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Bill Gross: The Fed Can’t Keep Its “Pedal To The Metal” Much Longer

Bill Gross: The Fed Can’t Keep Its "Pedal To The Metal" Much Longer

Longtime ‘bond king’ Bill Gross has kept a low profile since his "retirement" from Janus Henderson, where he worked after leaving PIMCO abruptly in 2014 in a high-profile…

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Bill Gross: The Fed Can't Keep Its "Pedal To The Metal" Much Longer

Longtime 'bond king' Bill Gross has kept a low profile since his "retirement" from Janus Henderson, where he worked after leaving PIMCO abruptly in 2014 in a high-profile dispute with colleagues. While he emerged earlier this year to share the results of a recent Gamestop short, Gross has been making more appearances in the tabloids than in the business press recently thanks to a legal dispute with one of his neighbors.

But in today's FT, Gross returns with an editorial warning that the Federal Reserve and Treasury are injecting money into the economy so quickly that as the economy recovers from COVID-19, they're risking a dangerous snap-back in markets as investors reckon with the withdrawal of all the post-COVID stimulus.

For those who still have faith in the Fed, Gross asks: do you think the booms in cryptocurrencies and SPACs represents "the product of financial innovation"..."or the product of cheap and plentiful credit..."

Even enthusiasts of the Fed’s policy must wonder whether hundreds of cryptocurrencies or a boom in special purpose acquisition vehicles are the result of continuing financial innovation or the product of cheap and plentiful credit demanded by deficit spending and an accommodating Fed chair.

Gross also wondered how long the Fed could continue with "near-costless Fed financing for "$2 trillion, $3 trillion, $4 trillion deficits" without sinking the dollar? The greenback has certainly weakened in response to all this stimulus, but just how much more can the market absorb before things start to break?

Many observers wonder how Treasuries and other global sovereigns can trade at yields that are so low, and in some cases negative. Five-year US Treasuries currently yield just 0.80 per cent, not much in a world where inflation expectations over the same period are above 2.5 per cent. That is reflected in the negative real yields, which have the effects of inflation stripped out.

Five-year US inflation protected bonds now trade at a yield close to minus 2 per cent. Part of the explanation lies with the less attractive yield on local sovereign debt for foreign institutions (minus 0.5 per cent in Germany, for instance). Even US investors, however, believe that a 10-year Treasury yielding 1.65 per cent can earn a total return of 2.40 per cent or more by capturing the rising price of the bond as it approaches its maturity date. And then there’s the Fed buying more than $1tn Treasuries a year.

No wonder the 10-year Treasury rests illegitimately at 1.65 per cent. Such speculations, however, are dependent upon the stability of the dollar and the consistency of Powell’s vow to keep short rates unchanged for the foreseeable future. At some point in the next few months, hopes for this will probably be disappointed as inflationary pressures pose increasing price risks to Treasuries and stocks too.

Gross also wondered how the Fed will determine essential policy benchmarks like Nairu, since the central bank's historical models likely won't be much use in the post-pandemic era.

Powell will not even acknowledge asking the question about asking the question until Covid is more under control and employment returns to historical norms. Yet unemployment may never return to 4 per cent, given the radical changes in working from home and Zoom-like technological shifts.

What is Powell’s new Nairu? The Fed’s historical model for the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment” cannot be a reliable guide for future policy rate changes. And how long can the Treasury continue to require near-costless Fed financing for $2tn, $3tn and $4tn deficits without sinking the dollar? In a historical gold-standard world, Fort Knox would have been emptied long ago, implying the bankruptcy of the world’s reserve currency.

Here's an example of what the Fed's stimulus is doing to the plumbing of the global dollar-based financial system: banks are quickly running out of places to stash all their cash reserves amid a shortage of good collateral, much of which has been hoovered up already by the central bank.

Thanks to the Fed, Gross argues that Treasuries valuations have become so stretched that they're essentially "risk" assets now. Financial journalists scoffed last month when Bridgewater's Ray Dalio once again warned that "cash is trash", a warning that he has made repeatedly in the past, often before big market selloffs. As Gross sees it, cash might soon be the only real haven for investors as markets are forced to reckon with the possibility that rate hikes and tapering might arrive sooner than investors might like.

The Fed cannot for long continue to maintain current policy rates and expand its own balance sheet and therefore private bank reserves at a $120bn monthly pace.

Ten-year Treasuries morphed into the “risk” asset category several years ago. Stocks with valuations supported by low yields have entered the same category now, no matter the growth potential for 2021 and 2022.

Cash has been trash for years but soon it may be the only haven for investors sated beyond reasonable expectations of perpetually low yields and supportive bond kings and queens.

Regardless of what happens next, few would argue with Gross's conclusion that Chairman Jerome Powell and the Fed's other top officials are the true "kings and queens" of the bond market.

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/01/2021 - 19:00

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Baltimore City Responds After Dozens Of Businesses Threaten Not To Pay Taxes

Baltimore City Responds After Dozens Of Businesses Threaten Not To Pay Taxes

This weekend, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) closed down multiple city streets around the Inner Harbor, in a stretch called "Fells Point," after dozens…

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Baltimore City Responds After Dozens Of Businesses Threaten Not To Pay Taxes

This weekend, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) closed down multiple city streets around the Inner Harbor, in a stretch called "Fells Point," after dozens of local businesses threatened the new city government, run by Mayor Brandon Scott, to not pay taxes because they're "fed up and frustrated" with the outburst of violence. 

Last week, 37 restaurants and small businesses sent a letter to the mayor's office titled "Letter to City Leaders From Fells Point Business Leaders." They threatened to stop paying city taxes and other fees until "basic and essential municipal services are restored." This comes as Madam State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby halted petty crimes during the pandemic and made such a measure permanent - the idea was to decrease violent crime, but that seems to have severely backfired.

What's happened in the historic bar strict is absolute mayhem at night, transformed into a dangerous area where violent and rowdy crowds have ruined the once pleasant atmosphere along with multiple shootings. 

So this weekend, BPD closed down streets around Fells Point, which includes parts of Aliceanna, Thames, and Bond streets.

In addition, Maryland State Police will conduct sobriety checkpoints in Fells Point. 

Local news WJZ13's Mike Hellgren tweets a couple of images of the increased police presence across Fells Point.

One of the 37 concerned business owners on the list is Bill Packo, who owns Barley's Backyard and has been operating in Fells Point for three decades. He spoke with WJZ13 about the out of control violence and public drunkenness:

"It's a shame. What they're letting happen to Fells Point is what they let happen in the Inner Harbor, and now it has made its way here," Packo said. "There's alcohol being sold by individuals out there, drugs, and clearly we all know about the shootings that took place last weekend. But there needs to be some control out there. There is none whatsoever."

BPD's mobile police command was spotted outside another shop in the bar district. It looks very dystopic. 

Meanwhile, Scott, who was newly elected, skipped out on the virtual community town hall meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m that was to address the issues in Fells Point. 

Packo called out Scott for not attending the meeting: 

"It's an embarrassment to the city. It's an embarrassment to the mayor no matter what the schedule was," he said.

Again, as we've said before, the chaos in Fells Point comes as the city descends into what could be the most violent period ever. Mosby has halted police officers going after petty crimes that have inadvertently backfired. Another liberal-run town with good intentions in policies not exactly panning out as they thought. 

Local news WMAR2's Eddie Kadhim interviewed a man who summed up the city's response in Fells Point: 

Another man said the violent crime in low-income neighborhoods is just spilling over into the downtown area. 

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/12/2021 - 15:00

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Visualizing The History Of US Inflation Over 100 Years

Visualizing The History Of US Inflation Over 100 Years

Is inflation rising?

The consumer price index (CPI), an index used as a proxy for inflation in consumer prices, offers some answers. In 2020, inflation dropped to 1.4%, the lowest rate..

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Visualizing The History Of US Inflation Over 100 Years

Is inflation rising?

The consumer price index (CPI), an index used as a proxy for inflation in consumer prices, offers some answers. In 2020, inflation dropped to 1.4%, the lowest rate since 2015. By comparison, inflation sits around 5.0% as of June 2021.

Given how the economic shock of COVID-19 depressed prices, rising price levels make sense. However, as Visual Capitalist's Dorothy Neufeld notes, other variables, such as a growing money supply and rising raw materials costs, could factor into rising inflation.

To show current price levels in context, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows the history of inflation over 100 years.

U.S. Inflation: Early History

Between the founding of the U.S. in 1776 to the year 1914, one thing was for sure - wartime periods were met with high inflation.

At the time, the U.S. operated under a classical Gold Standard regime, with the dollar’s value tied to gold. During the Civil War and World War I, the U.S. went off the Gold Standard in order to print money and finance the war. When this occurred, it triggered inflationary episodes, with prices rising upwards of 20% in 1918.

However, when the government returned to a modified Gold Standard, deflationary periods followed, leading prices to effectively stabilize, on average, leading up to World War II.

The Move to Bretton Woods

Like post-World War I, the Great Depression of the 1930s coincided with deflationary pressures on prices. Due to the rigidity of the monetary system at the time, countries had difficulty increasing money supply to help boost their economy. Many countries exited the Gold Standard during this time, and by 1933 the U.S. abandoned it completely.

A decade later, with the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944, global currency exchange values pegged to the dollar, while the dollar was pegged to gold. The U.S. held the majority of gold reserves, and the global reserve currency transitioned from the sterling pound to the dollar.

1970’s Regime Change

By 1971, the ability for gold to cover the supply of U.S. dollars in circulation became an increasing concern.

Leading up to this point, a surplus of money supply was created due to military expenses, foreign aid, and others. In response, President Richard Nixon abandoned the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1971 for a floating exchange, known as the “Nixon shock”. Under a floating exchange regime, rates fluctuate based on supply and demand relative to other currencies.

A few years later, oil shocks of 1973 and 1974 led inflation to soar past 12%. By 1979, inflation surged in excess of 13%.

The Volcker Era

In 1979, Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker was sworn in, and he introduced stark changes to combat inflation that differed from previous regimes.

Instead of managing inflation through interest rates, which the Federal Reserve had done previously, inflation would be managed through controlling the money supply. If the money supply was limited, this would cause interest rates to increase.

While interest rates jumped to 20% in 1980, by 1983 inflation dropped below 4% as the economy recovered from the recession of 1982, and oil prices rose more moderately. Over the last four decades, inflation levels have remained relatively stable since the measures of the Volcker era were put in place.

Fluctuating Prices Over History

Throughout U.S. history. there have been periods of high inflation.

As the chart below illustrates, at least four distinct periods of high inflation have emerged between 1800 and 2010. The GDP deflator measurement shown accounts for the price change of all of an economy’s goods and services, as opposed to the CPI index which is a fixed basket of goods.

It is measured as GDP Price Deflator = (Nominal GDP ÷ Real GDP) × 100.

According to this measure, inflation hit its highest levels in the 1910s, averaging nearly 8% annually over the decade. Between 1914 and 1918 money supply doubled to finance war efforts, compared to a 25% increase in GDP during this period.

U.S. Inflation: Present Day

As the U.S. economy reopens, consumer demand has strengthened.

Meanwhile, supply bottlenecks, from semiconductor chips to lumber, are causing strains on automotive and tech industries. While this points towards increasing inflation, some suggest that it may be temporary, as prices were depressed in 2020.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve is following an “average inflation targeting” regime, which means that if a previous inflation shortfall occurred in the previous year, it would allow for higher inflationary periods to make up for them. As the last decade has been characterized by low inflation and low interest rates, any prolonged period of inflation will likely have pronounced effects on investors and financial markets.

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/12/2021 - 19:00

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Visualizing The Biggest Companies In The World In 2021

Visualizing The Biggest Companies In The World In 2021

Since the COVID-19 crash, global equity markets have seen a strong recovery. The 100 biggest companies in the world were worth a record-breaking $31.7 trillion as of March 31 2021,…

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Visualizing The Biggest Companies In The World In 2021

Since the COVID-19 crash, global equity markets have seen a strong recovery. The 100 biggest companies in the world were worth a record-breaking $31.7 trillion as of March 31 2021, up 48% year-over-year. As a point of comparison, the combined GDP of the U.S. and China was $35.7 trillion in 2020.

In today’s graphic, Visual Capitalist's Jenna Ross uses PwC data to show the world’s biggest businesses by market capitalization, as well as the countries and sectors they are from.

The Top 100, Ranked

PwC ranked the largest publicly-traded companies by their market capitalization in U.S. dollars. It’s also worth noting that sector classification is based on the FTSE Russell Industry Classification Benchmark, and a company’s location is based on where its headquarters are located.

Within the ranking, there was a wide disparity in value. Apple was worth over $2 trillion, more than 16 times that of Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev), which took the 100th spot at $128 billion.

In total, 59 companies were headquartered in the United States, making up 65% of the top 100’s total market capitalization. China and its regions was the second most common location for company headquarters, with 14 companies on the list.

Risers and Fallers

What are some of the notable changes to the biggest companies in the world compared to last year’s ranking?

Tesla’s market capitalization surged by an eye-watering 565%, temporarily making Elon Musk the richest person in the world. Food delivery platform Meituan and PayPal benefited from growing e-commerce popularity with their market capitalizations growing by 221% and 151% respectively.

Tech companies TSMC and ASML Holdings were also among the top 10 risers, thanks to a shortage of semiconductor chips and growing demand.

On the other end of the scale, Swiss companies Nestlé, Novartis, and Roche Holding were all among the bottom 10 companies by market capitalization growth. China Mobile was the only company to decline with a -12% change. The company was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange as a result of an executive order issued by former president Donald Trump, and recently announced its intention to list on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

A Sector View

Across the 100 biggest companies in the world, some sectors had higher weightings.

Technology had the highest market capitalization and was also the most common sector, with Big Tech dominating the top 10. Companies in the consumer discretionary, financials, and health care sectors also had a strong representation in the ranking.

Despite having only five companies on the list, the energy sector amounted to almost 10% of the top 100’s market capitalization, mostly due to Saudi Aramco’s whopping valuation.

An Uncertain Recovery

From near market lows on March 31, 2020, all sectors saw increases in their market capitalization. However, top 100 companies in some sectors outperformed their respective industry index, while others did not.

Basic materials and industrials, both cyclical sectors, were high performers in the top 100 and outperformed their respective industry indexes. Technology companies also outperformed, and accounted for $255 billion or 31% of all shareholder distributions by the top 100, far more than any other sector. Apple alone spent $73 billion on share buybacks and $14 billion in dividends in the 2020 calendar year.

On the other hand, the worst-performing sectors in the top 100 were health care, utilities, and energy. While the index performance for health care and utilities was also relatively poor, the wider energy sector performed fairly well.

It’s perhaps not surprising that all sectors saw positive returns since their low levels in March 2020, buoyed by fiscal stimulus and central bank policies. As countries begin to reopen, will the value of the biggest companies in the world continue to climb?

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/12/2021 - 23:00

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