Waiting For Godot: US Inflation Jumps To 7% YoY As Real Hourly Earnings Growth Crashes To -2.32% (Taylor Rule Now 17.84% Versus Current Fed Funds Target Rate Of 0.25%)

This is like the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting For Godot.” Except we are waiting for Jerome Powell and The Federal Reserve to do something.

December’s consumer price index (CPI) is out and its a doozy, though expected. The CPI year-over-year (YoY) rose 7% in December.

If we exclude food and energy, CPI rose by 5.5% YoY.

Thanks to Biden’s assault on the energy sector, energy prices are up nearly 50% YoY.

REAL average hourly earnings YoY? It has crashed to -2.32%.

And with 7% inflation, the Taylor Rule model suggests a Fed Funds Target rate of … 17.84%. Bear in mind that the current target rate is 0.25%.

Meanwhile, grocery store shelves remain empty like we are living in Venezuela. Bidenzuela??

Meanwhile, we are waiting for Godot Powell to start taking action instead of jawboning.

What’s Wrong With This Picture? Fed Reverse Repo Usage Continues To Grow Along With Fed’s Balance Sheet (Reverse Repos At All-time High)

I love listening to Fed talking heads (or Fear The Talking Fed). They mostly seem to acknowledge that inflation is a problem and that the excessive monetary stimulus should be reduced.

But then I see the chart of The Fed’s balance sheet and The Fed’s reverse repo operations.

Then we have Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller saying that Th Fed could start raising interest rates as early as its March 15-16 meeting, after deciding to end asset purchases sooner than planned. My question is … why wait until the March meeting?

Is it fear of the Omincron Variant (which sounds like a Frederick Forsyth thriller)? Does The Fed not want to rock the boat prior to the Christmas season? The US is at or near full employment, so what is the real reason for delaying a rate increase until March or June? Or the fear that Congress won’t pass Biden’s Build Back Better Act?

Fed Funds Futures infer that one rate hike will occur at the June Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting and one at the November meeting.

So will Powell get back in the saddle again and actually do his job?

Calamity Jay Powell Ditches Transitory Inflation Tag, Paves Way for Rate Hike (Compare To Volcker’s Record)

Calamity Jay Powell is no longer mentioning “transitory” when it comes to inflation, but does Powell and the FOMC have the moxie to ACTUALLY raise rates more than a smidge??

(Bloomberg) — Team Transitory is throwing in the towel.

In a clear sign that the Federal Reserve is shifting to tighter monetary policy, Jerome Powell — who’s spent months arguing that the pandemic surge in inflation was largely due to transitory forces — told Congress on Tuesday that it’s  “probably a good time to retire that word.”

The Fed chair, tapped last week for another four-year term, still thinks inflation will ebb next year.

But in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, he acknowledged that it’s proving more powerful and persistent than expected, and said the Fed will consider ending its asset purchases earlier than planned.

A number of economists are forecasting cooling inflation next year, which gives Powell an excuse to NOT raise rates, other than just a bit.

For a little history, inflation was rampant in the 1970s and early 1980s. Fed Chair Paul Volcker, all 6’7 of him, raised the Fed Funds target rate (white line) to 20% on several occasions. The result? Inflation cooled from over 14% in 1980 to 2.46% by 1983. But since 2008, Fed Chairs Bernanke, Yellen and Powell have been the ANTI-Volckers … keeping the Fed Funds Target rate near zero for the the most part and adopted their gut-wrenching quantitative easing programs that are still here today.

Of course, Powell could do what Volcker did (and the Taylor Rule suggests) and raise their target rate to 15% to cool inflation.

But does Powell and the other FOMC members have the moxie to really cool inflation? Frankly, no. Powell until yesterday played the TRANSITORY card and still believes that inflation will cool by 2022.

True, the Federal government has binged on borrowing (up 172% since January 2009). And with Biden and Congress trying to spend trillions more (much of which will be added to the public debt rolls, so increasing interest rates ala Volcker is very problematic.

And then there is always the good ‘ole excuse not to raise rates if needed. Other than admitting that The Fed is monetizing Federal government spending to which there is no end in sight.

Given Fauci’s alleged strong belief in “science” he could play Esqueleto in a remake of Nacho Libre.

Fear? The Omicron Variant Isn’t Scaring Treasury Investors (Treasury And US Dollar Swaps Curves Calm After Friday’s Flattening)

The latest scare hitting financial markets is the Omicron Variant (or Oh! Macron! Variant in France). While it caused an initial decline in global equity markets {Dow fell 900 points on early reports on Omicron), the Treasury market has been relatively unscathed.

For example, the US Treasury Actives curve dropped last Friday (the orange line represents the Wednesday before Thanksgiving), while the remaining three lines represent last Friday, Monday and Tuesdays (today). In other words, the US Treasury Actives curve has been quiet so far this week after Friday’s flattening.

The US Dollar Swaps curve shows the same dynamics. The dark blue line is last Wednesday, while the remaining lines are last Friday, this Monday and today. Not a lot happening after the initial Omicron fear factor was priced in.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell believes that the omicron variant of Covid-19 and a recent uptick in coronavirus cases pose a threat to the U.S. economy and muddle an already-uncertain inflation outlook.

“The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation,” Powell said in remarks he plans to deliver to Senate lawmakers on Tuesday. “Greater concerns about the virus could reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.”

Do I detect FEAR in Powell’s voice? The odds of rate increases for next year just fell to one rate increase at the September 2022 meeting.

On the equity side, it seems to be all about whether The Fed will withdraw its support. Back in early 2018, then Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the FOMC started to shrink the Fed balance sheet (green line). This resulted in the “Smart Money Index” declining. The S&P 500 index received a jolt with the Fed stimulus around the COVID outbreak and have taken off like a jackrabbit. Despite the Smart Money Flow index being lower than in 2017.

The VIX and VVIX are elevated showing fear in the equity markets. But much less than when COVID broke out in March 2020. Each spike in VVIX (or the volatility of VIX) is likely when Dr. Anthony Fauci opened his mouth.

So, is Omicron the “planet killer” or just another mild flu-like outbreak? The data is pointing towards the latter, but FEAR may cause it to be a bigger deal than is warranted.

Bitcoin Retreats 20% From All-Time High as Risk Assets Slump (Dow Retreats Almost 1,000 Points, Gold Advances)

It has been a grim Friday. The Dow fell 900 points, 10Y Treasury yields fell 16.1 basis points and West Texas Crude fell to $68.17.

Bitcoin tumbled 20% from record highs notched earlier this month as a new variant of the coronavirus spurred traders to dump risk assets across the globe.

The world’s largest cryptocurrency fell as much as 8.9% to $53,624 on Friday during London trading hours. Ethereum, the second-largest digital currency, dropped more than 12%, while the wider Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index declined as much as 7.5%.  On the other hand, gold rose as cryptos fell, then retreated as cryptos rebounded.

A new variant identified in southern Africa spurred liquidations across markets, with European stocks falling the most since July and emerging markets also slumping.

The Dow is down around 900 points … and look at Europe!

The 10-year Treasury yield is down 16.1 basis points. Most of Europe is down around 8-9 basis points while the UK is down 14.5 BPS.

And West Texas Intermediate crude futures are down to 68.17 from 78.39. No Jen Paski, this isn’t due to Cousin Eddie (Biden) releasing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).

Maybe it was all the tryptophan released by eating turkey.

A day to remember.

Treasuries Curve Flattens Sharply After Data Dump, Fed Minutes (Market Update)

Its Thanksgiving in the USA! Confession: I don’t like turkey. Prime rib with horseradish sauce? You bet!!

Anyway, Treasuries ended mixed Wednesday with the yield curve sharply flatter after a raft of U.S. economic data and minutes of the November FOMC meeting bolstered expectations for an earlier start to Fed rate increases. Two- and 5-year yields reached YTD highs, and 5s30s spread reached narrowest since March 2020. 

Over the past week, the Treasury actives curve rose 13.85 basis points at the 2 year tenor.

Yields ended richer by ~6bp across long-end of the curve, while front-end cheapened almost 3bp; 2s10s flattened more than 5bp, 5s30s more than 6bp; 10-year yields shed ~3bp to ~1.635%
Release of Nov. 2-3 FOMC meeting minutes drew minimal market reaction, as flatter curve held its shape.

The US Dollar Swaps curve rose from the previous week as well.


Minutes said participants considered elevated inflation as likely transitory, “but judged that inflation pressures could take longer to subside than they had previously assessed”

Earlier, front-end and belly sold off after a heavy slate of U.S. economic data including the lowest initial jobless claims tally since 1969

Also during U.S. morning, Fed’s Daly said she would support accelerated tapering of asset purchases, which added to pressure across front-end Treasuries

Subsequently, eurodollars traded heavy over the session as rate-hike premium continued to ramp up in 2022 and 2023; overnight index swaps showed 30% chance of a March hike, while around three hikes — or 75bp — were priced in by the end of next year

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving! In my dreams!

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.

Eurodollar Futures Volume Surge Anticipates Fed Taper Signal (Are You Ready For Feddy?)

The next Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting is next week with an announcement on Wednesday, September 22nd.

(Bloomberg) — Volume in the December 2024 eurodollar futures contract has surged Friday, approaching 200k, highest in the strip. Weekly volume exceeds 800k ahead of next week’s FOMC meeting. The December 2024 contract is a proxy for the Fed’s taper timeline, similar to the belly of the Treasuries curve (aka, the belly of the beast).

As of 2:30pm ET, nearly 197k Dec24 eurodollar contracts had traded, bringing weekly total to 816k, third most in its lifetime; notable flows on the day have included three block trades for 5k each:

The contract also appeared in curve trades including 9.3k Sep24/Dec24 3-month, 18.9k Dec23/Dec24 12-month and 24.8k Dec22/Dec24 24-month

The Dec22/Dec24 eurodollar spread has been in the spotlight since Morgan Stanley recommended the steepener in June as a way to exploit the disconnect between expectations for the pace and timing of Fed rate increases

As of today, we see a kink in the US Dollar Swaps curve at 21m.

With inflation the highest since 2008, and M2 Money still growing at 12.1% YoY, it is time for The Fed to take it foot off the accelerator pedal.

The Fed’s Dots Plot as of the last FOMC meeting indicates a willingness to let the Fed Funds Target rate start rising again after over a decade of rate suppression.

Given the fear of The Fed tapering (eventually), is it any wonders alternative investments such as Bitcoin have risen as The Fed cut rates?

Will Fed Chair Jerome Powell and the gang announce a change on September 22nd? Probably need a fortune teller to answer that question.

Fed’s Ability to Set Rates Floor Is Weakening on Cash Deluge (“Charming” Powell Had At Least 350 Meetings, Dinners Or Phone Calls With Members Of Congress)

Powell and The Fed’s policies have veered from their mandate requiring Chairman Powell to meet 350 times with Congress to sell The Fed’s policies.

Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve’s floor for overnight funding markets is proving to be no match for the deluge of cash. 

Money-market securities ranging from Treasury bills to repurchase agreements continue to trade below 0.05% — the offering rate on the overnight reverse repo facility, which is supposed to act like a floor for the front end. The Fed at its June meeting had raised the rate by five basis points to help support the smooth functioning of short-term funding markets.

Still, usage of the tool climbed to a record $1.136 trillion on Monday, eclipsing the previous high of $1.116 trillion on Aug. 18. 

Demand for the so-called RRP facility has surged as a flood of dollars threatens to overwhelm funding markets. That’s in part a result of the central bank’s long-standing asset purchases and drawdowns of the Treasury’s cash account, which is pushing reserves into the system. As a result, liquidity has been swelling, especially as the Treasury cuts supply to create more borrowing room under the debt ceiling.

The pressure pushing down overnight rates toward zero is proving a major headache for money-market funds. It hampers their ability to invest profitably, and can lead to further disruptions as they begin to waive fees to avoid passing on negative rates to shareholders. A number of firms including Vanguard Group shut down prime money-market funds last year after struggling to cover operating costs in the low-interest-rate environment.

Yes, overnight rates such as the US SOFR rate, are near zero.

Powell’s Charm Offensive in Congress Positions Him to Keep Job

Perhaps that is why Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is acting as a lobbyist with Congress for The Fed’s nontraditional approach to monetary policy.

(Bloomberg) Since he took the helm of the Fed in February 2018, through June of this year, he’s held at least 350 meetings, dinners or phone calls with members of Congress, according to his monthly calendars. That’s almost nine per month, and many of those included more than one lawmaker. The tally doesn’t count at least 16 appearances as chair before numerous congressional committees.

Well, the stock market has zoomed-up since Bernanke and The Fed adopted zero-interest rate (ZIRP) policies and the now famous quantitative easing (QE) policies in late 2008.

Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Fed Chair Powell about the Fed helping with US unemployment. We are already at zero rates (on the short-end), and Congress should look at their policies on why labor force participation is slow to recover from the Covid epidemic.

Powell is sounding more and more like Parks and Recreation’s Tom Haverford in terms of schmoozing Congress for support.

Update: The Mises Stationarity Index is flashing “BUBBLE.”

The Mises Stationarity Index is different than the Shiller CAPE index, which is showing equities as being overpriced, but not yet in dot.com bubble zone.

Treasury And Mortgage Rates In A Never-Ending Balance Sheet World (REAL Mortgage Rates NEGATIVE With Skyrocketing Home Prices)

Headline! “Fed’s Kaplan says delta variant could cause him to rethink his tapering view”

Face it, the Federal Reserve may alter its growth path on asset purchases of Treasuries and Agency Mortgage-backed Securities, but it is doubtful that they will pare back their balance sheet. Call it “A Never-ending balance sheet for you” world.

Why? Seemingly never-ending Covid crisis, etc.

Let’s look at US Treasury yields today. The 10-year Treasury yield is up slightly to 1.25% as of 10am EST.

Here is a chart of the 10-year Treasury yield, Fed Funds effective rate, Fed Balance sheet and reverse repos since the Covid outbreak and Fed massive intervention. Bottom line, the have repressed the short-term interest rates and put downward pressure on the 10-year Treasury yield.

As the 10-year Treasury yield remains repressed DESPITE HIGHEST INFLATION RATE SINCE 2008, the Freddie Mac 30-year mortgage rate remains repressed as well. Yes, that mean NEGATIVE REAL MORTGAGE RATES.

This produces a REAL mortgage rate of -2.56%.

The spread of mortgage rates over the 10-year Treasury yield is about 173 basis point since 1971.

Where will Treasury yields go from hear? If we believe technical analysis like the Ichimoku Cloud, the 10-year Treasury rate will likely rise.

And The Fed’s Dots project also see rates rising (at least on the short-end.

Negative real mortgage rates and blistering home price growth?

Will the attendees at the KC Fed Jackson Hole conference discuss these matters? Or will it just be a Federal Reserve Soul Shake (dance)?