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Weekly Commentary: Under Fire

Weekly Commentary: Under Fire

The week had an ominous feel. Ten-year Treasury yields dropped another seven bps to 1.29% – completely disregarding much stronger-than-expected reports on consumer and producer prices, along with inflation expectations.  German bund yields fell another six bps to a three-month low negative 0.35%. Equities were down for the week in Europe, but the notable equities weakness was posted by the broader U.S. market. The Midcaps dropped 3.3%, and the small cap Russell 2000 sank 5.1%. Risk aversion typically leaves its initial mark at the “Periphery.”

Treasury market notwithstanding, inflation has become a problem in more ways than one. Consumer Prices (CPI) jumped 0.9% in June, versus expectations of a 0.5% increase. Year-over-year CPI was up 5.4% (expectations 4.9%), the strongest jump since 2008. And for analysts with issues with year-over-year “base-effects”, consumer inflation was up 3.3% in only five months. Core CPI also gained 0.9% for the month, with a 4.5% y-o-y increase. Producer Prices rose a data series record 7.3% y-o-y. Import Prices jumped 1% for the month and 11.2% y-o-y. University of Michigan one-year Inflation Expectations rose to 4.8%, the high since the summer of 2008. Also, at 4.8%, the New York Fed’s survey of one-year inflation expectations jumped to the highest level in data back to 2013.

To this point, inflation has not been an issue for the markets. It has become a problem for millions of Americans. For the institution of the Federal Reserve, it’s a metastasizing malignancy.

I understand why each Fed official sticks tightly with the party line “inflation will be transitory.” They don’t want to rattle the markets with thoughts of a traditional tightening cycle. And I think I understand why they adopted their framework aiming for a period of above target inflation – and why they swore off responding to incipient inflationary pressures. Again, they sought to retain flexibility to maintain highly accommodative monetary policy, ensuring financial conditions would remain exceptionally loose (and markets high).

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