I’m No Chart Whiz, But About That Whole Reflation Thing…

By Heisenberg

Ok, so this comes with the usual caveat about me not being the chart wizard that some other folks are, but this is starting to look like a sh*t show from where I’m sitting in terms of the reflation narrative….

Since the Fed:

ShitShow

Long bond (30Y yield dropped below 3% on initial report of London terror attack):

ShitShow2

USDJPY (dollar fell for a sixth day; USD/JPY dropped to 110.73):

Shitshow3

Brent (-32c to end session at $50.64, below 200-day MA; price touched $49.71; first trades below $50 since November):

Brent

Small caps (the damage to this popular Trump trade was of course done yesterday):

Russell

Or, in cartoon form…

Reflation

Inflation, But Only Where it Hurts

By Jeffrey Snider of Alhambra

The Consumer Price Index increased 2.74% in February 2017 over February 2016. That was the highest inflation rate registered in this format since February 2012. As has been the case for the past three months, the acceleration of headline inflation is due almost exclusively to the sharp increase in oil prices as compared to the lowest levels last year (base effects). It is the only part of the CPI report which captures anything like it.

The energy price index was up 15.6% year-over-year, compared to an 11.1% increase in January. The gamma of energy and therefore the CPI is already fading, with oil prices having been stuck at $52-$54 during the months of January and February. If WTI remains about where it is now, around $48, the current month (March) will be the last to feature any significant acceleration from oil.

The other parts of the CPI are as they have been consistently throughout. The “core” index, CPI less food and energy, was up 2.2% in February. It was the fifteenth straight month where the core increase was one of 2.1%, 2.2%, or 2.3%. In what is probably the best indication of inflation stripped of energy, the last time the core rate accelerated even slightly was during the second half of 2015.

Continue reading Inflation, But Only Where it Hurts

Trader Warns: Fed Meeting Will be “Death Knell” for Reflation Trades

By Heisenberg

Dammit Mark, didn’t you learn anything from Goldman’s overnight note on commodities?

When reality doesn’t reflect what you think it should, you just cast that reality aside and posit your own reality.

That’s how this works.

It’s just like Goldman said, “the lack of hard evidence” should never get in the way of a good trade reco. Which is why instead of admitting that maybe the plunge in commodities is exactly what it looks like – a deflationary bombshell – it’s actually something different because “there are two reflation themes at work.” Only the one that doesn’t matter got hit. From Goldman:

We reiterate our constructive outlook as activity levels drive the reflation themes, not growth rates. The 5% sell off in commodities (-3% metals, -7% energy) this past week would suggest that the global reflation trade has taken a step back. However, we believe that this sell off revealed that there are two reflation themes at work – a manufacturing reflation theme and a service reflation theme. Until this week’s commodity rout these two themes were very hard to identify separately. The manufacturing reflation theme is China- and OPEC-centered and is reflected in tradable goods prices, of which commodities are at the core. In contrast, the service reflation theme is US- and European-centered in the non-tradable sector. Despite the commodity rout, the service reflation theme was un-phased this past week with Friday’s US labor report reinforcing the trend as well as comments out of the ECB about reflation in Europe (see Exhibits 1 & 2).

Reflation

See? Again: there were actually two reflation(s) at play here. We just didn’t know that until last week.

That folks, is your full retard analyst excerpt of the day right there. And former FX trader Mark Cudmore isn’t buying it anymore than I am.

Below, find some excellent color from Cudmore on everything said above.

Via Bloomberg

Thanks to commodities, the Fed meeting is more likely to be the death knell for reflation trades rather than mark their moment of victory.

  • This week is set to provide confirmation that we’re in the midst of a true tightening cycle in the U.S., with rate hikes in consecutive quarters for the first time since 2006
  • 10-year Treasury yields hover just below the two-year high, but I don’t see them breaking higher in an environment where commodity prices are plunging
  • Oil was just the latest victim last week, with prices falling the most in four months. The broader Bloomberg Commodity Index topped out a month ago, with everything from metals to agricultural goods turning sharply lower since then
  • This undermines the reflation trade in three ways. Most directly, it’s hard for inflation to keep accelerating when input prices are slumping
  • It also suggests that real demand is not growing as quickly as hoped, which provides caution on economic optimism. Finally, while cheaper commodity prices are a long-term positive for economic growth, the more immediate wealth/portfolio effect is negative
  • Price data from the U.S. this month has validated the suspicion that inflation is not rising as fast as forecast, with the PCE deflator coming in below expectations
  • This isn’t an environment that supports much higher long- term yields. Add in the context that speculative short positions in Treasuries remain near record levels and it appears to be a market ripe for a squeeze

Good Models and Bad Models

By Michael Ashton

I have recently begun to spend a fair amount of time explaining the difference between a “good model” and a “bad model;” it seemed to me that this was a reasonable topic to put on the blog.

The difference between a good model and a bad model isn’t as obvious as it seems. Many people think that a “good model” is one that makes correct predictions, and a “bad model” is one that makes bad predictions. But that is not the case, and understanding why it isn’t the case is important for economists and econometricians. Frankly, I suspect that many economists can’t articulate the difference between a good model and a bad model…and that’s why we have so many bad models floating around.

The definition is simple. A good model is one which makes good predictions if high-quality inputs are given to the model; a bad model is one in which even the correct inputs doesn’t result in good predictions. At the limit, a model that produces predictions that are insensitive to the quality of the inputs – that is, whose predictions are just as accurate no matter what the inputs are – is pure superstition.

For example, a model of the weather that depends on casting chicken bones and rat entrails is a pretty bad model since the arrangement of such articles is not likely to bear upon the likelihood of rain. On the other hand, a model used to forecast the price of oil in five years as a function of the supply and demand of oil in five years is probably an excellent model, even though it isn’t likely to be accurate because those are difficult inputs to know. One feature of a good model, then, is that the forecaster’s attention should shift to the forecasting of the inputs.

This distinction is relevant to the current state of practical economics because of the enormous difference in the quality of “Keynesian” models (such as the expectations-augmented Phillips curve approach) and of monetarist models. The simplest such monetarist model is shown below. It relates the GDP-adjusted quantity of money to the level of prices.

Continue reading Good Models and Bad Models

So Yeeahhh… About That Reflation Thing

By Heisenberg

Reflation

CDXHY

Junk

As Bloomberg writes:

While investors may return to the reflation narrative again, it’ll take more than a few political speeches to get them there. For now, traders are losing faith in rapid reflation. It’s likely they’ll continue backing away from the assets that benefited most from this concept until there are concrete developments that push them back to believing again.

Can Someone Please Explain This Schatz?!

By Heisenberg

Earlier this morning, I noted that the March (get it?) higher in US 2Y yields looks pretty amusing if you plot it against near record low German 2Y yields.

Indeed, as noted here on numerous occasions, there’s a push-pull dynamic between the US and Germany when it comes to global rates. Have a look:

pushpull

(Goldman)

Of course Schatz yields have blown out since hitting record lows late last week. Indeed, between hawkish Fed commentary, what counts as “upbeat” Trump messaging, and, importantly, rising inflation in Germany…

Continue reading Can Someone Please Explain This Schatz?!

China Credit and Global Inflationary Dynamics

By Doug Noland

Credit Bubble Bulletin: China Credit and Global Inflationary Dynamics

February 14 – Bloomberg: “China added more credit last month than the equivalent of Swedish or Polish economic output, revving up growth and supporting prices but also fueling concerns about the sustainability of such a spree. Aggregate financing, the broadest measure of new credit, climbed to a record 3.74 trillion yuan ($545bn) in January… New yuan loans rose to a one-year high of 2.03 trillion yuan, less than the 2.44 trillion yuan estimate. The credit surge highlights the challenges facing Chinese policy makers as they seek to balance ensuring steady growth with curbing excess leverage in the financial system.”

Like so many things in The World of Finance, we’re all numb to Chinese Credit data: Broad Credit growth expanded a record $545 billion in the month of January, about a quarter above estimates. Amazingly, last month’s Chinese Credit bonanza exceeded even January 2016’s epic Credit onslaught by 8%. Moreover, as Bloomberg noted, “The main categories of shadow finance all increased significantly. Bankers acceptances — a bank-backed guarantee for future payment — soared to 613.1 billion yuan from 158.9 billion yuan the prior month.”

February 14 – Bloomberg: “China’s shadow banking is back in full swing. Off-balance sheet lending surged by a record 1.2 trillion yuan ($175bn) last month… Efforts by the People’s Bank of China to curb fresh lending may have prompted banks to book some loan transactions as shadow credit, according to Sanford C. Bernstein.”

Yet this was no one-month wonder. China’s aggregate Credit (excluding the government sector) expanded a record $1.05 TN over the past three months, led by a resurgence in “shadow” lending. According to Bloomberg data, China’s shadow finance expanded $350 over the past three months (Nov. through Jan.), up three-fold from the comparable year ago period.

Friday from Bloomberg: “White House Chaos Doesn’t Bother the Stock Market.” Many are confounded by stock market resilience in the face of Washington discord. Perhaps it’s because global liquidity and price dynamics are currently dictated by China, the BOJ and the ECB – rather than Washington and New York. Eurozone and Japanese QE operations continue to add about $150bn of new liquidity each month. Meanwhile, Chinese Credit growth has accelerated from last year’s record $3.0 TN (plus) annual expansion.

February 14 – Bloomberg (Malcolm Scott and Christopher Anstey): “Forget about Donald Trump. The global reflation trade may have another driver that proves to be more durable: China’s rebounding factory prices. The producer price index has staged a 10 percentage-point turnaround in the past 10 months, posting for January a 6.9% jump from a year earlier. Though much of that reflects a rebound in commodity prices including iron ore and oil, China’s economic stabilization and its efforts to shutter surplus capacity are also having an impact.”

China’s January PPI index posted a stronger-than-expected 6.9% y-o-y increase. A year ago – back in January 2016 – y-o-y producer price inflation was a negative 5.3%.  It’s worth noting that China’s y-o-y PPI bottomed in December 2015 at negative 5.9%, the greatest downward price pressure since 2009. In contrast, last month’s y-o-y PPI jump was the strongest since August 2011 (7.3%). China’s remarkable one-year inflationary turnaround was not isolated in producer prices. China’s 2.5% January (y-o-y) CPI increase was up from the year ago 1.8%, matching the peak in 2014.

There are two contrasting analyses of China’s record January Credit growth. The consensus view holds that Chinese officials basically control Credit growth, and a big January confirms that Beijing will ensure/tolerate the ongoing rapid Credit expansion required to meet its 6.5% 2017 growth target (and hold Bubble collapse at bay). This is viewed as constructive for the global reflation view, constructive for global growth and constructive for global risk markets. Chinese tightening measures remain the timid “lean against the wind” variety, measures that at this point pose minimal overall risk to Chinese financial and economic booms.

An opposing view, one I adhere to, questions whether Chinese officials are really on top of extraordinary happenings throughout Chinese finance, let alone in control of system Credit expansion. Years of explosive growth in Credit, institutions and myriad types of instruments and financial intermediation have created what I suspect is a regulatory nightmare. I seriously doubt that PBOC officials take comfort from $1.0 TN of non-government Credit growth over just the past three months.

Continue reading China Credit and Global Inflationary Dynamics

Post-CPI

By Michael Ashton

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy or sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments. Plus…buy my book about money and inflation, published in March 2016. The title of the book is What’s Wrong with Money? The Biggest Bubble of All; order from Amazon here.

  • The timing of Yellen’s testimony was useful for her. Given base effects, y/y CPI may drop to 2.1% from 2.2% today. So y’day she >>>
  • >>>could sound hawkish, having a sense that today she’d get a decent CPI. It’s base effects that could drop CPI – but that’s optics.
  • Last Jan, core CPI printed 0.293%. Anything less than 0.23% will cause y/y to tick downward. Feb is also a tough hurdle.
  • But these MAY be tough hurdles because of tricky seasonals. Certainly Jan’s number could be. But this is why we look at y/y.
  • Actually, the BLS revised some of that…core was 0.293% in Jan originally but now comparison is a trifle easier at 0.266%.
  • So revising my prior tweet: anything less than 0.20% will cause y/y to tick downward. Feb’s hurdle will be 0.25%.
  • Well howdy doo. Core CPI +0.31% m/m, far above consensus and pushing y/y to 2.3% (actually 2.26%) when it was expected to fall to 2.1%.
  • That’s a whoops.
  • That’s the highest m/m core in a decade. At least, after revisions have lowered some peaks.

bfmcedd

  • Housing y/y 3.12% from 3.04%, Apparel +1.0% from -0.04%. Medical Care 3.86% vs 4.07%.
  • Last 12 m/m figures from CPI. At least the last 5 look like a kinda scary trend. Probably illusory.

last12 Continue reading Post-CPI

Entering the RINF Cycle

By Michael Ashton

Because I write a lot about inflation – we all have our spheres of expertise, and this is mine – I am often asked about how to invest in the space. From time to time, I’ve commented on relative valuations of commodities, for example, and so people will ask how I feel about GLD, or whether USCI is better than DJP, or whether I like MOO today. I generally deflect any inquiry about my specific recommendations (years of Wall Street compliance regimes triggers a nervous tic if I even think about recommending a particular security), even though I certainly have an opinion about gold’s relative value at the moment or whether it is the right time to play an agriculture ETF.

But I don’t mind making general statements of principle, or an analytical/statistical analysis about a particular fund. For example, I am comfortable saying that in general, a broad-based commodity exposure offers a better long-term profit expectation than a single-commodity ETF, partly because of the rebalancing effect of such an index. In 2010 I opined that USCI is a smarter way to assemble a commodity index. And so on.

When it comes to inflation itself, however, the answers have been difficult because there are so few alternatives. Yes, there are dozens of TIPS funds – which are correlated each to the other at about 0.99. But even these funds and ETFs don’t solve the problem I am talking about. TIPS allow you to trade real interest rates; but when inflation expectations rise, real interest rates tend also to rise and TIPS actually lose value on a mark-to-market basis. This can be frustrating to TIPS owners who correctly identify that inflation expectations are about to rise, but lose because of the real rates exposure. What we need is a way to trade inflation expectations themselves.

When I was at Barclays, we persuaded the CME to introduce a CPI futures contract, but it was poorly constructed (my fault) and died. Inflation swaps are available, but not to non-institutional clients. Institutional investors can also trade ‘breakevens’ by buying TIPS and shorting nominal Treasuries, since the difference between the nominal yield and the real yield is inflation expectations. But individual investors cannot easily do this. So what is the alternative for these investors? Buy TIP and marry it with an inverse Treasury ETF? The difficulties of figuring (and maintaining) the hedge ratio for such a trade, and the fact that you need two dollars (and double fees) in order to buy one dollar of breakeven exposure in this fashion, makes this a poor solution.

There have been attempts to fill this need. Some years ago, Deutsche Bank launched INFL, a PowerShares ETN that was tied to an index consisting of several points on the inflation-expectations curve. That ETN is now delisted. ProShares at about the same time introduced UINF and RINF, two ETFs that tracked the 10-year breakeven and 30-year breakeven rate, respectively. UINF was delisted, and RINF struggled. I lamented this fact as recently as last March, when I observed the following:

“Unfortunately, for the non-institutional investor it is hard to be long breakevens. The CME has never re-launched CPI futures, despite my many pleadings, and most ETF products related to breakevens have been dissolved – with the notable, if marginal, exception of RINF, which tracks 30-year breakevens but has a very small float. It appears to be approximately fair, however. Other than that – your options are to be long a TIPS product and long an inverse-Treasury product, but the hedge ratios are not simple, not static, and the fees would make this unpleasant.”

And so when people asked me how to trade breakevens, when my articles would mention them, I had to shrug and share my distress with them, and say “someday!”

But recently, this started to change. As TIPS late last year awoke from their long slumber, and went from being egregiously cheap to just typical levels of cheapness (TIPS almost always are slightly cheap to fair value), the RINF ETF also woke up. The chart below shows the number of shares outstanding, in thousands, for the RINF ETF.

rinfsoTo be sure, RINF is still small. The float – although float is less critical in an ETF that has a liquid underlying than it is in an equity issue – is still only around $50mm. But that is up 1200% from what it was in mid-November. The bid/offer is still far too wide, so as a trading vehicle RINF is still not super useful. But for intermediate swing trading, or as a longer-term hedge for some other part of your portfolio…it’s at least available, and the increase in float is the most positive sign of growth in this area that I have seen in a while. So, if you are one of the people who has asked me this question in the past: I no longer have a fear of an imminent de-listing of RINF, and it’s worth a look.

He’ll bring them [inflation], and they will love him for it

By Notes From the Rabbit Hole

[biiwii comment: going back to posting select items of my own content here, because… why not?]

I used to make fun of the FOMC rate hike “decision” language in the mainstream media because under the Obama administration and its economic policies overseen by the Fed’s monetary policy, there really was no decision, was there? It was ZIRP-eternity, interrupted by a lone and token rate hike in December 2015 (the Dec. 2016 hike does not count because the transition to a new administration and policy regime was already known; in effect, the Fed has already made its first hike under Trump).

According to the traders who make up the Fed Funds futures, there is no decision tomorrow, either. From CME Group, we have virtually no one predicting two successive rate hikes.

cme fed funds futures

That may or may not be the case. I think everything changed with the election, and the Fed you had before is not the Fed you have today. That Fed was a promoter of inflation and a hands-on supporter of the economy and especially, asset markets. The Fed had kept its implied ‘inflate or die’ mantra and associated monetary policy in place for 8 long years. But now with the country flipped over like an egg onto its sunny side, a new administration has proven it means what it says (beginning with its blunt, heavy handed and in my opinion, misguided delineation of race and religion on immigration policy).

egg

Focusing on the financial realm, what the Trump administration says is it is going to implement is fiscal (as opposed to monetary) policy in the form of tax breaks to corporations large and small, to tax payers, including and especially the wealthy, infrastructure building, including ‘the WALL’ (more symbolic than realistic in my opinion) and environmental and business deregulation far and wide. It is a much more business-friendly environment and keeping pure politics out of it, that is a good thing, economically.

In short, what is described above is a scenario where the administration has grabbed the policy burden from the Fed and thus, the Fed is free to do as it pleases now, no longer playing politics. The Fed knows, just as you and I know, that the indirect, and maybe even unintended aim of the Trump administration is to promote inflation. That is because they intend to promote economic growth through policy, just has the Fed has been trying to do for the last 8 years under Obama. By one method or the other, it is in the ‘promotion’ that inflation lives.

Continue reading He’ll bring them [inflation], and they will love him for it