Category Archives: Inflation & The Dollar

Deflation Watch

ECRI chimes in – I told you so.

The plunge in oil prices, which dropped below $50 this week, blindsided many businesses and investors. But the inevitable decline was foreshadowed months ago by a downturn in commodity prices, as measured by ECRI’s Industrial Price Index (IPI) which was previously known as the JoC-ECRI IPI*…….

…..Oil price inflation has now plummeted to a 32-month low – its worst reading since early 2016 (bottom line). But industrial commodity price inflation, as measured by the IPI, has already dropped to a 33-month low, and is still falling (top line), signaling continued downside risk for oil price inflation.

Deflation Watch

Crude Oil (WTI) is through $50/bbl to the downside.

Only two prices matter; energy and labor.

I assume Powell knows this and that’s why he goosed markets yesterday. He’s worried that he’s broken something. He has.

Three More Days

Trump needs to hold this market together, if not continue the rally, for three more days, until the mid-term voting is concluded as the polls close on Tuesday of next week. More learned minds than mine have opined that the force behind the rally is short-covering by some large fund that is massively short gamma (e.g., has a short put position). Moi, I think that the explanation is more mundane and is closely related to Trump’s need to hold things together.

Supposedly the seasonality is positive after the mid-terms, but I have to wonder as the level of vituperation from the Dems would seem to bode ill for the political climate. The Dems seem to have no agenda but to oppose and/or impeach Trump and prove that Hillary was robbed. Time to move on, folks.

The employment report this morning included more than a hint of inflation, which is usually toxic to the stock market. Given the historically (hysterically?) extreme level of valuation, risk is off the charts.

Be careful out there.

Inflation?

The increase in average hourly earnings (AHE) was taken as a sign of economic strength. Well, no. AHE is aggregate earnings divided by aggregate hours worked. So if hours worked is declining faster than earnings, AHE goes up. But is a sign of weakness. From ECRI.

In another case of up means down, the NOPE index is signalling trouble.

Let’er Rip, Potato Chip

Larry Kudlow, newly minted economic advisor, was on CNBC last night, advising that the Fed should “Let the economy rip.”

Larry, if you want to see what happens when a country monetizes its deficits, look south.

Fed Minutes

Another day, more blather from the Fed. Risk is “on” with a vengeance as the Fed continues to demonstrate its unwillingness to “take away the punch bowl” as Fed Chairman Martin put it.  Apparently there is no such thing, in their minds, as too much stimulus. We’ll see about that. In my view, a financial catastrophe is almost inevitable at this point. Overpriced stocks and the fear of inflation have always been a toxic mixture. Add in the overhang of aggregate debt somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400% of GDP and you have a recipe for a protracted decline to well below fair value, unlike 1987’s brief shock.

 

Inflation Is About To Disappear

The main factor is U.S. oil production,” the IEA said. “In just three months to November, crude output increased by a colossal 846 kb/d, and will soon overtake that of Saudi Arabia. By the end of this year, it might also overtake Russia to become the global leader.

Universal Basic Income

The left continues to be fascinated with the idea of re-distribution. It believes that the whole notion of some people being paid more than others is fundamentally unfair, that they must have had some advantage – skin color, parents, brains, whatever – which was just a matter of luck. “You didn’t build that,” as Obama famously said.

So the latest brainchild of this idea is the notion of a monthly check from the government that is sufficient to provide a comfortable lifestyle regardless of whether or not the recipient chooses to work.

A single program that replaced the myriad of transfer payment programs, from welfare through Social Security, would save an enormous amount of administration costs at all levels of government and help to pay for the program. The “poverty trap” would be eliminated as the payment could be “universal” that is, not means tested. Minimum wage laws would need to be abolished, of course, since the “living wage” would be redundant. Might not work, but there seems to be some potential anyway.

But that is not what is proposed. In general, it seems that this would be yet another program which would be funded by even more government borrowing. This, it is claimed, would “grow the economy by $2 trillion.” Please.

There are only two ways to grow the economy. One of these is to increase labor utilization, the number of hours worked in a given period. The other is to increase the productivity of that labor, that is the amount of output produced for each hour of labor. That’s it.

Existing programs already provide a major disincentive for work – the “poverty trap.” This would add another. Productivity is improved by investment – in technology, skills, infrastructure, etc. More spending on consumption would not help this, but would certainly provide more inflation, which would act to deter investment. If you want to see the outcome of this kinf of program, just check the news from Venezuela.

 

 

That Which Is Not Seen

Alhambra Partners

After tax, corporate profits are still slightly less in Q2 2017 than in Q4 2014, and barely more (+3.4%) than in Q1 2012 five years ago.

SocGen’s Albert Edwards:

Our Ice Age thesis has always called for US and European 10 year bond yields to converge with Japan. We still expect that to happen, with the downward crash in US yields likely to be particularly shocking. There is mounting evidence that underlying US CPI inflation has already slid into outright deflation in exactly the same way that Japan did seven years after its credit bubble burst. Hence we repeat our call for US 10y bond yields to ultimately converge with Japan and Germany at around minus 1%.

In short, stocks are grossly overvalued and Treasury bonds are similarly undervalued. Not news, of course, just some confirmation bias.

Macflation

I was able to find the March 2002 Big Mac price for the US, $2.49.

Using the BLS calculator, it “should” be $3.38 in 2017, instead it is $5.06. So while CPI-U inflation for the period was 2.06% annually,  BMI (Big Mac Index) inflation was 4.84% annually.

So basically if you didn’t make 5% a year after tax, you weren’t keeping up. Scary.