Consumers are healthy? It is true that the US U-3 uemployment rate is low (3.6% versus 14.70% in April 2020 thanks to government shutdowns over Covid). But even though unemployment is low, consumer sentiment is at its lowest point since 1977.
Generally, consumer sentiment is high when unemployment is low, but not this time around. Currently, inflation is at the highest level since March 1980 even though consumer sentiment bottomed-out in April 1980.
Here is my chart showing that REAL average hourly earnings growth YoY is negative and getting worse, hardly a sign of “healthy consumers.”
Of course, rising gasoline and diesel prices have risen dramatically since 2021, but are declining slightly thanks to the global economic slowdown (read “lower demand”).
And a M2 Money Stock (green line) declined, US rents (blue line) declined as well.
We all know (except for Biden apparently) that inflation is up 8.5% YoY as measured by the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). However, the CPI change doesn’t fully capture what is crushing Americans’ pocketbooks. Here is a brief update on where we stand prior to the upcoming Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting on May 4th.
Since Biden was installed as President on January 20, 2021, prices for key commodities have soared. Natural gas futures UP 192%, Regular Gasoline prices UP 73.6%, Commodity Research Bureau Foodstuffs UP 59%, Low sulfur Diesel futures UP 176%.
Since we now have the Biden’s Orwellian Ministry of Truth (actually The Department of Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Board”) which will start censoring free speech. And this post is what could fall under their reign of terror. Or in Biden’s case, reign of error.
Jen Psaki, the President’s talking head, has said that it is Russia and Putin’s fault. So, here are the same prices up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since Biden was installed as President: Natural gas futures UP 82.3%, Regular Gasoline prices UP 80.2%, Commodity Research Bureau Foodstuffs UP 50.1% ,Low sulfur Diesel futures UP 47.7%.
Yikes! So, even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the lethal combination of Biden’s green energy executive orders and The Fed’s continuing monetary stimulypto was deadly for American households.
On a sad note, The Biden Administration is considering cancelling student loan debt as a way to control inflation (?). Of course, cancelling student debt will lead to a surge in consumer spending and even MORE soaring inflation. Biden is suffering from The Medusa Touch. Everything he touches turns to stone.
While The Fed is expected to remove monetary stimulus, don’t expect inflation to return to pre-Biden levels. The anti-fossil fuels edicts from Biden are still in effect. Even if the bottlenecks clear up, Biden and Congress may unleash more Federal spending (although much of Federal spending benefits “Friends and Family” of Biden and Congress, not the American middle class or lower-wage workers).
Well, the US have gone from “fastest economic recovery in history” to real GDP growth of less than 1% (Atlanta Fed GDPNow for Q1). In addition, the flexible price CPI less food and energy is a whopping 20%.
You can see “The Biden Miracle!” in the following chart. Hires (red line) dropped with Covid shutdowns, then spiked when governments opened economies again. Throw in the trillions of Federal government Covid stimulus and trillions in Fed monetary support, the Biden Miracle sees less like a miracle and more like an extremely expensive way to add jobs. But the interesting problem facing the Administration is the massive spike in job openings relative to hires (again, governments opening-up plus Federal Stimulypto).
Now for a real downer of a chart. Inflation is so toxic that REAL average hourly earnings YoY is down -2.72%. Hardly the best economic growth in history.
Now we have Jerome Powell and The Blackhearts threatening quantitative tightening starting in May. Here is The Fed’s theme song “We love printing money.”
But The Fed is already slowing the growth of monetary base, although this Fed Stimulypto is still growing much faster than pre-Covid.
At least the 10Y-2Y Treasury curve is back above 0 bps as the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow Q1 forecast falls to under 1%.
Remember, The Fed is planning on shrinking the balance sheet by $95 billion. The Fed’s balance sheet is just shy of $9 trillion. Which is around 1% per month.
With rising expectations of Fed quantitative tightening (QT), residential mortgage rates keep climbing.
Despite a slowing economy teetering on recession and a war raging in Europe, The Fed is tightening monetary policy. Allegedly to fight red-hot inflation.
The US Treasury yield curve (10Y-2Y) is rapidly approaching inversion at 20.5 bps (where the 10-year yield is lower than the 2-year yield). But the 10Y-3M curve is generally steepening at 173.33 bps.
Of course, the driving force behind the flattening of the 10Y-2Y curve is the rapidly rising 2-year Treasury yield (orange line). The last time the 10Y-2Y curve inverted was in 2019, prior to the COVID outbreak in early 2020.
The Wu Xia United States Federal Reserve Funds Shadow Rate has finally climbed back into positive territory.
At last look, The Federal Reserve is forecast to raise their target rate 7 times over the coming year. And with the increasing forecast of rate hikes, we are seeing the cryptocurrency Bitcoin fall from near $70,000 to $41,817.
President Biden announced that he will be issuing an executive order to combat rising energy prices (the rising energy prices that he caused in the first place with … executive orders). Let’s see what happens next.
President Biden is giving his first State of the Union address tonight with rebuttals from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and The Squad’s Rashida Talib (yes, a Republican is giving the rebuttal to Biden’s SOTU speech, and a Democrat is rebutting a Democrat President??)
Let’s look at a short list of Biden’s economic triumphs. I will ignore Biden’s catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal and his weak response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
If you want higher oil and gasoline prices, Biden is a tremendous success.
If you like rampant government spending, then Biden is your man. Home price growth is up to 18.84%, making housing unaffordable for millions of American families.
Wages? They are up, but declining after 7.5% YoY inflation. And GDP is almost zero.
Biden can only point to rising average hourly wages, but not REAL average hourly wages.
Inflation? Highest in 40 years, due to excessive Federal spending, The Fed’s crazy printing and Biden’s energy mandates.
I am scratching my head to think of accomplishments for Biden to mention in the SOTU. But I am sure that he will say something positive. Otherwise, Biden’s SOTU speech should be the Billy Preston song “Nothing from Nothing.“
Between raging inflation and the potential wag-the-dog Russian/Ukraine tensions, The Fed has a lot to consider. Particularly if they are watching the 10Y-2Y Treasury yield curve plunging.
And we have the USD Inflation Swap Zero Coupon rate rising again.
While the Treasury and US Dollar Swaps curve are upward-sloping (not surprising since The Fed has aggressively pushed short-term rates to near zero), we are seeing Treasury Inflation Protected (TIPS) in negative territory until we get to 30 years.
The ICE BofA MOVE volatility index, a yield curve weighted index of the normalized implied volatility on 1-month Treasury options, has more than doubled under Biden.
And with Russian-Ukraine tensions growing, we see WTI crude oil up 96% since Biden took office.
Monday should be an interesting day. The market is now pricing in 6 rate hikes for 2022.
(Bloomberg) What a difference 25 years makes. Worried that inflation was about to turn higher, the Federal Reserve in February 1994 began raising interest rates, taking the federal funds rate from 3% to 6% a year later. As it turned out, those worries were unfounded: The U.S. consumer price index barely budged, finishing the year at 2.7%, right where it had started.
Although inflation in many developed-world countries is now well above those levels — 7% in the U.S. alone — of the major central banks only the Bank of England has started to raise short-term rates. They are now, um, 0.25%. Across the developed world, short rates are still either barely above zero or negative. What’s more astonishing is that even though they have cut their purchases, the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank continue to buy about $140 billion of longer-maturity bonds every month, suppressing long-term yields even as inflation rages.
Some central banks say that rate hikes are coming, but their extraordinary reluctance to deal with actual inflation means it will become entrenched. Not only will policy makers have to raise rates more than they envision, but they will have to cut the size of their massive balance-sheet assets, too. Don’t expect that the process will be anything other than awful for risky assets of all stripes.
Over the last year and a half, inflation has not only accelerated but also broadened. It started with goods prices and has now expanded to services, even in the moribund euro zone. Central bankers and markets still believe inflation rates will come down a lot. The part of the swaps market that in essence predicts inflation in the future is pricing in a drop in the U.S. CPI to 3.6% by the spring of 2023 and to 3.25% the year after. Alas, like central bankers, the inflation swap market’s record is dreadful. In late spring of 2020, markets predicted a CPI of minus 1.35% a year later and staying below zero by the spring of 2022.
The US DollarInflation Swap is a poor predictor of inflation, at least under President Biden.
I’m not suggesting inflation will remain at current nosebleed levels. More likely is that having had a couple of decades of headline inflation that was on the low side — for central bankers, but not for anyone else — we are in for a few years when it remains above their targets.
Short rates will of course need to rise. That is problem enough for markets, but the bigger problem comes from the trillions of dollars of assets that central banks have accumulated on their balance sheets. Taken together, the Fed, ECB, Bank of Japan, Bank of England and Swiss National Bank have some $27 trillion of assets. In 2007, before the global financial crisis, the combined total was a little more than $4 trillion. Central bank assets will stop growing this year, undermining a major source of support for all types of bonds. But if inflation remains persistently high, central banks won’t simply be able to let their assets roll off as they mature, as most assume. They will have to start selling them. That is the big problem.
Central banks resorted to buying bonds and other financial assets (so-called quantitative easing) for a few reasons. The main one was to drive up inflation and inflation expectations from uncomfortably low levels by injecting more liquidity into the financial system and driving down longer-dated yields. Now that central banks have got much more inflation than they wanted, they will, by the equal and opposite token, need to sell the assets they bought. The longer inflation remains at current levels, the greater the pressure to sell. And they will probably need to do so sooner and faster than most expect and at prices a lot lower than they fetch today. The Fed alone owns about 30% of all the notes and bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.
To say that central bank purchases have had a large effect on yields would be an understatement. One way of seeing this is to split the yield of a longer-dated bond into the part that reflects the expected path of interest rates over the life of the security from everything else. That “everything else” is the term premium. This should compensate investors for, say, sudden surges in inflation. Clearly, this is no longer true. Depending on what model you use, the term premium on 10-year Treasury reached a high of 450 basis points to 500 basis points in the early 1980s. At the nadir of the pandemic, it was minus 100 points and is now about minus 10 points. To be clear, this means that you get less buying a 10-year Treasury than would be suggested by the expected path of rates over the life of the bond — expectations that are almost certainly too low.
Term premiums below zero suggest bond investors are no longer compensated for things like inflation.
The driving down of government bond yields also compressed yields and spreads on investment-grade and junk bonds. That was the intent. Junk spreads reached their narrowest level ever in June of last year. With so little yield available in fixed income and central banks seemingly always on hand to bail them out, investors flooded into equities. As a result, many developed-world equity indexes are either very expensive or, in the case of the U.S., not far off their most expensive levels ever based on valuation measures that are a decent guide to future returns. That is what a decade and a half of market manipulation by central banks has done.
The policies of zero or negative rates and seemingly infinite QE looked idiotic (and were) when they were adopted, and time has not been kind. Paradoxically, they could only be sustained if central banks were wrong, and their policies failed to spark inflation. Now that inflation has taken hold, rates will go up substantially and balances sheets will need to shrink.
What would you pay for fixed-income assets now if you knew that central banks will become, in effect, forced sellers later? I can’t see how any financial asset will escape the damage from the likely lurch higher yields. The way out of these policies will be as nasty as the way in was nice.
Particularly since Fed Funds Futures are pointing toward 6 rate increases over the next year.
At least Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is wearing her Mao jacket.
Despite inflation growing at 7% (versus The Fed’s target rate of 2%) and U-3 unemployment being only 3.9%, one would have thought that Jay and The Gang would have started increasing rates at the January meeting.
But nooooo. The Fed actually sat on their hands and did nothing.
What did The Fed say?
“The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run. In support of these goals, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. With inflation well above 2 percent and a strong labor market, the Committee expects it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate. The Committee decided to continue to reduce the monthly pace of its net asset purchases, bringing them to an end in early March. Beginning in February, the Committee will increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $20 billion per month and of agency mortgage‑backed securities by at least $10 billion per month.“
According to The Fed Funds Futures data, the market is anticipating 1 rate increase at the March FOMC meeting. And another at the June FOMC meeting.
The Taylor Rule (not used by Jay and The Gang), suggests that The Fed should have their target rate at almost 18%! NOT 0.25%.