Post-CPI Summary

By Michael Ashton

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets.

  • half hour to CPI. Welcome again to the private channel. Tell your friends!
  • Another easy comp (0.143%) versus year ago. August 2017 was +0.222%, Sep was 0.132%, Oct was 0.214%, and Nov was 0.121%. So we still have some easy comps ahead although not easy as they were. That means core should keep rising, although slower than over the last 6 mo.
  • Pretty safe economist estimate for 0.2% on core and for y/y to stay 2.3% rounded. As long as m/m core is 0.162%-0.259%, y/y will stay in that range.
  • Rents have been leveling out recently, and not providing as much upward oomph. That passes the baton to core goods and more generally to core ex-shelter.
  • Ironically, even though core goods started to accelerate before any sign of tariffs, investors I think might “look through” inflation like that, which they can explain away by saying “ha ha tariffs trump ha ha.”
  • One other item – I will be especially attentive to Median CPI this month, which jumped to 2.80% y/y last month. That looks a little like an acceleration past the prior trend (meaning 2013-2015), well past merely erasing the 2016-17 dip.
  • I should note that this month’s CPI report is being brought to you from sunny Curacao! Only 20 minutes to the number.
  • Well, 0.23% on core CPI was a bit higher than expected, but oddly got a tick higher in the y/y to 2.354%, rounding up to 2.4%. The SA y/y is still 2.3%, but NSA is 2.4%. This happens from time to time because seasonal factors change year to year.
  • Last 12 Rorschach test.

Continue reading Post-CPI Summary

From Inflation Hysteria to Curve Crazy

By Jeffrey Snider

One soft indication of how far things have gone is Bloomberg. Six or eight months ago, its newsfeed was filled with uniformly apocalyptic hyperbole over inflation. The tight labor market, according to the Federal Reserve, was going to lead to a faster and farther rate trajectory. Sparked by quickening confidence in the short part of the curve, there was just no way the long end could resist.

Then it did.

Such inflation hysteria has almost entirely subsided. Yield curve flattening will do that. Even those who never pay attention to curves are suddenly gripped by them. One has inverted already (eurodollar futures), at the very least sparking a global conversation rather than BOND ROUT!!!! where no discussion would have been necessary.

For places like Bloomberg, the one-sided hysteria has been replaced by near schizophrenia. Take individual stories whichever way, my view is more of a big data type perspective. They sound much less confident over there these days. Economists and Federal Reserve central bankers can ignore curves at their leisure, but Bloomberg has to cater to people in the markets who might wish they could but in reality cannot.

In other words, unlike for Jay Powell’s assessments there has to be some grounded basis.

Continue reading From Inflation Hysteria to Curve Crazy

Alternative Risk Premia in Inflation Markets

By Michael Ashton

I’m going to wade into the question of ‘alternative risk premia’ today, and discuss how this applies to markets where I ply my trade.

When people talk about ‘alternative risk premia,’ they mean one of two things. They’re sort of the same thing, but the former meaning is more precise.

  1. A security’s return consists of market beta (whatever that means – it is a little more complex than it sounds) and ‘alpha’, which is the return not explained by the market beta. If rx is the security return and rm is the market return, classically alpha isThe problem is that most of that ‘alpha’ isn’t really alpha but results from model under-specification. For example, thanks to Fama and French we have known for a long time that small cap stocks tend to add “extra” return that is not explained by their betas. But that isn’t alpha – it is a beta exposure to another factor that wasn’t in the original model. Ergo, if “SMB” is how we designate the performance of small stocks minus big stocks, a better model is Continue reading Alternative Risk Premia in Inflation Markets

Gold Has Barely Beaten Inflation, and That’s About Right

By Michael Ashton

Okay: I’ve checked my door locks, made sure my kids are safe, and braced myself for the inevitable incendiary incoming comments. So, I feel secure in pointing this out:

Gold’s real return for the last 10 years has been a blistering 1.07% per year. And worse, that’s higher than you ought to expect for the next 10 years.

Here’s the math. Gold on July 19, 2008 was at $955. Today it is at $1223, for a gain of 28.1%. But the overall price level (CPI) was at 218.815 in June 2008, and at 251.989 in June 2018 (we won’t get July figures for another month so this is the best we can do at the moment), for a 15.2% rise in the overall price level.

1.07% = [(1+28.1%) / (1 + 15.2%)] ^ 0.1 – 1

Continue reading Gold Has Barely Beaten Inflation, and That’s About Right

Developed Country Demographics are Inflationary, not Deflationary

By Michael Ashton

I’m a relatively simple guy. I like simple models. I get suspicious with models that seem overly complicated. In my experience, the more components you add to a model the more likely it is that one of them ceases having explanatory power and messes up your model’s value. In this it is like (since tonight is Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game I thought I’d use a baseball analogy) bringing in relievers to a game. Every reliever you bring in has some chance that he just doesn’t have it tonight, so therefore you ought to bring in as few relievers as you can.

Baseball managers don’t seem to believe this, so they bring in as many relievers as they can. Similarly, economists don’t seem to believe the rule of parsimony. The more complexity in the model, the better (at least, for the economist’s job security).

Let’s talk about demographics and inflation.

Continue reading Developed Country Demographics are Inflationary, not Deflationary

Post-CPI Summary

By Michael Ashton

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets.

  • OK, 15 minutes to CPI. Here goes.
  • Last mo, we had an 0.17% on core m/m, exactly on expectations but after a weak 0.10% in April.
  • The Dec/Jan 0.24%/0.35% seem far away, but even farther away are the 0.14%s of last June and July. That is, comps remain relatively easy.
  • Really no big surprises last month. Still haven’t seen core goods acceleration or any sign of tariff effects. Core ex-housing is rising but still quite low.
  • In fact, I think the big story going forward, not this month per se but for the balance of the year and 2019, is what happens to core goods prices. With trucking prices rising aggressively, tariffs up and globalization down, I’d expect to see movement there.
  • In that vein, keep an eye on Apparel, which though small is an important signal on core goods.
  • This month, economists are looking for 0.18% on core, pushing y/y JUST BARELY to 2.3% with rounding. The consensus nailed it last month.
  • My thesis is that we should be seeing more core inflation than that going forward. So far, that thesis has been unrewarded but I really didn’t expect a whole lot to come through until the second half. This first half was just catching up from base effects of 2017.
  • You can see that median is basically back on the slow uptrend from 2014-15-16-17. Inflation will keep rising. The only question (which would be a scary outcome) is whether it accelerates past that former trend into a new self-feeding inflation cycle. No sign of that yet.

Continue reading Post-CPI Summary

Inflation Trade, in Progress Since Gold Kicked it Off in Q1 2016

By NFTRH

I am sure you remember the lead up to Q1 2016. The US economy and stock market were transitioning from a Goldilocks environment and narrowly avoiding a bear market while the rest of the world was still battling deflation. Precious metals and commodities were in the dumper and try though US and global central banks might, they seemed to fail to woo the inflation genie out of its bottle at every turn.

Then came December of 2015 when gold and silver made bottoms followed by the gold miners in January of 2016. Then by the time February had come and gone the whole raft of other inflatables (commodities and stocks) had bottomed and begun to set sail.

As I listened to Mr. Powell speak about inflation yesterday my mind wandered back to Q1 2016 as I thought about the Fed trying to manage inflation at or around 2%. I also thought about how inflation tends to lift boats, not sink them. At least that is what it does in its earlier stages, in its manageable stages.

The balls out post-crisis inflation begun by Ben Bernanke was a massive market input and I suspect we have not yet seen its full effects – other than in US stock prices thus far. So dialing back to Q1 2016 let’s look at a few pictures, beginning with the Fed’s 10 year breakeven inflation rate, which bottomed… you guessed it, in Q1 2016. That means that ‘deflation expectations’ topped at that time.

Continue reading Inflation Trade, in Progress Since Gold Kicked it Off in Q1 2016

What A Difference A Few Months Make, Highest Inflation in Six Years And Market Shrugs

By Jeffrey Snider

What a difference a few months make. Perhaps given all that has happened since January people have regained some badly needed perspective. The core of inflation hysteria was the belief the economy was about to take off which would exacerbate underlying price pressures. That would necessitate more aggressive Federal Reserve reaction, corroborated by an epic bond market selloff.

Had last month’s CPI number been released, say, last November, it would have been hugely entertaining. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index for the month of May 2018 was 2.80% more than May 2017. This inflation rate bests the 2.74% posted in February 2017 as the highest since the 2.87% recorded for February 2012.

The predictable headlines about the “highest inflation in six years” would have at the end of last year set off a disturbed frenzy. Instead, this update with all the same comparisons is being met with a collective shrug; at most a reasonably toned-down if disappointing murmur.

The difference is economy and risk, often one and the same. Unlike in 2017, in 2018 the global economy has encountered numerous issues and even more “transitory” difficulties that are getting harder to overcome. Right at the front is the “dollar.” Again.

With economic reality setting back in, what’s really going on with US (and European) consumer prices is a bit clearer, though in truth it was always perfectly obvious. Oil and little else is behind these index spikes. It’s the rationalizations about them in the narrative form that no longer weigh so heavily.

Continue reading What A Difference A Few Months Make, Highest Inflation in Six Years And Market Shrugs

Post-CPI Summary

By Michael Ashton

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets.

  • 27 minutes to CPI! Here are my pre-figure thoughts:
  • Last month (April CPI) was a big surprise. The 0.098% rise in core was the lowest in almost a year, rewarding those economists who see this recent rise as transitory. (I don’t.)
  • But underneath the headlines, April CPI was nowhere near as weak as it seemed. The sticky prices like housing were stronger and much of the weakness came from a huge drop in Used Cars and Trucks, which defied the surveys.
  • Medical Care and Apparel were also both strong last month.
  • Now, BECAUSE the weakness was concentrated in a small number of categories that had large moves, median inflation was still +0.24% last month, which drives home the fact that the underlying trend is much stronger than 0.10% per month.
  • The question this month is: do we go back to what we were printing, 0.18%-0.21% per month (that’s the 2 month and 6 month avg prior to last month, respectively), or do we have a payback for the weak figure last month?
  • To reiterate – there were not really any HIGH SIDE upliers to potentially reverse. Maybe housing a touch, but not much. To me, this suggests upside risk to the consensus [which is around 0.17% or so and a bump up (due to base effects) to 2.2% y/y].
  • I don’t make monthly point forecasts, but I would say there’s a decent chance of an 0.21% or better…which number matters only since it would accelerate the y/y from 2.1% to 2.3% after rounding. So I agree with @petermcteague here, which is a good place to be.
  • Note there’s also the ongoing risk each month of seeing tariffs trickle through or trucking pressures start to diffuse through to other goods prices. Watch core goods.
  • So those are my thoughts. Put it this way though – I don’t see much that would cause the Fed to SLOW the rate hike plans, at least on the inflation side. Maybe EM or something not US economy-related, but we’d have to have a shockingly broadly weak number to give the FOMC pause.
  • Starting to wonder why we even both with an actual release. Economists nailed it, 0.17% m/m on core, 2.21% y/y.
  • That’s a 2.05% annualized increase. Which would be amazing if the Fed could nail that every month.

Continue reading Post-CPI Summary

Thankful For Their Skepticism

By Kevin Muir

I have been banging on the inflation drum for so long I feel that even Todd Rundgren would be sick of hearing from me. While a couple of years ago, the majority of pundits were not talking about inflation – most were focused on the Fed’s inability to create rising prices in anything except financial assets – recently the market has awoken to the risks that accompany a decade of bat-shit-crazy central bank monetary policies.

With the current popularization of warnings about the coming inflation, I don’t know if I can add any value rehashing the points filling financial airwaves. The market seems to have finally caught on. Inflation is coming. In fact, it’s already here. And it will get a lot worse.

Instead of writing yet another piece reiterating my beliefs about why inflation will be a problem in the coming decades, I have decided to explore how market inflation expectations have changed over the past couple of years.

At the start of 2016, the market was pricing in a 1% 5-year breakeven inflation rate. That meant inflation had to average less than 1% for the next five years for nominal bonds to outperform TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities). Stop and think about that for a moment. The Federal Reserve has an inflation target of 2%. Yet the market did not believe they could achieve an inflation rate of even half their target.

The three Ds (deflation, demographics, and debt) were on everyone’s lips. It made little sense to invest in inflation-protected securities when everyone knew there could be no inflation.

Continue reading Thankful For Their Skepticism

European Inflation Concerns Also Rising?

By Michael Ashton

In this space I write a lot about inflation, but specifically I focus mostly on US inflation. However, inflation is substantially a global process – a paper by two ECB economists in 2005 (and our independent followup) found that nearly 80% of the variance in inflation in the G7 and G12 could be accounted for by a common factor. This observation has investment implications, but I’m not focusing on those here…I’m just presenting that fact to explain why I am about to show a chart of European inflation.

Right, so technically it’s my second article in a row in which I mention European inflation. In last Friday’s “Potpourri for $500, Alex”, I noted that core European inflation rebounded to 1.1% after being counted for dead at 0.7% last month. But what is illustrated above is the inflation swaps market, and so is forward-looking. I think this looks a lot more dramatic: investors expect 5-year European inflation to average 1.5% over the next 5 years (a year ago, they were at 1.1% or so and two years ago the market was at 0.7%), and to converge up towards 1.8% where the 5y, 5y forward inflation swap indicates the approximate long-run expectation since it’s not significantly influenced by wiggles in energy.

Continue reading European Inflation Concerns Also Rising?

Potpourri for $500, Alex

By Michael Ashton

When I don’t write as often, I have trouble re-starting. That’s because I’m not writing because I don’t have anything to say, but because I don’t have time to write. Ergo, when I do sit down to write, I have a bunch of ideas competing to be the first thing I write about. And that freezes me a bit.

So, I’m just going to shotgun out some unconnected thoughts in short bursts and we will see how it goes.


Wages! Today’s Employment Report included the nugget that private hourly earnings are up at a 2.8% rate over the last year (see chart, source Bloomberg). Some of this is probably due to the one-time bumps in pay that some corporates have given to their employees as a result of the tax cut, and so the people who believe there is no inflation and never will be any inflation will dismiss this.

On the other hand, I’ll tend to dismiss it as being less important because (a) wages follow prices, not the other way around, and (b) we already knew that wages were rising because the Atlanta Fed Wage Tracker, which controls for composition effects, is +3.3% over the last year and will probably bump higher again this month. But the rise in private wages to a 9-year high is just one more dovish argument biting the dust.

Continue reading Potpourri for $500, Alex