Advance retail sales were flat in September, reflecting slowing growth, but remain well above their pre-pandemic trend. So far, Fed rate hikes have failed to make a dent in consumer spending.
Even adjusted for inflation, real retail sales are well above the pre-pandemic trend.
The culprit is M2 money supply. While M2 has stopped growing, there has been no real contraction to bring money supply in line with the long-term trend. A fall of that magnitude would have a devastating effect on inflated asset prices.
Inflation is proving persistent, with CPI hardly budging in September. Hourly earnings growth is slowing but remains a long way above the Fed’s 2.0% inflation target.
Treasury yields have broken their forty year down-trend, with the 10-year testing resistance at 4.0%. Stubborn inflation is expected to lift yields even higher.
Inflation is forcing the Fed to raise interest rates, ending the forty-year expansion in debt levels (relative to GDP). Cheap debt supports elevated asset prices, so a decline in debt levels would cause a similar decline in asset prices.
A decline of that magnitude is likely to involve more pain than the political establishment can bear, leaving yield curve control (YCC) as the only viable alternative. The Fed would act as buyer of last resort for federal debt, while suppressing long-term yields. The same playbook was used in the 1950s and ’60s to drive down the debt to GDP ratio, allowing rapid growth in GDP while inflation eroded the real value of public debt.
We are fast approaching a turning point, where the Fed cannot hike rates further without collapsing the bond market. In the short-term, while asset prices fall, cash is king. But in the long-term investors should beware of financial securities because inflation is expected to eat your lunch. Our strategy is to invest in real assets, including gold, critical materials and defensive stocks.