International Forecaster Weekly

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Because it could be Different

Bob Rinear, May 4 2022

The other day I said that there’s not going to be any Fed rate hike and then they’re done. No “one and done” sort of thing. I also explained why I think that they’re going to drive down demand for things, by making it harder to borrow money.

Now, I see a LOT of the so called market genius people saying that the Feds will hike into a recession, then have to stop and reverse course and start a new round of cuts and increase their QE.  I get it. I really do. It’s been the norm for years…decades actually.

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THE ECONOMY IS ONE HOT POTATO - Once Again, Though, Consumers Come Through

Guest Writer, April 30 2022

An Economy at a Crossroad

Emily Peck believes the country’s at a new threshold in this period of bad vibes – thanks to mixed economic signals, a new and intensifying war and, yes, continuing Covid weirdness. 

Americans’ growing anxiety is rising as Jerome Powell and the Fed prepare to put the brakes on the economy, which could cool off the hot labor market – and further sink stocks and bonds and to a lesser extent precious metals. 

Next week, the Fed will almost certainly hike rates by half a percentage point.

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INFLATION IS OUT OF CONTROL - It's Affecting All Aspects of Life

, April 27 2022

Murray Mullen, who runs Mullen Group, a large shipping logistics companies, says: “Inflation…is out of control at the moment.” 

            One aspect of that are rising food prices, which Emily Peck notes are changing our grocery shopping routine — “already kind of weird after the pandemic pushed more Americans to eat at home.”

High inflation is behaving like a boomerang, spinning and wreaking havoc in all kinds of markets — from cars to housing, from stocks to groceries — and changing the way we live.

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AMERICA IS SPLINTERING - It’s Up to Gen Z to Fix It

Guest Writer, April 23 2022

An article in the May edition of The Atlantic is a timely and compelling look at how America has splintered — and what'll happen if we don't find a way to patch it.

In the essay, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt at NYU’s Stern School of Business, writes: 

"In the 20th century, America built the most capable knowledge-producing institutions in human history. In the past decade, though, they got stupider en masse."

All day long we're barraged with this or that data point, this or that hot take, breaking news about this or that mostly underwhelming but nonetheless stress-producing developing story – 

Unless, that is, we’re disconnected from a smart phone, cable TV news shows or social media. And these days, there aren’t that many of us who are.

Mike Allen says Haidt's view of America in 2022 is an excuse to “step back and behold what future historians will see.”

In "After Babel," Haidt invokes the Genesis fable of the Tower of Babel, where God is angered by the rampant and excessive pride shown by early humans, then scrambles their languages.

Haidt sees that story as "a metaphor for what is happening not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also within the left and the right, as well as within universities, companies…and even families." 

He believes that in the past 10 years — especially 2011-2015 — something "went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth."

Some of what he says happened includes the early internet, which looked like "a boon to democracy" — 

"Myspace, Friendster, and Facebook made it easy to connect with friends and strangers to talk about common (emphasis added) interests, for free, and at a scale never before imaginable."

Instead, we got things like the "Like" button, retweets and far too often uncivil comments that have "encouraged dishonesty and mob dynamics" and, I’d add, a tendency toward a growing reticence. 

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IT'S NOT ABOUT THE ECONOMY PER SE - It's About the Dollar and the Loss of Purchasing Power

Guest Writer, April 20 2022

The CPI index, it vividly shows how the value of the dollar has steadily dwindled over the last ten years. 

As Bloomberg News' Joe Wiesenthal tells us, straightening this line — or at least slowing its downward spiral — is the Fed’s real goal. 

Although the U.S. Dollar Index has been inching higher and higher — over the past year, it's risen almost 11%, from 91.05 to its closing today at 100.8 — it's actually been weakening at the fastest pace since the 1980s. 

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Deflation Ahead?

Bob Rinear, April 13 2022

Hey all, we're mid week in a Holiday shortened market week. On Friday, the US markets are closed for Good Friday, and I'm happy about that. If we can close for significant people, we can certainly close for God and son.

Now I'm sure you looked at the headline of the article and figure that I lost my last marble. Deflation? Isn't that where prices of things come down? Indeed it is. And like the housing bubble of 2005 - 2007, this time will probably be no different. ( pay attention to that word probably, I'll come back to it later in this piece)

The biggest cure for high prices, is indeed high prices. When prices of things get too far out of whack, markets have an interesting way of putting them back in whack.

Naturally there's multiple mechanisms at work, but the bottom line is that there always comes a point, where "things" are just too expensive to be purchased. Then, things sit on shelves and ultimately have to be "marked down." This is going to happen again. But, and this is the big elephant... we probably have to endure something akin to a hyper inflation, before we get the big bust and everything falls down.

Right now, we've still got supply chain issues, manufacturing issues, etc. to deal with. Take China and their lockdown of tens of millions of people. NONE of those people are producing products that will end up on Wal-Mart's shelf. So, the products that are there or are in transit, will demand higher prices. No doubt.

But trees don't grow to the moon, and everything eventually reverts to the mean. Always and forever. The twist this time, is that the reasons for the hyper inflation, aren't rooted in the public doing incredibly stupid things. Think back to the "Tulip mania" of the 1600's. I don't know what kind of mushrooms they were snorting during that period, but people were giving up family farms for one tulip bulb. Peak insanity.

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CONSUMER DEBT SURGES $41.8 BILLION And That’s Before Worst of Gas Spike

Guest Writer, April 9 2022

Americans’ credit cards got a sweaty workout in February, as monthly consumer debt rose the highest in over a decade.

Matt Phillips believes it could mean that climbing inflation coupled with households’ diminished savings are forcing more people to use plastic.

The Fed's monthly consumer credit report for February came out yesterday, showing that consumer debt — excluding mortgage debt — jumped by $41.8 billion, or 11.3%.

Revolving credit — typically credit cards — rose by a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 21%, up from 4% the prior month. Nonrevolving credit, which includes auto and student loans, was up 8.4%.

With pandemic stimulus payments now a fading memory — and families’ record savings cushion a thing of the past — it seems a no-brainer that out of control inflation has us back to running up our personal debt.

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INVERTED YIELD CURVE SUGGESTING BOND INVESTORS THINK FED WILL RAISE RATES RIGHT INTO A RECESSION

Guest Writer, April 6 2022

Neil Irwin asks: “When does a report showing a booming job market cause recession alarm bells to start clanging?”

His answer: “When exceptional jobs growth leads bond investors to bet that the Fed will raise rates so aggressively to quash inflation that it will be forced to reverse course later.” That's what happened on Friday.

When the bond yield curve inverts, as it did Friday, it usually means a recession isn’t too far behind. 

And although that's being a tad presumptuous at this point, it's clear the Fed is walking a narrowing tightrope.

The Labor Department’s March employment data was strong again, with 431,000 jobs added, positive revisions to January and February numbers and a slightly falling unemployment rate. 

More Americans are rejoining the labor market, and wages are showing steady growth. 

Just two weeks earlier, Fed chair Jerome Powell said that he sees a "very, very tight labor market, tight to an unhealthy level." 

The new numbers, however, suggest it’s becoming even more so, especially around the government’s headline unemployment rate.

That means the jobs numbers amount to full speed ahead for more aggressive Fed tightening, including what looks likely to be the first half-percentage point rate hike in 22 years at the early May policy meeting.

That's why the jobs numbers caused an 8% jump in 2-year Treasury yields, to 2.46% from 2.28% heading into last weekend. Longer-term yields rose by less, with the 10-year ending the day at 2.38%.

When long-term rates are lower than their short-term counterparts, that's called an inversion or an inverted yield curve, to be more precise. 

It’s like bond investors are betting that the Fed will end up reversing those near-term rate hikes down the road (i.e., lowering them…again), presumably because of a weakening economy.

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THE FED’S PREFERRED INFLATION GAGE THREE TIMES HIGHER THAN ITS TARGET Suffer the April Fools

Guest Writer, April 2 2022

The Fed’s favorite inflation metric—the one that has Jay Powell mostly smiling during his REM dreams—showed mounting price pressures in February, as the PCE continued lrising to its highest annualized level since 1983.

Including gas and groceries (broken out by the government ostensibly because of their higher volatility), the headline Personal Consumption Expenditures index (the source of Powell’s nocturnal smiles) jumped 6.4% year over year.

Excluding food and energy prices, the so-called “core” PCE increased 5.4% from the same period in 2021.

By the way, the only reason I continue to mention the core PCE—or the core CPI for that matter—is because some readers like to know what these government-reported, nuanced numbers are doing. 

So, if they’re good enough for the Fed, they're good enough for me (yes, my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek).

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DESPITE FED RATE HIKES, Inflation Expectations at Record Highs

Guest Writer, March 30 2022

Even though the Fed has started hiking interest rates to rein in inflation running at a 4-decade high, consumers and investors think price rises will be tough to slow.

A new reading of consumer sentiment on Friday from the University of Michigan confirms that Americans’ inflation expectations remain at their highest level since 1981—and continue to grow.

The survey’s chief economist Richard Curtin observed that inflation is the chief culprit in consumers’ rising pessimism, with expectations of a 5.4% rise for the year ahead.

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PUTIN TRIES PROPPING UP THE RUBLE & MOEX - Another Bank Sees Gold at $2,200 by End of Year

Guest Writer, March 26 2022

Russia's ruble has rebounded in recent weeks, as the Kremlin patched together an aggressive defense of its fiat currency.

The ruble was valued (vs. the U.S. dollar) at 80.41 on February 23, the day before Putin’s invasion. It skyrocketed to 131.50 on March 7. It plunged to 90.72 on the Ides of March (the 15th). And it opened today at 94.75.

Matt Phillips reports that Moscow’s latest attempt to shore up support came in the form of a direct demand from His Rogueness (Putin) that the EU pay for natural gas with rubles instead of dollars or euros.

It's a not-so-veiled effort by Russia to create demand for its struggling currency—with the ruble jumping 8% on the news.

Widespread sanctions imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February have hammered the ruble, wiping out 90% of its value against the dollar at times.

Moscow took measures—like doubling interest rates, halting currency trading, and demanding that Russian companies exchange their foreign earnings for rubles—that slowed the bungie jump and prevented a crash.

But Putin's latest scheme has already been called a breach of contract by Germany, the eurozone’s largest buyer of Russian natural gas. 

If the breach prompts a full rupture with Europe, which buys 40% of its gas from Russia, the ruble will likely take another tumble.

Such a break, however, would also make Europe's energy crisis a lot worse. To wit, European natural gas prices jumped 30% after Putin made his latest demand.

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FED IS FULL SPEED AHEAD Gold & Silver Off to a Good Start

Guest Writer, March 23 2022

The economy doesn’t want for problems—there are plenty of them, both at home and stemming from rising geopolitical volatility in eastern Europe.

But as Neil Irwin writes, wherever the movers and shakers of the Federal Reserve look right now, “they're seeing flashing green lights that the world wants them to get moving on raising interest rates.”

Yes, the Fed acts independently based on its best analysis of economic data—in theory anyway. 

But other factors shape the tone and outcomes of internal debates, too—like discussions by outside economic thinkers and financial market reactions to potential and actual Fed moves.

Right now, Irwin believes those reactions are almost uniformly pointing toward more aggressive action to try to rein in high inflation.

In fact, Fed future traders say another rate hike by the Fed’s May meeting is a done deal—38.4% see a hike of 50-75 basis points (0.5%-0.75%), while 61.6% see a hike of 75-100 basis points (0.75%-1.0%)

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Fed Keeps Its Promise; Hikes Interest Rates - Oil and War Big Factors in Where Things Go from Here

Guest Writer, March 19 2022

Tightening by the mightily bloated Federal Reserve is off and running. 

The Fed’s Open Market Committee kept its word the other day, with the first of what’s expected to be 6 or 7 quarter-of-a-percentage point interest rate increases by the end of the year to put inflation in its place.

Today, Fed Governor Christopher Waller warned that the Fed may need to enact one or more 50 basis point hikes in 2021.

Though he voted this week for just 25 basis point because of economic uncertainty over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Waller said he thinks the Fed may need to be more aggressive soon.

“I really favor front-loading our rate hikes, that we need to do more withdrawal of accommodation now if we want to have an impact on inflation later this year and next year.” 

“The way to front-load it is to pull some rate hikes forward, which would imply 50 basis points at one or multiple meetings in the near future.”

In addition to the rate hikes, Waller said he thinks the Fed needs to start reducing its holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities sooner than later.

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STATE OF THE UNION IS SAD As Inflation Expectations Hit Record High

Guest Writer, March 16 2022

Morale among American consumers —I prefer "people"— worsened earlier this month by generation-high inflation and a major war in eastern Europe.

The latest University of Michigan survey showed overall consumer sentiment falling in March for the fifth time in the last six months to an almost 11-year low.

These days, on top of a dreadful and frustrating two-year Covid malaise, everyday Americans are asking, "Why does anything matter?"

The Michigan numbers show the public mood souring over inflation worries have totally surpassed other indicators that show an otherwise strong (albeit volatile) economy.

The mood also bodes particularly ill for members of Congress and state houses hoping not to be, well, unelected.

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AFTER A 7.9% INFLATION SURGE, ARE DOUBLE DIGITS IN OUR FUTURE? Meanwhile, Gold Hits All-Time High

Guest Writer, March 12 2022

Inflation raged on in February, driving consumer price increases to a place we haven’t been to in four decades.

The latest numbers include a paucity of signs that inflation us leveling off, muchless subsiding.

What’s more, they largely exclude the impact of Russia’s invasion on oil, gas and other global commodity prices.

Most economists and WallStreeters, the Biden administration and members of Congress—especially Democrats—have been counting on inflation peaking early this year. 

Unfortunately for them—not to mention consumers and businesses—the numbers are suggesting persistently high inflation for the foreseeable future.

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