Rates May Have to Rise

Said Janet, “rates may have to rise”
Which really should be no surprise
The money we’ve spent
Has markets hell bent
On constantly making new highs

But right after this bit of diction
The market ran into some friction
So quick as a wink
She had a rethink
And said “this is not a prediction”

Just kidding!  What was amply demonstrated yesterday is that the Fed, and by extension the US government, has completely lost control of the narrative.  The ongoing financialization of the US economy has resulted in the single most powerful force being the stock market.  Policymakers are now in the position of doing whatever it takes, to steal a phrase, to prevent a decline of any severity.  This includes actual policy decisions as well as comments about potential future decisions.

A brief recap of yesterday’s events shows that Treasury Secretary Yellen, at a virtual event on the economy said, “rates may have to rise to stop the economy from overheating.”  Now, on its surface, this doesn’t seem like an outrageous statement as it hews directly to macroeconomic theory and is widely accepted as a reasonable idea. However, Janet Yellen is no longer a paid consultant for BlackRock, but US Treasury Secretary.  And the only market fundamental that matters currently is the idea that the Fed is not going to raise interest rates for at least another two years.  Thus, when a senior administration financial official (has a Freudian slip and) talks about rates needing to rise, investors take notice.

So, in a scene we have observed numerous times in the past, immediately after the comments equity markets started to sell off even more sharply than their early declines and the market discussion started to turn to when rates may be raised.  But a declining stock market is unacceptable, so in a later WSJ interview, Yellen recanted clarified those remarks explaining that she was neither predicting nor recommending rate hikes.  It was merely an observation.

However, what was made clear was just how few degrees of freedom the Fed has to implement the policy they see fit.  It is for this reason that every time an official explains the Fed ‘has the tools’ necessary to fight inflation should it arise, there is a great deal of eye-rolling.  The first tool in fighting inflation is raising interest rates, and that will not go down well in the equity world, regardless of the level of inflation.  And what we know is that the Fed clearly doesn’t have the stomach to watch stocks decline by 10% or 20%, let alone more, in the wake of their policy decisions to raise interest rates.  We know this because in Q4 2018, when they were attempting to normalize policy, raising rates and shrinking the balance sheet simultaneously, the stock market fell 20% and was starting to gain serious downside momentum.  This begat the Powell Shift on Boxing Day, which saw the Fed stop tightening and stocks stop falling.

It is with this in mind that we view the comments of other Fed speakers.  Most are hewing to the party line, with NY’s Williams and SF’s Daly both right on script explaining that while growth will be strong this year, there is still a great deal of slack in the economy and supportive (read easy) monetary policy is still critical in achieving their goals.  It is also why Dallas Fed president Kaplan is roundly ignored when he explains that tapering purchases later this year may be sensible given the strength of the economy.  But Kaplan isn’t a voter nor will he be one until 2023, so no matter how passionate his pleas are in the FOMC meeting room, it will never be known as he cannot even dissent on a policy choice.

In summary, yesterday’s Yellen comments and corrections simply reinforce the idea that the Fed is not going to raise rates for at least another two years and that tapering of asset purchases is not on Powell’s mind, nor that of most of his FOMC colleagues.  So…party on!

And that is exactly what we are seeing today in markets.  While the Hang Seng had a poor showing (-0.5%) which followed yesterday’s tech heavy selloff in the US, Europe, which of course lacks any tech sector to speak of, is sharply higher this morning (DAX +1.35%, CAC +0.9%, FTSE 100 +1.1%) as a combination of Services PMI data strength and optimism about the ending of lockdowns has investors expecting superior profit growth going forward.  US futures are also pointing higher (DOW +0.3%, SPX +0.4%, NASDAQ +0.5%) as confirmation that rates will remain low added to rising growth forecasts continue to underpin the equity case.  As an example of the growth optimism, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecast tool has risen to 13.567% as of yesterday, up from just 7.869% a week earlier!  Now, as more data is released, that will fluctuate, but if that data continues to be as strong as recent outcomes, do not be surprised to see Q2 GDP forecasts move a lot higher everywhere.

Turning to the bond markets, Treasury yields this morning are higher by 1.3 basis points, although that is after having slipped 3 bps on Monday and ultimately remaining unchanged yesterday.  But in this risk-on meme, bonds do lose their appeal.  European sovereigns are also generally lower with Bunds (+1.9bps), OATs (+2.3bps) and Gilts (+3.0bps), all seeing sellers converting their haven money into stock purchases.

Risk appetite in commodities remains robust this morning as oil prices continue to escalate (+1.1%) and are pushing back near their recent highs above $67/bbl.  While precious metals continue to lack traction, the base metal space is back in high gear this morning (Cu +0.5%, Al +0.65%, Sn +1.1%).  Agriculturals?  Wheat +0.3%, Soybeans +1.0%, Corn +0.85%.  It’s a good thing the price of what we eat has nothing to do with inflation!  As an example, Corn is currently $7.50/bushel, a price which has only been exceeded once in the data set going back to 1912, when it touched $8.00 in July 2012.  And looking at the chart, there is no indication that it is running out of steam.

Finally, the dollar has evolved from a mixed session to one where it is now largely under pressure.  This fits with the risk-on theme so should be no surprise.  NZD (+0.65%) leads the way higher but the commodity bloc is all firmer (AUD +0.4%, NOK +0.35%, CAD +0.3%) on the back of the commodity rally.  The rest of the G10, though, is little changed overall.  In the EMG space, PLN (-0.4%) is the outlier, falling ahead of the central bank’s rate announcement, although there is no expectation for a rate move, there is concern over a change in the dovish tone.  As well, the Swiss franc mortgage issue continues to weigh on the nation as a decision is due to be released next week and could result in significant bank losses and concerns over the financial system there.  But away from the zloty, there are a handful of currencies that are ever so slightly weaker, and the gainers are unimpressive as well (ZAR +0.35%, RUB +0.2%), both of which are commodity driven.

Two data points this morning show ADP Employment (exp 850K) and ISM Services (64.1) with more attention to be paid to the former than the latter.  We also have three more Fed speakers, Evans, Rosengren and Mester, with the previously hawkish Mester being the one most likely to discuss things like tapering being appropriate.  But in the end, there remains a very clear majority on the FOMC that there is no reason to change policy for a long time to come.

It is difficult to develop a new narrative on the dollar at this stage.  Rising Treasury yields on the back of rising inflation expectations are likely to offer short term support for the buck but can undermine it over time.  For today, however, it seems that the traditional risk-on theme is pushing back on its modest gains from yesterday.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Specter of Growth

The specter of growth’s in the air
So, pundits now try to compare
Which central bank will
Be next to instill
The discipline they did forswear

In Canada, they moved last week
On Thursday, Sir Bailey will speak
Now some pundits wonder
In June, from Down Under
The RBA will, easing, tweak

But what of Lagarde and Chair Jay
Will either of them ever say
Our goals are achieved
And so, we’re relieved
We’ve no need to buy bonds each day

On lips around the world is the question du jour, has growth rebounded enough for central banks to consider tapering QE and reining in monetary policy?  Certainly, the data continues to be impressive, even when considering that Y/Y comparisons are distorted by the government-imposed shutdowns last Spring.  PMI data points to robust growth ahead, as well as robust price rises.  Hard data, like Retail Sales and Personal Consumption show that as more and more lockdowns end, people are spending at least some portion of the savings accumulated during the past year. Meanwhile, bottlenecks in supply chains and lack of investment in capacity expansion has resulted in steadily rising prices adding the specter of inflation to that of growth.

While no developed market central bank head has yet displayed any concern over rising prices, at some point, that discussion will be forced by the investor community.  The only question is at what level yields will be sitting when central banks can no longer sidestep the question.  But after the Bank of Canada’s surprise move to reduce the amount of weekly purchases at their last meeting, analysts are now focusing on the Bank of England’s meeting this Thursday as the next potential shoe to drop.  Between the impressive rate of vaccination and the substantial amount of government stimulus, the UK data has been amongst the best in the world.  Add to that the imminent prospect of the ending of the lockdowns on individual movement and you have the makings of an overheating economy.  The current consensus is that the BOE may slow the pace of purchases but will not reduce the promised amount.  Baby steps.

Last night, the RBA left policy on hold, as universally expected, but the analyst community there is now looking for some changes as well.  Again, the economy continues to rebound sharply, with job growth outstripping estimates, PMI data pointing to a robust future and inflation starting to edge higher.  While the inoculation rate in Australia has been surprisingly low, the case rate Down Under has been miniscule, with less than 30,000 confirmed cases amid a population of nearly 26 million. The point is, the economy is clearly rebounding and, as elsewhere, the question of whether the RBA needs to continue to add such massive support has been raised.  Remember, the RBA is also engaged in YCC, holding 3-year yields to 0.10%, exactly the same as the O/N rate.  The current guidance is this will remain the case until 2024, but with growth rebounding so quickly, the market is unlikely to continue to accept that as reality.

These peripheral economies are interesting, especially for those who have exposures in them, but the big question remains here in the US, how long can the Fed ignore rising prices and surging growth.  Just last week Chairman Powell was clear that a key part of his belief that any inflation would be transitory was because inflation expectations were well anchored.  Well, Jay, about that…5-year Inflation breakevens just printed at 2.6%, their highest level since 2008.  A look at the chart shows a near vertical line indicating that they have further to run.  I fear the Fed’s inflation anchor has become unmoored.  While 10-year Treasury yields (+2.3bps today) have been rangebound for the past two months, the combination of rising prices and massively increased debt issuance implies one of two things, either yields have further to climb (2.0% anyone?) or the Fed is going to step in to prevent that from occurring.  If the former, look for the dollar to resume its Q1 climb.  If the latter, Katy bar the door as the dollar will fall sharply as any long positions will look to exit as quickly as possible.  Pressure on the Fed seems set to increase over the next several months, so increased volatility may well result.  Be aware.

As to today’s session, market movement is mostly risk-on but the dollar seems to be iconoclastic this morning.  For instance, equity markets are generally in good shape (Hang Seng +0.7%, CAC+0.5%, FTSE 100 +0.6%) although the DAX (-0.35%) is lagging.  China and Japan remain on holiday.  US futures, however, are a bit under the weather with NASDAQ (-0.4%) unable to shake yesterday’s weak performance while the other two main indices hover around unchanged.

Sovereign bond markets have latched onto the risk-on theme by selling off a bit.  While Treasuries lead the way, we are seeing small yield gains in Europe (Bunds +0.5bps, OATs +0.6bps, Gilts +0.5bps) after similar gains in Australia overnight.

Commodity markets continue to power higher with oil (+1.9%), Aluminum (+0.4%) and Tin (+1.0%) all strong although Copper (-0.1%) is taking a breather.  Agricultural products are also firmer but precious metals are suffering this morning, after a massive rally yesterday, with gold (-0.5%) the worst of the bunch.

Of course, the gold story can be no surprise when looking at the FX markets, where the dollar is significantly stronger across the board.  For instance, despite ongoing commodity strength, and the rally in oil, NZD (-0.9%), AUD (-0.6%) and NOK (-0.5%) are leading the way down, with GBP (-0.25%) the best performer of the day.  The pound’s outperformance seems linked to the story of a modest tapering of monetary policy, but overall, the dollar is just quite strong today.

The same is true versus the EMG bloc, where TRY (-1.0%) is the worst performer, but the CE4 are all weaker by at least 0.4% and SGD (-0.5%) has fallen after announcing plans for a super strict 3-week lockdown period in an effort to halt the recent spread of Covid in its tracks.  The only gainer of note is RUB (+0.4%) which is simply following oil higher.

Data this morning brings the Trade Balance (exp -$74.3B) as well as Factory Orders (1.3%, 1.8% ex transport), both of which continue to show economic strength and neither of which is likely to cause any market ructions.

Two more Fed speakers today, Daly and Kaplan, round out the messaging, with the possibility of Mr Kaplan shaking things up, in my view.  He has been one of the more hawkish views on the FOMC and is on record as describing the rise in yields as justified and perhaps a harbinger of less Fed activity.  However, he is not a current voter, and Powell has just told us clearly that there are no changes in the offing.  Ultimately, this is the $64 trillion question, will the Fed blink in the face of rising Treasury yields?  Answer that correctly and you have a good idea what to expect going forward.  At this point, I continue to take Powell at his word, meaning no change to policy, but if things continue in this direction, that could certainly change.  In the meantime, nothing has changed my view that the dollar will follow Treasury yields for the foreseeable future.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

The Seeds of Inflation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Bloomberg

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

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

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Powell Won’t Waver

The story last quarter was prices
Would rise, leading up to a crisis
So, bond markets dropped
The dollar, she popped
And gold bugs all made sacrifices

But now a new narrative line
Explains that inflation’s benign
So, bonds are in favor
As Powell won’t waver
While dollars resume their decline

All year long the market story has been driven by the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond.  Ever since the run-off elections in Georgia in the beginning of January, market anticipation has been for significant growth in the US on the heels of increased vaccination rates and increased fiscal stimulus.  In Q1, Treasury yields rose dramatically, touching as high as 1.77% at their top toward the end of March.  Meanwhile, the dollar, which had been slated to decline all year, rallied versus every emerging market currency and all but CAD, GBP and NOK in the G10.

But, as of the first of this month, the world appears to be a different place, as Treasury bonds have rallied driving yields lower and supporting equity and commodity markets.  At the same time, the dollar has come under broad-based pressure and reversed a large portion of its Q1 gains.

Currently, the narrative appears to be along the following lines: US GDP growth in 2021 is going to be spectacular, well above 6.0% and its strongest since 1984.  Inflation, meanwhile, will print at higher levels for Q2 purely as a result of base effects, but will then resume its long-term downtrend and the Fed will be required to continue to support the economy aggressively in order to meet their goals.  By the way, the Fed’s newly articulated goal is for maximum employment, not full employment, and they have promised to become completely reactive, waiting for hard data to confirm positive results in employment and wages, before considering any efforts to rein in rising prices.

Equity markets still love the story as the implication is that interest rates will not be rising at all this year, nor next year for that matter, at least in the front end of the curve.  Treasury markets, which appeared to get a little panicked in Q1 have reverted to form and seem to be pricing one of two things; either less impressive economic growth, or anticipation that the Fed will expand QE or YCC as Powell and friends seek to prevent any significant rise in yields.  Meanwhile, the dollar is falling again, gold is rising and commodity prices (the one true constant) remain firm.

Have we reached economic nirvana?  Some skepticism might be in order given the myriad issues that can undermine this narrative.  The primary issue is, of course, another wave of Covid spreading throughout the US and the world.  As the virus mutates, it is not clear that the current vaccines are going to be effective preventatives to new strains.  While the vaccination progress in the US and UK has been excellent, with 40% and 50% of their respective populations receiving at least the first dose, the same cannot be said elsewhere in the world.  In fact, the newsworthy item of the day is that India reported 315,800 new cases just yesterday!  Alongside Brazil and Turkey, these three nations, with a combined population of nearly 1.7 billion find themselves in the midst of another serious wave of infection.  Remember that a huge part of the reopening and growth narrative is the ending of the pandemic.  It is still too early to make that claim, and so, perhaps a bit early to count the 2021 GDP growth figures as a given.

However, there is a second issue of note that cannot be ignored, and that is the inflation story.  While it is clear that the Fed has convinced themselves inflation is not a concern, that the elevated readings that are almost certain to come over the next three months will be ‘transitory’, there is a case to be made that rising inflation may have a more lasting impact.

Consider that oil prices have risen dramatically from their levels this time last year and continue to trend higher.  Now, while the Fed looks at core prices, ex food & energy, the reality is that rising energy prices feed into everyday items beyond the cost of filling your gas tank.  Given that virtually everything produced and consumed requires energy to create, eventually higher energy prices feed into the cost of all those products.  It can be even more direct for services such as shipping, where energy price surcharges are common.  But just because something is labeled a surcharge doesn’t mean it hasn’t raised the price of the item consumed.  The point is, rising energy prices and rising commodity prices in general, are leading to higher input costs which will eventually lead to higher prices.  We continue to see the evidence in data like PPI and the price indices in the PMI and ISM data.

And these are just the two largest known issues.  Less probable, but potentially highly significant, we could see increased tension in US-China relations, with a stepped-up trade war, or even a confrontation over the situation in Taiwan.  Neither can one rule out more mischief from Russia, or Middle Eastern strife that could easily impact the supply of oil and hence its price.  The point is, it seems early to declare that the worst is behind us and price securities and risk as though that is the case.

Market activity today is relatively muted as investors and traders await the latest word(s) from Madame Lagarde and the ECB.  Expectations are there will be no changes to policy, but the real hope is that she will give clearer guidance on their plans going forward.  You may recall at the last meeting they expressed some dismay that bond yields had risen as much as they had and promised to increase PEPP purchases.  Since then, while they have increased those purchases, the amount of increase has been less than impressive and yields in Europe, while not rising further, have not returned to previous lower levels.  At the same time, as US yields have fallen back more than 20bps from their recent highs, the euro (+0.2%) has resumed its climb and is back above 1.20 for the first time since early March.  One thing we know is that the ECB can ill afford a stronger euro, so some type of response may be forthcoming.

Speaking of central banks, yesterday’s big surprise came from north of the border as the Bank of Canada, while leaving policy on hold, changed their tune on the timing for the end of QE.  They brought forward their tapering timeline and the market brought forward the rate hike timeline in response.  It seems that the employment situation in Canada has returned far closer to pre-Covid levels than in the US, with more than 90% of the jobs lost having been regained.  While CAD has given up 0.1% this morning, this is after a nearly 1.0% rise yesterday in the wake of the BOC announcement.

A quick look at equity markets around the world shows that Asia had a pretty good session (Nikkei +2.4%, Hang Seng +0.5%, Shanghai -0.25%) while Europe is all green and has been steadily climbing all day (DAX +0.45%, CAC +0.6%, FTSE 100 +0.1%).  US futures, however, are ever so slightly softer, down about 0.15% across the board, although this was after solid rallies yesterday afternoon.  Meanwhile, bond markets are under the barest of pressures with yields edging higher in the US (+0.5bps) and Europe (Bunds +0.4bps, OATs +0.8bps, Gilts -0.4bps), really showing a market waiting for the next piece of data.

Energy prices are under modest pressure this morning (WTI -0.5%), as are precious metals (Au -0.3%, Ag -0.6%) and industrials (Cu 0.0%, Zn -0.2%, Al -0.2%).

It can be little surprise that the dollar is mixed this morning, given the lack of a coherent market theme, although there are some modest surprises.  NOK (+0.25%) for example is stronger in the face of weaker oil prices.  Meanwhile NZD (-0.3%) is the weak link in the G10, on the back of market internals and stop-loss selling.  EMG currencies have a few more substantial movers with RUB (+1.25%) the leading gainer by far after President Putin’s state of the nation address focused entirely on domestic issues rather than feared saber rattling.  This encouraged bond buying and strength in the ruble.  On the other end of the spectrum is TRY (-0.8%) which has seen further investor outflow after reports that the US administration is prepared to raise the issue of the Armenian genocide and put further pressure to isolate President Erdogan.  However, away from those two movers, the rest of the bloc is +/- 0.2% or less.

Aside from the ECB meeting, the US data slate brings Initial Claims (exp 610K), Continuing Claims (3.6M), Leading Indicators (1.0%) and Existing Home Sales (6.11M).  Clearly the Claims data is the most important of the bunch with a strong number possibly helping to halt the Treasury rally and potentially support the dollar.  We are in the Fed quiet period, so no speakers there.

The rest of the day will take its tone from Madame Lagarde, but if she is less than forceful, I would expect the current trend (modestly lower yields, modestly higher equities and modestly weaker dollar) to continue.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Not If But When

Eight years ago, when Chairman Ben
Suggested t’was not if but when
The Fed would reduce
Its purchase, profuse,
Of bonds, traders sold bonds, bought yen

But these days when taper’s discussed
The bond market doesn’t seem fussed
The reason could be
There’s now nobody
The market invests with its trust

Yesterday’s CPI data printed a tick higher than forecast indicating that, yes, prices are rising relative to last year.  The headline print of 2.6% was the beneficiary of a substantial rise in energy prices compared to last year, but the core price index indicated that both goods and services prices are rising in price.  One data point is not enough to make any claims in either direction, but it will certainly keep the discussion going for a while.  The market response was somewhat counterintuitive as by the end of the day, 10-year Treasury yields had fallen 6 basis points and the dollar was softer amid modestly firmer equity prices.  While the link between the dollar and Treasuries remains intact, the question is why would bonds rally (yields decline) if inflation was rising?

One possible answer is that the market had gotten far ahead of itself with respect to pricing in rising inflation.  Historically, inflation takes time to manifest itself as prices on many things are sticky, meaning they remain stable for a time amid broad pressures and then shift in a relatively large step, rather than a gradual daily or weekly increase.  We are all familiar with the situation when an item regularly purchased suddenly rises in price to catch up to the broad underlying price pressures.  But when taken over the totality of all goods purchased, while any given good or service may see prices rise in discrete steps, the index moves up in a relatively smooth manner.  This fact is why yesterday’s data are interesting, because the headline jump of 0.6% M/M certainly tests the definition of smooth.  Consider that a monthly increase of 0.6% would result in annual inflation of 7.4%, a level that even the Fed would consider too hot.  FYI, yesterday’s core print, which was actually 0.34%, would represent 4.2% core CPI over a year.  So, yes, the base effects were instrumental in the much higher Y/Y data, but the monthly increases were pretty high in any accounting.

And yet, the bond market ultimately rallied all day, having touched 1.7% in early European trading and closing the session at 1.615%.  If this wasn’t a classic case of buy the rumor, sell the news, I don’t know what is.  And, as we have seen consistently all year, the dollar dutifully followed yields lower while equity markets ultimately rallied, although the euphoria over the value trade seems to be waning.

Perhaps of more interest is the fact that we have now had 3 key central bankers, two from the ECB, Knot and Villeroy, and the Fed’s Bullard all start to discuss the idea of tapering bond purchases.  This seems incongruous given the adamant claims on both sides of the pond that current monetary policy is necessary and appropriate to ensure the respective economies return to form.  And yet each of these discussed how tapering of QE could begin before the year is out.  You may recall that Bullard wanted to tie the idea of tapering to the level of vaccinations in the economy, indicating that when 75% of the population is vaccinated, it could be time to start slowing purchases with the implication being the economy would then be able to stand on its own two feet.

This morning, Banque de France Governor Villeroy de Galhau explained that there could be an evolution in monetary policy at the ECB, which while remaining accommodative would shift the burden back to the APP (the original QE plan) from PEPP, which will ostensibly run its course in March 2022.  Last week, Knot, the Dutch Central Bank president expressed his view that the current expectations of robust growth in the second half of the year could be a signal to begin tapering asset purchases.  Now, understand that there were members from both central bank committees pushing back on the idea, but the fact remains that there is some consideration of tapering.  Today, we hear from Chairman Powell again, but we will not hear from Madame Lagarde until her press conference after the ECB meeting next week.

Adding up the disparate facts is quite difficult.  On the one hand, we have the first trial balloons floated regarding tapering of asset purchases as a response to the forecasts for extremely robust growth this year.  On the other hand, the market appears to have indicated that, at least for now, the idea of much faster growth leading to much higher inflation has run its course.  It strikes me that the market is unlikely to worry too much about these trial balloons until they hear from Powell and/or Lagarde.  Until then, it appears that a short period of higher inflation readings is on the cards and unless they really start to spike, that is unlikely to have a big impact on either equities or bonds.

Speaking of equities, yesterday saw the S&P 500 close at yet another new all-time high with the NASDAQ pushing back to within 1% of its February record.  Clearly, there is no inflation scare there.  Rather, all eyes are turning to the first earnings releases due today.  Overnight saw the Nikkei slide (-0.4%) but elsewhere in Asia equities rallied (Hang Seng +1.4%, Shanghai +0.5%).  European markets are mixed with the DAX (-0.1%) lagging while both the CAC (+0.4%) and FTSE 100 (+0.3%) continue to grind higher.  Apparently, Villeroy’s comments about tapering have not been seen as a danger.  US futures are modestly higher at this point, just 0.2% or so as the market bides its time ahead of Powell’s comments at noon.

In the bond market, after a big rally yesterday, the 10-year has seen yields back up slightly, by 1.1 bps, although European bonds are all looking at modest yield declines (Bunds -1.0bps, OATs -1.2bps, Gilts -0.3bps).  It has become pretty clear that the rush higher in yields has stalled for now, with important implications for all the other markets, especially the dollar.

Oil prices are continuing their recent rebound, with WTI +1.6%, although the price action in the metals markets remains confusing.  Precious metals rallied sharply yesterday but are little changed this morning.  Base metals continue to trade both ways with Cu (+1.1%) leading the way higher, but Al (-0.3%) lagging.  It all seems very much like a consolidation period ahead of the next leg higher.

As to the dollar, after sliding all day yesterday alongside Treasury yields, it is continuing lower this morning.  The leading gainer is NZD (+0.8%) which has rallied based on the market’s interpretation that standing pat by the RBNZ last night was actually hawkish, which has helped drag AUD (+0.65%) higher as well.  Oil is supporting NOK (+0.45%) but the rest of the moves are far less significant.  EMG currencies are also performing well this morning, led by KRW (+0.85%) and TRY (+0.5%).  The won was a beneficiary of the generally falling dollar as well as foreign inflows into the KOSPI.  TRY, on the other hand, simply offers yields that are too high to resist for certain investors, despite rising inflation there.

The only data today is the Fed’s Beige Book, to be released at 2:00, but aside from Powell at noon, we hear from four other Fed speakers including vice-chairman Clarida at 3:45 this afternoon.  Come Friday, the Fed will enter their quiet period ahead of the next FOMC meeting, so it seems everyone wants to get their thoughts aired ahead of that.

In the end, the dollar remains beholden to 10-year Treasury yields, so we could be in for a period of very limited movement, if Treasuries have found a new home.  Unless we hear something new from the Chairman today, I expect we are looking at a period of quiet for the next two weeks.  The calm before the storm.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Will a New Normal Emerge?

Recovery this year is set
To be best in decades, and yet
The central bank’s thumb
Will drive the outcome
By buying quadrillions in debt

The question is, after this surge
Will there be a natural urge
For things to go back
To pre-Covid’s track
Or will a new normal emerge?

The Wall Street aphorism, buy the rumor, sell the news, remains as valid today as it ever was.  The idea behind this concept, something to which I regularly point, is that by the time a particular piece of information has been released, the market has already absorbed the information in the price and is looking forward to the next price driver.  The result is that markets rally into good news and fall upon the release, and vice versa.  The most recent evidence that this remains a key to price action was Friday’s payroll report, where the outcome, in an illiquid market, was a much better than expected 916K NFP number with upward revisions of the previous two months.  And yet Treasury yields, which might have been expected to rise further on the news, have done nothing but decline since then.  Including today’s 1 basis point decline, the 10-year yield is lower by 6bps from the release and is now 10bps lower than the peak hit on March 30.  Is this the end of the yield rally?  Almost certainly not, but no market moves in a straight line.

I highlight this idea to discuss the latest forecast by the IMF and how this news may impact markets going forward.  Yesterday the IMF raised its global growth forecasts again, this time up to 6.0% in 2021 and 4.4% in 2022, representing increases of 0.5% and 0.2% respectively from their January analysis. The leadership in this growth is the US, now forecast to grow 6.4% by the IMF, and China, now forecast to grow 8.4% this year.  These are the fastest GDP growth numbers for the US since 1984, and we certainly all hope they are accurate.  After all, life is certainly better for everyone when the economy is growing rapidly.

But we have now seen a wave of higher forecasts for US GDP from official sources, like the Fed and IMF, and from private forecasters like Wall Street firms, with a strong consensus that the US is looking at GDP expansion this year well in excess of 6.0% and possibly as high as 7.0% or more.  And so I ask, isn’t that already in the price of most assets?

The broad bullish argument for risk is that global GDP growth is going to be much stronger in 2021 as the world’s economy rebounds from the Covid inspired recession of 2020.  And we have seen remarkable rallies in risk assets during this time, with the S&P 500 rising just a bit more than 80% in the twelve months following its nadir on March 24 last year.  All that occurred during a period where the virus was rampant but hopes for a vaccine would lead to an end to the government ordered shutdowns and a return to pre-covid type of economic activity.  While I grant that we have not seen all the shutdowns ended, the vaccine rollout has been impressive and is speeding up every day.  In fact, despite a pretty horrendous start to the process for Europe, the European Commission now believes that the continent will achieve herd immunity by the end of June!

So, if we know that all this is going to happen, haven’t risky assets already priced in this good news?  The other question that hangs over the current situation is the fact that this growth is entirely a product of the multiple trillions of dollars of government stimulus led by the US $5 trillion of fiscal injections, but also inclusive of QE, PEPP and QQE from the Fed, ECB and BOJ respectively, which totaled trillions more dollars of support.  Again, it begs the question, how much better can things be expected to get?

For instance, it is not unreasonable to expect that there will be permanent changes in the economy, specifically in the types of jobs that are available, especially for lower skilled workers.  If anything, the pandemic and resulting government lockdowns will have accelerated this process.  Remember, Chairman Powell has been clear that the Fed’s task will not be complete until the 10 million jobs that were lost as a result of government edicts are replaced. But what if that takes 5 years due to the structural changes in the economy?  Can the Fed maintain ZIRP while GDP growth is surging and inflation is rising alongside?  Historically, the answer would be no, but in the post-Covid world, that is no longer clear.  In fact, the one thing that has been truly consistent is that every government and supranational organization has warned every central bank to make sure they do not remove policy ease too soon.  The entire global political leadership is ‘all-in’ on the idea that printing money and spending it has no negative consequences.  In other words, it is no longer appropriate to worry we might wind up in an MMT world, we are already there!

This leads to the final question, will risk acquisition be unstoppable as a result of this new global thesis?  The famous American economist, Herbert Stein (Ben Stein’s father) made the statement, “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”  My observation is that printing money and the illusory growth that it brings cannot go on forever.  When this music stops, it will be a devastating fall.  But, as policymakers will do everything they can to prevent the stopping, this can go on for a while longer.  Simply be careful to not fall into the trap of believing stock prices are at “a permanently high plateau,” a comment another famous economist, Irving Fisher, made just weeks before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Ok, a super brief recap of markets shows that both Asia (Nikkei +0.1%, Hang Seng -0.9%, Shanghai -0.1%) and Europe (DAX -0.1%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 +0.6%) were mixed with modest movement.  US futures are essentially unchanged at 8:00 as I finish typing.  Sovereign yields in Europe have edged lower by roughly 1 basis point, matching the Treasury market, but really not showing much in the way of activity.  Commodity prices are mixed with oil (+0.9%) rallying while metals (Au -0.6%, Cu -1.0%) are softer.

Finally, the dollar is showing little direction today with G10 currencies showing gains (NOK +0.3%) on oil’s rally and losses (AUD -0.5%) on metals price weakness.  But there is no dollar trend here.  In emerging markets, INR (-1.5%) was the biggest loser after the RBI left policy rates on hold, but not merely increased QE, but put a number on it where they will be buying INR1 trillion over the next quarter, driving Indian bond yields lower along with the rupee.  But away from that story, here, too, there is nothing of note with a mixed picture in the space.

On the data front, we see the Trade Balance (exp -$70.5B) this morning and then the FOMC Minutes are released at 2:00.  Today also brings a great deal of Fedspeak, but I remain highly confident that nothing from that story is going to change.

The dollar is wandering aimlessly today but remains closely tied to Treasury yields.  If yields resume their rally, look for the dollar to rebound.  However, if this correction in yields continues, the dollar has further to fall.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Central Bank Dreams

The story that’s now being told
Is growth worldwide’s now taking hold
So real rates are rising
And it’s not surprising
That havens are now being sold

Thus, this explains why sovereign debt
Is being sold, and is a threat
To central bank dreams
Or really, their schemes
Inflation to truly beget

Treasury yields, or perhaps more accurately, sovereign yields, remain the top story in markets as their movement continues to underpin most other action.  The very sharp rise in yields seen year-to-date had been driven by rising inflation expectations.  This is clear when looking at breakevens where the 5yr-5yr has climbed from 1.93% at the beginning of the year to 2.60% as of yesterday.  This rise makes up the bulk of the rise in the 10-year Treasury yield, which has gone from 0.91% to 1.70% during the same time frame.  And it has been the rise in inflation expectations that has been a key feature in many of the forecasts for rising inflation beyond the next several months, where base effects from the initial pandemic shutdowns will be seen.

Given the run of very strong data that has been recently released, with yesterday’s ISM Services print of 63.7 being the highest in the series’ 25-year history as the latest example, the narrative is starting to adjust slightly. Recently there have been a number of analyst reports discussing the idea that rising yields represent rising growth expectations and not rising inflation expectations.  If this is true, it certainly alters the calculus of future market activity.  It is also likely to alter the reaction functions of central banks.

Consider what we have heard from the major central banks since the GFC; the greatest threat to economic activity is deflation and each and every one of them has gone out of their way to try to stoke inflation.  Of course, the underlying reason for a central bank to stoke inflation is to help debase the value of their government’s outstanding debt.  This concept has grown dramatically in importance as the amount of government debt outstanding has skyrocketed during the past decade while trend growth has slowed.  Thus, the only way to escape this debt trap was to inflate away the real value of that debt.  This logic is part and parcel of the current central bank guidance regarding maintaining ZIRP or NIRP until inflation and employment goals are actually met, rather than acting when they are anticipated to be met.

Understand, monetary policy acts with a lag, generally considered to be in the 6mo-1yr time frame, so if a central bank does not adjust policy until a target is reached, the likelihood is that variable will continue on its recent trend for many months once the central bank acts.  For example, if the Fed waits for inflation to average 2.0% for a period of time before tightening policy, inflation is likely to continue rising beyond that target for upwards of a year or more before beginning to slow down.  It is for this reason that central banks pay such close attention to expectations data as it gives them clues to potential market responses to their actions.  And it is for this reason that a change in the underlying driver of increasing yields will alter so much.

A key feature of the equity market rally has been the fact that real yields have been negative for quite a while driving investors to seek positive real returns.  This is the TINA concept, there is no alternative.  But if real yields start to climb because growth expectations are climbing with less concern over potential inflationary effects, suddenly there is an alternative to owning equities, especially for pension-type investors who generally seek the least risk available for a return.  If there is an alternative, then a rethinking of the current multiples for equity markets is quite reasonable.  In other words, stock prices could easily fall a fair amount.  Now, declining stock prices have been a key signal to central banks that policy ease is in order, at least since October 1987 in the aftermath of Black Monday.  But this begs the question, what if this process unfolds before central banks have begun raising rates?

As you can see, if this change in the narrative is accurate, and real yields begin climbing, central banks will simply find themselves in a different predicament but with the same tools available.  In other words, policy ease may have a different nominal rationale, but that doesn’t help the fixed income investor.  And how will this impact the FX market?  That is probably the easiest short-term answer, the dollar will follow real yields higher, and if the Fed steps in to cap those yields, via YCC or expanded QE, then the dollar will reverse course lower.  So, watch the movement in real yields for clues as to the dollar’s next steps.

Enough of that and on to markets.  Risk is largely in vogue this morning, at least in Europe, although Asian equities had a more mixed session.  Last night saw the Nikkei (-1.30%) soften while Shanghai (0.0%) went nowhere.  The Hang Seng was closed, although we did see the ASX 200 rise 0.8% Down Under.  Europe, however, is all green all the time, with the DAX (+1.2%) and FTSE 100 (+1.1%) leading the way while the CAC (+0.6%) is lagging but still having a good time. Interestingly, after more record highs yesterday in the US, futures markets are all pointing slightly lower, with the three main indices showing declines of -0.1% to -0.2%.

Bond markets, as would be expected in a risk-on session, are mostly declining, with European sovereigns trading with yields higher by about 2.5 basis points in the big three markets.  Treasury yields are little changed at this time but remain right on that 1.70% yield level.  There is much discussion as to whether the next leg higher in yields is coming soon, or if we have exhausted the drive higher.  Arguably, if growth expectations continue to increase, the case for higher Treasury yields will be inexorable.

In the commodity space, oil prices (+1.35%) are rebounding but WTI has had trouble holding the $60/bbl level ever since its sharp decline two weeks ago.  Precious metals are a bit firmer (Au +0.3%, Ag +0.4%), although Cu (-1.5%) has softened a bit on the day.

Finally, the dollar is broadly stronger this morning despite the increased risk appetite in equity markets.  While the euro is little changed, we are seeing sharp declines in NZD (-0.6%), GBP (-0.5%) and NOK (-0.4%) with Kiwi simply retracing gains made in yesterday’s illiquid markets with similar price action seen in both Sterling and Nokkie.  There is little fundamental driving these moves right now.

Emerging market currencies had a more mixed performance with KRW (+0.7%) as the big winner benefitting from an increase in foreign inflows to both the KOSPI and Korean bond markets.  CNY (+0.25%) has responded to word from the PBOC that they are asking the major commercial banks to reduce their lending to prevent bubbles and other possible financial dislocations.  This helped push Chinese interest rates a touch higher supporting the currency.  On the downside, TRY (-0.4%) continues to be the worst performer in the space as inflation worries continue to grow in the country, but elsewhere, movement has been fairly tame.

On the Data front, we only see JOLTs Job Opening (exp 6.9M) which has not gained many market adherents as an important data point despite the Fed’s focus on employment, likely because the data is quite old, with this morning’s release describing February activity.  As to Fed speakers, only Richmond’s Thomas Barkin is on the tape today, but there still seems little chance of a change in Fed expectations.

Many are claiming the dollar has put in a short-term top, although as discussed above, if real US yields continue to rise, I expect the dollar will rise right alongside them.  And in truth, that remains the single key driver in the FX markets for now.  Higher Treasury yields still portend a higher dollar and vice versa.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Disinflation’s Deceased

The plan that the Prez just released
Has taxes and spending increased
As well as what’s planned
There’s pent up demand
As such, disinflation’s deceased

Risk remains in vogue this morning as the details of the $2.3 trillion spending plan released last evening by President Biden were more than enough to keep the risk train rolling.  While there was no mention of ‘shovel ready’ projects, and expectations are that it won’t be until sometime in the summer that any bill will make it to the president’s desk, it is full speed ahead for the investor community.  Certainly, there are no concerns over either financing the new bill nor with the prospect that adding more stimulus demand is likely to drive up prices even more rapidly than currently seen.  In other words, everything is great!

But is it really that great?  It is hard to live in the real world and not have noticed that the cost of living is rising, and seemingly faster than the data indicates.  By now, we have all heard about the shortage of microprocessors causing a reduction in auto production and even iPhones.  I’m pretty sure that less supply in these products will not lead to lower prices.  And if you still drive at all, you are aware of how much the price of gasoline has risen during the past year.  But lately we have heard from a number of companies on more mundane products and how prices are being raised there as well.  Kimberly-Clark, General Mills, J.M. Smucker and Hormel Foods have all announced price hikes in the past week or two, and they all make things we buy in the supermarket each week.  So, while the rising price of a once every 3-6 year purchase of an automobile is not likely to impact any individual regularly, when your toilet paper goes up in price, you notice.  The Fed must be thrilled.

In that vein, I often wonder how the Fed considers its relationship with inflation.  Perhaps Powell rehearses discussions with an anthropomorphized version of inflation.  Maybe it would sound like this:

Inflation: Jay, I have to tell you, I’m feeling pretty strong lately.  I’ve been resting for the past 12 years and have a lot of energy available to jump pretty high.

Chairman Powell: That’s awfully nice, but let me warn you, ‘we have tools.’

Inflation: Tools?  What does that even mean?  Are you going to build a house?  (Nah, too expensive with prices rising 10% annually).  Repair the infrastructure?  (That will certainly drive up raw material prices even further.)

Chairman Powell:  Just what I said, we have tools.  My dear friend Paul Volcker, may he rest in peace, taught us how to deal with you 40 years ago.  We can stop you anytime we want.

Inflation:  Well, 40 years ago, was a different time and place.  The amount of outstanding debt was a fraction of where it is today.  Since you haven’t used those ‘tools’ in 40 years, I suspect they are rusty and ineffective now.  And even if you have them, I’m willing to bet you are either afraid to use them, or don’t know how.  I’m looking forward to our next conversation when I will be bigger, stronger and higher!

Chairman Powell:  Don’t mess with me, I told you, ‘we have tools!’

As Powell awakes shaking from this nightmare, he repeats to himself, we have tools, just like Christine has tools.  It will all be fine.

But seriously, it is very difficult to see the ongoing data releases, especially in the US, where GDP is clearly going to see a very big jump in Q2 and analysts are fighting to forecast the biggest GDP growth number in decades, and not wonder how prices are not going to rise even more rapidly.  In fact, we seem to be approaching a perfect storm, increased demand meets supply shortages.  The Fed is going to get their inflation, as will most central banks, and it is ultimately going to have a big impact on financial markets.  But not today.  Today, investors continue to see only the positives.

After yesterday’s Tech led rally in the US stock markets, Asia performed well (Nikkei +0.7%, Hang Seng +2.0%, Shanghai +0.7%) and Europe is largely green as well (DAX +0.3%, CAC +0.2%, FTSE 100 +0.4%).  As it is the first day of a new month and quarter, we saw PMI and Tankan data overnight, all of which continues to show positive vibes for the near future (although the Japanese data has been lagging that of the US and even Europe on these measures.)  US futures, meanwhile, are also looking good with the NASDAQ (+0.9%) once again leading things higher with lesser gains in the other two main indices.

Bond markets, interestingly, are also in fine fettle this morning, with yields declining in Treasuries (-2.1bps), bunds (-1.2bps), OATs (-1.2bps) and Gilts (-2.1bps).  But 10-year Treasury yields remain firmly above 1.7% and their spread to bunds and JGBs remain right at recent highs.  It appears to me as though bond traders are taking a rest ahead of tomorrow’s payroll report, which will be released on Good Friday, a day of limited liquidity.  If the economic bulls are right, and there is a print above 1 million jobs in NFP, I would expect that we will test 1.8% in the 10-year before the weekend arrives.  However, until then, it looks like the growing short position in bonds is getting adjusted.

Oil prices are firmer this morning with WTI up by 1.1%, alongside gains in gold (+0.25%) and the agricultural space.  Meanwhile, base metals are mixed with Cu (-0.65%) and Zn (-0.2%) softer while Al (+0.65%) and Ni (+0.8%) are firmer.

Lastly, the dollar is mixed today as well, with most of the G10 softer led by AUD (-0.4%) and CHF (-0.3%), although the euro has stopped its freefall, at least temporarily, and is currently 0.1% firmer on the session.  Aussie seems to be slipping on the view that the RBA’s first QE plan, A$100 billion, is complete but that there will be a second one announced next Tuesday.  The Swiss franc, on the other hand, seems to be developing some momentum on a technical view and is responding to market internals rather than fundamentals.

EMG currencies have had a much more mixed picture with both gainers and losers evident.  On the plus side, TRY (+0.8%) and ZAR (+0.5%) lead the way higher, while we are seeing RUB (-0.6%) and CNY (-0.3%) as the key laggards.  The rand seems to be benefitting from seasonal factors as technicians look at recent history when the ZAR has rallied consistently in April.  TRY is simply so volatile these days given the ongoing mess at the central bank, that it is difficult to ascribe any move less than 2% to a specific issue.  As to the negatives, RUB, despite oil’s gains, is suffering from news of a surprising new bond offering of RUB 1 trillion, while CNY seems to have been guided lower by the PBOC as the Chinese government has decided that a weaker currency is clearly going to be necessary to support their economy for now and the current US administration isn’t going to make a big deal about it.

Data this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 675K), Continuing Claims (3.75M) and ISM Manufacturing (61.5) and Prices Paid (85.0).  FYI, that Prices Paid index is back at levels seen during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, all times when CPI inflation was far higher than 1.3%!

Frankly, with the payroll data tomorrow, I anticipate a generally quiet session, especially as much of Europe will be taking a long Easter holiday weekend starting quite soon.  The dollar’s trend remains firmly higher, but I don’t expect much movement today.

Good luck
Adf

The Bottom’s Not In

Attention this morning’s returned
To Treasuries, where we have learned
The bottom’s not in
As yields underpin
The dollar that once had been spurned

Plus ça change, plus ça même chose.

During the past several weeks, there have been a number of stories that seemed designed to shift our attention away from what has been the major market driver in 2021…the Treasury market.  But despite the Ever Given running aground, despite the forced liquidation of Archegos Capital Management and despite Covid’s resurgence throughout Europe and additional mooted lockdowns there, the clear driver of market activity remains US Treasury yields, specifically in the back end of the curve.  As I type this morning, the 10-year has risen 5.7bps on the session with the yield now 1.765%, its highest level since January 22, 2020.  This movement has dragged up yields across the US yield curve, with 5-year yields fast approaching 1.0% while even 2-year yields, which remain anchored by the Fed’s promises to keep the Fed Funds rate at its current level through at least 2023, has edged up by 1.4 basis points.

And this movement is not isolated to the United States, as sovereign yields across the board are higher today with European markets looking at gains of between 5.5bps and 7.5 bps, while overnight saw Australian yields climb 9.2 basis points.  But it is clearly the Treasury market in the lead.  The current story seems to revolve around the ongoing outperformance of the US economy vis-à-vis those of Europe and much of Asia, the success of the US vaccine program and the promise of yet another fiscal stimulus bill coming from the Biden administration.  That trifecta dwarfs all other nations’ activities and so has seen ongoing flows into US equity markets as well as into the dollar.  And the thing is, for now, it is hard to see what can derail this story in the short-term.  In fact, with the latest payroll data due to be released Friday and expected to show a substantial gain in the number of jobs, while more and more states reduce Covid inspired economic restrictions, things seem like they will only get better.

And perhaps things will only get better.  Perhaps we have passed the worst of the pandemic.  Perhaps all Covid inspired restrictions will be relaxed and people will head back out on vacations and to movies and theme parks. Perhaps shopping malls will regain their allure as people look for anyplace to go that is not inside their own home.  In this case, as the service sector reopens along with the jobs attendant to that process, the Fed would likely be able to justify a very gradual reduction in some of their stimulus.  And this could all happen.  But, so could we wake up tomorrow to learn that pigs really can fly.

Instead, while there is no doubt that the US remains the driving force in the economy right now, as it leads other nations out of the pandemic, the imbalances that have developed due to the policies implemented during the pandemic will take a very long time to unwind.  In addition, they pose a very real threat to the stability of markets and economies.  For instance, how will nations around the world address the issue of the massive rise in their debt/GDP ratios.  While servicing costs right now are tenable given the historically low level of interest rates, investors may well start demanding higher yields to compensate for the growing riskiness of those portfolios.  After all, we have seen many nations default on their debt in the past, with Greece and Argentina just the two latest on the list.

But rising yields will force governments to choose between honoring their debt promises, or paying for their activities, a choice no elected politician ever wants to make.  It is not unreasonable to assume that this choice will be forced on countries by the markets (and in fact, is starting to be forced as we watch yield curves steepen) with two potential outcomes; either the central bank caps yields to insure that debt service remains viable, or the debt is restructured by the central bank who will monetize it.  Either situation will almost certainly result in rising inflation, not of the asset kind, but will also result in a situation where those tools that central banks claim they have to fight inflation will not be available.  After all, if they are capping yields, they cannot very well raise rates to fight inflation.

It is this endgame that has some very thoughtful people concerned, as when this situation has arisen in the past, and after all, there is nothing new under the sun, the result has been a combination of much more significant inflation and debt defaults.  Now, in the US, the idea of a debt default seems quite impossible.  However, the idea of higher inflation, especially given the Fed’s stated desire to see inflation rise, is much easier to accept.  And after all, given the newly stated desire to achieve an average inflation rate, with a desire to see higher than 2.0% inflation readings for some indeterminate amount of time, how will the Fed know when they’ve seen enough?  The point is, the Fed, and every central bank, still has a very difficult task ahead of them to maintain stability while supporting the economy.  And there is no guarantee that their actions will work.

With that joyous thought in mind, a quick look at other markets beyond bonds shows that equities remain supported with widespread gains overnight (Nikkei +0.15%, Hang Seng +0.8%, Shanghai +0.6%), while European bourses are all green as well (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.55%, FTSE 100 +0.25%).  US futures, however, are starting to fade, led by the NASDAQ (-0.8%) although SPX futures (-0.2%) have turned lower as well.  Remember, the NASDAQ, with its predominantly growth-oriented companies, is similar to a long-term bond, as higher yields reduce the current discounted value of its future growth.

Commodity markets are under pressure this morning as well with oil (-1.5%) falling back a bit further, and both base and precious metals all under the gun.  This commodity story is synchronous with the combination of rising yields and…a rising dollar.  And the dollar continues to rise, against all early year supposition.

Versus the G10, it is higher against all comers, with JPY (-0.5%) leading the way lower and breaking above 110 for the first time in a year.  However, this move looks far more sustainable than the price action seen in the immediate wake of the initial Covid panic.  Quite frankly, in the short-term, there is no reason to think USDJPY cannot rise to 115.00.  But the weakness is universal with SEK (-0.4%) and NOK (-0.3%) also continuing lower.  While the latter is undermined by the oil decline, the Swedish krona remains the highest beta G10 currency, and is simply leading the euro (-0.25%) on its downward path.

EMG currencies are not in any better shape with TRY (-2.2%) by far the worst performer as more bets get piled on that the new central bank governor will be cutting interest rates soon at the behest of President Erdogan.  INR (-1.2%) is the next worst performer, suffering as state-run banks were seen actively buying dollars in the market ahead of their fiscal year-end, cleaning up their balance sheets.  But pretty much the entire bloc is lower by between 0.2% and 0.4% on the simple fact that the dollar is growing in demand as US yields lead the way higher.

On the data front, two minor releases today, Case Shiller Home Prices (exp 11.2%) and Consumer Confidence (96.9) are unlikely to have much impact as the market looks forward to the employment situation starting with tomorrow’s ADP Employment report and then Friday’s NFP data.

Adding it all up comes to the idea that the current trends, higher yields and a higher dollar, remain firmly entrenched and I see no reason for them to change in the near future.

Good luck and stay safe
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No Need to be Austere

From every Fed speaker we hear
That prices might rise some this year
But they all confirm
It will be short-term
So, there’s no need to be austere

I feel like today’s note can be very short as there really has been nothing new of note to discuss.  Risk is on the rise as market participants continue to absorb the Federal Reserve message that monetary stimulus is going to continue, at least at the current pace, for at least the next two years.  That’s a lot of new money, nearly $3 trillion more to add to the Fed balance sheet, and if things hold true to form, at least 60% of it will wind up in the equity market.

This was confirmed by four Fed speakers yesterday, including Powell and Vice Chair Clarida, who made it quite clear that this was no time to start tapering, and that rising bond yields were a vote of confidence in the economy, not a precursor to rising inflation.  What about inflation you may ask?  While they fully expect some higher readings in the short run due to base effects, they will be transitory and present no problem.  And if inflation should ever climb to a more persistent level that makes them uncomfortable, they have the tools to address that too!  I know I feel a lot better now.

Europe?  The big news was the German IFO Expectations index printing at a much better than expected 100.4, despite the fact that Covid continues to run rampant through the country.  While they have managed to avoid the massive Easter lockdown that had been proposed earlier this week, the ongoing failure to vaccinate the population remains a damper on activity, or at least the perception of activity.  Otherwise, we learned that Italy is struggling to pay its bills, as they need to find €15 billion quickly in order to continue the present level of fiscal support, but have a much tougher time borrowing, and have not yet received the money from the Eurozone fiscal support package.  In the end, however long the Fed is going to be expanding its balance sheet, you can be sure the ECB will be doing it longer.

The UK?  Retail Sales were released showing the expected gains relative to last month (+2.
1% M/M. -3.7% Y/Y) and excitement is building that given the rapid pace of vaccinations there, the economy may be able to reopen more fully fairly soon.  Certainly, the pound has been a beneficiary of this versus the euro, with the EURGBP cross having declined more than 5% this year, meaning the pound has appreciated vs. the euro by that much.  Perhaps Brexit is not as big a deal as some thought.

Japan?  The latest $1 trillion budget is being passed, which simply adds to the three supplementary budgets from last year totaling nearly $750 billion, with most observers expecting more supplementary budgets this year.  But hey, the Japanese have perfected the art of borrowing unfathomable sums, having the central bank monetize them and maintaining near zero interest rates.  Perhaps it should be no surprise that USDJPY has been rising, because on a relative basis, the Japanese situation does seem worse than that here in the US.

Other than these stories, things are just not that exciting.  The Suez Canal remains closed and we are starting to see ships reroute around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, which adds more than a week to transit times and considerable expense.  But I’m sure these price rises are transitory too, just ask the Fed.

So, let’s take a quick tour of markets.  Equities are all green right now and were so overnight.  The three main Asian indices, Nikkei, Hang Seng and Shanghai, all rose 1.6% last night after US markets turned around in the afternoon.  European bourses are looking good, with the DAX (+0.6%), CAC (+0.4%) and FTSE 100 (+0.7%) all solidly higher on the day.  As to US futures, both Dow and S&P futures are a touch higher, 0.2% or so, but NASDAQ futures are under a bit of pressure at this hour, -0.3%.

In the bond market, 10-year Treasury yields are higher by 4.1bps in the wake of yesterday’s really mediocre 7-year auction.  While it wasn’t as bad as the last one of this maturity, it continues to call into question just how able the Treasury will be to sell sufficient bonds to fund all their wish list.  Even at $80 billion per month of purchases, the Fed is falling behind the curve here and may well need to pick up the pace if yields start to climb more.  I know that is not their current story, but oversupply is certainly at least part of the reason that Treasuries have been so weak.  And today, despite ECB support, European sovereign bonds are all lower with yields higher by 4.5bps or more virtually across the board.  Either the ECB has taken today off, or there are bigger worries afoot.  One little known fact is that alongside the ECB, European commercial banks had been huge buyers of their own country’s debt for all of last year.  However, that pace has slowed, so perhaps today’s movement is showing a lack of natural buyers here as well.

Commodity prices are pretty much firmer across the board with the exception of precious metals, which continue to suffer on the back of higher US yields.  But oil (+2.3%) is back at $60/bbl and base metals and agricultural prices are all firmer this morning.

Finally, the dollar is broadly weaker at this hour, with the commodity bloc of the G10 leading that group (NZD +0.5%), NOK (+0.4%), (AUD +0.4%), although the pound (+0.3%) is also doing well after the Retail Sales numbers.  Meanwhile, the havens are under pressure (JPY -0.5%), CHF (-0.15%), as there is no need for a haven when the central bank has your back!

EMG currencies are a bit less interesting, although the APAC bloc was almost uniformly higher by small amounts.  That was simply on the back of the risk-on attitude that was manifest overnight.  The one exception here is TRY (-1.1%) which continues to suffer over the change of central bank leadership and concerns that inflation will run rampant in Turkey.  Two other noteworthy things here were in LATAM, where Banxico left rates on hold at 4.0%  yesterday afternoon and reaffirmed they were entirely focused on data, and that S&P downgrade Chile’s credit rating to A from A+ on the back of the changes in government structure and concerns about the medium term fiscal position.

On the data front we see Personal Income (exp -7.2%), Personal Spending (-0.8%), Core PCE (1.5%) and then at 10:00 Michigan Sentiment (83.6).  To me, the only number that matters is the PCE print, but this is a February number, so not expected to be impacted by the significant base effects from last year’s events.  Of course, given the constant chorus of any rising inflation will be transitory, we will need to see a lot of high prints before the market gets nervous…or will we?  After all, the bond market seems to be getting nervous already.

At any rate, while the dollar is under pressure this morning, my take is that if US yields continue to climb, we are likely to see it retrace its steps.  At this point, I would argue the dollar’s trend is higher and will be until we see much higher inflation readings later this spring and summer.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf