Quite a Surprise

This morning’s report on inflation
Is forecast as verification
The Fed is behind
The curve and must find
The will to cease accommodation

While last night from China we learned
The trend in inflation has turned
In quite a surprise
It fell from its highs
A positive for all concerned

Ahead of this morning’s CPI report (exp 7.0%, 5.4% ex food & energy) investors around the world have been feeling positively giddy about the current situation.  Sure, China’s growth forecasts have been cut due to omicron infection outbreaks and the Chinese response of further lockdowns, but that just means that combined with the first downtick in PPI there since February 2020 (10.3%, exp 11.3%, prev 12.9%), talk has turned to the PBOC cutting interest rates next week by between 5 and 10 basis points.  So, while many other nations are aggressively fighting inflation (Brazil, Mexico, Hungary) or at least beginning to tighten policy (UK, Sweden, Canada), the market addiction to ever increasing liquidity may now be satisfied by China.  While it is still too early to know if lower interest rates are coming from Beijing, what is clear is that the credit impulse in China (the amount of lending) seems to have bottomed and is starting to reverse higher.  That alone augers well for future global growth; so, buy Stonks!

Meanwhile, I think it is valuable to consider what we heard from Chairman Powell yesterday at his renomination hearings, as well as what the two erstwhile hawks, Esther George and Loretta Mester, had to say about things.  Mr Powell, when asked why the Fed was continuing to purchase assets with inflation well above target and unemployment near historic lows inadvertently let the cat out of the bag as to the most important thing for the Fed, that if they were to move at a more aggressive pace, it could upset markets and there could be declines in both the stock and bond markets.  Apparently, the unwritten portion of the Fed’s mandate, prevent markets from falling, remains the most important goal.  While Powell paid lip service to the idea that the Fed would seek to prevent the inflationary mindset from becoming “entrenched”, he certainly didn’t indicate any sense of urgency that the Fed’s glacial pace of change was a problem.

Perhaps more surprisingly, neither Mester nor George were particularly hawkish, with both explaining that the Dot Plot from December was a good guide and there was no reason to consider a rate hike as soon as March.  Regarding QT, neither was anxious to get that started either although both wanted to see it eventually occur.  Finally, this morning, former NY Fed President (and current Fed mouthpiece) Bill Dudley explained in a Bloomberg column that there was no hurry to reduce the size of the balance sheet and that when it begins, the impact would be “like watching paint dry.”  Now, where have we heard that before?  Oh yeah, I remember.  Then Fed Chair Yellen used those exact same words to describe the last attempt to shrink the balance sheet right up until Powell was forced to pivot after the equity market’s sharp decline in 2018.  Apparently, the dynamics of drying paint are more interesting than we have been led to believe.

For those seeking proof that investors welcomed yesterday’s comments, one need only look at market behavior in their wake.  US equity markets rallied after the testimony and never looked back all day.  Treasury bonds did very little, with the sharp trend higher in yields having hit a key resistance and unable to find the will to push through.  Finally, the dollar took it on the chin, declining vs virtually every major and emerging market currency yesterday with many of those moves continuing overnight.  Recapping: higher stocks, unchanged bonds and a weaker dollar are not a sign that the market expects much tighter policy from the Fed.

Ok, so how are things looking this morning?  Well, in the equity market, the screen is entirely green. Last night, Asia followed the US lead  with gains across the board (Nikkei +1.9%, Hang Seng +2.8%, Shanghai +0.8%), and European bourses are also higher (DAX +0.35%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.7%) as data from the continent showed much better than expected Eurozone IP growth (2.3% vs 0.2% exp) as well as the first indication that inflation might be peaking in Germany with PPI there “only” printing at 16.1%, down from last month’s record 16.6%.  As to US futures, they are modestly higher ahead of the data, between 0.1%-0.2%.

In the bond market, while 10-year Treasury yields have edged higher by 0.7bps at this hour, they remain just below 1.75% and have shown no inclination, thus far, of breaking out much higher.  Arguably this implies that market participants are not yet full believers in the Fed tightening policy aggressively, and after yesterday’s performances, I think that is a good bet.  Meanwhile, European sovereign bonds are all rallying with yields falling nicely (Bunds -1.8bps, OATs -1.7bps, BTPs -1.3bps) as it remains clear that there is not going to be any tightening of note by the ECB this year.

On the commodity front, we continue to see strength in energy (WTI +0.5%, NatGas +5.2%) as well as industrial metals (Cu +2.9%, Zn +2.2%) although both gold -0.2%, and silver -0.2% are consolidating after strong moves higher yesterday.

Looking at FX markets, I would say the dollar is modestly weaker overall, albeit only in a few segments.  In the G10, NOK (+0.7%) and CAD (+0.2%) are the largest movers, by far, with both benefitting from oil’s continued rise.  The rest of the bloc, quite frankly, is tantamount to unchanged this morning.  In emerging markets, the picture is a bit more mixed with both gainers and losers about evenly split.  However, only 3 currencies have shown any real movement, BRL (-0.4%), KRW (+0.4%) and CLP (+0.3%).  The real seems to be consolidating some of its massive gains from yesterday, when it rallied 1.7% on the back of central bank comments implying that though inflation would fall back in 2022, it would require continued tight policy to achieve that outcome.  On the flip side, the won benefitted from a better than expected employment report showing more than 770K jobs added in the last year and indicating better economic growth going forward.  Finally, the Chilean peso seems to be benefitting from copper’s strong rally today.

Aside from this morning’s CPI report, we also see the Fed’s Beige Book at 2:00pm which has, in the past, been able to move markets if the narrative was strong enough.  Only one Fed speaker is on the docket, Kashkari, and even he, an uber-dove, is calling for 2 rate hikes this year as per his last comments.

The Fed tightening narrative is definitely having some difficulty these days which implies to me that the market has fully priced in its expectations and those expectations are that the Fed will not be able to tighten policy very much.  If the Fed is restrained, and tighter policy continues to get pushed further out in time, the dollar will suffer much sooner than I anticipated.  For those with opex and capex needs, perhaps moving up the timetable to execute makes some sense.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

A New T#heme

The news yesterday from the Fed
Was Vice-Chair Clarida has fled
While later today
Chair Jay seeks to sway
The Senate to keep him Fed head

But in the meantime, it would seem
The narrative has a new theme
It seems pretty clear
Four rate hikes this year
Have gone from the fringe to mainstream

As we walk in this morning, there seems to be a lot of movement with respect to market expectations regarding the Fed’s actions going forward and exactly how those actions are going to impact the various markets.  Today’s headline event is Chairman Powell’s renomination testimony in the Senate as everyone is waiting to see just how much effort Senator Elizabeth Warren puts into trying to derail the process.  It is widely known that the Senator does not care for Mr Powell going so far as to calling him “dangerous” in his recent semi-annual testimony to the Senate.  Yesterday, she also wrote a letter demanding to see all the personal trading records of all Fed officers which probably was part of the impetus for vice-Chair, Richard Clarida, to step down early from his post.  So, on the one hand, we will be treated(?) to the scene of some Senators trying to play gotcha with the Fed Chair today with the ever-present possibility that some comment is made with a real market impact.

On the other hand, the tightening train has not merely pulled away from the station but is starting to gather serious speed.  Earlier this morning, Atlanta Fed President Bostic commented that he sees 3 rate hikes this year and that the Fed “will act to ensure inflation doesn’t run away from us.”  Futures markets are now pricing in a more than 60% probability of a fourth rate hike in 2022 with an increasing number of Fed speakers explaining a rate hike in March would be appropriate.  We are also hearing the 4-hike scenario from an increasing number of pundits with Goldman Sachs economists publishing that view yesterday while JPMorgan Chairman Jamie Dimon explained that “four rate hikes of 0.25% each would not have an enormous effect on the economy.”  And that is likely correct, a Fed Funds rate of 1.0% doesn’t seem that onerous for businesses.  Of course, what impact would four interest rate hikes have on financial asset prices, especially if they were joined with a reduction in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet?  And it is this latter question that seems likely to be the key as we continue to hear from more and more Fed speakers that the idea of allowing the balance sheet to ‘run-off’ is appropriate.

For those of you with shorter memories, the last time the Fed tried to reduce the size of its balance sheet, from 2017-2018, they were also raising interest rates, albeit far more slowly.  Of course, CPI had peaked below 3.0% in that cycle, GDP was running at 2.4% and wages were growing at 2.5% while the balance sheet was less than half its current size.  The point is conditions were clearly very different.  However, not only did the equity market’s 20% decline inspire the Powell Pivot on Boxing Day 2018, but nine months later, the repo market blew up forcing the Fed to take dramatic action to ensure that sufficient liquidity was made available to the banking system.  I assure you, neither of those outcomes were part of the carefully described plans the Fed had made to ‘normalize’ monetary policy.

Will this time be different?  While starting conditions certainly are different, the one thing of which we can be sure is that the complexities of the international money markets remain opaque even to the central banks charged with their oversight.  While there is no way to anticipate exactly what will happen to derail the current plans, one can almost be certain that things will not work out the way they are currently planned.  Personally, I remain convinced that markets will have a very difficult time handling any reductions in the excess liquidity that has been the dominant feature of the post Covid-19 global financial markets, and that despite a lot of tough talk now, the Fed, at least, will be walking back that hawkishness before too long.

And perhaps, markets are beginning to agree with me.  After all, hawkish monetary policy is rarely the backdrop for a risk-on attitude.  Yet that is a pretty fair description of today’s price action.  Equities are rebounding along with commodities; bonds are benign, and the dollar is softening.

While yesterday saw US equity markets in the red most of the day, the NASDAQ staged a furious late day rally to close flat although market breadth was awful (1205 gainers vs. 2201 losers).  And while Asia was still under pressure (Nikkei -0.9%, Hang Seng 0.05, Shanghai -0.7%), Europe has taken heart from something as we are seeing solid gains across the board there (DAX +1.15%, CAC +1.35%, FTSE 100 +0.7%) despite a complete lack of news.  US futures, too, have turned green with all three main indices up about 0.3% at this hour.

The Treasury rout is on hold with yields essentially unchanged this morning and the 10-year right at the key level of 1.75%.  In Europe, Bunds (-0.9bps) and Gilts (-2.3bps) are both trading well while the rest of the sovereign market is virtually unchanged.  Again, there has been essentially no news of note.

Oil prices are rallying (WTI +1.4%) while NatGas (-0.9%) has consolidated some of yesterday’s gains despite the fact it is 14 degrees here in NJ this morning.  Gold (+0.3%) and silver (+0.6%) are both firmer, as are industrial metals (Cu +0.6%, Al +0.1%, Zn +2.4%) and the ags are strong as well.

Finally, the dollar is under modest pressure with NOK (+0.4%) leading the G10 revival on the strength of oil’s rally, while CAD (+0.3%) follows closely behind.  JPY (-0.25%) is the only laggard here, again pointing to the risk characteristics in today’s price action.  EMG markets have seen similar price action with THB (+0.6%) the leading gainer followed by HUF (+0.4%) and KRW (+0.35%), all benefitting from the pause in the US yield rally and generally better risk appetite.

Today’s only data point has been released, NFIB Small Business Optimism (98.9, slightly better than 98.7 expected) and has had virtually no impact on the market.  This brings us back to the Fed as today’s most likely catalyst, as not only will we hear from Chair Powell starting at 10:00, but also from two of the most hawkish regional bank presidents, Mester and George between 9:00 and 9:30.

With risk in vogue for the session, I expect the dollar will have difficulty gaining any ground, but nothing has changed my short-term view that the Fed’s hawkishness is going to be the key driver of a stronger dollar…right up until they reverse course!

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Out of Place

The holiday season has passed
And this year the reigning forecast
Is for higher rates
Right here in the States
Thus, dollars will soon be amassed

But frequently, as is the case
Consensus is, here, out of place
Though some nations will
Raise rates, like Brazil
The Fed soon will turn about-face

Reading the many forecasts that are published this time of year, the consensus certainly appears to be that the Fed is going to continue to tighten policy and the only question is how soon they will begin raising interest rates; March, May or June?  The Fed narrative has evolved from there is no inflation, to inflation is transitory to inflation is persistent and we will address it with our tools.  But will they?  Since Paul Volcker retired as Fed Chair (1979-1987) we have had a steady run of people in that seat who like to talk tough, but when there is any hiccup in the market, are instantly prepared to add more liquidity to the system.  Starting with the Maestro himself, in the wake of the October 1987 stock market crash, to Bennie the Beard, the diminutive Ms Yellen and on up to today’s Chair Powell, history has shown that there is always a reason NOT to tighten policy because the consequences of doing so are worse than those of letting things run hotter.  Ultimately, I see no reason for this time to be any different than the past 35 years and expect that as interest rates begin to climb here, and equity markets reprice assumptions, the Fed will not be able to withstand the pain.

But for now, the higher US interest rate story remains front and center.  This was made clear yesterday when 10-year yields rallied 12 basis points in a thin session, trading back to levels last seen in November.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the dollar reversed its late year losses as well, rallying vs. almost all its counterparts with the yen (-0.7%) by far the worst performer in the G10.  It seems that the Japanese investor community has decided that a 155 basis point spread in the10-year, in an environment where expectations for a stronger dollar are rampant is a sufficient reason to sell yen and buy dollars.

And the truth is that given inflation is a global phenomenon these days, there are only a handful of nations where expectations don’t include higher interest rates.  For instance, Japan, though they have stopped QE are not even contemplating higher interest rates.  The ECB has indicated QE will be reduced to some extent (they claim cut in half, but I will believe that when I see it) but is certainly not considering higher interest rates.  Turkey is kind of a special case as President Erdogan continues to try his unorthodox inflation fighting methodology, but if the currency reprises the late 2021 collapse, which is entirely realistic, if not probable, that is subject to change.

However, there is one more nation of note that is almost certainly going to be working against the grain of higher interest rates this year, China.  President Xi has a growing list of economic problems that will result in further policy ease regardless of any inflationary consequences at this time.  The fundamental flaw is the Chinese property market, which has obviously been under severe pressure since the problems at China Evergrande came to light.  This is fundamental because it represents more than 30% of the Chinese economy and has been THE key reason that Chinese GDP has been growing as rapidly as it has over the past two decades.  With Evergrande and several (many?) other property developers going to the wall, the property sector is going to have a much slower growth trajectory, if it is positive at all, and that is going to drag on the entire economy.  After all, if they are not going to build ghost cities (Evergrande’s specialty), they don’t need as much concrete, steel, copper, etc., and the whole support framework that has been created for the industry will slow down as well.  The upshot is that the PBOC seems highly likely to continue to ease policy in various ways including RRR cuts, as well as reductions in interest rates.

On the surface, one would expect that to work against CNY strength and fit smoothly with the stronger dollar thesis.  However, the competing view is that President Xi is more focused on the long-term viability of the renminbi as a stable store of value and strong currency, and I expect that imperative will dominate this year and in the future.  Thus, while your textbooks would explain the renminbi should fall, I beg to differ this year.  We shall see as things evolve.

Ok, starting the year, there is clearly a solid risk appetite.  Yesterday saw strong gains in the US equity market which was followed by the Nikkei (+1.8%) last night, although Shanghai (-0.2%) and the Hang Seng (0.0%) failed to follow suit.  Europe (DAX +0.7%, CAC +1.4%, FTSE 100 +1.4%) are all bullish this morning as are US futures (+0.35% across the board).  Record Covid infections are clearly not seen as a problem anymore.

After yesterday’s dramatic sell-off in Treasuries, this morning yields there have consolidated and are essentially unchanged.  In Europe, though, there has been a mixed picture with Gilts (+8.3bps) following the US lead, while the continent (Bunds -1.5bps, OATs -2.5bps) are clearly more comfortable that interest rates have no reason to rise sharply there anytime soon.

In the commodity markets, oil (+0.3%) is continuing its run higher from last year and, quite frankly, shows no sign of stopping.  This is a simple supply demand imbalance with not nearly enough supply for ongoing demand.  NatGas (+1.8%) continues to trade well as cold weather in the NorthEast and much of Europe and a lack of Russian deliveries to the continent continue to demonstrate the supply demand imbalance there as well.  Gold (+0.25%) has bounced after getting roasted yesterday, although it spent the last weeks of the year grinding higher, so we remain around $1800/oz.  Industrial metals, though, are mixed with copper (-0.8%) under some pressure while aluminum (+1.4%) and zinc (+2.4%) are both having good days.

As to the dollar, aside from the yen’s sharp decline, the rest of the G10 is +/- 0.15% or less, not enough to consider for a story rather than position adjustments at the beginning of the year.  In the EMG space, though, the dollar has had a bit more positivity with ZAR (-0.9%) and RUB (-0.8%) the worst performers (I need to ignore TRY given the insanity ongoing there).  In both cases, rapidly rising inflation continues to outpace the central bank efforts to rein it in and the currency is weakening accordingly.  In fact, that is largely what we are seeing throughout this bloc, with central banks throughout lagging the rise in prices.  In the EMG space, this trend has room to run.

On the data front, we get a decent amount of stuff this week, culminating in the payroll report:

Today ISM Manufacturing 60.0
ISM Prices Paid 79.3
JOLTS Job Openings 11,100K
Wednesday ADP Employment 420K
FOMC Minutes
Thursday Initial Claims 195K
Continuing Claims 1682K
Trade Balance -$81.0B
Factory Orders 1.5%
-ex transport 1.1%
ISM Services 67.0
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 424K
Private Payrolls 384K
Manufacturing Payrolls 35K
Unemployment Rate 4.1%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (4.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.8
Participation Rate 61.9%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to the data, we start to hear from FOMC members again with Kashkari, Bullard, Daly and Bostic all on the calendar this week.  My impression is that investors and traders will be looking for hints as to the timing of rates liftoff.  But we are a long way from that happening yet.

For now, though, the narrative is clear, and a firmer dollar seems the most likely outcome in the near term.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Til ‘flation Responds

Apparently, Powell has learned
Why everyone’s been so concerned
With prices exploding
The sense of foreboding
‘Bout ‘flation seemed very well earned

So, Jay and his friends at the Fed
Said by March, that they would stop dead
The buying of bonds
Til ‘flation responds
(Or til stocks fall deep in the red)

By now you are all aware that the FOMC will be reducing QE twice as rapidly as their earlier pace, meaning that by March 2022, QE should have ended.  Chairman Powell was clear that inflation has not only been more persistent than they had reason to believe last year but has also moved much higher than they thought possible, and so they are now forced to respond.  Interestingly, when asked during the press conference why they will take even as long as they are to taper policy rather than simply stop buying more assets now if that is the appropriate policy, Powell let slip what I, and many others, have been saying all along; by reducing QE gradually, it will have a lesser impact on markets.  In other words, the Fed is more concerned with Wall Street (i.e. the stock market) than it is with Main Street.  Arguably, despite a more hawkish dot plot than had been anticipated, with the median expectation of 3 rate hikes in 2022 and 3 more in 2023, the stock market rallied sharply in the wake of the press conference.  If one is seeking an explanation, I would offer that Chairman Powell has just confirmed that the Fed put remains alive and well and is likely struck far closer to the market than had previously been imagined, maybe just 10% away.

One other thing of note was that Powell referred to the speed with which this economic cycle has been unfolding, much more rapidly than the post-GFC cycle, and also hinted that the Fed would consider reducing the size of its balance sheet as well going forward.  Recall, however, what happened last time, when the Fed was both raising the Fed funds rate and allowing the balance sheet to run off by $50 billion/month back in 2018; stocks fell 20% in Q4 and the Powell Pivot was born.  FWIW my sense is that the Fed will not be able to raise rates as much as the dot plot forecasts.  Rather, the terminal rate will be, at most, 2.00% (last time it was 2.50%), and that any shrinkage of the balance sheet will be minimal.  The last decade of monetary policy has permanently changed the role of central banks and defined their behavior in a new manner.  While not described as such by those “independent” central banks, debt monetization (buying government bonds) is now a critical role required to keep most economies functioning as debt/GDP ratios continue to climb.  In other words, MMT is the reality and it will require a much more dramatic, and long-lasting, negative shock for that to change.

One last thing on this; the bond market has heard what Powell said and immediately rallied.  The charitable explanation is that bond investors are now comforted by the Fed’s recognition that inflation is a problem and will be addressed.  Powell’s explanation about foreign demand seems unlikely, at least according to the statistics showing foreign net sales of bonds.  Of more concern would be the explanation that bond investors are concerned about a policy mistake here, where the Fed is tightening too late and will drive the economy into a recession, as they always have done when they tighten policy.

With Jay and the Fed finally past
The market will get to contrast
The Fed’s hawkish sounds
With Europe’s shutdowns
And watch Christine hold rates steadfast

But beyond the Fed, this has been central bank policy week with so many other central bank decisions today.  Last night the Philippines left policy on hold at 1.50%, as did Indonesia at 3.50%, both as expected.  Then, this morning the Swiss National Bank (-0.75%) left rates on hold and explained the franc remains “highly valued”.  Hungary raised their Deposit rate by 0.30% as expected and Norges Bank raised by 0.25%, also as expected, while promising another 0.25% in March.  Taiwan left rates unchanged at 1.125%, as expected and Turkey continue their unique inflation fighting policy by cutting the one-week repo rate by 1.00%, down to 14.00% although did indicate they may be done cutting for now.  As to the Turkish lira, if you were wondering, it has fallen another 3.8% as I type and is now well through 15.00 to the dollar.  YTD, TRY has fallen more than 51% vs. the dollar and quite frankly, given the more hawkish turn at the Fed, seems like it has further to go!

Which of course, brings us to the final two meetings today, the ECB and the BOE.  Madame Lagarde and most of her minions have been very clear that they are not about to change policy, meaning they will continue both the PEPP and APP and are right now simply considering how they are going to manage policy once the PEPP expires in March.  That is another way of saying they are trying to figure out how to continue to buy as many bonds as they are now, while losing one of their programs.  I’m not worried about them finding a way to continue QE ad infinitum, but the form that takes is the question at hand.  While European inflation pressures have certainly lagged those in the US, they are still well above their 2.0% target, and currently show no signs of abating.  If anything, the fact that electricity prices on the continent continue to skyrocket, I would expect overall prices to only go higher.  But Madame Lagarde is all-in on MMT and will drag the few monetary hawks in the Eurozone down with her.  Do not be surprised if the ECB sounds dovish today and the euro suffers accordingly.

As to the BOE, that is much tougher to discern as inflation pressures there are far more prevalent and members of the MPC have been more vocal with respect to discussing how they need to respond by beginning to raise the base rate.  But with the UK flipping out over the omicron variant and set to cancel Christmas impose more lockdowns, it is not clear the BOE will feel comfortable starting their tightening cycle into slower economic activity.  Ahead of the meeting, the futures market is pricing in just a 25% probability of a 0.15% rate hike.  My money is on nothing happening, but we shall see shortly.

Oh yeah, tonight we hear from the BOJ, but that is so anticlimactic it is remarkable.  There will be no policy shifts there and the yen will remain hostage to everything else that is ongoing.  Quite frankly, given the yen has been sliding lately, I expect Kuroda-san must be quite happy with the way things are.

And that’s really the story today.  Powell managed to pull off a hawkish turn and get markets to embrace risk, truly an impressive feat.  However, over time, I expect that equity markets will decide that tighter monetary policy, especially if central bank balance sheets begin to shrink, is not really a benefit and will start to buckle.  But right now, all screens are green and FOMO is the dominant driver.

In the near term, I think the dollar has further to run higher, but over time, especially when equity markets reverse course, I expect the dollar will fall victim to the impossible trilemma, where the Fed can only prop up stocks and bonds simultaneously, while the dollar’s decline will be the outlet valve required for the economy.  But that is many months away.  For now, buy dollars and buy stocks, I guess.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Not the Plan

It turns out the internet can
Stop working, though that’s not the plan
Thus, to be succinct
The people who linked
Their lives to it found nothing ran

Under the heading, ‘It’s amusing today but could be much worse’, it seems there is a downside to all the conveniences we were promised if we just linked all the mundane features of life to the internet so the IoT could work its magic.  When the IoT stops working, so do all those mundane features, like door locks using Ring, and Roomba® vacuums and smart refrigerators and washing machines.  And so, yesterday, when Amazon Web Services crashed for upwards of 9 hours along the East Coast, many people and businesses learned just how reliant they were on a single private company (albeit a big one) for maintaining the status quo of their lives.  Do not be surprised if the question arises as to whether the ‘cloud’ has become too important for the private sector to manage by itself and needs to be regulated as a utility going forward.

With omicron somewhat less feared
The bulls feel the way has been cleared
To add to positions
Which led to conditions
Where price rises were engineered

Markets, however, were completely unconcerned with any hiccups regarding the cloud and bulled ahead with spectacular gains yesterday as the NASDAQ led the way rising more than 3.0%.  While this author’s view is risk appetite is more closely correlated to views on / concerns over the tapering of QE and tighter Fed policy, the narrative has been very focused on omicron and the news that it seems to be more widespread but far less virulent and therefore will have a lesser impact on the recovering economy.  At least, that’s what the punditry is saying this morning as an explanation for yesterday’s massive risk-on rally.

And perhaps, that is an accurate viewpoint.  Perhaps last week’s selloff was entirely due to the uncertainty over just how impactful omicron would be on the global economy.  The problem is that doesn’t pass the smell test.  Consider that if omicron was really going to result in another wave of economic closures, the central bank response would likely be adding still more liquidity to the global system, much of which would find its way into equities.  In contrast, tighter monetary policy that reduces overall liquidity would have the opposite effect.  As such, it seems to me that sharp declines are more likely on fear of less liquidity than fear of the latest virus variant.  So, while markets are still pricing rate hikes for next year, they have clearly come to grips with the current expected pace of those hikes.  Now, if inflation continues to rip higher, and we see the latest CPI print on Friday, the sanguinity over the pace of rate hikes could well disappear.  Remember that there are many ‘fingers of instability’ weaving throughout the market construct, among them massive leverage and extremely high equity valuations.  Risk is a funny thing, it often isn’t a concern until, suddenly, it is the only concern.  Risk asset markets, while continuing to ascend, are also doing so on less and less breadth.  Again, I would contend that hedging remains a critical activity for the corporate set.

Looking around markets today, yesterday’s euphoria, while evident in Asia overnight, has not made its way to Europe.  Japan’s Nikkei (+1.4%) led the way in Asia despite GDP data printing at a much lower than expected -3.6% in Q3.  It seems to me any idea that the BOJ will consider reducing its support for the economy is misplaced.  If anything, I would anticipate increased support as the nation tries to dig itself out of its latest economic hole.  As to the rest of Asia, the Hang Seng (+0.1%) lagged as its tech sector continues to be undermined by Xi’s ongoing crackdown on Chinese tech behemoths, but Shanghai (+1.1%) with far less tech exposure, did fine.

Europe, on the other hand, is under a bit of pressure this morning with the DAX (-0.6%) leading things lower followed by the CAC (-0.3%) while the FTSE 100 is little changed on the day.  The big news in Germany is that Angela Merkel is officially out as Chancellor and Olaf Scholz was sworn in as the new leader of the nation.  I don’t envy his situation as energy prices are rising sharply and Germany is entirely reliant on Russia and Vladimir Putin for the natural gas necessary to stay warm this winter, while their export-led economy is so tightly tied to China’s performance, that the ongoing slowdown there will soften growth prospects.  But then again, as a Social Democrat, maybe that is exactly the position Scholz relishes.

Finally, US markets remain in euphoria mode with futures all pointing higher by another 0.4% at this hour with the S&P 500 less than 1% from its all-time high.

The bond market, this morning, is showing no clarity whatsoever.  Treasury yields, after backing up 5bps yesterday, are actually lower by 0.8bps despite the positive look from equities.  Bunds and OATs are little changed while Gilts (-1.4bps) are showing the most strength.  Perhaps of more interest are the PIGS, where yields are rising sharply (Italy +3.2bps, Greece +4.9bps) after comments from Latvian ECB member, Martin Kazaks, that there was little reason to continue with additional QE once PEPP expires in March.  I suspect the Greeks and Italians would have a different opinion!

Last week, commodity prices were under huge pressure, led by oil, which cratered in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday.  This morning, WTI (+0.75%) and Brent (+1.0%) are continuing their strong rebound with both grades more than 12% off their recent lows.  NatGas (+3.9%), too, is rebounding but has much further to go to reach the peaks seen in October.  Metals market, on the other hand, are having a less interesting day with gold (+0.1%) and copper (+0.1%) just edging up a bit.

Turning to the dollar, it is broadly, but not universally weaker this morning with NOK (+0.6%) leading the way on the back of oil’s rebound, although the rest of the G10 gainers are far less impressive (AUD +0.2%, CAD +0.1%).  There are some laggards as well with GBP (-0.35%) falling after news that PM Johnson is about to impose new travel restrictions in the country.  Now, if the UK combines tightening monetary policy, at which the BOE has hinted, with omicron inspired restrictions, that is clearly a recipe for slowing growth, and a weaker pound and FTSE.  In fact, the pound has fallen to its lowest level in almost exactly 12 months this morning.  In the EMG space, only TRY (-1.3%) is really falling and that story is consistent.  On the plus side, though is THB (+0.6%), RUB (+0.4%) and ZAR and MXN (both +0.35%) as the commodity sector continues to perform well while Thailand powered ahead on reduced omicron fears.  So, the UK is reacting one way while the Thai government is going in the opposite direction!

On the data front, yesterday’s productivity and labor cost data were even more awful than forecast and Consumer Credit rose far less than anticipated and barely 56% as quickly as September.  This morning brings only the JOLTs report (exp 10469K) which means that with the lack of Fed speakers, the FX market will look elsewhere for drivers. As long as risk remains in vogue, I expect the dollar to remain under some pressure, but if the European equity impulse comes here, look for the dollar to recoup its losses before the day is over.

Good luck 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

Slower than Planned

There once was a firm, Evergrande
Whose ethos was just to expand
But its wanderlust
Led it to go bust
When China grew slower than planned

The aftermath now seems to be
Impacting the PBOC
They cut RRR
And could well do more
Inverse to Fed ending QE

As we begin a new week, and arguably the second to last where market liquidity will be close to its ordinary levels, the news of the day centers on the PBOC reducing its Reserve Ratio Requirement (RRR), as foreshadowed by Premier Li Keqiang last week.  While the official comments are focused on the government’s efforts to insure stable growth amid concerns over the omicron variant’s spread, it appears the reality may reach a little deeper.  Of more importance to market participants than the virus is the status of China Evergrande and the entire property sector in China.  It now appears that there is going to be an total restructuring of that company’s debt as it defaults on its remaining obligations.  Recall, Evergrande is was the largest property developer in China, and the most highly leveraged having total debts in excess of $300 billion as it expanded its business from purely property development to interests as far flung as theme parks, a soccer club and electric vehicles.  As of last night, it has notified creditors that a restructuring is on its way and that clearly has the PBOC a little concerned.

Property is the largest sector of the Chinese economy, representing more than 30%, and a key revenue source for most provinces and cities as they sell land to fund operations.  Evergrande was one of the largest purchasers, and so its slow-motion demise is being felt throughout the nation.  It is for this reason that the PBOC finds itself in a situation where it feels the need to add more liquidity to the economy, hence the RRR cut.  Interestingly, the problems here have not stopped the Chinese government’s crackdown on its tech sector, at least on the personal tech sector, as Didi Chuxing is being forced to delist from the NYSE and looks to reestablish its shares in Hong Kong.

From a vantage point some 7000 miles away, it appears that President Xi Jinping is moving quite rapidly in his efforts to completely control all aspects of the Chinese economy.  Do not be surprised to see every Chinese company listed outside Shanghai or Hong Kong to wind up moving that listing, nor to see further declines in those equity markets.  Capitalism with Chinese characteristics turns out to be socialism/communism after all, at least from the definitional perspective of the state controlling the means of production.  Whether this results in faster growth, or whether the rest of the world will even be able to determine that remains to be seen.  However, classical economics would suggest that the more internalization and the stricter the business regulations, the slower will be future growth.

Why, you may ask, is this important?  Well, first off it is reasonable to expect that ongoing liquidity injections in the Chinese economy are likely to eventually weaken the renminbi.  Second, if the growth trajectory of the Chinese economy is flattening, one of the few things the Chinese will be able to do to address that is weaken the currency to make its exporters more competitive.  The point is, while recent PBOC policy has been to maintain a strong and stable currency, and we have seen the renminbi appreciate more than 11% since it bottomed post-pandemic, the case for that trend to end and a weakening trend to develop appears to be growing.  For asset and receivables hedgers, careful consideration must be given to managing that risk.

With that in mind, let us turn to this morning’s activity.  Friday’s NFP report was mixed, with a weaker than expected headline number for jobs growth, but a much better than expected outcome in the Unemployment Rate as it appears more and more people are leaving large organizations and striking out on their own.  The upshot is labor market tightness is still with us and unlikely to ease in the short run.  Investors decided that was an equity market negative as it would encourage the Fed to taper policy even more quickly hence Friday’s equity sell-off.  At the same time, concerns over tighter policy slowing growth seem to have bond traders flattening the curve rapidly as they fear a Fed policy mistake of raising rates into slowing growth.  In other words, it’s all a mess!

Ok, overnight saw weakness in Asia (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -1.8%, Shanghai -0.5%) following the US Friday narrative, while Europe has decided things are far better this morning with rallies across the board (DAX +0.3%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE 100 +0.9%).  On a relative basis these moves make sense given the terrible Factory Orders data from Germany (-6.9% in October) while UK Construction PMI surprisingly rose to 55.5.  Meanwhile, US futures are a bit schizophrenic this morning with the DOW (+0.6%) looking to rebound from Friday while the NASDAQ (-0.4%) seems set to continue to slide.

The bond market, which rallied sharply Friday (Treasury yields falling 10bps) is giving back some of those price gains with the 10-year yield higher by 5.2bps this morning.  European yields are also a higher, but by much less (Bunds +0.9bps, OATs +0.7bps, Gilts +1.2bps), which are also consolidative moves, just not quite as dramatic.

On the commodity front, oil continues to whipsaw with a sharp rebound today (+3.25%) although NatGas (-7.9%) is getting crushed on a combination of forecasts for warmer weather in the Northeast as well as lower LNG prices in Europe.  In the metals markets, gold (-0.2%) continues to trade just below $1800/oz, neither rallying alongside inflation nor collapsing.  Copper (+0.8%) seems to be following oil, but aluminum (-0.85%) and tin (-1.9%) both seem to be in a more fearful mode.

Turning to the FX markets, mixed is the best description as we have both substantial gainers and losers vs. the dollar.  In the G10, AUD (+0.5%), SEK (+0.5%) and NOK (+0.5%) are leading the way higher on the back of the better commodity sentiment.  Meanwhile, CHF (-0.5%) and JPY (-0.3%) are both under pressure on the same story plus the European risk appetite.  In the EMG bloc, ZAR (+0.7%) leads the way with CLP (+0.3%) next as the commodity story seems to be driving thing here too.  On the downside, TRY (-0.45%) continues its volatile trading while the other laggards are from both APAC and EEMEA but have not seen significant declines.

On the data front, it is inflation week with CPI on Friday the biggest number to watch.  Leading up to that is the following:

Tuesday Q3 Nonfarm Productivity -4.9%
Q3 Unit Labor Costs 8.3%
Trade Balance -$66.9B
Wednesday JOLTS Job Openings 10500K
Thursday Initial Claims 225K
Continuing Claims 1910K
Friday CPI 0.7% (6.7% Y/Y)
-ex food & energy 0.5% (4.9% Y/Y)
Michigan Sentiment 68.0

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to this data, we hear from the Bank of Canada on Wednesday, where expectations are for no rate movement although they have been amongst the most hawkish of the G10 central banks of late.  As to CPI, while it is not the Fed’s preferred gauge, Chairman Powell clearly feels the pressure and so next week we can expect to see just how much faster they are going to reduce QE purchases…at least for now.

There are so many cross-currents driving markets right now, it is very difficult to find a specific underlying theme in the short-term.  Longer term, nothing has changed my view that the Fed will halt their tapering/tightening script as soon as equity markets begin to decline a little more substantially.  At that point, I feel like the dollar may come under pressure, although during the decline, it should probably rally further.  Payables hedgers should be taking advantage of this relatively strong dollar as I don’t think it will last that long.

Good luck 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

Future Pratfalls

In Germany, and too, in Spain
The people are feeling the pain
Of prices exploding
And therefore corroding
Their standards of living again

Meanwhile from the ECB’s halls
The comments from those know-it-alls
Show lack of concern
As each of them spurn
The idea of future pratfalls

In trading, ‘the trend is your friend’ is a very common sentiment and an idea backed with strong evidence.  One can think of this as analogous to Newton’s first law, i.e. a body in motion stays in motion.  So, when the price action in some market has been heading in one direction over time, it tends to continue in that direction.  This is the genesis of the moving average as a trading tool as the moving average is what defines the trend.  I highlight this because the concept is not restricted to trading but is also evident in many other price series, notably inflation.  When one looks at the history of inflation, it tends to trend in one direction for quite some time with major reversals relatively infrequent.  That is not to say a reversal cannot occur, but if one does, it tends to be the result of a long period of adjustment, not a quick flip of direction.

And yet, when listening to both Fed and ECB speakers lately, they would have you believe that the currently entrenched trend higher for prices is the aberration and that in a matter of months they will be back to their old concerns about deflation being the biggest problem for the economy.  One has to wonder at what evidence they are looking to come to that determination as certainly the recent data does not point in that direction.  Just this morning Spanish CPI (5.6%) printed at the highest level since 1992 while Italian PPI (25.3%) printed at the highest level in its history.  From Germany, we have seen CPI prints from several of its states (Hesse 5.3%, Baden Wuerttemberg 4.9%, Bavaria 5.3%, Saxony 5.0%) with the national number (exp 5.5%) due at 8:00 this morning.

Still, none of this seems to be having an impact on the thoughts of ECB members with Lagarde, Schnabel, Villeroy and de Cos all out explaining that this is a temporary phenomenon and that by the middle of next year CPI will be back at their 2.0% target or lower.  Maybe it will be so, but as Damon Runyon so aptly explained, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”  In other words, looking at the current trends, it seems far more likely that inflation remains high than suddenly turns around lower.  The biggest problem the central banks have now is that it has become common knowledge that inflation is rising, which means that individual behaviors are adjusting to a new price regime.  And if you listen to the central bank thesis that inflation expectations are a critical input, then they are really in trouble as inflation expectations are clearly rising.

At least the Fed has begun to discuss the idea of removing accommodation, although the Omicron variant of Covid may given them pause, but in Europe, it is not even on the table.  A discussion point that has been raised numerous times lately is the idea of a central bank policy error, either raising rates prematurely to battle phantom inflation or waiting too long to tighten policy and allowing inflation to become more entrenched.  While my money is on the latter, it is very clear that the ECB, at least, and still many Fed members, are far more concerned with the former.  Perhaps they are correct, and all these rising prices will quickly dissipate, and that would be great.  However, I am not counting on that outcome, nor should anyone else at this point until there is ANY proof the Fed or ECB are correct.

Meanwhile, Friday’s dramatic events seem to have been erased from memory as while there are still headlines regarding the Omicron variant, the collective market view appears to be that it is not going to result in another wave of lockdowns and therefore the economic impact will be relatively minor.  As such, we are seeing a reversal of fortune across most markets from their Friday price action.  It should be no surprise that the biggest change comes from oil (+4.75%) which has recouped about one-third of its losses and seems set to continue rebounding.  After all, if the consensus is that Omicron is not going to have much of an impact, then the supply/demand story hasn’t changed and that bodes well for oil prices moving higher.  Elsewhere in the commodity space NatGas (+7.4%) is rising sharply on the back of colder than normal weather, while metals prices (Au +0.1%, Ag +0.5%, Cu +1.7%, Al +1.2%) are all rebounding as well.

In the equity markets, Asia never got a chance to sell off like Europe and the US on Friday so caught up (down?) with the Nikkei (-1.6%) leading the way although the Hang Seng (-1.0%) also suffered.  Shanghai traded flat for the day.  Europe, however, which sold off sharply on Friday, with many markets down more than 4%, has rebounded somewhat this morning (DAX +0.7%, CAC +1.1%, FTSE 100 +1.2%) although these markets are obviously well lower than Thursday’s closing levels.  Finally, US equities sold off sharply in Friday’s abbreviated session, with all three indices down about 2.3% but this morning futures are all rebounding as well, up between 0.6% and 0.8%.

Bonds saw the most dramatic move on Friday, with Treasury yields tumbling 16 basis points while European yields all fell as well, albeit less dramatically.  This morning, with risk back in vogue, bonds are back under pressure with Treasuries (+6.8bps) leading the way but all of Europe (Bunds +2.7bps, OATs +1.5bps, Gilts +3.9bps) also seeing higher yields.

It should come as no surprise that the dollar is also reversing some of Friday’s price action with the commodity bloc doing well (SEK +0.4%, CAD +0.3%, AUD +0.3%) while the financials are under modest pressure (EUR -0.2%).  This movement is nothing more than a reaction to the Friday movement.  EMG currencies are seeing similar price action with the best performers the commodity bloc here (RUB +0.9%, ZAR +0.7%) while weakness has been seen in TRY (-3.45%) and CLP (-0.7%).  The former continues to suffer from President Erdogan’s comments about never raising interest rates to fight inflation while the peso is reacting to early polls showing the leftist, Gabriel Boric, leading ahead of the runoff presidential election in 3 weeks.

It is a week full of data culminating in Friday’s payroll report although it starts out slowly.

Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 19.35%
Chicago PMI 67.0
Consumer Confidence 110.7
Wednesday ADP Employment 525K
Construction Spending 0.4%
ISM Manufacturing 61.1
ISM Prices Paid 85.8
Fed Beige Book
Thursday Initial Claims 250K
Continuing Claims 2000K
Friday Nonfarm Payrolls 535K
Private Payrolls 525K
Manufacturing Payrolls 45K
Unemployment Rate 4.5%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.4% (5.0% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.7
Participation Rate 61.7%
ISM Services 65.0
Factory Orders 0.5%

Source: Bloomberg

In addition to all that data, we hear from Chairman Powell (and Secretary Yellen) in front of the Senate and House on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as eight more Fed speakers during the week.  If I were a betting man, I would expect that the broad message will continue to be that while inflation is not a long-term problem, it is appropriate to continue to normalize monetary policy now.  And that will be the message right up until markets force them to make a choice by either selling off sharply and forcing an end to policy tightening or running to new highs dragging inflation expectations, as well as inflation, along with them.

Meanwhile, the dollar remains beholden to the latest whims.  If tightening is back on the table, then look for the dollar to resume its uptrend.  However, if Omicron, or something else, causes a change in the message, the dollar seems likely to pull back smartly.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Quite Insane

There once was a concept, inflation
That frightened the heads of each nation
As prices would rise
They could not disguise
The fact it was just like taxation

But now, though it seems quite insane
Most governments try to explain
No need for dismay
Inflation’s okay
There’s no reason you should complain

The latest example is from
The UK, where people’s income
Continues to lag
Each higher price tag
And prospects for growth are humdrum

It certainly is becoming more difficult to accept the idea that the current inflationary surge being felt around the world is going to end anytime soon.  I keep trying to imagine why any company would cut prices in the current macroeconomic environment given the amount of available funds to spend held by consumers everywhere.  So called ‘excess’ savings, the amount of savings that are available to consumers above their long-term trend, exceed $3 trillion worldwide, with more than $2 trillion of that in the US alone.  If you run a company and are being faced with higher input costs (energy, wages, raw materials, etc.) and there has been no reduction in demand for your product, the most natural response is to continue to raise prices until you find the clearing price where demand softens.  It is a pipe dream for any central bank to expect that the current situation is going to resolve itself in the near future.

And yet…the major central banks (Fed, ECB, BOE and BOJ) continue to be committed to maintaining ultra-easy monetary policy.  For instance, today’s inflation data from the UK is a perfect case in point.  CPI rose a more than expected 4.2% Y/Y, more than double the BOE’s price target.  Core CPI rose 3.4%, also more than expected and RPI (Retail Price Index, the price series that UK inflation linked bonds track), rose 6.0%, the highest level since 1991.  And yet, the BOE is seemingly no closer to raising rates.  You may recall that despite what appeared to be clear signaling by the BOE they would be raising interest rates at their meeting earlier this month, they decided against doing so, surprising the market and leading to significant volatility in UK interest rate markets.  In fact, BOE Governor Bailey fairly whined afterwards that it was not the BOE’s job to manage the economy.  (If not, what exactly is their job?)  At any rate, the growing concern in the UK is that growth is slowing more rapidly while prices continue to rise.  This has put the BOE in a tough spot and will likely force a decision as to which issue to address.  The problem is the policy prescriptions for each issue are opposite, thus the conundrum.

The bigger problem is that this conundrum exists in every major economy.  The growth statistics we have seen have clearly been supported by the massive fiscal and monetary policy expansion everywhere.  In the US, that number is greater than $10 trillion or 40% of the economy.  The fear is that organic growth, outside the stimulus led measures, is much weaker and if policy support is removed too early, economies will quickly fall back into recession.  In fact, that is the most common refrain we hear from policymakers around the world, premature tightening will be a bigger problem.  Ultimately, a decision is going to need to be made by every central bank as to which policy problem is more important to address immediately.  For the past four decades, the only policy issue considered was growth and how to support it.  But now that inflation has made a comeback, it is a much tougher choice.  We shall see which side the major central banks choose over the coming months, but in the meantime, the one thing which is abundantly clear is that prices are going to continue to rise.

A reasonable question would be, how have markets responded to the latest data and comments?  And the answer is…no change in attitude.  Risk appetite remains relatively robust as the money continues to flow from central banks, although certain risk havens, notably gold, are finding new supporters as fears of significantly faster inflation grow.

So, let’s survey today’s markets.  Equities have had a mixed session with Asia (Nikkei -0.4%, Hang Seng -0.25%, Shanghai +0.45%) and Europe (DAX +0.1%, CAC +0.1%, FTSE 100 -0.3%) all, save China, remaining near all-time highs (in the case of the Nikkei they are merely 31 year highs from after the bubble there), but certainly showing no signs of backing off.  US futures are showing similar price action with very modest movement either side of flat.

Bonds, as well, are little changed and mixed on the day with Treasuries (-0.5bps) catching a modest bid after having sold off sharply over the past week.  In Europe, the price action is similar with Bunds (-0.3bps), OATs (+0.2bps) and Gilts (-0.5bps) all within a few tics of yesterday’s closing levels.  I would have expected Gilts to suffer somewhat more given the UK inflation data, but these days, it appears that inflation doesn’t have any impact on interest rates.

Commodity prices are softer this morning led by oil (-1.3%) and NatGas (-1.75%), although European NatGas is higher by more than 7.3% this morning as Russia continues to restrict flows to the continent.  (I have a feeling that the politicians who made the decision to rely on Russia for a critical source of power are going to come under increasing pressure.)  In the metals markets, industrials are mostly under pressure (Cu -1.0%, Sn -0.1%, Zn -0.8%) but we are seeing a slight rebound in aluminum (+0.6%) and precious metals are doing fine (Au +0.6%, Ag +1.1%).  It seems that inflation remains a concern there.

As to the dollar, it has outperformed a few more currencies than not, with TRY (-1.25%) the biggest loser as the central bank there has clearly made the decision that growth outweighs inflation and is expected to cut interest rates further despite inflation running at nearly 20%.  Elsewhere in the EMG bloc, the losers are less dramatic with MYR (-0.3%) and CLP (-0.3%) the next worst performers.  On the plus side, RUB (+0.8%) is the clear leader, shaking off the decline in oil prices as inflows to purchase Russian bonds have been enough to support the ruble.  Otherwise, there are a handful of currencies that have edged higher, but nothing of note.

In the G10, the picture is also of a few more losers than gainers but no very large moves at all.  surprisingly, GBP (+0.1%) has done very little in the wake of the CPI data and actually SEK (+0.35%) is the best performer on the day.  However, given the krona’s recent performance, where it has fallen more than 4% in the past week, a modest rebound should not be much of a surprise.  Overall, the dollar has retained its bid as evidenced by the euro (-2.8%) and the yen (-2.0%) declining during the past week with virtually no rebound.  It appears that the market continues to believe the Fed is going to be the major central bank that tightens policy fastest and the dollar is benefitting accordingly.

This morning’s data brings Housing Starts (exp 1579K) and Building Permits (1630K), neither of which seem likely to move markets.  Yesterday’s Retail Sales and IP data were much stronger than expected, which clearly weighed on bond markets a bit, and supported the dollar, but had little impact elsewhere.  We hear from seven! Fed speakers today, as they continue to mostly double down on the message that they expect inflation to subside on its own and so it would be a mistake to act prematurely.  There is a growing divide between what the market believes the Fed is going to do and what the Fed says they are going to do.  When that resolves, it will have a large market impact, we just don’t know when that will be.

For now, you cannot fight the dollar rally, but I will say it is getting a bit long in the tooth and a modest correction seems in order during the next several sessions.  Payables hedgers should be picking spots and layering into hedges because the longer-term situation for the dollar remains far more tenuous.

Good luck and stay safe
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