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In this episode, we are joined by two special guests – Mary Kissel and Travis Kimmel – as well as our regular co-host Albert Marko. Mary is the EVP and senior policy advisor at Stephens. She was the senior-most aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was on the editorial board for Wall Street Journal. Travis Kimmel is a technology entrepreneur, market philosopher, and spicy tweeter.
First, we dig into the approach to getting out of the current stagflationary model. The Bank of England, the ECB, the Fed, and the BOJ are starting a managed decline. And the real question is, is that really necessary? Mary Kissel walks us through how the Fed may actually be making things worse.
We all know the Fed raised by 75bps and is expected to continue with at least 50bps in December. Raising rates has decimated tech names and made operations significantly more challenging. Travis Kimmel discusses the impact of the whiplash in interest rates on operators, on the people who run companies, and how they run those companies in this type of environment.
And then finally, with Albert, we talk about Brazil. We saw a big election result in Brazil this week with Lula declared the winner. Many Brazilians are not happy.
Also, note that Brazil is one of the largest emerging economies and a huge trade partner for China. Lula has already made comments in support of Russia in the war with Ukraine. What does this mean? Is Brazil a risk for US power in the western hemisphere, given China’s inroads in Venezuela, etc?
1. Can we grow out of this stagflationary muddle?
2. Impact of Fed rates whiplash on operators
3. How big of a risk is Brazil?
This is the 40th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.
Tony Nash: Hi, and welcome to the week ahead. I’m Tony Nash, and I’m joined this week by Mary Kissel, Travis Kimmel and Albert Marko. You all know Albert well.
Mary Kissel is the EVP and senior policy advisor at Stevens. She was the senior-most aide to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. She was editorial board for Wall Street Journal. Mary is extremely well known. She doesn’t need an introduction.
Travis Kimmel is a technology entrepreneur, market philosopher and a spicy tweeter. So really glad to have you both today. I really appreciate it.
Before we get started, I’m going to take 30 seconds on CI Futures, our core subscription product. CI Futures is a machine learning platform where we forecast market and economic variables.
We forecast currencies, commodities, equity indices. Every week markets closed, we automatically download that data, have trillions of calculations, have new forecasts up for you Monday morning we show you our error. You understand the risk associated with using our data. I don’t know if anybody else in the market who shows you their forecast error. We also forecast about 2000 economic variables for the top 50 economies globally and that is reforecast every month.
Let’s move on. Thanks guys. Thanks very much.
So this week we’re going to move on to some key themes. First, there’s a really interesting concept that Mary brought up. Can we grow out of this Stagflationary muddle? And I really look forward to getting into that a little deeper.
We’re going to also with Travis talk about the impact of the whiplash in interest rates on operators, on the people who run companies and how they run those companies in this type of environment.
And then finally with Albert we’re going to talk about Brazil. We’ve had a big political change in Brazil and it seems more meaningful than we’re being kind of told. So I want to dig a little bit into that.
Mary, first let’s dig into kind of the approach to getting out of this Stagflationary model. So the UK, the Bank of England, the ECB, the Fed, the BOJ, they all seem to be, as you said, starting a managed decline. And the real question is, is that really necessary?
And I’ve got on the screen the balance sheets for the ECB, BOJ and BoE and the Fed of course.
And then we also have a graphic for the CPI versus the money supply. Looking at CPI change and what that is related to the money supply.
Do we in fact need to manage this? Decline I think is a real question and I guess who is growing out of this? I think it’s possible that China grows out of it. I think that’s the only card they have right now. But I’m really curious to hear
your thoughts on this.
Mary Kissel: Well, it’s great to be with you Tony, Albert, Travis, thanks for inviting me today.
Of course growing is the best option. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most politically salable option. But obviously it’s preferable to inflating away your debt and effectively ruining the savings of seniors and putting an enormous burden, particularly on the poorest and in our various economies. Do they developed or developing economies?
I hate to talk politics because I think it’s always easier for the street to say, “well, you know, we’ve got these neat models and economic forecasts and if you just pulled this lever or that lever, we could achieve X amount of growth.” But the reality is that you have to take politics into account and it’s just very difficult to take the kind of measures that we need to take to grow. And I think you saw that you mentioned the UK and your introduction. You saw that most clearly recently in the UK, where former Prime Minister Liz Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Khortang came out with really what was the only plan outside of Greece?
Greece is the only country that is focusing on growth. They’re looking to hit investment grade next year. But beyond that, the UK was the only country that had really put forth that formula that we know works, which is it’s not just about tax cuts and reducing that burden, it was about stimulating the supply side, opening up Britain’s energy reserves, fracking, going back to the North Sea, encouraging investment.
I mean, if you look at the UK and their economic statistics, it’s pretty shocking. I mean, the two decades prior to the Pandemic, they had growth less than 2% real wages were stagnant for 15 years. Their investment was terrible, even lagging behind their OECD peers. And yet you’ve had twelve years of Conservative governance there and they haven’t really turned the corner. Why? Because politically it’s just simply easier to tax and spend. And once you get on that track, it’s really hard to get off of it. So maybe I’m talking too long, you just one more time.
TN: No, this is a great point. But in talking about managed growth and you brought up politics, I feel like there’s this kind of fate accompli in most Western governments around. Well, we’re really on the downside of our opportunity and we’re a declining country, so we’re just going to manage ourselves that way. And when I think about things like the semiconductor investments and other things coming into the US.
I live in Texas, I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country, but it is really booming here. We have a lot of tech companies coming in, we have a lot of investment coming in. It’s a good investment climate. I mean, for anybody in New York or California, it’s terrible here, a lot of rattlesnakes and scorpions. But in terms of the economy, really great.
And so I want to talk about that a little bit in terms of kind of the fake company around. Well, we’re kind of past our prime. Is that kind of a baby boomer thing? I mean, millennials are as big as baby boomers. So is there this demographic assumption baked into that?
MK: Well, look, I mean, democracies get the leadership that they elect, period. And so, you know, I may not like what’s happening in Britain. I may think that they’re on the road to looking like France in terms of their, you know, permanently high double digit unemployment and lousy investment and lousy growth, lousy prospects for their young people. If they’re voting for that, that’s what they’re going to get.
I think that from an investment community. When I’m talking to Stephen’s clients, they’re saying, all right, well, where is there the opportunity for a political process to move us in the other direction? And that’s really just the United States over the next couple of years. I mean, that’s kind of it. Not going to happen in Japan, it’s definitely not happening in Australia, it’s not going to happen in continental Europe.
But the danger here is that the population, particularly the young people, get so mad that they realize that they have no opportunities left, that you see popular protests and you see a push to political extremes. So, look, protests are still going on in France. You’ve got protests starting to erupt in Britain. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw that in more places across the continent as this energy inflation starts to hurt and as voters realize that this formula of price caps on energy, which isn’t going to solve any of the underlying supply problems of taxing and spending.
So it’s just a huge burden if you want to kind of start a business and get something going. No real move towards less red tape or the ability to kind of start a business and innovate. People are going to get upset at that. Again, I don’t think Populism is dead on the continent, and I think that the US, as these countries kind of go down, I think the US looks more and more attractive.
Albert Marko: No, I mean, Mary is absolutely correct. I’ve always been a proponent of looking at politics in terms of investing, just because things have been shifting so much, being in the United States, emerging markets, which is the rest of the world at the moment, like Mary said. Yeah, I mean, Populism
is absolutely not dead. With layoffs looming in the United States, we’re probably going to see more protests here in the United States gearing up to 2024.
But just like Mary said, I don’t see anywhere else in the world right now that you can actually invest in except for the United States. And I think it’s a little bit by design, by Yellen in them to force money to come out of those countries and into the United States. Although it’s a good thing for the United States in the short term, it’s destructive long term for the global markets.
MK: Sorry, just one more point. In order to get political change and to get back to that growth idea, you have to have real differences between the left and the right in democracies. And I think a lesson that came out of a place like, say, France, where Macron just sat himself in the middle, he destroyed the choice.
And you know, the Conservatives have done the same thing in the UK. They’ve sat themselves in the middle. They took a lot of the center left platform. So what are you going to do if you’re sitting in Manchester, right? Like, who do you like? Labor light in Rishi Sunak or do you just vote for labor? I mean, it doesn’t really matter, does it? You’re going to get the same outcome, right?
TN: So we’re going to do a little bit of what Tom Keen talked about regular. We’re going to kind of rip up the script here and I’m going to ask about you talk about inflation, talk about the leadership in places like Europe. And is it at all possible I know this is kind of a silly question, but is it all possible that in places like the UK or continental Europe that it’s possible to start fracking? That we start getting some of that upstream activity to ease the burden of energy crisis?
MK: No, you’re going to need a war.
TN: Okay? So the dirty upstream stuff, according to Europe, is other people’s problem. They just want cheap energy.
MK: Look, it took Putin slaughtering thousands of people in Ukraine for them to realize that, hey, maybe Russia isn’t a secure supplier and yet they’re still not welcoming fracking. They’re still not coming to the United States and saying, hey, how do we open up more LNG? What are you guys doing?
Right? I mean, this is unbelievable. What is it going to take?
TN: Something like Larry Tankers sitting off of Europe right now, waiting to unload because there’s not enough capacity?
AM: What it’s going to take is exactly what you said, political people, to the point where it just starts dripping over governments. And right now there’s been a push for Blinken to push leftist governments throughout the world right now that it’s just like the status quo everywhere. They’re not going to open up the franking. We’re not going to touch any kind of environmental issues over in Europe right now.
MK: Look at Rishi Sunak doing a U-turn and going to the COP conference. I mean, this has to be the most ridiculous grouping I’ve ever heard of. I mean, at a time when you’ve got like ten plus inflation and people can barely pay their bills or buy eggs or the rest of it, or fill up their car, they’re going to talk about climate change. Are you kidding me?
TN: China’s tripling down on coal.
MK: Yeah, I’m also clean climate too. I don’t care what kind of energy we use, as long as the market’s figuring it out and we’re letting innovation happen, period.
AM: Well, they’re going to start blaming Brexit. Even the Tories are going to be like, oh, maybe we should stay into the EU.
MK: Could Britain go back to the EU?
AM: Maybe? Yeah, they could.
Travis Kimmel: I think the thing that’s really challenging here is we just need coherent and stable frameworks for a lot of the stuff, whether it’s energy policy, monetary policy, like if you think about what the purpose of markets are, to take a really simple example, take a CSA. What is that? It’s a futures market. It’s done in a really small scale. You got a farmer who’s basically short forward produce, right, and you’re buying futures and then you’re taking delivery of whatever lettuce and cabbage and.
If you think about that as it’s a very simple example of what a market is designed to do, it’s designed to allow operators to derisk their business. A large futures market is no different. I mean, I work in tech. We’re sort of like extreme beta, right? And what we just went through here is we went through this period where everyone was looking at a massive boom as a result of policy. And so we all started hiring and there was the time we’re all trying to hire the same time. Staff up handles the influx of business and then in the middle of that staffing motion, your reverse course. So now you have these companies that are… You heard Stripe come out, they’re cutting 14% and just owning it. Like we missed-staff for the environment.
There was almost no way to navigate that properly for operators. And so what you have is you have this destructive policy impulse that is sort of like ruining the whole reason we have markets in the first place.
The reason we have markets is to allow for derisking. And speculators come in there and they provide liquidity and it’s awesome. Markets are awesome. But we’re removing the value that markets once had for operators. And if you’re out here in the economy running a business, it’s extremely hard to navigate that.
TN: Yeah, Travis, that’s a great segue. And let me put up your tweet that you put up earlier this week. Talking about Powell saying some of you losing your job is like little rays of sunlight to me and I think that’s great.
And talking about how do operators work in areas in times of rates whiplash like this, I think bringing it back to risk is, is it? Right. And I run a tech firm. You run a tech firm and it’s not about high rates or low rates. It’s about the magnitude of change for planning. Right. So we can plan for a high rates environment if we know that’s going to happen.
We can plan for a low rates environment if we know that’s going to happen. But that stability is what economies like the US are built on. Right? Yes.
You mentioned one word, “coherence.” And I’m afraid that that’s a little bit too much to ask from policymakers right now, especially when we have the push pull going on with the Fed and the Treasury right now, right?
TK: Yeah. I think we’ve been overdriving this thing for years now. Basically, you saw this in, think about the events that we tried to respond to policy with. You have basically volmageddon. They were like, oh, and they used policy to address that. So your policy takes two freaking years to come through. I mean, how can you respond to a pandemic via policy? I know people get really upset about the SPVs where they short up private credit, but I would say that was probably the smartest thing they did.
So this pandemic and it was like, oh, it’s a few hundred million, right? And so they shore up private credit. Like we’ll backstop that. Arguably, that is the original intent of central banking, is that motion. Of course, you’re supposed to do a higher interest rate and all that badge itself, but whatever.
So that tiny motion was sort of interesting and maybe well played, but flooring rates, making money free and then just jamming liquidity into the economy at the same time, and we’re basically, they generated this boom that we’re now on the back of.
Now we’re reversing that super hard. I just don’t think you can respond to this kind of stuff with monetary or fiscal policy. I don’t think you can respond to emergent events. It’s not an emergency thing. What these are designed to do is to tune structural weirdness like you could tune a demographic change because demographics aren’t going to change that much in a short period of time. And so you can apply a policy to that and wait for the policy to translate through. I think what I would have liked to see when they realized their error here is just set rates at whatever, 3%, leave the balance sheet slowly until you’re back to where you want to be. And don’t do much. All these extreme action where the Fed comes in, they’re like, we get an event we don’t like, whether it’s the coronavirus or inflation or whatever. And they’re like, we’re on it. We’re going to respond swift and hard. That’s the mistake. You can’t do that. So we’re now going to get this…
What I expect to see here is eventually they will solve inflation. But that solution is by the time it translates through, it’s going to have its own momentum and it’s going to be very destructive.
TN: Oh, yeah. I think the real irony is you have publicly traded companies that are expected to give market kind of insight twelve months out to the penny on the share level, right. But then you have Powell standing in front of the world saying, we’re not really sure what we’re going to do next month. It may be whatever, and it’s data dependent. It’s like, really? Like, how many people do you have, analysts do you have? And you don’t know what you’re going to do in 30 days? That’s crazy. Right?
MK: I think Travis is raising such a good point. And the underlying theme here is that is to do something right and to juice the markets on the monetary and the fiscal side. That’s why I put in a plug. If you haven’t read it. James Grant’s book on the 1921 crash, like The Forgotten Depression, such a great book because essentially it’s like do nothing in the market. It will take pain, but then we’ll come back up.
TK: I love you mention that example. It looks like we are generating that exact same, it looks like we’re
generating a depression. Not like the depression that everyone remembers, but that little, very short, swift, extremely difficult period of time. It’s like a couple years in 1920. We’re teeing up the same thing here. It’s really weird.
MK: People make it worse. I don’t know, Travis.
TK: Look, I’m not going to fail that.
MK: I think you could be in the 30s because they’re not going to do nothing, right? They’re going to cap energy prices. They’re going to do more programs to help people.
TK: You have to let the market achieve homeostasis. And the bond market is like, it’s the spine of the economy, and we just keep whipping it back and forth. So everything else is going to be high data.
AM: Yeah, but why are they whipping it? It’s because the political influences within the central banking system, whether they’re Treasury and the Fed. Right now, nobody is talking about the real civil war happening between conservative Powell and some of his members at the Fed, and Lail Brainard and Yellen, who are liberal that are trying to help Democrats by pumping these markets. They crush the bond market only to pump it up two points, like within minutes to pump the Nasdaq, and then the market starts running with it, and then they parade out all these liberal members of the Fed to counteract Powell’s speech yesterday.
So it’s like we can hope for stability, but until they depoliticize the Fed to the point where it’s actually acting properly, I think it’s just a pipe dream.
TN: Do you think Powell is overplaying because of the kind of politics inside the Fed?
AM: Oh, absolutely, because if you look at the Fed minutes in the FOMC releases, those are going to continue to be muted because it’s a cooperative process. Right. They have all the members talked about vote on issues and whatnot, and then Powell has to come out there and counteract that and say, listen, things aren’t working out like the minutes are reflecting, so I’m telling you we’re going to go 75 basis points next meeting. And then again today, they bring out another Fed member to say, oh, no, it might be 50, it might be 50, and then the market shoots up 100 points. This is absurd. Right? That’s an untradable market. It’s untradable market. Right? Yeah.
TN: Since we’re talking about policy fumbles, and Mary recommended a book. I don’t know if you’ve read, Ammonie Schlay’s The Forgotten Man, fantastic book about the 1930s, talking about policy error after policy error after policy error. FDR is proclaimed as this hero who got us out of the Great Depression, and he absolutely screwed up time and time and time again, and took what could have been a two-year recession and turn it into a twelve-year recession. Right? Yeah.
And so are we entering that again? That’s the real question. And it’s really easy for people to say, oh, we’re in the 30s again. I mean, I hear that so many times, it’s just tiring. Right. But we have to look at why the 30s happened. We have to look at why 1921 was so quick and then understanding what the implications for policy and the economy are.
Travis, what you brought up in terms of quick, sharp actions for specific events is exactly what we need. I think rate rises are stupid. Playing these stupid rate rise games, it freaks everyone out. It creates volatility, uncertainty, and nobody can plan. And then you get between now I think we talked about this two weeks ago, Albert, between now and the end of the year, we’re going to see so many layoffs in tech companies and they’re all going to get them just in time for Christmas, because that’s what happens all the time. Right?
TK: The thing that Albert highlights here is really interesting. It’s like, from a decision making perspective, we have the speed wobbles. You’re riding a bike and you get that thing, it’s like, you know you’re going down, you can’t pull out. We just have that right now. We’re whipping this thing back and forth. We’re being hyper reactive. And until we get to a place where we can just sort of chill for a while. Does anybody think that’s on the horizon? It doesn’t look like it. No.
AM: Not as long as politics and inflation are taking hold and there’s elections to be won. That just can’t happen.
MK: I think investors, they go back to basics. They say, OK, where do we have a stable rule of law Where do we have any kind of predictability in the political process? Or even, you know, as I said, the US like the opportunity to have a more attractive business environment.
And where do we have resources? You know, human resource, mineral resources, you know, and so that’s essentially the Gulf in the United States.
TN: Don’t talk to Texas too much, Mary, please. Okay, perfect. Guys, thanks for that.
Let’s move on to Brazil. Brazil’s obviously a really big story this week, and Albert, we saw Lula declared the winner. This was very much a 50-50 election. Of course there were irregularities. There were irregularities in every election. We’ve seen five days of protest now. I’ve got a tweet up from Steve Hanke talking about tens of thousands of Brazilians out who are Bolsonaro supporters.
But what’s really interesting to me about this is not really who wins, but Brazil is a huge supplier of things like energy, frozen chicken, soybeans, these sorts of things to China. And so this type of disruption can hurt that type of trade. We’ve also had Lula already make supportive comments of Russia shortly after the results were announced. So, Albert, what does this mean? What do we need to be looking out for?
AM: Commodities, really. Soybeans, soybeans, corn, ethanol and everything tied into that. Now you’re looking at Brazil, which you’d mentioned is a big supplier to China for soybeans. And then he goes on and declares that Putin is right in Ukraine. It just smells so bad right now for the United States and the longterm interest in the region.
Like I mentioned before, these push for leftist governments, it’s just not wise. I mean, it’s shortsighted.
Long term, these leftist governments are really susceptible to Beijing and Russia at the moment. So, you know, you’re out there and Lula comes out and immediately declares, like, the World Economic Forum is correct, and we’re going to take on deforestation, which is obviously going to obviously going to depress the soybean crowd because it takes years.
How the soybean crops work is like, you clear land, and you got to let them sit there for two years, and then you start rotating in and out. So there will be a steady supply of soybeans that the Chinese eat up pretty much, I think, like 60% or 70% of their crop every year. So what are we looking at? Higher food prices across the board, everywhere in the United States is specifically a problem.
TN: So I’m interested in that regional political angle you mentioned. So if we look at Brazil, we look at Venezuela, we look at Colombia, the government’s coming into kind of our region, and the influence that China has on, say, Venezuela with the debt that’s owed to China Development Bank and then with Brazil on the trade side and so on, is that a regional political risk for the US?
AM: It’s an incredible risk. I mean, you’re looking at the Argentinians about to sell a naval base to the Chinese. So now they have Atlantic access. Bolivia was a problem with the lithium mines to the Chinese. Peru was starting to set up naval bases for the Chinese. I mean, it’s like, how do we overlook this? This is right in our backyard, and we’re sitting there overlooking leftist governments taking control and then flipping against us the very next minute. I don’t understand what Blinken and Jake Sullivan are looking at here. What plan do they have for US interests long term when these governments routinely act against us? Venezuela decided to go start talks with Colombia again. US friendly nation in any sense of the word. So it just boggles my mind at the moment.
TN: So, Mary, you’ve sat in the seat. What would you be thinking at this point?
MK: Well, the key to all of this is Cuba because none of these regimes, many of them, would not be in power were it not for the Cuban security services, which is not really talked about, but, you know, Maduro good examples, publicly available information. His private security officers are all Cubans. So I think Biden had a fantastic opportunity early in his term. All these Cuban people came out under the streets. We should have turned on the Internet and allowed them to determine their own fate.
But instead, where did that go? Nobody seems to care. I think Latin America today for the administration, is more about domestic political ends, and it is about thinking strategically about wait a second. Okay, we’ve got some pretty decently large markets, as Travis pointed out, right?
In Brazil, in Argentina, and Mexico is going way far away from us. That’s another huge story nobody’s talking about. Canada. Right? There’s a lot of opportunity within the hemisphere to create market openings and growth for all of us, but they’re not thinking about it. They really don’t care. It’s about talking about democracy in Brazil so they can talk about the state of democracy in the United States.
AM: Yeah, it’s just because Colombia was such a great US ally and the government was solidly behind the United States and a focal point for Latin American aspirations, and then you go and push for a leftist government that’s favorable to Maduro. I don’t understand what goes through their heads at the moment.
TN: Great. Okay, thanks for that, guys. Just one last question for all of you. Kind of don’t have to necessarily come in individually, but we’ve had all these economic announcements this week. We’ve got the elections, the midterms, US midterms next week. What are you guys looking for in the week ahead Generally? I guess, Albert, you have some specific ideas, but for Travis and Mary, what do you guys expect in the week ahead?
AM: For the midterms, it’s pretty much set in stone as the Republicans are going to take control of the elite the House most likely to Senate by two seats. So you know how the market reacts. Whether we start dumping is really going to probably depend on CPI. So that’s actually what I’m going to really watch, the CPI so we can solidify the 75 basis point rate hike in December.
TN: Okay, great. Travis, any thoughts.
TK: In the political sphere, I’m just kind of looking for individuals that make sense. I’m not really, I don’t really have team allegiances. I just want somebody who’s talking sense.
I think the CPI will be interesting. In terms of intraweek stuff, I try not to think of markets that way. I try to think of a little more defensively and where I want to end up. So if I had a position on, I want to be able to ignore it for a month or two while I just focus on doing my job. I’m a pretty defensive player here. Especially with all the whip.
MK: I think even if Albert is right, and I think he is, that Republicans take control of one or more houses, the regulatory state is going to grind on. So I’m really not looking so much at the federal level. I’m looking at governor’s races where like a Republican Lee Zeldin as Governor of New York could open up fracking in New York.
TN: Is that a real possibility, do you think?
MK: I think it could be, absolutely. Remember Cuomo shut it down himself, so why couldn’t Zeldin open it up?
TN: No, but do you think Zeldin being elected is a real possibility, do you think?
MK: Oh yeah. Really? Remember Giuliani, the pollsters went out and they were like, hey, you’re going to vote for Rudy? And everyone on the Upper West Side said, no, I’d never vote for that guy. Right. And then they looked at the crime in the mess, and then they went into the polling moves and they went yeah, exactly. Right.
TN: So it could be New York, could be Michigan, some of these other places that have had some polarizing governors kind of move more to the right or to the middle.
TK: Do you think that policy at a state level is sufficient to justify capex for energy companies?
MK: No. I mean, really, only the Feds can make a meaningful difference at the margin. I talk a lot to clients about the regulatory state, because we don’t talk about it a lot. But that really is what depresses investment.