Tag Archives: inflation

This Goose Is Cooked: “I’ve Never, Ever, Ever Seen Anything Like This Before”

“You have enormous buyers of debt meeting massive coordinated fiscal stimulus by governments across the globe. For bond investors, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”

With the Fed buying $622 billion in Treasury and MBS, a staggering 2.9% of US GDP, in just the past five days…

… any debate what to call the current phase of the Fed’s asset monetization – “NOT NOT-QE”, QE4, QE5, or just QEternity – can be laid to rest: because what the Fed is doing is simply Helicopter money, as it unleashes an unprecedented debt – and deficit – monetization program, one which is there to ensure that the trillions in new debt the US Treasury has to issue in the coming year to pay for the $2 (or is that $6) trillion stimulus package find a buyer, which with foreign central banks suddenly dumping US Treasuries

… would otherwise be quite problematic, even if it means the Fed’s balance sheet is going to hit $6 trillion in a few days.

The problem, at least for traders, is that this new regime is something they have never encountered before, because during prior instances of QE, Treasuries were a safe asset. Now, however, with fears that helicopter money will unleash a tsunami of so much debt not even the Fed will be able to contain it resulting in hyperinflation, everything is in flux, especially when it comes to triangulating pricing on the all important 10Y and 30Y Treasury.

Indeed, as Bloomberg writes today, core investor tenets such as what constitutes a safe asset, the value of bonds as a portfolio hedge, and expectations for returns over the next decade are all being thrown out as governments and central banks strive to avert a global depression.

And as the now infamous “Money Printer go Brrr” meme captures so well, underlying the uncertainty is the risk that trillions of dollars in monetary and fiscal stimulus, and even more trillions in debt, “could create an eventual inflation shock that will trigger losses for bondholders.”

Needless to say, traders are shocked as for the first time in over a decade, they actually have to think:

“You have enormous buyers of debt meeting massive coordinated fiscal stimulus by governments across the globe. For bond investors, you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”

And while equity investors may be confident that in the long run, hyperinflation results in positive real returns if one sticks with stocks, the Weimar case showed that that is not the case. But that is a topic for another day. For now we will focus on bond traders, who are finding the current money tsunami unlike anything they have seen before.

Indeed, while past quantitative easing programs have led to similar concerns, this emergency response is different because it’s playing out in weeks rather than months and limits on QE bond purchases have quickly been scrapped.

Any hope that the Fed will ease back on the Brrring printer was dashed when Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday the central bank will maintain its efforts “aggressively and forthrightly” saying in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that the Fed will not “run out of ammunition” after promising unlimited bond purchases. His comments came hours after the European Central Bank scrapped most of the bond-buying limits in its own program.

The problem is that while this type of policy dominates markets, fundamental analysis scrambling to calculate discount rates and/or debt in the system fails, and “strategic thinking is stymied and some prized investment tools appear to be defunct”, said Ronald van Steenweghen of Degroof Petercam Asset Management.

“Valuation models, correlation, mean reversion and other things we rely on fail in these circumstances,” said the Brussels-based money manager. Oh and as an added bonus, “Liquidity is also very poor so it is difficult to be super-agile.”

The irony: the more securities the Fed soaks up, be they Treasuries, MBS, Corporate bonds, ETFs or stocks, the worse the liquidity will get, as the BOJ is finding out the hard way, as virtually nobody wants to sell their bonds to the central bank.

Another irony: normally the prospect of a multi-trillion-dollar government spending surge globally ought to send borrowing costs soaring. But central bank purchases are now reshaping rates markets – emulating the Bank of Japan’s yield-curve control policy starting in 2016 – and quashing these latest volatility spikes.

In effect, the Fed’s takeover of bond markets (and soon all capital markets), means that any signaling function fixed income securities have historically conveyed, is now gone, probably for ever.

“Investors shouldn’t expect to see much more than moderately steep yield curves, since the Fed and its peers don’t want higher benchmark borrowing costs to undermine their stimulus,” said Blackrock strategist Scott Thiel. “That would be detrimental to financial conditions and to the ability for the stimulus to feed through to the economy. So the short answer is, it’s yield-curve control.”

Said otherwise, pretty soon the entire yield curve will be completely meaningless when evaluating such critical for the economy conditions as the price of money or projected inflation. They will be, simply said, whatever the Fed decides.

And with the yield curve no longer telegraphing any inflationary risk, it is precisely the inflationary imbalances that will build up at an unprecedented pace.

Additionally, when looking further out, Bloomberg notes that money managers need to reassess another assumption that’s become widely held in recent years: that inflation is dead. Van Steenweghen says he’s interested in inflation-linked bonds, though timing a foray into that market is “tricky.”

Naeimi also said he expects that the coordination by central banks and governments will spike inflation at some stage. “It all adds to the volatility of holding bonds,” he said. But for the time being, he’s range-trading Australian bonds — buying when 10-year yields hit 1.5%, and selling at 0.6%.

That’s right: government bonds have become a daytrader’s darling. Whatever can possibly go wrong.

But the biggest fear – one we have warned about since 2009 – is that helicopter money, which was always the inevitable outcome of QE, will lead to hyperinflation, and the collapse of both the US Dollar, and the fiat system, of which it is the reserve currency. Bloomberg agrees:

Many market veterans agree that faster inflation may return in a recovery awash with stimulus that central banks and governments may find tough to withdraw. A reassessment of consumer-price expectations would be a major setback for expensive risk-free bonds, especially those with the longest maturities, which are most vulnerable to inflation eroding their value over time.

Of course, at the moment that’s hard to envisage, with market-implied inflation barely at 1% over the next decade, but as noted above, at a certain point the bond market no longer produces any signal, just central bank noise, especially when, as Bloomberg puts it, “central bank balance sheets are set to explode further into unchartered territory.” Quick note to the Bloomberg editors: it is “uncharted”, although you will have plenty of opportunity to learn this in the coming months.

Alas, none of this provides any comfort to bond traders who no longer have any idea how to trade in this new “helicopter normal“, and thus another core conviction is being revised: the efficacy of U.S. Treasuries as a safe haven and portfolio hedge.

Mark Holman, chief executive and founding partner of TwentyFour Asset Management in London, started questioning that when the 10-year benchmark hit its historic low early this month.

“Will government bonds play the same role in your portfolio going forward as they have in the past?” he said. “To me the answer is no they don’t — I’d rather own cash.”

For now, Mark is turning to high-quality corporate credit for low-risk income, particularly in the longer maturity bonds gradually rallying back from a plunge, especially since they are now also purchased by the Fed. He sees no chance of central banks escaping the zero-bound’s gravitational pull in the foreseeable future. “What we do know is we’re going to have zero rates around the world for another decade, and we’re going to have the need for income for another decade,” he said.

Other investors agree that cash is the only solution, which is why T-Bills – widely seen as cash equivalents – are now trading with negative yields for 3 months and over.

Yet others rush into the safety of gold… if they can find it. At least check, physical gold was trading with a 10% premium to paper gold and rising fast.

Ultimately, as Bloomberg concludes, investors will have to find their bearings “in a crisis without recent historical parallel.”

“It’s very hard to look at this in a historical context and then apply an investment framework around it,” said BlackRock’s Thiel. “The most applicable period is right before America entered WW2, when you had gigantic stimulus to spur the war effort. I mean, Ford made bombers in WW2 and now they’re making ventilators in 2020.”

Welcome to the New America

Source: ZeroHedge

Fed Gives Up On Inflation, Welcome To The United States Of Japan

On Wednesday, the Fed cut rates for the third time this year, which was widely expected by the market.

What was not expected was the following statement.

I think we would need to see a really significant move up in inflation that’s persistent before we even consider raising rates to address inflation concerns.
– Jerome Powell 10/30/2019

The statement did not receive a lot of notoriety from the press, but this was the single most important statement from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell so far. In fact, we cannot remember a time in the last 30 years when a Fed Chairman has so clearly articulated such a strong desire for more inflation.

Why do we say that? Let’s dissect the bolded words in the quote for further clarification.

  • “really significant”– Powell is not only saying that they will allow a significant move up in inflation but going one better by adding the word significant.
  • “persistent”– Unlike the prior few Fed Chairman who claimed to be vigilant towards inflation, Powell is clearly telling us that he will not react to inflation that is not only well beyond a “really significant” leap from current levels, but a rate that lasts for a period of time.
  • “even consider”– If inflation is not only a really significant increase from current levels and stays at such levels for a while, they will only consider raising rates to fight inflation.

We are stunned by the choice of words Powell used to describe the Fed’s view on inflation. We are even more shocked that the markets or media are not making more of it.

Maybe, they are failing to focus on the three bolded sections. In fact, what they probably think they heard was: I think we would need to see a move up in inflation before we consider raising rates to address inflation concernsSuch a statement would have been more in line with traditional “Fed-speak.”

There is an other far more insidious message in Chairman Powell’s statement which should not be dismissed.

The Fed just acknowledged they are caught in a “liquidity trap.”

Continue reading

“We’re Being Robbed” – Central Bank ‘Stimulus’ Is Really A Huge Redistribution Scheme

When an economy turns from expansion to contraction there is an order of events. The first signs are an unexpected increase in inventories of unsold goods, both accompanied with and followed by business surveys indicating a general softening in demand. For monetarists, this is often confirmed by an inverting yield curve, which tells them that at the margin the short-term rates set by the central bank are becoming too high for business conditions.

That was the position for the US 10-year bond less the 2-year bond very briefly at the end of August, since when this measure, which is often taken to predict recessions, has turned mildly positive again. A generally negative sentiment, fueled mainly by the escalating tariff war between America and China, had earlier alerted investors to an international trade slowdown, expected to undermine the American economy in due course along with all the others. It stands to reason that backward-looking statistics have yet to reflect the global slowdown on the US economy, which is still buoyed up by consumer credit. The German economy, which is driven by production rather than consumption is perhaps a better guide and is already in recession.

So reliant have markets become on monetary expansion that the default assumption is that an economy will always be rescued from recession by an easing of monetary policy, and furthermore that monetary inflation will prevent it from being any more than mild and short. We see this in the performance of stock market indices, which reflect perpetual optimism.

There is a further problem. Other than a rise in bankruptcies, unemployment and negative indications from business surveys, there may be no statistical evidence of a slump. The reason this is almost certainly the case is we are dealing with a combination of funny money and statistics which are simply not fit for measuring anything. The money and credit are backed by nothing, and when expanded by the banking system simply dilutes the quantity of existing money, which if continued is bound to end up impoverishing everyone with cash balances and whose wages and profits do not increase at least as fast as the surge in the quantity of money.

Indeed, the official purpose of the expansion of money and credit is to somehow persuade economic actors that things are better than they really are, and to stimulate those animal spirits. You’d think that with this policy now being continually in operation that people would have become aware of the dilution fraud. But as Keynes, the architect of it all said, not one man in a million understands money, and in this he has been proved right.

For five years, the ECB has applied negative interest rates on commercial bank reserves, and commercial banks have paid €21.4bn to it in deposit interest. Since it introduced negative interest rates, it has injected some €2.7 trillion of base money into the Eurozone economy, increasing M1, the narrower measure of the money quantity, by 61%. Almost all of it has supported the finances of Eurozone governments.

The effect on broader money, which includes bank credit, has been to increase M3 by 30%. Far from stimulation, this is daylight robbery perpetrated on everyone’s liquidity and cash deposits. It is a tax on the purchasing power of their wages.

The ECB is not alone. Since Lehman went under, the major central banks have collectively increased their balance sheets from $7 trillion to $19.4 trillion, an increase of 177%. Most of this monetary expansion has been to buy government bonds, providing a money-fountain for profligate governments. The purpose of money-printing is always to finance government spending, not to stimulate or ease conditions for the private sector: while some trusting souls in the system believe it is for the latter, that amounts to just a myth.

Due to the flood of new money the yields on government debt have been depressed, giving holders of this debt, principally the banks, a nice fat capital profit. But that is not the purpose of all this monetary largess: it is to make it ultra-cheap for governments to borrow yet more and to encourage banks to expand credit in their governments’ favor. Just listen to the central bankers now encouraging governments to take the opportunity to ease fiscal policy, extend their debts and borrow even more.

Central banks pretend all these benefits come at no cost to anyone. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perpetual motion of money creation, and someone ultimately pays the price. But who pays for it all? Why, it is the wage-earner and saver and anyone else with deposits at the bank. They are also robbed of the compounding interest their pension funds would otherwise receive. These are the very people who, in a bizarre twist of macroeconomic logic, we are told benefit from having the prices of their everyday purchases continually increased.

Attempts to measure the supposed benefits of inflation on the general public are in turn dishonest, with the true rise in prices concealed in official calculations of price inflation. Suppressed evidence of rising prices is then applied to estimates of GDP to make them “real”. For the purpose of measuring the true condition of an economy these official statistics are taken as gospel by both the commentariat and investors.

We cannot know the accumulating economic cost of cycles of progressively greater monetary inflation, because all government statistics are based on the lie that money is a constant, when in fact it has become the greatest variable in everyone’s life. The transfer of wealth from all consumers through monetary debasement is an act of impoverishment, and to the extent it is not offset in other ways the economy as a whole suffers.

Source: Authored by Alasdair Macleod via The Mises Institute, | ZeroHedge

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Are The Rating Agencies Complicit In Another Massive Scandal: A WSJ Investigation Leads To Shocking Questions

“It’s pretty eye-popping if you’ve been doing this for 20-plus years, to see how much more leverage a number of these companies can incur with the same credit rating.”

Battle Of The ‘Flations’ Has Begun

Inflation? Deflation? Stagflation? Consecutively? Concurrently?… or from a great height.

We’ve reached a pivotal moment where all of the narratives of what is actually happening have come together. And it feels confusing. But it really isn’t.

How can we stuff fake money onto more fake balance sheets to maintain the illusion of price stability?

The consequences of this coordinated policy to save the banking system from itself has resulted in massive populist uprisings around the world thanks to a hollowing out of the middle class to pay for it all.

The central banks’ only move here is to inflate to the high heavens, because the civil unrest from a massive deflation would sweep them from power quicker.

For all of their faults leaders like Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini and even Boris Johnson understand that to regain the confidence of the people they will have to wrest control of their governments from the central banks and the technocratic institutions that back them.

That fear will keep the central banks from deflating the global money supply because politicians like Trump and Salvini understand that their central banks are enemies of the people. As populists this would feed their domestic reform agendas.

So, the central banks will do what they’ve always done — protect the banks and that means inflation, bailouts and the rest.

At the same time the powers that be, whom I like to call The Davos Crowd, are dead set on completing their journey to the Dark Side and create their transnational superstructure of treaties and corporate informational hegemony which they ironically call The Open Society.

This means continuing to use whatever powers are at their disposal to marginalize, silence and outright kill anyone who gets in their way, c.f. Jeffrey Epstein.

But all of this is a consequence of the faulty foundation of the global financial system built on fraud, Ponzi schemes and debt leverage… but I repeat myself.

And once the Ponzi scheme reaches its terminal state, once there are no more containers to stuff more fake money into the virtual mattresses nominally known as banks, confidence in the entire system collapses.

It’s staring us in the face every day. The markets keep telling us this. Oil can’t rally on war threats. Equity markets tread water violently as currencies break down technically. Gold is in a bull market. Billions flow through Bitcoin to avoid insane capital controls.

Any existential threat to the current order is to be squashed. It’s reflexive behavior at this point. But, as the Epstein murder spotlights so brilliantly, this reflexive behavior is now a Hobson’s Choice.

They either kill Epstein or he cuts a deal or stands trial and hundreds of very powerful people are exposed along with the honeypot programs that are the source of so much of the bad policy we all live with every day.

These operations are the lifeblood of the power structure, without it glitches in the Matrix occur. People get elected to power who can’t be easily controlled.

The central banks are faced with the same problem. To deflate is worse than inflating therefore there is no real choice. So, inflation it is. Inflation extends their control another day, another week.

Whenever I analyze situations like this I think of a man falling out of a building. In that state he will do anything to find a solution to his problem, grasp onto any hope and use that as a means to prolong his life and avoid hitting the ground for as long as possible.

Desperate people do desperate and stupid things. So as the mother of all Battles of the ‘Flations unfolds over the next two years, remember it’s not your job to take sides because they will take you with them.

This is not a battle you win, but rather survive. Like Godzilla and Mothra destroying the city. If Epstein’s murder tells you anything, there’s a war going on for control of what’s left of the crumbling power structure.

And since inflation is the only choice that choice will undermine what little faith there is in the current crop of institutions we’ve charged with maintaining societal order.

As those crumble that feeds the inflation to be unleashed.

For the smart investor, the best choice is not to play. Wealth preservation is the key to survival. That means holding assets whose value may fluctuate but which cannot be taken from you during a crisis.

It means having productive assets and being efficient with your time.

It means minimizing your counter-party risk. Getting out of debt. Buying gold and cryptos on program or on pullbacks. Most importantly, it means keeping your skills up to date and your value to your employer(s) high.

And if you’re really smart, diversifying your income streams to keep your options open.

Deflation and inflation are two sides of the same coin (or the same side of two coins). Both are just as destructive.

Source: by Tom Luongo, | ZeroHedge

Lower Income Americans Are Begging The Fed For Less Inflation

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While the Fed may be surprised that low income workers aren’t as enthused about inflation as they are, we are not. A recent Bloomberg report looked at the stark disconnect between Fed policy and well, everybody else but banks and the 1%.

While the Fed sees low inflation as “one of the major challenges of our time,” Shawn Smith, who trains some of the nation’s most vulnerable, low-income workers stated the obvious: people don’t want higher prices.  Smith is the director of workforce development at Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia.

In fact, he said that “even slight increases make a huge difference to someone who is living on a limited income. Whether it is a 50 cents here or 10 cents there, they are managing their dollars day to day and trying to figure out how to make it all work.’’ Indeed, as we discussed yesterday, it is the low-income workers – not the “1%”ers, who are most impacted by rising prices, as such all attempts by the Fed to “help” just make life even more unaffordable for millions of Americans.

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Fears, and risks, associated higher prices comprise much of the feedback that the Fed has getting as part of its “Fed Listens” 2019 strategy tour, labeled as a multi-city “outreach tour”. So much for objectivity. Fed Governor Lael Brainard faced additional feedback from community leaders earlier this week in Chicago when she chaired a panel on full employment. 

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Patrick Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, told the audience in Chicago: “I have heard a lot about price stability and fiscal sustainability from the Fed for a very, very long time. Maybe I wasn’t listening, but today is the first time I’ve heard about employment sustainability and employment security.”

The problem that the Fed continues to face is that it has backed itself into a corner. With the economy supposedly “booming” and the stock market at all time highs, rates remain low and any tick higher would likely begin to cause massive shocks to a debt-laden and spending-addicted economy that has been swelling into dangerously uncharted waters over the last 10 years.

As one potential answer, the Fed is now looking at “inflation targeting” (whose disastrous policies we discussed here yesterday), which amounts to simply pursuing higher inflation for a while to “make up” for “undershoots” of the Fed’s 2% target since 2009. But the reality is that this idea cripples consumers, especially those at the lower end of the income spectrum.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, president of Delaware Community Foundation, told an audience at the Philadelphia Fed: “The sometimes positive impacts of inflation for certain of us have no good benefits for people at the lower end of the spectrum.”

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And even former Fed economists agree. Andrew Levin, who’s now a Dartmouth College professor said: The Fed and other central banks need to make sure they can foster the recovery from a severe adverse shock. But the answer is not to push inflation higher. Elevated inflation would be particularly burdensome for lower-income families.’

Other economists have similar takes:

University of Chicago economist Greg Kaplan found that the cumulative inflation rate was 8-to-9 percentage points lower for households with incomes above $100,000 versus those with incomes below $20,000 over the 2004-2012 period. During that time, inflation averaged 2.2% which would be in the range of what Fed officials are now discussing as a possible strategy.

Why American Consumers Are About To Be Blindsided By An Inflationary Shockwave

While unsuspecting U.S. consumers continue to expect low, sub-2% inflation according to the latest YTD low breakeven rate, little do they know they are about to be blindsided by a coming inflationary shock, according to a new WSJ report which notes that many U.S. consumer staple and industry-leading companies are either already in the process of raising prices, or have set concrete plans to do so in the very near future. 

Once these price increases are passed through to consumers, it will likely mark the end to a long period of “low inflation” that the Fed has constantly leaned on as an excuse to keep rates low for nearly a decade.

Take Clorox for example, which is raising prices on everyday products like cat litter. Coca-Cola also reported higher prices for the past quarter. Mondelez International also plans to raise prices in North America next year according to an interview with its CEO on Monday. The food giant said that it is passing along rising costs, including ingredient and transportation costs, to consumers.

Airlines are also passing on costs as they are paying about 40% more for jet fuel than they were a year ago. Delta, JetBlue and American have all raised fees, fares, or both. Trucking costs were up 7% annually in September and private sector wages and salaries in the September quarter rose 3.1%.

Arconic was able to widen its operating margins this past quarter on its aluminum products by using tariffs to justify price hikes. Manufacturers are paying about 8% more for aluminum and 38% more for steel than they were a year ago. Looming potential tariffs with China to the tune of $200 billion also continue to weigh on input costs. 

Even such supposedly immune to day-to-day price fluctuation companies as Apple, recently raised prices on its new MacBook Air and iPad Pro products by between 20% and 25%.

The list goes on: Steve Madden said it would be raising prices on handbags and other products that it imports from China. It’s looking to shift production to other countries to avoid tariffs and said that products made in China could rise as much as 10% in price.

An interior designer working for Whiski Kitchen in Royal Oak, Michigan was cited by the Journal as stating that she was paying 15% more for quartz countertops made in China also as a result of U.S. tariffs. She’s also paying about 10% more for imported cabinets. 

Sherwin-Williams and PPG, both in the paint manufacturing business, stated in recent weeks that they would continue to raise prices to cover rising costs for input materials like titanium dioxide. Sherwin-Williams raised prices by as much as 6% this month.

Sherwin-Williams Chief Executive John Morikis said last week that “Raw material inflation has been unrelenting and accelerating.”

Food companies are also hiking prices. McDonalds’ 2.4% SSS comps in Q3 were a result of higher burger prices. Chili’s Restaurants raised the price of its two entree and an appetizer deal from $22 to $25 in the quarter. Habit Restaurants saw its prices rise by 3.9% in May of this year, even while traffic declined 3.4%. Hershey also has plans to sell candy in packaging next year that will raise its price per ounce. 

“Retailers understand that when costs go up, something has to give,” said Michele Buck, chief executive of Hershey, last week. 

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In today’s Manufacturing ISM report, a respondent encapsulated the above sentiment:

“Tariffs are causing inflation: increased costs of imports, increased cost of freight and increased domestic costs from suppliers who import.”

While inflation still technically remains near the Fed’s 2% target, if you believe the CPI number, which as we have discussed previously woefully under counts true inflation which is as much as three times higher than the Fed’s hedonically adjusted, politically motivated number, prices are set to move higher as a result of labor shortages, while headwinds for prices include the recent strength of the dollar, making imports cheaper. And then there are tariffs.

It’s obvious that higher prices will “work” alongside the Fed’s rate hikes to help dampen the United States economy further. Not only that, but higher prices could cause even more damage if the Fed sees raising rates as the main solution to inflation exceeding its expectations.

Diane Swonk, Grant Thornton’s chief economist, previewed what will happen next best: “We might see a pop of inflation in the first quarter.”

Once that happens in what is already a rising rate environment in which the president has made it clear he is solidly against any more Fed tightening, we wonder just what Powell’s next move will be when even higher prices force his bluff?

Source: ZeroZedge