Neil Irwin reminded us yesterday morning that a lot of hopes are riding on inflation easing this year. But it hasn’t happened yet—or over the last year.
Consumer prices surged more than expected over the past 12 months, suggesting a bleak outlook for inflation and increasing the likelihood of more than a few interest rate hikes this year.
The CPI (all urban index) rose 7.5% in January over a year ago, the Labor Department reported yesterday—the highest since February 1982. Economists were expecting an increase of 7.2%.
The so-called core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, increased 6%, compared with the estimate of 5.9%—its highest since August 1982.
Friday’s latest government jobs report shows two ongoing trends:
First, with employers adding 428,000 in April, the economic rebound from the brutal pandemic seems to be holding together.
And second, as shown in the chart above, the level of the job rebound since the early days of the pandemic continues to depend on what industry you work in.
On the one hand, April’s seasonally adjusted figures are virtually the same as March’s, according to the Labor Department, with the growth in jobs broad-based across every major industry.
The average mortgage rate is up 80bps or 50% in just over one week. As a result, applications for a mortgage are now roughly half the level they were one year ago.
Homebuilder sentiment is at a two-year low. And online real estate companies Redfin and Compass have announced layoffs of 8% and 10% of their workforces, respectively.
What can go wrong in the housing industry?
Before anyone had time to fully explain June's inflation numbers, the growls had already begun on trading desks and research shops:
Maybe in two weeks the Fed will raise interest rates by a full percentage point — the most at a single meeting in its modern history.
This increasingly likely scenario shows the jam the Fed has gotten itself into, with Fed officials seeking to express to the country a whatever-it-takes attitude. Neil Irwin and Courtenay Brown say that’s put them in a corner.
It’s a precarious situation where high inflation reports demand a mounting series of interest rate hikes and other policy moves that end with reduced consumer and business spending and a cratering economy.
Just last month, a high May inflation reading drove Fed leaders to make a last-minute shift to raise interest rates by 75 basis points, not the 50-point increase they had been signaling.
Well, here we go again. Wednesday's BLS report showed a 9.1% rise in the Consumer Price Index over the last year — and perhaps more significantly, the uptick of monthly core inflation to 0.7% in June.
And yesterday’s Producer Price Index, which essentially reflects wholesale prices charged to retailers, was even higher – at 11.3%.
It was a "major league disappointment," as Fed governor Christopher Waller said in a speech afterwards. The stock markets agreed.
The reports set off alarm bells throughout the financial world that recent history would repeat itself and, by day's end, the CME futures markets would almost fully price in a one-percentage-point rate hike at the end of the month.
Debate is flourishing on Wall Street and at Main Street kitchen tables over the Federal Reserve's fight to lower inflation and how high unemployment will jump as a result.
On the one hand, Fed policymakers believe its rate hikes will eventually drive down strong demand in the economy without causing too much pain in the job market – in other words, a soft landing.
On the other hand, influential economists like Larry Summers say the Fed's ideal outcome hasn't materialized before, and there's no reason to think it will now.
The fight is being debated in various academic papers, but the real stakes for workers and their families are high.
Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin write today that the issue “is not whether unemployment rises, but by how much as the Fed tightens.”
They believe the crux of the debate is the inverse relationship between unfilled job openings and the unemployment rate.
Other things being equal, as job vacancies rise, unemployment falls and vice versa.
As of May, job openings trended lower but remained near their highest levels ever at 11.3 million.
Plus, the headline unemployment rate is holding near a half-century low (remember, the headline rate is significantly underreported).
The result is an unprecedented 1.9 job openings for each unemployed worker.
Americans expect inflation to drop precipitously over the next three years, according to the New York Fed.
And Neil Irwin says “that's great news for anyone who doesn't want current prices to become the new normal.”
The NY Fed’s July Survey of Consumer Expectations, released today, shows marked drops in how households expect inflation to be across a variety of time horizons.
History shows that the higher we expect inflation to be, the more likely it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as businesses feel more comfortable raising prices and workers demand steeper wages.
In that sense, Irwin says falling inflation expectations “are a welcome sign that the high inflation of the last year is not causing a long-lasting shift in Americans' psychology around money.”
But inflation expectations in the July survey remain far above the levels that we saw in the years before the pandemic and are above the 2% inflation rate the Fed target.
In fact, consumers expect inflation to be 6.2% over the next year. That’s down from 6.8% in June and is the steepest one-month drop since the survey began nine years ago (CPI rose an annual 9.1% in June).
The potential good news lies in expectations over the next three years having fallen to 3.2% from 3.6%, and 5-year expectations to 2.3% from 2.8%
Irwin reports that the drop was most evident among survey respondents making less than $50,000.
He surmises that’s a possible reflection of those consumers, who were most affected by soaring oil and gasoline prices, seeing relief at gas pumps last month.
Fed chair Jerome Powell mentioned the NY Fed's results as a reason to continue aggressive rate increases at the Federal Open Market Committee’s June policy meeting.
Thus, Irwin believes the falling expectations “will likely give comfort to the central bank.”
And oh what a week it’s been. Let’s go back to last week for a minute. Last Tuesday the market capped off a blistering to week run, by having the S&P run “smack dab” into its 200 day moving average. Now a lot of people will tell you that the 50 and 200 day moving averages don’t carry as much weight as they used to, but they still carry some clout.
When the S&P hit that 200 day, that whole two week climb came to a screeching halt and we started heading down a bit, but nothing major. Until Friday. Friday the wheels fell off and we plunged. That carried into Monday of this week as the market puked for another big drop. Tuesday and Wednesday the market sort of “ran in place” trying to figure out if they had over reacted on the big sell down.
Meanwhile over in Wyoming at the Jackson Hole economic meeting, all the movers and shakers were talking about the economy, inflation, and interest rates. Despite several fed heads telling folks that they think rates must go higher, most of the talking heads began to tell folks that it seemed the Fed might only do a 50 basis point hike at its next meeting. (Hogwash, you’ll see why)
Pending home sales dropped for the 3rd straight month in August and the 7th drop of 2022.
It’s another sign that the Fed’s campaign to rein in the effects of high inflation appear to be sending a critical industry into recession. https://www.axios.com/2022/09/29/housing-affordability-income-sales-decline
According to the National Association of Realtors, 3 out of the 4 major regions across the country experienced month-over-month decreases in sales (the West saw a minor gain). All 4 regions saw double-digit declines.
The NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, fell 2.0% to 88.4 in August. Year-over-year, pending transactions dwindled by 24.2%.
An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined.
The PHSI is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes.
A sale is pending when a contract has been signed, but the transaction has not closed (the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing).
According to NAR, pending contracts are considered good early indicators of upcoming sales closings.
Variations in the length of that process – from pending contract to closed sale – are caused by difficulties with buyers getting a mortgage, home inspection issues, or appraisal issues.
The index is based on a sample that covers about 40% of multiple listing service data each month.
In developing the model for the index over 20 years ago, it was shown that the level of monthly sales-contract activity matches the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.
Coincidentally, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell in the range of 5.0-5.5 million, which is considered normal for the nation’s current population.
As you were handing out candy to – or walking the ghostly neighborhood among – the Nemos, Princess Ariels and Lightning McQueens, the Gouls and Goblins were scheming.
In fact, the fix is in – for another 75-basis point hike in the Fed Funds interest rate, that is. The horror of it all!
Even though 11% of Fed futures traders believe the Fed will raise its target rate by a mere 50 basis points on Wednesday, a 4th-straight increase of 0.75 percentage points is locked in.
The Federal Reserve just can’t help itself.
But Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin say the more important thing to watch is what Fed Head Jerome Powell says at his post-meeting presser about what comes next.
They add that Powell and Co. face “a delicate balance” between signaling to Wall Street on the one hand that they will eventually slow down to “a more cautious pace of tightening” – without appearing to no longer being as committed to bringing down inflation on the other.
So Friday was jobs day. The “Non-Farm payroll report” it’s called. And as usual, when the headline hit, it seemed acceptable. Well that’s what the headline’s supposed to do, give you a quick hit of “good” so that you wander off thinking things are pretty good out there.
They said that overall, 261,000 jobs were created and that was better than the estimates. Even taking out any Government employment, it was still up 230K, better than they hoped.
But as usual in this day and age, the report was total crap. Lies and distortions of epic scope. First off let’s look at that headline number. Okay so 261K jobs were created. Or… were they? Uhm, NO. In fact our friends at the BLS sprinkled so much of their fairy dust on the report, it was unreadable. Let me explain.
The Bureau of Labor each month takes verified job numbers, and counts them. But they also figure “hey there are probably jobs out there that we didn’t get proof of yet, so we need to calculate them into the mix.” This is called the “Birth/Death” model.
You can go to the BLS website and read the mumbo jumbo about how they come up with these extra jobs, but it’s an exercise in futility. They’ll give you all these fancy equations and academic mental gymnastics, and it won’t make a lick of sense. Let me sum it up for you…
Basically what they’re saying is that for every “X” amount of businesses that close (that’s the death part) Some “X” amount of those now unemployed employees, will go out and open “X” amount of new businesses. Well new businesses need employees, so they take a random-assed guess about how many that comes to also.
Hi all, this letter might be a bit shorter than usual. Our office girl came down sick Sunday night, and now my wife’s a bit under the weather. I’m playing nursemaid. Anyway…
Last week, the day ahead of Thanksgiving, the minutes from the last fed meeting were released. Now let me set the stage for you all. On Wall Street, when a big holiday is on deck, the senior management usually gets a one or two day jump on things.
They get their Hamptons beach house all ready for guests and frolicking with much food and drink. And yeah, some coke might be found too. The point being that on the day before the true holiday, if the market is open, it’s not being manned by all the heavy hitters. No, they’re in their cozy beach homes, and keeping in touch via internet and phone with the juniors they’ve left to man the stations.
But usually the word given is “don’t rock the boat.” In other words, the major players don’t want the second string guys to do anything stupid and lose them money. So what usually happens is this…say the market has been trending slightly higher into that holiday. Well, those junior players will figure “hey, the market was inching higher when the bosses were here, we’ll just keep the motion going.”
This became pretty evident to me when those minutes hit. Yes there was talk in them about possibly slowing the “size” of the upcoming rate hikes. Wall Street apparently loves that idea. Why? Well they figure that if they’re no longer needing to stomp on the brake pedal with 75 basis point hikes, then surely that means they’re getting much closer to their target rate and soon they’ll do their pause and stop hiking.
So the report hit and the market which had slumped a bit perked up and ended the day nice and green. Even on Friday with the shortened market session, they eeked out some more gains.
But I didn’t read those minutes like they did. What came blaringly important to me was that most of them agreed that while they might chop down on the size of the hikes, the ultimate rate they think they want is HIGHER than they had previously considered. That to me was a major warning sign.
Let’s face it, there’s a decades old adage that says don’t fight the fed. I get it. When they’re cutting rates, you go with the flow and buy equities. When they’re hiking, you tend to sell down some. But here’s where I think they’ve misread the fed. What difference does it make how big each rate hike is, if your end goal is higher than you originally stated? For instance 2 75 basis point hikes is 1.5%, right? Well isn’t 3 50 basis point hikes the same? It is.
As the Federal Reserve converges on the nation’s capital this week for its last policymaking meeting of 2022, consumer inflation expectations are falling again.
According to the New York Fed’s latest Survey of Consumer Expectations, consumers expect a median inflation rate of 5.2% in the year ahead. That’s almost 0.75 percentage points lower than what they expected in October.
Over the next three years, consumers expect a median rate of 3% – a tenth of a percentage point lower than in October. And their median expectation over 5 years is slightly down at 2.3%.
The move downward reverses an increase in expectations shown in the prior month that, if unbroken, would certainly have given the Fed an excuse to continue with their 75 basis point rate hikes well into the new year.
The NYFed’s monthly survey is “a nationally representative, internet-based survey of a rotating panel of approximately 1,300 household heads.”
According to the NYFed, “Respondents participate in the panel for up to 12 months, with a roughly equal number rotating in and out of the panel each month.”
As it is, there’s no guarantee that Powell & Co. will step down their aggressive tightening on Wednesday with a presumed 50bp increase – although Fed Funds futures traders believe there’s 75% chance of that.
That would take rates to a range of 4.25%-4.50% – up from 0%-0.25% before the campaign to rein in non-transitory inflation began in March.
As Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin point out, perception is usually reality – that is, if consumers believe high prices will stick around, they can (and usually do) become a reality; the same goes for expected lower inflation.
Turns out that October's jump now appears to have been a blip on the radar screen of an otherwise months-long downward trend of inflation expectations – consistent with rising prices at the gas pump.
Fortunately, for consumers, the cost of crude oil and gas has been falling since late spring/early summer and is now an average $3.26 a gallon across the country (it was $4.99 in mid-June), according to AAA.
Ambrose Evans Ambrose-Pritchard writes in The Telegraph that “monetary tightening is like pulling a brick across a rough table with a piece of elastic.
“Central banks tug and tug: nothing happens. They tug again: the brick leaps off the surface into their faces.”
Or as economist Paul Krugman puts it, the task is like trying to operate complex machinery in a dark room wearing thick mittens.
Lag times, blunt tools, and bad data all make it impossible to execute a beautiful soft-landing.
Way back in late 2007, the economy went into recession, a lot earlier than originally thought and almost a year before the demise of not-too-big-to-fail Lehman Brothers.
But the Federal Reserve apparently didn’t know – or acknowledge – that at the time.
The initial data release was way off base, as it frequently is at certain points in the business cycle.
The Fed’s main predictive model was showing an 8% risk of recession at the time. Today, by the way, it’s under 5%. Evans-Pritchard remarks, “It never catches recessions and is beyond useless.”
Fed officials later complained they wouldn’t have taken their hawkish stance on inflation the next year had the data told them what was accurately happening in real time.
And, more importantly, they wouldn’t have set off the chain reaction leading the global financial system to come crashing down.
Evans-Pritchard, however, ponders that had the Fed and its peers overseas paid more attention – or any attention for that matter – to the quickly evolving slowdown in the first half of 2008, they would have seen what was coming.
So, where does that leave us today as the Fed, European Central Bank and Bank of England hike rates at the fastest pace and more aggressively in four decades, with massive QT as icing on their cake?
According to Evans-Pritchard, the monetarists are again crying the apocalypse is coming! They’re accusing central banks of inexcusable errors:
First, they unleashed the high inflation of the early 2020s with an explosive monetary expansion.
Then, they swung to the other extreme of monetary contraction – disregarding both times the standard quantity theory of money.
Investors have itchy fingers these days – or perhaps it’s just the way they have their high frequency computer algorithms programmed.
Either way, it’s why analysts like Felix Salmon see markets “trembl[ing] at the Fed's every twitch.” And yet, he points out, it doesn't seem to be having much effect on the economy.
Salmon adds that the Fed's main policy tool — even more important than setting interest rates or printing money — is the trust that Americans have in it to do the right thing.
According to recent surveys, a majority of Americans believes the U.S. is in an ongoing recession that the Fed has not only failed to prevent but is seen as having caused it (or is on the verge of causing it).
Analysts say the economy is running hotter than it should be, that the job market remains tight with headline unemployment at historic lows, and that mixed signals abound about the scope of the coming downturn.
How does one be proud of something they’ve done or said, without looking boastful? It’s not easy, because it will usually appear that you’re patting yourself on the back to get attention.
Well, I want attention. Not for being right, but for alerting people to what the hell is going on out there.
I had this conversation the other day with a good friend. He’s tried to tell people about what’s really going on with things… from the jabs, to the banking system to the WEF, to CBDC’s and most don’t want to hear it.
Trust me I know. Ask me how I know.
So, when Powell started hiking rates, I said over and over “this is not to fight inflation, he’s hiking rates into a shaky economy to crush the middle class, cause things to break, consolidate power”
And I’ve been right. Bravo, good job and all that crap. My point is that like so many things I’ve stated over the past 30 years, some/most of it seems insane to the “normal” people. For instance when I write these articles, I often amuse myself by asking myself how many people are going to roll their eyes, call me a nut and simply discard what I’ve said. Usually it’s a lot.
So, Powell hiked and hiked, going from 0 to 5% faster than any hike schedule in modern history. His cover was inflation, which is horsecrap. That’s the excuse for his hiking rampage, not the reason. The reason was just shown to you in living color this week.
Central bankers aren’t stupid they’re simply evil. They knew damn well that keeping rates artificially suppressed for over a decade would cause trouble down the road. They also know that jacking rates as fast and high as they have would cause duration instability in many banks, especially smaller regional banks. Yet they did it.
Now banks are blowing up. Why? Because when rates were zero, banks would have no choice but to buy long dated bonds, just to get a lousy 1.5%. But when they got pushed to 5%, the bonds on their books went down mark to market. ( Bond yield and price are inversely related. Thus, as the price goes up, the yield decreases, and vice versa. This relationship exists because the bond's coupon rate is fixed, which requires the price in secondary markets to change to align with prevailing interest rates in the market.)
The government’s Producer Price Index for March, out today, showed that wholesale prices out and out declined from February – a possible sign, some say, of further cooling in prices in the coming months.
Axios’ Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin say the latest numbers highlight a shift in America's inflation dynamics – namely, falling energy prices earlier this year, which is putting downward pressure on overall inflation.
The PPI, which is a measure of the change in the cost of suppliers' goods and services, fell 0.5% in March after a flat reading the month before.
The index is up 2.7% year-over-year through March (PPI peaked at more than 11% last June).
A good chunk of last month’s decline is a result of plunging energy prices that fell 6.4% in March (they’ve been rising again since then). Food prices rose 0.6%, after three straight months of declines.
Economist Bill Adams at Comerica says, "PPI surprised to the downside, but its details show the release is unlikely to bring the Fed off of the inflation fighting warpath."
That’s a sentiment shared by others. Over two-thirds (68%) of CME Fed futures traders see another 25-basis point rate hike announcement at the end of the next FOMC meeting on May 3rd.
Adams explained, "March's slowdown was concentrated in goods prices, especially energy goods.
“By contrast, core services prices are still running hotter in year-over-year terms than they were between last April and January."
“The banking system is sound and resilient.”
That’s what the Federal Reserve’s press release said on Wednesday in the statement announcing another 25 basis point interest rate hike.
Sound and resilient.
A few hours later, multiple media sources reported that PacWest Bank is exploring strategic options, including a possible sale.
Is PacWest the Next to Fail?
Shares of PacWest stock were already down about 80% since February. After the news hit, the stock took another 50% nosedive.
In fact, since January 1st, its share price has tanked – having fallen from $22.95 to a new 52-week low of $3.17 as of yesterday’s market close.
Bloomberg’s Joe Wiesenthal noted in his Thursday column that “overall, the ‘banking system’ may be sound and resilient, but there's clearly anxiety surrounding individual banks that hasn't gone away.”
PacWest sank over 50% in early trading and was halted multiple times because of volatility.
At the same time, Tennessee-based First Horizon Bank also fell 33% after the regional lender and TD Bank announced that they were terminating their merger agreement.
The banks jointly said that the move was because of uncertainty around when (not if) TD would receive regulatory approval for the deal and was not related to First Horizon.
Other notable declines included a drop of 38% for Western Alliance and 12% for Zions Bancorp. The SIPDER S&P Regional Banking ETF (KRE) was down more than 5%.
Western Alliance’s fall came despite the company advising Wednesday evening that deposits have grown since the end of March.
KBW CEO Tom Michaud said, “That hasn’t taken the heat off of the stock, or the bond prices. Investors are very nervous.
“And I think what they’re nervous about is the fact that Silicon Valley lost 75% of their deposits in 36 hours. There’s not a bank in the world that could really sustain that.”