U.S. Consumer Prices Outpace Forecast as Inflation Dogs Economy (Whoops! Did The Fed Do That?)

At least the Atlanta Fed’s President Raphael Bostic finally admitted that inflation isn’t as transitory as he previously believed. The Fed dumped trillions in liquidity into an economic system that was unprepared for it, and he is surprised that prices are going nuts?

Prices paid by U.S. consumers rose in September by more than forecast, resuming a faster pace of growth and underscoring the persistence of inflationary pressures in the economy.

The consumer price index increased 0.4% from August, according to Labor Department data released Wednesday. Compared with a year ago, the CPI rose 5.4%, matching the largest annual gain since 2008. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, so-called core inflation rose 0.2% from the prior month.

Price Pressures Persist

U.S. headline inflation rose more than forecast in September.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg survey

The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 0.3% monthly gain in the overall measure and a 0.2% advance in the core rate.

A combination of unprecedented shipping challenges, materials shortages, high commodities prices and rising wages have sharply driven up costs for producers. Many have passed some portion of those costs along to consumers, leading to more persistent inflation than many economists — including those at the Federal Reserve — had originally anticipated.

The pickup in price growth seen last month reflected higher food and shelter costs. Meantime, measures of used cars and trucks, apparel and airfares cooled.

U.S. equity futures fluctuated and Treasury yields were little changed following the report.

Hotels, Rents

The CPI data reflects crosscurrents in the economy. Hotel fares fell, reflecting the impact of the delta variant on travel, but inflation is broadening out beyond categories associated with reopening.

Higher home prices are now starting to filter through in the data. Rent of primary residence jumped 0.5%, the most since 2001, while a measure of homeowners’ equivalent rent posted the biggest gain in five years. Shelter costs, which are seen as a more structural component of the CPI and make up about a third of the overall index, could prove a more durable tailwind to inflation.

CPI Reopening Components
Non-reopening components in CPI have larger contribution to September increase 

The report will likely reinforce the Fed’s inclination to soon start tapering its asset purchases, especially as the supply-chain challenges plaguing businesses show little signs of abating. Minutes from last month’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting — out Wednesday afternoon — will provide further insight on policy makers’ views toward progress on employment and inflation goals for tapering.

A New York Fed survey out Tuesday showed U.S. consumers’ expectations for inflation continued to rise in September, with 1-year and 3-year expectations accelerating to record highs.

American consumers are also experiencing higher prices for new vehicles and household furnishings and supplies, which increased by a record 1.3%, the report showed. And looking ahead, elevated energy prices are set to take an additional bite out of workers’ paychecks.

While we know that apartment rents are growing at 15.5% YoY, the CPI for Owner’s Equivalent Rent only rose by 3.2% YoY.

Powell: Whoops, did I do that?

Stagflation Is All Anyone in Markets Wants to Talk About Now (GDP of 1.3%, Soaring Home And Energy Prices, Etc)

It’s taken just a few short months for stagflation to go from hobgoblin of cranks to a full-blown Wall Street obsession.

Everyone seems worried about it. Bridgewater Associates co-Chief Investment Officer Greg Jensen says spiraling prices that choke off growth are a “real risk” that many portfolios are massively overexposed to. A “fairly strong consensus” of market professionals believe that some kind of stagflation is more likely than not, according to a Deutsche Bank AG survey. And while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. urged investors to buy the dip, strategists said “stagflation” was the most common topic in client conversations.

Wherever you fall on the debate, alarm bells are ringing as energy prices head toward multiyear highs and persistent shortages crimp supply chains worldwide. That’s fueling price pressures and pushing up bond yields just as economic growth is cooling and central banks such as the Federal Reserve weigh scaling down pandemic-era stimulus. And after a second straight month of disappointing U.S. jobs gains, the stakes are rising heading into this week’s inflation report. 

U.S. GDP Outlook Slips
  

“The reality that inflation is more persistent and sustainable than the ‘transitory’ camp thought, and that inflation and its causes are in turn slowing economy growth,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer for Bleakley Advisory Group.

Energy Epicenter

Much of the stress is emanating from the energy market, where West Texas Intermediate crude oil broke above $82 per barrel for the first time since 2014 on Monday amid a power crisis from Europe to Asia. Prices of coal and natural gas have also jumped, with demand ahead of winter whittling worldwide stockpiles.

The commodity surge has thrust stagflation fears front-and-center in markets, given that higher energy prices have the potential to pinch consumers, according to Principal Global Investors. Gains in consumer spending are already expected to slow, leading Goldman economists to slash U.S. growth estimates over the weekend.

U.S. crude oil breaks above $80
  

“The idea was already starting to take shape. The increase in commodity prices has just formalized those fears,” said Seema Shah, Principal’s chief global strategist. “While there have been complaints around higher food prices, higher lumber prices, higher clothes prices, it’s the increase in household bills that has really put fear into peoples’ minds, because it is so visible and rising gas prices are difficult to substitute away from for an average household.”

Murky Bond Picture

Sky-high commodity prices have filtered through to the Treasury market, where yields on benchmark 10-year notes broke above 1.6% for the first time since June last week. Driving the gain is an increase in breakeven inflation rates, while so-called real yields — often viewed as a proxy of growth expectations — have retreated so far this month.

“If we look at the composition within the TIPs market, we see an increase in breakevens to the detriment of real yields,” BMO strategist Ian Lyngen said on the firm’s “Macro Horizons” podcast. “We read this as the market’s focus on longer-term inflation has taken some of the optimism out of the growth profile going forward.”

10-year Treasury rates break above 1.6%
  

Morgan Stanley strategist Andrew Sheets disagrees. Breakeven rates are still below their May peaks, while the cross-asset landscape is distinct from the stagflationary setup of the 1970s, he argued. Data compiled by Bloomberg shows gross domestic product is forecast by economists to rise 5.9% this year, 4.1% next year and 2.4% in 2023.

“Asset pricing also couldn’t be more different. Over the last century, the 1970s represented an all-time high for nominal interest rates and an all-time low for equity valuations,” Sheets wrote in a note Sunday. “Today we’re near a low in yields and a high in those valuations.”

Stocks Still Serene

Equity investors so far seem unperturbed. That’s the view of Matt Maley, chief market strategist for Miller Tabak + Co., given that the S&P 500 is just 3.9% lower from its all-time high. However, the mood music could change as the third-quarter reporting season kicks off and corporate executives sound off on supply chain issues and rising input costs, he said. 

“The key should be this earnings season,” Maley said. “If a lot of companies start talking about margin pressures, the stock market will start pricing in stagflation rather quickly.”

So far, balance sheets have been resilient. Operating margins for the S&P 500 clocked in at 14.4% last quarter, a record high, with companies in many cases actually benefiting from the inflation uptick. 

S&P 500 operating margins hit record high
  

But should stagflation fears start to meaningfully rattle equity markets, shares of companies with higher pricing power — the ability to pass on costs — should profit, according to Goldman, after several weeks of underperformance.

“Stocks with strong pricing power have recently lagged but appear attractive if stagflationary concerns continue to build,” strategists led by David J. Kostin wrote. “If inflation remains high alongside a weakening economic growth outlook, firms with strong pricing power should be best positioned to maintain profit margins despite slowing revenue growth and rising input costs.”

Not to mention real-time GDP of 1.3%. And falling!

Of course, there will be cries in Washington DC to spend trillions … and trillions … and trillions.

Supernatural! US Unfunded Liabilities 5.46x National Debt Outstanding (But Treasury Has A New Quarter!)

As Congress debates their $3.5 trillion spend-a-thon and their human infrastructure bills, we need to bear in mind that while US Treasury debt is at $28.863 trillion (and growing really fast), the US has promised $157.738 TRILLION in unfunded benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.

And mandatory spending (aka, entitlements) is projected to keep on growing while discretionary spending has flat-lined.

With this disaster unfolding, US Treasury has found the time to issue a new quarter with Anna May Wong’s name and likeness. Who is Anna May Wong? The first notable Chinese-American actress in Hollywood.

At least it wasn’t Mao Zedong on the quarter. Or Anthony Fauci.

Here is Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s solution to the massive disconnect between the current outrageous government debt load and the entitlements promised by Congress. Other than a new quarter.

Bank of Japan Stops Printing Money, Will The Fed Follow? (US Misery Index Above 10%, Housing Misery Rate At All-time High)

My Kuroda!

金融政策に限界があるとは考えておりません 
(I do not believe that there is a limit to the effect of monetary policy.)

Haruhiko Kuroda, Bank of Japan, 13 April 2016

The Bank of Japan is one of the top three Quantitative Easing (QE) Monsters in terms of the absolute amount of assets it purchased. The Fed and the ECB round out the trio. The BoJ started QE over 20 years ago, and went hog wild under Abenomics, which became the economic religion of Japan in 2013. But the era of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended in September 2020, and Abenomics is now finished.

What’s left of it is that the BoJ (and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda) now holds about half of the huge pile of the central government’s debt. With their target rate at -0.10% and a gargantuan balance sheet, what could go wrong?

But BOJ’s QE has ended. The BoJ’s overall assets stopped growing, and its holdings of government bonds have started to decline.

As of the BoJ’s balance sheet dated September 30, released on Thursday, total assets declined to a still monstrous ¥724 trillion ($6.4 trillion), below where it had been in May 2021.

But look at Japanese home prices with the growth of the BOJ’s balance sheet and general decline in mortgage rates. Like the USA, there was a balance sheet spike associated with Covid and a resulting spike in home prices.

The USA? We also saw a surge in home prices following The Fed’s monetary “stimulypto.”

But will The Fed follow BOJ’s lead and stop asset purchases? Not yet, anyway. It seems that The Fed can’t turn market forces loose and let interest rates rise.

Bear in my that the US Misery Index is above 10% (U-3 unemployment + inflation).

And if I define the US Misery Index as U-3 unemployment + home price growth, we can see we are at record misery rates. Miserable for households that don’t own a home or are trying to move to a higher housing price area).

What I like about The Fed’s monetary policies?? Nada.

Alarm! Big Short Resurfaces in U.S. Bonds, Wary of ‘Convexity Trigger’

Alarm!

It was great to be a “Master of the Universe” (Treasury and MBS trader) since October 1981 when the US 10Y Treasury yield peaked at 15.84% and mortgage rates peaked at 18.63%. Treasury and mortgage rates have generally fallen ever since. But what happens if Treasury and mortgage rates rise?

Bond investors are piling back into short positions, motivated not only by the specter of inflation but also by the risk that yields are approaching levels that will unleash a wave of new selling by convexity hedgers. 

That level is around 1.60% in the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield, less than 10 basis points from its current mark, according to Brean Capital’s head of fixed income strategy, Scott Buchta. It’s the mid-point of “a key threshold” between 1.40% to 1.80%, an area “most critical from a convexity hedging point of view.”

Convexity hedging involves shedding U.S. interest-rate risk to protect the value of mortgage-backed securities as yields rise, slowing expected prepayment rates.

It’s already begun to pick up as yields stretched past the 1.40% level. Another wave is expected at around 1.6% — a point of “maximum negative convexity” in agency MBS, “where 25bp rallies and sell-offs should have an equal effect on convexity-related buying and selling,” Buchta says. 

Signs that short positions are accumulating include Societe Generale’s “Trend Indicator.” Among its 10 newest trades are short positions in Japanese 10-year debt, German 5-year debt futures, U.K. 10-year gilts, U.K. short sterling and U.S. 2- and 5-year notes. Meanwhile, CFTC positioning data for U.S. Treasury futures show asset managers flipped to net short in 10-year note contracts in the process of dumping the equivalent of $23 million per basis point of cash Treasuries over the past week. Hedge-fund shorts also remain elevated in the long-end of the curve, as measured by net positions in Bond and Ultra Bond futures. 

“Bond-bearish impulses remain in place,” says Citigroup Inc. strategist Bill O’Donnell in a note, citing tactical and medium-term set-ups. Traders should be aware of short-covering rallies in the meantime, however, he says. 

“Potentially extreme short-term positioning and sentiment set-ups could easily allow for a counter-trend correction under the right conditions,” he said.

U.S. 10-year yields topped at 1.57% this week, the cheapest level since June, spurring the breakeven inflation rate for 10-year TIPS to 2.51%, the highest since May. Friday’s September jobs report could add fuel to this inflationary fire, rewarding bond shorts. 

Here is a chart of the rising 10Y Treasury yield against The Fed’s 5Y forward breakeven rate.

Here is a Fannie Mae 3% coupon MBS. Note the rise in Modified Duration with an increase in interest rates.

Convexity for the FNMA 3% MBS?

There is something on the wing. Some-thing.

Bizarro World! 1-month T-bill Yield Lower Than 1-year T-bill Yield (U.S. Faces A Recession If Congress Doesn’t Address The Debt Limit Within 2 Weeks, Yellin’ Yellen says)

Treasury Secretary Janet “Go big or go home” Yellen is beating the hysteria drum by saying that the US faces a recession if Congress doesn’t increase the debt ceiling.

Well, Janet, we are headed there anyway with GDP crashing to a measly 1.33%.

The fear of not approving a debt ceiling increase (laughable since Democrats can do it on their own) has caused there to be a “little dipper” in the US Treasury actives curve. Meaning that the 1-month T-bill yield is higher than the 1-year T-bill yield.

How bizarre is this getting?

US Real GDP Plummets To 1.33% As Fed Continues To Help Inflate Prices (Baltic Dry Shipping Price Index Soars!)

The Atlanta Fed’s real-time GDP tracker fell … again … to 1.33% as The Federal Reserve continues its bizarre monetary stimulus.

The culprits? Declining auto sales, manufacturing, etc.

I have discussed soaring prices since Biden’s election (food, energy, housing, rent, etc). But another soaring price component is shipping costs. Up 315% since mid-February.

While Trump’s slogan was “Make American Great Again”, Biden and The Fed’s slogan should be “Make America Far More Expensive For The Middle Class.” But that won’t fit on a bumper sticker.

And Biden/Democrats now want to RAISE taxes!

Median-Income Buyers Priced Out Of Housing Market With Fed Stimulus (Why Won’t The Fed Stop?)

The Atlanta Fed has interesting research paper on the housing market.

Key points

  • The national HOAM index stood at 92.2 in June, its lowest level since 2008.
  • National housing affordability fell 11.9 percent in June, the sharpest drop since 2014.
  • Home sale prices were up 23.8 percent over the past year.
  • On average, a median-income household would need to spend 32.6 percent of its annual earnings to own a median-priced home.
  • Although demand for housing remains strong, steadily declining affordability is beginning to affect buying decisions.

The latest reading of an Atlanta Fed measure and US housing trends show home ownership is becoming out of reach for many buyers and resistance to higher prices is building. More than 80 percent of US metro areas had a drop in affordability.

Where is housing most and least affordable?

ddd

Of course, the one chart that The Fed never includes is home price growth and Fed monetary policy.

So, if The Fed is so concerned with median-income households being priced out of housing markets, why are the still sticking with their unorthodox monetary policies?

Is Joe Biden Actually Dwight Schrute From “The Office”? Natural Gas Prices EXPLODING And Americans Being Punished!!!!

Since Joe Biden took office in January 2021, we have seen several actions from The White House. First, was the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline (making the US more energy dependent on others). Second, Biden waived US sanctions on Russian pipeline to Germany. Big winner? Russia. Big loser? US consumers trying to heat their homes.

Here is a chart of natural gas prices since Biden took office in January.

Biden reminds me of Dwight Schrute from the TV show “The Office” as he loves to punish people. In this case, families trying to heat their home. And have his own currency, Schrute Bucks.

Perhaps The Federal Reserve should rename the US Dollar as “Biden Bucks.”

Here is Joe Biden lecturing the American people on Covid compliance.

Stimulypto! US GDP Q3 Tracker Slumps To 2.3% Despite Massive Monetary Stimulus (Down From 13.7% On May 5th, 2021 Despite MORE Stimulus)

Can you say “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men ..” Or “All The Fed’s stimulus and all of Biden’s jobs bills ..”

Yes, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow Q3 tracker slumped to 2.3% despite the massive stimulus coming from The Federal Reserve and the Biden Administration. Down from 13.7% GDP growth as of 5/5/2021.