Do Not Be Afraid

Said Jay, “you must listen to me”

And not to the numbers you see

Do not be afraid

Inflation will fade

So, keep up the stock buying spree!

Last week’s FOMC meeting seems to have been an inflection point in the recent market narrative which has resulted in a great many conflicting thoughts about the future.  The dichotomy of the meeting was the virtual absence of discussion on current high inflation readings juxtaposed with the Dot Plot forecasts on interest rates rising in 2023.  Arguably, the Dot Plot reflects the participants’ growing concern that inflation is rising, and that the FOMC will need to address that situation.  One could argue that this dichotomy has been the underlying cause for the increased volatility evident in markets, with sharp gains and losses seen across bonds, equities and currencies.

This afternoon, Chairman Powell will once again regale us with his views as he testifies before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.  His prepared testimony was released yesterday afternoon with some key comments.  “Inflation has increased notably in recent months.  As these transitory supply effects abate, inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run goal.”  That pretty much sums up the Fed view and confirms that there is very little concern about inflation over time.  

Yesterday we also heard from three other Fed speakers, NY’s Williams, Dallas’ Kaplan and St Louis’ Bullard, with slightly different messages.  Williams, a permanent voter, remains adamant that it is too soon to consider adjusting policy, although he is willing to discuss the idea of tapering.  Meanwhile, both Kaplan and Bullard, both non-voters, are far more interested in getting the tapering talk off the ground as both see the economy picking up pace and have evidenced concern about overheating areas in the economy.  One can surmise from these comments that both of them are amongst the ‘dots’ above 1.0% for 2023.  In fact, Bullard admitted that he was a 0.6% ‘dot’ for 2022 in comments last week.  

Looking ahead, we have a long list of Fed speakers this week, with Mester, a hawkish non-voter, and Daly, a dovish voter, also set to comment today.  It almost appears as though voting members have been given a set of marching (speaking?) orders to which they are to adhere that express no concern over prices and the need to continue with current policy for the foreseeable future, while non-voting members have no such restrictions.  This is a very different dynamic than what we have become used to seeing, where everybody on the committee was saying the same thing.  Perhaps this is Powell’s solution to being able to maintain the policy he wants while having the Fed overall avoid criticism for groupthink.  But groupthink remains the base case, trust me.

During this period of policy adjustments, or at least narrative adjustments, investors have found themselves without their previous strong signals that all asset prices will rise and that havens serve little purpose.  Instead, we have seen a much choppier market in both stock and bond prices as previously long-held convictions have come into question. The most notable change has been in the shape of the yield curve, which has flattened dramatically.  For instance, the 2yr-10-yr spread, which had reached a high above 160 basis points in early April has seen a decline from 137 to below 110 and a rebound back to 122 in the past three sessions.  Other than March 2020, during the initial Covid confusion, there has not been movement of that nature since President Trump was elected in 2016.  And that was a one-day phenomenon.  At this point, the volatility we are experiencing is likely to continue until a new narrative takes hold.  As to today’s session, so far, we are seeing a modest bond rally with yields softer in Treasuries (-1.7bps after a 5bp rally yesterday) and European sovereigns (Bunds -0.4bps, OATs -1.4bps, Gilts -0.5bps) all slightly firmer on the day.  

Meanwhile, equity markets are also somewhat confused.  Last night, for instance, the Nikkei (+3.1%) rebounded sharply after the BOJ explained they had restarted their ETF buying program on Monday, so all was right with the world.  The Hang Seng (-0.6%) didn’t get that message but Shanghai (+0.8%) did despite rising short-term interest rates in China.  Those climbing rates appear to be a function of quarter end demand for bank funding that is not being supplied by the PBOC.  My sense is once July comes those rates will drift back down.  Europe, has had a more mixed equity session after a nice rally yesterday, with both the DAX and CAC flat on the day and the FTSE 100 (+0.3%) rising a bit, but weakness in the peripheral markets of Spain and Italy, with both of those lower by about 0.5%.  US futures are virtually unchanged at this hour as market participants seem to be awaiting Mr Powell.

Commodity markets are following suit, with some gainers (Au +0.2%, Ag +0.2%, Al +0.1%), some losers (WTI -0.7%, Soybeans -0.7% and Fe -3.2%) and many with little overall movement.  In a market that has lost its direction with respect to both growth and inflation expectations, or at least one which is re-evaluating those expectations, it should be no surprise there is a hodgepodge of price movements.

The dollar, however, is broadly firmer on the day, with GBP (-0.35%) the weakest performer in the G10 as traders await Thursday’s BOE meeting and their latest discussion on the inflation situation in the UK.  This will be BOE Chief Economist Andy Haldane’s last meeting, and he is expected to make some hawkish noises, but thus far, the rest of the committee has not been aligned with him.  Right now, the market is not looking for him to receive any support, hence the pound’s ongoing weakness, but if we do hear some hawkishness from another member or two, do not be surprised if the pound jumps back up.  As to the rest of the G10, losses range from 0.1%-0.25% and are all a reflection of the dollar’s strength, rather than any idiosyncratic stories here.  

Emerging market currencies are also broadly softer this morning, with a mix of laggards across all three blocs.  HUF (-0.5%), ZAR (-0.5%, THB (-0.45%) and MXN (-0.35%) reflect that this is a dollar and Fed story, not an EMG one.  The one exception to this rule is TRY (+1.0%) as hopes for an early lifting of Covid restrictions and a modest rise in Consumer Confidence there has underpinned the lira.

On the data front, we see Existing Home Sales (exp 5.72M) this morning at 10:00, but that seems unlikely to excite the market.  Rather, I expect limited movement until Chairman Powell speaks this afternoon.  

For now, volatility is likely to be the norm as the market adjusts to whatever the new narrative eventually becomes.  The inflation debate continues to rage and when Core PCE is released later this week, there will be more commentary.  However, it will require high inflation readings into the autumn to change the Fed’s stance, in my view, and until then, the idea that the Fed is considering tighter policy is likely to support the dollar for now.  However, that doesn’t mean further strength necessarily, just not any real weakness.

Good luck and stay safe


No Exit

So, Powell and friends started talking

‘bout talking, and markets were rocking

Though they won’t stop buying

More bonds, they are trying

To exit QE, which is shocking

The question is how long they last

Ere haunted by all of their past

As Sartre made clear

No Exit is near

Be careful, the trouble is vast

Technically, I am out of the office today and tomorrow, but felt that I needed to quickly opine on yesterday’s FOMC meeting.

While the FOMC statement was virtually identical to the April statement, not really even mentioning the fact that inflation is running much hotter than they had obviously expected, the big news was the dot plot, where the median expectation changed to 0.50% of rate rises by the end of 2023.  Previously, that rate was still expected to be 0.00%, so clearly at least some FOMC members have figured out that inflation is rising.  Substantial further progress on their goal of maximum employment has not yet been made and remains “a way’s off.”

But the market focused on the dot plot as it is the first indication that tighter policy may be coming.  In fact, in the press conference, Powell explicitly said that this was the meeting where they began to talk about talking about policy changes, so perhaps that tired phraseology will be discarded.

The bond market reacted in quite an interesting manner, as every maturity up to the 10-year saw yields rise, but the 30-year was unchanged on the day.  The fact that the 30-year ignored all the fireworks implies that market opinions on growth and inflation have not really changed, just the timing of the eventual movement by the Fed has been altered.  Stock prices sold off a bit, but not very hard, far less than 1.0%, but boy did precious metals get whacked, with gold down nearly 3% on the day and a further 1% this morning.

And finally, the dollar was the star of the markets, rallying against everyone of its major counterparts, with the biggest laggards the commodity focused currencies like NOK (-2.7%), SEK (-2.5%), MXN (-2.5%) and ZAR (-2.3%).  But it was a universal rout.  Markets had been getting shorter and shorter dollars as the narrative had been the rest of the world was catching up to the US and trusting that the Fed was no nearer raising rates now than in April.  I’m guessing some of those opinions have changed.

However, my strong suspicion is that nothing really has changed and that the Fed is still a very long way from actually tapering, let alone raising rates.  Ultimately, the biggest risk they face, at least the biggest risk they perceive, is that if they start to tighten and equity prices decline sharply, they will not be able to sit back and let that happen.  They have well and truly painted themselves into a corner with No Exit.  Thus far, the movement has been insignificant.  But if it begins to build, just like the Powell Pivot on Boxing Day in 2018, the Fed will be back to promising unlimited liquidity forever.  And the dollar, at that point will suffer greatly.

For those who are dollar sellers, take advantage of this movement.  It may last a week or two but will not go on indefinitely.  At least sell some!

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe


No Yang, Only Yin

According to every newspaper

The Fed’s getting ready to taper

With late Twenty-two

The popular view

Of when, QE, they will escape(r)

But what if, before they begin

To taper, to Powell’s chagrin

The bond market tanks

As traders and banks

Believe there’s no yang, only yin

The Fed begins its two-day meeting this morning and the outcome remains the primary topic of conversation within every financial market.  The growing consensus is that there will be some discussion in the meeting of when the Fed should begin to reduce their QE purchases as well as what form that should take.  Given the extraordinary heat in the housing market, there have been numerous calls for the Fed to stop buying mortgage-backed securities first as that market hardly needs any more support.  In the end, however, the details of how they choose to adjust policy matters less than the fact that they are choosing to do so at all.

As pointed out yesterday, the bond market’s rally thus far in Q2 appears to be far more related to the lack of new Treasury supply than increasing demand and declining concerns over future inflation.  If that view is correct, then discussing the timing of tapering QE will seem quite premature.  It is true Treasury Secretary Yellen said that higher interest rates would be a good thing, but it seems highly likely she was not thinking of 10-year yields at 3.0% or more, rather somewhere just south of 2.0%.  In other words, a modest increase from current levels.  History, however, shows that markets rarely correct in a modest manner, rather they tend to move to extremes before retracing to a new equilibrium.  Thus, even if 2.0% is a new equilibrium (and I don’t believe that will be the case) do not be surprised to see yields significantly higher first.

In this view, the impact on markets worldwide is likely to be significant.  It seems unlikely that equity markets anywhere will respond positively to higher interest rates at all, let alone sharply higher rates.  As well, bond markets will, by definition, have been falling rapidly with much higher yields, not just in the US but elsewhere as well.  As to the dollar, it would seem that it will also be a big beneficiary of higher US yields, arguably with USDJPY the most impacted.  A quick look at recent correlations between different currencies and US 10-year yields shows the yen is the only major currency that has a significant correlation to yields (0.46).  But I would not discount the idea that the dollar will rally versus pretty much the rest of the G10 as well as the EMG bloc in a situation where dollar yields are rising sharply.  Consider that in this situation, we will likely be looking at a classic risk-off scenario when the dollar tends to perform best.

Of course, there are many in the camp who believe that the central banking community will remain in control of markets and that inflation is transitory thus allowing them to adjust policy at their preferred pace.  It is this scenario that Ms Yellen clearly is expecting, or at least describing in her desire for higher yields.

And this is the crux of the market’s future decisions; will central banks be able to slowly reduce monetary accommodation as economies around the world slowly return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, or will the dramatic increase in government debt issuance force central banks to maintain their QE programs in order to prevent the economic chaos that could result from sharply higher interest rates?  While my money is on the latter, it remains too soon to determine which broad outcome will occur.  It is also not clear to me that tomorrow’s FOMC announcement is going to be that big a deal in the long run, as it seems doubtful there will be any actual policy changes, even if they begin to discuss how they might do so in the future.  Remember, talk is cheap, even central bank forward guidance!

Markets remain in a holding pattern ahead of tomorrow’s FOMC statement and Powell’s press conference, although there have been some idiosyncratic moves overnight.  For instance, while Japanese equity markets continue to rally (Nikkei +1.0%) on the back of optimism regarding the Olympics and the idea that Covid inspired lockdowns will be ending soon, the same was not true in China where the Hang Seng (-0.7%) and Shanghai (-0.9%) markets both suffered after the PBOC failed to inject any additional liquidity into the money markets there.  With quarter-end approaching, demand for funds by financial institutions is rising and the fact that the PBOC continues to be somewhat parsimonious has been a key support for the renminbi, but not really helped the equity markets there.  Remember, China is quite concerned over what had been a growing housing bubble, and this is designed to help restrict the growth of that situation.

European equity markets are somewhat mixed this morning as the major indices have performed well (DAX +0.5%, CAC +0.4%, FTSE 100 +0.3%) but both Italy (-0.2%) and Spain (-0.5%) are lagging on the day.  The data of note has been CPI which showed that Germany (+2.5%) continues to feel the most inflationary pressure, while both France (+1.8%) and Italy (+1.2%) remain unable to find much inflationary impulse at all.  This is certainly a far cry from the situation here in the US and speaks to the idea that the ECB is not likely to begin tapering anytime soon.  In fact, it would not be surprising if they wind up either extending PEPP or expanding the original QE known as APP.  US futures, meanwhile, are little changed at this hour after yesterday’s mixed session.

Global bond markets are on hold this morning with none of the major nations seeing movement of even 1 basis point, despite yesterday’s Treasury sell-off raising 10-year yields by nearly 6 bps.  That movement has been described as technical in nature given the complete lack of new information seen.

On the commodity front, oil (WTI +0.8%) continues to power higher driving the entire energy complex in that direction but the rest of the space has seen quite a different outcome.  Precious metals (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.8%) continue their recent weak performance while industrial metals (Cu -3.5%, Al -1.3%, Sn -2.1%) have been absolutely crushed.  Agricultural products are mostly softer on the weather story, although soybeans is bucking that trend with a modest gain on the day.

As to the FX market, the dollar is mixed in both G10 and EMG blocs.  In the G10, AUD (-0.2%) has suffered on the back of dovish RBA Minutes released last night as they indicated it was premature to discuss tapering.  CAD (-0.3%) appears to be suffering on the back of the base metals decline and the pound (-0.25%) is on its back foot after slightly disappointing employment data.  Interestingly, NOK is unchanged on the day despite oil’s rally and CHF’s 0.1% gain, which leads the pack appears to be technical in nature.

In the EMG bloc, TRY (-1.3%) is suffering after the US-Turkey meeting at the G7 meetings was less fruitful than hoped with no breakthroughs achieved.  HUF (-0.7%) is declining after conflicting statements from a central bank member regarding a short-term liquidity facility has traders uncertain if policy accommodation is going to be ended soon or not.  Remember, uncertainty breeds contempt in markets.  Away from those two, however, the rest of the block saw very small movements with no significant stories.

On the data front, we get two important pieces this morning; Retail sales (exp -0.7%, +0.4% ex autos) and PPI (6.2%, 4.8% ex food & energy).  In addition, at 8:30 we see Empire Manufacturing (22.7) and then later we see IP (0.7%) and Capacity Utilization (75.1%).  Retail Sales is likely to dominate the discussion unless PPI is really high, above 7.0%.  But in the end, markets continue to wait for tomorrow’s FOMC, so large movement still seems unlikely today.  That said, if we do see Treasury yields creeping higher, I expect the dollar to perform pretty well.

Good luck and stay safe


Likely Too Soon

The narrative now seems to be
That tapering’s what we will see
The meeting in June
Is likely too soon
By autumn, though, Jay may agree

not permanent.
“transitory periods of medieval greatness”

continuing to exist or endure over a prolonged period.
“persistent rain will affect many areas”

Forgive my pedanticism this morning but I couldn’t help but notice the following comment from former NY Fed President William Dudley.  “The recent spike in US inflation is likely transitory for now – but it could become more persistent in the coming years as more people return to work.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I would describe the words ‘transitory’ and ‘persistent’ as antonyms.  And, of course, we all know that the Fed has assured us that recent rises in inflation are transitory.  In fact, they assure us multiple times each day.  And yet, here is a former FOMC member, from one of the most important seats, NY Fed president, explaining that this transitory phenomenon could well be persistent.  If you ever wondered why the term ‘Fedspeak’ was coined, it was because ‘doublespeak’ was already taken by George Orwell in his classic ‘1984’.  Apparently, one does not regain one’s intellectual honesty when leaving a government institution where mendacity is the coin of the realm.

However, let us now turn to today’s main story; tapering.  The discussion on tapering of QE continues apace and the market is settling on a narrative that the Fed will reduce the amount of its monthly purchases by the end of the year.  Certainly, there are a minority of Fed governors who want to get the conversation going in earnest, with St Louis’ James Bullard the latest.  And this idea fits smoothly with the concept that the US economy is expanding rapidly with price pressures, even if transitory, building just as rapidly.  Just yesterday, Elon Musk compared the shortage in microprocessors needed to build Teslas to the shortage of toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic last year.  (As an aside, one, more permanent, result of that TP shortage is that prices in my local Shop-Rite are significantly higher today than pre-pandemic, at least 40% higher, even though the shortage was transitory no longer persists.)  

The point is that the combination of shortages of specific items, bottlenecks in shipping and dramatically increasing demand fed by massive government stimulus programs are all feeding into higher prices, i.e. inflation.  Even the most committed central bank doves around the world have noticed this situation, and while most are unwilling to alter policy yet, the discussion is clearly beginning.  Last night, the RBA omitted their promise “to undertake further bond purchases to assist with progress goals,” despite maintaining their YCC target of 0.10% for 3-year AGB’s.  As well, yesterday Fed Governor Lael Brainerd, arguably the most dovish FOMC member, explained, “while the level of inflation in my near-term outlook has moved somewhat higher, my expectation for the contour of inflation moving back towards its underlying trend in the period beyond the reopening remains broadly unchanged.”  Apparently, Lael attended the Alan Greenspan school of Fedspeak.

Add it all up and you get a market that is convinced that tapering is visible on the horizon and will begin before Christmas 2021.  While I don’t doubt it is appropriate, as I believe inflation is not actually transitory, I am also skeptical that the Fed is ready to alter its policy until it sees data showing the employment situation has reached its newly formed goals.  I fear that, as usual, the Fed will be late to the tightening party and the outcome will be a far more dramatic policy reversal and much bigger market impact (read stock market decline) than desired.

How, you may ask, has this impacted markets today?  The big winner has been the dollar, which is firmer against virtually all its counterparts this morning.  For instance, NZD (-0.5%) is the laggard in the G10 space after RBNZ comments explaining the balance sheet will remain large for a long time.  In other words, while they may stop buying new securities, they will replace maturing debt and so maintain a significant presence in their bond market.  Meanwhile, CHF (-0.5%) is under pressure after SNB Vice-president Zurbruegg explained that the bank’s expansive monetary policy, consisting of NIRP and FX intervention is still necessary.  The rest of the bloc is also softer, but not quite to that extent with AUD (-0.35%) under pressure from commodity price pullbacks and JPY (-0.35%) suffering after odd comments by a BOJ member that they would respond to any untoward JPY strength in the event the Fed does begin to taper.

Emerging market currencies have also been under pressure all evening led by TRY (-0.9%) and KRW (-0.65%).  The latter’s movement was a clear response to the PBOC setting its fixing rate for a weaker CNY than the market had anticipated, thus opening the way for a weaker KRW.  Given the fact that South Korea both competes aggressively in some markets with Chinese manufacturers, and has China as its largest market, the intricacies of the KRW/CNY relationship are many and complex.  But in a broad dollar on scenario, it is not too surprising to see both currencies weaken, and given KRW’s recent strong performance, it had much further to fall.  But currency weakness in this bloc is across EEMEA, APAC and LATAM, which tells us it is much more about the dollar than about any particular idiosyncratic stories.

In the rest of the markets, equities were mixed in Asia (Nikkei +0.45%, Hang Seng -0.6%, Shanghai -0.75%) while Europe is green, but only just (DAX +0.15%, CAC +0.3%, FTSE 100 +0.1%).  US futures are either side of unchanged at this hour as the market tries to digest the tapering story.  Remember, much of the valuation premium that exists in the US is predicated on lower forever interest rates.  If they start to climb, that could easily spell trouble.

Speaking of interest rates, they have edged lower in the session with 10-year Treasury yields down 0.3bps while in Europe, yields have fallen a bit faster (bunds -1.4bps, OATs -1.5bps, gilts -1.2bps).  Certainly, there is no keen inflationary scare in this market as of yet.

Interestingly, oil prices continue to rise, despite the stronger dollar, with WTI (+1.0%) trading to new highs for the move.  But the rest of the commodity space finds itself under pressure this morning as the dollar’s strength takes its toll.  Precious metals are softer (Au -0.25%, Ag -0.5%) as are base metals (Cu -0.8%, Al -0.5%) although the ags are holding up.  But if dollar strength is persistent, I expect that commodity prices will remain on the back foot.

On the data front, today brings only the Fed’s Beige Book this afternoon, as the ADP employment number is delayed due to the Memorial Day holiday Monday.  As well, we hear from four Fed speakers, including three, Harker, Kaplan and Bostic, who have been in the tapering camp for several weeks now.  However, until we start to see the Treasury market sell off more aggressively, I think tapering will be a nice talking point, but not yet deemed a foregone conclusion.  As such, that link between Treasury yields and the dollar remains solid, with the dollar likely to respond well to further discussions of tapering and higher yields.  We shall see if that is what comes to pass regardless of the current narrative.

Good luck and stay safe

‘Bout Enough

A storm in the bond market’s brewing

As some central banks start eschewing

The idea QE

Forever, should be

Thus, traders, their longs are undoing

Meanwhile, in the markets for stuff

The Chinese have had ‘bout enough

As prices there soar

Xi’s minions call for

Restraint, or they’ll have to get tough

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend in the US, there are two stories making the rounds this morning.  The first is the latest discussion regarding tapering of QE by central banks around the world while the second is a growing discussion on the commodity markets and the impact the Chinese are having via both economic growth and governmental efforts to prevent prices from rising further. 

During the past month we have gained more clarity from four key central banks on their future QE activities, but the big three (Fed, ECB and BOJ) have not yet come out with any real guidance.  Certainly, we have heard several members of the FOMC opining that the time is coming soon where they will start to consider the idea, if growth continues at its current accelerated pace and if the employment situation improves dramatically.  This is, however, by no means the universal view in Washington, at least not yet.  With respect to the BOJ, the next MPC member who talks about tapering JGB buying will be the first one to do so.  The Japanese have been so invested in this strategy for more than 20 years it will be extraordinarily difficult to even consider a change.

In Frankfurt, however, there is far more disagreement as to the proper steps forward.  Unfortunately for the ECB, the lack of a common fiscal framework in the Eurozone is becoming a bigger problem as they remain the only institution capable of supporting the entire group of nations.  This is made clear by recent data, which shows that there are very different growth and inflation scenarios, potentially requiring different monetary policy responses, in different countries.

For instance, inflation in Germany, at 2.3% is running a lot hotter than in Italy, at 1.0%.  And while the Continent’s average may be around 1.6% right now, it is the Germans that see things as more problematic.  Consider that while the Weimar hyperinflation of nearly 100 years ago may seem ancient to most, it was the most searing economic event in the nation’s history and has informed the entire German zeitgeist of thrift and frugality.  (Contrast this to the Great Depression, with the concomitant deflation that occurred in the US, and which has informed the US zeitgeist with respect to fear of prices and the economy collapsing.)  Remember, the only way to get the Germans to agree to the euro was to promise that the ECB would essentially be a clone of the Bundesbank.  That meant keeping a lid on inflation at all times.  However, the current situation, where the economic circumstances across the continent are so widely disparate, has put the ECB in a bind.  Efforts to support those economies that remain weak with a low inflationary impulse, like Italy, Ireland and Greece, will result in increasing price pressures on those economies that are further ahead in the economic rebound like Germany and the Netherlands.

It is this conundrum that has different ECB speakers saying different things.  On the one hand, we have recently heard from Italy’s Panetta, France’s Villeroy and Madame Lagarde that tapering is not appropriate.  Yet this morning, Germany’s Isabel Schnabel was far more circumspect with respect to maintaining current policy as she commented, “Rising yields are precisely what we want to see.”  That does not seem the comment of someone keen to keep buying bonds.  However, for now, the Germans remain in the minority and so the idea that the ECB will mention the tapering of asset purchases at the June meeting seems unlikely.

As to the commodity story, in the past two weeks we have heard from at least seven different Chinese officials and key organizations about the need for both reducing upward pressure on commodities as well as reducing upward pressure on the renminbi.  For the past twenty years, China has been the marginal buyer of most commodities as their economy has grown at a remarkable pace and they have built up extraordinary infrastructure of roads, airports and cities.  Thus, they have consumed countless tons of steel, copper and other industrial materials.  However, a little considered impact of the pandemic was the dramatic reduction in the capex of mining for industrial metals, which means that future supplies are likely to be less available as the world continues to reopen and growth expands.  The natural result has been rising prices as markets anticipate surplus demand relative to forecast supply. 

Apparently, the powers that be in China have figured out that rising prices are not conducive to their domestic plans and are now caught between a situation where they benefit from a stronger currency if it puts downward pressure on inflation, but suffer from a stronger currency if it reduces the attractiveness of their export sector.  They seem to believe that if they can prevent further strength in CNY while simultaneously talking down commodity prices, they can achieve both their ends.  While they have had some success over the past several weeks on the commodity front, CNY has steadily appreciated, gaining more than 3.25% since April 1st.  I guess this is one of the difficulties of trying to manage growth, inflation and your currency’s value simultaneously.  Something’s gotta give.  Right now, it looks like the currency and further strength there should not be a surprise.

As to our holiday shortened session, European equity markets are uniformly higher this morning (DAX +0.6%, CAC +0.7%, FTSE100 +0.3%) although Asia had a more mixed picture with the Nikkei (+2.1%) quite strong but the Hang Seng (0.0%) and Shanghai (-0.2%) less enthusiastic about things.  US futures are all green to the tune of about 0.5%, so pending this morning’s data, the rally should continue.

Bond markets are little changed this morning with Treasuries, which saw yields rise 3.5bps yesterday essentially unchanged this morning.  EGB’s are generally a tick or two higher with yields lower by less than 1 basis point, as there is much more focus on stocks today.

In the commodity space, oil (+0.5%) continues to rebound from last week’s dip while precious metals are modestly softer this morning (Au -0.2%, Ag -0.8%).  The Chinese seem to be having some success in their efforts to push down metals prices with Cu (-1.0%) and Al (-0.4%) leading the way lower.

The dollar, despite the positive risk sentiment in equities, is stronger vs. all its G10 peers, with NZD (-0.85%) and AUD (-0.6%) the worst performers on the day.  In truth, the magnitude of this move smacks of position adjustments after the RBNZ’s surprisingly hawkish tone earlier this week led to significant buying in both currencies.  But the dollar’s strength is universal as generally positive data releases throughout Europe have not been able to encourage currency buying. 

Emerging markets have seen a different picture as the dollar was universally soft overnight and APAC currencies all showed strength while those markets were open, but since then, EEMEA and LATAM currencies have come under pressure.  The most notable mover here has been TRY (-0.95%) as ongoing inflation worries continue to undermine faith in the currency both at home and internationally.

The data story today has the chance to be quite interesting with Personal Income (exp -14.2%), Personal Spending (0.5%) and Core PCE (0.6% M/M, 2.9% Y/Y) all coming at 8:30.  Then at 10:00 we see Chicago PMI (68.0) and Michigan Sentiment (83.0).  In my mind, Core PCE is the number that matters.  Given the current market discussion on tapering, a higher than anticipated number there could easily see a bond market sell-off and further support for the dollar.  Frankly, based on the fact that every inflation reading this month has been higher than forecast, I see no reason for this to be any different.  Look for a high print and the dollar to remain well-bid into the weekend.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe


More Systemic

The winding down of the pandemic

Has fostered a massive polemic

Will rising costs fade

As Powell’s portrayed

Or are they a bit more systemic?

The inflation debate continues to be topic number one amongst market participants as the outcome is seen, rightly, as the key to future economic activity and correspondingly future market price action.  This is true across all asset classes which is why everyone cares so much.

However, not every day brings us new and exciting news on the debate which leaves the markets to seek other catalysts for movement, sometimes really stretching to find a good narrative.  Thus far, today falls under the heading of ‘looking for something to say.’

There has been limited new information released overnight which is likely why the fact that the Bank of Korea, though leaving their policy rate unchanged at 0.50%, has been a topic of conversation as they displayed a more hawkish sentiment, raising both GDP growth and inflation forecasts for 2021, and hinted that they would be looking to end their ultra-expansive monetary policy sooner than previously thought.  Earlier expectations had been rates would not begin to rise until 2023, but now the market is pricing in two 25 basis point rate hikes in 2022.  This is the fourth (BOC, BOE and RBNZ are the others) central bank of a major country that is discussing the beginning of the end of easy money.  Granted, the combined GDP of these four nations, at a touch over $7 trillion, is less than one-third that of the US, but three of them are amongst the ten largest economies in the world and the fourth, New Zealand, has a history of leading the way in monetary policy on a global basis, at least since 1988 when they ‘invented’ the inflation targeting mantra that is prevalent today.

This sentiment of considering when to end easy money is making its way more clearly into the Fed’s talking points as well.  Yesterday, Fed Vice-Chair Quarles remarked, “If my expectations about economic growth, employment and inflation over the coming months are borne out, it will become important for the FOMC to begin discussing our plans to adjust the pace of asset purchases at upcoming meetings.”  He is at least the fourth Fed speaker this week to talk about talking about tapering asset purchases which tells us that the discussion is actively ongoing at the Marriner Eccles Building in Washington.  

Perhaps what is even more interesting is the fact that the Treasury market is so nonplussed by the fact that the Fed is clearly considering the timing of a reduction in purchases at the same time we are printing the highest inflation numbers in years and the Federal government is sending out more stimulus checks and spending money like crazy.  You may disagree with Chairman Powell’s policy actions, but you cannot deny the effectiveness of his recent communication policy.  Based on price action in both bond and inflation markets, Powell’s story of transitory inflation has become the accepted truth.  I sure hope he’s right, but my personal, anecdotal observations don’t agree with his thesis.  Whether I’m looking at my cost of living or take a more monetarist view and look at the expansion of the monetary base, both point to a steady rise in prices with no end in sight.  The market, however, cares little about the FX poet’s circumstances and a great deal about Chairman Powell’s pronouncements so until he is proven wrong, it has become clear the market has accepted the transitory story.

With this in mind, a survey of market activity shows pretty limited movement in every asset class.  Equity markets had a mixed session in Asia (Nikkei -0.3%, Hang Seng -0.2%, Shanghai +0.4%) and are having a similiarly mixed session in Europe (DAX -0.3%, CAC +0.5%, FTSE 100 -0.1%).  In other words, there is no theme of note on the risk side.  Meanwhile, US futures are pointing slightly lower on the open, with the worst performer NASDAQ at -0.4% and the others with lesser declines.  None of this points to a major risk theme.

Bond prices are generally a touch softer this morning with Treasury yields higher by 1.2 basis points while Bunds (+1.0bps), OATs (+0.5bps) and Gilts (+1.7bps) have all sold off slightly.  However, in the bigger picture, all of these key bond markets are currently trading with yields right in the middle of their past three month’s activity.  Again, it is hard to define a theme from today’s price action.

Commodity prices add to the mixed view with oil (WTI -0.8%) slightly softer as it consolidates after last month’s powerful rally.  In the metals markets, precious metals are essentially unchanged this morning while industrial metals continue with the mixed theme as Cu (+0.5%) and Zn (+0.3%) are firmer while Al (-0.4%) and Sn (-0.3%) are softer. Ags have seen similar price action with Soybeans softer while both Wheat and Corn are firmer.  One of the stories here has been the recent consolidation across most commodities which has been attributed to China’s efforts to prevent inflation and the expansion of bubbles in property and housing markets.

The dollar, however, is the one thing which has shown some consistency this morning, falling almost across the board.  In fact, in G10, the dollar has fallen against all its counterparts with GBP (+0.4%) the firmest currency, but solid gains in NZD (+0.35%) and CAD (+0.3%) as well.  The pound’s jump has been in the past few minutes responding to the BOE’s Gertjan Vlieghe’s comments that rate hikes are likely to begin in 2022, again, earlier than the market had been figuring.  

EMG currencies are also gaining this morning led by the CE4 (HUF +0.65%, PLN +0.5%) as well as ZAR (+0.4%).  APAC currencies performed well overnight with CNY (+0.25%) rising for the 12th session in the 15 so far this month.  It has become abundantly clear that the PBOC is willing to allow CNY to continue to strengthen despite the potential impact on exports.  This seems to be driven by their desire to cap inflation, especially in commodity prices, as well as the fact that the inflation narrative elsewhere in the world has shown that export clients have been able to absorb some level of price rises.  To achieve both these aims, a modestly stronger renminbi is an excellent help.

On the data front, this morning brings Initial Claims (exp 425K), Continuing Claims (3.68M), the second look at Q1 GDP (6.5%) and Durable Goods (0.8%, 0.7% ex transport).  However, while this is the biggest tranche of data so far this week, tomorrow’s core PCE release remains the most important number of the week in my view as excessive strength there seems to be the only thing that could give the Fed pause in their current views.  Interestingly, we do not hear from another Fed speaker, at least in a scheduled appearance, until next Tuesday, so the data will be our best indication of what is happening.  

Looking at the dollar’s recent price action, we have seen weakness but it has run into pretty strong support.  The link between Treasury yields and the dollar remains strong, and I expect that to be the case until at least the Fed’s June meeting.  In truth, the dollar’s weakness today feels a bit overdone so I anticipate no further declines and potentially, a little rebound.

Good luck and stay safe


Tapering Talk

Despite all the tapering talk
The market did not walk the walk
Now sovereigns worldwide
Have seen their yields slide
While stocks are where people all flock

Remember when the consensus view was that the Fed would begin tapering before the end of 2021 as clues from the FOMC Minutes indicated the discussion about tapering was ongoing?  That was so two days ago.  With the perspective of twenty-four hours to read the entire FOMC Minutes, it appears that many traders have decided they may have been premature to jump to that conclusion.  Instead, a reading of the entire document highlights that while the subject was raised, it was clearly a minority of members interested in the discussion.  Rather, the bulk of the FOMC continue to highlight that not only does “substantial further progress” need to be made toward their goals of maximum employment and steady 2% average inflation, but that they are a long way from achieving those goals.  In other words, tapering is still a long way in the future.

This is not to say the Fed shouldn’t be considering when to end QE, just to point out that the weight of evidence points to the idea that they are not in a hurry to do so.  Remember, they are explicitly reactive on policy, refusing to consider removing accommodation before hard data shows that they have reached their goals.  Do not be misled into believing the Fed is on the cusp of removing accommodation.  They are not!

A quick look at yesterday’s data highlights why they are still a long way off.  While Initial Claims fell to a new post-pandemic low of 455K, a more troubling aspect was the 100K rise in the Continuing Claims data, implying that the rolls of unemployment are not shrinking despite all this economic growth.  As well, the Philly Fed, while still printing at a robust 31.5, fell well short of expectations while price pressures in the sub-indices rose to their highest level ever.  But the Fed has made it clear that; a) they are unconcerned with the transitory nature of price increases; and b) even if those price increases prove to be more long-lasting, they have the tools to deal with the problem.  Meanwhile, underperforming surveys will not dissuade them from the idea that there is much monetary work yet to be completed.

Put it all together and it appears that the market writ large has decided that the risk of Fed tapering is significantly lower than had been anticipated just Wednesday afternoon.  While taper talk made for good headlines, it doesn’t appear to be imminent on the policy radar.

Elsewhere in the world, though, there is also tapering talk as we continue to see economic data demonstrate that the recovery is continuing.  The interesting thing is the contrast between the data from Asia and that from Europe.  It is Flash PMI day, so we started in Japan last night, where Manufacturing PMI remained well above the key 50 level, printing at 52.5.  While a slight decline from the previous month, it is still well into growth territory.  However, renewed lockdowns in Japan (as well as other nations throughout Asia) continues to impede a rebound in services, with the PMI print falling nearly 4 points to 45.7.  There is no indication that the BOJ is going to modify monetary policy and this data certainly does not warrant any change.

European data this morning, however, was far more impressive with strength in both the manufacturing and services data as Europe’s vaccination rate rises (its 20% now) and lockdowns slowly come to an end.  As the market is already pricing in a strong recovery in the US, the surprising strength in Europe has resulted in a more positive outlook and manifested itself in further euro strength.  Although there is no thought that the ECB will tighten policy, the relative change in economic activity is good enough to keep the euro’s upward momentum intact.  While the euro has not moved at all today, it has recouped all its losses from the FOMC Minutes on Wednesday and remains in a modest uptrend.

Lastly, not only was UK PMI data strong, with both manufacturing and services printing well above 60, but UK Retail Sales jumped 9.0% in April, reminding us of just how quickly the UK is exiting the lockdown process and reopening.  The pound continues to be the best performing currency in the G10 this month, with today’s 0.3% gain taking the monthly gain to 3.0%.

Summing up, there appears to be a change of heart regarding the timing of the Fed tapering their QE purchases with the result being lower yields, higher stocks and a weaker dollar.

Speaking of stocks, yesterday’s strong US performance was followed by the Nikkei (+0.8%), but the rest of Asia did not feel the love (Hang Seng 0.0%, Shanghai -0.6%).  Europe, though, is performing better with the CAC (+0.55%) leading the way higher after the relatively best PMI data, with the DAX (+0.2%) hanging in there.  Disappointingly, the FTSE 100 (-0.1%) seems to have already priced in better growth and earnings and thus is little changed on the day.  US futures are all modestly higher at this point, by roughly 0.25%.

As discussed, bond yields, which had rallied sharply in the wake of the Minutes have fallen back to their pre-Minutes levels, although in the last few moments, the 10-year Treasury has edged lower with the yield backing up 0.9bps.  But in Europe, we are seeing a broadly positive performance with Bunds (-0.5bps) and OATs (-0.7bps) edging higher while the peripherals all show much more strength resulting in tighter spreads.  The growth story in the UK has separated Gilts from the pack and yields there are higher by 1.4bps as I type.

Commodity prices are having a mixed day with oil (+1.4%) the best performer by far, and precious metals (Au +0.15%, Ag +0.35%) also firmer.  However, agricuturals are falling (Soybeans -1.1%, Wheat -0.7%, Corn -1.2%) and industrial metals are mostly under pressure as well (Cu -0.25%, Fe -2.6%, Ni -1.0%) although Aluminum (+0.5%) is bucking the trend.

Finally, the dollar is definitely under pressure this morning, which given the decline in yields, should not be terribly surprising. Versus the G10, only the euro is essentially unchanged while the rest of the bloc is modestly firmer led by the pound (+0.3%) as discussed above.  In the EMG bloc, KRW (+0.5%) was the best performer overnight, responding to a huge export reading (53.3% Y/Y growth in the first 20 days of May).  But most APAC currencies rallied, recouping yesterday’s losses and we are seeing modest strength in ZAR (+0.3%) as well as the CE4.  In fact, at this hour, the only loser of note is MXN (-0.2%) which seems to be caught in a struggle regarding belief in Banxico’s willingness to raise rates further to fight rising inflation.

On the data front, PMI (exp 60.2 Manufacturing and 64.4 Services) is due at 9:45 and Existing Home Sales (6.07M) comes at 10:00.  Four Fed speakers round out the day, but we already have a very good idea of what each will say, with Kaplan retaining his hawkish views while the rest will sound far more dovish.

Nothing has changed my view that as go 10-year yields, so goes the dollar.  If yields continue to back off Wednesday’s highs, look for pressure on the dollar to remain.  If, however, yields reverse higher, the dollar will find its footing immediately.

Good luck, good weekend and stay safe


To taper or not is the question
Resulting in much indigestion
For traders with views
The Minutes were cues
The Fed’s ready for retrogression

A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases.”  This is the money quote from yesterday’s FOMC Minutes, the one which has been identified as the starting point for the next step in Federal Reserve activity.  Its perceived hawkish tilt led to a decline in both stocks and bonds and saw the dollar rebound nicely from early session weakness.

No one can ever accuse the Fed of speaking clearly about anything, and this quote is full of weasel words designed to hint at but not actually say anything.  So, is this really as hawkish as the commentariat would have us believe?  Let us remember that the April meeting occurred before the surprisingly weak May Nonfarm Payroll report.  Since that report, we have heard many Fed speakers explain that there was still a long way to go before they saw the “substantial progress” necessary to begin to change policy.  Since the meeting, the Citi Economic Surprise Index (an index that seeks to track the difference between economic forecasts and actual data releases) has fallen quite sharply which implies that the economy is not growing as rapidly as forecast at that time.  Of course, since the meeting we have also seen the highest CPI prints on a monthly basis in 15 years (headline) and 40 years (core).

The growing consensus amongst economists is that at the Jackson Hole symposium in August, Chairman Powell will officially reveal the timeline for tapering and by the end of 2021, the Fed will have begun reducing the amount of asset purchases they make on a monthly basis.  That feels like a pretty big leap from “it might be appropriate at some point…to begin discussing…”

Remember, too, the discussion that is important is not what one believes the Fed should do, but rather what one believes the Fed is going to do.  The case for tighter policy is clear-cut in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I expect them to act in that fashion.  In fact, based on everything we have heard from various Fed speakers, it seems apparent that there is only a very small chance that the Fed will even consider tapering in 2021. The current roster of FOMC voters includes the Chair, Vice-Chair and Governors, none of whom could be considered hawkish in any manner, as well as the Presidents of Atlanta, Chicago, Richmond and San Francisco.  Of that group, Chicago’s Evans and SF’s Daly are uber-dovish.  Richmond’s Barkin is a middle-of-the-roader and perhaps only Atlanta’s Bostic could be considered to lean hawkish at all.  This is not a committee that is prepared to agree to tighter policy unless inflation is running at 5% and has been doing so for at least 6 months.  Do not get overexcited about the Fed tapering.

Markets, on the other hand, did just that yesterday, although the follow through has been unimpressive.  Yesterday’s session saw US equity markets open lower on general risk aversion and they had actually been climbing back until the Minutes were released.  Upon release, the S&P fell a quick 0.5%, but had recouped all that and more in 25 minutes and then chopped back and forth for the rest of the session.  In other words, it was hardly a rout based on the Minutes.  The overnight session was, in truth, mixed, with the Nikkei (+0.2%) climbing slightly while the Hang Seng (-0.5%) and Shanghai (-0.1%) slipped a bit.  Europe, which fell pretty sharply yesterday, has rebounded this morning (DAX +0.4%, CC +0.5%, FTSE 100 0.0%) although US futures are all in the red this morning by about -0.4%, so whatever positives traders in Europe are seeing have not yet been identified in the US.

As to the bond market, it should be no surprise that it sold off sharply yesterday, with 10-year yields rising 5 basis points at their worst point but closing higher by 3bps, at 1.67%.  But this morning there is no follow through at all as the 10yr has actually rallied with yields slipping 0.5bps.  This is hardly the sign of a market preparing for a Fed change of heart.  European sovereign markets are under modest pressure this morning, with yields a bit higher throughout the continent (bunds +1.8bps, OATs +1.0bps, gilts +1.5bps).  Neither did the Minutes cause much concern in Asia with both Australia and Japan seeing extremely muted moves of less than 1 basis point.

Commodity prices, on the other hand, have definitely seen some movement led by oil (WTI -1.5%) and Iron Ore (-2.8%).  However, the oil story is more about supply and the news that Iranian crude may soon be returning to the market as a deal to lift sanctions is imminent, while iron ore, and steel, were impacted by strong comments from China designed to halt the runaway price train in both, as they seek to reduce production in an effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.  The non-ferrous metals are very modestly lower (Cu -0.1%, Al -0.2%, Zn -0.4%) while precious metals are little changed on the day.  Agricultural products, though, maintain their bids with small gains across the board.

Perhaps the most interesting market yesterday was cryptocurrencies where there was a very significant decline across the board, on the order of 20%-30%, which has reduced the value of the space by about 50% since its peak in early April.  This largely occurred long before the FOMC Minutes and was arguably a response to China’s announcement that payment for goods or services with any digital currency other than yuan was illegal rather than a response to any potential policy changes. This morning is seeing Bitcoin rebound very slightly, but most of the rest of the space still under pressure.

Finally, the dollar is under modest pressure today, after rallying nicely in the wake of the FOMC Minutes.  Versus the G10, only NOK (-0.1%) is in the red, suffering from the oil price decline, while the rest of the bloc is rebounding led by CHF (+0.4%) and AUD (+0.3%).  Swiss movement appears to be technically oriented while AUD’s rally is counterintuitive given the modestly worse than expected Unemployment report last night.  However, as a key risk currency, if risk appetite is forming, Aussie tends to rally.

Emerging market currencies that are currently trading have all rebounded led by PLN (+0.5%), TRY (+0.5%) and HUF (+0.45%).  All of these are benefitting from the broad based, but mild, dollar weakness.  The story was a bit different overnight as Asian currencies fell across the board with IDR (-0.6%) the leading decliner, as the highest beta currency with the biggest C/A deficit, but the rest of the space saw weakness on the order of -0.1% to -0.2%.

Data today starts with Initial Claims (exp 450K), Continuing Claims (3.63M) and the Philly Fed (41.0).  Then at 10:00 we see Leading Indicators (1.3%).  On the Fed front, only Dallas’s Kaplan speaks, but we already know that he has to have been one of the voices that wanted to discuss tapering, as he has said that repeatedly for the past month.

Frankly, this market has several cross currents, but my gut tells me that the ostensible hawkishness from yesterday’s Minutes will soon be forgotten and the doves will continue to rule the airwaves and sentiment.  Look for the dollar to drift lower on the day.

Good luck and stay safe

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

QE Will Wane

Some pundits have come to believe
That sometime before New Year’s Eve
The Fed will explain
That QE will wane
Though others are sure they’re naïve

So, let’s listen to what the Fed
Has very consistently said
Without hard statistics,
Not simple heuristics,
The idea of tapering’s dead

As a new week begins, all eyes are turning to the central bank conclaves scheduled for the latest clues in monetary policy activity.  Recall last week, the Bank of Canada surprised almost everyone by explaining they would reduce the amount of QE by 25% (C$1 billion/week) as they see stronger growth and incipient inflationary pressures beyond the widely discussed base effects that are coming soon to a screen near you.  This has clearly inspired the punditry, as evidenced by a recent survey of economists carried out by Bloomberg, showing more than 60% of those surveyed expect the Fed to begin to taper QE before the end of this year.  When the same questions were asked in March, less than 50% of those surveyed expected a tapering this year.  Obviously, we have seen a run of very strong survey data, as well as a very strong payroll report at the beginning of this month.  In addition, the vaccine rate has increased substantially, with the combination of these things leading to significantly upgraded economic forecasts for the US this year.

And yet, everything we have heard from Chairman Powell and the rest of the FOMC has been incredibly consistent; they are not even thinking about thinking about tapering monetary policy and will not do so until substantial further progress toward their goals of maximum employment and average inflation of 2.0% are achieved.  In addition, Powell has promised to communicate very clearly, well in advance, that changes are in the offing.  While we have had two strong employment reports in a row, the combined job gains remain a fraction of the 10 million that Powell has repeatedly explained need to be regained.  Arguably, we will need to see NFP numbers north of 750K for the next 6-9 months before the Fed is even close to their target and will consider taking their foot off the proverbial accelerator.

Of course, there is one thing that could force earlier action by the Fed, inflation rising more quickly than anticipated.  As of now, the Fed remains unconcerned over price rises and have made it clear that while the data for the next several months will be rising quickly, it is a transitory impact from the now famous base effects caused by the Covid induced swoon this time last year.  Even then, given the new framework of average inflation targeting, rather than a hard numeric target, a few more months of above 2.0% core PCE will hardly dissuade them from their views as they have nearly a decade of lower than 2.0% core PCE to offset.

But what if inflation is more than a transitory event?  While the plural of anecdote is not data, it certainly must mean something when every week we hear from another major consumer brand that prices will be rising later this year.  Personal care products, food and beverages have all been tipped for higher prices this year.  The same is true with autos and many manufactured goods as the consistent rise in input prices (read commodities) is forcing the hands of manufacturers.  While it is true that, by definition, core PCE removes food & energy prices, to my knowledge, neither toothpaste nor Teslas are core purchases.

The medium-term risk appears to be that inflation runs, not only hotter than the Fed expects, but hot enough that they begin to become uncomfortable with its impact.  While the natural response would be to simply raise rates, given Jay’s effective promise not to raise rates until 2023, as well as the fact that the Treasury can ill afford higher interest rates (nor for that matter can the rest of the economy given the amount of leverage that is outstanding), the Fed may well find themselves in quite a bind later this year.  One cannot look at the price of copper (+1.9% today, 25.6% YTD), aluminum (+1.2%, 21.1%) or iron ore (+0.4%, 16.0%) without considering that those critical inputs, neither food nor energy, are going to drive price pressures higher.  And, by the way, food and energy prices have been rocketing as well (Corn +38% YTD, Wheat +13.1%, Soybeans +18.2%, WTI +26.1%).  Chairman of the Fed may not be that attractive a position by the time Powell’s term ends in February.

Turning to the markets, if I had to characterize them in a theme, it would be idle.  Equity markets are generally flat to lower with the odd exception in Asia (Nikkei +0.4%, Hang Seng -0.4%, Shanghai -1.0%) and Europe (DAX -0.2%, CAC 0.0%, FTSE 100 0.0%).  US futures are also noncommittal this morning, with the NASDAQ (-0.3%) the only one having really moved.

In the bond market, the rally we had seen over the past three weeks has stalled and is starting to cede some ground.  For instance, Treasuries (+3.7bps) are leading the way higher but we are seeing higher yields throughout Europe (Bunds +2.3bps, OATs +2.5bps, Gilts +3.0bps) and even saw gains overnight in Australia (+1.8bps) and Japan (+0.5bps).  Historically, that would have seemed to be a risk-on phenomenon, but given the lack of equity strength, this feels a lot more like an inflationary call.

While the metals space is strong today, oil is actually softer (-1.7%) as concerns over the rampant spread of Covid in India and other emerging markets undermines the vaccine news in the West.

As to the dollar, it is generally, but not universally, weaker this morning.  In the G10, AUD (+0.6%), NZD (+0.3%) and CAD (+0.3%) are the leaders, with all benefitting from the metals rally, which has been sufficient to offset weaker oil prices for the Loonie.  On the downside, NOK (-0.1%) is clearly feeling a bit of pressure from oil, although 0.1% hardly makes a statement.  EMG currencies are showing the same type of price action with TRY (+1.2%) the leading gainer as it rebounds from near-record lows amid hopes the tension with the US will be temporary.  Away from the lira, TWD (+0.5%) rallied on concerns that the Taiwanese government would be pressured by the US with respect to its currency and competition concerns.  We saw similar, but lesser pressure on KRW (+0.4%).  Meanwhile, the modest declines seen in HUF (-0.2%) and MXN (-0.1%) define the other side of the spectrum.

Clearly, the FOMC meeting is the highlight of the week, but there is other important data as well, including the BOJ tonight.

Today Durable Goods 2.5%
-ex transport 1.6%
Tuesday Case Shiller Home Prices 11.8%
Consumer Confidence 112.0
Wednesday FOMC Decision 0.00% – 0.25%
IOER 0.12%
Thursday Initial Claims 550K
Continuing Claims 3.59M
GDP Q1 6.9%
Personal Consumption 10.3%
Friday Personal Income 20.0%
Personal Spending 4.2%
Core PCE 1.8%
Chicago PMI 64.2
Michigan Sentiment 87.5

Source: Bloomberg

The end of the week is where all the action will be, assuming Chairman Powell doesn’t shake things up Wednesday afternoon.  Core PCE is forecast to print at its highest level since February 2020, but if you recall the CPI data, it was a tick higher than forecast as well.  Of course, for now, it doesn’t matter.  This is all transitory.

Nothing has changed my opinion with respect to the relationship between the dollar and the 10-year Treasury yield.  While it is not actually tick for tick, if yields do back up, I would look for the dollar to find its footing in the near term.  I know the dollar bears are back in force, but we need to see a break above the 1.2350 level in the euro to really turn the tide in my view.  Otherwise, we are simply at the bottom of the dollar’s range.

Good luck and stay safe