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Inflation In Context: A Liquidity Adjusted CPI Index

First, folks, please send your prayers, thoughts, good feelings, positive energy, miracles, healing touch, whatever you got, and whatever it takes to GMM’s beloved Carol K., who keeps battling, never giving up against a serious disease in Boston at…

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First, folks, please send your prayers, thoughts, good feelings, positive energy, miracles, healing touch, whatever you got, and whatever it takes to GMM’s beloved Carol K., who keeps battling, never giving up against a serious disease in Boston at one, if not the best hospital in the world.  Even in her critical condition, she contributed to this post — though she may not agree with all its final points.  She’s truly an amazing and incredibly strong human being.  Semper Fi and Godspeed, CK.  

We had a few requests to write up something about today’s hot U.S consumer price inflation data. So we put together a quick note in honor of our friend from down in the Land of Oz, GMac, one of the most decent human beings on earth. He is one proud father of a super studly 18-year son, who is an incredible surfer and someday wants to surf Mavericks.  God. Bless. His. Soul.

Let us preface our inflation note with one of our favorite quotes:

World War II was transitory – GMM

Recall our post in January, Ready For 4 Percent CPI By Mid-Year?, when we speculated the U.S. would be experiencing 4 percent inflation, possibly 5 percent by mid-year.  We were beaten down like a red-headed stepchild (I am at liberty to say that as I have been a ginger most of my life).

GMM was also one of the first to point out the base effects (12-month comps) would kick in April and May 2021 due to the deflation that troughed last year from the COVID crash.  But don’t be gaslighted the lastest few month-on-month core prints essentially negate the base effect excuse for high inflation as three-month core CPI is now running at 7.9 percent on an annual basis.

We don’t know for certain if inflation will stick and move higher or lower but as better folk we are taking the over, however.

Liquidity Tsunami

We do know the major global central banks have pumped in a shitload of high-powered money into the global financial system over the past year — as in around $10 trillion, close 50 percent increse of their collective balance sheets.   Here’s Dr. Ed’s excellent chart,

Moreover, banks now seem eager to start lending, thus creating more endogenous money on top of the trillions upon trillions of base money central banks have already injected.

Transitory?  Yeah, right.   

It’s not a question whether the Fed has the tools to reign it in, it’s do they have the ‘nads?  Given the multiple asset bubbles that would burst, and bust spectacularly, if the Fed draws it word,  we seriously doubt it. 

The following chart from Dr. Ed also illustrates not only has the digital printing press been working overtime, the credit system is just fine and dandy as deposits are expanding.  Don’t be confused by, yes, the base effect, as the money aggregates have a much large base to grow from they did a year ago before the pandemic.

Tough to beat comps after expanding over 25 percent 

Note, these are monetary aggregates, which include cash in circulation, bank deposits among near money and other short-term time deposits, not the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, though it does hugely influence the data.  

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Big spurts from the digital printing press without a credit crisis and an impaired financial system — as was the case after the Great Financial Crisis — will almost always generate inflationary pressures.   Stimulating demand without production during a supply shock is not optimal unless carefully targeted to those who need it most.   

It’s very amusing to us to see the FinTweets, “peak inflation has arrived.”  True, if the financial markets crash.  But what do they base their conclusion on?  A warm feeling in their tummy?   

Show me the money data, Jerry.  

Banks Itching To Lend

Banks now seem eager to start lending, thus creating more endogenous money on top of the trillions of base money central banks have injected.  

Loans are “starting to pick up,” and there’s plenty of borrowing capacity because companies have unused credit lines, {BofA CEO Brian ]Moynihan said. Loan growth has been a challenge across the banking industry because many consumers and businesses are sitting on cash from savings and stimulus during the pandemic. – Bloomberg, June 6

This should send shivers up the Fed’s spine, but we are not so sure.  We are also not so sure they are not flying blind and will again miss the next big one just as they have in the past. 

The Chart: Liquidity Adjusted Inflation. 

It’s late and we want to present the chart in honor of GMac. 

We have taken the non seasonaly adjusted year-on-year change of CPI and subtracted a scaled up version of the Chicago Fed’s  National Financial Conditions Index (NFCI), which measures how loose or tight monetary conditions are in the U.S..  It’s has been running at an extreme historical low — i.e., very loose financial conditions.   

You can see the 105 indicators it is based upon here.

We are trying to give context to the inflation data of how loose and accomodative finnancial market and monetary conditions are currently.   As you can see, today’s year-on-year CPI print less the NFCI is at the highest level since November 1990, which was in the middle of the first Gulf war, Where the Fed was facing spiking inflation due to the run-up in oil and a recession.  

Prior to that our adjusted inflation index hasn’t been so high since the high inflation late 197Os and early ‘80s.  Gulp. 

Clearly, it is a different environment in today’s economy.  In fact, just the opposite – the economy is ready to roar for the next several quarters as consumers are flush with cash, the supply chain is still a mess due to the “bullwhip effect” (more on this in a future post), and new businesses should be looking for credit and loans to rebuild and start new ventures.    

Most of all, folks, the central banks still have their pedal to the metal and balls to the walls, and as we all know (well some of us),

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output. – Milton Friendman 

The Upshot

Inflation is way too high given exremely easy financial and monetary conditions.  There will be blood. 

Finally 

Life is transitory. 

Inflation has eroded my purchasing power in my transitory life.  Bring back the $.35 Big Mac, which was only about 20 percent of the minimum wage.  Now?  About 40-50 percent.  Enough to spark a revolution. 

Finally, the Democrats should begin to worry.

Stay tuned. 

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Government

As the eviction moratorium ends, we need a long-term solution to housing insecurity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium for the COVID-19 pandemic provided acute relief to people who were struggling to pay rent. That moratorium expired on July 31; however, neither abruptly ending it nor prolonging…

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By Carl Romer, Andre M. Perry

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium for the COVID-19 pandemic provided acute relief to people who were struggling to pay rent. That moratorium expired on July 31; however, neither abruptly ending it nor prolonging it will solve the problem of housing insecurity, particularly in Black-majority neighborhoods and for low-income, essential workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s health and economic impacts hit Black communities hard because of several systemic risk factors, including higher rates of intergenerational housing, neighborhood poverty, and comorbidities. Mass evictions can only worsen outcomes.

A review of the literature published in Social Science & Medicine found broad consensus that evictions have detrimental health effects on households during normal times. Those effects have been exacerbated during the pandemic. While the moratorium delayed the execution of evictions, it was only temporary, and many households who struggled throughout the pandemic now face a high risk of housing insecurity. Although predicting how many renting households cannot pay their rent is difficult in the absence of federal data collection, a historic eviction wave is on the horizon. The Aspen Institute estimated the number of at-risk people to be between 30 million and 40 million.

One avenue for insight into the looming eviction crisis is looking at eviction filings, which the CDC moratorium did not stop. Just like before the pandemic, eviction filings have continued to disproportionately hit Black communities throughout the pandemic in the places we have data for. Using data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, we document eviction filings taking place from the week of March 15, 2020, through the week of June 27, 2021. The data is available for five states and 17 cities at the census-tract level.

There were 351,421 eviction filings in these areas during the pandemic. And while Black-majority neighborhoods hold 10% of these cities’ and states’ populations, they accounted for 24% of eviction filings. Comparatively, neighborhoods with less than 1% Black population also account for 10% of these cities’ and states’ populations, but they accounted for 3% of eviction filings. In the chart below, we show the percentage of eviction filings in neighborhoods by share of the Black population.

Fig1

The 351,421 eviction filings is still significantly lower than the 771,748 filings Eviction Lab predicted would have occurred during normal times. This is similar to the finding by RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, which found that evictions filings and judgements in Virginia were down 63% and 81%, respectively. This decrease was felt most significantly in Black-majority neighborhoods.

Fig2

The impending eviction crisis also reveals the housing insecurity of members of the working class, whose wages have not kept pace with housing prices. Many of them are also the pandemic’s “essential” workers.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, workers deemed essential—including food service workers, home health aides, cooks and prep workers, and others—have “risked their lives during the pandemic, but don’t get paid enough to afford housing.” These workers have long been essential, but it has taken the COVID-19 pandemic for them to be acknowledged as such, and it is taking businesses even longer to raise wages to compensate them.

Essential and low-wage workers should be compensated enough to reflect the critical roles they play in the economy. The 2021 National Housing Wage—the estimated hourly wage full-time workers must earn enough to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) fair market rent rate without spending more than 30% of their income—is $20.40 per hour. The federal minimum wage, $7.25, is well below that.

California is planning on using $5.2 billion in federal stimulus money to pay 100% of unpaid rent lower-income Californians incurred during the pandemic. The state has also extended its eviction moratorium to September 30. The state of Washington also extended its eviction moratorium to September 30 with some modifications: Beginning August 1, landlords can take action against tenants who are not paying rent or seeking rental assistance as long as they offer tenants a reasonable repayment plan before beginning the eviction process. Lawmakers in Oregon approved a 60-day eviction delay for renters who seek rent assistance.

While these types of eviction-prevention methods are helpful for recipients, they do not address the fundamental issues of America’s long-standing eviction crisis, which will require action on both housing and labor. Rental assistance programs from HUD and the Department of Agriculture are severely underfunded. So-called “right to work” laws in some states constrain labor protections, drive down wages, and make affording and paying rent more difficult. And a recent poll showed that 80% of Americans agree that the federal minimum wage is too low.

Black neighborhoods and low-wage, essential workers will bear the brunt of the coming eviction crisis. But a simple extension of the CDC moratorium isn’t the answer. The eviction crisis won’t be solved if we don’t address why residents have difficulty paying rent to begin with.

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Spread & Containment

The Philippine economy under the pandemic: From Asian tiger to sick man again?

In 2019, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It finally shed its “sick man of Asia” reputation obtained during the economic collapse towards the end of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the mid-1980s. After decades…

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By Ronald U. Mendoza

In 2019, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It finally shed its “sick man of Asia” reputation obtained during the economic collapse towards the end of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the mid-1980s. After decades of painstaking reform — not to mention paying back debts incurred under the dictatorship — the country’s economic renaissance took root in the decade prior to the pandemic. Posting over 6 percent average annual growth between 2010 and 2019 (computed from the Philippine Statistics Authority data on GDP growth rates at constant 2018 prices), the Philippines was touted as the next Asian tiger economy.

That was prior to COVID-19.

The rude awakening from the pandemic was that a services- and remittances-led growth model doesn’t do too well in a global disease outbreak. The Philippines’ economic growth faltered in 2020 — entering negative territory for the first time since 1999 — and the country experienced one of the deepest contractions in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that year (Figure 1).

Figure 1: GDP growth for selected ASEAN countries

GDP growth for selected ASEAN countries

Source: Asian Development Outlook

And while the government forecasts a slight rebound in 2021, some analysts are concerned over an uncertain and weak recovery, due to the country’s protracted lockdown and inability to shift to a more efficient containment strategy. The Philippines has relied instead on draconian mobility restrictions across large sections of the country’s key cities and growth hubs every time a COVID-19 surge threatens to overwhelm the country’s health system.

What went wrong?

How does one of the fastest growing economies in Asia falter? It would be too simplistic to blame this all on the pandemic.

First, the Philippines’ economic model itself appears more vulnerable to disease outbreak. It is built around the mobility of people, yet tourism, services, and remittances-fed growth are all vulnerable to pandemic-induced lockdowns and consumer confidence decline. International travel plunged, tourism came to a grinding halt, and domestic lockdowns and mobility restrictions crippled the retail sector, restaurants, and hospitality industry. Fortunately, the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is demonstrating some resilience — yet its main markets have been hit heavily by the pandemic, forcing the sector to rapidly upskill and adjust to emerging opportunities under the new normal.

Second, pandemic handling was also problematic. Lockdown is useful if it buys a country time to strengthen health systems and test-trace-treat systems. These are the building blocks of more efficient containment of the disease. However, if a country fails to strengthen these systems, then it squanders the time that lockdown affords it. This seems to be the case for the Philippines, which made global headlines for implementing one of the world’s longest lockdowns during the pandemic, yet failed to flatten its COVID-19 curve.

At the time of writing, the Philippines is again headed for another hard lockdown and it is still trying to graduate to a more efficient containment strategy amidst rising concerns over the delta variant which has spread across Southeast Asia. It seems stuck with on-again, off-again lockdowns, which are severely damaging to the economy, and will likely create negative expectations for future COVID-19 surges (Figure 2).

Figure 2 clarifies how the Philippine government resorted to stricter lockdowns to temper each surge in COVID-19 in the country so far.

Figure 2: Community quarantine regimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine National Capital Region (NCR), March 2020 to June 2021

Community quarantine regimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine National Capital Region (NCR), March 2020 to June 2021

Note: From most severe mobility restriction to least severe, the regimes are Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), ECQ* (similar to ECQ but with slightly fewer restrictions), Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), MECQ* (similar to MECQ but with slightly fewer restrictions), GCQ* (similar to GCQ but with slightly heightened restrictions), General Community Quarantine (GCQ). Sources: Philippine Department of Health, Rappler, CNN Philippines, ABS CBN News, Inquirer, Sunstar, PNA, cebudailynews.

If the delta variant and other possible variants are near-term threats, then the lack of efficient containment can be expected to force the country back to draconian mobility restrictions as a last resort. Meanwhile, only two months of social transfers (ayuda) were provided by the central government during 16 months of lockdown by mid-2021. All this puts more pressure on an already weary population reeling from deep recession, job displacement, and long-term risks on human development. Low social transfers support in the midst of joblessness and rising hunger is also likely to weaken compliance with mobility restriction policies.

Third, the Philippines suffered from delays in its vaccination rollout which was initially hobbled by implementation and supply issues, and later affected by lingering vaccine hesitancy. These are all likely to delay recovery in the Philippines.

Quo vadis?

By now there are many clear lessons both from the Philippine experience and from emerging international best practices. In order to mount a more successful economic recovery, the Philippines must address the following key policy issues:

  • Build a more efficient containment strategy particularly against the threat of possible new variants principally by strengthening the test-trace-treat system. Based on lessons from other countries, test-trace-treat systems usually also involve comprehensive mass-testing strategies to better inform both the public and private sectors on the true state of infections among the population. In addition, integrated mobility databases (not fragmented city-based ones) also capacitate more effective and timely tracing. This kind of detailed and timely data allows for government and the private sector to better coordinate on nuanced containment strategies that target areas and communities that need help due to outbreak risk. And unlike a generalized lockdown, this targeted and data-informed strategy could allow other parts of the economy to remain more open than otherwise.
  • Strengthen the sufficiency and transparency of direct social protection in order to give immediate relief to poor and low-income households already severely impacted by the mishandling of the pandemic. This requires a rebalancing of the budget in favor of education, health, and social protection spending, in lieu of an over-emphasis on build-build-build infrastructure projects. This is also an opportunity to enhance the social protection system to create a safety net and concurrent database that covers not just the poor but also the vulnerable low- and lower-middle- income population. The chief concern here would be to introduce social protection innovations that prevent middle income Filipinos from sliding into poverty during a pandemic or other crisis.
  • Ramp-up vaccination to cover at least 70 percent of the population as soon as possible, and enlist the further support of the private sector and civil society in order to keep improving vaccine rollout. An effective communications campaign needs to be launched to counteract vaccine hesitancy, building on trustworthy institutions (like academia, the Catholic Church, civil society and certain private sector partners) in order to better protect the population against the threat of delta or another variant affecting the Philippines. It will also help if parts of government could stop the politically-motivated fearmongering on vaccines, as had occurred with the dengue fever vaccine, Dengvaxia, which continues to sow doubts and fears among parts of the population.
  • Create a build-back-better strategy anchored on universal and inclusive healthcare. Among other things, such a strategy should a) acknowledge the critically important role of the private sector and civil society in pandemic response and healthcare sector cooperation, and b) underpin pandemic response around lasting investments in institutions and technology that enhance contact tracing (e-platforms), testing (labs), and universal healthcare with lower out-of-pocket costs and higher inclusivity. The latter requires a more inclusive, well-funded, and better-governed health insurance system.

As much of ASEAN reels from the spread of the delta variant, it is critical that the Philippines takes these steps to help allay concerns over the country’s preparedness to handle new variants emerging, while also recalibrating expectations in favor of resuscitating its economy. Only then can the Philippines avoid becoming the sick man of Asia again, and return to the rapid and steady growth of the pre-pandemic decade.

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Government

Deflation From the Beginning: The Soothsayer (bonds) Said Beward The Ides of March

It’s been a little too on-the-nose. Claiming only a minimum level of dramatic license here, what we have continuing toward an uneasy future is a case of life imitating art (which imitated real life). We’ve all heard of Shakespeare’s famed soothsayer…

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It’s been a little too on-the-nose. Claiming only a minimum level of dramatic license here, what we have continuing toward an uneasy future is a case of life imitating art (which imitated real life). We’ve all heard of Shakespeare’s famed soothsayer cautioning the arrogant Roman Emperor Caesar to watch his back on March 15. How about the 18th?

Beware the Ides of March…

Comforted by his own ascension thereby complacent as to the content of the message laid generously in front of him, famed Julius would transform into an early case study of recency bias. Who would Caesar ever fear, conquering much of the known world with such combination of on-demand brute strength and strategic cunning?

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me your Ears.

We’ve been talking almost nonstop about very nearly the ides of March 2021 since around that very date. On March 18, everything that’s become interesting to the point of seriousness seems to have shown itself beginning right then (and one more I’ve neglected to display for you these long four and a half months; more on that later). You can’t mistake the dramatic aftermath of mid-March:



Nah, that’s just too much money, said Caesar, the imperial mint coining about the massive influx bringing only the most favorable tides to the empire’s fate. Money market funds stuffed with bank reserves parking them with the central bank’s “soak up” window (reverse repo). Nothing to fear from a known (according to Investopedia) technical matter, right?

Not content to explain the one, maybe “too much money” could account for LT yields, too, with the banking system flush with deposits and seeking some kind of place for them.

But if these were the product of all good things, why wouldn’t banks lend instead? Ssssshhhhhhhhh,

In fact, it has become a cottage media industry attempting to place what outwardly seems contradictory behavior in the most non-threatening way. At best, Treasury notes and bonds like the RRP; at worst, Bloomberg’s writers reassure themselves before opining forcefully into the public’s ear how maybe it’s all a big mystery. Perhaps just corona stuff.

Over the weekend, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published some alarms of its own. Taken in the most straightforward manner, these Purchasing Manager Indices (PMI) speak forthrightly of a global slowdown, material economic weakness continuously in that direction.

Nope; can’t be, says the mainstream. Anything else, sure, but not a poor economy. No, no:

This was the weakest pace of increase in factory activity since a contraction in February 2020, amid the Delta variant of COVID-19 outbreak in the eastern city of Nanjing, higher material cost, and extreme weather.

The numbers by themselves don’t paint much of the picture: China’s official manufacturing PMI dropped to 50.4 in July 2021 – barely more than the magic number – from 50.9 in June. The New Orders component was just 50.9, while the diffusion for New Export Orders sank to 47.7.



Perhaps more concerning, if you aren’t buying bad weather as an excuse, the non-manufacturing PMI failed to rally from one of its lowest on record the previous month (53.5). Instead, the NBS projects 53.3 for the critical month of July, which is about the same as October 2015 when China’s economy was circling the drain instead of accelerating as had been predicted.

This morning’s ISM merely added to the same global picture. While the headline estimate remains elevated at a seemingly robust 59.5 for July, it’s the direction (and timing) with which at least the US manufacturing economy appears to be taking. Barely a few months ago the index was sky high (64.7) and seemingly on its way to the moon with nothing on Earth able to realistic threaten its dominance.

You’ll notice how in each of these charts, though they may be “soft” data taken to measure sentiment, they keep coming back to the same point of time. It’s far enough back in time that it can’t be delta corona, it’s not one or the other, Chinese weakness due to Chinese factors, or US slowing due to US factors, rather what’s pretty evident is the synchronized condition apart or outside the mysteries or benign excuses.



What point? Which time? March!

As I keep pointing out, and will continue for the foreseeable future, bond yields (very much unlike stocks) are created from trading inside and next to the real monetary system and all the intricate ways it influences and takes stock of the real economy – in real time. Here we have across the entire bond market (much more than just UST yields or RRP use) useful signals, a soothsayer’s soothsaying of monetary and economic circumstances which only seem like the impenetrably flowery language of Middle English poetry to the public purposefully distracted from their pure worth.

In other words, they only seem like they need to be translated because the mainstream is very far from native to its language. Like Julius Caesar, that convention – from media to Economists to central bankers – deems such forecasting as the unserious work of pagan ritual when, irony of ironies, the real science is in the trenches of the bond market whereas Economics and its media cult tries to divine economic strength from a comical concoction of reading tea leaves into astrological faith (econometric models).

We’ve been warned since the Ides of March that economic weakness is real and getting “more” real by the month. Not in one place or another, but in enough places (practically everywhere, including the big economies) that we better start paying serious attention (if not actually doing something about it, but, again, central bankers). Unheeded, the weakness was written off as everything it never was nor could have been.

Not by all accounts, but by a whole lot we see much more than random coincidence. The global economy took a bad misstep around March, one that was immediately picked up on in bonds, and rather than regaining its footing to march onward it has only stumbled more and more.

Caesar ended up dying on the steps of the Senate because he superciliously believed in his own hype. Translated into 2021’s terms, to get to INFLATION HYSTERIA!!!! this required imagining first an unbreakable strong recovery. Such “strength” and its foregone inflation was instead unscientifically conjured to sell a Ptolemaic narrative rather than being a product of honest, rational analysis; and then when challenged – almost immediately (see: Feb 25) – the response was to keep whistling past the graveyard.

Life and art.

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