Job openings warn of higher inflation

Job openings came in at a seasonally-adjusted 11.27 million for February, compared to unemployment of 6.27 million. A shortfall of 5 million workers.

Job Openings & Unemployment

Conclusion

An excess of 5 million job openings, above the unemployment level, is expected to maintain upward pressure on wage rates as employers compete for scarce workers. Inflationary pressure is likely to continue.

Fed way too slow, way too late | Wolf Richter

“This most reckless Fed ever has had some kind of come-to-Jesus-moment late last year when it did acknowledge the problem it had set off. And now it’s trying to act way too slowly, way too late, and way too timidly to break up this spiral without causing the whole house of cards – the magnificent asset bubbles everywhere – that its money-printing and interest-rate repression created to come crashing down all at once.”

~ Wolf Richter, Wolfstreet

Services inflation

A friend asked a question: “Our advanced economies are 70 – 80 % Services based these days; so will this make CPI inflation difficult to sustain if wages growth is not sustained.”

The answer is YES. Inflation is unlikely to be sustained if wages growth declines.

BUT wages growth is accelerating, not declining, both in the services sector and in the broader economy.

Average Hourly Wages Growth: Total Private & Services Sector

Wages growth is also not likely to decline while we have record job openings; 5.4 million in the services sector alone.

Job Openings: Services Sector

Employers are having to offer higher wages and sign-on bonuses to attract workers — the result of record high savings levels fueled by government stimulus.

M2/GDP

David Woo: Prelude to volatility

The bond market had a heart attack last week. Rising inflation caused a massive back up in bond yields in the short end of the market. The market is now pricing in two rate hikes in 2022. The Fed will have to raise real interest rates in order to tame inflation.

Real interest rates are falling. The stock market is taking its cue from the bond market and is rising. Stock prices represent discounted future cash flows, so negative real interest rates make a big difference to earnings multiples.

The Democrats are determined to spend their way to a mid-term election victory, with a $1T infrastructure bill and $1.75T social spending, both light on tax revenue. The GOP will try to stop them when the debt ceiling issue returns in December but they don’t have much leverage.

Financial conditions will have to tighten a lot more in 2022. The Fed is way behind the curve and is going to have to play catch-up.

Conclusion

Inflationary pressures in the US economy are growing, while the Democrats plan a further $2.75T in fiscal stimulus which is light on tax revenues.

Long-term yields lag far behind inflation, with real interest rates growing increasingly negative. The assumption is that the Fed will tighten sharply in 2022 to curb inflation. We expect that the Fed will taper but is not going to rush to hike interest rates for three reasons:

  1. The Fed would be tightening into a slowing economy, with growth fading as stimulus winds down;
  2. High energy prices will also help to cool demand; and
  3. US federal debt levels — already > 120% of GDP and likely to grow further with proposed new stimulus measures — are a greater long-term threat than inflation. The Fed and Treasury are expected to work together to boost GDP and tax revenues through inflation, keeping real interest rates negative to alleviate the cost to Treasury of servicing the excessive debt burden.

Job openings flag upward pressure on wages

Job openings fell by 660k in August, from 11.10 million to 10.44 million. Unemployment fell by less, from 8.70 million to 8.38 million (-320k), as absentees return to the workforce. Unemployment declined steeply (-710k) to 7.67 million in September and we expect an even larger decline in job openings as more return to the workforce.

Job Openings & Average Hourly Wage Rates

Job openings in August exceed unemployment by 2.06 million. While this is expected to reduce over the next few months, as stragglers return to the workforce, the persistent gap is likely to add upward pressure to wages. Average hourly earnings growth, currently at 4.6% YoY, is expected to rise in the months ahead.

Small Business - Difficulty in Finding Workers

The number of people who quit jobs voluntarily – to work for another company that offered higher wages and benefits and a signing bonus; to change careers entirely; to stay home and take care of the kids; to spend more time with their money; or whatever – spiked by another 242,000 people to a record of 4.27 million in August, up 19% from August 2019…….This enormous number of quits is the hallmark of a tight and competitive labor market that encourages workers to switch jobs to seek the greener grass on the other side of the fence. (Wolf Richter)

Job Quits

Conclusion

The economy is recovering but the persistent gap between job openings and unemployment suggests that upward pressure on wages is likely to continue into next year. Rising wage rates add pressure on prices of consumer goods and services, adding to the inflationary spiral.

Fed’s favorite inflation indicator surges

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) Index grew by 3.9% in the 12 months ended May ’21, while Core PCE (excluding food & energy) came in slightly lower at 3.4%.

Personal Consumption Expenditure Index: Annual Change

We still have to watch out for base effects, because of the low readings in May last year, but growth for the past 6 months is even higher, registering 5.3% (PCE) and 4.6% (core PCE) annualized gains.

Personal Consumption Expenditure Index: 6-Month Change

Conclusion

Excluding temporary price spikes due to supply chain disruption, we expect inflation to average a minimum of 4.0% over the next three years.

Gold breaks $1850 per ounce

10-Year Treasury yields remain soft despite the recent CPI spike. The Fed is weighting purchases more to the long end of the yield curve. Breakout above 1.75% (green line) would signal a fresh advance.

10-Year Treasury Yield

10-Year TIPS yield sits at -0.78%, unaffected by the $369bn in overnight Fed reverse repurchase agreements which remove liquidity but mainly affect short-term interest rates.

10-Year TIPS Yield & Fed RRP

Gold broke through resistance at $1850/ounce. A rising Trend Index indicates medium-term buying pressure. Long tails on the last three daily candles indicate retracement to test the new support level; respect signals a test of $1950/ounce.

Spot Gold

Silver is testing resistance at $28/ounce. Rising Trend Index indicates medium-term buying pressure. Breakout above $28 is likely and would offer a target of $30/ounce in the short/medium-term.

Spot Silver

The Dollar index is testing primary support between 89 and 90. Rising Trend Index (below zero) suggests another test of the descending trendline. Respect is likely and breach of primary support would offer a medium/long-term target of 851.
Dollar Index

From Luke Gromen at FFTT:

When you are an externally-financed twin deficit nation with insufficient external funding (as Druckenmiller pointed out), there are three potential release valves:

  1. Higher unemployment.
  2. Higher interest rates.
  3. Lower currency (inflation.)

With US debt/GDP at 130%, Options #1 and #2 aren’t an option……

Conclusion

We expect long-term Treasury yields to remain low while inflation rises, causing the US Dollar to sink and Gold and Silver to advance.

Our long-term target for Gold of $3,000 per troy ounce2.

Notes

  1. Dollar Index (DXY) target of 85 is calculated as the peak of 93 extended below support at 89.
  2. Gold LT target calculation: base price of $1840/ounce + [TIPS yield of -0.87% – (nominal Treasury yield of 1.64% – real inflation rate of 5.30%)] * $400/ounce = $2956/ounce

Gold and Copper: Towards a new measuring stick

Our old measuring stick, the Dollar, is broken and no longer fit-for-purpose. The Fed and other major central banks have consistently eroded the value of their national currencies through quantitative easing; expanding their balance sheets by 580% — from $5T to $29T — over the past 14 years, as the chart from Ed Yardeni below shows.

Total Assets of Major Central Banks

Currency debasement is easily hidden from view by simultaneous policies across central banks, affecting all major currencies.

Gold as a benchmark

Attempts to use Gold as an independent benchmark are frequently interfered with by government attempts to suppress the Gold price, dating back to the London Gold Pool of the early 1960s. Alan Greenspan even went so far as to base Fed monetary policy on Gold, not so much to suppress the Gold price but as an early warning of inflation (measured inflation figures are lagged and therefore useless in setting proactive monetary policy). The result was similar, however, suppressing fluctuations in the Gold price.

A new benchmark

Earlier than Greenspan, Paul Volcker had used a benchmark based on a whole basket of commodities to measure inflation.

Our goal is derive a similar but simpler benchmark that can be applied to measure performance across a wide range of asset classes.

Copper and other industrial metals, on their own, are not a viable alternative because demand tends to fluctuate with the global economic cycle.

Gold and Silver also tend to fluctuate but their cyclical fluctuations, especially Gold, tend to run counter to industrial metals. Demand for Gold is driven by safe haven demand which tends to be highest when the global economy contracts.

We therefore selected Gold and Copper as the two components of our benchmark because their fluctuations tend to offset each other, providing a smoother and more reliable measure. A mix of 5 troy ounces of Gold and 1 metric ton of Copper provides a fairly even long-term balance between the two components as illustrated by the chart below. The middle line is our new benchmark.

5 Troy Ounces of Gold & 1 Metric Ton of Copper

Copper (red) leads in times of inflation, when industrial demand is expanding rapidly, while Gold (yellow) leads in times of deflation, when the global economy contracts.

First, let’s address the weaknesses. China’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the early 2000s, a once-in-a-century event, caused a surge in the price of both Copper and Gold. The change drove up commodity prices but drove down prices of finished goods; so we are undecided whether this is truly inflationary.

The sharp fall in 2008, however, is accurately depicted as a massive deflationary shock, caused by private debt deleveraging during the global financial crisis (GFC). Central banks then intervened with balance sheet expansion (QE). Accompanied by fiscal stimulus, QE caused a huge inflationary spike lasting from 2009 to 2011.

5 Troy Ounces of Gold & 1 Metric Ton of Copper

Fed expansion paused in 2011-2012 and was followed by a sharp contraction by the European Central Bank (ECB), causing deflation, as the breakdown from Ed Yardeni below shows. The ECB then reversed course — following Mario Draghi’s now famous “whatever it takes” — and, accompanied by the Bank of Japan (BOJ), engaged in another rapid expansion.

Total Assets of Major Central Banks

The Fed attempted to unwind their balance sheet in 2018-19, causing a brief deflationary episode before all hell broke loose in September 2019 with the repo crisis. Fed balance sheet expansion in late 2019 was, however, dwarfed by the expansion across all major central banks during the pandemic. Fed QE caused a sharp spike in the M2 money supply as well as in our Gold-Copper index (GCI), warning of strong inflation.

GCI & M2 Money Stock

Market Values using our GCI benchmark

While not as high as some valuation measures (PE or Market Cap/GDP), plotting the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index against the GCI shows stocks trading at levels only exceeded during the 1999-2000 Dotcom bubble.

Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index/GCI

The Case-Shiller Index plotted against GCI shows home prices are relatively low in real terms, most of the froth being created by a shrinking Dollar.

Case Shiller US National House Price Index/GCI

But if you think housing is cheap — after the China-shock — look what happened to wages.

Average Hourly Manufacturing Earnings/GCI

Precious Metals

Plotting Gold against the GCI might seem counter-intuitive but it highlights, quite effectively, periods when Gold is highly-priced relative to its historic norm. The yellow metal retreated to within its normal trading range in March 2021.

Gold/GCI

The plot against GCI offers far less distortion than the Gold-Oil ratio below.

Gold/Brent Crude

We only have 4 years of data for Silver (on FRED). Plotting against GCI warns that silver is highly-priced at present but we will need to source more data before drawing any conclusions.

Silver/GCI

Conclusion

Stock prices are high and overdue for a major correction but this is only likely to occur when: (a) government stimulus slows; and/or (b) the Fed tapers its Treasury purchases, allowing long-term Treasury yields to rise. Market indications — and dissenting voices (Robert Kaplan) at the Fed — suggest that the taper could occur sooner than Jay Powell would have us believe.

The Gold-Copper index (GCI) warns of strong inflation ahead, which should be good for both commodities and precious metals. But bad for stocks and bonds.