Rising Crude and Gold warn of inflation

Brent crude continued its advance, closing at almost $89 per barrel on Tuesday. Our target is $94 per barrel would increase inflationary pressure in the months ahead and possibly delay Fed rate cuts.

Brent Crude

Rising crude oil prices have forced cancellation of plans to restock the strategic petroleum reserve (Bloomberg). US crude and petroleum inventory (including SPR) is testing the lows from January 2023.

Crude & Petroleum Inventory

Treasury Market

10-Year Treasury yields broke resistance at 4.35% but is retracing to test the new support level. Respect would confirm an advance to test resistance at 5.0%. Failure of support is less likely but would warn of another test of 4.05%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Federal debt at 120% of GDP, deficits of 6% of GDP, and a growing interest rate burden limit the available options.

Federal Debt/GDP

The Fed can suppress long-term interest rates but the cost — in terms of inflation — is likely to be high.

Federal Debt Interest Burden

The US is well along the path to fiscal dominance as explained in this 2023 paper from the San Francisco Fed:

Fiscal dominance refers to the possibility that the accumulation of government debt and continuing government deficits can produce increases in inflation that “dominate” central bank intentions to keep inflation low….If global real interest rates returned tomorrow to their historical average of roughly 2 percent, given the existing level of US government debt and large continuing projected deficits, the US would likely experience an immediate fiscal dominance problem. Even if interest rates remain substantially below their historical average, if projected deficits occur as predicted, there is a significant possibility of a fiscal dominance problem within the next decade.

The essence of fiscal dominance is the need for the government to fund its deficits on the margin with non-interest-bearing debts. The use of non-interest-bearing debt as a means of funding is also known as “inflation taxation.” Fiscal dominance leads governments to rely on inflation taxation by “printing money” (increasing the supply of non-interest-bearing government debt).

The rise in Gold — currently at $2270 per ounce — reflects bond market fears of an inflation rebound.

Spot Gold

The same inflation fears are also driving demand for stocks.

S&P 500

US Economy

The US economy continues to display resilience, with job openings holding steady at 8.8 million in February, exceeding unemployment by a wide margin of 2.3 million.

Job Openings & Unemployment

Light vehicle sales remain robust at a seasonally-adjusted 15.8 million annual rate in February, reflecting consumer confidence.

Light Vehicle Sales

However, heavy truck sales (41.6K in February) are trending lower — with the 6-month moving average crossing below the 12- month MA — reflecting declining business confidence.

Heavy Truck Sales


The economy remains robust but fears of an inflation rebound are growing, fueled by rising crude oil prices and large fiscal deficits. The odds of Fed rate cuts in the second half of the year are shrinking but there are still two possible scenarios:

  1. A sharp decline in economic activity could still prompt the Fed to cut rates despite inflationary fears. That would be a strong bear signal for stocks.
  2. Fiscal dominance, with the deliberate use of inflation as a tax in order to restore the ratio of debt-to-GDP to more sustainable levels. This involves shrinking the public debt in real terms by expanding GDP through inflation. A strong bull signal for real assets such as Gold, Stocks and Commodities.


Bond market: No place to hide

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.

Advance Retail Sales

Even adjusted for inflation, real retail sales are well above the pre-pandemic trend.

Advance Real Retail Sales

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.

M2 excluding Time Deposits

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.

CPI & Hourly Earnings Growth

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.

10-Year Treasury Yield

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.

Non-Financial Debt/GDP

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.

Federal Debt/GDP


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.

Will a recession kill inflation?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that recessions cause a sharp fall in the consumer price index. Alfonso Peccatiello recently analyzed US recessions over the past century and concluded that they caused an average drop in CPI of 6.8%.

MacroAlf: CPI & Recessions

A recession no doubt reduces inflation but it does not necessarily kill underlying inflationary pressures. It took massive pain inflicted by the Volcker Fed in the early ’80s to reverse the long-term up-trend in inflation. Average hourly earnings (gray) is a better gauge of underlying inflation as can be seen on the graph below.

CPI, Average Hourly Earnings & Recessions

Recessions cause a fall in earnings growth but do not interrupt the underlying trend unless the economy is administered a severe shock. In the early 1980s, it took four recessions in just over a decade, a Fed funds rate (gray below) peaking at 22% in December 1980, and unemployment (blue) spiking to 10.8%.

Fed Funds Rate & Unemployment

In the current scenario, we have had one recession, but cushioned by massive fiscal stimulus and Fed QE. Another recession would be unlikely to break the up-trend in underlying inflation unless there is a sharp rise in unemployment.

A study by Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard maintains that unemployment will have to rise above 5% in order to tame inflation. The chart below suggests that unemployment may need to rise closer to 10% — as in 1982 and 2009 — in order to kill underlying inflationary pressures.

Unemployment(U3) & Average Hourly Earnings Growth


We are not suggesting that the Fed hike rates sufficiently for unemployment to reach 10%. That would cause widespread destruction of productive capacity in the economy and take years, even decades, to recover. Instead, we believe that the Fed should tolerate higher levels of inflation while Treasury focuses expenditure on building infrastructure and key supply chains, to create a more robust economy. Largely in line with Zoltan Pozsar’s four R’s:

(1) re-arm (to defend the world order);
(2) re-shore (to get around blockades);
(3) re-stock and invest (commodities); and
(4) re-wire the grid (to speed up energy transition).

An early Fed pause, before inflation is contained, would drive up long-term yields and weaken the Dollar. The former would cause a crash in stocks and bonds and the latter would increase demand for Gold and other inflation hedges.

A weaker Dollar would make US manufacturing more competitive in global markets and reduce the harm being caused to emerging markets. Unfortunately, one of the consequences would be higher prices for imported goods, including crude oil, and increased inflationary pressures.

The US Fed and Treasury are faced with an array of poor choices and in the end will have to settle for a strategy that minimizes long-term damage. In an economic war as at present, higher inflation will have to be tolerated until the war is won. An added benefit is that rapid growth in nominal GDP, through high inflation, would reduce the government’s precarious debt burden.

Federal Debt/GDP


Alfonso Peccatiello for his analysis of CPI and recessions.

Dr Lacy Hunt, Hoisington Investment Management | The debt trap

From Dr Lacy Hunt at Hoisington Investment Management on the declining velocity of money:

M2 Velocity

The Fed is able to increase money supply growth but the ongoing decline in velocity (V) means that the new liquidity is trapped in the financial markets rather than advancing the standard of living by moving into the real economy…..


Money and debt are created simultaneously. If the debt produces a sustaining income stream to repay principal and interest, then velocity will rise since GDP will eventually increase beyond the initial borrowing. If advancing debt produces increasingly smaller gains in GDP, then V falls. Debt financed private and governmental projects may temporarily boost GDP and velocity over short timespans, but if the projects do not generate new funds to meet longer term debt servicing obligations, then velocity falls as the historical statistics confirm.

The increase in M2 is not channeled into productive investment — that fuels GDP growth — but rather into unproductive investment in financial assets. The wealthy invest in real assets, as a hedge against inflation, but these are mainly speculative assets — such as gold, precious metals, jewellery, artworks and other collectibles, high-end real estate, or cryptocurrencies — which seldom produce much in the way of real income, with the speculator relying on asset price inflation and low interest rates to make a profit. Many so-called “growth stocks” — with negative earnings — fall in the same category. Debt used to fund stock buybacks also falls in this category as their purpose is financial engineering, with no increase in real earnings.

In 2008 and 2009 Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff (R&R) published research that indicated from an extensive quantitative analysis of highly indebted economies that their economic growth was significantly diminished once they become highly over-indebted.

…..Cristina Checherita and Philip Rother, in research for the European Central Bank (ECB) published in 2014, investigated the average effect of government debt on per capita GDP growth in twelve Euro Area countries over a period of about four decades beginning in 1970. Dr. Checherita, now head of the fiscal affairs division of the ECB and Dr. Rother, chief economist of the European Economic Community, found that a government debt to GDP ratio above the turning point of 90-100% has a “deleterious” impact on long-term growth. In addition, they find that there is a non-linear impact of debt on growth beyond this turning point. A non-linear relationship means that as the government debt rises to higher and higher levels, the adverse growth consequences accelerate……Moreover, confidence intervals for the debt turning point suggest that the negative growth rate effect of high debt may start from levels of around 70-80% of GDP.

…..Unfortunately, early-stage economic expansions do not fare well when inflation and interest rates are not declining at this stage of the business cycle, which is not the normal historical role, or the path indicated by economic theory. As this year has once again confirmed, in early expansion inflationary episodes, prices rise faster than real wages, thereby stunting consumer spending. The faster inflation also thwarts the needed continuing cyclical decline in money and bond yields, which are necessary to gain economic momentum.

…..The U.S. economy has clearly experienced an unprecedented set of supply side disruptions, which serve to shift the upward sloping aggregate supply curve inward. In a graph, with aggregate prices on the vertical axis and real GDP on the horizontal axis, this causes the aggregate supply and demand curves to intersect at a higher price level and lower level of real GDP. This drop in real GDP, often referred to as a supply side recession, increases what is known as the deflationary gap, which means that the level of real GDP falls further from the level of potential GDP. This deflationary gap in turn leads to demand destruction setting in motion a process that will eventually reverse the rise in inflation.

Currently, however, the decline in money growth and velocity indicate that the inflation induced supply side shocks will eventually be reversed. In this environment, Treasury bond yields could temporarily be pushed higher in response to inflation. These sporadic moves will not be maintained. The trend in longer yields remains downward.

Negative real yields

A negative real yield points to the fact that investors or entrepreneurs cannot earn a real return sufficient to cover risks. Accordingly, the funds for physical investment will fall and productivity gains will erode which undermines growth. Attempting to counter this fact, central banks expand liquidity but the inability of firms to profitably invest causes the velocity of money to fall but the additional liquidity boosts financial assets. Financial investment, however, does not raise the standard of living. While the timing is uncertain, real forward financial asset returns must eventually move into alignment with the already present negative long-term real Treasury interest rates. This implied reduction in future investment will impair economic growth.

….research has documented that extremely high levels of governmental indebtedness suppress real per capita GDP. In the distant past, debt financed government spending may have been preceded by stronger sustained economic performance, but that is no longer the case. When governments accelerate debt over a certain level to improve faltering economic conditions, it actually slows economic activity. While governmental action may be required for political reasons, governments would be better off to admit that traditional tools would only serve to compound existing problems.

Carmen Reinhart, Vincent Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff (which will be referred to as RR&R), in the Summer 2012 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives linked extreme sustained over indebtedness with the level of interest rates…… “Contrary to popular perception, we find that in 11 of the 16 debt overhang cases, real interest rates were either lower or about the same as during the lower debt/GDP years. Those waiting for financial markets to send the warning signal through higher (real) interest rates that governmental policy will be detrimental to economic performance may be waiting a long time.”

Growth Obstacles

In 2022, several headwinds will weigh on the U.S. economy. These include negative real interest rates combined with a massive debt overhang, poor domestic and global demographics, and a foreign sector that will drain growth from the domestic economy. The EM and AD (Advanced) economies will both serve to be a restraint on U.S. growth this year and perhaps significantly longer. The negative real interest rates signal that capital is being destroyed and with it the incentive to plough funds into physical investment.

Demographics continue to stagnate in the United States and throughout the world……..Poor demographics retard economic growth by lowering household, business and state and local investment. This keeps intact the observable trend in numerous countries – extreme over-indebtedness reduces economic growth which, in turn, worsens demographics, which reinforces the weakness emanating from the debt overhang. William Stull, Professor of Economics at Temple University, makes the case that for nations’, “demographics is destiny” (a phrase coined by Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon), highlighting the importance of its critical secular growth in determining economic fortune.

Although fourth quarter numbers are not yet available, the global debt to GDP average for 2020-21 is almost certainly the highest on record for any two-year period. Transitory growth spurts, like the one Q4 2021, are unlikely to be sustained. The sporadic but weakening growth trend evident before the pandemic hit in 2019 will return, reinforcing the debt trap.


The University of Michigan indicates consumer sentiment in the fourth quarter was worse than during the height of the 2020 pandemic and at the levels of the beginning of the very deep 2008-09 recession. Consumers cut back significantly on their buying plans as expectations for increases in future income slumped. To fund the sharply higher cost of necessities, households have been forced to reduce the personal saving rate in November to 6.9%, or 0.4% less than in December 2019. Needing to tap credit card lines undoubtedly contributed to the erosion in consumer confidence measures. Without the sizable cut in personal saving, real consumer expenditures were barely positive in the fourth quarter. With money growth likely to slow even more sharply in response to tapering by the FOMC, the velocity of money in a major downward trend, coupled with increased global over-indebtedness, poor demographics and other headwinds at work, the faster observed inflation of last year should unwind noticeably in 2022.