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September 12, 2022

We get the big August inflation report tomorrow morning.  As we discussed last week, this report should show an improving inflation situation. 
Much of this is due to the blow to consumer confidence that has been caused by: 1) high inflation, and 2) a Fed that has responded to high inflation by explicitly vowing to destroy jobs.
The former follows the old adage that high prices are the best cure for high prices.  The latter, I would argue, is the real monetary policy tool being deployed by the Fed: Threats. 
Both have been working.  The monthly change in the headline CPI may decline in tomorrow’s report, following no monthly change in prices from July. 

Let’s look at what we know from some key prices in the economy from August.
As we’ve discussed, gas prices declined 12% in August. 
Used car prices declined again in August (peaking earlier this year).  And new car prices may have finally peaked in August.
Food prices, globally peaked in February, and with a decline in August have declined six consecutive months (chart below). 
What about house prices? says the median home price declined 3% in August.
Now, there's a difference between deceleration in prices, and a decline in prices.
There's a difference in controlling inflation, and inducing deflation. 
The Fed's job is price stability.  Does price stability mean getting inflation back to their target level (of 2%)?  Or does it mean returning prices back to trend, which would mean a period of deflation?
Regardless of the Fed's intent, their are some that think a swing back to the deflationary era is coming.  Among those that share the viewpoint: Elon Musk and Cathy Wood. 
The Fed has told us explicitly that they are doing whatever it takes to get inflation back down to their target of 2% (inflation is their goal, just much lower inflation)
With this next chart in mind, it seems implausible that deflation could return anytime soon. 

This increase in money supply, has raised the level of prices (no surprise to anyone, including those that executed the policies — both monetary and fiscal). 
What has to rise to maintain quality of life within this economic framework?  Wages.  It is the only solution. 

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September 9, 2022

As we discussed yesterday, the 12% decline in gas prices last month is a good clue for what to expect out of Tuesday's August inflation report.
The report should show a slowing in the inflation rate.
For another clue, let's take a look at what's happening in China, where the products are made that we will be buying in the many months ahead… 

This report on Chinese Producer Prices for the month of August came out over night. Notice on the far right of this chart, prices were screaming higher late last year (at 13.5% year-over-year rate). 
It was the hottest reading in 26 years.  Meanwhile, the Fed was still playing the inflation denial game.  This data was clearly telling us what was happening, and what was coming.  And we have seen it.
But this number has since been falling like a stone, for eleven consecutive months — now at just 2.3%. 
This rapid fall in price pressures in China aligns with the readings in the global PMI.  This index in the chart below is derived from surveys of private sector manufacturing and service executives from 40 countries. 
A reading above 50 is expansionary activity (improving).  A reading below 50 is contractionary (deteriorating).  It's well below 50.  

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September 8, 2022

Markets are beginning to position for Tuesday's release of the August inflation report.
It should come in weaker, which would be a positive catalyst for stocks. 
For reasons why this inflation report should be soft, let's revisit for Aug. 31 note …
"The gas price input has been a huge predictor of the month-over-month CPI number for much of the year.
We looked at this [analysis] in July, ahead of the June inflation data.  Gas prices had exploded 11% higher, and CPI came in scorching hot (+1.3% monthly change).  We saw the opposite in the July data.  Gas prices were down 7%.  Monthly change in CPI was flat – no change.
So, what did gas prices do in August? 
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) does a weekly survey of gas stations across the country.  Those survey results show a fall in gas prices of 12% in August."
So with a big drop in August gas prices, the inflation data should be soft.  In fact, as I said in this August note, "if it weren't for the clues on rising food prices (for the month), I'd say this August number could even be negative."
To be sure, these Tuesday numbers will be a huge driver in the Fed's decision on rates, which will come a week later (Sept. 21).  A soft August inflation number could give the Fed the cover to raise by 50 basis points, rather than 75.  That would be a positive surprise for markets (i.e. stocks higher).
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September 1, 2022

We get the August jobs report tomorrow.
What's the one thing the Fed has threatened, dating back to March?
They are explicitly attacking jobs.  
The Fed doesn't have the tools to deal with the policy and pandemic-driven supply disruption/destruction (which has driven prices higher).  So the Fed has targeted employment, as a tool to influence demand lower.
With that in mind, a weak number tomorrow would be considered a positive for markets (i.e. it would calm the rate hike hawks).
So what should we expect? 
The previous jobs report for July was hot (at 528k new jobs). 
Tomorrow, the market is expecting a lower number of about 300k new jobs added for August.  But that would still be a hot number, quite a bit higher than the average monthly job growth of the decade preceding the pandemic (which was 193k/mo.). 
For clues, we can look at the ADP jobs report which came in on Wednesday.
It was weak.  In fact, it showed the weakest job gains since the start of 2021, noting a "more conservative pace of hiring."
Again, a similar weak report from the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) tomorrow would be a positive for markets (bad news is good news).  
With the sharp bounce in stocks today, there seemed to be some positioning for this scenario.  
Let's take a look at the chart on stocks … 

For those that appreciate technical analysis, we talked in August about the technical resistance coinciding with two big Fed events (the minutes and Jackson Hole).  This big trendline that comes down from the January all-time highs was perfectly aligned with the 200-day moving average (the purple line).  Add in a catalyst (the Fed events), and that area held, and has led to a sharp 9.5% decline.  
Now we have an area of technical support (the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement), heading into another fundamental catalyst for markets:  the jobs report.
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August 31, 2022

Stocks finish down nearly 4% for August, driven by the declines of just the past four days.  
Among the many decliners for the month, bonds were down (-4%), gold was down (-4%), copper was down (-1%), most currencies not called the dollar (-2% to -5%)… and crude oil was down (-5%).
This is all, of course, attributed to the chorus of tough talk by central bankers on the rate path.
What determines the tough talk?  Inflation.
With that, the books are now closed on the month of August.  The August inflation report will come on September 13th. And this report comes a week ahead of the Fed's next meeting on rates. 
So, let's take a look at what we know is a key input into the inflation calculation:  Gas prices.
Remember, we've looked at this chart the past couple of months.  It's a 10-year period that shows how closely gas prices and the consumer price index track …

This gas price input has been a huge predictor of the month-over-month CPI number for much of the year.
We looked at this in July, ahead of the June inflation data.  Gas prices had exploded 11% higher, and CPI came in scorching hot (+1.3% monthly change).  We saw the opposite in the July data.  Gas prices were down 7%.  Monthly change in CPI was flat – no change.
So, what did gas prices do in August? 
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) does a weekly survey of gas stations across the country.  Those survey results show a fall in gas prices of 12% in August.
You can see in my updated table below how this gas price input has reflected in the inflation report. 
More important than the backward looking annual change in CPI is the monthly change.  Again, last month it was flat.  This August report sets up for another soft number. If it weren't for the clues on rising food prices, I'd say this August number could even be negative.  Nonetheless, a soft number would be good news. 
For an additional clue, the Chicago purchasing manager's report, released this morning, showed no monthly change in the prices paid in August.

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August 30, 2022

We talked about the subtle announcement yesterday that begins the move toward a U.S. central bank-backed digital currency (CBDC). 
And just as the "build back better" and clean energy transformation is an agenda highly coordinated by major global economic powers, so is the concept of CBDCs.  The BIS (Bank for International Settlements) consists of 63 global central banks, and nearly 90% of them are on this CBDC path.
What else is highly coordinated?  Monetary policy.  
Just as easy money policies were coordinated, so is the new tightening regime (with the exception of Japan).
With that, since Friday we've heard the same tough talk from all of the Western central banks that we heard from the Fed over the past few weeks.  And it has come with some very familiar language.
It's all a variation of Jay Powell's remarks on Friday:  "we will keep at it (raising rates) until the job is done."
This reminds me of the Mario Draghi moment back in 2012.  Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, was facing a speculative attack on the weak euro zone bond markets (specifically Italian and Spanish bonds).  In a zero interest rate world, mired in the post-financial crisis economic gloom, yields on these government bond markets had soared to 7%+.  These countries were effectively insolvent.  And a blow up/default there would quickly spread and result in the end of the euro (the second most widely held currency in the world).  Apocalypse.
What happened?  Draghi vowed to do "whatever it takes" to save the euro, and to maintain stability and solvency in the euro zone.  He vowed to buy unlimited Spanish and Italian debt. 
Here's what happened to yields on Spanish bonds …  

Draghi's threat put in the top for yields, without the ECB having to buy a single bond
Within two years, yields on Spanish debt fell from almost 8% to 1%.  A European collapse was averted.
That became a critical part of the playbook of major central banks for getting the desired behavior from markets and consumers:  threats and/or promises. They called it "forward guidance."  
With that, now we have this "keep at it" sentiment from Powell, and the promise to "unconditionally" fight the war on prices. 
And these promises are being echoed by his global central bank partners.
But keep in mind, while the talk doesn't match the actions from the Fed, neither does it from other major central banks. 
Here we are, well over a year into an inflation tsunami and the major central banks of the world are (on average) six percentage points UNDER the inflation rate (on average) — and all, still, well under the respective long term averages on interest rates. 
This is all about verbally managing the desired outcome.  And because they are all in it together (all major central banks), it has worked (at least to the extent of keeping the balls in the air). 
This brings me to the latest topic of "tough talk":  Energy. 
We all know Europe is dealing with the upward spiral in natural gas prices — as much as 35 times the price of two years ago for Dutch Natural Gas (the leading benchmark price).  There is plenty of speculation in this market.  With that, the President of the European Commission appears to going to the Draghi playbook.  She's threatening "emergency intervention," to (somehow) sever the link between gas prices and electricity prices.
Already, Dutch gas prices are down 30%. 

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August 29, 2022

The Vice Fed Chair, Lael Brainard, announced today that the Fed will launch a new digital (instant) payment service in the second quarter of next year. 
This has been in the works for a few years, but we shouldn't assume coincidence that this announcement comes the Monday after the global central bank meetings at Jackson Hole.
Is this a digital dollar?
One Fed governor says it weakens the case for a digital dollar (a central bank-backed digital currency, CBDC) because it solves a lot of the problems the CBDC is supposed to solve.
While that statement is meant to diminish the need for a CBDC, if it solves the same problems and ultimately moves us to a cashless society where every transaction passes through the Fed, then it is a central bank-backed digital currency.
With that, this is how the FedNow concept was described by the WSJ when the Fed announced this goal back in 2019:  "The Federal Reserve plans to develop a faster payments system for banks to exchange money, providing a public option to another real-time network built by big banks. The new system would allow bill payments, paychecks and other common consumer or business transfers to be available instantly and round-the-clock."
This has been presented (to this point) as more of a "wholesale" or "institutional" solution. 
Conversely, this is how Brainard presented it today:  The FedNow Service will transform the way everyday payments are made throughout the economy."  And it's designed to be scalable "for high-volume retail transactions."  With that, she called on all industry stakeholders to commit to the Fed's new instant payment infrastructure.
As you can see, this is intended to be transformational and ubiquitous (and at the consumer/retail level).
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the end of the road for paper money (both access to, and acceptance of), and the risk to political and economic freedoms that arise.    
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August 26, 2022

We heard from Jerome Powell today at Jackson Hole.
He was hawkish.  Stocks went down. 
Remember this, when listening to all of the jawboning about the Fed and interest rates, and the markets:  The Fed can raise rates at any time they want, and in any amount.  If they wanted to slay inflation, they could raise rates right now to 6% …7% … 8% — whatever they want. 
They haven't.  Instead, they continue to do a lot of talking.     
Did we learn anything new today?  
First, if we look back at the July Fed meeting, they raised rates to 2.25-2.50% (range), and Powell said they had reached the neutral level.  He went on to say that they need to get to "moderately restrictive."  And then he pointed to the committees published projections of 3.25-3.5% (at year end).  That's another 100 basis points. 
Fast forward one month, and today he said they are moving purposefully to a level that will be sufficiently restrictive, and said the current level (of neutral) is "not a place to stop or pause." 
Nothing new there.
He went on to reference the 70s and 80s inflation period, and cited two former Fed Chairs, specifically their commentary on inflation expectations.   Why?
As we've discussed here in my daily notes many times, the Fed is far more concerned about inflation expectations, than they are about inflation.  If they lose control of expectationspeople start pulling forward purchases, in anticipation of higher prices, creating a self-fulfilling upward spiral in prices.
On that note, the Fed shouldn't be overly concerned. 
Here's a look at their favored gauge of inflation expectations …

This is running under 2.5%, and as you can see it's well within the upper part of the range of the past 20 years.
This is, in large part, thanks to the tough talk from the Fed this year. 
Far more powerful than the 225 basis points of interest rate hikes, has been the Fed's threat to "bring down demand" and push unemployment up.  The former has led to falling stock prices.  The latter has led to less job security, and less leverage in negotiating wages.  And both have led to two consecutive quarters of negative GDP.  
The result:  The Fed is doing it's job.  It has crushed the animal spirits in the economy, just through threats.  And with that, the rate-of-change in prices is on the decline.
The media would have you believe the Fed is in crisis, in the early stages of fighting inflation from behind (and the Fed benefits from that perception).  The data tells a different story.  They are doing well, especially given their constraints.
What are those constraints? 
1) Massive domestic debt and debt service.  Every 100 basis points they raise rates, the U.S. government adds $285 billion annually to the deficit.
And 2) The higher U.S. interest rates rise, emerging market and fiscally fragile developed market countries become increasingly vulnerable, in this post-global financial crisis environment, to a debt default — which historically we know creates the vulnerability to a global debt-default contagion.
So the Fed doesn't appear to have the ability to use the brakes on the economy, but rather to govern the speed as best they can, using the tools they can (which is, manipulating perception).   
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August 25, 2022

We'll hear from the Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, tomorrow morning at 10am. 
He's speaking at an economic symposium hosted by the Kansas City Fed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  This is annual event attended by the most powerful central bankers and finance officials in the world, and it has a history of producing significant changes, or hints of changes, in policy direction.
Stocks had a good day ahead of this big event.  And it's because of a combination of two things:  
First, the expectation heading into Powell's speech is for more tough talk on tackling inflation.  Powell's colleagues at the Fed have been working the media, almost daily, for the past three weeks to engrain in the public psyche that the Fed will do more, and will do what it takes to bring inflation down.  With that, there is little risk for a "hawkish" surprise from Powell tomorrow.  Stocks like that.  
Second (reason stocks had a good day), stocks like free money.  And the administration delivered the equivalent of another $500+ billion in free money with yesterday's announcement of student debt relief. 
Just like the Federal unemployment subsidy, pandemic checks and "child tax credit"/direct payments resulted in a boom in asset prices, this move will likely reignite the asset-price inflation fire.  Even Biden himself said this move should be a catalyst for people to buy a house.
So we have the Fed that is pretending to fight inflation. Of course, their words don't match their actions.  And simultaneously, the government is fueling more inflation, with what is now a $1.5 trillion spending binge just in the past month.
With that, curiously (maybe most interesting), the financial media and Fed officials constantly posture and debate over trivial (relative to the scale of inflation) next moves in monetary policy, while ignoring the continued inflationary policymaking on the fiscal side.
That should tell us all we need to know about the real game plan: currency devaluation. 
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August 24, 2022

Just as the media and global central bankers are trying to keep up the charade that they will execute the unpopular and painful policies necessary to bring inflation down, the White House is yet again pouring more fuel on the inflation fire.
Today, Joe Biden announced school loan forgiveness, which would fully cancel school loans for over 20 million people (45% of federal school loan holders).  
Even the former top economic advisor in the Obama administration (and spinster of all-policies democrat) can't help himself but to call a spade a spade.  

Remember, it was less than a month ago that the Fed told us they had reached "neutral" on interest rates, at 600 basis point UNDER the rate of inflation. 
That was all but an admission that they didn't have the tools to deal with 8.5% inflation.  Still, in total disregard for the Fed's alleged inflation fight, it was later that SAME DAY that the democrat-led Congress kicked off what has become another fresh trillion-dollar spending binge.  
And here we are again, with the White House fueling the inflation fire even more, dropping money in the pockets of tens of million Americans, via school debt cancellation.
Again, this is blatant inflationary policy.  It's about devaluing the massive government debt load, by devaluing the money in your pocket – by design.   
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