Pension Funds in Historic Surplus Eye $1 Trillion of Bond-Buying (Consumers In Bad Shape With Personal Savings Down 53.5% YoY And Real Weekly Earnings Negative For 21 Straight Weeks, GOLD Soaring!)

Despite polticians like President Biden cheerleading his great economic accomplishments and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen dipping into Social Security to fund the Federal government (much like Biden’s dipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve), there are serious problems facing America’s middle class and low-wage workers. Inflation is still brutal (but slowing) and REAL weekly earnings growth has been negative for 21 straight months (meaning that Biden’s bragging about wage growth has been destroyed by the inflation created by his energy policies and massive spending sprees). Personal spending rate YoY has plunged -53.5% to cope with inflation. To quote Joe Biden (Chauncy Gardner), “All is well in the garden.” But all is not well in the garden. As a result, we are now seeing pension funds jumping from stocks to bonds.

(Bloomberg) For some of America’s biggest bond buyers, the soft-versus-hard-landing debate on Wall Street might be a sideshow. They’re getting ready to swoop in with as much as $1 trillion, no matter what happens.

One of the pillars of the trillion-dollar pension fund complex is now awash in cash after struggling under deficits for two decades. This rare surplus at corporate defined-benefit plans, thanks to surging interest rates, means they can reallocate to bonds that are less volatile than stocks — “derisking” in industry parlance. 

Strategists at Wall Street banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. say the impact will be far-reaching in what’s already being coined “the year of the bond.” Judging from the cash flooding into fixed income, they’re just getting started.

“The pensions are in good shape. They can now essentially immunize — take out the equities, move into bonds and try to have assets match liabilities,” Mike Schumacher, head of macro strategy at Wells Fargo, said in an interview. “That explains some of the rallying of the bond market over the last three or four weeks.”

An irony of pension accounting is that a year like last year, with its twin routs in stocks and bonds, can be a blessing of sorts to some benefit plans, whose future costs are a function of interest rates. When rates climb, their liabilities shrink and their “funded status” actually improves.

The largest 100 US corporate pension plans now enjoy an average funding ratio of about 110%, the highest level in more than two decades, according to the Milliman 100 Pension Funding index. That’s welcome news for fund managers who suffered years of rock-bottom interest rates and were forced to chase returns in the equity market.

Now, they have an opportunity to unwind that imbalance and Wall Street banks pretty much agree on how they’ll use the extra cash to do it: buying bonds, and then selling stocks to buy more bonds. 

Already this year fixed-income flows are outpacing those of equity funds, marking the most lopsided relationship since July. 

How much of that is due to derisking by pension funds is anyone’s guess. Some of the recent rally in bonds can be ascribed to traders hedging a growth downturn that would hit stocks hardest.

But what’s obvious is their clear preference for long-maturity fixed-income assets that most closely match their long-dated liabilities.

Pension funds need to keep some exposure to stocks to boost returns, but that equation is changing. 

Once a corporate plan reaches full funding, their aim is often to derisk by jettisoning stocks and adding fixed income assets that line up with their liabilities. With the largest 100 US corporate defined benefit funds riding a cash pile of $133 billion after average yields on corporate debt more than doubled last year, their path is wide open.

With yields unlikely to go above their peak level once the Federal Reserve hits its terminal rate of about 5% around the middle of the year, there’s rarely been a better time for them to make the switch to bonds. 

Even if growth surprises on the upside and yields rise, causing bonds to underperform, the incentive is still there, said Bruno Braizinha, a strategist at Bank of America.

“At this point and considering where we are in the cycle, the conditions are favorable for de-risking,” Braizinha said in an interview. 

JPMorgan’s strategist Marko Kolanovic estimates derisking will lead pension managers to buy as much as $1 trillion of bonds; Bank of America’s Braizinha says a $500 billion buying spree is closer to the mark.

How about gold? As the probability of a US debt default looms (as Bride of Chucky Schumer stomps his feet and says ” No budget cuts!”) and the US Treasury 10Y-3M yield curve remains inverted, gold is soaring.

Perhaps pension funds should by gold rather than cryptos.

US Pending Home Sales Decline For 13th Straight Month, Down -34.3% YoY As Fed Tightens (UMich Housing Sentiment At 44, Well Below 100)

The US housing market continues to struggle as The Federal Reserve continues to fight inflation. Today’s pending home sales are another nail in housing casket.

Pending home sales declined -34.4% year-over-year (YoY) as M2 Money growth went negative (-1.3% YoY).

At least UMich buying conditions for housing increased … to 44, well below 100.

Good News, Bad News! US New Home Sales Rise 2.3% In December, But DOWN -23% YoY (Median Price UP 7.8% YoY While M2 Money Growth Goes Negative)

The December new home sales report is good news and bad news.

The good news? US new home sales rose by 2.3% in December from November to 616k units sold SAAR. That is the good news.

The bad news? Since December of 2021, new home sales fell -23% year-over-year (YoY).

The median price of new home sales rose 7.8% YoY, but the trend as The Fed withdraws monetary stimulus (orange line) is not good.

Perhaps there is a communications breakdown between the Biden Administration and The Federal Reserve.

Winter Is Coming! Richmond Fed Outlook Declines To -11 As Philly Fed Outlook Down To -8.9 And NY Empire State Outlook Down To -32.9 (US 10Y-3M Yield Curve Inverts To -126.5 Basis Points)

Three regional Fed reports I like to watch are New York’s Empire State Outlook, Philly Fed’s Outlook and Richmond Fed’s outlook. Today, The Richmond Fed released their manufacturing outlook and … it declined to -11.

So the big three are all down (Philly down to -8.9 while NY’s Empire State outlook is down to -32.9.

On the Treasury front, the US 10Y-3M yield curve inverted further (a signal of impending recession) just tanked to -126.462 basis points.

Winter is coming!

The Secret Panel? US Yield Curve Inversion, CDS Default Price, SOFR Signals More Rate Increases Then Rate Cuts

Ah, the start of a new week with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arguing (with a straight face) that there is no room in the Federal budget for cuts. Apparenly, Yellen never read any of the massive, pork-laden spending bills signed by Biden (no one else did in Congress either, nor did Biden).

Let’s start with the US credit default swap (1 year). It remains high at 68.72 (the price of insuring against a US default). And the US Treasury yield curve (10Y-3M)? It remains deeply inverted at -114 basis points this morning signaling an impending US recession.

Then we have SOFR (Secured Overnight Financing Rate). SOFR futures are pricing for the Federal Reserve to hike rates a few more times and to start cutting before the end of this year. The pricing for the 2023 rate path is little changed from a month ago, but this year the market has priced in deeper cuts in 2024, with SOFR now seen below 3% by early 2025 before stabilizing. The implication is that hedging recession and significant rate cuts in 2024 now seems to be fully priced in, yet there’s a risk that the Fed cuts even deeper than the market is factoring in.

We think the market is partially preparing for the risk of even deeper rate cuts than linear instruments are pricing. To see how dramatic those are, we can look at options on SOFR futures and model what’s being priced by the volatility surface.

We are seeing the same story if we look at Fed Funds Futures data. Fed rate hikes until June, then rate cuts to follow.

How did Biden’s lawyers and now the DOJ figure out that Biden has classified documents all over the place? Probably from reading “The Hardy Boys.” Except that Biden didn’t cleverly hide classifed documents. Rather, he carelessly left them lying around at The Penn Biden Center and his home in Wilmington Delaware that he shared with his son, Hunter. And probably on the Amtrak train he would take from Wilmington to Union Station in DC. And probably at Chinatown Garden, a short walk from The White House.

The Great Biden/Pelosi/Schumer Powell (4 Horsemen) Inflation Tax In One Chart (Personal Savings DOWN -64.8%, Consumer Credit UP, Real Weekly Earnings Growth NEGATIVE For 21 Straight Weeks)

I must admit, Joe Biden has a horribly misleading nickname “Middle Class Joe.” Between Biden’s horrible energy policies and Pelosi’s/Schumer’s spending binges, the US middle class and low wage workers have suffered mightely with the inflation tax. Throw in Jerome Powell and The Federal Reserve’s manic money printing and the American middle class has a problem.

US inflation peaked at 9.1% year-over-year (YoY), but has declined to a still painful 7.1% YoY as The Fed removes it aggressive monetary stimulus. But to cope with persistent US inflation, consumers have had to dip into savings and use more credit cards. As a consequence, personal savings plunged -64.8% YoY while consumer credit rose 7.9% YoY.

The other tax on the middle class and low-wage workers is the 21 straight months of negative REAL weekly earnings growth.

On the housing front, REAL home prices are growing at 1.5% YoY while REAL weekly wage growth is still NEGATIVE at -3.13% YoY.

Make no mistake, inflation caused by The Fed and Federal governments spending is a tax on the middle class and low wage workers.

Biden, Pelosi, Schumer and Powell are the 4 Horseman of the Inflation Apocalypse.

Sign Of The Times? Citi Economic Surprise Index Falls To -17.70 As US CDS (Default Insurance) And Fed Reverse Repos Remain Elevated

Its a sign of the times!

First, US default risk as measured by credit default swaps remains elevated (primarily because Biden and Democrats refused to cut wasteful spending or reign in non-retirees on Social Security). And NY Fed’s Reverse Repos remain elevated.

And then we have Citi’s economic surprise index for the US at -17 as The Fed slows money growth to 0%.

I wish I knew a place where inflation and insane Federal government spending and policies doesn’t exist.

Trouble In Potomac City! US Treasury 10Y-2Y Yield Curve Now Inverted For 135 Straight Days, Real Wage Growth Now Negative For 21 Straight Months

We got trouble in Potomac City! No, I’m not talking about the numerous Top Secret documents that Biden carelessly left in his garage in Delaware and the UPenn Biden Center. And they found more over the weekend. I’m talking about the US Treasury 10Y-2Y yield curve being inverted for 135 straight days. And thanks to inflation, REAL wage growth has been negative for 21 straight months.

All this is happening while M2 Money growth (green line) stalls to 0% YoY.

Swaps 5Y are rising as The Fed withdraws monetary stimulus.

‘Doomsday Clocks’ Likely Needed Before Congress Hikes Debt Limit (Difficult Questions With $31.5 TRILLION in Federal Debt And A Staggering $173.6 TRILLION in UNFUNDED LIABILITIES (Social Security, Medicare, Etc.))

Its that time again when Congress does its Kabuki Theater drama about raising the US debt limit. Of course, everyone in Congress and the Biden Administration want to spend trillions of dollars so they will hike the debt limit.

With the US government facing the danger of a payments default later this year, Congress has a variety of paths to avert economic disaster and boost the debt ceiling.

All of them would likely involve going right up to the market-rattling brink, according to current and former lawmakers and aides.

The timeline kicks off within weeks, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is expected to advise that the government will deploy extraordinary accounting measures to avoid running out of cash. Those steps are forecast to be exhausted after July.

Republicans now in control of the House are demanding deep spending cuts as the price for an increase in the ceiling, while President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats reject such an outcome. 

Nothing has been the same since the financial crisis of 2008 and the ascension of all-time big spender Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. Budget deficits have never been the same. The last budget surplus was under House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But since the financial crisis of 2008, Federal spending seems to have increased its trajectory.

Note that mandatory spending (Medicare, Social Security, etc) is growing like a wild fire while discretionary spending is seemingly flat. So, it mandatory spending that Congress will pretend to cut.

Yes, it is Medicare for our aging population that has blown out of control.

Then we have defense spending. The Ukraine spending should come from this pot, but forces decisions to make between Ukraine and taking care of our Navy (to compete with the growing Chinese navy).

Of course, as The Fed fights inflation, we are seeing the COST of Federal debt soaring since Covid.

And the US is facing, in addition to $31.5 TRILLION in debt, a whopping $173.6 TRILLION in UNFUNDED LIABILITIES (Social Security, Medicare, etc).

Yes, Congress NEEDS to cut back the spending, particularly on Social Security and Medicare (not to mention Ukraine spending), but it is all Kabuki theater. Queue the screams of “Republicans will take away …”.

I wish everyone in Congress were like Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul, not the other spendaholic Kentucky Senator.

Magic? US Inflation Cools To -0.1% In December, 6.5% Year-over-Year YoY (REAL Weekly Earnings NEGATIVE For The 21st Straight Month At -3.1% YoY)

I don’t think this is a record that Biden can run on for re-election: 21 straight months of NEGATIVE REAL WAGE GRWOTH. Fortunately for Fed Chair Jay Powell, he is not an elected official.

The December inflation report still shows elevated inflation in the US, but only -0.1% since November (MoM), but still high compared to last year (6.5% YoY). That is still over 3x The Fed’s target inflation rate of 2%.

While headline inflation fell to 0.1% MoM, CORE inflation (removing food and energy) rose again 0.3% MoM and 5.7% YoY.

What exactly went up in price in December? Food and energy were all over 10% YoY growth.

At 6.50% YoY headline inflation, the Taylor Rule suggests a Fed Funds Target rate of … 13.13%. Well, I guess that Powell will say there is more rate hikes to be done.

As if The Fed follows any sensible rule. Instead, The Fed relies on magic tricks.