Raring to Spend

Japan’s new PM
Fumio Kishida is
Raring to spend yen

The LDP elected Fumio Kishida as its new president, thereby assuring him of the job of Japan’s 65th Prime Minister.  Relacing Yoshihide Suga, Kishida-san has a tall task ahead of him in leading the nation back to a growth trajectory.  In addition, he must face the voters by November as well as rally his supporters in an upper house election next year.  Apparently, his plan is…spend more money!  He has promised to spend tens of trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars equivalent) in order to help resuscitate the Japanese economy and bolster the middle class.

As refreshing as it is to have a new administration, it seems as though the policy playbook continues to consist of a single page…spend more yen.  Perhaps something will change in Japan, but it seems unlikely.  Rather, the nation will continue to struggle with the same macroeconomic issues that have plagued it for the past decades; excess debt driving slower growth amid an aging population.  The yen (+0.1%) has stabilized this morning but appears to be trending pretty sharply lower.  While support (USD resistance) is strong at 111.65-85, should we breech that level, a move toward 115.00 appears quite reasonable as well as likely.

As energy prices rise higher
Most governments seek a supplier
Of power that will
Completely fulfil
The orders that they all desire

In other news, it is becoming abundantly clear that the combination of energy policies that have been enacted recently are not having the desired outcome, assuming that outcome is to develop clean energy in abundance.  This is made evident by the dramatically rising prices of things like natural gas in Europe (+400% since 1Mar21) and the US (+130% YTD) and coal (+160% YTD).  Of course, the latter is rarely considered ‘clean’ but it is reliable.  And that is the crux of the matter.  Reliability of both wind and solar power has been called into question lately and reliance on baseload power sources like coal, which Europe, China, and India have in abundance, and NatGas, which they don’t, is driving policy decisions.

For instance, China is mulling energy price hikes for industry in an effort to reduce demand.  And if that doesn’t work, they will raise prices for residential users.  Go figure, a communist nation using price signals to adjust behavior!  At any rate, the immediate impact is likely to be downgraded growth prospects for China’s economy as rising energy prices will lead to rising export prices, lower exports, and lower growth.  We have already seen Chinese equity markets under pressure recently as the energy situation worsens.  Shanghai (-1.8%, -5.5% in past two weeks) is leading the way lower amid growing concern that Evergrande is not the biggest problem impacting China.  At some point, I expect the renminbi is going to suffer a bit more than its recent price action has shown.  Slowing growth and continued monetary expansion are going to add a great deal of pressure to the currency as it may be the only outlet available for the economy.  I fear it could be a “long cold lonely winter” in China this year.

Of course, it’s not just China where energy prices are rising, they are higher everywhere.  I’m sure you see it when you refill your gas tank, or when you pay your electric bill.  And this is a problem for economic growth as higher energy costs feed into product and service pricing directly, as well as reduce the amount of disposable income available for spending by the population.  Higher prices and slower growth (i.e. stagflation) are a very real risk, and by some measures have already arrived.

Beyond the direct discomfort we all will feel from its impacts, the policy questions are critical.  Consider, last time stagflation was upon us, then Fed Chairman Paul Volcker raised interest rates sharply in order to attack the inflation issue driving the US economy into a severe double-dip recession.  Oh yeah, the S&P 500 fell nearly 30% over the two-year period.  But ask yourself if, given the current zeitgeist as well as the current makeup of the Fed, there is any possibility that Chairman Powell (or his successor) will attack inflation in the same way.  It seems highly unlikely that would be the case.  Rather, it is a virtual certainty that the focus will be on the ‘stag’ part of the term and more money printing and spending will be recommended.  After all, given the increasing acceptance of the MMT mindset, that’s all that needs to be done.  Remember, policies matter, and if policies are designed to achieve short-term goals at the expense of longer-term needs, the ultimate outcome tends to be poor.  As in China, the currency is likely to be the relief valve for the economy which is what informs my view of longer-term USD weakness.  However, for now, the dollar is following 10-year Treasury yields, which seem to be trending higher, albeit not today when they have fallen 4.2 basis points.

Summing it all up, rising energy prices are starting to have deleterious effects on all parts of the global economy and the financial market implications are only going to grow.  In addition, the policy actions going forward are critical, and the chance of a policy error seem to grow daily.  The idea of short-term pain for long-term gain is obsolete in the year 2021.  Be prepared for more problems in the future.

Ok, a quick run around markets shows that after yesterday’s sharp US equity sell-off, Japan (Nikkei -2.1%) followed suit as did Shanghai although the Hang Seng managed to rally 0.7%.  Europe, on the other hand has decided that central banks will come to the rescue, as we are seeing a nice rebound from yesterday’s price action (DAX +1.1%, CAC +1.2%, FTSE 100 +1.0%).  US futures, too, are higher led by the NASDAQ (+1.0%) as declining yields are helping out.

But are yields really declining?  The fact that the bond market has bounced slightly after a dramatic 1-week decline is hardly a sign of a rebound.  Rather, it is normal trading activity.  While the trend remains for higher yields, today, all of Europe has seen yields slide on the order of 2 basis points alongside the Treasury yield declines.  This feels very much like a lull in the action, not a top/bottom in the market.

Commodity prices are behaving in a similar manner as oil (-0.8%) and NatGas (-1.2%) are leading the way lower, consolidating what has been an impressive rally.  Metals prices are mixed with gold (+0.6%) rebounding but base metals (Cu -0.4%, Al -0.2%, Sn -0.6%) all sliding.  Agricultural prices are mixed as the overall session seems to be one of position adjustments after a big move.

As to the dollar, it is mixed, albeit slightly firmer if anything.  In the G10, NOK (-0.35%) is falling alongside oil prices with NZD (-0.3%) the next worst performer on weakening commodity prices.  JPY (+0.1%) and CHF (+0.1%) are both modestly firmer, but here, too, things seem more position oriented than trend worthy.  EMG currencies are mixed with an equal number of gainers and losers, but the notable thing is that the biggest movers have only seen price adjustments of 0.3% or less.  In other words, there are precious few stories here to think about.

There is no data of note this morning, but we do hear from a lot of central bankers, notably Chairman Powell alongside Lagarde, Kuroda and Bailey (BOE) at an ECB forum.  We also hear from Harker, Daly and Bostic, but the narrative remains tapering is coming in November, and none of these three will be able to change that narrative.

In truth, I would have expected the dollar to soften today given the bond market, so the fact it remains reasonably well bid is a sign that there is further strength in this move.  The euro is pushing to critical technical support at 1.1650, a break of which is likely to see a much sharper decline.  Hedgers, keep that in mind.

Good luck and stay safe
Adf

Reason to Fear

In Europe, the price of Nat Gas
Has risen to new highs, alas
As winter comes near
There’s reason to fear
A rebound will not come to pass

As well the impact on inflation
Is likely to add to frustration
Of Madame Lagarde
As she tries so hard
To hide the debt monetization

Some days are simply less interesting than others, and thus far, today falls into the fairly dull category.  There has been limited new news in financial markets overall.  While the ongoing concerns over the imminent failure of China Evergrande continue to weigh on Asian stocks (Nikkei -0.6%, Hang Seng -1.5%, Shanghai -1.3%), the story that is beginning to see some light in Europe is focused on the extraordinary rise in Natural Gas prices.  As a point of reference, in the US, Nat Gas closed yesterday at $5.34/MMBtu, itself a significant rise in price over the past six months, nearly doubling in that time.  Europeans, however, would give their eye teeth for such a low price as the price in the Netherlands for TTF (a contract standard) is $22.61/MMBtu!  This price has risen nearly fourfold during the past six months and now stands more thar four times as costly as in the US.  Whatever concerns you may have had about your personal energy costs rising in the US, they are dwarfed by the situation in Europe.

This matters for a number of reasons beyond the economic (for instance, how will people in Europe afford to heat their homes in the fast approaching winter and continue to feed their families as well?)  but our focus here is on markets and economics.  Thus, consider the following:  Europe remains a manufacturing and exporting powerhouse and is reliant on stable supply and pricing of natural gas to power their factories.  Obviously, recent price action has been anything but stable, and given the European dependence on Russian gas supplies, there is a geopolitical element overhanging the market as well.  LNG can be a substitute, but Asian buyers have been paying up to purchase most of those cargoes, so Europe is finding itself with reduced supply and correspondingly rising prices.

The first big industrial impact came yesterday when a major manufacturer of fertilizer shut down two UK plants because the cost of Nat Gas had risen too far to allow them to be competitive.  Consider the chain of events here: first, closure of the plant means reduced overall output, as well as furloughed, if not fired, workers. Second, reduction in the supply of fertilizer means that the price for farmers will almost certainly rise higher, thus forcing farmers to either raise their prices or reduce production (or go out of business).  Higher food prices, which have already risen dramatically, will result in reduced non-food consumption and strain family budgets as it feeds into inflation.  Net, slower growth and higher prices are the exact wrong combination for any economy and one to be avoided at all costs.  Alas, this is very likely the type of future that awaits many, if not most, European countries, the dreaded stagflation.  The ECB has its work cut out to combat this issue effectively while the Eurozone economy sits on more than €11.3 trillion in debt.  I don’t envy Madame Lagarde’s current position.

Beyond the macroeconomic issues, what are the potential market impacts?  Here things, as always, are less clear, but thus far, we have seen one impact, and that is a declining euro (-0.4%).  In fact, all European currencies are falling today as it becomes clearer that economic activity across the pond is going to be further impaired by this situation.  It has been sufficient to offset perceived benefits of European economies reopening in the wake of the spread of the delta variant of Covid.  However, the upshot of this currency weakness has been equity market strength.  It seems that any concerns of the ECB considering tighter policy have been pushed even further into the future thus encouraging investors to continue to add risk to their portfolios.  Hence, this morning, in the wake of the ongoing rise in Nat Gas prices, we see European equities all in the green (DAX +0.5%, CAC +1.0%, FTSE 100 +0.45%).  Under the guise of TINA, weaker growth leads to continued low rates and higher stock prices.  What could possibly go wrong?

US markets are biding their time at this hour, with futures essentially unchanged and really, so are bond markets.  Of the major sovereigns, only Gilts (+1.8bps) have moved more than a fraction of a basis point this morning.  While risk may be on, it is not aggressively so.  Either that, or European banks are back to buying more and more of their national bonds tightening the doom loop that ultimately led to the Eurozone crisis in 2012.

Commodities?  Well, as it happens, after a multi-day rally, oil prices are consolidating with WTI (-0.25%) basically holding the bulk of the $10 in gains it has made in the past month.  Nat Gas, too, is consolidating this morning, down $0.16/MMBtu, although that represents 3% (Natty is very, very volatile!)  With the dollar rocking, we are also seeing weakness across the metals’ markets, both precious (gold -0.75%) and industrial (Cu -2.0%, Al -0.6%, Pb -1.6%).  In fact, the only commodity that is performing well today is Uranium, which is higher by a further 8.1%.

Finally, the dollar is king today, rising against 9 of its G10 counterparts with CHF (-0.5%) the laggard and only NZD (+0.1%) able to show any strength today.  The Kiwi story has been a much better than expected GDP print (2.8% vs 1.1% expected) leading to growing expectations of a 0.50% rate hike next month.  Meanwhile, the rest of the bloc is suffering from the aforementioned cracks in the rebound theory as well as broad-based dollar strength.  This strength has been universal in EMG markets, with every currency sliding against the greenback.  Thus far, the worst performer has been PLN (-0.6%) followed by THB (-0.5%) and HUF (-0.5%).  Beyond that, most currencies are down in the 0.2% range.  Interestingly, for both PLN and HUF, the market discussion is about raising interest rates with Hungary looking at 50bps while Poland has called for a “gentle” rise, assumed to be 0.25%.  As to THB, it seems the market has been reacting to a rise in the number of Covid cases which is perpetuating the Asian risk-off theme.

We have a full slate of data today at 8:30 with Initial (exp 323K) and Continuing (2740K) Claims; Philly Fed (19.0) and the biggest of the day, Retail Sales (-0.7%, 0.0% ex autos).  Tuesday’s Empire Manufacturing data was MUCH stronger than expected, so there will be some hope for Philly to beat.  But the Retail Sales data is the key.  Remember, this number started to slide once the stimulus checks stopped, and last month we saw a much worse than expected -1.1% outcome.  Given the uncertainty over the near-term trajectory of the economy, this will be seen as an important number.

Well, the dollar managed to strengthen despite lacking support from yields, certainly a blow to the dollar bears out there.  The thing is, against the G10, I continue to see the dollar in a range (1.17/1.19) and will need to see a break of either side to change views.  If forced to opine, I would say the medium-term trend for the dollar is gradually higher, but would need to see the euro below 1.17, or the DXY above 93.50 before getting too excited.

I will be out of the office tomorrow so no poetry until Monday.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe
Adf

The Dollar’s Fate (In the Coming Year)

With apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the dollar’s fate in the coming year
In the wake of a time that’s ne’er been seen
Since the Spanish Flu of Nineteen Eighteen
Perhaps Twenty-One will bring joy, not fear

Recapping Twenty shows that despite
A plague of biblical magnitude
The printing press revealed its might
As governments everywhere, debt, accrued
And flooded the markets with cash untold
(The better their citizens be controlled)
But all of that money was used, not for,
Increased production of goods onshore
Instead, for the purchase of stocks galore

Thus, equity markets at home rose higher
With Asia, too, on proverbial fire
Though Europe lagged, as the ECB
Was late to the party with more QE
Risk was embraced with a multiplier
Government bonds, though falling of late
Had seen yields tumble, year-to date
And lastly, the dollar, is now descending
As traders await this trend extending

Looking ahead, what can we expect?
Has Covid passed? Will ‘normal’ return?
Or are there surprises we’ve yet to learn?
Will stocks continue their flights of fancy?
Will bonds, inflation, at last detect?
Will dollars, everyone, start to spurn?
Will gold and bitcoin still seem chancy?

Regarding the virus, it’s not dead yet
Though hope springs eternal, and at last
The vaccines imply the worst has passed
But life, as we knew it, has been reset
Working from home (or living at work)
Is mainstream now, and not just a quirk
Office demand will certainly slide
And travel for business will lessen worldwide
Normal has changed, for boss and for clerk

Let us now speak of growth and inflation
Will growth improve on last year’s “success”?
Or will it instead fall flat and regress
Lockdown renewals bode ill for salvation
Policymakers constantly flail
As policy efforts constantly fail
Stimulus, fiscal, continues to flow
Interest rates are now forevermore low
Central banks tell us that this combination
Is perfect to counter a fearful stagnation
But in their efforts, good times to hail
The rising of prices will bypass their gaze
Leading to many more difficult days
GDP this year will struggle to One
Inflation, however, at Four, will not stun

How, then, will markets respond to this fate?
Equity prices at first will inflate
By spring, though, ‘twill be clear something’s amiss
Traders, their holdings, will start to truncate
While we shall not tumble into the abyss
Do not be shocked if the market does fall
Some twenty percent, at the least, is my call
What about bonds? How will they react?
Powell will ne’er let their prices contract
Yield Curve Control is the future we’ll see
Alongside the horror of pure MMT
Hence, ten-year bonds when December arrives
Will keep up their value, a cat with nine lives
One percent will be the height they attain
Implying the real yield most certainly dives
And so, the dollar will suffer great pain

Starting in Europe where Madame Lagarde
Is trying to keep up with Fed Chairman Jay
Sadly, what’s clear, at the end of the day
The ECB’s structure will make it too hard
While Fed and the Treasury work hand in hand
Pushing more money throughout all the land
Treaties in Europe have outcomes, unplanned
PEPP’s not enough for a rebound unscarred

Even though growth throughout Europe will sag
Even though prices will still be a drag
Nothing Lagarde can create will impact
The outcome, a euro that’s sure to move higher
Thus, if it’s something you need to acquire
At year-end, One-Thirty, you’ll need, that’s a fact

Tumultuous best describes last year’s UK
Twixt Covid and Brexit, the nation felt pain
Unhappily, this year, to Johnson’s dismay
Could worsen for every old bloke on the street
With growth in the toilet while prices show heat
It doesn’t seem much like Pound Sterling could gain

But real rates keep diving throughout the US
Offsetting those troubles, so if you need quid
Come Christmas, One-Fifty, if I had to guess
Is what they will cost as the dollar’s declined
Looking elsewhere, perhaps north of the border
Canada still seems a bit out of order
Oil’s rebounded but still seems confined
Meanwhile, housing there is quite well bid

However, again, it is Fed Chairman Jay
Who’s promised support for considerable time
Thus, when we get to our next Boxing Day
One-Fifteen for Loonies you’ll see on your screen
Eastward now, let’s turn our gaze as we glean
Whether the yen can continue its climb
Long-term, the dollar, its trend has been clear
Even before the debasement of late
Several percent, like a clock every year
Why would this year, something new, demonstrate?

Frankly, it won’t, as the Fed’s in control
Rather, the yen, will continue to roll
So, Winter Solstice this year will reveal
Dollar-Yen, Ninety-Six, where you can deal
Let us turn now to both future and past
Bitcoin and gold, which have both been amassed
Can both their prices continue to rise?
Certainly, as they’ve restricted supplies

For centuries, gold has defined what’s secure
Its glitter unblemished while paper’s debased
So, don’t be surprised if the relic’s embraced
As buyers pay Three Grand their wealth to insure
But youth has ideas which to many seem odd
And bitcoin is one such that’s been called a fraud
So, is it? Or is Bitcoin digital gold?
An updated version important to hold
As fiat debasement continues apace
This digital token gains further allure
And this year it seems Bitcoin’s making its case
As something that everyone needs to procure

It’s starting this year right around thirty grand
And hodlers believe that ‘tween here and the sky
Unless countries call for Bitcoin to be banned
A doubling or tripling’s the gain they’ll apply
One last thing I’ll highlight in digital space

The DCEP is now leading the race
This digital yuan, the first CBDC
Is coming soon courtesy of Mr Xi
It’s impact initially is quite unclear
But I guarantee that inside of a year
Nations worldwide will each roll out their own
And each will define a DC trading zone

While last year was filled with surprises galore
This year we’re likely to see many more
And finally, thank you, my readers and friends
For listening to all the twists and the bends
Now looking ahead to Twenty Twenty-One
Let’s all keep perspective and try to have fun.

Good luck, stay safe and have a wonderful new year
Adf

DCEP = Digital Currency / Electronic Payment
CBDC = Central Bank Digital Coin