rate of 0.10%. In New Zealand, meanwhile, CPI printed at 4.9% last night, well above the expected 4.2% and the market quickly adjusted its views on interest rates there as well, with a 0.375% increase now price for the late November meeting and expectations that in one year’s time, the OCR (overnight cash rate) will be up at 1.95% compared to today’s 0.50%.
Naturally, this price action doesn’t suit the central bank narrative and so there has been a concerted push back on the higher inflation story from many sectors. My personal favorite is from the pundits who are focusing on the Fed staff economists with the claim that they are far more accurate than the Street and their current forecast of 2022 inflation of 1.7% should be the baseline. But we have heard from others with vested interests in the low inflation narrative like Blackrock (who gets paid by the Fed to manage the purchases of assets) as well as a number of European central bankers (Villeroy and Vizco) who maintain that it is critical the ECB keep policy flexibility when PEPP ends. This appears to be code for ignore the inflation and keep buying bonds.
The point of today’s story is that the carefully controlled narrative that has been fostered by the central banking community is under increasing pressure, if not falling apart completely. Markets are pricing in rate hikes despite protests by central bankers, as they see rising inflation trends as becoming much more persistent than those central bankers would like you to believe. At this point, no matter what inflation statistic you consider (CPI, PCE, trimmed-mean CPI, median CPI, sticky CPI) all are running well above the Fed’s 2.0% target and all are trending higher. The same situation obtains in almost every major nation as the combination of 18 months of excessive money-printing and significant fiscal spending seems to have done the trick with respect to reviving both inflation and inflation expectations. If I were the Fed, I’d be taking a victory lap as they have been fighting deflation for a decade. Clearly, they have won!
So, if stocks and bonds are both falling, what is rising? I’m sure you won’t be surprised that oil (+1.6%) is leading the way higher as demand continues to rise while supply doesn’t. OPEC+ has refused to increase production any further and the US production situation remains under pressure from Biden administration policies. While NatGas in the US is softer (-1.8%), in Europe, it is much firmer again (+16.2%) as Russia continues to restrict supply. Precious metals remain unloved (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.2%) but industrial metals are firm (Cu +0.9%, Al +0.45%, Sn +1.2%) along with the agriculturals.
Finally, the dollar is definitely in demand rising against 9 of its G10 brethren (only NOK has managed to hold its own on the back of oil’s rally) but with the rest of the bunch falling between 0.1% and 0.5% on general dollar strength. After all, if neither NZD (-0.1%) nor GBP (-0.15%) can rally after interest rate markets have jumped like they have, what chance to other currencies have today?
EMG currencies are also under pressure this morning led by ZAR (-1.0%) and followed by MXN (-0.6%) with both falling despite rising oil and commodity prices. Both seem to be suffering from a general malaise regarding EMG currencies as concerns grow that rising inflationary pressures are going to slow growth domestically, thus pressuring their central banks to maintain easier policy than necessary to fight rising inflation. Stagflation is a b*tch.
Turning to the data front, this week sees much less of interest with housing being the focus:
|Wednesday||Fed Beige Book|
|Existing Home Sales||6.08M|
On the Fed front, 10 more speakers are on the docket across a dozen different venues including Chairman Powell on Friday morning. At this point, with inflation rising more rapidly than expected everywhere in the world and the market pricing in rate hikes far more aggressively than central banks deem appropriate, the case can be made that the central banks have lost control of the narrative. I expect this week’s onslaught of commentary to try very hard to regain the upper hand. However, as I have long maintained, at some point the Fed will speak and act and the market will not care. We could well be approaching that point. In that event, the only thing that seems certain is that volatility will rise.
As to the dollar today, I think we need to see some confirmation that this modest corrective decline is over, but for now, the medium-term trend remains for a higher dollar. I see nothing to change that view yet.
Good luck and stay safe