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Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (August 2022)

September 13, 2022 7 comments

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy, but to get these tweets in real time on CPI morning you need to subscribe to @InflGuyPlus by going to the shop at https://inflationguy.blog/shop/ , where you can also subscribe to the Enduring Investments Quarterly Inflation Outlook. Sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

The tweets below may have some deletions and redactions from what actually appeared on the private feed. Also, I’ve rearranged the comments on the charts to be right below the charts themselves, for readability without repeating charts, although in real time they appeared in comments associated with a retweeted chart.

  • Back to CPI Day – my favorite day of the month. Yours too? I’m glad.
  • A reminder to subscribers of the path we take today: First the walkup; then at 8:30ET, when the data drops, I’ll be pulling that in and will post a number of charts and numbers, in fairly rapid-fire succession.
  • I will put replies to those charts as necessary. Then I’ll run some other charts. What I will NOT be doing this month is the live commentary. Last month, that actually slowed everything down because of the multitasking.
  • So instead, afterwards (hopefully 9 or 9:10ish) I will have a private conference call for subscribers where I’ll quickly summarize the numbers. Not sure if that’s valuable, but we’ll try it.
  • After my comments on the number, I will post a partial summary at https://inflationguy.blog and later will podcast a summary at http://inflationguy.podbean.com . And all of that also will be linked on the Inflation Guy mobile app.
  • Thanks again for subscribing! And now for the walkup.
  • There was a talking head this morning saying “we should only care about the sequential number, not the y/y number. Those usually say the same things but not recently. And the sequential number is fresher” (I’m paraphrasing).
  • Couple of things wrong with this statement but I will focus on the main one: there is no planet on which one economic data point should matter overmuch to your view.
  • Can one number refute your null hypothesis? These are experiment results, samples from a distribution we can’t know. One data point would have to be wildly different than your null, and if it was then you’d suspect there is some quirk in the data.
  • For example, that’s what happened last month: median CPI printed again a little above 0.5%, but there was a very low headline number (because of gasoline) and a very low core because of large movements in small categories.
  • Large moves in small categories aren’t likely to be repeated, and they don’t tell you a lot about the overall distribution. They are more likely to be mean-reverting than trending. They shouldn’t change your view much, especially since Median is still rising at >6% pace.
  • The other issue with what he said is: the real question isn’t whether inflation is accelerating or decelerating. It is decelerating, and so the y/y number will decline. Most of the deceleration is in core goods. That has been expected for some time. Partly ports, partly dollar.
  • The real question is: will we recede on core/median to 2.5%, or 5%? I think it’s closer to the latter than the former, and not until next year, but there is no way that ONE NUMBER could really answer that.
  • So I care about sticky, I care about whether we are seeing a new uptrend in core services, I care about rents. I don’t care so much about lodging away from home.
  • Now, that doesn’t mean we should ignore this number. Indeed, to me it seems that expectations for this number have swung really to the low side. Both in economist land and in trading land.
  • Here is a chart of changes over the last month. Large declines in breaks at the short end – although to be fair a decent part of that is carry. But the optics influence the forecasts of those who don’t really dig into the guts, and that might be an opportunity.
  • Forecasts to me look low. Consensus is -0.1% on headline, +0.3% on core. The y/y forecast for core is 6.1% (which tells us that the real forecast is 0.32%-0.34%. Any higher and m/m rounds to 0.4%. Any lower and the y/y rounds down to 6.0%.)
  • That seems low. Last month’s 0.31% on core was infected by a lot of one-offs. Airfares -7.8%, Lodging away from home -2.7%, car/truck rental, etc. But primary rents were 0.7% m/m, and OER 0.63% m/m. So how do we get another 0.32% on core?
  • Well, you COULD get a retracement of some of the rents rise last month. That’s really the only thing I’d worry about. Some of the drops from last month may retrace (although core goods deceleration is real). But 0.3% seems sporty, especially with median still where it is.
  • The core/headline spread looks to me like it should be about -0.36%, so if we get 0.4% on core then we could print a small positive on headline. I think that’s where the risk is, unless rents are way off.
  • Used cars will drag a bit again this month, but it won’t be large.
  • I should say the interbank market is more in line with me than with economists. 295.71 NSA traded yesterday. That would be an NSA m/m decline, and a small positive SA.
  • The real question is the Fed’s reaction function. And I think their reaction to THIS number is basically nil. They’re going to go 75bps at the next meeting because the market has validated that level. The question is NEXT meeting; that will depend on how markets are behaving.
  • The Fed BELIEVES they are close to done, which is why Powell can make a vacuous “until the job is done” statement. The job (shrinking the balance sheet) has barely started, but they may be close to done on short rates.
  • Because if they’re ahead (and they think they are), at some point they need to pause to see the effect of their actions to date.
  • For today, there may be downside equity risk if the number is a little higher as I expect. But if it’s as-expected, there may be UPSIDE risk…probably fadeable, but I think the market reaction function and the Fed reaction function may be diverging.
  • So I know what I’m going to do when the number prints what the number prints, but I am less sure of what the market is going to do. Kinda feels there is still downside to equities. With real rates where they are, equities still look expensive (chart uses our equity return model).
  • OK, that’s all for the walkup. Number in 10 minutes. Good luck!

  • oooops
  • M/M, Y/Y, and prior Y/Y for 8 major subgroups
  • Food and beverages still rising. 0.77% m/m and 10.9% y/y! All other subindices contributed. “Other” was +0.73% m/m so that will be interesting. Medical Care +0.68% and that is also going to be interesting/disturbing.

  • Here is my early and automated guess at Median CPI for this month: 0.738%
  • Look at the median chart. This is just an estimate, and depending what the median category is it might not be precisely right…but if it is, then the 0.738% m/m is a new high for the m/m. OUCH.
  • Core Goods: 7.06% y/y Core Services: 6.07% y/y
  • Core goods actually went UP y/y, just a tiny bit, 7.06%. And core services continuing to rise, 6.07%. Convergence at 6.5% is not what people were hoping for.
  • Primary Rents: 6.74% y/y OER: 6.29% y/y
  • Further: Primary Rents 0.74% M/M, 6.74% Y/Y (6.31% last) OER 0.71% M/M, 6.29% Y/Y (5.83% last) Lodging Away From Home 0.1% M/M, 4% Y/Y (1% last)
  • Primary rents 0.74% m/m. OER 0.71% m/m. That’s the big ouch. I read this morning on Bloomberg I think that ‘rents are near a peak.’ Uh, sure. Lodging Away from Home was positive…didn’t retrace last month’s drop, but didn’t repeat it either.
  • I mean, this is a little scary, right? No sign of a peak yet.
  • Some ‘COVID’ Categories: Airfares -4.62% M/M (-7.83% Last) Lodging Away from Home 0.08% M/M (-2.74% Last) Used Cars/Trucks -0.1% M/M (-0.41% Last) New Cars/Trucks 0.84% M/M (0.62% Last)
  • Airfares keep sliding, but again a lot of this is jet fuel. As has been pointed out elsewhere, if you quality-adjust airfares then inflation is still soaring. Used cars was a small drag, as expected. But look at new cars!
  • The rise in new cars is probably the reason that core goods advanced. 0.8% m/m in new cars is impressive.
  • Piece 1: Food & Energy: 15.7% y/y
  • Only surprise here is that it isn’t retracing nearly as much as people expected. You know why? FOOD. When was the last time we really worried about food prices driving the CPI?
  • Piece 2: Core Commodities: 7.06% y/y
  • Piece 3: Core Services less Rent of Shelter: 5.75% y/y
  • This is even more concerning than the shelter numbers, in my mind. I’ll dig deeper into medical care, but this has been a well-behaved part of CPI for a long time. BUT IT’S WAGES. That’s what matters in this group. This is where your wage/price spiral would show up.
  • Piece 4: Rent of Shelter: 6.31% y/y
  • So 0.12% on headline (SA), 0.57% on core. Not exactly what the market was expecting.
  • Yeah, so I guess last month were one-offs. But those of us “in the know” knew that, right?
  • Last 12 core CPI figures
  • Stocks are NOT happy with this. And that’s no surprise! But it’s not because the Fed is going to go 100bps this month. They won’t. It’s because suddenly “maybe they’re not as close to done as we thought.” More on my thoughts about the Fed later.
  • I need to run some of my slower charts now but looking at markets the only quirky thing – I understand the market but it’s weird – is that energy prices are down. The theory is that more Fed hikes slow the economy more, but if you’re connecting growth and inflation then>>
  • …you’d have to also say that growth must be stronger than we think. Energy is confusing nominal and real prices again, too. Maybe it’s a dollar thing. Dollar is definitely stronger as Fed arc is perceived higher now.
  • …but it’s a weird idea that the more inflation you get, the more you want to sell commodities, isn’t it?
  • Core ex-shelter rose to 6.36% from 6.04%. Back to the level of May. Hard to tell on this chart. This will probably continue to decline, but…this is the really surprising part of the report. Going to get to the smaller stuff in a bit and see what’s up.
  • Car and Truck rental was -0.5% m/m (NSA)…it was a big drop last month as well. Interesting and not sure what that means.
  • No other interesting declines. On the upside was New cars…at 4% of the basket, that was 3-4bps of the surprise roughly. Not enough to explain it all!
  • Lots of other motor vehicle stuff. Maintenance and repair, insurance, parts and equipment…all rose at greater than a 10% annualized pace.
  • Also…south urban OER rose 0.9% m/m or so. So rents and prices are rising in the south, but not falling in the north. Some of that is migration. The median category was Rent of Primary Residence, which as noted was large.
  • With the median as Primary Rents, my 0.74% m/m median guess is probably pretty solid. That takes y/y median to 6.7% I believe. yowza.
  • Medical Care…Prescription Drugs +0.36% m/m (NSA). Dental Services +1.31%. Hospital Services +0.78%. YES. I’ve been wondering where this was for a long time. Still only up to 4% y/y, but it’s way overdue.
  • Similarly, prescription drugs…3.2% y/y, highest since 2018. I wonder if the determination that Medicare will ‘negotiate’ more drug prices is leading manufacturers to hike prices in advance?
  • OK…college tuition and fees, +1.3% m/m. That’s not unusual for the NSA to jump in this month; tuition jumps once a year basically. But that means the y/y change is going to move higher as the SA adjustment is smoothed in. Now it’s at 2.79% up from 2.35%.
  • Colleges have cost pressures too. And wage exposure. Over the last few years tuition inflation has been low because endowments and government support has been huge. This is all fading though, and costs are still climbing. Look out above.
  • Finally, in “Other”. We have cosmetics, perfume, bath, nail preparations (yes that’s a category) +2.3% m/m. Financial Services ex-Inflation Guy +0.87% m/m. Haircuts and other personal care services +0.66%. Notice something there? A lot of wages.
  • On the plus side, “Funeral expenses” was -0.5% m/m. So we got that going for us. Cigarettes +1.1% m/m.
  • While I wait for the diffusion stuff to calculate I’ll start the (brief) summary call. Dial the conference line at <<redacted>>. I’ll start in 3-4 minutes.
  • OK last chart. The red line here isn’t really going off the chart (yet) – it’s median at 6.99% (est). The EI Inflation Diffusion Index – no surprise – is not coming off the boil. Inflation remains high, but also broad. Some categories are slowing, but some are accelerating!

Honestly, I came into today thinking that this was a less-important CPI report than we had seen in a while. As I said in the walk-up, I thought the real question is whether this changes the Fed’s decision at the next meeting, not this month’s meeting. As it turns out, the answer to that is probably yes (but we have another CPI before that meeting). But the more important question that has re-surfaced is, “have we really seen the highs in inflation yet?”

That seems crazy to ask, if you believed that this was all one-offs caused by clogged ports and “supply constraints.” It hasn’t been about that in a long time – and really, never was, since those clogged ports were caused by artificially-induced demand – but if you’re still in that camp you’re utterly shocked here. But it still seems wild to ask from my perspective. My view has been that if the money supply has risen 42% since the beginning of the COVID crisis, and prices are only up 15%, then prices have a lot more to do before they are in line with money growth. But I thought that would happen more gradually, with a 5%ish inflation that stuck around longer than people expected.

That’s less clear now. If core services ex-shelter is really taking the baton from core goods, that’s really bad news. Because core services ex-shelter is where wage pressure really lives. We don’t import services; we pay people to provide them. If you want a wage-price spiral, look in core services ex-shelter to see if it’s happening. Honestly? That part of CPI was already looking a little spritely in recent reports. But it looks to have really broken out now. That’s very disturbing. It adds momentum to the CPI.

Ultimately, it’s still all about whether there’s too much money chasing too few goods. But if a wage-price spiral gets started, then that will manifest in higher money velocity over time so that even slower money growth will be associated with rising prices. That’s a bad thing.

By the way, it isn’t anything the Fed can break with interest rates. Decreasing the money supply has never really been the Fed’s focus, but that’s the lever they needed to be moving. And now? Doing that now would have less of an effect, if we have momentum in pricing again.

It’s still the right move, but the FOMC has made a terrible mess of this and is going to wear it.

That being said, there is another CPI due before the next Fed meeting. My thinking had been that the Fed figured they were close to done (otherwise, Powell beating his chest with the manly-but-vacuous ‘until the job is done’ thing…which by the way is going to become a meme just like ‘transitory’…just didn’t make any sense), so that if this number was as-expected they would be considering just how soon to pause their hikes. Maybe as soon as November. Now, that’s sort of out the window.

The market reaction makes eminent sense given this backdrop. But you didn’t need me to tell you that. Before this even printed, the fact that expected real equity returns were basically below long-term TIPS returns meant that being in equities didn’t make a lot of sense. It makes less now…at least, at this level. We may be about to see a different level.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (June 2022)

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Here we go again. It’s #CPI Day. #inflation
  • Before I get started with the walkup: after my comments on the number, I will post a summary at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com and later it will be podcasted at https://inflationguy.podbean.com . And all of that also will be linked on the Inflation Guy mobile app.
  • What sets apart this month from many over the last couple of years are two things.
  • First, economists are now fully in the inflation-liftoff camp, with forecasts that are starting to look more like the actual data. The consensus for Core CPI is 0.54%. The average core CPI for the last 8 months is…0.54%! Who says that Econ PhD isn’t worth the money.
  • Second, and more significantly: the market has completely erased the possibility of sticky inflation and reflects 100% confidence that the Fed will be immediately and dramatically successful in restraining inflation.
  • The interbank market is pricing in 1.2% headline CPI for this month, but a SUM of 0.3% for the next 3 months. Even if gasoline, which has recently plunged from $5/gallon to $4.66/gallon, goes to $3.50 and stays there, this implies core CPI immediately decelerating.
  • The decline in the inflation markets has been unprecedented. 1y CPI swaps have fallen more than 200bps over the last month. The real yield on the July-2023 TIPS as risen 220bps during that time. 10y breakevens are narrower by 47bps.
  • The 1y inflation swap of 3.75%, considering that core and median inflation – which move slowly – are currently rising at a 6%-7% rate, implies a massive collapse in core prices and/or gasoline.
  • And this is important to note: there is as yet almost zero sign of that. Could it happen? Sure. But the Fed just made a massive 7% screw-up on inflation. My confidence that they know exactly how to get it back to 2% is…low. And to do so quickly? Very low.
  • I mentioned earlier the consensus for core CPI is +0.54%, which would put y/y at 5.7%. The consensus for headline is +1.1% (interbank market is at 1.2%), putting y/y headline at 8.8% or 8.9%.
  • I don’t do monthly forecasts because I want you to respect me in the morning. But I will say that the SPREAD between core and headline this month seems very wide to me. Typically core vs headline is a function of gasoline prices in a pretty simple way (see chart).
  • Given where the monthlies have been trending, I think core could be a little higher than consensus and headline a little lower. But if headline surprises to the upside, I suspect that will be because core did also.
  • Rents will continue to be strong. Last month, primary rents and OER rose at >7% annualized pace, and that didn’t seem too out-of-whack. Used Cars will likely be close to flat, and we could get a drag from airfares (?). So I would shade the core forecast on the high side.
  • But unless core is a lot higher than that, 1.1% or 1.2% m/m seems a stretch.
  • Used Cars will likely be close to flat, and we could get a drag from airfares (?). So I would shade the core forecast on the high side, but I’m not hugely confident in that.
  • Later you will see a lot of headlines about that new high in y/y CPI, but core CPI will continue to slide from its recent high at 6.47% in March. But after this month, Core CPI has easy comps for the next 3 months. If we keep printing 0.5%, we’ll get a new high in September.
  • Like I said, that’s contrary to the market’s pricing at the moment.
  • As a reminder, I tend to focus on Median CPI partly for this reason – outliers in core can pollute interpretation. And the Median CPI y/y chart is unambiguous at this point: still accelerating. In fact, the m/m Median CPI is looking even more disturbing than this y/y version.
  • Which brings me to an announcement of sorts. I do all of these charts more or less manually from big spreadsheets. But this month I am trying something new with my Median estimate (the Cleveland Fed reports Median CPI around lunchtime).
  • This month I’m trying an experiment with that figure. It’s going to be produced automatically when the CPI data drops, within about 1 minute (fingers crossed). And tweeted automatically. Does that make me a bot??! If it works, I may do others of my charts.
  • The actual core and headline m/m changes will also be bot-tweeted. I hope.
  • Anyway – market reaction to this number will be very interesting. If CPI is higher than expected, I would anticipate a very negative reaction to stocks and bonds, and v.v. People will start talking about 100bps of tightening this month (I doubt we will get that though).
  • And if CPI is soft, we should get a positive reaction from nominal stocks and bonds…naturally.
  • But what of inflation markets? Traditionally, an upside surprise would be met by a rally in breakevens. However, if investors really believe the Fed is going to respond aggressively and sucessfully, with a chance of overdoing it, then breakevens may FALL with a high surprise.
  • I don’t think that would make sense, but it also doesn’t make sense for 5y breakevens to be at 2.52% with median CPI at 5.5% and rising, wages at 6.1% and rising, and rents at 5.1% and rising.
  • However, markets clear risk; they don’t forecast. The inflation markets are telling us that people believe they have far more exposure to declining prices than to rising prices, and so need to sell it. That seems nonsensical to me, but ::shrug::.
  • So it will be interesting to look at the reaction in breakevens, especially if it seems nonobvious with the number.
  • That’s all for now. Number coming up. Good luck.

  • well…the consensus got the spread right, if not the level!
  • m/m CPI: 1.32% m/m Core CPI: 0.706%
  • Here is my early and automated guess at Median CPI for this month: 0.731%
  • Hey, that worked.
  • So, Owners’ Equivalent Rent was +0.7% m/m; Primary Rents +0.78% m/m. Rents will eventually decelerate, although not decline, but this will take a while.
  • Largely as a result of rents, core services rose to 5.5% y/y; core goods fell to 7.2% y/y. Not actually good news, since services are stickier.
  • So airfares fell, -1.82% m/m after a 12.5% surge last month. Lodging away from home -2.82% m/m. Car and truck rental -2.2% m/m. But Used Cars and Trucks +1.6%; New cars and trucks +0.7%.
  • Baby food +1.1% (NSA), and 12.6% y/y. But the main plant that had been shutdown is reopening. So, we got that going for us.
  • With y/y core falling to only 5.9%, it makes it even clearer that we will hit new highs in September if not before. Especially with core services continuing to rise, the m/m figures just aren’t going to drop that fast. And the comps for the next 3 months are +0.31, +0.18, +0.26.
  • I kinda buried the lede that headline CPI rose to 9.06% y/y. However, that is going to be the high for a little while unless energy sharply and quickly reverses.
  • Babysitting the bot got me off my game a little. Forgot to post this chart of the last 12 core CPIs.
  • So, this was not the highest core CPI we have seen. We had bigger ones back in 2021. But those were driven by outliers – you know that because median CPI did NOT have those spikes. This 0.7% is much worse…it’s not from outliers.
  • In the major groups, Apparel was +0.79% m/m. medical Care was +0.67% m/m. “Other” was +0.47%. The rise in medical was broad, with Pharma (+0.38% m/m), Doctors’ Services (+0.12%), and Hospital Services (+0.26%) all contributing. Still lower than core CPI, but trending higher.
  • Core CPI ex-shelter did decline, though, to 6.1% from 6.4%. That’s good I guess?
  • 10y BEI +7bps. So remember I was concerned that an upside surprise could be met with LOWER breaks if investors really believe the Fed is in charge and is gonna go large. Well, they may go large (stocks getting killed), but inflation folks less sure they are “in charge.”
  • The median category looks to be Medical Care Services. And that bot chart actually matches my spreadsheet. It was just truncated until I clicked on it. Man, this looks ugly.
  • That would put median CPI at 5.952%, rounding up to 6%, y/y. Another record high.
  • Biggest increases in core categories were Motor Vehicle Maintenance and Repair (+27% annualized) and Motor Vehicle Insurance (+26%), both a function of rising parts and replacement costs. Used Cars/Trucks +21%. Footwear +21%. Jewelry +19%. Infants’ apparel +16%.
  • In median, the Cleveland Fed splits OER into four geographic categories. This month, “South Urban” OER was up at roughly 12.5% annualized (roughly, because I seasonally adjusted it differently than the Cleveland Fed does).
  • Biggest monthly decliners were lodging away from home -29% annualized; -23% car and truck rental. Public Transp -5%, Misc Personal Goods -4%.
  • OER at 5.5% is well above my combo model. But it’s actually a little below one component of the model, which is based on incomes. 6.1% annualized income growth means the REAL rent growth isn’t as big as it looks.
  • This is a disturbing chart. It shows Atl Fed wages minus median CPI. I’ve estimated the last point (Wages could still accelerate this month, but won’t as much as Median). For a while, the median wage was steadily ahead of inflation. No longer. That’s why cons confidence is weak.
  • Let’s do four-pieces. Piece 1. Food & energy up more than 20% over the last year. That’s the highest in many, many years. And it’s why Powell is suddenly interested in headline.
  • Piece 2: Core goods. Yay! This is the story they were all sellin’ back when we first started spiking. “Once the ports clear, inflation will collapse back.” Actually, they told ya that PRICES would collapse. That is not ever going to happen. But inflation in core goods will slow.
  • Part of the reason core goods inflation will slow is because of the persistent strength in the dollar. I don’t know that will last forever, but while it happens it will tend to pressure core goods inflation lower.
  • Piece 3, core services less rent of shelter. This is the scariest one IMO, because it has been in secular disinflation for a long long time.
  • Piece 4, rent of shelter. This is also a candidate for scariest. People keep telling me home prices and rents will collapse but there’s a massive shortage of housing and building is difficult. Real prices could fall and nominal prices still rise, and that’s what I expect. Later.
  • So, this is fun. I have run this in the past but had to shift the whole thing because most of the distribution was off the right side. So the left bar shows the sum of categories inflating less than the Fed’s 2% target. The right bar is the weight of categories inflating >10%.
  • The sum of the weights of categories inflating faster than 5% is now over 70%. This was essentially zero pre-Covid.
  • Well, I guess we can wrap this up with a look at the markets. S&P futures -60 just before the open. 10y yields +5bps. 2y yields +12bps. 10y breakevens +5bps. Actually less-severe than I’d have expected. This is an ugly number.
  • So, we keep being told tales that inflation is peaking. And it will. Surely it will. It’s just that there are things that are still going up.
  • Our problem is that we have trained our perception on a low-inflation world. When prices go up 10%, we expect them to fall back. That isn’t automatic in an inflationary world. Prices going up too fast are followed by prices still going up, but a little slower.
  • There is most definitely a wage-price feedback loop going on. The black line below is going to get to about 6% today. The red line – which is a better measure than avg hourly earnings – is not likely to fall under that pressure.
  • We are still in an inflationary world. We are still in an accelerating-inflation world. It won’t last forever. But it isn’t over yet.
  • That’s all for now. Remember to visit https://mikeashton.wordpress.com to get the tweet summary later. Try the free Inflation Guy mobile app to get lots of inflation content. Check out the Inflation Guy podcast. https://inflationguy.podbean.com Like, click, retweet, etc. Thanks for tuning in!

Okay, to be sure I have long been in the camp that inflation would go higher, and remain stickier, than most people thought. The early spikes in inflation, due to used cars, were to me a harbinger and not a one-off. This is not, and never has been, primarily a supply-side problem. Today’s inflation did not start on the supply-side. The shortages were caused by a sudden resurgence in demand, and that demand was entirely artificial. It was that demand that created the shortages. To call this a ‘supply side problem’ is either ignorant or disingenuous. In some rare cases, supply was permanently impaired. Refinery capacity, for example. But in most cases, it wasn’t. Real GDP is back on trend.

So then surely we can get inflation back down by destroying demand? No – that’s not how it works. If you destroy demand you will also destroy supply…because that’s how you destroy demand, by getting people laid off. Hiking interest rates will eventually do that – hurt demand and production, but not necessarily do anything to inflation.

To get demand down without destroying supply, you need to run the movie in reverse. You’d need to suck away excess money from the system. That’s not going to happen, of course; it’s easier to do a helicopter-drop than a helicopter-suck. At best, we can hope that money supply flattens out, and recently it has started to look like that’s happening. That would mean that inflation would continue until a new price level consistent with the new quantity-of-money level had been achieved. This is what we can hope – that even though the Fed isn’t draining marginal reserves, somehow money growth slows because demand for loans evaporates even though banks remains eager to lend.  

It might happen, but since we’ve never tightened policy in this way – rates only, not reserve restraint – we don’t really know how, how much, or if it will work. In the meantime, inflation continues to surprise us in a bad way.

The topic for the next couple of weeks is going to be whether the Fed decides to hike 100bps, as the Bank of Canada just did in a surprise move. The market had priced in 75bps, and then a deceleration. I expect they will not, although we need to be defensive against the same leaks-to-the-big-guys that happened last meeting. While the inflation numbers continue to be ugly, and employment has not yet rolled over in a big way, inflation expectations have collapsed. To a Fed that depends very much on the idea of anchored inflation expectations, those markets are saying “okay Fed, you win. Inflation is dead. Your current plan is sufficient.”

That’s not my view, of course. In my view, if you keep using the paddles and the patient doesn’t respond you either need to code him, or you need to find a different treatment. I rather think, though, that the FOMC will say “inflation lags monetary policy by 12-18 months, so we just haven’t seen our effect yet.” Then again, so far I have been completely wrong about the Fed’s determination to hike rates (to be fair, they haven’t yet been tested by a sloppy market decline or a rise in unemployment, but I didn’t think they’d even do this much so I am willing to score that as -1 for the Inflation Guy.)

What to do? With inflation markets fully pricing a return to the old status quo, and that right quickly, it would seem to be fairly low-risk to be betting that we don’t get there so quickly. It would be hard to lose big by buying short breakevens in the 3s, when it’s currently printing in the 9s. Possible, but I like that bet especially since it carries well. And since real yields have risen so much, and the inflation-adjusted price of gold has fallen so much, I’m even starting to like gold for the first time in years. I’m not nutty about it, but it’s starting to look reasonable. It has been a rough couple of months for just about every investment out there (except real estate!), but opportunities are coming back.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (April 2022)

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • It’s #CPI day and #inflation has peaked! Yay!
  • Well, in a few minutes it will be official: peak CPI has passed. Of course, that’s entirely a mechanical fact due to the fact that core CPI in April, May, and June last year was +0.85%, +0.75%, and +0.80%, and it (probably) won’t be that high this year.
  • It certainly doesn’t mean inflation pressures themselves have peaked. In fact Median CPI, which is a better measure of the central tendency of inflation pressures, is almost certain to rise to new y/y highs today. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a party.
  • The bigger issue I think is that people confuse peak INFLATION, which is a rate of change, with peak PRICES. Prices aren’t going to fall, even if the inflation rate falls. (Some prices will fall, of course, but not generally). Price level is here to stay.
  • Before I go on: after my comments on the number, I will post a summary at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com and later it will be podcasted at http://inflationguy.podbean.com . And all of that also will be linked on the Inflation Guy mobile app. AND….
  • What is more, at 1:00ET I will be live with @JackFarley96 on @Blockworks_ to talk (for a long time) about inflation. It’s on YouTube and free, so tune in! https://youtube.com/watch?v=mrG8IHXzlQU  And he had a nice placard made up.
  • Back to the report walk-up. The consensus for CPI is +0.2% m/m, dropping y/y to 8.1%. Gasoline should actually be a small drag this month, but contribute again next month. Consensus for core is +0.4%/6.0% after 6.5% y/y as of last month.
  • The interbank market isn’t so sanguine; it has been trading today’s headline print at a level suggesting 0.3%/8.2% for the headline number, so a snick higher than economists’ estimates.
  • That’s my feeling too. There’s more risk to the upside than the downside in this number today, I think.
  • The good news is that truckload rates are coming down, and this tends to precede ebbing in core. Not sure that effect is being felt yet; the typical lead is pretty long and manufacturers I speak to are still assuming high shipping in their pricing.
  • And the strong dollar will bring down core goods eventually too (it should decline today but is still double-digits). That is also a long lead. Used cars should drag slightly today. They were -3.8% m/m last month and private surveys have them a smidge lower this month.
  • But again, the rate of increase in used car prices is declining mostly because of base effects, not because prices themselves are going back to the old levels. And they won’t. We have 40% more money than we had 2y ago; that’s not consistent with prices where they were 2y ago.
  • On the other side of the coin, primary rents surprised on the low side last month. I expect a bit of a retracement higher this month, and I’m still not sure we’ve seen the peak m/m OER rate. Those are the 500-lb gorillas and until they ebb we won’t get 2% CPI.
  • As longtime followers know, I’ve also been watching Medical Care for a while. This month I actually saw stories about nurses’ salaries starting to pressure hospital prices higher. So still attentive to that. It’s one of the only sectors that hasn’t really participated.
  • We are also eventually going to get a bump higher in college tuition CPI – saw a story y’day about BU raising tuition ~5% (I put the story on the Inflation guy app). But the NSA series mostly puts those adjustments in the summer so we shouldn’t see an inflection yet.
  • In the markets, the past month has seen a massive shift in interest rates higher, and breakeven inflation rates lower (the breakeven reversal coming mostly over the last few days). 1y inflation swaps are -58bps on the month. Only some of that is carry.
  • Stocks have obviously been under pressure from rising inflation and real rates. Over the last couple of days, the stock market debacle has caused some unwinding of the rate selloff but breakevens are still on the back foot.
  • Stocks today seem chipper, but most of that is coming from signs of lower COVID transmission in Shanghai and a sense that lockdowns there may end soon. We will see if they’re still chipper after CPI.
  • I still don’t see the Fed as hawkish as what is priced in, mainly because I think they’ll lose their nerve as asset prices fall. I don’t really care about them changing the price of money. I’m watching for a change in quantity of money. So far, not impressed.
  • Just 4 minutes to the figure. Good luck!

  • Oh, snap.
  • Headline CPI fell to 8.3% y/y, not as far as expectations. Bigger deal is that core CPI was several ticks higher than expected. 0.57% m/m
  • I am scrunching up my eyes but I can’t see a decline in inflation pressures here.
  • Well, let’s see. Used Cars -0.38% m/m, small drag. New cars +1.14%, though. The spread Used:New needs to close but most of that spread probably will be new car prices coming up. After all, new price level as I said.
  • Owners’ Equivalent Rent 0.46% to 4.78% y/y from 4.54%. That’s in line with where it has been. But Primary Rents jumped back up after the surprise last month: 0.56% m/m to 4.82% y/y from 4.45% y/y.
  • COVID recovery continues: Lodging Away from Home +1.7% m/m; airfares +18.6%!
  • Now, I have been seeing a lot of stories about this one. It’s only 0.04% of the consumption basket but it really hits viscerally. Baby Food, +3.05% m/m, +12,9% y/y.
  • Food and Beverages as a whole, +0.84% m/m, +9.00% y/y. Ow!
  • Now, I don’t know if this is good news or not but core inflation EX HOUSING declined to 6.8% y/y from 7.5%. Good news is that means some of the outliers are coming back. Bad news is that means the big slow categories are carrying most of the upward momentum.
  • I guess looking at the chart, I probably shouldn’t get very excited about that last point.
  • Of note is that Apparel was -0.75% m/m. Apparel is only 2.5% of the basket these days (yet still a major subgroup), but it is Core Goods and one of the categories that you’d expect to see a dollar effect in. Core goods y/y dropped under 10%. But still a long ways to go.
  • …in that chart you can also see core services up to 4.9% y/y, which is the highest since 1991. So there’s part of the economy that’s not inflating at 40-year highs. And it’s not a small part of the economy. But, 5% isn’t exactly great news.
  • Turning to Medical Care – it was +0.44% m/m, up to 3.23% y/y. Led by Hospital Services, +0.48% m/m. Still not alarming and below the price pressures we’re seeing everywhere else. Weird.
  • Within food, here are some of the m/m NSA changes that people are seeing. This is why they’re yelling, Joe. Putin’s arm is long: Dairy +2.4% m/m. Meats poultry fish and eggs +1.7%. Cereals/bakery products +1%. Nonalcoholic beverages +1.4%.
  • Biggest losers in core (annualized monthly rate): Jewelry/Watches -19%, Footwear -15%, Women’s/Girls’ Apparel -10%.
  • Biggest winners in core (annualized monthly rate): Lodging away from home +23%, Motor Vehicle Parts and Equipment +15%, New Vehicles +15%, Car/Truck Rental +10%. Shorter list than we’ve seen in a while, anyway.
  • My guess at Median CPI is not good news: 0.53% m/m is my estimate, 5.23% y/y. That’s a better sense of where the inflation pressures are. We’ll revert to something like 4.5%-5% just on y/y effects, but until the monthly Median CPI is not hitting 0.5%, we’re not out of the woods.
  • There’s also this. I’d want to see core below median as a sign inflationary pressures are ebbing. In disinflationary environments tails are to the low side (so avg<median). In inflationary environment, tails to the upside (median<avg). We are still in inflationary world.
  • Quick check of them there markets…whoops, it appears equity investors don’t like this number.
  • By the way, for everyone thinking that rents have to stop going up because people can’t afford these levels. Again, the price level has changed. And wages are keeping up with rent increases, on average. There is no obvious sign to me that rents are overextended at all.
  • Here are the four-pieces charts, and I think we’re going to see the same story in the diffusion calculations. The stickier stuff is coming along for the ride. Here is piece 1, food and energy. No surprise here. And gasoline will be back as an addition next month.
  • Core goods. This is where the dollar effect, and the decline in the cost of shipping, will eventually be felt. And at some level actually is (see Apparel).
  • But now we get to core services less rent of shelter. This has been inert for years until just recently. This is the second-stickiest of the four pieces.
  • And rent of shelter. The stickiest. Rising, and not yet showing signs of slowing (although I think 5-6% is where it flattens out for a while). There’s just not a lot of great news here.
  • Tying up one loose end here – used cars was a small drag. But look at how the y/y plunged. Again, this is because even with little change in the PRICE LEVEL of used cars the rate of change will decline.
  • Couple of quick diffusion charts and then I’ll wrap up. Here is the proportion of the consumption basket that is inflating faster than 4%. It’s at 76% and actually just reached a new high. No sign of peak inflation here.
  • And finally, the Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index…actually declined slightly. Last few months it has rocked back and forth a little bit at a very high level. No real sign of peak inflation here either.
  • Summing up. The peak y/y CPI print is now behind us, at least for now. Expect a victory lap from policymakers talking about how their policies are winning. But there’s no sign of peak inflation pressure yet.
  • The core and headline numbers actually fell less than expected. And let’s face it, this month’s Core CPI figure annualizes to almost 7%.
  • In fact, 6 of the last 7 core CPI numbers have been between 0.5% and 0.6%, which would annualize of course to 6%-7.2%. If that’s what we’re celebrating with “peak CPI” behind us, I guess I’ll bring the whiskey but I’m not sure I’m celebrating.
  • And FWIW, the “peak” is because we dropped off 0.86% (core m/m) from April 2021. We have 0.75% to drop next month, then 0.80%. But then we see 0.31%, 0.18%, and 0.25%. In other words, apres le deluge, more deluge.
  • Core CPI is likely to still be 5%-6% at year-end! The sticky categories are still accelerating, and there will be other long tails to the upside. That’s just what an inflationary environment looks like. Watch Median CPI, which will be lower but no less concerning.
  • Will the Fed keep hiking raising the price of money? Probably, although I think the swagger might leave them when stocks are another 20% lower.
  • Will the Fed actually decrease the QUANTITY of money, which is what matters? They can’t, because banks are not reserve-constrained any more. So it’s up to loan demand and supply, and recently loan demand has been increasing, not decreasing. Chart is source Fed, h/t DailyShot
  • Bottom line, folks, is that this might be a clearing in the woods but there’s a lot of woods ahead. Eventually inflation will ebb to 4%ish, but it will take time. I don’t see 2% for quite a long time, and not until interest rates are quite a bit higher.
  • Thanks for tuning in. Don’t forget to check the summary later on the blog https://mikeashton.wordpress.com , and http://inflationguy.podbean.com  where I’ll have a podcast on this later. AND tune in at 1:00ET for Inflation Guy live with@JackFarley96 on @Blockworks_

The theme of the day is that “peak inflation” means different things to different people. To economists, and policymakers, and Wall Street brokers trying to get you back into the meme stocks, “peak inflation” means “the year/year rate of inflation will decline from here.” We already knew that was happening, before this number ever showed up on screen. Yes, the drop was less than expected, but the peak is still there in March 2022!

“Peak inflation” means something different to the average consumer, who isn’t a trained economist. Consumers tend to conflate “inflation” with “high prices”, rather than rising prices. That is, they tend to confuse the level of prices with the rate of change. So the consumer hears “peak inflation is here!” and expects that prices themselves should go back to the old levels. To some extent, this version is reinforced by the price they see most often: gasoline, which goes up and down. But most prices do not go up and down. They go up more quickly, and they go up more slowly, and sometimes they stay the same. Most prices don’t go down. The average consumer, thinking he has just been promised that used car prices, meat prices, gasoline prices, and rents are going to go back down is going to be even more upset when that doesn’t happen. (This is why politicians ought to be very careful about talking about “peak inflation” as a good thing. To the average consumer, prices that go up more slowly is just less-bad than prices that go up quickly…and they think you’ve promised them something good.)

And the inflation specialist doesn’t mean either of these things when he/she says “peak inflation.” The inflation specialist is looking at pressures, and whether those pressures are increasing, abating, or staying the same. For now, those pressures are staying about the same, with m/m core and median CPI in basically the same range they have been in for 6 months. There is not yet any sign that those pressures are ebbing. Yes, they are ebbing in some items, such as in Used Cars, and in some goods where supply chains are clearing (at higher prices). In general, we would expect goods and services which have reached a new equilibrium price level to stop going up so fast. But those are just the goods and services that moved first. With 40% more money and an economy that’s only 5% or 10% bigger, we should expect prices to eventually rise about 30%. Some more, some less, of course, and if money velocity stays down forever then it will be 20% and not 30%. But this is the point. Peak inflation does not mean peak prices. Prices continue to rise at a rapid rate, and there is as yet no sign that the pressure to do so is ebbing.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (February 2022)

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Well, here we go! It’s #CPI Day, which this month happens to fall on the day after an intraday 60-cent drop in gasoline futures. THAT will clear your sinuses!
  • Before the walkup, let me tell ya that I will be on @TDANetwork today with Nicole Petallides @Npetallides at 11:50ET. Tune in!
  • Also, when I am done with the tweets today I will post a summary at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com . Later it will be podcasted at http://inflationguy.podbean.com. And all of that also will be linked on the Inflation Guy mobile app. Now with those preliminaries…let’s dig in.
  • We will get fresh 40-year-record highs again today, with the consensus calling for 0.8% m/m on headline (7.9% y/y) and 0.5% m/m on core (6.4% y/y).
  • The last four m/m core inflation figures have been tightly clustered from +0.523% and +0.603%, so the forecast is not terribly adventurous. There have been a few calls for hitting 8% y/y today, but I think some of those are so people can say they called for 8%.
  • We will get there next month, so no hurry.
  • That tight cluster of recent prints is really the main thrust of the story. The distribution of monthly core inflation is no longer around 0.2% per month or a little less. It’s around 0.5%. Hopefully we can get that down to 0.4% or even 0.3% eventually. But we’re not there now.
  • I should say that’s the main thrust of the CONTINUING story. This month, we have other stories courtesy of Vladimir Putin.
  • But, as a reminder, this inflation debacle started LONG before Russia invaded Ukraine. And it was committed with a worse weapon than a gun: the printing press. You can hide from a gun. You can’t hide from the printing press.
  • The Russian invasion caused disruption in the supplies of many commodities and helped spike energy prices. But remember, these are commodities. As long as Russia sells to SOMEONE, the eventual effect on energy prices will be much less than the short-term effect.
  • We covered this before with Chinese purchases of soybeans. So if Russia is constrained to only sell energy to, say, China, then China needs to buy less from, say, Saudi Arabia. Which means the Saudis have more to sell to us, or whoever previously got it from Russia.
  • Commodities are pretty similar. Part of the definition. So it disrupts the flow, but gasoline doesn’t spoil (ok, sure, it spoils, but slowly). I’m much more worried about wheat. If you don’t plant wheat this spring in the Ukraine, there will be less wheat globally for the year.
  • Now, unlike raw gasoline, which we consume in its commodity form and so shows directly in the CPI, raw food commodities don’t take the same path. Your Cheerios have oats, but they also have a lot of packaging, transportation, advertising, and so on.
  • That said, these large and sustained increases in energy affect food inflation through transportation, packaging, fertilizer too. Add to the impact of the war on planted acreage and you have the ingredients for a SUSTAINED increase in food prices for a while.
  • We usually look past food and energy, and focus on core, because food and energy mean revert pretty quickly. They won’t, this time, as quickly and that’s part of why CPI is broadening. And it’s why even after the peak, inflation won’t automatically recede on base effects.
  • Also, if energy prices spike, there is no guarantee it will affect other products so much because producers can smooth through spikes. A spike in wheat need not impact wages. But SUSTAINED increases in prices seep into those other goods and services. And they have.
  • …about wages, which is another interesting and important story. The Atlanta Fed Wage Growth Tracker, for my money the best measure of overall wage pressure since it focuses on continuously-employed people, is up at a 5.1% y/y pace.
  • Wages by that measure have actually been tracking pretty well with Median CPI. The chart of Wages minus median CPI is weirdly stable given everything that is happening. Implication?
  • What that says is that far from “not engaging a wage-price spiral,” the labor force is actually being uber-efficient at getting their wages adjusted. On average, of course, and adjusting for median not core. Median is a better sense of the middle – not driven by used cars, e.g.!
  • Does all of the transparency, the “Indeed.coms” of the world, make it easier to have a wage-price spiral because workers adjust their wage demands more quickly with better information? I wonder.
  • Back to the market and today’s figure. Here are the market changes over the last month. Yes, 1-year inflation expectations are +150bps. 10-years are +45bps. 10-year real yields are -44bps. (No surprise, with real yields down, gold is +8% over that timeframe). This is dramatic.
  • Wanna know what scares me? This chart. Money supply growth is still at 12% y/y, which is bad. But see commercial bank credit? It’s ACCELERATING. Concerning. The Fed directly controls neither of these, when they don’t control the marginal reserve dollar.
  • Now, for the CPI today. Rents will continue to boom, and used cars may settle back slightly. There are some signs of that. But that’s the fireworks. But I am gonna watch pharmaceuticals, and food & energy, more than usual.
  • The real excitement there will be NEXT month – this is Feb’s number and the Ukraine invasion hadn’t happened yet. Whatever today’s figure shows, it will just be the jumping off point for the March spike.
  • The interbank market still has the peak headline CPI in March (March 2021 was +0.31 on core, but April was +0.86, so it will be hard to have a new high in core at least after March), but now it has that peak at 8.55%. Go ahead, gasp. It’s a gasp kind of number.
  • That’s it for the walkup. Look for weakness anywhere in the number – won’t be much of it, so relish what you find. We no longer need clues about whether inflation is coming. It’s here. We need to start finding clues about a deceleration beyond base effects. Haven’t seen any yet.

  • The economists nailed this one. 0.8% on the headline, 0.51% on core (6.42% y/y on core). Yes, all 40+ -year highs. And still pretty much in the zone. Trend core inflation is right around 6-7% at the moment.
  • As expected, used cars fell a little, -0.25% m/m. But y/y still rose, to 41.2%. Other of the “COVID Categories”: airfares +5.2% m/m, lodging away from home +2.2%, new cars/trucks +0.3%, motor vehicle insurance +1.8%, Car/truck rental +3.5%. Ouch all around.
  • (of course, since they’re covid categories, lots of people will want to strip out all of that).
  • Food & Beverage major category: +1% m/m, up to 7.62% y/y. That’s the largest y/y rise in that category of CPI since 1981.
  • Core Goods at 12.3% y/y. Core Services 4.4%.
  • Rents: OER was +0.45% and Primary Rents +0.57%. Both represent accelerations over last month. Y/Y is at 4.3% for OER and 4.2% for Primary.
  • Medical Care continues to be a conundrum. Overall, that category rose 0.17% m/m after +0.85% last month. Pharma was +0.4% and continues to be the strong one. Doctors’ Services fell again. And this month Hospital Services also fell. I don’t understand that at all.
  • Core inflation ex-housing was 7.60%. in March 2020 it was 1.49% and it fell to 0.33% in May 2020.
  • Apparel, +0.72%. Recreation +0.73% m/m. “Other” +1.06% m/m.
  • Within Food & Beverages: Food at home (8.2% of the CPI): +1.4% NSA m/m; +8.6% y/y. Food away from home: +0.4% m/m, +6.8% y/y. Alcoholic Beverages +0.9% m/m, +3.5% y/y.
  • Food at home AND food away from home both at 42-year highs.
  • drilling down, the ONLY categories of food and beverages that declined in price: Fresh Fish and Seafood, -0.70% m/m in NSA terms, Bananas, -0.10%, Lettuce -0.29%, Tomatoes -1.88%, uncooked beef steaks -0.19%, and Pork Chops -0.01%. Most of that was seasonal as y/y accelerated.
  • Early guess at Median CPI is +0.54% m/m, which is down only slightly from last month’s spike. That median is now looking like core is what tells you that this isn’t just one-off categories.
  • Incidentally, my median estimate might be low…the median categories look to be the regional housing OERs, which the Cleveland Fed seasonally adjusts separately. I’m more likely to be low the way the chips fell. Either way, Median at 4.60% is really disturbing.
  • Let’s do the four pieces charts. First, Food & Energy. Unlike prior spikes, this is going to roll over more slowly. The rate of change will mean-revert. But the food part I think will remain a positive inflation contributor for much longer than normal (prices will keep rising).
  • Core goods. Nothing much to say. This is beyond automobiles. Part of this is pass-through of energy prices (via freight, packaging), so it’s a non-core effect on core. Some are bottlenecks. None look to be easing in the near-term.
  • This chart, piece 3, is interesting because about a quarter of this is doctors’ and hospital services, which have been pretty tame so far. And yet, it’s almost at 4%.
  • Finally, Rent of Shelter. Almost at 5%. So actually, the core-services piece is holding down inflation now…not shelter. Remember that shelter is the big, slow piece. Some people are calling for OER at 7%. I don’t get that from my models. But still, it’s going higher.
  • …and rents are part of the wage-price feedback loop. (Remember that the dip in 2021 was largely artificial because of the eviction moratorium, and everyone knew it, which is why it didn’t change wage demands much).
  • Almost 80% of the consumption basket is inflating faster than 4%. About a third is inflating faster than 6%.
  • At least by one set of models, the OER rise may be cresting soon. I’m a little skeptical but that’s what the model says. However, it’s not going to turn around and drop, which means core inflation will be high for a while. Not just 2022.
  • So I said to look for evidence of deceleration. There’s not much. But there’s a LITTLE. The Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index declined to 35 from 41. That’s not a lot, but it’s in the right direction.
  • So wrapping up: there’s no real sign of any ebbing of inflation pressures. In fact, there are some signs that food inflation will stay elevated for longer than the normal oscillation cycle. But we are closer to the end of the spike, anyway, than to the beginning.
  • Core inflation will likely peak next month, and headline inflation in the next couple of months. That’s good. But we’re not going to go back to 2%. Right now, the monthly prints point to an underlying core rate around 6%. I suspect we will end 2022 in the 5s, or high 4s.
  • If there’s any chance to get to the 3s in 2023, it would be because the Fed starts to shrink its balance sheet with some urgency. I see zero chance of that.
  • In fact, as I’ve long said – the Fed is not going to tighten at every meeting. They’ll have excuses to skip meetings and assess.
  • For example, although Russia/Ukraine has nothing to do with monetary policy, it took 50bps off the table for this month – we will get a 25bp cosmetic hike in rates – and probably means they skip next meeting. And then once inflation peaks they’ll want to see how fast it ebbs.
  • Don’t want to overtighten, you know. The net result is that inflation is getting embedded in our psyche and it will be very long until we get 2-3% core inflation on a regular basis.
  • That’s all for today. Thanks for tuning in. Catch me on @TDANetwork at 11:50ET and look for my tweet summary at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com . Curious what tools we’re working on in inflation? Stop by http://enduringinvestments.com . Subscribe to my podcast. https://inflationguy.podbean.com Etcetera!

Core inflation for the last 5 months has been in a tight range suggesting 6%-7% is the underlying trend rate; this started long before Russia invaded Ukraine. The invasion means that food inflation will take longer to ebb than it usually does, as not only are we getting pass-through from the extended period of high energy prices (affecting freight, packaging, and fertilizer) but we’re also seeing plantings in Ukraine likely to be disrupted. But it isn’t just food and energy, but everything across the board. A plurality of the consumption basket is inflating faster than 6%!

And this is seeping into wages, and quite quickly at that. Wages are actually adjusting to the level of unemployment more quickly than history would suggest they should be. Based on where unemployment was 9 months ago, the Atlanta Fed Wage Growth Tracker should be around 3.5%. Based on where unemployment is now, it should be around 5%. It’s already there.

I showed a chart earlier illustrating that wages are not trailing inflation in the way that we normally expect that they would. Workers, possibly because there’s been so much turnover thanks to COVID and possibly because of the transparency of wages these days, are getting wage adjustments that keep them about where they historically have been with respect to inflation. That’s remarkable, but also problematic if there is anything to the “wage-price-spiral” thought process.

But at the end of the day I still don’t think the Fed is willing to move fast and break things. In the classroom, the Taylor Rule says they are dramatically behind the curve and should be hiking rates. Of course, the classroom also says that they should do that by adjusting reserves, which they no longer do, so the textbook is clearly flexible. But in the real world, Fed moves do not happen on paper and they don’t just move prices and output. They also crack over-levered entities and cause financial distress in unexpected places that leads to other bad things. The Fed has “learned” this over the years and it’s one of many reasons that I don’t think we’re going to see 200bps of tightening. And probably not 100bps of tightening, in 2022. They will be cautious, measure-twice-cut-once, speak sagely and calmly in the press conferences, and hope to God that they haven’t really messed it all up.

They have.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (January 2022)

February 10, 2022 Leave a comment

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Suddenly, going to #CPI Day is like going to the circus! Not least because of all the clowns opining about #inflation. For me, it’s just one more day as the Inflation Guy; it’s just that I have more company now since it seems EVERYBODY is an inflation guy all of a sudden.
  • Today we will set some more multi-decade highs in CPI, and in core CPI, and in Median CPI. The last three core CPI figures have been (after revisions) +0.60%, +0.52%, and +0.56% and the Street sees another 0.5% today.
  • It’s hard to disagree too strongly with that forecast, because the recent numbers have been very broad and not just used cars or Covid categories. Rents have been accelerating, as expected (more on that later). But it’s the breadth that has changed the story.
  • That said, I would not be terribly shocked with a somewhat softer used cars number this month, though I think New Cars will stay strong for a while, and we could get some weakness in airfares thanks to the brief Omicron scare.
  • Also, it’s February which means we are looking at January data – January data always have a larger error bar, which is why last week’s Jobs figure wasn’t really “surprising” econometrically. We also have the annual adjustments in seasonal factors and in component weights.
  • Those changes, despite some breathless analyses that circulated about how dramatic all of this will be and how profoundly it will affect CPI…won’t be the story. Sorry. The quick summary is that energy and vehicles gained 3% in weight and everything else lost a little.
  • Weights on apparel, medical care, food and beverages, rents, education/communication, and “other” all declined. But there were lots of little changes camouflaged in there. The weight of elder care just about doubled, for example, even while medical care as a whole went down.
  • But again – don’t stay up late worrying about it. It’s an effect that tends to dampen inflation slightly over time, since stuff that goes up gets a higher weight – and if it mean reverts, it has a higher weight when it goes down (and v.v.). But it happens every year.
  • With more volatility in the figure, it will matter more than most years, but the absolute value of the whole darn number is much larger too. I don’t worry about the second and third-order effects right now. There’s enough to look at with first-order effects.
  • OK back to the current market and today’s number. This chart shows the changes from 1 month ago for real rates, inflation expectations, and nominal rates. Some of the decline in infl expectations is carry, by the way.
  • As I said up top, expectations are for a big number this month, and we’ll see an even higher y/y next month before we get to a peak thereafter. So right about the time the Fed starts to raise rates, y/y inflation will start coming down. Mostly b/c year ago comps get harder.
  • Think that’s an accident of timing? It’s important to remember that the Fed is a political animal (ever since Greenspan), and it’s politically expedient to talk tough about inflation. It’s not politically expedient to crush markets, so they’ll try not to ACTUALLY be tough.
  • If y/y headline inflation starts to decline when they start to tighten, it will make it much easier to take it easy. I think the extent of rate hikes embedded in the curve right now are very unlikely. But the Fed will still TALK a good game.
  • Is the FOMC serious though? Well look at this chart of y/y changes in M2 in the US, Europe, and Japan. All are off the highs, but…in the US, money growth REMAINS very high; higher in fact than at just about any time other than the 1970s.
  • That doesn’t look like a hawkish central bank to me. And if they are just going to slow-play it while waiting for inflation to go back to 2%, they’re going to be disappointed. “Normal” is more like 4% now. And I’m not sure we’ll get back there quickly the way things are going.
  • A couple of items on rents, because that’s the big, slow moving piece with momentum. On the one hand, Owners’ Equivalent Rent has finally caught up with our model now that the eviction moratorium is over, but it has more to go. And parts of our model are less sanguine, actually.
  • The gap between asking and effective rents is also still wide, though narrowing. It will take another 3-6 months for it to close, and that’s when we can say the eviction moratorium is out of the data. This chart is as of the most recent data, quarter ended December.
  • Here’s something else fun. This chart is option-implied dividends on XHB, the SPDR Homebuilders ETF. It seems to have been leading rents by about 6mo. So again, we have at least 6 mo of further high prints in rents I think.
  • Anyway, the bottom line is that even if today’s number surprises on the low side, there are still high numbers ahead. And if it surprises on the high side, the Fed isn’t doing 50bp in March (unless they really change their talk first, because they aren’t into surprises).
  • Only market-clearing price if the market is free. With the eviction moratorium in place it wasn’t, and we’re still working through that.
  • Replying to @MarketInterest
  • Good luck! I will have a summary of all my tweets at mikeashton.wordpress.com sometime mid-morning and then I plan to put out an Inflation Guy podcast (inflationguy.podbean.com) sometime today.
  • Podcast #18 discussed how inflation is the cost of the option to be long cash waiting for opportunities. It was a good one. Are you curious how my investors are sidestepping that cost while retaining liquidity? Ping me via the contact form at enduringinvestments.com
  • Also look for the Inflation Guy app in your app store/play store (once we get enough users we will probably do livestreams to those users, rather than on Twitter).
  • That’s all for the walk-up. And still time to grab a coffee. CPI is in 5 minutes.

  • Welp, 6% on core. Now that we have exceeded the early ’90s high we can say it: highest core in 40 years.
  • Congratulations all around. Take a bow, fiscal spendthrifts. Curtain call, monetary firebugs. 0.58% on core CPI, 6.04% y/y.
  • Primary Rents were +0.54% m/m, 3.77% y/y. Wow. Owners’ Equivalent Rent was 0.42% m/m, 4.09% y/y. But hey, Lodging Away from Home fell 3.92%. Thanks, Omicron!!!!
  • Airfares, though, rose 2.3% m/m. There was some expectation of softness there thanks to the brief virus surge. But I guess it didn’t last long enough, since plans for flights have longer lead times.
  • Cars befuddled me. I thought Used might be soft, but they were +1.47% m/m (+40.5% y/y). I thought New Cars would stay strong, but they were flat m/m.
  • Food & Beverages +0.85% (not a core category obviously). Apparel +1.06%. Medical Care +0.66%. Recreation +0.88%. “Other” +0.76%. Criminy.
  • Medicinal Drugs +0.86% m/m. That’s NSA, so the y/y rose but only up to 1.33%. Still, drug prices are on the rise.
  • Hospital services +0.5% m/m, +3.6% y/y. But this has been more trendless around that figure. Doctors’ Services fell another -0.08%, down to 2.63%/yr. Why do people not want to pay doctors?
  • Overall, core goods rose to +11.7% y/y. Core services rose to +4.1% y/y. To review, the HOPE is that overall inflation settles down to…which one? Happy with 4.1% are we?
  • Lots of household services rose. Water/sewer/trash collection +1% m/m. Window/floor coverings +1.6%. Furniture/bedding +2.4%. Appliances +2.6%. Housekeeping supplies +1.6%. Tools/hardware +1.8%. These are NSA but still.
  • Core inflation ex-housing: 7.22%. I only have this series back to 1983. Fun chart.
  • Only two categories fell more than 10% annualized on the month: Car/Truck rental (-58% annualized), Lodging Away from Home (-38%). There were 20 that rose more than 10% annualized. To be fair, 6 of those were food and energy.
  • My first guess at median CPI is that it will be 0.54%, which would be the highest so far.
  • OK, four pieces charts. Piece 1, food and energy. We feel this but it almost seems like it isn’t a big story any more! At least it mean reverts…but the period of mean reversion might be longer this time because of knock-on effects (energy affecting fertilizer, e.g.)
  • Piece 2. No commentary needed.
  • Piece 3, Core services less rent of shelter. This is starting to be disturbing. For a long time this was steady to lower. Not clear it is any longer. It’s still pulling DOWN on core, but not as much.
  • [Piece 4] Rent of Shelter was SLIGHTLY higher in 2001, but otherwise you have to go back to the very early 1990s. And this is still going to go a bit higher at least.
  • Here is a plot of the distribution of price changes. About 80% of all categories are now inflating faster than 3%. About 65% of them are faster than 4%.
  • So, this is a record high for the Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index. Not that any actual consumer needs to be told that inflation is hitting everything.
  • At this hour, 10y inflation swaps are up about 0.5bp. That’s less than you would expect just from 1y swaps are +20bps. It’s incredible how committed people are, mentally, to the idea that inflation will return to the neighborhood of 2%.
  • But look at this chart again. Four core prints in a row in a nice tight spread around a 6% or so annualized rate. The central point of the inflation distribution HAS SHIFTED. I don’t think it’s actually at 6%, probably more like 4%. But ain’t 2%.
  • What will the Fed do? 25bps. Remember, when forecasters started saying 50bps was possible there was firm pushback from policymakers. Equity markets don’t believe that either. They will go slower than expected and stop earlier than expected, IMO.
  • A dove doesn’t change his stripes.
  • That’s all for today’s train wreck. I’ll have a summary up on mikeashton.wordpress.com a little later. And a podcast on inflationguy.podbean.com later today. And of course all of that will be linked on the Inflation Guy app. Thanks for tuning in!

I keep hearing talk about “the ongoing inflation debate.” This starts to be confusing. What exactly is this debate about? At one time, it was a debate about whether there would be inflation at all. “No way,” said the non-inflation camp, “there’s too much slack in the labor market.” That debate ended a long time ago, as inflation began to surge long before the employment gap closed. Then there was the debate about whether inflation was “transitory.” That debate, too, ended as it’s eminently clear that except in the trivial sense that all things are transitory, inflation right now is not. There was a debate about causes, as some people pointed to the clogged ports and said “see, that’s why we have inflation. It’ll decline once we get the ports moving!” Other people pointed to shortages of various things, like computer chips, that have knock-on effects in other products. At one time, the Biden Administration argued for spending another few trillion for infrastructure, because that would lower inflation by improving those bottlenecks. Seriously. And I think they believed it. But how does that explain rents? How does it explain core services inflation above 4%? It doesn’t.

I’ll tell you what does explain all of that, though: money supply growth still in the teens, and government still riotously spending as if we remain in a calamitous depression.

I mean, wouldn’t it be weird if the single clearest prediction of monetarism happened to be right but it was a total coincidence and not because monetarism is right?

Inflation is going to ebb in 2022, probably. It is at 6% on core, and that’s probably going to go a little higher before it comes down. But there’s nothing in the data to suggest that inflation is going to drop back to 2%. Or even 3%. There’s nothing in the data that suggests the culprit is clogged ports or other bottlenecks. I expect core inflation to slowly decelerate to the 4% neighborhood…but the last four months of Core CPI have averaged a 6.8% annual rate, and in a pretty tight spread of 0.52% m/m on the low side to 0.60% on the high side. You can make an argument that the new distribution is coalescing around 6%, and that is not at all inconsistent with 13% money growth.

If you want lower inflation, then the prescription is pretty plain: decelerate money growth to at or below the desired pace of nominal GDP growth (real GDP + desired inflation). And stop spending from the federal coffers as if there is no cost to doing so. You may end up with, and probably will, less real GDP and more inflation in the near-term than you’d like, but that’s the way you get back to reasonable inflation in the medium term.

Of course, that path would be disastrous for stock and bond markets, so I give it a very small chance of happening. Not zero, but it’s hard to do this when the Fed is now an overtly political creature. They give press conferences for goodness’ sake! How do you run difficult policy when you have to face the microphones every month? Ask the coach of any team that’s in a rebuilding year.

Monetarily-speaking, we need to be in a rebuilding year. But it’s so much easier to just extend and pretend…

Well, here is one positive thought anyway: I wonder if numbers like this will finally quiet the “BLS is cooking the CPI figures!” crowd. Because if they’re cooking the numbers, they’re doing a darn poor job of it.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (November 2021)

December 10, 2021 2 comments

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • It’s #CPI Day again. And it’s official, this is now the MOST WATCHED economic number of the month. It’s crazy to think that if you had told me two years ago that we would be pushing 40-year highs on #inflation in 2021, I’d have thought you were mad.
  • Amazingly, economists’ predictions for today’s figure would take headline inflation to 6.8% and core to 4.9%. The month/month forecast for CORE is actually 0.5% – an amazing testimony in itself.
  • Some economists are ‘getting religion.’ The last couple of numbers have been shocking (especially last month’s). The September CPI released in Oct was only 0.24% core, but it was broad.
  • The October CPI released last month was 0.599%, AND it was incredibly broad. Median CPI rose 0.57% m/m – by far the largest increase since 1982. Not even close.
  • So this month, people aren’t looking for retracements in an outlier. There’s nothing much to retrace. Indeed, it looks like we might get another push from autos.
  • Used car prices in the CPI rose 2.5% m/m last month; it could be 4% this month. It COULD even be more than that.
  • New car prices have also risen 1.3% in each of the last two months. With used car prices skyrocketing, it’s hard to imagine new car prices flattening out. So from autos, you could contribute 0.2% to core, if they play to chalk.
  • Rents have also been jumping. Unlike Used Cars, only the timing was surprising. I thought it would take longer after the end of the eviction moratorium to see 5% rates of increase and more, but here we are. Both OER and Primary rents were +0.42%-0.45% each of last two months.
  • If that repeats, it adds another 0.16% or so to core. So then you just need to find price increases of 0.14% from everything else in the core categories, to get to your 0.5% forecast. So it’s not a big reach.
  • Lots can go wrong in any month, of course, which is why I try not to overanalyze the number pre-snap. But 0.5% doesn’t seem wildly off as a baseline guess, to me. (The inflation swaps market sees more like 6.9% on headline, so upside risk.)
  • The bottom line is this: although next month we may get some drag from gasoline thanks to the sharp fall in wholesale prices at the end of November, we’re still very likely to hit 7% on headline and will certainly exceed 5% on core over the next few months. That’s amazing.
  • It gets more amazing: Because of easy comps from last year, averaging 0.06% on core for Dec, Jan, Feb, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to get y/y core to 6% by the end of Q1. Then it should recede…but it’s not going back to 2%.
  • So to put it bluntly, inflation right now is not aiming for the 5 o’clock news. It’s aiming for the history books.
  • Why is this happening? Simple: too much spending, too fast, financed with newly created reserves. Period. The shortages result from getting incomes back above pre-covid levels before we were ready to provide the goods and services to the people waving dollars.
  • Going forward it is hard to see how this resolves easily. There are still many more people not in the workforce than there were pre-pandemic…but more income, by a lot. Demand>supply, and financed by 12% money growth.
  • Moreover, one final thought and a h/t to Barclays for their chart of the HH index. The Herfindahl–Hirschman Index is a very widely-used (especially in antitrust) measure of market concentration. Over the last few decades, it has risen precipitously, meaning more concentration.
  • When market power is concentrated, so is pricing power. And those mega-firms that now dominate just about every niche in American life have re-learned that price increases can stick in this kind of environment. Who can blame them? You build market power for exactly this moment.
  • It’s hard to unscramble this egg. So hang on to your juevos, number in a few.
  • Cents and Sensibility: the Inflation Guy Podcast
  • inflationguy.podbean.com
  • As a reminder, I will have a summary of all my tweets at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com  sometime mid-morning and then I plan to put out an Inflation Guy podcast (https://inflationguy.podbean.com) sometime today.

  • Yawn. CPI as-expected. Just a soothing 6.4% annualized pace of core. 0.53% m/m,
  • Core was actually VERY close to printing 5.0%. Using the seasonally-adjusted numbers you’d get 4.96%, which would round up. NSA numbers give you 4.93%. Doesn’t matter; will be over 5% next month.
  • So, highest headline inflation since 1982, highest core since 1991, with more to come on both.
  • Running through the usual suspects: Used cars were 2.50%. That’s less than I expected. There’s still make-up there next month, believe it or not.
  • Owner’s Equivalent Rent +0.44% again this month. Primary Rents +0.42% again this month. Eerily steady at a high level. This month, Lodging Away from Home was +2.98% m/m. Consequently, the Housing subgroup was +0.52% m/m, 4.8% y/y.
  • I mentioned Used Cars; New Cars was 1.13% (seasonally adjusted) m/m. Car and Truck Rental +1.1% m/m. Airfares this month (a “Covid category”) +4.75%
  • So with airfares, lodging away from home, used and new cars, motor vehicle insurance (+0.66% m/m)…doesn’t look like this wave of COVID is doing much to hold down prices.
  • An eye on Medicinal Drugs is warranted. y/y it’s back to flat. Doctors’ Services also up smartly this month, 4.26% y/y. Hospital Services down m/m but still 3.5% y/y.
  • Overall, Core Goods rose to 9.4% y/y, with Core Services up to 3.4% y/y.
  • Interestingly, two of the eight major subgroups declined m/m: Recreation, and Education/Communication. And we still got 0.5% on core!
  • Here are core goods and core services. Supply chain still an issue for goods. Core services the highest since 2008, and will go higher still thanks to rents.
  • Core inflation ex-housing back up to 5.72% y/y. It was higher in June at 5.81%. But otherwise…back to early 1980s.
  • So let’s see. Only category that declined at a faster than 10% annualized rate was Jewelry and Watches (-20.5% annualized m/m).
  • The list of categories >10% annualized growth. Excluding the 6 food/energy line items there: Mens/Boys apparel, public transport, lodging AFH, Used cars, Women’s/Girls apparel, New cars, Motor vehicle parts/equip, misc personal goods, car/truck rental, tobacco,househld frnishings
  • Looks like the median CPI category will be an OER subindex, which gets separate seasonals, so hard to forecast exactly but another 0.44% m/m or so from Median pushing it up to 3.5% (just my early guess).
  • Median m/m. One exhibit in the ‘broadening’ argument.
  • Once again, not a lot of huge outliers here. Although November and December numbers get harder to tell because the seasonal adjustments are more important (e.g. lodging away from home, negative before SA but strong after SA).
  • Why did Recreation decline? Well, thinks like “admissions”, photographic equipment, cable/satellite television service all declined. So the cake we are supposed to eat is at least getting cheaper.
  • Fascinatingly, 10-year breakevens are down HARD, -4bps on the day to 2.45%. With core pushing 5% and rising. Wonder what kind of number folks needed to stay long??
  • Here are the Four Pieces. Food & Energy. Near multi-decade highs as well. And it’s not just energy – there are ripple effects in fertilizer and therefore food. The Food subindex itself was +5.82% y/y.
  • Core Goods – here is where the supply chain argument is most-salient. Obviously cars are in here and a big part of it. But not all of it! it will come down, but all the way to zero? I have my doubts. And…not soon.
  • Core services ex-shelter. Still the best news out there. Medical care not unreasonable. Mind you, this would have scared me two years ago, but right now it looks soothing compared to the other charts.
  • And the part that was the most-predictable (but took an amazingly long time for people to catch on to): rent of shelter. This has another 1% or more to go, at least. And it’s a big chunk of CPI.
  • The distribution of price changes by CPI component weights. Less of a distribution than a splatter, at the moment. Not much going up less than 3%!
  • And let’s put numbers on that. Only 20% of the consumption basket has risen LESS than 3% over the last year.
  • Almost double the weight of the categories slower than 3%? The categories faster than 4%.
  • Lastly, the Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index reached a new record high. The inflation pressures now are broader than the deflation pressures in the Global Financial Crisis.
  • So wrapping this up…what does this mean for the Fed? In the Old Days, the Fed by now would have already tightened a bunch. Currently, we’re talking about reducing the amount they add in liquidity, maybe a little faster. And possibly raising rates in 2022. That is, UNLESS…
  • …unless stocks drop like a stone. And honestly, it’s not really clear to me that the government would care to see much higher interest costs on the debt. Only way Japan has survived its mountain of debt is that is it almost interest-free, after all.
  • But maybe the hawks will storm the Eccles Building and the Fed will not only raise rates, but also slow money growth (these were once tightly connected; now not so much, and it’s the money growth part that matters not the interest rate part). We can hope.
  • In a recent podcast, “How Many Swallows Make a Spring”, https://inflationguy.podbean.com/e/ep-12-how-many-swallows-make-a-spring/ I expressed my opinion that once the peak is in, the valley for inflation won’t be as low – because we have semi-permanently moved the distribution.
  • So we’re not looking, in late 2022, or in 2023, to get core inflation back to 2%. It’s just not going to happen unless housing collapses (which could happen – lots of weird things could happen – but we don’t base outlooks on what weird things COULD happen).
  • IMO, we’re now in a land of 3%-4% core, maybe if we’re lucky it’s 2.5%-3.5%. Getting it back to 1.5%-2.5% will take strong leadership (HA!) and a long time.
  • Recently, 10-year inflation breakevens reached 2.78% – matching the all-time highs (since TIPS were issued in 1997) from 2005. If you think about breakevens in the same way you think about TS…
  • So, as I wrote last month, you haven’t missed this trade yet. https://inflationguy.blog/2021/11/18/you-have-not-missed-it/
  • Thanks for tuning in. I’ll have the collated summary of these tweets up on my blog within a half hour or so, and will drop a podcast summary of it later. Retweet, call, click, visit, like, upvote, forward, or whatever the kids say these days.

The wonderful thing about December trading is that none of the market moves need to make sense. As I write this, stocks are up and inflation breakevens are down. It’s almost as if high inflation that didn’t actually surprise is somehow helping the ‘transitory’ story. Breakevens act as if the Fed is about to be aggressive and suck liquidity out of the system. But if that’s true, then it’s weird that stocks are higher because an elevated discount rate, with the stock market at record multiples, cannot be a good thing.

There is one way that those moves could be consistent, and that’s as if investors now believe that the inflation spike will indeed be transitory, and that the Fed won’t need to do anything after all. If it was all about some supply bottlenecks that will shortly resolve themselves, and the party can continue, then it would make sense to push inflation expectations lower and also not deflate stocks.

But to be clear, there is absolutely nothing in today’s number that would give any shape to that fantasy. For the third month in a row, the inflation figures were high and the price increases were spread across a very wide variety of categories. There is no one-off to point to. Used Cars adds something – but we haven’t yet seen the peak in that – and that rate of change will eventually ebb. At the same time, other categories are showing new life. This is a much more dangerous look than it was in the first half of 2021, when we expected broadening but it was still believable that “COVID categories” could be the main story. That story is dead and buried. This is not about the pandemic any longer; it is about policy response to the pandemic. It is almost entirely policy error. I will show again the picture from last month, which sums it up. Supply has done what supply usually does following a recession – if anything, it has recovered faster than usual and is back to trend. It’s demand that is far above normal, and that’s not an accident and it isn’t due to COVID. It is a policy error, and it will take many tears (and maybe many years) to reverse.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (October 2021)

November 10, 2021 1 comment

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Hello #CPI Day. Is it my imagination or do these keep getting better? Today we should see a 31-year high in headline inflation and the second-highest Core #inflation in 30 years. And, honestly, there’s a chance we break June’s high on core.
  • It actually doesn’t matter much if we move to 30-year highs on core this month because it will certainly happen over the next few. We are entering the easy-comparison part of the year. Oct ’20 through Feb ’21 had a CUMULATIVE 0.42% on core CPI.
  • And it isn’t just core. Last month, the theme of broadening price pressures took a big step forward as MEDIAN CPI had the largest m/m jump since 1990.
  • A lot of that has to do with rents, which are starting now to catch up after the lifting of the eviction moratorium. As expected. There is a lot more to go on rents.
  • So the underlying themes this month are the same as they have been recently: broadening pressures and less attention on the one-off COVID categories…although…
  • There will be plenty of volatile noise – that’s not going away soon, and it will contribute to inflation expectations since people encode price volatility as increase. Food inflation will probably be the highest in a decade.
  • Wholesale gasoline has risen 10 months in a row. Hey, how long has Biden been President, roughly? I mean, counting his naps? (Sorry, that’s piling on and a 15-yard penalty.)
  • Used cars (and new cars) are also a risk this month. Last couple of months, used cars were a drag as the spike was fading. Not so much. Private surveys are spiking again. We probably see that this month, “a chunky amount”. Here is the Black Book survey.
  • And here is the change, vs the CPI for used cars, lagged. You never know about the lags though.
  • Now, policymakers are expressing the opinion that the very high inflation numbers we are seeing now will fade later in 2022. They’re right. There are some signs here and there that certain bottlenecks are easing.
  • The inflation noise is going to gradually lessen. Unfortunately that means we’re seeing more of the SIGNAL, which remains strong. Pressures OUTSIDE of the ‘reopening categories’ are broad. So core inflation will stay high (just not THIS high, probably) through 2022.
  • And as shortages get resolved, they’ll likely resolve at HIGHER prices, not lower. See my article “Shortages are Unmeasured Inflation.”
  • & the causal elements remain. The Fed is tapering but credit growth has been hot.The idea banks are being stingy w/ credit is either false, or they’re being replaced by non-banks. M2 growth is down to ~13%, but that’s still WAY too fast. Especially as velocity recovers.
  • Onto this month’s report: the Street is expecting a soft +0.4% on core, which would be the highest since June. I kinda think that’s the best case unless OER and Rents abruptly slow down again. Last month’s 0.24% on core only happened because the one-offs pulled it DOWN.
  • The interbank inflation derivatives market has y/y headline hitting 5.94% today, breaking to 6.5% next month, and staying over 6% until April. (Some of that is due to base effects in energy and core.)
  • I expect Rents to continue to move higher. Looking for that, & watching Median CPI. It’s at 2.42% y/y and will be higher this month; will be over 3% before very long. That’s where I think everything ends up settling out, late in 2022: 3.5%ish. Not as bad as now…but not good!
  • Good luck this morning. I will have a summary of all my tweets at https://mikeashton.wordpress.com sometime mid-morning and then I plan to put out an Inflation Guy podcast (https://inflationguy.podbean.com ) sometime today. And let me take a moment this month to say: Thank you Veterans.

  • Welp. Golly. 0.60% m/m on core CPI, putting the y/y up to 4.58%. A new 30-year high! And easy comparisons still to come…
  • So let’s see. Used cars +2.5% m/m, which we sort of expected. OER +0.44% m/m, and Primary Rents +0.42%, which we sort of expected.
  • Apparel? 0.00% m/m. Which means all the other 7 major subcategories contributed. Recreation +0.69%. Medical Care +0.50%. Housing +0.72%. Food/Bev 0.84%. Other +0.85%. Educ/Communication only +0.16%. Transportation +2.37%. Broad.
  • Airfares: -0.66% m/m. But lodging away from home +1.35%. If you consider used cars a covid category (I don’t), then covid still net adding to this number. But then, everything was.
  • New cars +1.36% m/m after +1.30% last month. Used car prices can’t be above new car prices for long – but one way to resolve that is new car prices up, not just used car prices down.
  • Car and truck rental +3.1% after -2.9%.
  • In Medical Care, “Medicinal Drugs” +0.59% m/m. It is still down y/y, but is this a sign up upward pressure in a category that has been soft for a while?
  • Doctors’ Services flat, but Hospital Services +0.45% m/m, up to 4.04% y/y. I wonder if laying off lots of unvaccinated nurses will lower prices for health care? Hmmm. Guessing no.
  • Overall Core Goods rose back up to 8.4%. But more disturbing is core Services jumping to 3.2%. Again, a lot of that is in rents.
  • Food prices y/y up at 5.33%.
  • Oh my. Oh my oh my. My first guess at median CPI is +0.57% m/m. That would EASILY be the highest since 1982 if I’m right.
  • The really scary thing is that I’m looking for a big outlier. And I can’t really find one.
  • Postage and delivery services were up +3.87% m/m. But that’s 0.11% of the CPI. Cigarettes +2.08%, but that’s 0.53% of the CPI. Health Insurance +1.99%, and that’s 1.2% of the CPI. Airline Fares, +3.5%, but 0.6% of the CPI.
  • The only category that declined more than 10% annualized was Jewelry and Watches (-26% annualized m/m). There were 19 that ROSE more than 10% annualized.
  • Core CPI ex-shelter back up to 5.35%. Sure, a lot of that is autos. But you kinda want that to go down especially when shelter itself…
  • OER is catching up to the model…but the model is running away from it too.
  • Here are the four-pieces. Piece 1, food and energy. Highest since just before the GFC.
  • Piece 2 – Core goods. Near the highest since 1981 (only the bump in June was higher).
  • Piece 3: Core services less rent of shelter. At last! Something that isn’t near 30-40 year highs. But these are the slower-moving pieces. Maybe it’s because they haven’t had time yet to adjust…
  • Piece 4. Rent of Shelter. The part everyone was hoping wouldn’t follow home prices and asking rents. Sorry about that. It’ll shortly be at 30-year highs too.
  • So this is starting to be less-subtle. Last month’s distribution of y/y changes vs this month (“OCT”). Left tail vanishing. Right tail growing. And whole middle shifting to the right. Not subtle. Not isolated.
  • Here is the weighting of components of CPI that is inflating faster than 4% y/y. Almost 40% of the entire basket.
  • 10y breakevens +5bps on the day to 2.69%. But that’s okay, Secretary Yellen tells us there’s no way that inflation expectations get unanchored.
  • I suppose it should be no surprise that the Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index has reached an all-time high.
  • OK, let’s sum up. Different month, same story. There is still noise associated with “shutdown categories” and specific bottlenecks. But the underlying “signal” of inflation is getting stronger, as the pressures get broader. You can’t blame all of this on Long Beach.
  • Those pressures don’t come from the bottlenecks and shortages. They come from the fact that people can afford to pay higher prices because there’s more money in the system. Here is a chart of personal income vs GDP. Demand and supply. Where did the difference come from???
  • This ain’t rocket science. If you want the fire to stop, remove the oxygen. Oh, wait, actually that IS rocket science. Like, actual rocket science.
  • The Fed is finally slowing the rapid increase of its balance sheet. Be still my heart. Honestly, I don’t think they’ll even finish the taper, much less start to raise rates. Especially under Brainard. So buckle up. Lock in long-term contract prices.
  • I need to go take a shower. As much as the trajectory of inflation makes it fun to be “Inflation Guy,” this is monetary malpractice and it’s disgusting. This didn’t have to happen. Sorry. That probably shouldn’t be tweeted.
  • Anyway – the beatings will continue until morale improves!
  • Thanks for tuning in. There will be a tweet summary on https://mikeashton.wordpress.com  in a little while.And I’ll drop a podcast later today. Interested in the new strategy we’ve launched, or want to work with us to launch one for your clients? Go to https://enduringinvestments.com & contact us.

Seriously, this month’s report – while expected, at some level – turns my stomach. We have learned these lessons, painfully, long ago: you can’t spend in an out-of-control fashion and you can’t print the money that you’re spending. That’s fiscal policy 101 and monetary policy 101. Flunk them all, I say.

The good news is that we no longer need to argue about whether or not inflation is coming. It’s here. We don’t need to argue about whether inflation will broaden beyond the re-opening categories. It has. The only questions are: how much? For how long? And how do we stop it? The third question we already know the answer to: restrain money growth; even shrink the money supply if velocity continues to rebound. No, that’s not against the rules. But it is against current monetary orthodoxy, which regards no particularly interesting role for the quantity of money. Flunk them all, I say.

The answers to the first two questions, how much and for how long, depend on how long it takes for policymakers to change course. On the fiscal side, there seems to be growing resistance to the idea that you can spend any amount of money because you can always print a trillion-dollar coin. But there are still some who profess to believe that if you spend more, you can solve bottlenecks by improving infrastructure. Maybe, if this was about infrastructure. But it’s not. It about spending in an out-of-control fashion and printing the money that you’re spending. On the monetary side, our choices seem to be another ride with Chairman Powell – who is the one who brung us to this party and I don’t really want to dance with him – or Lael Brainard, who thinks Powell has been too hawkish.

Do you see the problem?

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (September 2021)

October 13, 2021 2 comments

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Here we are, #CPI Day again – where did that month go!? – And everyone is gathered around for the number. So many interested people! So many experts on inflation suddenly!
  • Last night, @TuckerCarlson led his show with a monologue re inflation. And he got it basically right, which is unusual for nonfinancial media. But the point is, “transitory” inflation is now important enough to get the lead on one of the biggest cable opinion shows in the world.
  • Which of course is why there are so many experts suddenly. Demand creates its own supply. But I am not complaining. There’s only one Inflation Guy and he has his own podcast https://inflationguy.podbean.com and app (in your app/play store)! [Editor’s Note: See the last bullet]
  • More importantly some regional Fed folks are starting to sound queasy. Atlanta Fed’s Bostic and St. Louis Fed President Bullard. The NY Times! The Wall Street Journal! The Poughkeepsie News-Gazette! Made up that last one but it’s everywhere.
  • Not the Chairman though, and not the Treasury Secretary, both of whom want the same thing: more money. Who was it? In the Volunteers with Tom Hanks I think: Mo money means mo power.
  • Meanwhile 1y and 3y expectations in the Consumer Expectations Survey are at all time highs since the inception of the survey in 2013. Which of course is why Carlson is leading with it. Consumers are noticing.
  • Are they only noticing because of used cars? Seems unlikely. They’re noticing broader pressures, which we are starting to see and still will be watching for in this report.
  • Speaking of used cars…while the rate of change might come down on some of these spikes, there’s no sign the LEVEL is retracing. See latest Black Book survey. “Holding steady” around 30% y/y. But that’s down from 50% in May.
  • Consumers are also noticing shortages, which is unmeasured inflation. If you put a price cap below equilibrium, you get shortages. And if you get shortages, you can presume the equilibrium price is higher. Repeat: Shortages are Unmeasured Inflation
  • Now, there’s good news. Delays at China ports are down. Although some of this is seasonal and some is due to the fact that…all the ships are sitting in OUR ports. But there is SOME good news anyway. Had to search for it.
  • Question going forward is how much of the pressure on suppliers gets passed through. It will be more (a) the longer it lasts, and (b) the more suppliers see others passing along costs. And profit season is about to start, where we will hear some of those answers.
  • In this CPI report today: the Street is expecting a very tame +0.2% on core, after a soft +0.1% last month. That seems very, very optimistic to me. If we get +0.27%, the y/y core rate will uptick to 4.1%.
  • And AFTER this, the comps are terribly easy so core inflation will be moving higher almost certainly for the next 5 months. The total for those 5 months in 2020 was +0.43% on core. The TOTAL.
  • So, core will be moving back towards 5%, even if the monthly figures settle in only at 0.2% per month. I’m not very optimistic that’s going to happen. But the Street is!!
  • We will be watching the usual ‘reopening’ items of course, but also watching RENTS and the breadth of this figure. And let’s not ignore food although not in the core – it’s one thing that consumers notice more than other things when it’s persistent.
  • I expect Rents to continue to move higher. So looking for that. And watching Median CPI, which set a new multi-year high month/month last month. It’s at 2.42% y/y and will be higher this month.
  • I’d also look at some of the “re-closing” categories that dragged down core CPI last month to reverse. Again, not a lot of sign that most prices are declining, even if rates of change are slowing.
  • Good luck out there. 5 minutes to the figure.

  • The economists nailed it! Well, mostly. Core was +0.24%, so at the upper end of the forecast range before rounding up. Y/Y went to 4.04%, also just barely not rounded up. But been a while since we were worried about rounding. Let’s look at the breakdown though.
  • Airfares plunged again, another -6.4% m/m. That’s going to change soon if vaccine mandates provoke more labor shortages there. But it does appear, from my own anecdotal observation, that airfares have been actually declining.
  • Lodging Away from Home -0.56% m/m. Used cars -0.7% m/m. Car and Truck rental -2.9% m/m. So, most of the “reopening” categories are still dragging this month, what I’d thought was a one-off. I didn’t think they’d top-ticked the prices before.
  • But New cars and trucks were +1.30% m/m after 1.22% the month before. As I’ve said before, the New/Used gap that closed when Used car prices spiked can open again in two ways. Used car prices can decline (no sign of that) or New car prices can rise.
  • Now, that was your good news for the day.
  • Primary Rents were +0.45% m/m, boosting y/y to 2.43%. OER was +0.43% m/m, boosting y/y to 2.90%. Whoopsie. Totally expected. And yet, kept seeing how the eviction moratorium wasn’t really holding down rents. Hmmm.
  • Medical Care, though, remains a soft spot for reasons that I just can’t fathom. Flat m/m. Pharmaceuticals rebounded to be +0.28% this month, but Doctors’ Services fell -0.30% and Hospital Services followed a strong month with a tepid +0.11%.
  • Apparel also plunged this month, -1.12% m/m. Small category, big move. Still 3.4% y/y, which is big for clothing, but it’s weird. With ports backed up, I’ve been seeing stock-outs in a lot of sizes of the stuff I buy. Shortages are unmeasured inflation. But still.
  • Quick look at 10y breakevens has them +3bps since before the number. The rents spike has people spooked. And it should. That’s the steadiest component. All of these large moves in little categories tend to mean-revert.
  • Core goods decelerates to +7.3% y/y (yayy!). But core services accelerates to 2.9% y/y (boooo!).
  • Core CPI ex-shelter dropped to 4.66% from 4.79%. So that’s the effect of all of these small categories. Meanwhile, rents boomed. And core-ex-rent at 4.66% isn’t exactly soothing.
  • Chart of core ex-shelter, and shelter. In the middle, you get core at 4%. If you want core to get back to 2%, you need core-ex to really plunge because shelter isn’t about to reverse lower.
  • Speaking of shelter, I hate to say I told you so but…and we have a long way to go.
  • Now let’s look at tuitions. Since we are in the Sept/Oct period, we’re going to find the new level of tuitions, which will be smoothed out over the next year with seasonals. This month, the NSA jumped 0.56%, and the y/y rose to 1.73% from 1.20%.
  • Tuitions aren’t going to jump a ton this year, but in 2022 I expect them to take a bump – partly to reclaim colleges’ purchasing power and partly because the product will be better next year.
  • Sorry, error. That was for the Education and Communication broad category. College Tuition and fees rose 0.96% m/m (NSA), and to 1.72% y/y from 0.83% y/y. Sorry.
  • Other goods. Appliances +1.55% m/m. Furniture and Bedding +2.35% m/m. Motor vehicle parts and equipment +0.85% m/m. Medical equipment and supplies +0.96% m/m. So doctors? Not so much. EKG machine? Syringe? Give me your credit card.
  • Breakevens dropping back. That’s profit-taking on the pop. They’re going to keep going up I think.
  • Biggest core m/m declines annualized: Public Transportation (-46%), Car/Truck Rental (-30%), Womens/Girls Apparel (-28%), Jewelry & Watches (-18%), Misc Personal Goods (-13%).
  • Biggest core annualized m/m increases: Motor Vehicle Insurance (+28%), New Vehicles (+17%), Household Furnishings/Ops (+13%), Motor Vehicle Parts/Equip (+11%), Infants’/Toddlers’ Apparel (+11%).
  • I said pay attention to food, which is what people notice. Overall Food & Beverages was +0.87% m/m. Some big movers: Meats Poultry Fish Eggs (+29% annualized), Other food @ home (15%), Cereals/baking products (13%).
  • Oh my. Median. My early estimate, which I hope is wrong, is +0.45% m/m. If I’m right that would be the highest in 30 years. On MEDIAN. Not meaningfully higher than that m/m since 1982.
  • If that’s right, the y/y would be 2.78%. Still short of the 2019 highs, but not for long.
  • That median calculation tells me I need to look at the diffusion and distribution charts. Which will take a couple of minutes to calculate. Please hold.
  • While we are waiting for the diffusion stuff, here are the four-pieces charts.
  • Piece 1: Food & Energy. The most volatile, but recently it’s just been up. And this is the part that people notice. Normally ignored because it mean-reverts. But it’s hard to get near-term bearish on energy or food, especially as the latter involves lots of pkging and transport.
  • Core goods. Coming off the boil because of Used Cars. Staying as high as it is because of New Cars and other durables. Sort of concerning it isn’t dropping faster.
  • Core services less rent of shelter. The one encouraging piece although it relies heavily on medical. Service providers not yet passing through wage increases so much. This is where the spiral would really happen, if it did.
  • Piece 4, and the news of the day. Rent of Shelter is now shooting higher, after being held down by the eviction moratorium and lack of mobility. This will set multi-decade highs over the next year, and as the slowest piece makes “transitory” much harder to believe.
  • The Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index. Not that you need this chart to convince you, but price pressures are the broadest in about 15 years. And getting broader, fast.
  • So, here is the distribution of y/y price changes by base component weights. Note two things: (1) there is a long right tail, which is symptomatic of inflationary periods. Core above median. (2) The whole middle has shifted higher. This is of course largely rents.
  • So…we are getting higher inflation from the slow-moving pieces, and higher inflation from the fast-moving pieces. What’s not to like.
  • And finally, here is a chart of the weight of all components that have y/y inflation above the Fed’s target (which equates to about 2.25% on CPI, roughly). Highest in a long time. Only 1 in 5 purchase dollars is going to something inflating less than the Fed’s target.
  • So in sum…the overall 0.2% on core, which was nearly 0.3%, was the best news of the day. There is nothing in the details, distributions, or trends to make you think this is about to end.
  • Because of comps, we can be confident that y/y core and median inflation are going to accelerate for at least the next 5 months. And there’s nothing to convince me that the monthlies are going to stay nice and tame.
  • Transitory is dead. There is too much liquidity. The Fed now needs to choose whether to drain liquidity (not just taper), and live with much lower asset prices, or keep pumping asset prices “for the rich,” while we all ultimately lose in real purchasing power.
  • Powell is over a barrel, but to be fair he was also the cooper.
  • FWIW, I think the taper will happen. It will stop when one of two things happens: (1) Brainard replaces Powell or (2) Stock prices decline 15%. The Fed is fighting a war and they don’t even know it yet. They are working to keep the bread and circuses flowing.
  • That’s all for today. I will have the summary post up on http://mikeashton.wordpress.com  in an hour or less. Visit our website https://enduringinvestments.com ! Get the Inflation Guy app. Check out the podcast “Cents and Sensibility.” And stay safe out there.
  • Biden to meet with ports, labor on supply chain bottlenecks
  • I mean, this will definitely help, right? “Mister President, since you asked, we’ll clean it up.”

Biden to meet with ports, labor on supply chain bottlenecks

  • Just heard that the Inflation Guy app has been “temporarily” pulled from the Google Play store. Uh-huh. Totally normal. Waiting for the notice from Twitter that I’ve been kicked off for “spreading disinformation.”

One of the ways you can tell this is getting bad is that the people who told us this was all transitory, had nothing to do with money, and would be over soon are doing one or more things from this list:

  1. Pretending they never said it.
  2. Pretending they didn’t mean what they obviously meant.
  3. Getting angry because they were wrong and you were right.
  4. Accuse you of also being wrong because you didn’t specifically say Used Cars was going up.
  5. Trying to talk over, or squelch, the people who are bearing the bad news.

Last month, we had an 0.1% on core. But when you looked at the details, it wasn’t really soothing because it was being held down by the “COVID categories” which were falling again. You didn’t really have to squint, but you had to look below the headline. This month, we almost printed an 0.3% on core, and that was only because of those same categories (plus apparel), for the most part. You didn’t need to look hard to see the problem. Primary rents had their biggest m/m jump since 1999. OER, the biggest jump since the heart of the housing bubble in 2006. Those are big pieces, and we have a great deal of confidence that they are going to continue to rock-n-roll. After all, we have long said that rents were being restrained mainly by the eviction moratorium and would begin to normalize after the moratorium was lifted. Quod erat demonstrandum.

The trajectory of inflation is becoming clearer. The debate is no longer whether inflation is going up but how high it will get and when the peak will happen. That’s the right debate. The ancillary debate is whether the next ebb will be at 2% or something higher, like 3%. Some outliers still see the next ebb as serious deflation, but those are the same people who thought we wouldn’t see inflation when the Fed started printing money that the Treasury spent. [Note to the purists: yes, the Fed doesn’t “print” money, but it’s silly to argue that buying bonds for reserves isn’t equivalent ‘because it’s an asset swap.’ That’s just sophistry. It’s also an asset swap when I buy a refrigerator for cash, but circumstances have clearly changed for both buyer and seller when I do so. Anyway, go sell your crazy somewhere else. We’re all stocked up here.]

There is at least a sliver of good in this mess, and that’s that while investors in the main totally blew the chance to buy cheap inflation protection before this all happened (because they believed inflation was not a risk), and totally forgot that inflation affects not only asset prices but stock and bond correlations, they are re-learning these lessons from the 1970s and 1980s. And so investing hygiene will be better going forward. We have more tools to hedge inflation now than we did in the 1970s, and failing to use those tools in a healthy investment portfolio will no longer be acceptable.

And I know I don’t need to say it, but my company Enduring Investments is here to help those investors. Just like all of those other experts, except we’ve been here for longer.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (August 2021)

September 14, 2021 Leave a comment

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Happy last- #CPI – day-of-summer! Is the transitory spike over?
  • Before we get started, a little housekeeping. Get the Inflation Guy app in your app store! And if you want to see some super-embarrassing photos of me, check out the Bloomberg Businessweek story just out today by @beth_stanton https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-14/inflation-guy-michael-ashton-sees-more-on-the-way-as-investors-worry
  • The story is terrific. Beth is a fantastic journalist. But as for the pictures…I can just say, “I’m working on it.”
  • Anyway back to our story…This is the first time in months that the interbank CPI market has been at or slightly below the economist consensus estimate for headline inflation. (Pretty close though.) Previously, the interbank market was generally higher, and more accurate.
  • The last five actual prints on core CPI are +0.34%, +0.92%, +0.74%, +0.88%, and 0.33%. The consensus for today is a lowish 0.3% (something like 0.27%).
  • So economists – and the inflation market – are pricing in at least a LITTLE ‘transitory’ here with core inflation coming down from the peak…although I’ll note that 0.27% annualized is 3.3%. That’s still well above the Fed’s target. Not that they care very much.
  • That sort of month/month core CPI print today would see y/y drop to 4.2% from 4.3%, since last year we got +0.35% in August. Transitory! Yay! We win! Except that celebration will be short-lived.
  • The next 6 months of core range from +0.03% to 0.19% m/m. Very easy comps. So unless something weird happens, core inflation is going to be higher in 6 months than it is today.
  • I think there’s a little upside risk to the number today, partly because expectations are so tame. Used cars, which are past the y/y peak, still rose in price last month according to Black Book. So that would be a surprise.
  • However, that would distract from the more important issue this month and going forward: with the eviction moratorium lifted in many parts of the country, how fast do those units turn over at much higher rents?
  • I don’t really think that will be a big effect THIS month – too soon – but it will become increasingly important going forward. I’d even say it is THE story going forward in terms of how high core CPI will get in this ‘transitory’ bump.
  • OER and Primary Rents have started to see a little bump higher, although they were softer last month than in the prior month. I’m trying not to be obsessed with the wiggles. Anyway the lows are long past for rents.
  • Let’s be real: just as people waved away Used Cars as a “reopening category” or “idiosyncratic,” they’ll say the same with housing. “One time effect!” they’ll say.
  • But what will be harder to explain away will be inflation’s BREADTH. Our diffusion index is the highest in years, because it’s not JUST the reopening categories.
  • So be careful of all the “ex-cars” and “ex-reopening categories” metrics. They did that in the 1970s too. An increase in the number of anecdotes is what inflation IS, after all. Go listen to my “Diamond Water Paradox” podcast. https://InflationGuy.podbean.com/e/ep-2-diamondwater-paradox/
  • The PPI is telling us that the upstream pressures on materials, shipping containers, wages, etc are strong, and those pressures are broad. Yes, a lot of em are pressures on goods and not services. But it’s much more dangerous than hotel prices just catching up to the prior drop.
  • The next question people will ask: “Does this print mean the Fed taper is on?” And the answer is, I give a taper a 50-50 chance of starting and a 15% chance of completing. I don’t think the FOMC will be able to stomach the market correction.
  • So buy dips in breakevens if you see them, but I’d be more skeptical at selling nominals outright. Not sure the Fed will lock nominal rates as they did post-WWII, but they’re leaning against you.
  • And I said this last month and repeat it: Stocks probably go up either way on today’s number, because that’s what stocks do these days (until they don’t).
  • That’s all for now. My gut says a better chance for a high surprise than a low surprise today. And watch what happens to median CPI, later. Get the Inflation Guy app! Listen to the podcast! Follow the blog! https://mikeashton.wordpress.com Visit us at https://enduringinvestments.com  ! Good luck!

  • Team Transitory starts a comeback with a goal just before halftime!
  • 0.10% on core m/m, dropping the y/y to 4.0%. Not just a miss, but a big miss.
  • Used cars fell hard, -1.54% m/m. Last month I pointed out the m/m movement in the private surveys is only the same SIGN about half the time. But I fell for that this month as Black Book went up but CPI went down.
  • Lodging Away from Home -2.92% m/m. Gosh, wait a minute, look at this…
  • Are we going to have to call these the “re-closing” categories? Airfares -9.11%. Lodging AFH -2.92%. Used cars -1.54%. Car/Truck Rental -8.48%. Wow!
  • However, New Cars and Trucks – where you’re seeing the chip shortages and plant shutdowns for want of parts – was +1.22% m/m.
  • OER was +0.25% m/m, and Primary Rents put in a larger rise to +0.31% m/m. So let’s not get too excited about that miss right now…
  • Primary Rents, re-accelerating slowly. It will not be long until this is over 5%.
  • And OER. Again, these are the big pieces.
  • So core goods fell to +7.7% y/y from +8.5%, and core services fell to +2.7% from +2.9%.
  • Worth noting as the Biden Administration goes after pharmaceutical producers: CPI for Medicinal Drugs remains in deflation. Go get ’em, Joe.
  • Core CPI ex-shelter (which means less when Shelter isn’t leading the charge) fell to 4.79% y/y. In June this was 5.81%.
  • Apparel was +0.37% m/m, keeping y/y at 4.2%. Apparel is a small category, but we import almost all of it. So it isn’t surprising to see this rising for a change (but last month it had declined). At a 3% weight in the basket though, it doesn’t dominate anything.
  • Medical care outside of pharmaceuticals was flat in Doctor’s Services (+0.01% m/m), but up big in Hospital Services (+0.85% m/m). So the overall Medical Care subindex gained despite the weakness in drugs.
  • It’ll be interesting looking at the breadth this month. Seven of the eight major subindices rose, with only Transportation declining due to the Used Cars flop. Still shaking my head at the re-closing categories.
  • College Tuition and Fees +0.88% m/m. But that doesn’t annualize the way you think it does. It always jumps in August and September and then levels out for 10 months. The y/y is up to 0.83%. This is NOT quality adjusted, or it would be lots higher.
  • So the biggest decliners in non-food-and-energy: Car/Truck Rental (-65% annualized), Public Transportation (-49% annualized), Lodging Away from Home (-30%), Motor Vehicle Insurance (-29%), Used Cars and Trucks (-17%).
  • Biggest gainers: Jewelry and Watches (+23%), Motor Vehicle Parts and Equipment (+22%), Household Furnishings and Ops (+16%), New Vehicles (+16%), Men’s and Boys’ Apparel (+13%).
  • So…here’s the thing. My early guess at Median CPI is +0.33% m/m, which would be the highest since early 2007. So folks, this isn’t as tame a number as it looks like. Rents are rising, and inflation is broadening.
  • If you took out Used Cars, Lodging Away from Home, etc when they were spiking, then to be fair you should be taking them out now when they’re declining. Because that’s most of the story here.
  • Quick chart of y/y core goods and services inflation. Core Services has a much larger weight, and much of it is rents. Core goods off the boil but has a ways to decelerate yet.
  • Let’s do the 4-pieces chart and the diffusion index then wrap up.
  • Piece 1: Food & Energy. Steady upward pressure, but of course this tends to be mean-reverting.
  • Core goods – I already basically showed this chart. Used cars starting to decelerate and pull this down, but New cars accelerating. And broad pressure elsewhere. Watch this. If it goes only back to 3%, that’s a big deal. It’s been a deflationary force for many years.
  • Core Services less Rent of Shelter. Steady downward pressure in pharma, but upward in hospital services. Downward in public transportation. But still, not collapsed yet.
  • And piece 4, rent of shelter, the biggest and slowest and the story for the next year-plus. Going lots higher.
  • Actually while the diffusion index is calculating let me start the wrap-up. First: this number was truly weird in that reopening categories that had been leading the so-called ‘transitory’ spike were the ones that went down. I don’t know that anyone was looking for that.
  • But OUTSIDE of those “re-closing” categories, inflation was pretty solid. Rents and OER rose, although we haven’t yet seen much effect of the end of the eviction moratorium. We will. And there was pretty good breadth.
  • So what does this mean for the Fed? GREAT NEWS! A larger-than-expected decline in core CPI will give the doves what they need to demur on tapering. I think the odds of tapering just dropped. But they didn’t much want to taper anyway.
  • I don’t think this really changes the narrative – rents are going to drive core inflation higher, and the broadening inflation is going to help un-anchor inflation expectations – but it gives the most dovish Fed in 40 years cover.
  • 10-year breakevens at this hour are -2.5bps or so. They’ll be a little heavy as the carry traders lighten up, but this is a dip that is worth buying IMO. Of course, there aren’t many retail products where you can make that play.
  • Here’s the last chart. I pointed out the rents thing, which will be one big story going forward. The other is the broadening of inflation. The Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index declined (vy slightly) this month, but it’s still at levels rarely seen in last 20 years.
  • That’s a wrap for today. I appreciate the follows, re-tweets, and counterpoints. If you’re interested in investing implications of all of this, hit our contact form at https://www.EnduringInvestments.com  Download the Inflation Guy app. Try out the podcast! Thanks for tuning in.

The upshot of today’s figures is simple: we expected the Used Cars, Hotels, and other “COVID categories” to flatten out after their big rebound. But no one that I know was looking for them to plunge again. That’s weird, but it makes analysis pretty simple. If you thought that it made sense to look through those one-off spikes to the underlying trends before (although the underlying trends weren’t all that encouraging, they were better than the spikes!) then you ought to probably look through the re-collapse. And outside of those “re-closing” categories, inflation is broadening and rents are accelerating, just like I’ve been expecting. So don’t get too excited that we’ve seen the peak in inflation just yet.

Remember the comparisons to last year get super easy here for the next six months. September 2020 was +0.19% on core inflation; then we have +0.07%, +0.17%, +0.04%, +0.03%, and +0.10%. And Lodging Away from Home won’t plunge every month – I’ll take the “over” on all six of these. And that means y/y core inflation is going to be accelerating from today’s 4.0%, for at least the next six months.

Moreover, median inflation is going go be rising towards those numbers too, as will trimmed-mean and the other better measures of the inflation distribution’s central tendency. There’s not much in this figure that is bona fide good news for the Fed. But I think they’ll take the win anyway, even if it’s on a bad call by the referee.

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (August 2021)

August 11, 2021 1 comment

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! And, of course, download the Inflation Guy app from your app store!

  • Now for the walk up: We’ve now had four “high” surprises in a row from the CPI report. In each case, the market for the setting (in the interbank CPI market) has been closer than the economists’ estimate, but still too low.
  • The last four prints on CORE CPI are +0.34%, +0.92%, +0.74%, and +0.88%. The economist consensus for today is 0.4%, with the market closer to a rounded-up 0.5%.
  • (N.b. Core CPI doesn’t trade, but the headline CPI index traded at 273.1 yesterday and that implies 0.54% m/m on headline and something a little less on core)
  • If the economists are right, y/y headline will drop down to 5.3% (just barely) and core to 4.3% from 4.5%. That will be the first decline in quite a while. Unfortunately, the comparisons to last year get easier from here. For the next 7 mos, core is comping 0.14% on average.
  • So even if today we see an ebb in y/y due to base effects, I believe we still have significantly higher highs in core inflation ahead.
  • Now, on the details: we may ACTUALLY see a DECLINE in Used Cars CPI, as the Black Book Used Vehicle Retention Index, the best leading indicator of Used Car CPI, dropped 2.5% last month.
  • But before you get too excited, note that the change in the BB index m/m only has the same SIGN as the change in the used car/truck index about 50% of the time over the last decade. Lagged 1 month, it’s about 60%.
  • So better chance for a decline in used cars next month. But it’s a risk of a drag, and it hasn’t been a risk for a while. One way or the other, the BIG contributions from Used Cars are past.
  • On the other hand, there’s still other “reopening categories” such as airfares, lodging away from home, and car/truck rental that are likely to still be jumpy. And New Cars as well, though this is less obviously a ‘reopening category’ and more about supply chain.
  • Who cares about those, honestly. If that’s where the strength comes from, economists just wave their hands dismissively and say “transitory.” Where I’m focused is shelter (of course), and on BREADTH.
  • Shelter will eventually rise a lot. For a while, the eviction moratorium was holding the average-paid-rent below asking rent increases. And, with another (questionable) extension in the moratorium, that effect is still there.
  • But we have started to see some increases in Primary rents and OER anyway. The difference is just too wide. So, while the meat of that acceleration is ahead of us by some ways, I’m expecting to see it start to happen.
  • And breadth – that’s the real story to watch. Our diffusion index is the highest in years, because it’s not JUST the reopening categories (whatever you read). The scariest number would be another 0.5% on core but without contribution from reopening categories.
  • Now what’s the market impact? Interesting question. There now looks like there is a majority of Fed heads who are willing to at least talk about tapering, and a high core number will reinforce that. But the important voices on the Committee remain firmly dovish.
  • Personally I think that, faced with the decision of somewhat higher inflation vs sharply lower markets, the Fed will err on the side of somewhat higher inflation and keep hoping their models are right.
  • So buy dips in breakevens (the high tails are not priced in, anyway), but not sure I’d be as eager to sell strength in nominals. Stocks probably go up either way, because that’s what stocks do these days (until they don’t).
  • There’s a lot of chatter from companies about being forced to push through price increases and seeing consumers actually not push back as much as they thought, so this is feeling less transitory every day. Don’t think we are going back to 0.1%-0.2% per month soon.
  • That’s all for now. My gut tells me the consensus has finally gotten to something close to a fair bet, but I won’t be shocked at all if we get another 0.7% on core. I also won’t be surprised by a small miss lower caused by some one-off change. So fair, but large error bars.

  • Well, on headline CPI it was finally a tie between economists (slightly too low) and the market (equally too high). But pretty close. Core was 0.33% m/m, slightly soft of estimates.
  • 0.33% m/m, of course, is still 4% annualized on core. But let’s see the breakdown.
  • Glancing I can see the curious bit will be the softness in Primary Rents. 0.156% m/m vs 0.23% last month. That seems odd, but importantly it also is unsustainable. Primary rents are going to go MUCH higher.
  • In reopening categories, Airfares FELL -0.14% m/m (+2.7% last mo). Lodging Away from Home +6% (+6.95% last). Used Cars +0.22% m/m – no decline, but feels like it after +10.5% last month! New Cars +1.72% m/m.
  • Now here’s a big surprise in a very little category. So not much impact, but car and truck rental -4.6% m/m. Last month +5.2%. Rented a car recently? That’s an odd one. But only 0.13% of CPI so rounds to 0.01% effect.
  • The broad core categories: Core Goods +8.5% y/y (8.7% last month); Core Services +2.9% (3.1% last month).
  • Core inflation ex-shelter decelerated to only 5.3% y/y from 5.8%. That’s a little tongue-in-cheek. But to be fair, used cars is still a large part of this.
  • Only large declines (<-10% annualized) in core were Car & Truck Rental and Motor Vehicle Insurance. Large increases in Lodging Away from Home (101%), Personal Care Services (29%), New Vehicles (23%), Car parts/equipment (13%) and Car maintenance/repair (11%). All m.m ann’lized.
  • Early guess at Median is that it will be 0.30%, which would be the highest in several years if I am right. And that speaks to breadth.
  • Here is y/y Rent of Primary Residence. Again, this has a long way to go, to well above the prior levels in fact, unless the boom in housing prices never get reflected in rents.
  • And here is Owners’ Equivalent Rent. Which is moving higher a little more earnestly, but still reasonably inert.
  • Haven’t mentioned apparel. On a nonseasonally-adjusted basis it fell 1% m/m, but seasonally adjusted +0.04%.
  • And I haven’t mentioned Medical Care. Overall +0.26% m/m. Breakdown: Drugs +0.17% (-0.39% last month), Doctors’ Services +0.40% (+0.26%), Hospital Services +0.55% (+0.22%). Some signs there.
  • CPI – Doctors’ Services (y/y). Interesting ratchet pattern.
  • …if you ever think you understand the CPI, just look at Health Insurance. In the CPI, Health Insurance is a residual since consumers don’t pay most health insurance directly. Went from +21% to -9% y/y over last year.
  • So, the four-pieces breakdown. Then we’ll look at diffusion. Here is Food & Energy. No surprise. Not core, but felt in the pocketbook acutely especially by lower-wage employees.
  • Core Goods – slightly off the boil, thanks to Used Cars. This will come back down as the y/y Used Car spike gradually leaves the data. I’m not worried about this staying at 8%. But 4% or 5% given global shipping problems – wouldn’t surprise me.
  • Core services, ex rent-of-shelter. Air fare softness, motor vehicle insurance softness, car and truck rental softness – none of those likely to remain very soft in the near term I don’t think. And medical care heating up a little.
  • And rent of shelter. To be sure, a lot of this is Lodging-Away-from-Home. But then, so was most of the decline. This piece is going MUCH higher over the next year. Our model for OER has it over 5% next year.
  • Now, the big story is the diffusion. Inflation is broadening. Our inflation diffusion index is the highest in nine years. So it isn’t just the reopening categories, folks. Your eyes ain’t lying.
  • Here is the distribution of category price changes. Six months ago, this was skewed to the left. Now, it’s skewed to the right. Long tails to the high side is a signature of an inflationary process.
  • So, let’s sum up. The reopening categories are lessening in importance as we knew they would. Is inflation transitory then? It depends on the answer two two questions:
  • is shelter inflation going to rise? And/or is that transitory? Shelter is slow, and right now it is depressed by the eviction moratorium. It has a LONG way to go, unless home prices and wages plunge. I don’t see those things happening. Ergo, we’re going to see more here.
  • Is inflation due to supply chain constraints in a narrow group of categories? Answer here is no. Price acceleration is broadening. Apparent shortages, resulting in higher price, is how supply/demand imbalances are reconciled in a market economy – even if it’s demand-side.
  • The comps for core inflation get easier going forward. 0.35% next month, but then 0.19%, 0.07%, 0.17%, 0.05%, 0.03%, and 0.10%. Core inflation is going to reach new highs into early 2022. And Median inflation is going to gradually accelerate too as inflation broadens.
  • Last month, the CPI was high but it really WAS mostly about Used Cars. This month is lower, but it’s more worrisome because of the broadening of inflation pressures. I think there’s no turning back now. Inflation expectations are going to be broken.
  • Will the Fed care? I give a ‘taper’ sometime this year maybe a 50-50 chance, although I don’t think it will last very long since the moment that stocks and bonds soften, QE will be back. Every taper so far has led eventually to larger QE!
  • I give almost no chance of an actual hike in the overnight rate, for a very long time. I don’t think Powell or Brainard are going to turn into hawks – they may express alarm at inflation but they would be more alarmed by an equity bear market. Hope I’m wrong.
  • That’s all for today. Remember to download the Inflation Guy app. Tune into @TDANetwork at 1:45ET today. And register for the Simplify webinar tomorrow at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/5216230941517/WN_O20LE_xlRUOAe7ysdVBDnA  Harley Bassman and Mike Green are the hosts! Busy busy Inflation Guy. Thanks for tuning in!

Well, I had said “the scariest number would be another 0.5% on core but without contribution from reopening categories.” We didn’t exactly get that; it was a little softer on core and some of the reopening categories still contributed. But not all of them. The number of inflating categories is getting broader, and shelter is starting to rise – although still very slowly, thanks to the continued eviction moratorium. All that means is that the rise in rents will be smeared over a longer period, and won’t really get started for a few months although I think there are starting to be clues in the data that shelter costs are percolating. With soft comps, this means that late Q3 and Q4 are very likely to see a sharp acceleration in core inflation. If we only average 0.3% m/m on core inflation, then by March (February’s print) core inflation will be at 5.4%, compared to 4.3% now.

Will that matter to the Fed? Until the people come with torches, probably not. However, these days – I wouldn’t count out the possibility of torch-bearing mobs.

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