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What Happens to the Markets If Long-Term Interest Rates Double from Here? Did Low Interest Rates Boost Auto Sales? Do These Covid Markets Make Any Sense?

What Happens to the Markets If Long-Term Interest Rates Double from Here? Did Low Interest Rates Boost Auto Sales? Do These Covid Markets Make Any Sense?

Wolf Richter on This Week in Money, by HoweStreet.com:

 

Shipping Costs, Trucking Rates Soar Despite Demand Below Prior Years. Now Add Diesel Price Surge to the Mix

Shipping Costs, Trucking Rates Soar Despite Demand Below Prior Years. Now Add Diesel Price Surge to the Mix

One more manifestation of the inflation pressures working through various levels of the economy despite suboptimal demand.

January, in terms of freight volume, is usually a slow month of the year, after the shipping season before the holidays, and freight rates tend to back off.  But not this January.

The amount that shippers, such as retailers and manufacturers, spent in January on shipping goods to their customers soared by 19.5% compared to January last year, the steepest year-over-year increase since 2011, and surpassing the surge in September 2018, according to the Cass Freight Index of Expenditures. This was driven by a mix of increasing freight volume and soaring freight rates. The amount spent on freight was roughly on par with December which had set a huge record:

The higher freight rates in January include trucking spot rates and contract rates. According to DAT Freight & Analysis, the average national contract rate for van-type trailers in January jumped by 26% from a year ago to $2.40 a mile.

Spot rates declined over the course of January from high levels in December before picking up again in February. But the average rate in January, at $2.36 was still up 11% from a year earlier.

The freight rates embedded in the Cass Freight Index jumped by 10.1% year-over-year in January, up from an increase of 6.0% in December.

The Cass Freight Index covers all modes of transportation, but truckload represents over half of the dollar amounts, followed by rail, less-than-truckload (LTL), parcel services, etc. It does not cover bulk commodities.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Who Bought the $4.5 Trillion Added in One Year to the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt, Now at $27.9 Trillion?

Who Bought the $4.5 Trillion Added in One Year to the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt, Now at $27.9 Trillion?

Someone had to buy every dollar of this monstrous debt. Here’s Who. The Fed isn’t the only one. But China continues to unwind its holdings.

Driven by stimulus and bailouts, and fired up by the tax cuts and by grease and pork, the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt has skyrocketed by $4.55 trillion in 12 months, to $27.86 trillion, after having already spiked by $1.4 trillion in the prior 12 months, which had been the Good Times. These trillions are all Treasury securities that form the US national debt, and someone had to buy every single one of these securities:

So we’ll piece together who bought those trillions of dollars in Treasury Securities that have whooshed by over the past 12 months.

Tuesday afternoon, the Treasury Department released the Treasury International Capital data through  December 31 which shows the foreign holders of the US debt. From the Fed’s balance sheet, we can see what the Fed bought. From the Federal Reserve Board of Governors bank balance-sheet data, we can see what the banks bought. And from the Treasury Department’s data on Treasury securities, we can see what US government entities bought.

Share of foreign holders falls to 25% for first time since 2007:

In the fourth quarter, foreign central banks, foreign government entities, and foreign private-sector entities such as companies, banks, bond funds, and individuals, reduced their holdings by $35 billion from the third quarter, to $7.04 trillion. This was still up from a year ago by $192 billion (blue line, right scale in the chart below). But their share of the Incredibly Spiking US National Debt fell to 25.4%, the lowest since 2007 (red line, right scale):

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Demand for Gasoline, Jet Fuel, and Diesel: Checking on the Recovery

Demand for Gasoline, Jet Fuel, and Diesel: Checking on the Recovery

Watching for the EV drag on gasoline demand requires a lot of patience.

Gasoline consumption in the US during the four-week period through February 5 was down by 10.1% from a year ago to 7.89 million barrels per day (mb/d), according to EIA data. Gasoline consumption has been down in the range between 9% and 13% since mid-July, following the initial bounce-back from the collapse in March and April:

That Pandemic level of gasoline consumption below 8 mb/d was something that last occurred during the 1990s.

The effects of the pandemic – massive unemployment and working from home, partially balanced by driving instead of taking mass-transit and flying – are short-term factors that have hit gasoline demand, though they too may entail long-term shifts.

But there are also long-term structural demand issues: Peak consumption just before the Pandemic was just barely above the peak before the Financial Crisis 12 years earlier, with a big trough in between:

The EIA tracks consumption of fuel in terms of product supplied by refineries, blenders, etc., and not by retail sales at gas stations.

The structural demand issues become clearer when gasoline consumption is seen in light of population growth. On a per-capita basis, gasoline consumption peaked in 2004 at 477 gallons per person during the year, using Census Bureau population data. This includes gasoline consumption by commercial vehicles, such as delivery fleets, and by taxi and rideshare operations. By 2019, it had dropped by 8.8% to 435 gallons per person. Then in 2020, it plunged by another 13% due to the effects of the Pandemic, to 378 gallons per person, down 21% from the peak:

Watching for the EV drag on gasoline demand. Not yet visible.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

wolf richter, wolfstreet, gasoline demand, jet fuel, diesel

The Foundation for Potential Price Hyperinflation is Being Laid

The Federal Reserve sure seems to have a tough time finding and reporting signs of rising inflation — especially when it’s hidden in other sectors like a lack of demand for energy.

A recent example of the Fed’s “inflation blindness” comes from a speech Chairman Jerome Powell gave to the Economic Club of New York. According to a MarketWatch piece that reported on that speech:

Powell said he doesn’t expect “a large nor sustained” increase in inflation right now. Price rises from the “burst of spending” as the economy reopens are not likely to be sustained.

It’s odd that Powell would say he doesn’t expect a sustained increase in inflation, because food price inflation has consistently run 3.5 to 4.5 percent since April last year. That sure seems like a sustained increase in food prices.

What Powell seems to have “forgotten” is that some of the overall inflation includes negative energy price inflation (as low as negative 9 percent at one point). But now that the demand for fuel is returning, the official gasoline index rose 7.4 percent in January.

It will be much more challenging for Powell to keep downplaying the risk of hyperinflation once energy price inflation rises back to “pre-pandemic” levels.

In fact, Robert Wenzel thinks the main inflation event is “just about to hit.” If it does, and inflation does rise past Powell’s two percent target, it isn’t likely to stop there. Jim Rickards thinks that’s when hyperinflation can gain momentum:

If inflation does hit 3%, it is more likely to go to 6% or higher, rather than back down to 2%. The process will feed on itself and be difficult to stop. Sadly, there are no Volckers or Reagans on the horizon today. There are only weak political leaders and misguided central bankers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Dollar’s Purchasing Power Drops to Record Low, Despite Aggressive “Hedonic Quality Adjustments”

Dollar’s Purchasing Power Drops to Record Low, Despite Aggressive “Hedonic Quality Adjustments”

Spiking prices for new and used vehicles under the microscope.

The “Purchasing Power of the Consumer Dollar” – part of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index data released today – is the politically incorrect mirror image of inflation in consumer prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). By wanting to increase consumer price inflation, the Fed in effect wants to decrease the purchasing power of the consumer dollar, to where consumers have to pay more for the same thing. Thereby it wants to decrease the purchasing power of labor paid in those dollars.

And that purchasing power of the dollar in January dropped by 1.5% year-over-year to another record low:

Note how the purchasing power of the dollar recovered for a few months during the Financial Crisis, when consumers could actually buy a little more with the fruits of their labor. The Fed considered this condition a horror show.

Inflation in durable goods, non-durable goods, and services.

The overall CPI for urban consumers, the politically correct way of expressing the decline in the purchasing power of the dollar, rose 1.4% in January, compared to a year earlier.

Each product that is in the basket of consumer goods tracked by the CPI has its own specific CPI. And all these products fall into three categories: durable goods (black line), nondurable goods (green line), and services (red line), with services accounting for 60% of the overall CPI. Here they are, with discussions below:

The CPI for services (red line) – everything from rent to airfares – increased mostly between 2% and 3% year-over-year for the last decade, but dropped during the Pandemic as demand for services such as hotels, flights, and cruises collapsed. For example, in January, year-over-year, the CPI for:

  • Airline tickets: -21.3%
  • Hotels: -13.3%
  • Admission to sporting events: -21.4%.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

“The Fed’s Monetary Punchbowl Is Fueling Rampant Home Price Appreciation”: AEI

“The Fed’s Monetary Punchbowl Is Fueling Rampant Home Price Appreciation”: AEI

“There is no justification” for continuing the purchases of mortgage-backed securities. The Fed is “misdiagnosing its impact on the housing market.” Pressure rises on the Fed to back off, in face of market craziness.

During the press conference following the FOMC meeting last week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell was asked by different reporters about the craziness going on in the stock market, the chaotic thingy with GameStop, corporate debt, and the housing market.

The fact that he was asked several times about the exuberant nuttiness in asset prices shows that by now everyone has picked up on it. And people are increasingly incredulous that the Fed would continue with its monetary policies in face of these markets.

Powell brushed off the GameStop thingy and gave his usual it’s-not-our-fault and it’s-never-ever-our-fault justifications for the exuberant nuttiness in the markets. The near-0% interest rates and $3 trillion in QE in just a few months had nothing to do with anything, but the drivers of the nuttiness have been the “expectations about vaccines” and “fiscal policy,” he said (transcript). “Those are the news items that have been driving asset values in recent months.”

Upon hearing this, people globally were just rolling up their eyes. And a reporter challenged him softly about the housing market – the 9% surge in prices from already lofty levels. “Are you concerned about a bubble forming there yet? And is there a price increase that you’re looking at where it might change the level of mortgage-backed securities the Fed is buying?”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Inflation Galore at Manufactures, amid Massive Shifts in Demand, Supply-Chain Snags, Shortages, Lack of Shipping Capacity. And They’re Passing it On

Inflation Galore at Manufactures, amid Massive Shifts in Demand, Supply-Chain Snags, Shortages, Lack of Shipping Capacity. And They’re Passing it On

For now, the story is that it’s just temporary.

For now, the story is that the sudden and massive shifts in the economy in 2020 have caused shortages and distortions in the goods-producing sectors and in shipping and trucking, as consumer spending has shifted from services – such as flying somewhere for vacation and spending oodles of money on lodging and restaurants and theme parks – to goods, particularly durable goods.

The story is that prices are rising because components and commodities are in short supply, and supply chains are dogged by production issues, and are facing transportation constraints, as demand for those goods has suddenly surged. And that all this is temporary.

And the Fed has said it will ignore inflation for a while, that it will allow it to overshoot, and only when it overshoots persistently for some unknown amount of time and becomes “unwelcome” inflation – “unwelcome” for the Fed – that it will try to tamp down on it.

Meanwhile, inflation pressures are building up. Two reports out today show a large-scale surge in price pressures for manufacturers – and they’re able to pass them on to their customers.

The Prices Index “surged dramatically in January” to a level of 82.1%, after an eight-month upward trajectory, the highest since April 2011, “indicating continued supplier pricing power,” said the Manufacturing ISM Report On Business.

In the ISM data, a value above 50 means expansion, and a value below 50 means contraction. The higher the value is above 50, the faster the expansion. January saw the fastest expansion of the Prices Index since April 2011 (data via YCharts):

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: The Stock Market Is Broken, Now for All to See

THE WOLF STREET REPORT: The Stock Market Is Broken, Now for All to See

The historic short squeeze, engineered by millions of deeply cynical small traders, exposed just how rigged the market has been. (You can also download THE WOLF STREET REPORT wherever you get your podcasts).

 

Update on Fed’s QE: The Crybabies on Wall Street, which Clamored for More, Are Disappointed

Update on Fed’s QE: The Crybabies on Wall Street, which Clamored for More, Are Disappointed

And five SPVs expired, including the one that bought corporate bonds and bond ETFs.

The Fed has now put on ice five of its SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) which had been designed back in March to bail out the bond market. It unwound its repo positions last June. Its foreign central bank liquidity swaps are now down to near-nothing except with the Swiss National Bank, which seems to have a need for dollars. The Fed has been adding to its pile of Treasury securities at the rate spelled out in its FOMC statements, thereby monetizing part of the US government debt. And it has been adding to its pile of Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS).

The result is that total assets on its weekly balance sheet through Wednesday, at $7.4 trillion, are roughly flat with the level in mid-December and are up by $200 billion from early June, with an average growth rate over the six-plus months of $30 billion a month.

And the crybabies on Wall Street that have for months been clamoring for more QE have been disappointed. It’s still a huge amount of QE, but for the crybabies on Wall Street, it’s never enough:

But the long-term chart shows just how hog-wild the Fed had gone, furiously trying to bail out and enrich the asset holders, which are concentrated at the very top, thereby creating in the shortest amount of time the largest wealth disparity the US has ever seen. From crisis to crisis, from bailout to bailout, and even when there is no crisis:

Repurchase Agreements (Repos) remained at near-zero:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Year of the Plague in Charts: Weirdest Economy Ever

The Year of the Plague in Charts: Weirdest Economy Ever

GDP fell by 3.5% in the year 2020, the worst annual decline since 1946. Trade deficit in Q4 hit new all-time worst.

The size of the US economy, as measured by GDP in “current dollars” (not adjusted for inflation), fell to $20.9 trillion in the year 2020, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis this morning.

In the discussion below, you will see inflation-adjusted figures, with adjustments being made based on “2012 dollars.” In these 2012 dollars, GDP fell by 3.5% in the year 2020, the worst annual decline since 1946 (when it plunged by 11.6%).

In the fourth quarter, GDP grew by 1.0% from the third quarter, adjusted for inflation (but not “annualized”), which left Q4 GDP still down 2.5% from a year ago.

The plunge in Q2 and the jump in Q3 were the sharpest moves ever in the quarterly GDP data, which began in 1947. Before then, there were only annual data. Q4 growth, at 1% (green column), is back in the normal quarterly growth range over the past two decades:

In the headlines this morning, you saw “4%” GDP growth for Q4, which was an “annualized” figure, meaning Q4 growth (1.0%) multiplied by four to project what the growth would be if it continues for an entire year at the same rate, which is kind of silly, but that’s what “annualized” growth rates do. And they sure make things look bigger.

Adjusted for inflation via these infamous “2012 dollars,” GDP in Q4 amounted to a “seasonally adjusted” “annual rate” of $18.8 trillion, same where it had been in Q4 2018:

Consumer spending (69.5% of GDP) edged up just 0.6% in Q4 from Q3 to an annual rate of $13.0 trillion in 2012 dollars. And it was still down 2.6% from Q4 last year:

  • Spending on goods eased a smidgen from Q3, to $5.1 trillion (annual rate).
  • Spending on services rose 1.0% from Q3 to $8.0 trillion (annual rate).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Inflation Is Spreading Broadly into the Economy. Amid Surging Costs, Companies Raise Prices, and Customers Pay them, Despite Weak Economy, 10 Million Missing Jobs

Inflation Is Spreading Broadly into the Economy. Amid Surging Costs, Companies Raise Prices, and Customers Pay them, Despite Weak Economy, 10 Million Missing Jobs

“Not only have the last two months seen supply shortages develop at a pace not previously seen in the survey’s history, but prices have also risen due to the imbalance of supply and demand.”

The signs of inflation building up in the economy are now everywhere. IHS Markit, in its release of the Flash PMI with data from companies in the services and manufacturing sectors, added to that pile of evidence.

For companies, inflation happens on two sides: what they are having to pay their suppliers, and what they can get away with charging their own customers, which may be consumers, governments, or other companies.

And increasingly, companies are able to pass higher input prices on to their customers – meaning, their customers are not totally balking at paying higher prices and they’re not switching to other sources to dodge those price increases. That’s a mindset that nurtures inflation.

This PMI data is based on what executives said about their own companies (names are not disclosed) and the conditions they face in the current month. No quantitative measures or dollar amounts are involved.

And this is what they said about their two aspects of inflation, according to Markit:

On surging input prices:

  • “Inflationary pressures intensified as supplier delays and shortages pushed input prices higher.”
  • “The rate of input cost inflation [in January] was the fastest on record (since data collection began in October 2009), as soaring transportation and PPE costs were also noted.”
  • Amid stronger expansions in output and new orders, manufacturers experienced “significant supply chain delays, raw material shortages, and evidence of stockpiling at goods producers” that “pushed input prices up.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Massive Inflation in Shipping Costs. And the Reasons

Massive Inflation in Shipping Costs. And the Reasons

Rates for trucking, ocean containers, airfreight, parcels, you name it, the costs for shipping consumer & industrial goods are surging.

The dollar-amount spent by shippers, such as manufacturers or retailers, on shipping their goods jumped by 13% in December from a year earlier, driving the Cass Freight Index of Expenditures to a new record (red line). The amount spent on freight is a function of shipment volume and freight rates:

The Cass Freight Index covers shipments by all modes of transportation, but is heavily concentrated on shipments by truck, with truckload accounting for over half of the expenditures, followed by less-than-truckload (LTL), rail, parcel services, etc. It does not cover commodities.

The freight rates embedded in the index jumped by 6.0% in December compared to a year earlier. “Based in part on spot trends, the acceleration in freight rates is likely to persist in the coming months,” Cass said in the report.

Shipment volume surged 6.7% year-over-year, given the Pandemic shift in consumer spending to goods that need to be shipped, from services that are not shipped. But shipment volume in December (red line in the chart below) remained below the levels of 2018 (black) and 2017 (brown) at this time of the year:

While Americans have cut back buying services, and spending on services remains sharply lower year-over year, they have been buying all kinds of goods, and many categories in record quantities, to where periodic supply shortages have cropped up here and there since March, ranging from hot-tubs to low-end laptops.

Retail sales (goods) in December rose by 4.8% from a year earlier to a record $620 billion (“not seasonally adjusted,” red line in the chart below). Everyone got sidetracked by the dip in “seasonally adjusted” retail sales. That dip was likely due to seasonal adjustments that had gone awry, particularly for ecommerce, due to the massive distortions in spending during the Pandemic:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated

Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated

Electricity generating capacity additions & retirements in 2021, and the long-term change in the power mix.

In 2021, developers and power plant owners plan to bring 39.7 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity on line, and retire 9.1 GW in generating capacity, for a net increase in capacity of 30.6 GW, according to the EIA today. 70% of the capacity additions will be from wind and solar, 16% will be from natural gas, and 3% will be from a nuclear reactor. These are utility-scale power generators and exclude rooftop solar. Of the retirements, 86% will be coal and nuclear.

Electricity generation in the US has been a no-growth business since 2006, as efficiencies in electrical equipment (LED lights, appliances, air conditioning, etc.) and further offshoring of manufacturing have kept consumption roughly stable despite growth in the economy and population. But where all heck has broken loose is in how this power is being generated (data via the EIA).

Coal-fired power generation has collapsed by over 60% in 12 years, from around 169 GW hours per month on average in 2008 to 65 GW hours per month on average over the past 12 months, according to data from the EIA. It went from “King Coal” by a wide margin in 2008 (black line in the chart below) to #3, after surging natural gas-fired power generation (green line) blew by it in 2015 as the US has become the largest NG producer in world. And toward the end of 2020, coal fell even below nuclear power (brown line).

In a few years, wind and solar combined (red line) will blow by coal as well. With wind and solar, the big enticement for power generators is that the “fuel” is free and that there won’t be any “fuel” price increases in the future, no matter what inflation will do:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

wolfstreet, wolf richter, electricity generation, fossil fuels, renewable power, electricity

Update on the WTF Collapse of Gasoline & Jet Fuel Consumption: The Holiday Period

Update on the WTF Collapse of Gasoline & Jet Fuel Consumption: The Holiday Period

Long-term structural issues have long dogged these fuels. Then came the Pandemic.

During the holiday shopping and travel period in December and early January, ten months into the Pandemic, gasoline consumption in the US was down about 12% from a year ago, jet fuel consumption was down 38% from a year ago, but distillate consumption – diesel, heating oil, fuel oil – was about flat with a year ago. Consumption of all three combined, under the impact of long-term structural issues and then the Pandemic, were down to levels first seen in the mid-1990s.

As of the latest four-week period through January 1, gasoline consumption fell to 7.89 million barrels per day (mb/d), according to EIA data. This was below where it had been over the same period at the end of 1994 (8.04 mb/d). The chart also shows the long-term structural demand issues, where in the 12 years before the Pandemic, gasoline consumption, after a big drop during the Great Recession and then a recovery, had gone nowhere. This dynamic then got whacked by the changes in driving patterns during the Pandemic:

The EIA tracks consumption of fuel in terms of product supplied by refineries, blenders, etc., and not by retail sales at gas stations.

In March, demand for gasoline had collapsed as millions of people lost their jobs, and therefore didn’t commute, and as others switched to work-from-home and therefore didn’t commute either. In the four-week period ended April 24, average gasoline consumption plunged by 44% year-over-year, to 5.3 million mb/d, by far the lowest in the EIA’s data going back to 1991.

Consumption in the latest four-week period through January 1 was still down 12% from a year ago. Since July, consumption has been down between 8% and 13% year-over-year:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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