“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so be it with Caesar.”
What Inflation? “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about, the central banks have no choice but to keep juicing markets”… The market is so focused on the short-term and ignoring the consequences of the last 10 years of QE, monetary experimentation and easy rates, that its blundering into the next crisis. Inflation matters, and has jumped from financial assets into the real economy.
I should warn readers this morning’s porridge is going to be yet another of my irregular notes on how the Global Financial Crisis (“GFC”) which began in 2007 is still with us.. We’re just moving on to a new stage… Enjoy Chapter 384 of The Fall of Money – The GFC: 2007-2031.
This morning – What inflation?
Huh? Last week the market convinced itself inflation apparently wasn’t an issue. Yield curves flattened, bonds tightened, and even though stocks were anticipating the best-ever-earnings-season, there was absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of rising prices… Apparently…
Apparently and Absolutely are two very dangerous words in finance… They raise the likelihood you’ve got it completely wrong, ie: Apparently you couldn’t lose, but you did… Returns were Absolutely guaranteed.. till the company went burst.
As we’ve learn’t this morning UK Inflation has risen to 2.5% – raising the prospect of a letter from the Bank explaining why. The headline US CPI data yesterday was even stronger – 5.4% yoy, and 0.9% over the last month! That’s not quite Zimbabwe but… you get the drift… When it happens in Europe… well the Germans are going to have a monumental hissy fit. (Top investment tip: stay long wheelbarrows.)
Inflation matters. Its critical to bonds and long-term returns. The market should look like it’s been slapped with the Wet-Halibut of Rampant Inflation, but, it doesn’t seem to have learnt the lesson. This morning, the financial-commentariat is awash with analysis of how the Fed, BoE and ECB will all hold off from any hint of “taper” response to inflation, in order to keep frothy markets from collapsing.
Fed-Watching used to be the delicate art of understanding the indecipherable nuances of Fed-Speak, forensically dissecting the commentary and numbers and drawing conclusions based on a clear understanding of what was left unsaid and the Fed’s mandate.
Fed watching today is about understanding how Jerome Powell and his merry gang are now hamstrung and tripping over themselves about not spooking markets over rate rises, taper-talk or doing anything that might unwind what they’ve being doing the last 12 years – frothing markets with unlimited QE, inappropriate rates, regulation and spin.
The brutal reality is the Central Bankers, who are all honourable men and women, understand the levers they pull no longer function as they once did. Why? Well, these honourable men and women have broken the system as a consequence of their actions. Oops. Now they have no choice but to follow.. which means trouble ahead until the global financial system can be resolved.
The start reality is Central Banks have no answer to inflation except to hope and carry on. They are caught between the Scylla of Inflation and the Charybdis of a market collapse. Eek! Which is why so many analysts are confident the markets will win out and keep going higher – because central banks have little choice but to go with it and keep up the stimulus.
Most of the market is fixated on what the S&P does this afternoon, what new high the NASDAQ will make this month, or where Amazon is going to top this quarter. They have the vision of a blind man when it comes to anything much beyond the end of their one-year time horizon. Even the bond market seems blind.
The reality is investment should be about the long term. If you ignore the future in favour of short-term gains its makes it very easy to dismiss the evidence… that inflation is actually a very, very real issue..
Lots of smart non-financial assets funds do understand that, and see just how horribly distorted markets have become. That’s why they are so keen to diversify out of corrupted financial assets and into real assets – the hot part of the market (and what I’ve been doing in Alternative Assets for the last 12 years.)
Going back to inflation, the outlook is complex – another reason such a large part of the financial blogosphere is ignoring it. For instance; it’s possible to argue the rise in commodity prices is a factor of hoarding; manufacturers anticipating a surge Covid recovery and preparing for massive post-pandemic demand. The spikes in commodities from Copper to Lumber are now in reverse – supporting the market’s contention the inflation number is something of an overshoot.
Oil is an outlier. OPEC is a monopoly price setter, but is going through yet another of its periodic organisational crisis resulting in a spike that’s proving difficult to hedge. Owning oil is not a pleasant outcome for anyone – as we saw last year when traders found themselves owning negative priced oil when storage was unavailable.
Some of the important underlying trends in the economy – like used cars, where prices are rising. It hints that its details of specific inflation factors in each price that are important. Cars are a good example – we’re all aware of the global shortage of chips enabling car makers to cut production and create scarcity, pushing up new car prices, dragging second hand values higher as consumers seek alternatives. On the other hand – new car prices have been rising for years, with higher costs “justified” by the increasing amount of tech junk put into cars.. As the EU announces it will outlaw new ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles by 2040, I wonder if we are going to see a new counter-trend develop.
To explain, consider the Land Rover:
- A 10 year-old low milage, full service history, Range Rover in immaculate condition may be worth £16k. A 20 year battered Defender with zero documents is worth £32k! But you can fix it with Gaffa Tape, WD40 and a hammer. (If it moves and shouldn’t: Gaffa tape it. If it still moves; more Gaffa tape. If it doesn’t move: WD40 and persuade it with a hammer.)
However, inflation complacency may be the least of Central Bank worries. You may have spotted an increasing number of breathless articles from around the globe on House Price Inflation.
Everywhere on the planet the affluent classes – those with savings, who’ve done well from lockdown, and already on the property ladder – have been driving an uptick in property. Its debt fuelled and an illiquid market – no one sells till they see what they want to buy, and the ladder is actually a pyramid, with fewer assets on each successively higher rung.
The result is record home prices nearly everywhere. This week Powell and US Treasury Sec Janet Yellen are going to chat about it at the Financial Stability Oversight Council – a body setup post Global Financial Crisis (“GFC”) in 2010 to identify excessive risks to the US Financial System. About time.. Housing is more frothy than 2007 according to the Case-Shiller US property value index. (Incidentally… so is just about any other market…but, I;ve said that many times before..)
Rightly, Janet and Jerome are concerned a second housing bubble bursting could shake the foundations of finance… again. However, this time will be different. The housing market is not vulnerable to a massive number of low-credit-score mortgagees defaulting, but to a large number of affluent middle classes suddenly finding themselves financial stretched, on a rung of the ladder they can’t afford, and sitting on negative equity when the bubble bursts.
In the UK, we live with negative equity. In the US, you walk away. Whatever, these consumers consume less.
The structure of the market has also changed. Banks don’t lend anymore. They broke their risks off to the investment sector. In the case of US mortgages – back to government through the Mortgage Backed Bond buyback schemes, and to the non-bank financial institutions than now finance, originate and service mortgages…
This is going to be the really big problem of the next stage of the Global Financial Crisis 2007-2031. Real Assets! Smart money has been loading up on real assets on the basis they are decorrelated from the increasingly corrupted financial asset sector, but they reality is real assets from property, private equity, secured lending, aircraft, shipping, you-name-it, is now getting just as frothy as a result of all that inflation tied up in financial assets now spilling into the real economy…
Financial Asset Inflation has infected the real economy….
Time to think again… All these honourable men and women in Central Banks must dread Caesar’s ghost coming back to haunt the monetary experiment they started in 2010 going so badly wrong…
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