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Not So Fast on the Trump Bull Market

December 1, 2016 2 comments

**NOTE – please see the announcement at the end of this article, regarding a series of free webinars that begins next Monday.**


Whatever else the election of Donald Trump to be President of the United States has meant, it has meant a lot of excitement in precincts that worry about inflation. This is usually attributed, among the chattering classes, to the faster growth expected if Mr. Trump’s expressed preference for tax cuts and spending increases obtains. However, since growth doesn’t cause inflation that isn’t the part of a Trump Presidency that concerns me with respect to a continuing rise in inflation.

In our latest Quarterly Inflation Outlook, I wrote a short piece on the significance of the de-globalization movement for inflation. That is an area where, if the President-Elect delivers on his promises, a lot of damage could be done in the growth/inflation tradeoff. I have written before about how a big part of the reason for the generous growth/inflation tradeoff of the 1990s was the rapid globalization of many industries following the end of the Cold War. Deutsche Bank recently produced a research piece (I don’t recall whether it had anything to do with inflation, weirdly) that contained the following chart (Source: as cited).

freetradeagreementsperyearThis chart is the “smoking gun” that supports this version of events, in terms of why the inflation dynamic shifted in the early 1990s. Free trade helped to restrain prices in certain goods (apparel is a great example – prices are essentially unchanged over the last 25 years), by allowing the possibility of significant cost savings on production.

The flip side of a cost savings on production, though, is a loss of domestic manufacturing jobs; it is this loss that Mr. Trump took productive advantage of. If Mr. Trump moves to increase tariffs and other barriers to trade, and to reverse some of the globalization trend that has driven lower prices for the last quarter-century, it is potentially very negative news for inflation. While there was some evidence that the globalization dividend was beginning to get ‘tapped out’ as all of the low-hanging fruit had been harvested – and such a development would cause inflation to be higher than otherwise it would have been – I had not expected the possibility of a reversal of the globalization dividend except as a possible and minor side-effect of tensions with Russia over the Ukraine, or the effect the Syrian refugee problem could have on open borders. The election of Mr. Trump, however, creates the very real possibility that the reversal of this dividend might be a direct consequence of conscious policy choices.

I don’t think that’s the main reason that people are worried about inflation, though. Today, one contributor is the news that OPEC actually agreed to cut production, in January, and that some non-OPEC producers agreed to an additional cut. U.S. shale oil producers are clicking their heels in delight, because oil prices were already high enough that production was increasing again and they are more than happy to take more market share back. Oil prices are up about 15% since the announcement.

But that’s near-term, and I don’t expect the oil rally has legs much beyond current levels. Breakevens have been rallying, though, for weeks. Some of it isn’t related to Trump at all but to other initiatives. One correspondent of mine, who owns an office-cleaning business, sent me this note today:

“Think of you often lately as I’m on the front line out here of the “instant” 25% increase in min wage.  Voters decided to move min wage out here from 8.05 to $10 jan 1.  Anyone close to 10/hr is looking for a big raise.  You want to talk about fast dollars, hand a janitor a 25% pay bump and watch the money move.  Big inflation numbers pending from the southwest.  I’m passing some through but market is understandably reacting slower than the legislation.”

Those increases will definitely increase measured inflation further, though by a lot less than it increases my friend’s costs. Again, it’s an arrow pointing the wrong way for inflation. And, really, there aren’t many pointing the right way. M2 growth continues to accelerate; it is now at 7.8% y/y. That is too fast for price stability, especially as rates rise.

All of these arrows add up to substantial moves in inflation breakevens. 10-year breaks are up 55bps since September and 30bps since the election. Ten-year inflation expectations as measured more accurately by inflation swaps are now at 2.33%. Almost all of that rise has been in expectations for core inflation. The oft-watched 5y5y forward inflation (which takes us away from that part of the curve which is most impacted by energy movements) is above 2.5% again and, while still below the “normal” 2.75%-3.25% range, is at 2-year highs (see Chart, source Bloomberg).

5y5y

So what is an investor to do – other than to study, which there is an excellent opportunity to do for the next three Mondays with a series of educational webinars I am conducting (see details below)? There are a few good answers. At 0.46%, 10-year TIPS still represent a poor real return but a guaranteed positive 1/2% real return beats what is available from many risky assets right now. Commodities remain cheap, although less so. You can invest in a company that specializes in inflation, if you are an accredited investor: Enduring Investments is raising a small amount of money for the management company in a 506(c) offering and is still taking subscriptions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to own inflation expectations directly – and in any event, the easy money there has been made.

What you don’t want to do if you are worried about inflation is own stocks as a “hedge.” Multiples move inversely with inflation.

Unlike prior equity market rallies, I understand this one. It is plausible to me that a very business-friendly President, who cuts corporate and personal taxes and reduces regulatory burdens, might be good for corporate earnings and even for the economic growth rate (although the bad things coming on trade will blunt some of that). But before getting too ebullient about the potential for higher corporate earnings, consider this: if Trump is business-friendly, then surely the opposite must be said about President Obama who did essentially the reverse. But what happened to equities? They tripled over his eight years (perhaps they “only” doubled, depending on when you measure from). That’s because lower interest rates and the Fed’s removal of safe securities in search of a stimulus from the “portfolio balance channel” caused equity multiples to expand drastically. So, valuations went from low, to extremely high. Multiples matter a lot, and right now even if you think corporate earnings over the next four years might be stronger than over the last four you still have to confront the fact that multiples are more likely to move in reverse. In short: if stocks could triple under Obama, there is no reason on earth they can’t halve under a “business-friendly” President. That’s not a prediction. (But here is one: equities four years from now will be no more than 20% higher than they are now, and might well be lower.)

Also, remember Ronald Reagan? He who created the great bull market of the 1980s? Well, stocks rallied in the November he was elected, too. The S&P closed November 1980 at 140.52. Over the next 20 months, the index lost 24%. It wasn’t until almost 1983 before Reagan had a bull market on his hands.


An administrative announcement about upcoming (free!) webinars:

On consecutive Mondays spanning December 5, December 12, and December 19 at 11:00ET, I will be doing a series of one-hour educational seminars on inflation. The first is “How Inflation Works;” the second is “Inflation and Asset Classes;” and the third is “Inflation-aware Investing.” These webinars will also have live Q&A. After each session, a recording will be available on Investing.com.

Each of these webinars is financially sponsored by Enduring Investments.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

November 17, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

  • CPI consensus is for a “soft” 0.2% on core. With 2 of the last 3 months quite low for one-off reasons, I am a little skeptical.
  • Rolling off an 0.196% m/m core from Oct 2015. Need about 0.23% to get y/y to tick back up to 2.3% on core.
  • Wow, 0.1% m/m on core and y/y goes DOWN to 2.1%! But not as impressive as that. To 3 decimals it’s 0.149% and 2.144%. Still, soft.
  • The doves just got another bullet.
  • Component breakdown very slow coming in….bls hasn’t posted data yet.
  • The overall number doesn’t mean much without the breakdown…still waiting on BLS.
  • Well, this is anticlimactic. BLS just not putting up the data. No data, no analysis.
  • Looks like a sharp fall m/m in some medical care commodities, but BLS report itself only gives 1-decimal rounding and no y/y comparisons.
  • BLS a half hour late now. Wonder if they’re all in “safe spaces” today.
  • Well, I see one reason. Apparently the BLS made an error in prescription drugs and actually revised all of the indices back to May.
  • …including the headline NSA figure. That’s an error with huge implications. It means the Tsy made wrong int payments on some TIPS.
  • NSA was 240.236, 241.038, 240.647, 240.853, and 241.428 for May-Sep. Now 240.229, 241.018, 240.628, 240.849, 241.428
  • Market guys telling me Tsy will use the old numbers for TIPS and derivatives. And hey! Look at that. BLS decided to release figures.
  • Gonna be an interesting breakdown actually. Surge in Housing and jump in Apparel, but plunge in Medical Care, Rec, & Communication.
  • Core services 3% from 3.2% y/y, core goods -0.5% from -0.6%.
  • OK! Housing 2.87% from 2.70%. BIG jump. Apparel 0.68% from -0.09%. Medical 4.26% from 4.89%. All big moves.
  • Primary Rents: 3.79% vs 3.70%; Owners’ Equiv Rent 3.45% vs 3.38%. Lodging away from home 4.37% vs 3.73%. All big jumps.
  • In Apparel (@notayesmansecon ), Women’s 0.27% vs -0.35%, but it was 1.57% 3 months ago. Girls tho: 3.06% vs 1.95%, vs -4.73% 3mo ago.
  • In Med Care: Drugs 5.24% vs 5.38% ok. Med Equip -0.79% vs -0.61% ok. Hospital Svcs 4.06% vs 5.64% !, Health Ins 6.93% vs 8.37% !.
  • Median should be about 0.16%, but median category looks like Midwest Urban OER so there’s seasonal adj I am just estimating.
  • That would keep Median at 2.49%, down from 2.54%. But all this looks temporary.
  • Core ex-housing dropped to 1.20%, lowest since last Nov. But it was as low as 0.87% last year.
  • Here is the summary: Rent of Shelter continues to rise, and actually faster than our traditional model. Services ex-Shelter decelerated.
  • Core goods continues to languish. But here’s the thing: Housing is stickier than the rest of Core Services.
  • So unless somehow hospital prices just started to drop, this isn’t as soothing as the headline.
  • That said, this is the most dovish Fed in history. If the market continues to price 90+% chance of hike, they will…but…
  • …but if we get more weak growth figures, the 2-month moderation in inflation will be enough for them to wait one more meeting.
  • Employment numbr is key. Meanwhile, infl is going to keep rising. Housing worries me. Higher wages might keep housing momentum going.
  • Here are the two categories that constitute 50% of CPI. Housing and Medical Care. Not soothing.

50pct

  • Here’s another 30%. Volatile categories we usually look through.

30pct

  • Last 20% of CPI are these 4 categories. They’re the ones to watch. Nothing too worrisome yet.

20pct

  • Here’s the FRED inflation heat map. Yeah, these were all charts that were SUPPOSED to be in my de-brief.

picture1

  • Compare distributions from last month (smaller bar on far left) and this month (bigger bar on far left).

picture2 picture3

  • More negatives, but some of the longest bar shifted higher too. More dispersion overall.

I keep coming back to the housing number. That jump is disturbing, because most folks expected housing to start decelerating. I thought it would level out too (though at a higher level than others felt – roughly where it is now, 3.5% on OER, but it’s showing no signs of fading). Here’s the reason why. It’s a chart of a model of Owners’ Equivalent Rent:

nominalhsng

This nominal model is simply the average of models based on lags of various measures of home prices. We were supposed to level off and decline some time ago…but certainly by now. And so far there’s no sign of that.

Our model is a bit more sophisticated, but if you rely on lags of nominal variables you’re going to get something like this because housing price increases have leveled off (that is, housing prices are still rising, but they’re rising at a constant, and slightly slower, rate than they were).

Now, here’s the worry. All of these models are calibrated during a time when inflation in general was low, so there’s a real chance that we’re not capturing feedback effects. That is to say, when broad inflation rises it pushes wages up faster, and that tends to support a higher level of housing inflation. We have a pretty coarse model of this feedback loop, and the upshot is that if you model housing inflation as a spread compared to overall or core inflation, rather than as a level, you get different dynamics – and dynamics that are more in tune with what seems to be happening to housing inflation. Now, it’s way too early to say that’s what’s happening here, but with housing at our forecast level and still evidently rising, it’s time to start watching.

*

An administrative announcement about upcoming (free!) webinars:

On consecutive Mondays spanning November 28, December 5, and December 12, at 11:00ET, I will be doing a series of one-hour educational seminars on inflation. The first is “How Inflation Works;” the second is “Inflation and Asset Classes;” and the third is “Inflation-aware Investing.” These webinars will also have live Q&A. After each session, a recording will be available on Investing.com.

Each of these webinars is financially sponsored by Enduring Investments.

 

Categories: CPI, Tweet Summary

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

  • CPI coming up in 14 minutes. Consensus on core is for a barely 0.2% print, (more like 0.15%). That would keep the y/y barely at 2.3%.
  • Remember to join me at 9am for a (FREE) live interactive video event at http://events.shindig.com/event/tmenduringinvestments
  • okay, core 0.1%, y/y to 2.2%. Yayy! And by the way it was only 0.11% so not close. y/y to 2.21%.
  • core rate is only 1.8% over last 3 months, vs 2.0% over last 6 and 2.2% over last 9. November tightening is wholly out.
  • Housing accelerated, Medical care roughly unch. Educ/Communication dropped. Getting breakdown now.
  • Headline was also soft. Market was 241.475 bid before the number and 241.428 was the print. Still rounded to 0.3% m/m though.
  • Bonds don’t love this as much as I thought they would. 10y note up about 4 ticks after the data.
  • 10y inflation swaps also didn’t do much. Close to 2% for first time in a long, long time.
  • Primary rents 3.70% from 3.78%, I was reading last month. But OER still up, 3.38% from 3.31%.
  • New and used cars -1.16% vs -0.95%, so more weakness there.
  • In Med care: Drugs 5.38% vs 4.59%, ouch. But prof svcs 3.22% vs 3.35%, and hospitals 5.64% vs 5.81%, and insurance 8.37% vs 9.10%.
  • But those are all retracements within trend.
  • Tuition ebbed to 2.32% vs 2.53%, and “information and info processing” -1.98% vs -0.90%. Those two add up to 7% of CPI.
  • I can see why bonds aren’t super excited. This isn’t a trend change. It looks like a pause.
  • ok, have to go get ready for the video event. See you at http://events.shindig.com/event/tmenduringinvestments … in about 10.
  • Probably good news from Median as well. I see 0.17%, bringing y/y down to 2.54% vs 2.61%. But hsg is median category so I may be off.

I covered some stuff in the Shindig event, but it’s worth showing a couple of charts. Here is health insurance. You can see the little drop this month isn’t exactly something that would make you say “whew! Glad that’s over!”

medins

This next chart, also in medical care, is the year/year change in the cost of medicinal drugs (prescription and non-prescription). Also, not soothing. And these are where the important things are happening in CPI right now.

medicinaldrugs

Finally, the big momma: Owners’ Equivalent Rent. This is not looking like it’s rolling over! And if it’s not rolling over, it’s not likely that inflation overall is rolling over.

oer

In short, the monthly weakness was enough to sooth the Fed and take them off the table for November. And, unless the next figure is really, really bad – like over 0.3% – then they’ll still say “two of the last four are soft.” The December Fed meeting, for what it’s worth, is the day before the CPI is released. The Fed won’t know that number in advance, although nowadays with “nowcasting” they’ll have a clue. But at this point, unless next month’s CPI is very high and/or the Payrolls number is very strong, I think a rate hike in December is also unlikely.

That’s good for markets in the short run. But inflation is rising, and that’s bad for markets in the medium-run!

Why Does the Fed Focus on a Flawed PCE?

On Friday, I was on Bloomberg TV’s “What’d You Miss?” program to talk about the PCE inflation report from Friday morning. You can see most of the interview here.

I like the segment – Scarlet Fu, Oliver Renick, and Julie Hyman asked good questions – but we had to compress a fairly technical discussion into only 5 or 6 minutes. As a result, the segment might be a little “wonky” for some people, and I thought it might be helpful to present and expand the discussion here.

The PCE report itself was not surprising. Core PCE came in as-expected, at 1.7%. This is rising, but remains below the Fed’s 2% target for that index. I think it is interesting to look at how PCE differs from CPI to see why PCE remains below 2%. After all, core PCE is the only inflation index that is still below 2% (see chart, source Bloomberg). And, as we will see, this raises other questions about whether PCE is a reasonable target for Fed policy.

fourmeasuresThere are several differences between CPI and PCE, but the main reasons they differ can be summarized simply: the CPI measures what the consumer buys, out-of-pocket; the PCE measures not only household expenditures but also spending on behalf of consumers, including such things as employer-purchased insurance and some important government expenditures. As pointed out by the BEA on this helpful page, “the CPI is based on a survey of what households are buying; the PCE is based on surveys of what businesses are selling.”

This leads to two major types of differences: weight effects and scope effects.

Weight effects occur because the PCE is a broader index covering more economic activity. Consider housing, which is one of the more steady components of CPI. Primary rents and owners’-equivalent rent constitute together some 32% of the CPI and those two components have been rising at a blended rate of about 3.4% recently. However, the weight of rent-of-shelter in PCE is only 15.5%. This difference accounts for roughly half of the difference between core CPI and core PCE, and is persistent at the moment because of the strength in housing inflation.

However, more intriguing are the “scope” differences. These arise because certain products and services aren’t only bought in different quantities compared to what businesses sell (like in the case of housing), but because the two surveys include and exclude different items in the same categories. So, certain items are said to be “in scope” for CPI but “out of scope” for PCE, and vice-versa. One of the places this is most important is in the category of health care.

Most medical care is not paid for out-of-pocket by the consumer, and therefore is excluded from the CPI. For most people, medical care is paid for by insurance, which insurance is usually at least partly paid for by their employer. Also, the Federal government through Medicare and Medicaid provides a large quantity of medical care goods and services that are different from what consumers buy directly – at least, purchased at different prices than those available to consumers!).

This scope difference is enormously important, and over time accounts for much of the systematic difference between core CPI and core PCE. The chart below (source: BEA, BLS) illustrates that Health Care inflation in the PCE essentially always is lower than Medical Care inflation in the CPI.

pceandcpiMoreover, thanks in part to Obamacare the divergence between the medical care that the government buys and the medical care consumers buy directly has been widening. The following chart shows the spread between the two lines above:

pceandcpispreadIt is important to realize that this is not coincidental, but likely causal. It is because Medicare and other ACA control structures are restraining prices in certain areas (and paid by certain parties) that prices to the consumer are rising more rapidly. Thus, while all of these inflation measures are likely to continue higher, the spread between core CPI and core PCE is probably going to stay wider than normal for a while.

Now we get to the most interesting question of all. Why do we care about PCE in the first place? We care because the Fed uses core PCE as a policy target, rather than the CPI (despite the fact that it has ways to measure market CPI expectations, but no way to measure PCE expectations). They do so because the PCE covers a wider swath of the economy. To the Fed, this means the PCE is more useful as a broader measure.

But hang on! The extra parts that PCE covers are, substantially, in parts of the economy which are not competitive. Medicare-bought prices are determined, at least in the medium-term, by government fiat. The free market does not operate where the government treads in this way. The more-poignant implication is that there is no reason to suspect that these prices would respond to monetary policy! Ergo, it seems crazy to focus on PCE, rather than CPI (or one of the many more-useful flavors of CPI), when setting monetary policy. This is one case where I think the Fed isn’t being malicious; they’re just not being thoughtful enough.

Every “core” inflation indicator, including the ones above (and you can throw in wages and the Employment Cost Index as well!), is at or above the Fed’s target even accounting for the typical spread between the CPI and PCE. Not only that, they are above the target and rising. The Fed is most definitely “behind the curve.” Now, as I have noted before in this space I don’t think there’s anything the Fed can do about it, as raising rates without restraining reserves will only serve to accelerate inflation further since it will not entail a slowing of money supply growth. But it seems to me that, for starters, monetary policymakers should focus on indices that are at least in principle (and in normal times) more responsive to monetary policy!

 

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

September 16, 2016 7 comments

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.

  • OK, 8 minutes to CPI. Street forecast is 0.14-0.15%, so a “soft” 0.2% or a “firm” 0.2% on core.
  • y/y core wouldn’t fall with that b/c last August’s core CPI was 0.12%. In fact, a clean 0.2% would cause the y/y to round up to 2.3%.
  • Either way, Fed is at #inflation target based on historical CPI/PCE spread. And arguably above it if you rely (as we do) on median.
  • Quick commercial message: our crowdfunder site for the capital raise for Enduring Investments closes in 2 weeks.
  • Commercial message #2: sign up for my articles at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com! And #3: my book!
  • Fed’s job just got a lot harder, with weaker growth but a messy inflation print. 0.25% on core, y/y rises to 2.30%.
  • And looking forward BTW, for the balance of the year we’re rolling off 0.19, 0.20, 0.18, and 0.15 from last year.
  • …so it wouldn’t be hard to get a 2.4% or even 2.5% out of core by year-end.
  • Housing rose to 2.58% y/y from 2.45%. Medical Care to 4.92% from 3.99%. Yipe. The big stories get bigger.
  • checking the markets…whaddya know?! they don’t like it.
  • starting to drill down now. Core services 3.2% from 3.1%; core goods -0.5% from -0.6%.
  • Core goods should start to gradually rise here because the dollar has remained flat for a while.
  • also worth pointing out, reflecting on presidential race: protectionism is inflationary. Unwinding the globalization dividend=bad.
  • Take apparel. Globalizing production lowered prices for 15 years 1994-2009.

apparel

  • Drilling down. Primary rents were 3.78% from 3.77%, no big deal. OER 3.31% from 3.26%, Lodging away from home 3.31% from 1.57%.
  • Lodging away from home was partly to blame for last month’s miss low. Retraced all of that this month.
  • Motor vehicles was a drag, decelerating further to -0.95% from -0.75%.
  • Medical Care: Drugs 4.67% from 3.77%. Professional svcs 3.35% from 2.86%. Hospitals 5.81% from 4.41%. Insurance 9.13% vs 7.78%
  • Insert obvious comment about effect of ACA here.
  • y/y med care highest since spike end of 2007.

medcare

  • CPI Medical – professional services highest since 2008.

prof

  • On the good news side, CPI for Tuition declined to 2.53% from 2.67%. So there’s that.
  • Bottom line: can’t put lipstick on a pig and make it pretty. This is an ugly CPI report. It wasn’t one-offs.
  • I STILL think the Fed doesn’t raise rates next week. But this does make it a bit harder at the margin.
  • Core ex-housing was 1.52%. It was higher than that for one month earlier this year (Feb), but otherwise not since 2013.

coreexshelter

As I noted, this is an ugly report. The sticky components, the ones that have momentum, continue to push inexorably higher (in the case of housing), or aggressively higher (in the case of medical care). The rise in medical care is especially disturbing. While core was being elevated mainly by shelter, it was easier to dismiss. “Yes, it’s a heavily-weighted component but it’s just one component and home-owners don’t actually pay OER out of pocket.” But medical care accelerating (especially a broad-based rise in medical care inflation), makes the inflation case harder to ignore. It is also really hard to argue – since there is a clearly-identifiable cause, and a strong economic case for why medical care prices are rising faster – that medical care inflation is resulting from some seasonal quirk or one-off (like the sequester, which temporarily pushed medical inflation down).

What makes this even more amazing is that inflation markets are priced for core and headline inflation to compound at 1.5%-1.75% for basically the next decade. That’s simply not going to happen, and the chance of not only a miss but a big miss is nonzero. I continue to be flabbergasted at the low prices of TIPS relative to nominal bonds. Sure, a real return of 0% isn’t exciting…but your nominal  bonds are almost certainly going to do worse over the next decade. I can’t imagine why anyone owns nominal bonds at these levels when inflation-linked bonds are an option.

Now, about the Fed.

This report helps the hawks on the Committee. But there aren’t many of them, and the central power structure at the Federal Reserve and at pretty much every other central bank around the world is very, very dovish. Arguably, the Fed has never been led by a more dovish Chairman. I have long believed that Yellen will need to be dragged kicking and screaming to a rate hike. Recent growth data show what appears to be a downshift in growth in an expansion that is already pretty long in the tooth, so her position is strong…unless she cares about inflation. There is no evidence that Yellen cares very much about inflation. I think the Fed believes inflation is low; if it’s rising, it isn’t going to rise very far because “expectations are anchored,” and if it does rise very far they can easily push it lower later. I think they are wrong on all three counts, but I haven’t recently held a voting position on the Committee. Or, actually, ever. Ergo, a Fed hike in my view remains very unlikely, even with this data.

Looking forward, Core and Median inflation look set to continue to rise. PCE will continue to drag along behind them, but there is no question inflation is rising at this point unless everything except PCE is wrong. In the US, core inflation has not been above 3% for twenty years. That is going to change in 2017. And that is not good news for stocks or bonds.

allup

Summary (and Extension) of My Post-CPI Tweets

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.

  • 5 minutes to CPI. Consensus is for core to barely round to 0.2%, and for y/y core to remain at a soft 2.3%
  • I have the “over” there, but the “under” against my friend who thinks it’s gonna be 0.24%.
  • Core CPI +0.09%, y/y drops to 2.20%.
  • Waiting for the breakdown to dig deeper. Housing accelerated y/y, as did Medical care, but Apparel, Rec, Educ/comm all lower.
  • …Housing and Medical care are the big longer-term concerns so the internals might not be as weak as the headline. Taking a look now.
  • Meanwhile Dudley on the tape saying “probably don’t have to do a lot of tightening over time.” Echoes Williams. When doves cry.
  • At the same time Dudley says rate hike is possible in September. Sure, anything is possible. But not with core printing 0.1% m/m.
  • ..in Housing, Primary Rents fell to 3.77% from 3.81% y/y. OER rose to 3.26% vs 3.25%, continuing flat patterns.
  • Those are the biggest parts of housing. Lodging away from home plunged y/y. Where did the rise in housing come from? Household energy.
  • HH energy -1.37% y/y vs -3.02%. That’s 3.8% of the CPI, but not in core obviously. So housing ex-energy was basically flat.
  • Overall Medical Care category rose to 3.99% from 3.65% and 3.17% the month before that. Jumps in every category:
  • Drugs 3.77% (vs 3.40%). Equipment/supplies 0.1% (-0.62%). Prof Svcs 2.86% (2.60%). Hospital 4.41% (4.12%). Health Ins 7.78% (7.10%)
  • Large jumps everywhere in Medical Care. *Discuss.*
  • Apparel still rising y/y, at 0.35%, but won’t really take off until the dollar declines.
  • Overall, core services +3.1% (was 3.2%) and core goods -0.6% (unch).
  • Popular number is core ex-housing. 1.36% y/y vs 1.37%.
  • So overall, despite the weak m/m core number, the big trends remain in place. Housing flat to higher. Medical Care starting to ramp up.
  • A broad array of volatile components dragged m/m CPI down. But 59% of the basket is still accelerating faster than 3%.
  • Biggest monthly falls: motor fuel, car and truck rental, public transp, lodging away from home, and misc pers goods. All <-20% m/m
  • Only category over 20% annualized m/m increase was Infants and toddler’s apparel.
  • These last few facts mean that MEDIAN inflation, a better measure of inflation, will be up 0.24% or so m/m. 2.48% y/y.
  • Ugly pic #1: Health Insurance y/y

insurance

  • Ugly picture #2: medicinal drugs y/y.

drugs

  • ugly picture the worst: Medical Care overall, y/y

medicaltot

  • Owners’ Equiv Rent, largest part of CPI. Certainly high and stable. Maybe tapering? But at 3.3%! Ugly or no?

oer

  • FWIW our forecast is for OER to rise a little bit further, but less dramatically unless core ex-housing starts to move.
  • I’m not sure it’s comforting to have rents up “only” 3-4% in context of rising med care. In any event: core ain’t falling soon.
  • note that in August 2015, core was +0.12% m/m. So we’ll see some re-acceleration (and possible catch-up) next month.
  • I actually think there’s a chance for an 0.3% print next month. which would make the FOMC more interesting.
  • Right now, it’s not interesting. With m/m core at 0.09% and 3 quarters of 1% GDP, Fed not tightening in Sept.
  • Thanks for all the new follows and the re-tweets. Good time to mention a couple of things:
  • I’m thrilled to be on “What’d You Miss?” on Bloomberg TV at 3:30ET today. With @scarletfu @thestalwart and @OJRenick
  • Here’s my book: What’s Wrong With Money? The Biggest Bubble of All
  • My company, Enduring Investments, is raising a small amount of capital in the management co. Details here: https://www.crowdfunder.com/enduring-investments-llc/

So, while PPI is not usually much of a predictor of CPI, in this case it gave early warning that we were about to see a weak print from the more-important indicator. But that weakness came from a couple of smaller categories. I have shown this chart a number of times before, but I think it’s especially instructive this time. Compare the distribution of price changes in categories (by the weight in the category) this month…

distrib

To the same distribution from last October.

cpidist

Note that the left tail, which holds the laggards, has more weight this time. There is not quite as much weight in the deep deflation tail, but there are more 0% and 0.5% categories. Yes, there is also one really big increase on the right although it still doesn’t add up to much. The biggest piece of the upper tail is Health Insurance – which as you can tell from the chart above is fairly persistent. In short, I think there’s a better chance of the lower tail reverting to the mode of the distribution than there is of the upper tail doing the same. (This is why Median CPI is a better measure).

The bottom line for markets in the near-term is that nothing about this number scares policymakers. While Dudley says that September is still on the table for an FOMC tightening, the reality is that the data will present them with no urgency – even if, as I think likely, next month’s core CPI corrects for this month’s weakness. And Williams’ ridiculous paper gives them academic cover to ignore the fact that median CPI is at 2.5% and likely will continue to rise. Moreover, LIBOR has been rising because of changes in money market regulations, so FOMC members can argue that financial conditions are tightening automatically. In short, it is very unlikely in my opinion that the Fed hikes rates in September. Or November. Or December.

The IMF Tries to Cause Japanese Unemployment

August 15, 2016 2 comments

It is rare that I write early on a Monday morning, but today there is this. A story on Bloomberg highlighted the pressure that the IMF is putting on Japan to institute an “incomes policy” designed to nudge (and force, if necessary) companies to increase wages. IMF mission chief for Japan told reporters a couple of weeks ago that “we need policies to support wage increases in Japan;” the Bloomberg article also names a former IMF chief economist and the current president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics as proposing an immediate boost of salaries of 5-10% for unionized workers.

It is truly appalling that global economic policymakers are essentially illiterate when it comes to economic history. The IMF suggestion to institute wage hikes as part of triggering inflation is not a question of misunderstanding macroeconomic models (although it manages to do this as well, since wages follow prices and thus increasing wages won’t cause inflation unless other conditions obtain). At some level, it is a question of ignorance of history. After the stock market crash in 1929, President Hoover persuaded major industrial firms (such as GM, U.S. Steel, and the like) to hold wages constant or raise them. Since prices were falling generally, this had the effect of raising the real cost of production, which of course worsened the subsequent Depression. According to one analysis, this single decision caused GDP loss in the Great Depression to be triple what it otherwise would have been if wages were allowed to adjust (because, again, wages follow prices and are the main mechanism by which a surplus or shortage of labor is cleared). It wasn’t just Hoover, of course: later, FDR established the National Recovery Administration to administer codes of “fair competition” for every industry that established minimum wages and prices. The NRA was struck down in large part by the Supreme Court, but the notion of arresting deflation by adjusting wages was quickly reintroduced in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

There is wide agreement, although I am sure it is not universal, that preventing markets from adjusting is a big part of what made the Great Depression so Great. And this isn’t theory…it’s history. There is no excuse, other than ignorance, for policymakers to whiff on this one.

Deflation can be bad, but it doesn’t need to come with massive unemployment. In Japan, it has not: the unemployment rate is 3.1%, the lowest it has been since 1995. But push wages higher artificially, and Japan can have the massive unemployment as well. Thanks, IMF.

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