May 5 – Wall Street Journal (James Mackintosh): “We could be at a generational turning point for finance. Politics, economics, international relations, demography and labor are all shifting to supporting inflation. After more than 40 years of policies that gave priority to the fight against rising prices, investor- and consumer-friendly solutions are becoming less fashionable, not only in the U.S. but in much of the world. Investors are woefully unprepared for such a shift, perhaps because such historic turning points have proven remarkably hard to spot. This may be another false alarm, and it will take many years to play out, but the evidence for a general shift is strong across five fronts.”
The “five fronts” underscored in Mr. Mackintosh’s insightful piece are as follows: 1) “Central banks, led by the Federal Reserve, are now less concerned about inflation.” 2) “Politics has shifted to spend even more now, pay even less later.” 3) “Globalization is out of fashion.” 4) “Demographics worsen the situation.” 5) “Empowered labor puts upward pressure on wages and prices.”
The analysis is well-founded, as is the article’s headline: “Everything Screams Inflation.” After surging another 3.7% this week (lumber up 12%, copper 6%, corn 9%), the Bloomberg Commodities Index has already gained 20% this year. Lumber enjoys a y-t-d gain of 93% – WTI Crude 34%, Gasoline 51%, Copper 35%, Aluminum 26%, Steel Rebar 32%, Corn 51%, Soybeans 22%, Wheat 19%, Coffee 18%, Sugar 13%, Cotton 15%, Lean Hogs 59%… The focus on inflation is clearly justified. Yet Mackintosh began his article suggesting a “Generational Turning Point for finance” – rather than inflation. Let’s explore…
I mark the mid-eighties as the beginning of the current super-cycle. A major collapse in market yields (following the reversal of Paul Volcker’s tightening cycle) promoted financial innovation and the expansion of non-bank Credit expansion.