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Week Ahead

Preparing for Economic Turbulence: The Fed’s Q2 Danger Zone and Russian Oil Cuts

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In this episode of “The Week Ahead,” host Tony Nash is joined by Brent Johnson, CEO of Santiago Capital, and Tracy Shuchart, a commodities trader at Hilltower Resource Advisors, to discuss the most pressing economic themes for the upcoming week.

One of the key topics of discussion is the Federal Reserve’s “Q2 Danger Zone,” which Brent believes could be a potentially scary time for the economy. He notes that we are still less than a year away from the first rate hike, and it often takes 12-18 months for rate hikes to show up in the economy. By the summer of 2022, we will be right in the heart of that time period, coinciding with YoY inflation numbers that should come down due to the crazy comparisons from the previous year. Brent warns that even if inflation remains somewhat sticky, we could see a bunch of disinflationary prints at the same time, which will make it challenging for the Fed. Moreover, by that time, Owner Equivalent Rents are expected to fall, adding to the Fed’s challenges.

Tracy then delves into the topic of oil production and cuts, specifically Russia’s decision to cut 500k barrels. She explains what this means for the market, how it could impact crude prices, and who will be hurt the most – Asia or the West. Tracy also raises an interesting point about Russia’s decision to smuggle oil through Albania despite the cuts, leaving us with questions about their motivations.

Finally, the discussion turns to commercial and industrial loan growth, which saw a sharp rise after rate hikes started. Tracy explores why this is happening, and what it means for the economy. She believes that companies are taking out loans to fund capital expenditures, which is good news for the economy as it indicates that businesses are investing in themselves and their future growth.

Key themes:
1. The Fed’s Q2 Danger Zone
2. Capex & C&I Loan Growth
3. 500k fewer Russian barrels

This is the 55th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. Today we’re joined by Brent Johnson and Tracy Shuchart. We may be joined by Albert Marko at some time, but we’re just going to focus on Brent and Tracy right now. Guys, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. I really appreciate it.

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We’ve got a few key things, themes we’re going to cover today. First is the Fed’s second quarter danger zone. There’s a lot setting up for Q2, and Brent’s going to talk us through that. Then we’re going to get into Capex and CNI, commercial and industrial loan growth. And then finally, we’re going to talk about those Russian barrels that are coming off the market this month, and Tracy will talk us through the impact there.

Okay. Guys, thanks a lot for taking the time. Brent, when I asked you what you want to talk about, you really want to talk about this kind of Q2, potentially Q3, these issues that we may see in markets in that time. Can you help me understand or help us understand what are you looking for there? Because there’s a lot going on, of course, and you can talk us through a number of items. But I have a tweet from Daniel Lacalle, who’s joined us a few times talking about the ECB under pressure for faster rate hikes.

We’re seeing similar stuff in the US. But markets keep going up. What are you thinking?


Well, I think there’s a couple of very, I guess, poignant and competing narratives fighting each other right now. And they’ve been fighting each other for a while. And I’ll explain why I think they’re fighting each other. But I’ll also explain a little bit about why I think Q2 and Q3 have the potential, again, there’s no guarantee. We’re all speculating here. But has the potential for one of these narratives to kind of come to the fore or something to change dramatically in Q2 or Q3. So I think the first narrative that has been around for a year now, so we’re almost still not yet, but very close to now, the one year anniversary from the first rate hike. And I think a lot of people forget that it hasn’t even been a year yet since they started raising rates. And typically when you raise rates, it doesn’t have an immediate impact in the economy. Sometimes it takes nine months, twelve months, 18 months for those rate hikes actually kind of work there through the economy and have the full effect of them show up. So we’re not even to a year yet, but in another three or four months we’ll be in the 12- to 18-month range when they typically start to show up.

Now, in the meantime, we continue to have inflationary prints that are stickier than some people have expected. Again, part of the reason markets have been pretty favorable for the last two, three, four months is the expectation that rate hikes would slow and potentially even reverse and maybe we even get to a cutting cycle. And as a result, the markets are front running that. But now in the last couple of weeks and so at the beginning of the year, we had a big rush up in bond prices as rate hike expectations came down, and stock prices and commodity prices. But for the last month, let’s call it since the, to the last week of January, 1 week of February, I’ve kind of turned it violently sideways. We’ve gone up and down and up and down and up and down, but kind of just treaded water. And actually if you look back two years, we’re kind of where we were a couple of years ago. We’ve gone up and we’ve gone down, but we’re kind of where we were two years ago. But because of the stickiness, the relative stickiness of the inflationary prints, this idea that rate hikes are now going to go the other way is starting to get a little queasy.

And maybe they’re going to have to go back to 50, maybe they’re going to have to go longer, maybe they’re going to have to go higher for longer. And so now markets are trying to figure this all out. And so the reason I think once we get into Q2 and Q3, it gets very important is for two reasons. One, if things stay sticky in the meantime, the Fed may have to either keep hiking or continue to message higher for longer. And then if at the same time all of the previous interest rate hikes start to show up in the economy and then at that point we are going to be in the heart of the year-over-year inflationary prints. And those will most likely show negative. Even if inflation is still high, it’s probably, you know, I think was it last June or last July we had the 9% print in inflation. So even if this year it comes in at 7%, it’s going to show a negative two year-over-year. And so that puts the Fed in the position, okay, inflation is starting to come down, we’re making progress. But you still have high inflation.

So does that mean that they stop or do they start? And it’s going to be at the same time where all the previous rate hikes are going to be showing up in the economy. Right.


Sorry, go ahead.


No, but my point is we’re getting to the point where a lot of the decisions that have already been made would naturally start showing up in the economy, but we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime, the Fed is in a tough spot as to whether to continue rate hikes or to slow them down because we are seeing some disinflationary pressures. Right. And so they’re in a tough spot right now.


Yeah. When Powell spoke, gosh, I think it was in the last meeting, he talked about the lag effects of Fed policy, and it was almost in a defensive way, saying, hey, it may not look like much is going on, but there are serious lag effects to our policies and you better watch out. And I think that’s when they rolled out the 25s or they started rolling out the 25s.

I’m not sure that at this point I see an end to 25s. Sam Rine’s on the show talks several times about how it’s at least 25s until mid-summer. Right.


I think so.


And I think we’re starting to get some nervousness from the pace of inflation in Europe. And I think that’s kind of bleeding over here a little bit because people are seeing the prints in Europe and saying, gosh, is that coming our way too? The ECB is going to have to hike faster. And so what’s that going to do to say, the dollar and other things as well? And when we have a relatively strong dollar, the impact that’s having on commodity prices, it mutes them. Right?


So now you just touched on something else that’s very important to understand. Okay. So if Europe is pressured to keep hiking, or at least hiking more than expected, that has the potential, again, no guarantee. Not everything trades on rates, but it has the potential for the dollar to fall more. That’s why the dollar has fallen for the last four months, is the pace of rate hike expectations. So if we already have sticky inflationary data and then the dollar starts to fall in price again, that can actually provide a tailwind for the inflation that the Fed is trying to counteract. Right. So again, it puts them in this tough spot. The other part that you just mentioned is, and this is where it gets tricky as well, is if you look over the last year, but not just last year, if you look over the last ten years, oil is about where it was a year ago and about where it was ten years ago. Natural gas is below where it was a year a you go. Huge drop off in about where it was ten years ago. Corn is about where it was ten years ago.

Wheat’s about where it would… Copper? You look at all these commodities, they’ve actually come down quite a bit from a year ago. But what has remained the stickiest is the wage data or sorry, wage inflation. Those costs, I know we’re going to talk about that at some point as well. And that could be more to do with a structural issue that the Fed has really no control over. Right. If people have, they’re retiring, they’re moving out of the workplace and they’re just not coming back. And so you have a demographic issue where there’s just not enough supply of labor. It pushes up the price of labor. That is something the Fed could influence, but not as easily as they can influence asset prices. And so, again, you get into this situation where I think everybody knows the further down the road we go, the higher the likelihood we have some kind of an event, right? Whether that’s a crash or just a volatility explosion or whatever it is, I think everybody knows that something down the road is not going to be good. Now, whether that’s six days or six months or six years from now, that’s the debate.

But I think we all know that there’s the potential for this great event. And again, if we get into Q2 or Q3 and it hasn’t happened yet, and you have this confluence of all these events that I’m talking about and in the meantime, asset prices have gone higher or at least held where they’re at, you have the potential for this bursting of this bubble, for lack of a better word.


Right? Go ahead, Tracy.


Sorry, I had a question. So we’re seeing that two-year and five-year inflation expectations start to rise again. So what do you make of that? And what does that mean for the Fed and the Fed’s decision? Right?


Yeah. Well, I think this gets to everything we’ve just been taught it puts them in a tough spot because they’ve already… They have very clearly started to slow, right? Now, they have said we’re going to maintain and we’re not cutting and we could be higher for longer. But there’s no question that they have, at least for the last four months, have not been hiking at the same pace that they were last summer. But the worst thing for the Fed is if they’re back at 25 basis points now, or if they were to indicate that maybe we’ll have one more hike of 25 and then we’ll be done. But then you get inflation starting to rise again. I mean, that’s horrible for that. That’s the worst possible thing for the Fed and it throws their whole object not objectivity. It’s not that their repu… Not that their reputation is great anyway, right? But after getting the last couple of years so wrong, for their credibility to be challenged again is a really tough thing. And I’ve mentioned this before, you cannot underestimate, in my opinion, you cannot underestimate the influence of getting it wrong would have on Powell’s legacy. And I think he’s been very clear that he doesn’t mind having asset prices lower.

In fact, I think he wants asset prices lower. And so while I completely understand the argument for they’re going to have to cut, I don’t think he can personally take the risk of stopping hikes too soon because the risk of stopping too soon is extremely high for him personally.


I want to go back to your wages point for a minute. So, you know, when we have a company like Walmart make their minimum wage $15 and then that cascades through the economy because it doesn’t hit everyone immediately, you know, there’s a lag to that hitting the economy too, right. What you talk about? And it doesn’t just hit people making below $15. Those people who are making $15 are like, wait, I was making 15. Now everyone’s making $15. So it cascades up a little bit, right. And it cascades out. And so that takes months to hit also. Right. So that just happened in January, this impact on wages, at least for the next couple of months, right, or do you think it happens?


I think so. And again, when we get to an event, let’s call it either a credit event or a contraction in the money supply or a bursting of an asset, whatever, when we get to an event and things turn the other way quickly, then that stuff can change quickly. But until that happens, there is a tailwind for them to get worse or for the structural wage inflation for them to work themselves through the economy. And the other thing that I think many people forget this is that and I got to be careful how I say this because… I don’t want to confuse people and I don’t want people to think that I’m just absolutely bullish, because I’m not. I do think we’re going to have one of these credit events, and I do think disinflation is more likely than runaway inflation. But until we get that event, there is an inflationary tailwind, not just because of the things we’ve already talked about, but because of the higher rates. And what I mean by that is, as long as the banking system doesn’t contract and there’s not a deflationary crash, the higher rates are actually pumping more money into the economy.

Right. It wasn’t that long ago you had to go out ten years on the yield curve to get anywhere close to 4% return on your money. Now you can put your money in the closest thing to cash and get 4% on your money. So the people who have the money in their accounts are getting more money pushed into it because the Treasury has to pay higher rates. And that’s just now, kind of, again, the federal funds rate has been slowly ticking up, but some of those rates that people receive are just now resetting higher or have just started to reset higher in the last couple of months. And the further we go along without this “event”, more money gets put into their account in the form of interest payments. And that’s a tailwind because now you have more money to spend.

Right. No, the point that I just want to make is that I believe that we’re going to have this event and I think we’re going to have it sometime this year. But until we have it, there’s a tailwind. So it’s almost like it’s going to be speeding up into the wall.


How much of that tailwind, Brent, is… People have put on pretty easy trades for the past few years? And how much of that tailwind is people who have a little extra money in their account who just want to make that one last trade, right?


I think there’s a lot of that. I think there’s a lot of that. And that’s typically why it ends badly, right. If you think about an exponential curve, it goes up and up and up and up and up and up, and then it crashes and it’s because those last people are trying to get that last little trade in. And the other thing that I’ll say is I think this is really important to understand and we were talking about it a little bit before, so it’s repetitive but for the people on the show. It was last summer Q3 of last year where the yield curve inverted. Actually, it inverted just slightly in Q2 of last year. But then the real inversion took place in Q3. And at the end of Q3, we had a point where the stocks were at their lowest level in two years. The VIX was at its highest level in two years. The dollar was at its highest level in two years. And I actually at that point, I even sent out a tweet that said to probably do for the dollar to pull back. And I bought, I took off all my equity hedges and I actually bought equity calls and people were like, why the hell are you doing this?

And I said, Because the yield curve is inverted. And they said, that means there’s going to be a recession. And I said, yeah, but usually that takes twelve to 24 months to show up. And historically in that twelve to 24 months, between the time the inversion happens and the recession arrives, you typically get a run in equities. And so that it kind of goes counter. Everybody thinks higher rates, you don’t want to own equities that’s bad for growth, but in actuality it ends up that way. But in the short term it’s actually typically, historically good for stocks. And so to be honest, and I fully admit it, that trade worked, but I sold it way too soon. I chickened out because I see this wall coming, right? But had I held it for this last six months. It would have been a monster trade, but I sold it after, like, one month because I chickened out on it, to be quite honest. But that’s something that’s very important to understand. And here’s the other thing, and I’ll give you some historical context and it’ll explain two things. It’ll explain the magnitude of the run that can happen, and it’ll also explain the horrendous result that can come up afterwards.

And that is it. From 1926 to 1929… Let’s call it, from 1920 to 1926, you had seen stock prices run very high. It was like the Roaring 20s, right? And then in 1926, the yield curve inverted and it stayed inverted until 1929. And in that time period, from 1926 to 1929, the long-term US Treasury fell 30%. So if you were invested in bonds during that yield curve inversion, you lost a lot of money, just like last year, right? But guess what stocks did over that three-year period? They more than doubled. They went up 150% with the yield curve inverted for three years. And now we all know what came after 1929, right? After that last trade, to your point, pushing that last trade into the market, then you had the huge fall. We could very easily have something like that again. Now, I personally am not in the camp that we’re going to go into another Great Depression. I don’t think it’s going to play out that way, but I can’t rule it out. But it’s all of these cross currents.

It’s because I understand the tailwinds and it’s because I see this massive wall that we’re racing towards that I think right now is the hardest environment I’ve ever seen to be an investor, or at least to be an investor with conviction, I think it’s very hard. The good news, and I would encourage people to think about this, the good news is that in the last ten years, if you didn’t have conviction, it was very hard to sit on the sidelines because you got no return in your account. Interest rates were zero, but you can now sit on the sidelines, wait for clarity and get paid 4 to 5%. That’s not a horrible idea. Right. So, anyway, that’s kind of my soapbox moment.


These are all great points for it. I guess it’s just time for people to be careful. I don’t think you’re saying the sky is falling today. I think you’re saying, just don’t hold the bag. Yeah.


And I’m not saying you can’t make money. I’ve used this analogy with clients a few times to explain what I mean, because I said, Couldn’t stocks run another 15 or 20%? And I say, yeah, absolutely they can. I said, It’s like when Evel Knievel jumps over the fountains at Caesars Palace and then his son does the same thing. Well, Evel Knievel  crashed and broke every bone in his body. Robbie Knievel landed the jump and was fine. Got a lot huge glory, but they did the same jump. So whether you landed well or land poorly, if you took the same amount of risk. So I’m not saying you can’t make money over the next six months by being in the stock market. I’m just saying you’re taking a lot of risk in order to do it. And if you don’t want to take that level of risk, you can sit in T bills and get 4.5%. That’s not a horrible that’s not a horrible sideshow. Right?


Right. Yeah. And just for people who aren’t familiar with Brent, I don’t know who isn’t? But he’s not a total doomer. Right. You’re not this, you know, permabear.


And I try not to be.


I just don’t want people to think you’re kind of a permabear coming on and try to spread kind of the permabear gospel. You do change your views as markets change, and this is just kind of a sober view on kind of where we are.


I own a lot of equities for my clients right now. We have participated in the run, but we have not been levered on it. And I’m not all in on that trade, but we own stocks in our portfolio. We think it’s time to be careful. We think you should have some hedges, we think you should have some cash. But we’re not sitting in our bunker just waiting for the sky to fall.


Great. Okay, that’s all good to know. Time to be very, very sober about things. You mentioned loans and interest rates, and Brent, you were mentioning some things about commercial and industrial loans. And Tracy, you’ve talked about capex, especially in energy, pretty regularly. And Brent, you were saying something about the CNI loans have risen over the past year, even as interest rates have gone up. Can you talk us through that?


Yeah. So this is kind of another part of the narrative. The combating narratives that I think people forget is many people didn’t think the Fed would ever be able to raise rates. But not only did they raise once, they’ve been raising them for a year now, and they’ve raised them aggressively. And the markets have not collapsed, to many people’s chagrin and many people said, well, as soon as the Fed starts raising rates, they’re no longer going to be increasing the money supply. Okay, that’s fair. And I know a lot of people think that the central banks just print money and flood the market with money. But where the real printing of money comes from, where the real creation of money comes from is when banks loan money. When you go down to your bank and you take out a loan, they don’t and let’s say you take out a million dollar loan, they don’t take somebody else’s million dollars and give it to you. They create it out of thin air. That’s rational.


Million dollars?


That’s right. That that’s a new million dollars that’s now in the economy that wasn’t there before. And so a year ago, loans had been coming down aggressively since COVID so they’ve been ramping up, I want to say, like in 2020, it was around $2.4 trillion. And then after COVID, they did all these PPP loans and it spiked to like $3 trillion. And then since the PPP loans, it’s just been steadily every month down, down, down. But I think it was last March or April, it stopped going down and it actually started to tick up. And now it’s been going up for a year, and so it’s up about 10% or 15% from the bottom. So that’s the creation of new money. And despite the fact that the higher rates have not yet caused anybody to go bankrupt, it’s starting to happen. And BlackRock had this happen to them with one of their funds recently. But despite the raising rates, you haven’t seen mass bankruptcies yet. And not only that, you see new loans being taken out. The existing supply of money is still there because we’re not getting the big credit contraction, and new money is being created through new loans.

And so again, you have this tailwind that’s actually speeding things up towards this wall that I believe we’re heading towards. It’s kind of part of the same thing we’ve already been talking about, but it’s just another facet of it.


No, it’s good. Some economists are going to ride in and say “that’s not technically new money.” But it is new money, right, because it’s circulating in the system and people are using it. Okay, so what drives that? I mean, it seems to me that when you have interest rates kind of steady for a long period of time, people tend to say, well, I can always put that investment off until tomorrow. But then when you see interest rates start to rise, people wake up and go, whoa, wait a minute, I better make that investment before it rises even more. Is that what’s happening?


I’m actually not an expert on this, and I don’t know for sure, but here’s my theory on it. And so I’m sure we’ll get a lot of people that tell me I’m wrong, but this is kind of how I think about it. I’ve been on record in the past as saying low rates are deflationary for the reason you just explained. If the market condition is so bad that the Federal Reserve has to resort to these extraordinary measures and pull interest rates to zero, is that really an environment where you want to go borrow a million bucks? Maybe, but that’s kind of scary, right? And so I kind of feel like low rates keep people from borrowing money and keep people and it’s borne out, if you look at these reports, that’s typically what’s happened. But if you are in an industry and you are competitive in that industry, and you want to remain in that industry, and you have not taken out that loan. But then let’s pretend as an example, you own a shoe store in Dallas, right? And you compete with a couple of the malls and a couple of the other independent sellers.

And a year ago, they took out a loan and bought more inventory and increased the size of their showroom or whatever it is. And you didn’t. But now we’re a year ahead. Market is holding up. Everybody’s going to those new stores to buy shoes. They’re not coming into your store as much. And in order for you to compete with them, you need to build a bigger showroom. You need to buy more, whatever it is. Well, now your loan costs two or 3% more than it did a year ago. And so now your question is, if I want to remain in this business and the crash doesn’t come in the next two months, if I wait another three or four months, our rate is going to be 2% higher? And so they’re kind of behind the eight ball. And so what I think happens is, as interest rates start to rise, if you need the money, you will borrow it. And we get into…


A friend who is doing a restaurant franchise who’s going who went through that exact process in terms of deciding when to take out money. It was extremely low. Interest rates started to rise and he felt urgency to get his loan locked in and got it locked in because of the change of rate, right? And the perception of the future change of rate made him so those expectations play.


I did the same thing. I bought a place in Puerto Rico last summer, and I think our mortgage is around 5%. It had been like 3%. If I’d have done it three years ago, we did it at five, and now I think they’re at six or seven. But that was part of my calendar calculation. It’s possible that rates will go higher. Now, it’s also possible that they’ll crash the three, in which case I refinance and I’ll be fine. But the point is, as money gets more expensive, if you’re going to stay in business, you need money. And so we get into this other theoretical thing where money is a gift. And I say money is a gift and good. And a gift and good is something that typically when something rises in price, the demand falls. But not with a gift and good, with a gift and good is as demand rises, price rises. Or as price rises, demand rises as well. And it’s because you just need it. It’s like this drug you just have to have. And as interest rates start to rise, you will pay more and more and more. And people say, well, if it gets too high, they won’t pay.

And I always say, okay, maybe but if high interest rates keep people from borrowing, then explain to me why Visa is in business and why loan sharks exist. They exist because even though they have rates, people need money and they will borrow at high rates. And so I think that’s kind of what we’ve seen as well. Again, I think this is all going to end, but all of this contributes to where we see markets at today.


Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. Tracy, can we change this focus of capex to energy? Because it’s pretty well known and you’ve talked about several times that energy hasn’t invested in the upstream since 2014 or something, right? So do you think that rising interest rates and there is some change in the tone of ESG speak in the US over the past couple of months? Do you think the rising interest rates may push some of these companies to start investing in the upstream, or is that just completely ridiculous?


I’d be hesitant to say, yeah, I think oil companies are going to jump on board with this because we still have this rhetoric in the west saying that we’re phasing you out in ten years. We want you gone. And so oil companies are therefore they just don’t want to spend the money. And it doesn’t really matter what rate it is at. It’s good news. We’ve seen Vanguard leave the Zero Alliance, and we’ve kind of seen a lot of these banks kind of push back and a lot of these investment funds kind of push back on this ESG narrative. But I just don’t think that’s quite enough until we see governments really focus more on ESG. And even though, say, for example, and it seems hypocritical, we’ve seen Germany, for example, their coal usage skyrocketed in 2022 as they’re closing nuclear plants. Meanwhile, they’re pushing this green initiative. The problem is that since natural gas prices have come back down to prices that they were pre-summer of 2022, I think that they’ve become very complacent. This is how natural gas prices will stay, and natural gas prices are going to stay low.

But that’s looking at the European economy, on the other hand, the damage has already been done. We’re already seeing some deindustrialization in Germany. You have BASF leaving forever. You have a lot of smelters across the whole of EU that are just not going to come back online when they had to. In fact, a lot of them started shutting down in fall of 2021 before the Ukraine invasion. And the thing is, you can’t just reignite those glass furnaces. It takes a lot of money. You have to keep them running 24 hours, 24/7. You know, we’re just not seeing that industry come back, unfortunately. And the ironic thing is if we go back to BASF in particular, they are moving to China, who is buying cheap Russian oil.


Crazy, right?


Because it’s cheaper to do business over there in general. But so I think at this point and we’ve also at one of that, we’re also seeing companies, oil and gas companies, in the UK, sort of because of their windfall taxes. That’s affecting business as well. And so they have decided to either leave the UK altogether we just had Suncor in Canada sell all their assets in their joint venture to BP. And we heard from Shell, Equinor, and BP all said that whatever we wanted to invest in UK, we’re not going to do that anymore because of these windfall taxes. I think that we’re running up against a lot of problems here that are more government-oriented, bureaucratic-oriented than our state central bank oriented, rates oriented.


We have had some state governments in the US push back on ESG. Right. And we did have a bill in Congress that passed that was pushing back on ESG, but there’s a veto coming or something on that bill, is that right? Governments are getting involved to some level.


Absolutely. We have 20 states right now, basically, that are pushing back on the ESG narrative, saying, we do not want our pension funds investing based on ESG. We want our pension fund, our state pension funds, investing on what we think is going to make us money.


That’s going to make money. Imagine that. Right?


That would be a good focus.


So there are 20 states involved in that. Texas is one of them. Florida is one of them. So that’s still kind of going through the court system at this point. And as far as this new, the amazing thing is this ESG legislation that will likely get vetoed was that it passed the House and the Senate. That’s huge. That’s a huge shift, right? Not by a small margin, I mean, relatively speaking, when we’re talking about other pieces of legislation. So the narrative is shifting in the US. So I think it’s too early to say where this is going to go, but it is definitely something worth keeping your eye on.


Great. Okay. All right, that’s good. Let’s talk about the Russian supply cuts going into this month. They’re going into this month, Tracy, what does that mean? Can you kind of put that in perspective of their overall supplies?


Yeah, I think in general, what people expected was when they announced this and they announced this in a month ago, that oil prices were going to skyrocket. But I don’t think they were doing that to raise oil prices and stick it to the west, right. And raise oil prices that they wanted to see. What they wanted to do is narrow that spread between urals and ESPO, which are their two main crude grades with respect to Brent, because that’s how the prices quoted, European oil prices are quoted in Brent minus whatever the spread is. Right. So what they wanted to do is they wanted, after the price caps and all of the sanctions, et cetera, they wanted to, we saw those prices, those front month prices in those particular grades fall dramatically. And so I think what they want to do is narrow the spreads. And so really, that’s what I think that whole thing, that whole decision was aired for.

And then you also have to understand that Russia includes condensates, which is those lighter oils within their total oil production, whereas the rest of the world does not. And so we don’t really know exactly where that 500K is coming from. Are they those like NAFTA, or is it pure crude? And where that really remains, just so people kind of understand the market over there.


I think Tracy and I might be wrong, but you’re the expert here, but I think another contributing reason that they cut production is, to your point, in order to get that spread closer, right? Because the discount was pretty significant. Right. And a month ago, I think they announced the production cuts, and a month ago, they announced that tax revenues were falling and as a result, they were going to have a budget deficit this year. But what I didn’t see until kind of a couple of weeks ago was that as a result of the production cuts and as a result of the tax revenues falling so severely in Russia that they are changing the way taxes are calculated on Russian producers.


Exactly. Exactly.


And they are doing and this is not going to be in favor of the Russian producers, they’re going to increase the taxes on the Russian producers to try to alleviate that budget deficit. So I don’t know that they were 100% correlated, but I don’t think that they’re unrelated. Right? In other words, if they’re going to tax Russian producers at a higher rate, and it is taxed on the difference of the spread between the west and Europe, they not only want to get the spread closer or the price higher, the discounted price higher, and then tax at a higher rate. So it’s kind of a double whammy on the producers.


It’s a double whammy on the producers, but it’s income for the government.


Right, exactly. No, exactly.


You know what I mean? And this is the same thing I was kind of talking about earlier on another podcast. What is interesting is that Russia is suddenly buying this huge fleet of vessels, right? So they own the vessels and they’re now insuring themselves. So the government’s making money no matter what. They’re just paying themselves. So Russia is not really losing money on this, even with the price cap and with that spread being lower. Now, if you look at and moving on to that, there was just an independent study done that assessed the international sanctions impact on Russian oil imports. And I think it was researchers from Columbia University, University of California, and the International Institute of Finance. And what they discovered is really that Russian crude oil is really selling for $74 right now, all is said and done, which is well above the $60 price cap. All we hear from mainstream media is they’re losing money, they’re losing money. But in reality and I read this paper, and I’ll post it on Twitter later if anybody wants to read this paper. It’s very interesting and it’s very well done. They essentially are selling oil above the price cap, and there’s no way to stop. There’s no way to stop.


Yeah, sanctions are great, but if there’s no enforcement mechanism, they don’t mean anything. And the Russians know that. Russia, Iran, China, they all know how to circumvent.


Iran is the most sanctioned country in the entire world as far as the oil industry is concerned, and they’re still making money, and they’re still able to export, so.


Shows you how powerful oil is.


Right, exactly. So, Tracy, who does the 500,000 cut hurt? Is it hurting Asia more, or does it hurt markets generally, globally, just because it’s crude oil?


Well, I think, again, it’s very hard to decipher because we don’t know what 100% is being cut. Is it all oil, or is it just these light condensates? And so I think in general, I don’t think it hurts anybody in particular, because if the markets were that worried about it, well, it would be at $100 right now, easy. Right? And so I don’t think markets are that worried about it. I also think markets are kind of let’s wait and see what this actually is. And that brings to a second point, is that right now what’s happening is that we’re having a bifurcated market, right? So the oil market, which did its thing for 30 years, 40, 30 years very nicely, trade routes were settled. We were in this crew. Now we have literally a gray market. I mean, we always had a black market in the gray market, but, I mean, now we’re talking 10 million barrels a day in the gray market, not a few million barrels wherever else. So we’re talking about a large 10 million barrels, which is approximately Russia. And this is a gray market right now, right, because they have their own vessels again, their own insurance. They’re doing ship-to-ship transfers. They’re doing all these shady stuff offline to kind of mitigate and get around Western sanctions in any way possible. And so we really are seeing this market where it’s going to be harder and harder if you’re a barrel comes here, it’s going to be harder and harder to actually track these barrels because that gray market has exploded in volume.


Interesting, you tweeted a story about some Russian crude being seized in Albania. So that’s one of the, I guess, paths to circumvent. Can you talk us through that and why that’s important?


Well, I think that it was interesting because this is not something that, you know, again, there are offshore ship-to-ship transfers going everywhere. You know, particularly if you look off, Spain is a very big on ship-to-ship transfers, right, in Greece. I just thought that was interesting because my first thought was five minutes later, it’s going to be on the black market via the Albanians.




But yeah, I mean, they just happened to get caught and too bad that Albert’s not here. He could probably better explain the Albanian relationship.


It was probably him.


Okay. I guess the message that I’m getting pretty consistently and tell me if I’m wrong, these are sanctions put on by Europeans, but through Albania, through Greece, through Spain and other places, they’re circumventing the sanctions. When I say “they”, I mean people in Europe are circumventing the sanctions that their own governments put on. Have I misread that?


No. I mean, I think that everybody’s trying to kind of find a way around the sanctions right now. And you have to remember, this only applies to seaborne Russian crude. I mean, we still have gas pipes into Europe and we still have oil pipes into Europe right now. So it’s really only seaborne crude.


So when it’s piped, it’s fine.




That’s amazing. Really amazing. Okay, great. Hey, guys, listen, let’s just take a quick look at what you guys are expecting in the near term. What are you guys looking for, say, for the next week? What’s ahead? Tracy it sounds like energy markets are kind of sideways for a while.


I think we’re kind of stuck in this $70-80 range right now in WTI. OPEC is very comfortable at $80-90 range for right now in Brent. And so, you know, I think that as we move closer to, say, high demand season and we get more clarity on China and what their domestic demand is going to really look like, I think we could definitely see a push to the upside. But for right now, I think markets are very comfortable where they are, and I think OPEC is very satisfied where markets are right now.


Okay, great. That’s what events happen, though, right?


When everyone’s coming, right? Exactly. You never know what could happen. You had what the story this morning from The Wall Street Journal say EU is leaving. I was like, what? No, they’re not. And they retracted the statement.


You leaving OPEC and all that stuff? Yeah. Crazy. Brent, what are you looking for in the next week or so?


I kind of think we’re going to continually have this violent sideways. I think markets are going to go up one day and they’re going to go down the next. And I think in general, I don’t think we’re going to get real clarity in one direction or the other until at least the Fed meeting. Possibly. We do have CPI that comes out a week before the Fed, so that will have a big impact, no doubt, unless it comes in right on the number, which in which case it will be violent sideways again. But I’m trying to just be nimble right now. Again, I don’t have any huge convictions either way right now. I kind of have my long term view while I understand the short term tailwinds, but I think it’s a time to be prudent rather than a time to try to be brave. So that’s kind of a cop out answer, but that’s kind of the truth right now.


No, I think that’s a great way to put it. Time to be prudent rather than time to be brave. I love it. Okay, guys, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. This is great, great insights. So I appreciate it. Have a great weekend. And have a great weekend. Thank you, thank you.


Thank you.

News Articles

Zero Hedge: A Country Can’t Save Both Its Currency And Its Bonds

This article was first and originally published on and can also be found on

I have adopted the position that when a central bank allows its government to overspend and abuse its currency, something has to give. You could say this is one of the unwritten laws of fiat currencies. Time and time again history has proven this to be true and it is the reason many people claim gold is the only true form of money that cannot be corrupted. In a world where everything seems subject to manipulation, this claim about gold is still up for debate. 

The overspending by governments coupled with inflation has really started to affect the perceived value of currencies in relation to other currencies. As these relationships break the losers are the people holding the de-valuated currency. Of course, many factors feed into how we value a currency but the crux of this article is not about whether a currency is over or undervalued but rather what a country must do to defend its value if it comes under attack.

Brent Johnson of Santiago Capital is credited with coining the term the “Dollar Milkshake Theory.” It explains how our debt-based monetary system can cause the US Dollar to rise despite the increasing liquidity injections around the world. Whether this was a “grand master plan” or a situation that just developed over time, it is something that may bode well for the dollar. Johnson recently took part in a discussion that included subjects such as the future price of oil, housing, and the probability of a huge global huge recession. 

About 28 minutes into the discussion which came out in both video and transcript form here:

Johnson conveys what many of us see as a truth that haunts fiat currencies. This is rooted in the fact that when the value of a currency falls, a country and its central bank cannot save both its currency and its bonds. In his “slightly edited” words;

“The problem is you cannot, and this is for every country, the US included, again, there’s a progression in how it’ll go, but you cannot save both the bond market and the currency market because they work at cross purposes. Whatever you do to save the bond market hurts the currency. Whatever you do to save the currency hurts the bond market. And every central bank in history has promised they won’t sacrifice the currency, and every central bank in history has ultimately sacrificed the currency.

And the reason they always choose the currency over the bond or the reason they always choose to sacrifice the currency over the bond market is for two reasons. One, the currency affects the citizens more than the government, and the bond market affects the government more than citizens. So they’re going to bail themselves out before they bail the citizens out. And the second thing is if the bond market blows up and the banking system blows up, there is no longer a distribution system for the government to raise money.

So they can’t let the bond market blow up because then they can’t get money anymore. And then if they can’t get money, they can’t operate. So this is a very long way of saying that I understand why the market moved the way it did. I think maybe in the short term it makes sense, but in the medium to long term, it doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Again, kind of watch what they do, not what they say.”

He later added “The problem, as we’ve kind of figured out and found out that it’s very hard to just get four for four or 5% inflation. It goes from 2% to 12% pretty quickly. They don’t have as much control as they think they do, right? And the problem with four or 5% inflation, you can kind of get away with it because it’s annoying and it is frustrating, but it’s not totally ruining your life. But with 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 80% inflation, that starts to ruin the pledge life, as you mentioned. And that’s when they start to push back from a political perspective. And that’s what central banks and governments don’t want. They don’t want the populace revolting” 

When you think about the true motivators driving this “system,” it is logical the government and central banks would throw the populace under the bus. This is about their survival. As to the question of equal pain, those in power justify taking raises to offset the impact of inflation under the idea we “need them” to steer things forward for the “greater good.” 

While Johnson’s remarks were aimed at what is most apparent in the actions of Japan, this truth is problematic to all fiat currencies. For more on the Dollar Milkshake Theory see; 

Week Ahead

Strong US Dollar: The Week Ahead – 19 Sep 2022

Learn more about CI Futures here:

It has been a terrible week in markets. It is not looking good for anybody, at least on the long side. A lot of that seemed to change when the CPI number came out. It’s like people woke up and terminal rate is going to be higher and just everything flushes out.

We talked through why the dollar is where it is and how long we expect it to stay there. Brent Johnson recently said that the USD & equities will both rise. And so we dived a little bit deep into that. We also looked at crude.

Crude’s obviously been falling. Tracy discussed how long is that going to last.

We also did a little bit of Fed talk because the Fed meets this week. And we want to really understand when does the Fed stop? After last week’s US CPI print, the terminal rate rose from 4% pretty dramatically. Does QT accelerate?

Key themes:
1. $USD 🚀
2. How low will crude oil go?
3. When does the Fed stop?
4. The Week Ahead

This is the 34th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

Follow The Week Ahead panel on Twitter:

Time Stamps
0:00 Start
1:20 Key themes for this episode
2:24 What got us to stronger USD and will it continue to rise?
8:29 Dedollarization
10:23 Intervention in the dollar if it gets too strong?
12:22 Both the USD and US equities will be rising?
14:18 Crude: how low can it go?
18:03 Look at the curves for crude
19:17 Slingshot in December?
20:18 How India and China buys Russian oil and resell
21:33 Restock the SPR at $80??
22:57 When does the Fed stop raising rates?
29:33 What if Russia, Ukraine, and China don’t lock down anymore?
32:08 What’s for the week ahead?

Listen to the podcast version on Spotify here:


Tony Nash: Hi everybody, and welcome to The Week Ahead. My name is Tony Nash. We’re joined today by Tracy Shuchart and Brent Johnson. So thanks guys for joining us, really appreciate the time to talk about what’s going on in markets this week and next week.

Before we get started, I want to remind you of our $50 promo for CI Futures. CI Futures is a subscription platform to get forecast for thousands of items: currencies commodities, equity indices and economics. The currencies commodities equities are refreshed every week. So every Monday you come in for a new forecast, economics forecast every month. That $50 a month promo ends on September 21. So please take a look now go in and check it out and if you have any questions, let us know, we’re happy to answer them. So thanks for taking the time to do that.

So, Brent and Tracy, it has been a terrible week in markets. It is not looking good for really anybody, at least on the long side. And so a lot of that seemed to change when the CPI number came out. It’s like people woke up and we’re like, oh no, the term rate is going to be higher and just everything flushes out, right. And earnings and a bunch of other stuff. So we can go into a lot of specifics. But one of the items that I’ve been really curious about for weeks, if not years, ever since I met Brent in 2018, 19, is the dollar. So we’re going to go a little bit deep into the dollar today.

We’re also going to look at crude. Crude’s obviously been falling. So we’re going to ask Tracy kind of how long is that going to last? And then we’re going to do a little bit of Fed talk because the Fed meets in the week ahead. And I want to really understand kind of when does the Fed stop.

So those are our key themes today.

So, Brent, welcome. Thanks again for joining us. I’d really like to talk through the dollar and we are where we are, which is amazing. And you have seen this years ago. On the screen, I’ve got a chart of our CI Futures forecast which shows a dollar continuing to rise over the next year. We’ve got some bumps in there, but for the most part we see a persistently strong dollar.

CI Futures provides highly accurate commodity, equity, currency and economics forecasts using advanced AI. Learn more about CI Futures here.

So I’m curious what got us here and what will continue to push the dollar higher?

Brent Johnson: Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I always enjoy talking to you, Tony. The reason I like talking to you is you’ll talk a lot about Asia, but you’ve actually lived there and you actually know what you’re talking about rather than people who’ve just read it in a book. And same with Tracy. So I’m happy to do this and happy to do it anytime you invite me.

But anyway, what’s really going on with the dollar is a function of the fact that it’s not only the Fed and it’s not only the US that has, for lack of a better word, idiotic leaders. The rest of the world does, too.

And I think over the last several years. At least in the retail investment world. There’s been this theme that the Fed is out of control. The government’s out of control. They’re going to spend all this money. The dollar is going to pay the price. And it’s going to get inflated away and go to zero. And the rest of the world is going to do great and we’re going to do poor.

And I understand that view if you just analyze the United States. But the problem is you can’t just analyze the United States because it’s a big world and everything is interconnected. And all of the problems that people have forecast to fall upon the US.

Dollar are currently happening to a greater extent in Europe and Asia. And the budget deficits, the printing of the money, the central bank support, the holding down of rates, all of that applies even more so to Japan and Europe than it does the United States. And that’s really what you’re seeing.

Over the last, let’s just call a year, you’ve seen the yen fall 20% versus the dollar. That is an incredible move for any currency, but it is an absolutely astonishing move for a major currency, specifically the third biggest currency in the world, or some would even argue the second biggest currency in the world. And then you’ve seen the euro over the last year is down 10% or 15%. 

So these are very big moves. Again, the reason is because the Fed is raising rates. So on a relative basis, we have higher rates than those two big competitors. And on a relative basis, those two big competitors are doing more monetary stimulus or QE or extraordinary measures, however you want to define that central bank activity.

And you always because the globe runs on the dollar, there is a persistent and consistent bid for the dollar globally. And so it’s really a supply versus the demand issue. Now, everybody always focuses on the supply. Central banks are increasing the currency in circulation. They’re going to print all this money and so therefore the dollar falls or the currency falls. Well, that’s just focusing on the supply side. 

But again, you have to remember that all central banks are increasing supply, but the demand is what makes the difference and that there is global demand for the dollar. Now, whether you think there should be, whether you think it’s the right thing, it doesn’t really matter. It just is. That’s the way the system works.

But there is not that same global demand for yen. There’s not that same global demand for yuan, there’s not the same global demand for euros or Reals or Florence or Liras or anything. 

And so what you’re really seeing play out is Trifan’s dilemma. And so I’ve spoken about this before. But Trifon’s dilemma is an economic theory that states that if you have a single country’s currency that also serves as the global reserve currency, at some point the needs of the domestic economy for that global reserve currency will come into conflict with the needs of the global economy. And that’s what we have.

We have an inflationary pressure problem in the United States. The Fed is very embarrassed about it. They got it wrong and now they need to do something about it. And they’re bound and determined to try to bring it under control. And so they’re raising rates to counteract that. Well, when you raise rates, you’re tightening the monetary supply. And that’s happening. That’s fine for the US. But there’s many countries around the world that cannot handle that right now.

But that’s what’s happening. And so the needs of the domestic economy are in conflict with the needs of the global economy. And it’s going to be the global economy that suffers more than the domestic economy as a result. It doesn’t mean that the domestic economy won’t be hurt. It just means on a relative basis, you want to be closer to the money than far away from the money. And because we have the global reserve currency, we’re closer to the money.

TN: So it’s interesting when you talk about the dollar versus other currencies, and we often hear people say, oh, CNY is rising as a share of spend, which that’s debatable. But from my perspective, it’s not the dollar that’s kind of in the gladiator ring of currencies. It’s the yen, it’s the euro, it’s the British pound, it’s the aussie dollar, it’s these secondary currencies. They’re going to lose share before the dollar does. Is that wrong?

BJ: No, I think that’s absolutely right. And again, that’s a very good way to put it. I know gladiator walks into the ring and thinks, I’m not going to at least get a few scratches. It’s going to hurt. That’s just the nature of being a gladiator. But what matters is who’s standing at the end of the day, right? And so I think it’s these other currencies are getting hurt by the battle more so than the dollar. It doesn’t mean that we’re not getting hurt. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. It doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be any pain involved. But at the end of the day, if you’re at war, you want to be the last man standing because of the way the system is designed, I believe that that will be the US dollar.

The other thing that I would just quickly point out is a lot of people say, why can’t you see it? It’s very obvious. The rest of the world wants to de-dollarize. They’re putting all of these trade deals in place, the dollars falling as a percent of reserves, etc. And the point I would make is, yes, I do see it. I agree with you the world would like to dedollarize, but it’s much harder to dedollarize than just saying, just because you put an announcement out there doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be able to do it.

I’d like to make the analogy that I’ve said I want to lose weight and get in great shape for 20 years. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It hasn’t happened yet. 

But that’s the headline versus reality, right? I just think that’s where we’re at. And the dollar, for better or worse, it’s a rigged game in favor of the dollar. And the US set it up that way is the global hegemon. They set it up that way. Now, it doesn’t mean they’re not trying. It doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t want to get away from it. It’s just very hard to do it.

The last thing I’ll say and I’ll shut up, but the other thing I would say is the process of de-dollarization, even if it is successful, will not be a calm transition. And the process of dedollarization is not necessarily, and in my opinion, not probable to be negative for the price of the dollar. I think the volatility and the lack of liquidity in dollars that would go along with de-dollarization would actually squeeze the price of the dollar higher.

And so it doesn’t matter to me whether de-dollarization happens or not. I think the dollar is going higher for all of these reasons.

TN: I think what’s funny there is people always put de-dollarization in this almost moralistic language. It’s a good or a bad thing. And it’s just not. It just is.

Tracy Shuchart: I just had a question for Brent. I mean, do you see at any point that there’s some kind of intervention on the dollar? The dollar gets too strong because it’s going to crush emerging markets? Do you think there’s any point in which Yellen kind of backs up?

BJ: I do think they will. And that’s why I think the dollar is going to go back to all-time highs before this is all said and done. I don’t think it’s going to be a straight line. It can’t be a straight line without absolute devastation. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But I think this is going to play out over several years rather than several weeks. It could play out over several weeks, but I think it will take longer.  And the reason I think it will take longer is I think that they will interact or they will get involved, as you’re suggesting, Tracy. 

I actually think right now the Fed and the Treasury want the dollar strong. I think they’re using it as a weapon or as a tool. It’s something that can be used very effectively. Again, whether you think it should be used or not, I don’t care. I just think it will be, and I think it is being and so I think that will continue.

But I think the Fed and the treasury, they want the dollar higher, but they want it done in a measured fashion that they can control. If it starts to get out of control, I think that they will rein it in. I think they want some of the other parts of the world to be an economic pain, but I don’t think they want the whole system to collapse. And so my guess is that we’ll get the dollar higher, maybe it goes to 115, 120, and then they’ll do something, it’ll pull back for six months, three months, whatever, and then it’ll get higher again and they’ll come out and do something.

So I think this will be a process, a little bit of a roller coaster, up and down, but I think that the general trend is higher and I think there’s more pain to come for the global economy as a result.

TN: Brent, real quick, before we get onto oil. You sent out a tweet earlier this week that said you think that we’re going to come to a point where both the dollar and equities and US equities are rising. Can you walk us through that just real quickly? I know there’s a very detailed thesis behind that, but can you walk us through that very quickly so we understand kind of what you’re talking about there?

BJ: Yeah, so the first thing I’ll say for anybody who’s just kind of passing through this conversation is that I don’t think this is happening right now. It could happen right now. In the short term, I expect US equities to go lower. I think that’s just kind of where markets are headed.

But as the pain develops throughout the global economy, I think we are going to experience a global sovereign debt crisis. And when the world, the US included, starts selling sovereign debt rather than buying sovereign debt, I think that money will have to go.

Now, some of the money will just be, it’ll just go poof. It’ll be gone. And so that money won’t have anywhere to go but the people who start selling the bonds looking for another place to go, I think the next best place to go will eventually be US equities. And I think US equities will be seen as the new… I don’t want to say new Treasuries.

That’s a little bit hard to say. But on a relative basis, the place where big global capital can go, that is the most advantageous to them. And so I think we will get into a point in the sovereign debt crisis where US equities will get safe haven flows and I think the whole world will potentially be printing more money, right.

So be sending more liquidity out there. And so I think that liquidity that is generated with little liquidity there is, I think we’ll find its way into the US and the US Dow, big blue chip stocks and I think they’ll go higher. I might be wrong on that, but that’s my working thesis as of right now.

TN: Let’s move on to crude oil. Obviously we’ve seen crude take some hits over the past few weeks and we’ve got a WTI chart on the screen right now.

So how low will crude go? Are we almost there? Are we headed to 65 where it was for a while? And what then pushes it higher? 

TS: I don’t really want to forecast exactly where crude is going to go. I definitely think that we could see some more downside, but we have to look at what is weighing on price and sentiment right now. One, there’s more Russian barrels on the market than everybody anticipated. 

Two, you’ve got never ending zero Covid China lockdown that haven’t seemed to let up yet. We also have EU recession, right? And then we had 160 million barrels of SPR thrown on the market. And so that’s really weighing kind of on the front end of the curve. Those are the things kind of weighing on sentiment right now. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of weakness. 

That said, if we look at the fundamentals of the market, the market is still very tight. We’re still drawing globally. We definitely have a diesel problem that is global. And I think where we start to see kind of a change in this, I think when it comes to the end of October, when the SPR is done this with kind of been looking over the last couple of weeks, had we not had such large SPRs, we would have actually been drawing a regular stock.

So it’s not as if that oil is going piling up anywhere. So I think as soon as the SPR stops, I think after Midterms, because I think this administration is trying to do whatever they can to suppress the price of oil, thus, gasoline. And I also think that we have to see kind of what happens in China after the People’s Party Congress in the middle of October and trying to see what their policy is going to be moving forward.

Are they going to open up? I mean, they’re looking at they want 5.5% YoY GDP by the end of the year,


TN: They’ll hit it. On the nose, we can guarantee that. 

TS: But I think they’re going to have to start stimulating the economy a little bit more. And we kind of saw announcement Evergrande is going to start financing more inspection projects and whatnot going into starting at the end of September. So I think we’ll probably see the last quarter if we get a little stimulus and if they back on their policy because, that’s the big thing for oil right now, is that if that demand comes back because they’re down about 2.7% on the year and as far as consumption is concerned.

So I think if that demand comes rushing back, know that’s going to be a huge upside surprise for the market. I think over the long run, oil is going higher, but out looking out into 2023, I just think that’s just the trajectory of it. I’m not calling for $200 oil, anything crazy like that. I just think that we will see higher oil, and I think we’re poised to see higher for longer than the functionality of the market and the fact that we have no capex for the last seven years.

TN: So last month you said to look three to four months out, look at the curves three to four months out to understand kind of what the real oil price was or is going to be. And so that would be two to three months now. So that’s November. December. 

TS: Look at those spreads are widening out or not, right. You want to see if we’re moving into more backwardation and even more backward dated market, right? So you kind of want to look at that.

TN: Okay, so I paid $2.88 a gallon for gas at my local last night. We’re the energy capital in the world. Yeah, I’m going to show it off. Anyway, that is kind of coming down. And energy has been the biggest upward factor in some of the inflation issues. That’s good news, at least until the election. Hey, I’ll take it while I can get it, right? And if it heads back up after the election, I think we’re all prepared for that on some level.

So I guess SPR, as he said, election happens, there’s no political reason necessarily to suppress these prices and so on and so forth. So do you expect to see almost a slingshot in, say, December, where things trend higher pretty quickly?

TS: I don’t think we’ll have… I don’t want to call it a slingshot because anything can happen in the oil market. I mean, we’ve seen $7 to $10 in a day before, so that’s not unheard of. But I do think we go higher, especially if you’re looking into the market, is going to get even tighter in December because of tax reasons. December 31 is the tax assessment date for the barrels that you have on hand. So they tend to pull back on production so they can move out inventory as much as they can, so they’re not taxed at the end of the year.

Usually we see a little decline in production anyway in December and the second half of December, we do see prices start to rebound off the seasonal for regular seasonal trend low.  Okay, so that would be normal.

TN: Brent, I think you had a question for Tracy on crude markets as well.

BJ: Yeah, I actually had two quick questions. One, I wanted to get your thoughts on the fact that India and China are buying oil at a discount from Russia. And then there’s lots of stories about them selling that oil

on to Europe or other places. And so they’re making that spread. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that and logistically how that actually takes place.

TS: So if you’re looking at India, definitely they are buying discounted crude. What they do is they don’t

resell that to Europe. What they do is they blend it and they sell fuel. So that’s refined. So it’s really hard to trace what’s in… They don’t trace those barrels that way.

So that’s how that oil is kind of emerging back in Europe. It’s really by way of refined products. Now when we talk about China with the gas, really what they’re doing is they’re buying gas right now, literally half off from Russia, and they’re turning around and selling their own gas to Europe for the higher marked up. The gas they already have. So they’re selling the gas they already have? So that’s kind of how that’s working.

BJ: And then the other question I have for you quickly is I was surprised this week when the rumor was floated by whoever floated that they would restock the SPR at $80. It seems like they’re doing everything they can to get the price lower. And then to have that rumor come out and put kind of a floor under it was kind of surprising to me. So maybe nothing more than just the speculation, but did you have any thoughts on that? 

TS: Yeah, I mean, basically they put a floor on it. Everybody’s calling it, the Biden put now. But the thing is that it’s all nice and well if they want to do that, they still got enough 60 million barrels that they need to release. And then by the time those contracts go through and you want to refill the SPR, I mean, that’s months away. We’re looking at months and months down the road. And who knows what oil price would be? To me, it was just another try to jaw bone market down lower.

BJ: It kind of reminded me of the ECB where they’re raising rates on one hand, but they’re buying bonds with the other. Biden wants his cap. He’s like got a collar on it. He’s trying to put a cap on it and a foot on it.

TN: Strategy. Let’s move on to a little bit more of kind of the Fed kind of Fed talk. There’s a Fed meeting next week, and when CPI came out this week, the terminal rate really rose very quickly. And that’s when we started to see equities fall pretty dramatically. And we’ve got on the screen right now expectations for the rates coming out of each meeting. So 75 in September, 75 in November, and another 50 in December. That has accelerated the expectations for the Fed by about 25-50 basis points?

When does the Fed stop, basically from where you are now, do you think this continues to accelerate in 2023 or given, let’s say, CPI? Of course on a year-on-year basis it looks terrible. But once we get to November, when CPI really started to accelerate, November 21, do we start to see some of those base effects in a year-on-year basis and the Fed starts to pull back a little bit and go, okay, wait a minute, maybe we’re okay with the plan we have when we stop at say 450 or whatever as a terminal rate.

The other complicating factor will add in there is University of Michigan came out, University of Michigan survey came out on Friday and it’s a bit lower than what was expected. And the Fed has really been looking to University of Michigan, which is kind of a semi-serious survey, but they’ve really used that to justify some of their decisions.

So we obviously have a mixed environment. But I’m wondering, with all of this stuff coming out this week, do we expect the Fed to keep marching pretty aggressively into 2023?

BJ: I’ll take that first. So I actually do expect them to keep marching higher into 2023. And I say that for a couple of reasons, and I’m going to qualify this and say that they will pivot when they have to pivot, but I don’t think they’re going to pivot until they have to pivot. And so I think a lot of people that are predicting the pivot are misunderstanding the Fed’s intentions and perhaps for a good reason. They’ve done a fantastic job of ruining their credibility. So it’s understandable not to believe them.

But in this case, I think you kind of have to believe them. And I’ll tell you why I think you have to believe them. Number one, I think they don’t mind the dollar being stronger. Again, I think that’s kind of policy that I spoke of earlier in conjunction with the treasury. 

Number two, I think they want asset prices lower. So the fact that the stock market goes down I don’t think would bother them. I think if the Dow was at 28,000 and the S&P was at 3600, I think they’d say that’s totally fine. I don’t think they have a problem with that as long as it’s not collapsing. Right? Now, if it collapses, then they have to come in. And they will come in,  but I don’t think they mind if the stock market is 10% or 20% lower than here.

The third thing I’d say is the Fed central banks in general, they’re always lagging. They’re a reactionary agency. They’re not a predictive agency. We all know that. They can’t predict anything anyway. I’m not sure I want them predicting things, but to me they’re always behind the curve because they always wait until they see it and then they react, right? They come in and they try to save the day. So when things get really bad, then they’ll eventually come in and provide support.

And when things are always too late to tighten as they are now, and then they try to make up for it. So I think they’re going to despite, like you said, the Michigan number starting to come down, Atlanta Feds already slash their GDP. So even though they’re getting these signals that things are slowing down, they’re not reacting to it yet. They will react to it late.

And then the fourth thing I’d say is that I think Powell is mad and he’s pouting, right? Not just Powell, but mainly Powell, but he got all this advice from all his staff and however many staff, PhD staffers they have at the Fed, and they all said inflation is transitory and it’s going to be fine. And then it wasn’t. Right? Now he’s mad.

TN: He’s a lawyer, not an economist.

BJ: And I’m going to do something about it. And if you don’t think that I can bring inflation down, well, then you just watch me, right? And I’ll take my ball and go home. And his ball is interest rate. So he’s taking them higher, and he’s taking them home, he’s taking them higher. And so it come hell or high water, and after the, I don’t know, the chink in their armor or the threat to their credibility that they’ve had over the last year or two, I think the last thing in the world that Powell wants to deal with is the fact that he slowed down or, God forbid, cut rates and then inflation kept going higher.

That would look even worse than waiting for it to crumble, right? So I think for all of those reasons, you kind of have to take them at their word. Again, I’m not saying not unless the markets force them to do it

and the markets might force them to do it. I’m not saying that that’s out of the possibility. The only thing I don’t like saying about this is this is the hole they’re going to hike until it breaks theory, right?

And I agree with that. The thing I don’t like about it is everybody else seems to agree with it now, too. That seems to be the common refrain, is that they’re going to hike until something breaks, and everybody says, yeah, that’s kind of what’s going to happen. Usually when everybody thinks something, it doesn’t happen that way. But as long as equity prices are higher and as long as inflationary prints keep coming in high, I think they continue hiking.

And think about it, inflation could fall by 30%, and it’s still at five or six, which is still two or three times higher than their goal. So is there a path to a pivot? Yes, I think there’s a path to a pivot, but every week, when people come out every week and, oh, they’re going to pivot, they’re going to pivot. I don’t think they’re pivoting next week, and I don’t think they’re pivoting in October unless they have to.

TN: Okay, Tracy, what do you think of that? 

TS: Yeah, I absolutely agree. All the data coming in, there’s no way they’re not doing 75 next week. In my opinion. I could be wrong. Somebody will come back. I think that’s pretty much a lock. 

TN: Yeah, I think short of, let’s say sometime in Q4, Russia, Ukraine ends, and China says we’re not going to lock down anymore, that would fundamentally change the Feds calculations, right? 

BJ: Well, if they weren’t locked down anymore and it pushed demand higher and it pushed prices higher as a result of demand increasing, then to me, that would keep them on their path to hiking. The flip side. And the flip side is that if something breaks in China, and China has to devalue or revalue the yuan in order to deal with the real estate collapse or the internal problems, whatever it is, that could send a deflationary wave to the rest of the world.

So I’m not going to sit here and deny the inflationary pressures that we’re seeing, but I think to a certain extent, people have again dumped themselves into the inflation camp or the deflation camp, and I think we’re going to have periods of both.

I think if you fundamentally understand the design of the monetary system, the threat of a deflationary

wave is always there. But if you don’t admit that the inflationary pressures are here, I think you’ve also got your head in the sand. I’ve said this several times, but I will admit to a big mistake, and that is, for several years, I hated the term stagflation. I thought it was a cop out. I thought it was for people who just couldn’t decide if they were in the inflation or deflation camp. But I think that’s what we have, and I think we have it in spades. I think some assets and some prices are going to continue to rise and be higher, and I think others are going to collapse, and that’s what makes it so hard to deal with.

So to anybody I ever took a shot at for them using stagflation as a cop out, I apologize. I’m with you now. I got that part wrong.

TN: Brent, one of the things I admire about you is you’re not afraid to say you were wrong, right?

BJ: No. I mean, do you mind if I just make a comment on this really quick? I think too often in our business, people will make a call and then they’re just so afraid to change it. Or you’ll make a call, and then somebody else will call you out on it if you got it wrong. At the end of the day, our job is sort of to predict the future. And so anybody who thinks that they can accurately predict the future 100% of the time has the biggest ego in the history of the world.

The reason I don’t mind making predictions is number one. I don’t mind being wrong because I don’t think I’m the smartest guy in history. And if I get something wrong, then I’ll have to deal with it. But this idea that we’re always going to be right and we know everything, it’s ridiculous. So anyway, we’re all speculating at the end of the day.

TN: That’s right. Okay, real quickly, guys, what are you looking for in the week ahead? More the same. More the same disappointment, difficulties, headwind, all that stuff. Until the Fed meeting? Is that what we’re looking for until the press conference?

TS: Yeah, I think we’re the markets will be in limbo, definitely until the Fed. I mean, everybody expects 75. We get 75. Maybe we see a bounce in equity, actually, because it’s already done with, right. There’s no question anymore.  So maybe we get a bounce after that. 

TN: Slightly less hawkish language than is expected, right? 

BJ: I think that’s right. Now we’ve got the potential of maybe 100 basis points, right. So if they come in a couple of weeks ago, although now there’s a path to pivot, they’re probably only going to do 50 basis points in September. 

Well, then we got the CPI print and it’s 75. That’s 75 is going to happen. Then a couple of people go hundreds now on the table, right? So now if they only come out and do 75, maybe the market kind of breathes a little bit. At least it wasn’t 100. So my guess is that we would have some volatility leading up to the meeting. Maybe they do 75. Perhaps things get a little bit of a bounce as a breather. 

But I don’t think markets are going to change a whole lot between now and the election. I think they’re going to be volatile. I think the Feds are going to keep hiking. And I think Market Powell said it himself. We had the boom and now we have to deal with the pain. This is the unfortunate side effect of what we have to do. So he’s telling you he’s going to cause pain. He just doesn’t want to collapse. So if it starts to collapse, it’s the sad truth.

TN: Guys, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much. Have a great weekend and have a great week ahead.


QuickHit: What happens to markets if China invades Taiwan? (Part 2)

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In this second part, Mike Green explains what will happen to Europe if China invades Taiwan. Will the region be a mere audience? Will it be affected or not, and if so, how? How about the Euro — will it rise or fall with the invasion? Also, what will happen to China’s labor in that case, and will Chinese companies continue to go public in the West?

You can watch Part 1 of the discussion here.

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This QuickHit episode was recorded on December 2, 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this What happens to markets if China invades Taiwan? Part 2 Quickhit episode are those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Complete Intelligence. Any contents provided by our guest are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any political party, religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.


Show Notes

TN: So we have a lot of risk in, say, Northeast Asian markets. We have a lot of risk to the electronics supply chain. I know that this may seem like a secondary consideration. Maybe it’s not.

What about Europe? Does Europe just kind of stand by and watch this happen, or are they any less, say, risky than any place else? Are they insulated? Somehow?

I want to thank everyone for joining us. And please, when you have a minute, please follow us on YouTube. We need those follows so that we can get to the right number to reach more people.

MG: No, Europe exists, I would argue, as basically two separate components. You have a massive export engine in the form of Germany, whose core business is dealing with China and to a lesser extent, the rest of the world. And then you have the rest of Europe, which effectively runs a massive trade deficit with Germany. I’m sorry. Germany is uniquely vulnerable in the same way that the corporate sector is vulnerable in the United States. That supply chain disruption basically means things go away.

They are also very vulnerable because of the Russian dynamic, as we discussed. In many ways, if I look at what’s happened to Germany over the past decade, their actions on climate change and moving away from nuclear, away from coal into solar, et cetera, has left them extraordinarily dependent upon Russian natural gas supplies. It’s shocking to me that they’ve allowed themselves to get into that place. Right.

So my guess is that their reaction is largely going to be determined by what happens with Russia rather than what happens with China. Right. In the same way that Jamie Diamond can’t say bad things about China. Germany very much understands that they can’t say bad things about China.

Europe, to me, is exceptionally vulnerable, potentially as vulnerable as it has ever been in its history. I agree. It has extraordinary… Terrible way to say it. I don’t know any other way to say it, but Europe basically has unresolved civil wars from 1810, the Napoleonic dynamics all the way through to today, right. And everybody keeps intervening, and it keeps getting shoved back down into a false equilibrium in which everyone pretends to get along, even as you don’t have the migratory patterns across language and physical geographic barriers that would actually lead to the type of integration that you have with the United States, right.

Now ironically, the United States are starting to see those dynamics dramatically reduce geographic mobility, particularly within the center of the country. People are becoming more and more set in their physical geographies, et cetera. Similar to the dynamics that you see in Europe, which has literally 100,000 more years worth of Western settlement and physical location, than does the United States. But they’ve never resolved these wars. Right.

And so the integration of Europe has happened at a political level, but not at a cultural level in any way, shape or form. That leaves them very vulnerable. Their demographics leaves them extraordinarily vulnerable, the rapid aging of the populations, the extraordinarily high cost of having children, even though they don’t bear the same characteristics of the United States, but effectively the lack of land space, et cetera, that has raised housing costs on an ownership basis, et cetera. Makes it very difficult for the Europeans, and they have nowhere else to go now. Right. So the great thing that Europe had was effectively an escape valve to the United States, to a lesser extent, Canada, Australia, et cetera, for give or take 200 or 300 years, and that’s largely going away. Right.

We are becoming so culturally distinct and so culturally unacceptable to many Europeans that with the exception of the cosmopolitan environments of New York City and potentially Los Angeles, nobody wants to move here anymore. Certainly not from a place like Europe. I think they’re extraordinarily vulnerable.

I also think, though, that they’ve lost sight of that because they’re so deeply enjoying the schadenfreude of seeing the unquestioned hegemony of the United States being challenged. Right. It’s fun to watch your overbearing neighbor be brought down a notch. Right. You tend not to focus on how that’s actually adversely affecting your property values in the process.

TN: Sure. Absolutely. So just staying on Europe, what does that do to the importance of the Euro as an international currency? Does the status of the Euro because of Germany’s trade status stay relatively consistent, or do we see the CNY chip away at the Euros, say, second place status?

MG: Well, I would broadly argue that the irony is that the Euro has already peaked and fallen. Right. So if I go back to 2005 2006, you could make a coherent argument that there was a legitimate challenge to the dollar right.

Over the past 15 years, you’ve seen continual degradation of the Euro’s role in international commerce, if I were to correctly calculate it, treating Europe as effectively these United States in the same manner that we have with the US, there’s really no international demand for the Euro. It’s all settlement between Germany, France, Italy, et cetera.

If I go a step further and say the same thing about the Chinese Yuan or the Hong Kong dollar, right. They really don’t exist in international transactions. To any meaningful degree. The dollar has resumed its historical gains on that front. Now that actually does open up a Contra trade.

And I would suggest that in just the past couple of days, we’ve seen an example of this where weirdly, if the status quo is maintained, the dollar is showing elements of becoming a risk on currency as the rest of the world basically says some aspect of we’re much less concerned about the liquidity components of the dollar, and we’re much more interested in the opportunity to invest in a place that at least pretends to have growth left. Right. Because Europe does not have it. Japan does not have it. China, I would argue, does not have it. And the rest of the world, as Erdogan and others are beginning to show us, is becoming increasingly dysfunctional as a destination for capital. Right.

Brazil, perennially the story for the next 20 years and always will be right. Africa, almost no question anymore that it is not going to become a bastion for economic development going forward. And we’re broadly seeing emerging markets around the world begin to deteriorate sharply because the conflict between the United States and China creates conditions under which bad actors can be rewarded. Right.

If I sell out my people, we just saw this in the Congo, for example, if I sell out my people for political influence, I can suddenly put tons of money into a bank account somewhere. Right. China writing a check for $20 million. It’s an awful lot of money if I’m using it in Africa.

TN: For that specific example, and for many other things, the interesting part is China is writing a check for $20 million. Yeah, they’re writing a check for €20 million. They’re not writing a check for 20 million CNY. It’s $20 million. All the Belt and Road Initiative activities are nominated in dollars.

So I think there’s a very strange situation with China’s attempt to rise, although they have economic influence, they don’t have a currency that can match that influence. And I’m not aware, and you’re such a great historian. I’m not aware of an economic power that’s come up that hasn’t really had its own currency on an international basis. I’m sure there are. I just can’t think of many.

MG: Well, no. I mean, the quick answer is no. You cannot project power internationally unless effectively the tax receipts of your local population are accepted around the world. Right? Broadly speaking, I would just highlight that the way I think of currency is effectively the equity in a country right now. It’s not a perfect analog, but it’s a reasonable analog. And so, what you’re actually saying is the US remains a safe haven. It remains a place where people want to invest. It remains a place where people believe that the rule of law is largely in place. And as a result, anyone who trades with the United States is willing in one form or another to say, okay, you know what? I can actually exchange this with somebody who really needs it at some point in the future.

I think one of the reasons that we tend to think about the dollar as having fallen relative to the Euro or the CNY is we have a very false impression of what the dollar used to be. Right. So we tend to think about the dollar was the world’s reserve currency following World War Two and everything happened in dollars. Right.

People forget that half the world, certainly by population, never had access to dollars, never saw dollars. There was a dollar block. And then because of their refusal to participate in Bretton Woods, there was a Soviet ruble block and then ultimately far less impactful things like a Chinese Yuan, et cetera. But the Soviets, for a period of time, had that type of influence. They could actually offer raw materials. They could actually offer technology. They could offer things that had the equivalent of monetary value to places like Cuba, to places like Africa, to places like South America, et cetera. China right.\

That characterized the world from 1945 until 1990. Right. I mean, the real change that occurred and really in 1980 was that Russia basically ran out of things to sell to the rest of the world, particularly in the relative commodity abundance that emerged in the 1980s after the 70s, their influence around the globe collapsed.

And I think the interesting question for me is China setting up for something very similar. Right. It feels like we’re looking at a last gasp like Brisbanev going into Afghanistan, right. And oh, my gosh, they’re moving out and they’re taking over. Well, that was the end. They make a move on Taiwan. And I think a lot of people correctly point to this. It’s probably the end of China, not the beginning of China.

I just don’t know that China knows that it has an alternative because it’s probably the end of China, regardless.

TN: Sitting in Beijing, if you bring up any analogues to the Soviet Union to China in current history, they’ll do everything to avoid that conversation. They don’t want to be compared. Is Xi Jinping, Brezhnev or Andropov or. That’s a very interesting conversation to have outside of Beijing. But I think what you bring up is really interesting. And what does China bring to the world? Well, they bring labor, right. They’re a labor arbitrage vehicle. And so where the Soviet Union brought natural resources, China’s brought labor.

So with things like automation and other, say, technologies and resources that are coming to market, can that main resource that China supplied the world with for the last 30 years continue to be the base of their economic power? I don’t know. I don’t know how quickly that stuff will come to market. I have some ideas, but I think what you’re saying is if they do make a play for Taiwan, it will force people to question what China brings to the world. And with an abundance of or, let’s say, a growing influence of things like automation technologies, robotics, that sort of thing, it may force the growth of those things. Potentially. Is that fair to say?

MG: I think it’s totally fair. And I would use the tired adage from commodities. Right. The cure for high prices is high prices. If China withdraws its labor or is forced to withdraw its labor from the rest of the world, there’s two separate impacts to it.

One is that China’s role as the largest consumer of many goods and services in things like raw materials, et cetera. That has largely passed. Right. And so as we look at things like electrification, sure, you can create a bid for copper. But at the same time, you’re not seeing any building of the Three Gorges again. Right. You’re not seeing a reelectrification of China. You may see components of it in India. And I would look to areas like India as potential beneficiaries of this type of dynamic. But we’re a long way away from a world that looks like the 20th century. And you’ve heard me draw this analogy. Right. So people think about inflation.

The 20th century was somewhat uniquely inflationary in world history. The reason I think that happened is because of a massive explosion of global population. Right. So we started the 20th century with give or take a billion people in the global population. We finished the 20th century with give or take 7 billion people. So roughly seven X in terms of the total population. The labor force rose by about five and a half X.

If I look at the next 100 years, we’re actually approaching peak population very quickly. And if I use revised demographic numbers following the COVID dynamics, we could hit peak global population in the 2030s 2040s. Right. That’s an astonishing event that we haven’t seen basically since the 14th century, a decline in global population. And it tends to be hugely deflationary for things like raw materials. Right. People who aren’t there don’t need copper, people who aren’t there don’t need houses, people who aren’t there don’t need air conditioners, et cetera.

I think the scale of what’s transpiring in China continues to elude people. I would just highlight that we’ve all seen examples of this. Right. So go to any Nebraska town where the local farming community has been eviscerated with corporatization of farms, and the population has fallen from 3000 people to 1000 people. What’s happened to local home prices? What’s happened to the local schooling system? What’s happened to deaths of despair, et cetera. Right. They’ve exploded. China’s facing the exact same thing, except on a scale that people generally can’t imagine. The graduating high school classes are now down 50% versus where they were 25 years ago. That’s so mind blowing in terms of the impact of it.

TN: That’s pretty incredible. Hey, Mike, one of the things that I want to cover is from kind of the Chinese perspective. Okay. So we’ve had for the last 20-25 years, we’ve had Chinese companies going public on, say, Western exchanges and US exchanges. Okay. So if something happens with Taiwan, if China invades Taiwan, do you believe Chinese companies will still have access to, say, going public in the US? And if they don’t, how do they get the money to expand as companies?

Meaning, if they can’t go public in the west, they can’t raise a huge tranche of dollar resources to invest globally. So first of all, do you think it’s feasible that Chinese companies can continue to go public in the west?

MG: Yeah. Broadly speaking, I think that’s already over. Right. So the number of IPOs has collapsed, the number of shell company takeovers has collapsed. So the direct listing dynamics. I just had an exchange on Twitter with a mutual friend of ours, Brent Johnson, on this. Ironically, that would actually probably help us equities for the very simple reason that the domestic indices like the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 do not include those companies. Right.

So if those companies fail to attract additional capital or those companies are delisted, it effectively reduces competition for the dollars to invest in US companies and US indices. Where those companies are listed and are natively traded, at least are in places like Hong Kong, China, et cetera, those are incorporated in emerging market indices. And I would anticipate, although it certainly has not happened yet. That on that type of action, you would see a very aggressive move from the US federal government to force divestiture and prohibit investment in countries like China.

I think that would very negatively affect their ability to raise dollars. Again, and I mean, no disrespect when I say this. I want to emphasize this, but we tend to think of Xi Jinping as this extraordinarily brilliant, super thoughtful, intelligent guy. The reality is he’s kind of Tony Soprano, right? I mean, it’s incredibly street smart, incredibly savvy, survived a system that would have taken you and I down in a heartbeat. Right. You and I would have been sitting there. Wow. Theoretically, someone would have shot. Congratulations. Welcome to the real world, right. He survived that system. But that leaves him in a position where I do not think that he’s actually playing third dimensional chess and projecting moves 17 moves off into the future. I think he very much is behaving in the “Ohh, that can only looks good.”

I think it’s really important for people to kind of take a step back and look at that in the same way that Japan wasn’t actually forecasting out the next 100 years. The Chinese are not doing that. It’s a wonderful psychological operation. One of the best things that people can do is go back and relisten to the descriptions of IBM’s Big Blue computer or Deep Blue. I’m sorry beating Gary Kasparov. Right. So one of the things that they programmed into that computer was random pauses. So the computer processed things and computed things at the exact same speed. But by giving Kasparov the illusion that he forced the machine to think, he started to second guess himself.

Well, what did I do there that made it think, right. He didn’t do anything. It was doing its own thing and designed to elicit a reaction from you. I think China’s done probably a pretty good job of getting a lot of people in the west and elsewhere. And I think Putin is even better at this, of second guessing our capabilities and genuinely believing that we’re second rate now.

It’s fascinating. There was just a piece that came out from the US Space Force where they’re talking about the rising capabilities of China. And if you read the public Press’s interpretation of this, China is moving ahead in leaps and bounds. And what actually he’s saying is, no, we’re way ahead. But they are catching up at an alarming rate.

TN: That’s what happens. Right.

MG: Of course, it is always easier to imitate than it is to innovate.

TN: Right. When I hear you say that it’s easier to imitate than innovate. I know you don’t mean it this way, but I think people hear it this way that the Chinese say IP creators are incapable of creating intellectual property. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think you mean that to be the case. They are very innovative. It’s just a matter of baselining yourself against existing technology. So it does take time to catch up. Right. And that takes years. Your TFP and all the other factors within your economy have to catch up. And it takes time. It takes time for anybody to do that.

MG: Well… And I think also it’s important to recognize that things like TFP, total factor productivity, tends to be overstated because we don’t do a great job of actually correctly defining it.

TN: It’s residual. I can tell you.

MG: Exactly right. And just to emphasize what that means, it means it’s the part that we can’t explain with the variables we’ve currently declared. Right.

TN: Right.

MG: And so when I look at TFP in the United States, I actually think TFP is quite a bit lower than the data sets would suggest, because I think that we are failing to consider the fact that we’ve introduced women into the labor force. We’ve introduced minorities into the labor force. Right. So the job matching characteristics or the average skill level of people has risen.

People live longer, so they get to work in different industries and careers for a longer period of time. The center of the distribution is now starting to shift too old, and that’s showing up as a negative impact. But we failed to consider that on the other side. And the last part is just again, remember going back to the start of the 20th century, the average American had three years worth of education at that point. Third grade education, where a year was defined as three months, basically during the non harvest season. Right.

TN: It’s the stock of productivity. Correct. We’re adding to that stock of productivity, and the incremental add is large compared.

MG: But small compared to the stock. Absolutely correct. Right.

TN: Okay. Just to sum up, since we wanted to talk about the impact on markets, I want to sum up a couple of things that you’ve said just to make sure that I have a correct understanding.

If China is to invade Taiwan, we would have in Northeast Asia a period of volatility and uncertainty. That would go across equity markets, across currencies, across cross border investments and so on and so forth. Okay. So we would have that in Northeast Asia.

MG: And I would just emphasize very quickly. So we’ve seen this rolling pattern of spikes in volatility. Right. So we saw it in 2018 in the equity markets. We saw it in late 2018 in the credit markets and commodity markets. We’ve now seen it in interest rate markets. What’s referred to as the Move index. The implied volatility around interest rates has reached relatively high levels of uncertainty.

The one kind of residual area where we just have seen no impact whatsoever has been in FX. That has been remarkably stable, remarkably managed. That’s kind of my pick for the breakout space.

TN: Okay. Great. Europe also appeared of volatility because of their exposure to both China and Russia. Since both China and Russia have a degree of kind of wiliness, especially Russia, I think almost a second derivative. Europe is volatile because of both of those factors. Is that fair to say? And that has to do with the Euro that has to do with their supply chains? That has to do with a number of factors.

MG: I would broadly argue that’s a reasonable way to think about it. I mean, almost think about it. Flip the image and imagine that the continents are ponds and the oceans are land. Right. What we’re describing is a scenario where a rock gets dropped into Asia or a rock gets dropped into Europe. You will see the waves spread across. There’s potential for sloshing over, and it’ll absolutely impact the United States. But in that scenario, we literally have two giant barriers in the form of the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean that separate us.

And while our supply chains are integrated currently, in a weird way, COVID has been a bit of a blessing in starting to fracture those supply chains. We’ve diversified them significantly in the last couple of years.

TN: Okay. And then from what I understand from what you said about the US is supply chains will definitely be a major factor. Corporates will likely keep their investments in China until they can’t. They won’t necessarily come up with, say, dual supply chains or redundant supply chains.

US equity markets could actually be helped by the delisting of Chinese companies. Or we’ll say, US listed equities, meaning US companies listed could be helped by the delisting of Chinese equities, potentially.

MG: Certainly on a relative basis. I might not go so far as to say in an absolute simply again, because you do have people and strategies that run levered exposures. And so anytime asset values in one area of the world falls, you run the risk that the collateral has become impaired, and therefore there’s a deleveraging impact.

TN: Yes. Understood. And then the dollar continues to be kind of the preeminent currency just on a relative basis because there really isn’t in that volatile environment, there aren’t many other options. Is that fair to say?

MG: Well, again, I think there’s an element of complication. I would prefer to argue volatility. I think it is hard to argue that the dollar wouldn’t appreciate, but I also think it’s important, and this is why I go back and say we can’t actually stop Russia from taking Ukraine. We can’t stop China from taking Taiwan.

If they were to actually do that, then there is kind of the secondary loss of phase dynamic associated with it that may you could see and you’ve already seen Myanmar. You could see Thailand. You could see Vietnam. Say, you know what? We got to switch. I’m skeptical, but I’m open to that possibility.

TN: Interesting. Okay. Very good. Mike, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate how generous you’ve been with what you’ve shared. I’d love to spend another couple of hours going into this deeper, but you’ve been really generous with us.

I want to thank everyone for joining us. And please, when you have a minute, please follow us on YouTube. We need those follow so that we’ve we can get to the right number to reach more people.

So thanks again for watching. And Mike Green, thanks so much for your thoughts on China’s invasion of Taiwan.

MG: Tony, thank you for having me.


Quick Hit: Are you a deflationist or an inflationist?

Brent Johnson of Santiago Capital tweets, “If you believe additional QE is on the way, you are secretly a deflationist. And if you believe in the taper, you are secretly in the inflation camp.” What does he mean by that? Also discussed in this QuickHit episode:

  • What are the considerations around inflation this time?
  • “Negative velocity of money.” What does that mean?
  • Why are banks not the transmission mechanism that they should be?
  • How China plays a part in the world economy?
  • How long will the supply chain issues will be resolved?

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Cause and Effect: Are you a deflationist or an inflationist?

This QuickHit episode is joined by central bank and monetary policy expert Brent Johnson. He talks about inflationists versus deflationists and what makes these camps different in a time of a pandemic. What’s monetary velocity? And why banks are failing at their job, and why they’re not lending anymore money? Also discussed China and when supply chain issues will be resolved.


Brent Johnson is the CEO and founder of Santiago Capital, a wealth management firm. He works with about a dozen different families and individuals customizing wealth management solutions for them. He does that through a combination of separately managed accounts and private funds, also invest in outside deals, private deals, venture capital funds, and others. Brent have a focus on macro and loves the big picture.


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This QuickHit episode was recorded on September 28, 2021.


The views and opinions expressed in this Cause and Effect: Are you a deflationist or an inflationist? QuickHit episode are those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Complete Intelligence. Any contents provided by our guest are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any political party, religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

Show Notes


TN: Part of the reason we’re having this discussion. And is you posted something on Twitter a few weeks ago and I’m going to quote it and we’re going to put it up on screen. You said if you believe an additional QE is on the way, you are secretly a deflationist. If you believe in the taper, you are secretly in the inflation camp. Cause and effect. And I thought it was super interesting. Can you kind of talk through that with us and help us understand what you mean by that?


Inflation, deflation tweet


BJ: Sure. And before I get into that, I’m just going to take a step back because a lot of work I’ve done, a lot of the work I’ve done publicly and put out publicly over the last 10 to 12 years has really been about the design of the monetary system, how it works, how fund flows, you know, this currency versus that currency, what central banks do, etc. Etc.


And this is really a follow on from that and what I was, the point I was trying to get across in this particular tweet is that central banks are a reactive agency. They are not the cause. They are the effect. Now their policies can cause things to happen, but they are reacting to what they see in the market.


And so my point was if you think more QE is coming, then you believe they are going to be reacting to the deflationary forces that still exist in the economy. And so if they were to step back and do nothing, you would have massive deflation.


Now, the flip side of that is if you think that they’re going to taper and you think they’re going to pull away stimulus, then you’re actually an inflationist because you believe inflation is here, it’s going to remain. Prices are going to continue to rise. And the Fed is going to have to step back in reaction to those steadily higher prices.


And so I really get this across because I think there’s a huge battle between the people who believe deflation is next and the people who believe inflation is next. And I think it’s a fantastic debate because I’m not certain which one to come. I kind of get labeled into the deflationary camp, which I don’t mind for a few reasons. But I actually understand all the reasons that the inflationary arguments are being made. And I believe it was a few additional things happen. Then we could get into this sustained inflation. But until those things happen, I’m happy to be labeled into the deflationary camp. So I hope that makes sense.


TN: Yeah. So pull this apart for me. Inflation is ever and always a monetary function. Right. We hear that all the time. Of course, it’s hard to say something “always” is. But people love to quote that. And I think they misapply it in many cases. And I’ve seen that you’ve kind of pushed back on some people in some cases. So can you talk us through that and is this time different? Like, what are the considerations around inflation this time?


BJ: Yeah. So is this a perfect way to set this up because again, I understand the argument that those in the inflationary camp are making. And it would be hard to sit here and say we haven’t seen inflationary effects for the last twelve months. Prices have risen. Regardless of why or whatever prices have gone up. So I’m not going to sit here and deny that we’ve had inflationary pressures.


The question is what comes next. And I think what I would say with regard to the quote that you were just making, I think that was, I can’t remember who said it now, but it’s 50 or 60 years ago. And what I think was assumed in that quote was that monetary velocity is constant. And so you’ve seen these huge rises in the monetary base. But not just the United States, but Canada, Europe, South America, China and Japan.


And so the thought is that with that new money in the system, you’re naturally going to have inflation. But I think Lacy Hunt, who a fellow Texan of yours, does a fantastic job of showing, had the rate of monetary velocity stay the same. That is absolutely the case. But the reality is monetary velocity kind of took a nose dive starting about 20 years ago, and it just continued to lower and lower and lower.


TN: And it’s been negative, right, for the past couple years?


BJ: Yeah. It just continues to fall. And I think the rule is…


TN: Let me just stop you right there. “Negative velocity of money.” What does that mean?


BJ: What it essentially means is that new credit is not being created. And so the system is contracting. And this is really the key to it all. It’s the key to the way the monetary system is designed. It’s the key to the way it functions. And it’s the key to whether we’re going to have inflation or deflation next.


Because I do agree with the money, the inflation is always and everywhere, a monetary phenomenon, assuming that velocity is constant. But velocity isn’t constant. And it’s because of the way the monetary system is designed. And it’s because of the way that the Fed and other central banks have been providing stimulus.


Probably don’t have time to get into all the details of what a bank reserve is and whether it is or whether it isn’t money. But essentially what the central banks have been doing, especially the Fed, is re collateralizing the system. Now re collateralizing the system isn’t exactly the same thing as actually handing somebody else physical money. It sort of is, but it sort of isn’t. And it leads to this big debate on whether they’re actually printing money or not. It’s my argument that the Fed has been re collateralized the system and that has kept prices from continue to fall.


But in order to get this sustained inflation, I keep saying sustained inflation because I don’t want to deny, but we’ve had it. But to have it continue going higher, especially at the rate we’ve seen would require one of two things. Either the Congress has to come out and agree to spend another seven or $8 trillion, which this week is showing, it’s very hard to get them to agree to do that. They can’t even agree on 3.5 trillion and let alone another 6 to 7. Or the banks have to start lending. And the banks simply are not lending.


They lent last year because the loans that the banks made were guaranteed by the government. These were the PPP loans that everybody got.


TN: So. What you’re saying, it sounds to me, and correct me, what you’re essentially saying is that banks are failing as a transmission mechanism. So the government has had to become the transmission mechanism because banks aren’t doing what their job should be. Is that true?


BJ: That’s a very good way of putting it.


TN: Why? Why are banks not the transmission mechanism that they should be?


BJ: Well, they have the potential to be. And that’s what I say. The Fed has provided the banks all the kindling for lack of a better word, all the starter fuel to create this inflationary storm. But the banks haven’t done it. I would argue. Now there’s people to disagree with me. But I would argue that they don’t want to make a loan because believe it or not, banks don’t want to rely on getting bailed out, and they don’t want to make a loan where they are not going to get their money back.


Now, if you’re in an environment where businesses have been shut down either because of the pandemic or because of other laws or because of regulations that can’t afford all the regulations, whatever it is, you know, it’s hard to loan somebody a million dollars if you don’t know that their business is even going to be open the next day. Right.


So banks aren’t in the business of going out and making a loan and having and default on them. They want to get their money back. And I think that they would rather go out and buy a treasury bond that’s yielded one and a half percentage, than make a loan that pays them, three or four of them might go bad. Right.


TN: Okay.


BJ: So to me, that’s indicative of the deflationary forces that the banks who are closer to the money than anybody else, and typically the people that are close to money understand the money or benefit from the money the most, they are telling me from by their actions, maybe not their words, but their actions are telling me they don’t think this is a great investment.


TN: Yeah. I think we could talk about that point for, like, 20 minutes. So let’s switch to something else. So what you didn’t really mention is the supply side of the market in terms of inflation, meaning supply chain issues, these sorts of things. Right.


And so I want to focus a little bit on China. Now, there’s a lot happening in China, and I want to understand how that impacts your worldview.


In China, we’ve got the crypto regulation that’s come in. And the clampdown in crypto. We have a strong CNY, like an unusually strong CNY over the last six or nine months. We have the power supply issues. We have the supply chain issues. That’s a lot happening all at one time, at a time when a lot of people believe there’s kind of China has this clear path to ascendency, but I think they have a lot of headwinds, right. Of those kind of how are you thinking about those factors? The crypto factor, the supply chain factor, the power factor? How are you thinking about that stuff?


BJ: So I think about this a lot first of all. I mean, this is a probably, like it or not, for better force, the China-United States dynamic is probably one of the biggest macro drivers for the next ten or 20 years. It most likely will be. There’s nothing is guaranteed. But that’s probably a pretty safe bet that that’s going to be one of the main drivers. And so I think what you’re touching on as far as the supply chain, in my opinion, that is as big a driver as the “money printing” for the inflationary effects that we’ve seen for the last year.


You know, if you look at the efficiency with which the single global supply chain that Xi call it from 1990 to 2018 or 19, it’s pretty amazing, right. There’s one global supply chain, just in time inventory, you can predict with a very high level of certainty when you would get those things you ordered and at what price. But then with a combination of the US and Chinese antagonism and COVID, the supply chains are broke. And that makes it harder to get those supplies. And the timing of when you get them in the price, which you get to miss completely unknown or its delay, and the prices are higher.


And so I think that has led to a lot of the price pressure on commodities. Now, part of the reason that the decreasing supply push prices up was that demand stayed flat or went up it a little bit. And I think the reason it went up is a lot of people believe that the Fed would print enough money to cause demand to stay, solid and that China was growing and that they would continue. China has been the growth driver for the global economy for years and years. And I think a lot of people thought that China would continue to be that growth driver for these commodities and these other goods that were needed. And so if demand stays flat arise and supply gets cut, then price rises.


Now, I don’t think that China growing and ascending to economic hegemony or however you want to describe it is a given. I think they have more troubles internally than they would like to admit. And I think we’re starting to see that, with the Evergrande, real estate daisy chain of credit extension. You know, if you think that the US has a credit problem, take a look at China, they do as well. And it’s manifested itself nowhere more visibly than in the real estate market there and Evergrande.


Now, the problem is if they cannot send that credit contraction that is currently taking place in the Chinese market from a real estate perspective, then demand is not going to stay cloud. Demand is must start to fall, and demand starts to fall and some of those supply chain logistics start to get ironed out. Now, they’re not going to get fixed overnight. It’s not going to go back to the way it was 18 months ago. But if it even gets a little bit better and demand starts to fall, well, then you could have a move down in commodity prices and then move down in growth expectations.


And that is the way deflationary pressures could take whole. And as those prices start to come down, then you get more credit contraction. It becomes a vicious cycle both to the upside and to the downside. But based on the design of the monetary and I don’t need to keep harping on this. But based on the design of the monetary system, it is literally the stair step up in the elevator shut down. That’s just the way it’s designed. It’s an inherently inflationary system that it has to grow. Or if it doesn’t grow, then it crashes. And crash has always happened faster and steeper than the stairstep higher.


TN: They take longer, but steeper on the way up. Right.


BJ: That’s right. That’s right.


TN: Okay. So in terms of the supply chain issues, okay. I’m just curious, is this something that you think is going to resolve itself in three or six months? Do you think it’s something that’s with us for three years or what was I feeling out of this?


BJ: Some of it is gonna resolve itself in three or six months? And I think that will be a combination of just working out the kinks and demand falling. Right. I think that will help. But I don’t think it’s all going to get fixed in three to six months, and I think it might take three to six years to get the other part of it. And this is where I have to actually say that in the past, I’ve been somewhat critical of the people who called for stagflation because I kind of felt the top out, right? You couldn’t decide. So you just go down the middle.


But I actually think that that’s a very likely scenario. I think some things are going to inflate and some things are going to deflate and we’re going to have this kind of the stagflationary environment. I think the central banks are going to do everything they can to kind of offset those deflationary pressures. And in some cases, it will work. In some cases, they won’t. But the global debt, the amount of global debt and the global dollar… Is so big that deflationary scare, in my opinion, is always going to be there. And in my opinion, you can’t ignore it.


A lot of people just think, oh, don’t worry about it. Central banks, have you back. There’s a Fed put, don’t need to worry about it. I understand that argument, but I don’t think it’s correct. I think you do have to worry about it.


TN: Yes, I think that’s right. Brent, I would love to talk to you for another couple of hours. I think we could do it. And I’d love to revisit this in a few months. Thank you so much for your time for everyone watching. If you wouldn’t mind following us on YouTube and subscribing, we’d really appreciate that. That helps us get up to where we can promote more and other things. And, Brent, I really appreciate your time and really appreciate this conversation. Thank you very much.