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Economic Warfare: What kills the US Dollar & Inflation’s hold on Europe

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In the latest episode of “The Week Ahead”, Tony Nash, Michael Kao, Albert Marko, and Ralph Schoellhammer discussed the current market trends and key themes in the world of finance. The discussion revolved around three main topics – “What kills the US dollar?”, “DXY to 112? Turbulence Incoming”, and “Inflation’s hold on Europe”.

Mike started the discussion by talking about the symposium on the Great Power Competition with China and the US Dollar’s primacy in an era of economic warfare. He emphasized that the US dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency is at risk due to the rise of other currencies such as the Chinese Yuan. Mike further elaborated on the factors that could potentially kill the US dollar, such as a shift towards a new reserve currency or the decline of the US economy.

Moving on to the next topic, Albert spoke about the DXY, which he expects to reach 112 in the near future. He explained that this is due to the strengthening of the US economy, coupled with rising interest rates and the anticipation of the Fed’s monetary tightening. However, he also cautioned that the markets are likely to experience turbulence due to the uncertainties surrounding the central bank policy and the geopolitical risks.

Ralph then focused on the impact of inflation on Europe. He pointed out that inflation in Europe has been rising at an alarming rate, with Austria’s inflation rate being 0.9% m/m and 11.2% on year. Ralph also tweeted about the rapid increase in bankruptcies, and how this could lead to a domino effect on the European economy. He predicted that the European Central Bank’s (ECB) decision to tighten monetary policy would lead to further economic challenges, especially in Q2 of this year.

Key themes:
1. What kills the US dollar?
2. DXY to 112? Turbulence Incoming
3. Inflation’s hold on Europe

This is the 54th 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:
Tony: https://twitter.com/TonyNashNerd
Michael: https://twitter.com/UrbanKaoboy
Albert: https://twitter.com/amlivemon
Ralph: https://twitter.com/Raphfel

Transcript

Tony

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash and today we’re joined by Michael Kao. Michael is @urbankaoboy on Twitter. He’s an ex-hedge fund manager and now he’s a private investor. We’re also joined by Albert Marko, who you’re well familiar with, and Ralph Schoellhammer, who is at Webster University in Vienna and he’s a political economics expert.

Tony

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So guys, thank you for joining us. We have a few key themes this week. First, Michael has written quite a bit about the dollar and about the kind of economic warfare happening now between the US. And China. So we’re going to take the other side of his typical argument and look at what kills the US dollar. We’re going to talk to Albert about dollar strength. He made a statement about the dollar going to 112 with some turbulence. So we’re going to dig into that. And then Ralph is going to talk us through inflation’s hold on Europe. So, should be a really broad macro conversation for us today, which I’m really looking forward to. Mike, you did recently attend this symposium on the Great Power competition with China, I think it was at West Point. And you spoke about US dollar primacy and an area of economic warfare, which must have been great. I missed my invite, but it must have been a great discussion and I think we’re all pretty jealous. I assume that much of the presumption or fears about the Chinese Yan, right.

Is that kind of what the basis was of this?

Michael

Yeah, I think generally when people are talking about threats to the US dollar system right. The most glaring contender is the Chinese Yuan, given all the scaffolding that they’re setting up with 60 plus odd bilateral swaps around the world and one belt, one road and all this stuff. Right. But anyways, if you want I can go. First of all, I love the fact that you’re forcing me to steal, man, the counter argument against my own thesis. Good. Which is great. Yes.

Tony

You’ve talked about the US dollar wrecking ball. Right. And you’ve really talked a lot about how the dollar has really kind of hurt some emerging markets. So I do have a chart of USD CNY, and we’ve seen the volatility of the CNY over the past really five years, ten years. And you know, part of my concern about the CNY is the PBOC.

And you know, we can talk about that in detail, but I’d really like to hear, what do you think? If the dollar was displaced, how would that happen? And we could spend days talking about this, but I guess in a summary conversation, how would that happen and what would be a potential other store of value that would be accepted globally?

Michael

Okay, so I was going to answer this question on different time scales, right? There’s short term and there’s longer term, but I believe where you’re going with this is a longer term time scale. Like what ultimately displaces the dollar as the global reserve currency. Right.

Tony

We can talk different timescales. I actually think that’s very interesting.

Michael

Right, well, look, let me dispense with the easy part first, which is the shorter time scale. I’ve been saying for a while now that I don’t necessarily think that we’ve seen the cyclical top in the US dollar in the short term just because I don’t think any of the competing regional blocks can outhawk the Fed. Or conversely, I don’t think the Fed is going to be in a position where it’s going to outdove the rest of the world either. Right. So either of those scenarios tell me that I think the US dollar is probably going to resurge. And so obviously the counter to that, what would have to happen for that not to happen? Well, I think that the US economy would have to suddenly take a turn for the worst and be in a much worse spot than the rest of the world. And the rest of the world would basically be able to become a much more hawkish visa vis the Fed. I see the exact opposite playing out in the short term. Okay, so now longer term and this is basically the topic of my paper, right? So I think the premise of my paper is that this notion that Breton Woods was basically this top down construct that it foisted a Trojan horse mechanism on the world where, hey, everybody, come use the US dollar because we’re going to be convertible to gold.

Michael

And then all of a sudden in 1971, nixon shocks the world and takes that gold tether away. But it’s too late. Everybody is stuck using a dollar. I call bullshit on that thesis because if you look at the Euro dollar, the rise of the Euro dollar banking system, it started happening probably 15 years before that.

Tony

And he was actually very popular when he did that.

Michael

Right? Yeah, well, it’s started happening by the way. It started happening the real catalyst to it first it was the failure of the tripartite agreement after World War II, which tried to stabilize the frank and the pound and the dollar exchange rates. But then in 1957, when Britain basically in a domestic flight against inflation, surprise, surprise, they they basically instituted capital controls. So there was a there was a tremendous global need for a liquid reserve alternative. And so the world actors on the world stage organically flocked to the US. Dollar. So the premise of my paper delves into what are if trust in the dollar already went well beyond its gold backing back then, right? What lent that trust? And so our paper posits that it rests upon national power. It’s a bedrock of national power. And I focus on three economic pillars of national power geography, which informs everything. But then geography also informs a country’s access to its natural resources and its industrial capacity. So in our paper, we talk about how, look, the US. It’s well known that the US. Is very, very naturally bowed with geographic assets that are really unparalleled in many ways.

Michael

And China is short a lot of those assets. However, because we have a federalist capitalist system, china is using essentially economic warfare to target that as a vulnerability, right? So they have unfairly competed and stolen IP in the world of semiconductors. Right. They’re trying very hard to replicate Taiwan success with TSMC. Fortunately the US. Controls critical choke points in that industry still. But yet, in that area at least, the US. Is finally starting to come around and make some very specific targeted export controls as well as changes to its industrial policy. The point here is that in that area alone, the US. Is starting to recognize the importance of reshoring and defending our flank from an industrial policy perspective. But when you compare and contrast that to oil and gas, which is the other critical supply chain where the US. Is currently the leading oil supplier in the world, and we are naturally long that natural resource, but because of blind devotion to ESG adoption and this erroneous assumption that an energy transition is going to follow Moore’s Law dynamic when it won’t right. Is going to leave us in a very dangerous lurch. I point out that there’s a real inconsistency there where we’re kind of shooting ourselves in our own foot when it comes to energy policy.

Michael

To answer your question, what has to happen for the US. To really lose its status? I started thinking. I said, well, number one, okay. Oh, the other thing is much ado has been made of the US. Weaponization and the criminal west seizure of Russian reserve assets and whatnot. Okay, well, look, I also point out in my paper that, yes, that should be a shot across the bow for US. Policymakers because, like the situation in the 1950s, right, it certainly creates an incentive for our adversaries to look for an alternative. But what are the alternatives? Because if you look at the eurozone, the yen, the pound. The euro is, frankly, the most successful challenger to the dollar to date. And yet, since its inception in 1999, us share of FX reserves has stayed constant 60%. It’s the euro that’s actually lost share. Now, the Chinese yuan. Here’s the problem. What has to happen for the yuan to supplant? The US number one, china would have to prove that it will be a better benefactor and more trustworthy sort of steward of the global commons than the US. I don’t see that happening in almost any circumstance.

Tony

So let me ask you just in that what allies does China have? Like, if China were to say, okay, boys, we’re going to war. Line up and let’s form a coalition, who would China’s allies be?

Tony

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Michael

Well, that’s that’s a really good question, because right now right now well, yeah, those those are the those are the two, right? And perhaps, perhaps Iran. Right? But, like, Russia is interesting because China’s relationship with Russia over decades and centuries and even centuries, certainly, right. Has been kind of a storied one. Right. I wouldn’t say that this dragon bear romance is necessarily that chummy, because, look, China is really happy that it’s getting big discounts to Russian euros, right. And that’s directly countered to Russia’s interest, I think this whole notion that right now they share a common interest in wanting to counter the US’s. Hegemony, but that is a very fragile bromance, to say the least. The other thing I was going to say is that the other thing that would have to happen for the US. To see dominance, I think, would be that the US. Willingly essentially becomes a vassal state to China and allows China to roll over. Basically, our interest in the Indopacific, that the US. Allows China to take over Taiwan and we just roll over and do nothing. I guess in a parallel universe, that could happen. I’m not seeing that happening.

Michael

I think that China’s significance alone, not just as an unthinkable aircraft carrier, potentially for China if seized, given its geostrategic position in the first island chain, but obviously Taiwan semiconductor alone is of critical significance.

Tony

Just to take the other side of that for a minute, you know, let’s also be very aware that, you know, the wars that the US. Has lost over the last 80 years have really been to China in Korea, to China in Vietnam. Right.

Albert

We didn’t lose those wars, Tony. Our military objectives were all met. We’re confusing the political opponent.

Tony

We lost those two wars. I mean, we had to negotiate the settlement, and the US lost those two wars. So the only people the US has really lost to over the last, you know, hundred years is the Chinese. And so, you know, I do sit with you and with Albert in terms of if things were to happen, you know, with the US prevail, I actually think they would I don’t think it would be a cakewalk, and I do think there are some scars there in Asia. Right.

Michael

I think you have to compare and contrast that to where the US. Was in World War II, like when Britain lost its hegemony, where the pound lost its hegemony is because the UK was in a very tough spot. It had essentially bankrupted itself after World War II and was completely beholden to the US. The US’s lend Lease program. Right. So the US essentially had all the cards. Now, here the two wars that you talk about. I agree with Albert. It’s not even close to the same thing. We withdrew, and it wasn’t a great withdrawal, but it wasn’t a situation where we had essentially bankrupted ourselves and we were completely dependent on the largess of somebody else. Right.

Albert

If I can interject Michael, we can.

Michael

Go on and on.

Albert

About to go back to Tony’s question, what would come next? I mean, theoretically, the United States would have to have some sort of societal breakdown. Our rule of law would have to break down, and we’d have to become a nonintervationalist nation. We wouldn’t be able to protect our interests globally at that point. Something could come along to dethrone the dollar. But even if we’re at that point, I think the next logical step of removing the dollar as a reserve currency would be an Anglosphere plus Japan digital currency, where regional players would secure their own interests in those regions and have a collective I mean, this is just theoretical and way out of our lifetimes, in my opinion. But I think it would be a step down to that first where our allies and the US. Would jointly have a currency block yeah. Running through all the scenarios, in my opinion, that would be the only thing that would take the dollar. That would be I mean, the dollar would still be a part of it, but it wouldn’t be the main part of it. It would be the sole unit polar one. But you could have an angle sphere plus Japan digital currency for just for trade settlement.

Michael

Now, you know what I think the highest probability sort of gray rhino would be out of all this. It would be that if China made overtures toward Taiwan and Taiwan willingly just say, Here, take me. Because I think last year, or maybe two years ago, I wrote a thread about this, how some of the older guard in Taiwan and you know this, Tony some of the older guards that are with the KMT, they really don’t like the DPP because the DPP wants to get away from the Chinese ancestral roots of the Taiwanese. So the old God doesn’t like that. And so what if China says, hey, we’re going to take you? And then what if Taiwan says, Here, take me to me? That is much more worrisome than an amphibious takeover of Taiwan, which I see is very low probability.

Albert

Yeah, exactly.

Tony

Yeah. I think that is the most likely scenario of the scenarios of China taking over Taiwan. Right. It’s a mutual but with the DPP in power and with DPP as a sizable political party there, it’s a north versus south issue for people don’t really understand. KMT is largely North, DPP is largely south, and DPP comes to power when their policies really align with people in the north from time to time. Right. And so that’s how the DPP gets into power. The DPP is much more nationalistic and independent than the KMT.

Albert

That would be pretty risky, I mean, for the United States if it didn’t intervene in some which way, because then you could talk about North Korea and South Korea unification and siding with the Chinese at some point, which is not out of the realm of possibility, in my opinion.

Tony

Right, okay. Can we agree? Is it eliminated for the next probably 2030 years?

Albert

Yes.

Tony

Do you think it’s eliminated, Michael?

Michael

I think so. I think so as well. I was on a different podcast earlier this week, and I keep alluding to this interesting podcast that Andrew Hunt out of the UK did, where he did analysis on 36 Chinese private banks. And his assessment is that there’s four there’s a $4 trillion liability gap that’s not captured in the in the balance of payments. China is much china is much, much more levered than the US.

Tony

Absolutely.

Michael

But but it’s but it’s hidden. It’s just pin behind the Opacity curtain. That’s exactly right.

Tony

Doesn’t look good. So if we if we push China out, say, 30, 40 years before they’re a contender, and they may not even be they may be too old by that time, because there really isn’t immigration to China right. Except for from North Korea and maybe a couple of other places. So we pushed China out. What about Europe? Will we have European decide for morale in 30 years? Will we have the demographic age of people who can actually work and contribute to the economy?

Albert

They don’t have a functioning military and solely reliant. Their banks are solely reliant on the US. At the moment. They’re insolvent, in my opinion.

Tony

So, yeah, that’s a good point. If you can’t defend yourself and if the demographics continue to get worse, they won’t have people that will defend the area. So if you can’t defend yourself, you can’t have a functional currency. Right.

Ralph

I guess that was a little bit an unintended consequence. And this is something Europeans hate to admit, but of course a lot of EU policy was kind of this dirty secret. The United States were constraining China and Russia, and the Europeans were trying to make deals with them. If you think back them in the entire Russian pipeline network to Europe, and I think with all of it also mentioned, kind of psychological effect was a certain form of infantilization. Right. This idea that military conflicts simply are a thing of the past in many ways, I see the biggest security risk for the United States. I don’t want to over dramatize it, but I see it almost more in Europe than in China or elsewhere, but not because of an actual military conflict, but the commitments to Europe for cultural and historical reasons that this is going to drag down American capacities. This is going to work out. But the European idea and we hear it again europe will now rearment the Titan vendors. They talked about the Germany. If you look at what’s actually happening, it’s just not happening because they know that the populations don’t really have an interest in that.

Tony

Yeah. Okay, so it’s not CNY. It’s not Euro. What else is a viable it’s not Japan.

Michael

Right.

Albert

This is what’s making me allude to the fact that I think that anglosphered plus Japan digital currency would be the only logical step. Next logical step. Just in my opinion. I just can’t see anything else out there. The Swiss francs is not big enough. The pound is not a relic of what it was without any actual alternatives that we can discuss. What’s out there? Nothing’s out there.

Michael

And by the way, all these, like, newfangled ideas of having some sort of pan global currency backed by commodities. But you know what? John made her. Cain’s backed the Bancorp during the battle for Bretton Woods. Harry Dexter White backed the unit. The SDR was tried and failed. The US. Dollar. Is that pan global currency?

Tony

Sure.

Albert

Yeah, it is. I keep arguing with these gold back currency people, and I’m like, what would stop me being the dictator of Albania, of spray paying some lead and saying, there’s my gold? But you can’t really look at it. You know what I mean? No nation gives you a transparent audit. So how could you even have a currency based on such a thing? It’s just silly to me, in my opinion.

Tony

Ralph, jump in.

Michael

Yeah.

Ralph

And I think one of the things this is what Mike did so well, I think in his paper that he presented at Westbourne, I think we have to look at kind of the structural conditions. And in many ways the United States has the occasional incompetent administration, but their structural is still more sound than any potential competitor, definitely more than Europe. And I think if one takes a closer look, they’re all structurally, at the moment, more sound than China. And in the case of a real conflict, I mean, these things really, really matter. And besides the rhetoric in America, we.

Tony

Expect our politicians to be dumb, and we just work around that.

Albert

Yeah, I mean, in a perfect world, the Pentagon would be working with the treasury to weaponize the dollar. I guess in the adversaries, I mean, that’s something the Pentagon has never really understood or really looked at, is like, you can place your adversaries in a certain position, being short commodities, short food, and you can really strain bingo, bingo.

Michael

By the way, that is the premise of our paper. Our paper is literally saying is literally saying that rather than rely on overt sanctions, that basically cause everybody to look for alternatives to the dollar. We’re at this really interesting macroeconomic window where a strong dollar policy inflicts asymmetric pain in our largest geopolitical adversary.

Albert

Yeah, it’s an absolute logical thing to do. And on top of that, not only can you use the dollar, but you can now use derivatives of the dollars, specifically grains. I mean, there’s only five companies in America that control the world’s grain. You can call them up and cause problems for the world or for China, for Russia, for any nation you really want to target if you really want to get down to that level.

Michael

And by the way, it also kills two birds with 1 st, right. Because it basically export our inflation problem because we are in a domestic fight against inflation.

Tony

Okay, that’s a great idea. Let’s do that. Great. Okay, so let’s just call this new currency TBD. How about that? Because I’m not really sure what to put in there. There are a lot of cheerleaders, as you guys have pointed out, trying to push other things forward, but I just don’t see the case for them. And outside of just suspending reality, I just don’t see the case for something else right now. I don’t say that as an American. I like, I’m not necessarily trying to kind of represent for the dollar. I just don’t see the viability of other options right now.

Michael

Yep.

Albert

I would be I would be the first one waving the red flags if there was an actual alternative out there.

Michael

Oh, there was one thing I was going to riff on. Albert, what what you were saying, or Tony, what you were saying in terms of, you know, our politicians being idiots and whatnot. So so my my view on that is that it’s because of the geographic endowments that the US. Has that’s enabled our federalist free market system to arrive and to survive. Because if you think about it, right, if you’re China or Russia with unbelievably shitty geography, it takes an autocratic system to try to hold that bucket of bolts together. To paraphrase Han Solo, why would you.

Tony

Want to own all that land if you’re Russia, why do you want to own the east? I don’t get it. It’s just hard to keep it all together. So that’s a great point, Mike. Okay, great. Hey, let’s go from talking to the dollar to talking about the dollar. Okay. You put a Tweet up earlier this week saying when the dollar started breaking upward, you talked about expecting Dxy to hit 112.

So it’s kind of we’re, we’re heading back to where we were last year, I guess. So can you walk us through that reasoning? And you talked about turbulence. Incoming. Can you, can you talk about what that turbulence is?

Albert

Inflation. It’s back again. And as much as the Fed doesn’t want to admit a mistake, they’ve absolutely created policies of mistakes and allowed inflation to rear its ugly head. I don’t want to leave it all on, all on the Fed. A lot of it has to do with Yellen’s actions and what she’s done with the dollar and then bringing it up and bringing it down. I mean, this goes to Michael’s point of the weaponization of the dollar is, you know, Yellen takes the TGA and she’s in charge of dollar policy. She can take the dollar up. And what she did, and it drove all the liquidity in Europe, back in Asia, back into the United States, which kept our markets propped up.

Tony

For people who haven’t watched this word, can you talk about what the TGA is?

Albert

And then if the treasury general account, she can use it in many ways, but basically it’s injecting liquidity into the economy.

Tony

And how much at what scale has she done over the past, say, nine months or something?

Albert

Prior to the midterms, she was doing about 160,000,000,000 a month.

Michael

Wow.

Tony

Okay, that’s a lot. When you say injecting, where was that going?

Albert

Well, I don’t know exactly where it was going. That’s not really clear. But she was absolutely using it and I’m sure it’s been dispersed throughout the economy and whatever sectors that she needed to send it out to to rally the markets. And she did a good job. I mean, the markets have stayed up here over 4000 for quite a long time and we don’t really deserve to be here at the moment. The problem that we’re having here now is as you rally the markets now, commodities start to rally. I mean, Europe was in a zombie status. China has been in lockdown for the most part. Yeah, I mean, they’re doing this, but as they reopen, inevitably inflation is going to come back. Wage inflation has been persistent. That’s not going to wave. I mean, I mean, honestly, the workers probably deserve wage inflation after 40 years of getting nothing. So, you know, I can’t really blame them on that aspect. But again, we’re, we’re sitting here with a hot PC PCE number today. You know, it looks like CPI is probably going to be sticky again next, next time around. And the Fed is going to be talking about 50 basis points when they, you know, previously the markets were calculating that we’re going to do a pause or a pivot in a later in the year.

Tony

That’s just not happening. A couple of meetings.

Michael

No. So I mean, this honestly feels like Q one of 22 to me. The whole setup right now feels like Q one of 22.

Albert

We’re right back where we started, Michael. Right back where we started. Because of Fed policies, they’ve done nothing to correct the situation with inflation.

Tony

Okay, so what’s going to happen to drive the dollar up? Yellen stops spending out of the TGA or doesn’t spend as much, or Fed policy, all the above. What happens to contribute to that?

Albert

I think it’s going to be a combination of Fed policy and then the ECB, the Europeans being hawkish themselves. But I think that we’re looking at 75 basis points, probably going up to five and 5.75 on the Fed funds rate by the end of the year, maybe even six. I don’t think they can go over that. But I mean, that alone should take the dollar up to 112. I’m sure they can, but taking the dollar over 115 to 120, you’re going to start causing massive problems. Rest of the world, you just start breaking things.

Michael

Can I ask Ralph a question?

Tony

Absolutely, sure.

Michael

So Ralph, I’m curious. I agree with Albert’s thesis. When I look at the inflation prints in Europe and in the UK, still so high, that gives me a little bit of pause right again on betting on the dollar continuing to rise, except when you look at the state of the economy. And so I’m curious how you see that, because I believe the last UK GDP print was very close to skirting the zero bound. So how much more can the BoE or the ECB really do?

Tony

Sorry, before we do that, let’s move into rough section, which is inflation hold on Europe, right? Which is exactly what you’re talking about. And so we saw Austrian CPI committed 11.2% year on year. When was the last time that happened, Ralph? I mean, what we’ve seen over the past few months maybe, I don’t know, 40 years ago or something.

Ralph

Oh, yeah, before I was born. And so this has been significantly long time ago. The problem is, despite what the ECB does for European politicians, it’s always the 1930s. So the answer, the economic problem is that it must be a demand side problem. So every time the ECB hikes rates, the government comes in with fiscal expansion. And Australia is the best example for this. Pretty much everything that would have been caused by higher rates has been softened by government spending and now expected government spending to happen in the future, which is they very slowly or not at all changed their behavior. So the, the idea to. Kind of, you know, pull money out of the system due to high interest rates is not working as as expected. I mean, we we saw it in Germany. It was when we met the last time, right? They said that there was actually slow growth in Germany in Q four 2022. Then they said that was a slight contraction of 0.2. Today we got the second revision. That actually it’s a contraction of 0.4. And that’s mostly because there was government spending. Otherwise it would have been significantly worse.

Ralph

And I think this is really the problem we are running into. So every time the ECB tries to high grade, governments will jump in with their own fiscal policies, trying to soften it. And what, of course, happens as a consequence, europe is losing its industrial base. So supply side politics, which would be necessary, they become more and more difficult. I mean, Tracy on the last weekend did a great job in kind of just listing all the aluminum smelters and all the heavy industry that has been closed down. We heard today that Germany’s chemical giant BASF is shrinking operations all over Europe. So at some point, you cannot just turn this back on again. So I’m very worried about the structural health of Europe, or even if we look at R and D and spending, right out of the top ten R and D spenders, there is one European company, which is Volkswagen, but all the other companies, most of them are American and some of them are Asian. But Europe is losing kind of connection to all of this just as a challenge to you guys. I mean, name one groundbreaking innovation or one groundbreaking area, and let’s say the high tech area where Europe or European nation was on the forefront in the last 20 years.

Ralph

Nothing comes to my mind.

Michael

Well, ASM Lithography.

Albert

Ralph brings up a great point, and one I usually harp on a lot is whenever you have political policies intermixing with economic policies, you have a problem because politicians want to get elected and their terms are a lot shorter than economic policies need. You know what I mean? That’s just the reality of it. I mean, the Germans, they say they’re tightening things up, but then they give 80% of their population, 80% of their paycheck to stay home. That’s not going to help.

Michael

And by the way, all this, right, all the slowdown in BASF and all that that you’re talking about, Ralph, this is with an extremely benign weather backdrop this year that enabled Ttf and NBP to collapse.

Tony

So huge benefit.

Ralph

I think there are two other very important issues that particular European politicians don’t get and that you and Mike had also talked a lot about, which is there is this weird idea that if Europeans and Americans stop drilling and supplying the world with fossil fuels, that somehow the prices will go down. But exactly the opposite is going to happen because we’re still going to consume it, we just no longer produce it, which is great for all the non European and non American producers. And the second part, what I think Europeans still don’t understand, is there is still this idea that the world will go back to as it was, let’s say ten years ago, like very early on. But even if there were, new should stop. Right? It’s obvious that there is a new kind of industrial policy happening that French showing that reassuring is going to happen and that will push upwards pressure on prices. And Europeans, at some point, they’re going to feel this. I mean, we see. With Germany, Europe is increasingly becoming a continent that has to import more and more, but everything we can export is becoming less and less.

Ralph

That is not a sustainable model unless we say we just become the world’s biggest retirement home tourist destination. But other than that, it’s really problematic.

Albert

That’s interesting because I remember Belina and I were talking about what Europe should do and it was definitely bring black your supply chains to Eastern Europe, north Africa, closer to home, something Europe can drive in investments and actually hold it close to close to their hand there. But they just have not done anything. They want to rely back on the old guard of let’s go to China and grab their market share. Meanwhile, Africa is sitting right there. That’s going to have a bigger population in the next 25 years than China and Younger and Hungary for innovation and products, but they haven’t capitalized on that.

Ralph

It’s like an inversion of the 19th century, right, when there was once a time where Europeans looked at the map and so everything is a potential part of the empire, not like they barely looked at the map at all. And I think it shows in their economic policies.

Tony

Yeah. Just going back over to what you were saying about the short termism of governments, and we see this, at least in the west, the bureaucracy is supposed to be the part of government that helps the office holders to see the longer term. But the quality of our bureaucracy has deteriorated so much over the last 2030 years that they just don’t care.

Albert

They don’t care. I put a lot of blame on social media right now. I mean, all these politicians get on social media and do catch phrases and this and that, and everything is in the real and now and immediate and so on and so forth, six months down the road. They don’t care. Simply, they don’t care.

Tony

Yeah. Ralph, one of the things that you tweeted out earlier, and I know Michael found this really interesting, was the bankruptcies in Europe. This was a Eurostat chart that came out looking at the rate of acceleration of bankruptcies across industries. Can you talk to us about that a little bit?

Ralph

Yeah, I mean, there’s a couple of factors not work. I mean, one is that a lot of these companies it’s kind of what happened in the financial sector during the Great Recession where you had these zombie banks. I think a lot of this is now also happening in the real economy and the industrial economy where many companies have been propped up during Cobit, they have been propped up by very low interest rates and this is now coming to an end. I can only speak for Austria, but there are many companies, of course, also have loans, some of them with not fixed interest rates. And of course they are squeezed now, so they have huge problems in refinancing themselves. And I think this is just the beginning. I don’t share the optimist. I’m kind of a little bit Albert here. Everybody who says that either inflation is going to be over, there’s no trustworthy indicator for me that inflation is ending anytime soon. And the second one is this idea and you mentioned this also, Tony, one of your tweets. I think the IMF forecast for growth in the Eurozone are too optimistic. I think that factors that are not yet calculated.

Ralph

Absolutely. And of course the big elephant in the room comes and go to mike, did you mention, is of course, energy. Like, everybody is like, oh, the energy crisis is over. But that’s only because elasticities in the energy sector are very low. So yes, if there is a lot available right now, it immediately affects the price. But there is no guarantee that it’s going to stay like this in the medium and long term. And if I look at European policy, I think that it’s going to get worse before it gets better seems more likely. And you see gradually signals like this coming from the International Energy Agency and from Goldman Sachs. So all of a sudden the optimists of two months ago say, well, it might be more problematic than we anticipated it to be. And one part of the story is something that also Mike mentioned. At some point, I think we have to say this also openly is this obsession with ESG and an energy transition that makes the promise that by 2030, 2035 the European economy is going to run entirely on renewables, which is an unrealistic. And we want to be more outspoken about it, which I think is a ludicrous proposal that cannot be fulfilled.

Michael

I call that the grativerse.

Tony

Yeah, we’ll all be driving.

Ralph

As a quick last point if we want to put real numbers on it. I mean, the German government alone, the Europeans spent almost a trillion dollars on energy last year. The Germans spent about $465,000,000,000 only on energy and all it got them was the declining economy by 0.4% in the first quarter. So what is their strategy if they want to do this again next year and we see it in the spread? At some point markets are going to look at Germany and say, listen, your reputation has been great for the last 40 years, but can you really still.

Tony

Deliver what what you germany’s got a lot of they’ve got a lot of capacity for fiscal spending. I just think they haven’t opened up as much as they need to yet. I mean, I think that’s part of.

Albert

Their they can’t they go into a doom loop of inflation.

Michael

What happens when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate next time around?

Albert

Right?

Ralph

I think all of you are right. Tony’s right. I think there is still wiggle room. But what are they doing with the money? Right? Instead of making capital investment and saying, okay, we solve the problem, to do something they pretty much put it all into welfare checks, energy subsidies, but exactly. Encourage people to spend more and more products that are less and less available. So what’s the only thing you get? It’s inflation. I don’t know what the politicians are looking at.

Tony

Speaking of that, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite central banker, Madam Lagarde, and the choice that she has at the next meeting. She said earlier this week that they’re likely to raise by 50 basis points at the next meeting.

So what we’ve seen, the last two rate hikes were 50. We saw a couple of 75s in September and October. So there had been a hope like there was in the US. That things would not loosen or ease, but at least slow down on the rate hiking front in Europe. But with the pace of inflation, it almost seems like they don’t really have a choice, right?

Ralph

I would agree. Yeah, I think they don’t have a choice.

Tony

Okay, well, that’s it.

Michael

Well, I think they’re going to try. But what I really think reading between the lines of all the tough talk with all the world central bankers what I think everybody if you look through to their actions so far, I think everybody has been holding their breath, hoping that the Fed is going to engineer a global recession so that they don’t need to be the ones to have to administer the medicine. But the problem is, and I alluded to this in a thread a couple of months ago called geopolitical mosh pits, right? We’re in this every man for himself world where everybody’s got a domestic inflation problem. And so what the Fed does needs to sorry, the United States interests need to take precedence over necessarily worrying about other central banking interests and vice versa. But the problem is that right now the US economy is still humming along whereas the rest of the world’s economies are faltering pretty badly already. Your guess is as good as mine. I just think that Lagarde’s job is really tough because there’s no panned global bond market. Really. So she’s got this ridiculous Tpi mechanism where she’s trying to hold together sovereign spreads and the ECB’s sort of bond purchases as a percentage of GDP already at like 60% compared to the Fed at like 34% compared to japan at 120%.

Tony

Right.

Albert

I’m glad you mentioned that Michael, about nation states interest because it’s one of the things I harp on, especially when I talk to younger people and they ask me about geopolitics. The first thing you have to look at is a nation’s self interest and there’s no better time than right now to prove that example and you’re seeing it firsthand. All these nations, they have to have their own self interest that are before anything else at the moment.

Tony

And that’s normal, right?

Michael

That’s healthy.

Tony

I think that it’s so silly when we have to consider other people. Of course there’s a time for that, but it’s not right now. You have to really look after your own country, whether it’s India, Germany, US, China, whatever, it doesn’t matter. You have to look after your country first. Rough.

Ralph

But that’s the thing. Exactly what Albert just said and this I think makes it an even bigger ticking time bomb for Europe. You have notice absurd situation that politicians of member states of the EU, they want to continue to do populist economic policies while when they fail they can put blame on the Europe, on the ECB. So technically what probably should do before the next and out sort of a rate hike is to go out and say listen, cannot clean up the mess that you guys make in the domestic economic policies. And of course that’s not something that she’s probably going to say, but that’s really the dilemma. Data us almost have an advantage with the somewhat something that Albert is criticizing all the time, justifiably so with the kind of the chummy relationship between the Fed and the government. But at least it all happens within one state, right? It all happens within one country. And also going back to what Mike said about the federal structure. But in Europe, it’s kind of the worst of two worlds because the ECB tries to fine tune the economic problems via interest rates and the politicians that just go out and say, oh, I know you have to pay more on your loan, but here is an extra check for you.

Ralph

So you could almost say it’s like the nation states are mocking in the sense what DCP is trying to do.

Tony

Yeah, Mike, you said that Lagarde has a very hard job. I actually think it’s very hard because it’s very easy. There really isn’t a lot of choice there. It’s hard having the wherewithal I guess to go through with these things that are probably going to end up being.

Michael

Pretty painful, by the way, to steal man the other side a little bit. Okay, there are some that say that okay, well the Fed, because we have all these bilateral currency swaps, the Fed is going to take care of all its friends. Right. And so we actually saw a little bit about that. I wrote a thread last year about how, when the Yen, for instance, started its first approach towards 145 ish 140 ish I got some talk from a very well placed source that basically the Fed, in conjunction with the DOJ was allowing the BOJ to essentially buy us ten years to basically kind of paint a picture to stymie the depreciation and the yen. Okay? So then we saw this big risk rally. Remember when that happened and the yen corrected back? Well, then I get a call from the same source saying, you know what my people are telling me? My people at the Fed are telling me that, you know what? They can’t hold the line anymore. They’re going to basically stop. That’s when you saw the yen go to 150. Right now we’re in this sort of everybody calls it the transitory boldilocks, where things kind of came down and you’ve got Yellen’s games with the TGA, et cetera.

Michael

But I really think, and I think I agree with everybody on on this call, that all hell is going to break loose again when the dollar starts approaching 110 again. And this time maybe there won’t be that sort of bilateral help.

Albert

Yeah, michael is absolutely right. I heard the same thing about the Fed and the BOJ on top of that.

Tony

I thought you were a source, Albert.

Albert

Right, because I talked to you about.

Ralph

It a couple of times.

Albert

But they do the same thing with the Aussies and New Zealand and Canada. They give them marching orders, say, hey, we’re going to paint a picture over here, so gives us room to do something over here, so on and so forth. But like I said, that’s the Anglosphere and plus Japan. That’s why one of the things that led me to believe is like, next thing for a currency would probably be them. But they already work together as it is, whether the market knows it or not, they talk and they work together. Yeah.

Ralph

I think it very often comes back to this very point that this is something that Michael’s and I said before it’s that, of course, what underwrites the dollar as the global reserve currency and the most powerful currency is because the United States have the most powerful economy. Whatever problems they have otherwise, their economy in many ways is still the most dynamic and the most innovative. And this is what I interfere about. The European situation is we can criticize politics, we can criticize the ECB, but I think we also have to criticize European industry itself. Because like in Germany with heavy industry, they never say anything. Right? They could get together and say this. You hear occasionally a voice there and occasionally a voice there, but there is no concerted actions by representatives of the industry to do something about it. And my suspicion is because they kind of made it comfortable for themselves because they know they get government subsidies, they might have to produce less, but I’d rather depend on the biggest monopoly there is. The state than on those pesky customers or those potentially unsecured international markets. But that’s a very short time perspective.

Ralph

I mean, this is not something it can do forever. And again, the only reason why Europe could do what it did was because they could rely on the United States to provide with the bluewater navy to everything else. They provided the framework in which Europe could do what it did. But as this framework is changing, because Albert would never talk to me again, I’m not going to move all multipolar because you would because I don’t agree with that idea either. But it’s definitely changing, I think. I think Americans are becoming more sensitive to listen, guys, you have been pre writing for 60 years. It’s time to do something yourself.

Tony

Yeah, go ahead, Mike.

Michael

So, Ralph, you touch upon another theme that we raised in our paper, which was, again, it goes back to geography, right. Because the US has had these geographical advantages. It’s allowed its military strategy to focus outward on force projection and develop that blue water navy. Right? So when you compare that and compare and contrast that to China, right, where you could argue that they’ve got greenwater superiority within the first island chain by virtue of 350 vessels versus our 270, but the gross tonnage is one third that of the US. Navy. They cannot force project. And so if you talk about real force projection and geopolitical power right. Again, to steal man the other side, what would cause the US. To see the T hegemony? Well, it would be that scenario where China somehow decides that, hey, you know what? We are going to subsidize global maritime security for the good of the global commons. Do you see China doing that? I sure don’t.

Albert

Not for all of us to century. And it takes a lot of money to build up a navy. And then you need combat experience. And then on top of that, any kind of conflict in Taiwan or the South China Seas shuts down their ports. China cannot afford to shut down their ports. I was going back and forth with Elbridge Colby about this. He’s a military guy, and I love the guy. Right. But when you have to look at the economic aspects of it concerning the dollar and China’s food insecurity problems and their economy in general, if they invaded Taiwan and shut down those ports and their economy collapsed, she would be dead in 30 days.

Michael

There’s a little issue of China having to import 80% to 90% of its crude, all of which pretty much come through the Strait of Malacca.

Tony

Yeah.

Albert

I mean, so but this is this is something that it’s really important for you to talk to the military and get that USD thing out there and talk about commodities and talk about the economic ramifications and say this is a significant deterrence for China to invade. This is a significant deterrence for any nation to really go after because there’s just no money around. The economies are really weak. So it’s a great thing that you’ve done.

Michael

Thank you. I hope you guys enjoy the paper. Yeah, sorry.

Tony

Just going back to what you said, Mike, about China not having the blue water navy, really, to protect trade and waterways. They have tried that with the Belt and Road. It’s been less than a decade, but it’s kind of been a failure since the start of it.

Michael

The thing with belt and road, right? If you think about what it is, they are expending tremendous amounts of national treasure to recreate what the US. Is naturally endowed with.

Tony

Right. Yeah. It’s very inefficient.

Michael

It’s very corrupt, and they’re failing at that.

Tony

I start with those. When I was trying to put in a tendering system for the Belt and Road transparency, I asked them, how much are you comfortable losing to corruption? 20%, 30%, 50%? People just shrug shoulders. Nobody wants to even look at those basic transparency issues, much less understand that that spending is incredibly wasteful just for some sort of desperately seeking some sort of relevance with third tier countries. Right. I mean, no offense, they’re great people and all that stuff, but they are not necessarily economic powerhouses, and they’re not necessarily strategically placed. So it’s a big problem, and corruption is a big problem in those places. So not only are they going to have to buy off Chinese industry to go in these places to build, they’re going to have to buy off the officials in those countries to get the infrastructure done. Okay, guys, let’s bring this back to Europe. Since Europe is kind of our last group. Ralph, I get the sad sense that when Mike talks about dollar resurgence and Albert talk about dollar resurgence and inflation is pushed on the rest of the world and these sorts of things, europe and European industries show this as well.

Tony

Europe isn’t really a growth engine, of course. Right. So is Europe the worst place of the regions in the world generally, when we see a dollar resurgence and inflation and kind of these coming headwinds? Probably not.

Ralph

I mean, I remember I asked all about this, I think almost a year ago, once on Twitter. I think that the ties between the US. And Europe are still so strong that I could imagine that the US. Would be willing to adapt their policies in a way to protect Europeans from the fallout that will find some ways to support them. Okay, I think that, again, maybe I’m putting too much hope in the US. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I think that these ties are still strong. I think this is the US. I think they still view Europe as part of the national interest. But spoke to be very clear, I’m glad of I mean, something that bothers me, really, is I think the best thing Europe could do would be to place itself as Athens to America’s wrong kind of place I can feel to the strongest player on the block. But don’t try to be as again, Albert, we’ve discussed it many times to participate in this fantasy of the new multipolar world where you will balance the US in a quasi agreement with India and China. This is all fantasy.

Ralph

None of this is real. When push comes to Sharp, I think the US are still the best bet for the Europeans. But to be kind of a psychological problem in Western Europe, I think this is another thing.

Tony

Of course.

Ralph

I think the Eastern Europeans, particularly Poland and others I think are much more willing to attach themselves or kind of align themselves with the US. I think Western Europe and it’s mostly cultural, psychological that they still wish to be kind of a counterweight potentially to the rude Americans and the alcohol.

Tony

We’re definitely rude. We’ll take that. Okay, guys, we’ve been an hour, so I appreciate all of the thought you put into today. For everyone watching, please don’t forget about the promo. The Friends of Tony for promo promo 1st 25 subscribers. Guys, I really appreciate your time. Time. Have a great weekend. Have a great weekend. Thank you very much.

Michael

Thank you for doing this.

Ralph

Thank you.

Categories
Week Ahead

Unveiling Shocking Risks: Markets, Cracks, Freeport, and Ukraine’s Hardware

Learn more: http://completeintel.com/futures 👈


In this video, our first-time guest Jim Iuorio leads the discussion on the topic of whether markets are too good for the Fed. With speculation around CPI, layoffs, and interest rates, the question of the Fed’s direction and potential pivots later in the year is raised.

Jim also delves into the recent success of the metals market and offers insight into where the market may go in the future. He also offers his thoughts on the potential impact on equities if the S&P hits his target of 4060.

Next, Tracy takes the lead in discussing cracks and Freeport. She explains the significance of rising crack spreads and its impact on the market. She also shares her insights on the recent opening of the Freeport facility and its effect on US natural gas prices.

Albert then discusses the risks associated with Ukraine’s new hardware. He addresses the classification of “direct involvement” and its potential impact on European countries. He also offers insight into what actions Russia may take to further complicate the situation and the potential impact on markets such as wheat.

Finally, the team gives their expectations for the upcoming Fed meeting and what to look for in the week ahead.

This is the 51st 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:
Tony: https://twitter.com/TonyNashNerd
Jim: https://twitter.com/jimiuorio
Albert: https://twitter.com/amlivemon
Tracy: https://twitter.com/chigrl

Listen on Spotify here:

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/complete-intelligence/id1651532699?i=1000597046195

Transcript

Tony

Hi, and welcome to the Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash and today we’re joined by Jim Urio. Jim is at TJM Institutional and he’s with the Futuresedge podcast. Or is it on the Futuresddge podcast, right? Yes. Also with Albert Marko and Tracy Shuchart with Hightower Resources Advisors.

We’ve got a couple of key themes. Obviously, it’s the week before the Fed and we’ve had a really good week in markets. So one of our key themes is our market is too good for the Fed. Second I think Tracy is going to talk about crack spreads and Freeport and what’s happening there. And then we’re going to look at the risk with Ukraine’s new hardware. There’s been a lot of talk about tanks going to Ukraine this week, so we’re going to talk about some geopolitical risks with Albert.

Learn more about CI Futures tiered pricing here.

So Jim, first, thanks again for joining us and watching some of your comments through the week with markets breaking through some of the key levels that you were looking at, the Fed’s direction is obviously a big factor in markets and there’s a lot of conjecture around CPI, layoffs, rates going lower or pause or pivot or whatever you want to call it, and people saying the Fed may do 25 and then pause.

What’s your view on that? You’ve been obviously speaking about this several times this week. So I’m curious, what’s your view after seeing a whole week, where do you think we go from here?

Jim

Well, I’ve been somewhat more of a bull, I think, than most over the last few months. And I’m not trying to take a victory lap or anything, it’s just a fact. And my reasoning was that every one of us knows that these Fed rate hikes have a huge lag period before we feel the efficacy. Fed knows that too. As stupid as the Fed is, this is something that’s so fundamental, but I think they genuinely do know that. So now we’re starting to see things happen. We saw a pretty good PCE report today. CPI has been trending lower too. The only things in CPI that are stubbornly high, consistently, are food and energy, which are the two things that are least rate sensitive. The yield curve is still wildly inverted, signaling to them that they still are in a financially tight market. I believe that the Fed is getting close to having some sort of gentler language. Now, whether they go 25 basis points this time and then 25 basis points again, that’s fine to me. Now, the one thing I do have a problem with is that the Fed Funds futures curve says 50 basis points over the next two meetings.

And then toward the end of ’23, there’s going to be an ease. But they say it’s only going to be a quarter, two and a half point ease. And that I say “no way.” If they’re ever going to actually pivot and start easing, it’s only going to be as if something is burning and something is falling down and then it’s not going to be a quarter point ease. That being said, I still like risk assets. And I have because I think we are nearing the end of the Fed tightening cycle. I believed, I’ve been doing my podcast for the last hour. I wanted the market to settle above 4070. It certainly did, right? We went into the closed pretty strong, I thought. And I think that that green lights the next move higher. I particularly like the metals market, and I’ll shut up in 1 second, I swear to God. I particularly like the metals market because I think that… I don’t mean to talk for so long. I thought copper was being held down by China news, by the Fed, by the strength of the dollar, and all those things have seemed disappeared. And I’ve made good money on that so far, and I plan on keeping those lumps.

Tony

So it’s a good question about metals. What are you looking at? You said China and you said China reopening other things. What are you looking at in metals? Are you looking at industrial metals, copper and so on? Are you looking at precious metals or kind of all of the above?

Jim

Copper is number one and that’s my biggest position. Silver and then go down from base industrial all the way to just gold being pressured. And the gold thesis for me is different than the copper one in that I believed at the time when I started buying more gold, that Bitcoin and Etherium in the crypto market and all that dollar safety hedge or whatever the hell it is, if that was disappearing, then money would go back into gold. Well, that didn’t disappear. Bitcoin is butting up against new cycle highs now, but gold is still doing well. So in that I was kind of wrong on the thesis. The thesis was also the dollar weakening, which happened as well. Once the Pound of the Euro started really bouncing off those October lows, I thought, okay, the green light is on for all these metals. So I’ve done okay in gold, even though my thesis about crypto was wrong.

Tony

Okay, but was your thesis wrong? Do you see crypto and gold as substitutional somewhat at the margin still?

Jim

I don’t know. I was going to ask you that same question. I always did. And I thought that the $3 trillion crypto market was sucking away some of the gold. And I thought that that was a big deal. But then it doesn’t seem to be now, so I guess I can’t answer that. I’m confused, I guess.

Tony

Yeah. I’m curious. What do you think about that, Tracy, in terms of crypto and gold? Do you think there’s a trade off there?

Tracy

This is not really my… Crypto market, is not really my market.

Tony

Internet, say whatever you want.

Tracy

Albert knows way more about this than I do, to be honest, because I’ve never traded crypto, and he’s traded a lot in the past. So I’m going to defer this to Albert.

Albert

Before I do think that there was a correlation between how much money was flying into crypto versus taken away from gold, I think there is no doubt that gold suffered because of that. I don’t think that as the case right now, simply because there’s been too many blow ups in the crypto world at the moment. I don’t really know how liquid it really is. There’s certainly no retail left in the crypto market, so it looks like it’s all institutional. So I don’t know. You can’t really make a fundamental call on crypto at the moment.

Tony

Could you ever make a fundamental call on crypto?

Albert

You could at some point, because institutional money was flying in there because their clients were forcing them to get into the space. So you could make a little bit of a fundamental case for crypto, but as all these ponzi schemes blew up, like FTX and everything, that’s just gone completely out the window at the moment.

Jim

Sure, Tony, I can make a slight fundamental argument of it. When they were adding an additional $7 trillion, throwing it into the money supply, and really being poor stewards of the dollar, that was somewhat of a fundamental argument for crypto, I guess, right?

Tony

Yeah. Okay. Are markets too good for the Fed. As we’re going into next week, are these levels too good for the fed? Is Powell going to come out and really, you know, say, look, this is irrational or whatever, and it’s too much, and is he going to pour out, say, 50 basis points and disappoint a lot of people?

Jim

Just to punish me a rug pull? I mean, I think he’s capable of that. He certainly did at the Jackson Hole meeting a while back. So you have identified, I think, the major risk, and it’ll probably go into that somewhat hedged. And again, hedging is probably going to be expensive going into it because people realize that that’s where the risk is. So on balance, I will say, no, I don’t believe he is. I think he believes that going too far this way. And again, I think he thinks going not far enough in this direction is the worst possible thing. But I also think he’s starting to realize going too far and what that looks like. He sits around and talks about creating slack in the job market, and to him, it’s just an equation on a whiteboard where the reality is talking about people losing their jobs. I think he balances a lot of realities. I think he’s incompetent. His entire tenure has been mostly incompetent, but I think he’s done a pretty good job trying to clean up the mess that he made over the last year and a half, and I don’t think he’s going to do something stupid like that. But, yes, to your point, it is a risk.

Albert

I actually disagree with Jim on this.

I think it’s going to really matter about what the market does. If we start flying into the 4200 before Tuesday on the SPX and whatnot. I think that Powell will come out. I don’t know if he’ll do 50. I don’t think he’ll do 50, but he might come out with a 25 basis point rate hike and then start talking extremely hawkish and dismiss all the rate cuts that everybody’s been talking about, which would be essentially the same thing as doing 50 to the market. If the market says that. If the market here is that we’re not getting rate cuts till 2024, I don’t see that as positive whatsoever.

Jim

I certainly hope you’re right in the near term, too, because I’m short some of those 4200 calls, like, too many. That’s the position I keep checking in my bold position was like, oh, sh*t, they’re getting too expensive. So I actually like what you’re saying a little bit in the short term.

Albert

Yeah, I have a problem because of this is falling liquidity right now and tightness at the same time. I look at the market and I’m like, well, money is starting to fly out into Asia, which we talked about Tony, repetitively for months now. Where are we going to get that $5 trillion incremental money coming into the market to keep this thing afloat? For me, it’s like I don’t see the math adding up to 4300 on the S&P and anytime soon. And on top of that, if you calculate rate hikes and everything you’re looking at the market, 4150 or 4200 is more expensive than 4800 was. It’s technically even higher valuation. So for these things, I’m just like I think we’re probably going to retrace the 3850 on some kind of ridiculous Powell talk. And on top of that, Brainard is talking about leaving. She’s not leaving if Powell is talking about being dovish. She wouldn’t be doing that, in my opinion.

Tracy

I asked a question. I was just saying and that’s for both of you. I mean, considering that the Fed has hiked so quickly, do we even think, and the data has remained pretty good, considering right, so do we think that the rate hikes have actually even been able to filter down into the economy at?

Jim

I don’t, Tracy. I think that that’s the point. I think when you look, just take the real estate market. How in the world is it not going to be a major hurdle for the real estate market to take mortgage rates from 2.8% to 7%? I think that it’s silly to think that if they just left things the way it is, I believe that we would certainly go in recession at some point in time with money being restrictive as it is compared to… I’ve argued for 30 years that rates had to be inorganically low to make up for the fact that we have all these crappy regulations and punitive taxes on companies. They need low rates to function. I think rates are to point now where eventually they would drag on us too much. Albert, do you agree with that?

Albert

I do. But the flip side of that is, like, if Powell doesn’t stay the course, Yellen is using the TGA, in my opinion, from what I heard, to offset quantitative tightening. This could set off another round of inflation if China comes on too fast, or even Europe starts to gear up a little bit and reset their manufacturing sectors with stimulus. The fear I have is a second half inflationary run again, and then we’re going to be talking no more pauses, but another round of 50-75 basis point rate hikes.

Tony

Second half of Q2. I don’t think it’s a second half inflation run. I think it’s Q2. I think it happens a little bit sooner than that.

Albert

Yeah, it could. I mean, you could have any kind of geopolitical event like Russia re-invading Ukraine with some gusto this time.

Tony

Okay, guys, here’s my question, though. We’re talking all this potential dovishness, but all we’ve seen is the rate of inflation slow. We haven’t seen prices come down. Okay, so why would he go to zero? Or why would he just do 25? I’m not seeing it. When you look at the job market, sure, you’ve lost 70,000 tech jobs, but they hired 2 million since 2020 or something like that, right? So it’s nothing. It’s dropping the bucket.

Tracy

Chipotle hiring 15,000 so those people can get a job.

Tony

Exactly. What is it that would tell us that he’s going to go 25 or pivot or whatever? I’m just not seeing that thing because the job market is still really strong.

Jim

So here’s what I would say to that, is that the job market is going to be strong and tighten. It’s a weird kind of anomaly that happened with 3 million boomers leaving the job market prematurely over the last three years. To your point about why would he not stay the course if prices aren’t coming down? Because, remember, ultimately, the end of the day, the inflation was intentional and it was done because of this wild indebtedness all over the board. But I always focus on the five states that could not possibly have paid their bills under any possible scenario. And that’s why for ten years, they kept telling us that they needed inflation. So I think in Powell’s mind, he tells us 2%. I think he’d be perfectly happy with three and a half.

Albert

And they’ll get three and a half because they’re starting to change the way CPI has waited starting 2023.

Jim

Just like when Nixon changed the definition of unemployment back in the 70s.

Albert

The BLS have done that in the past. They changed the way unemployment is calculated. Now they changed the way the CPI is calculated.

Tracy

They changed the way inflation is calculated.

Albert

Perception is reality in the market. We can sit there and b*tch about fake data from China and fake data from the Europe and the US. But perception is reality in the markets.

Tony

Yes. So we’re going to change the rules to win.

Albert

Well, yeah, of course.

Tony

And the CPAC calculation changes this month, right?

Albert

Yeah, January 2023.

Tony

Fantastic. Okay, so you guys are in the 25 basis point camp for next week, right? 25 and very hawkish. 25 and very hawkish.

Jim

Okay, I don’t I like what Albert saying. I say 25 and mildly hawkish.

Tony

All right, we’ll see. I think it might be a little harder than that. So we’ll see. That’s good, though. I appreciate that.

Tony

Okay, Tracy, I want to talk a little bit about refineries and crack spread. You sent out a tweet on Monday about diesel prices.

Can you help us, help us understand what’s happening at refineries and what’s happening with diesel and gasoline and other refined products prices?

Tracy

Well, this is actually the perfect segue because I tweeted out a chart of ULSD, which is diesel, basically. And so we’re seeing those refinery margins explode again. And most people say, well, that’s anticipation of the diesel embargo in Russia and refineries across the world that are not part of Russia are seeing these increases. But that’s not just happening in the diesel market, that’s also happening in gasoline cracks. And so higher refining, basically the long and short, higher refining margins mean higher prices for consumers. Right. So Tuesday we just hit a three month high of $42. And when oil was at its highest price, those crack spreads were at $60. So this should start ringing alarm bells a little bit about inflation. This is why it kind of correlates to what we were just talking about. And so CBs, even though they don’t count energy in the CPI as part of inflation, they should be keeping an eye on these indicators because it kind of indicates that we’re going to see higher gasoline, diesel costs, jet fuel, et cetera. And that could add to inflationary pressures across the board, not only for just the consumer, you and I, but for companies that are heavily dependent on these products.

Tony

And when there’s inflation in energy, there’s inflation in everything.

Tracy

Right, right.

Tony

Second or two tier impacts.

Tracy

Exactly, yeah.

Albert

One of my oil friends was telling me that normally January, February, they’re running at minimum rates, trying not to lose money. But this has been like absolutely insane, where they’re just making money hand over fist right now because the demand is so high.

Jim

Tracy, I have a quick question for tracy, by the way. Is that okay?

Tony

Yes.

Jim

So, Tracy, just last week, I don’t know if it was Chevron or Conical Phillips, where they announced raising the dividend or whatever, paying bonuses and not investing in it. Was that an indication that they still feel that the government is not smiling upon fossil fuel companies expanding their operation?

Tracy

Oh, 100%. Right. For over a year now, we’ve seen elevated energy prices in that seventy dollars to eighty dollars range. Negating, the spikes that we saw from the Ukraine invasion. But so after a year of pretty much stable higher energy prices, we are still not seeing anybody want to invest in this sector. Right. They still want to cater to the investor. They still want to pay down debts. They still want to do higher dividends. They still want to engage in stock buybacks. All to placate the investor. And so that is very telling that after a year, they’re still not willing to reinvest into capex, particularly in shale.

Tony

It’s nothing but downside to invest, right?

Jim

No doubt.

Tracy

Yeah, absolutely.

Jim

It’s maddening when you think about it. Everything seems like it’s such a self inflicted wound. And this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. It seems like a government that’s working against us. And I’m not trying to be that guy. I’m not political. I just see policies and they’re asinine.

Tracy

Who wants to invest when they say, we want to phase you out, we want to kill you?

Jim

Right? Yeah.

Albert

Well, this is the problem when politics gets mixed up in economic policy, it starts muddying things up and mistakes become exponential at this point.

Tony

But politics is always mixed up in economic policy everywhere. You know that. I’m not telling you you don’t know, but it’s always there. When I hear you talk about refineries, and it’s been how many decades since we built refineries in the US, Tracy? The 70s was the last time we built refinery?

Tracy

70s was the last major. We’ve had a lot of brown projects, which means we’ve added refinery capacity to already existing refineries, but we haven’t had any new green projects, which means building new refineries. And we were talking about, I think, last week or the week before the expansion that we’re having in Texas. But the problem is that the amount of refining that is coming offline is more than the refining capacity that is coming online.

Tony

Right. So what’s our capacity utilization right now in refineries?

Tracy

Well, we’re down right now because we’re in the middle of maintenance. And we also had Elliot storm, which some refineries, for instance, Baytown, is just coming back up this week from the storm in December. So utilization rates right now at about 89.5%. But, you know, you have to realize that, you know, we’ve been over, well over 90%.

Tony

Yeah, 94 or something like that. Right?

Tracy

Yeah. And we have aging refineries. And so what does that mean? Those refineries are more prone to breakdown because we’re running them at, like, ridiculous max capacity. Right, exactly.

Tony

Okay, so since you mentioned Texas, let’s look at this tweet that you put out a couple of days ago saying that Freeport gets approval.

So USLNG, the Freeport terminal has been approved and reopened. So can you talk us through what that means for European nat gas and what that means for US nat gas prices?

Tracy

Well, for US natural prices, that is positive. And I know that all nat gas prices have tumbled 35% to 45%. Regardless, we’re back into that two area that is pretty much where we’ve been for several years. But it is a good thing. I think the market, I think, spiked 15% or 15% $0.15 sorry, on that move. And they kind of retraced it. I think the market is a very Freeport is an export place. So what that means is that if Freeport being closed basically landlocks US nat gas, which is obviously a negative because we have a lot of it. But I think that the market in general is a little bit skeptical. But as soon as we actually start seeing export capacity increase from that facility, then I think that the markets will be more enthusiastic about the success of that because it’s really been since August since that facility is shut down.

Tony

So you’re saying we should see US nat gas prices rise as we have more export volumes from Freeport?

Tracy

Absolutely. And even this week, Semper Energy announced that their new Port Arthur facility has already been booked. And that facility isn’t even all the way built yet. And that’s another export facility. So there’s a lot coming online and a lot being built out that we will be able to see. I think that just market participants have become a little bit placated because they look at European stocks and European stocks, of course they’re still full. They’ve had a mild winter, but everybody kind of forgets that last year 50% of their storage capacity came from cheap Russian pipeline. And that’s not going to happen this year.

Tony

Yeah. So all of those new roads that are being built in Texas, it may have been started with other money, but it’s going to be finished with European money. Right. So I just want to take this moment to thank our European friends for finishing our transportation.

Albert

About time they give back.

Tony

That’s right.

Jim

Finally, their currency has come back a little bit, so now they can actually buy stuff here.

Tony

Perfect. Okay, very good, Tracy. Anything else on nat gas? Are you still keeping eye on fertilizer for kind of late spring time period?

Tracy

Yes, absolutely. I think that’ll still come into play. I mean, nat gas prices are extremely low right now, which is great news for fertilizer prices. That will give farmers a break. This is all good news in that respect, but I still think we need to keep an eye on this going forward and keep an eye on that gas prices because obviously that’s going to affect fertilizer prices and farming in general.

Tony

Jim?

Jim

Tracy, you talked about diesel before, and I don’t trade diesel. Is the spread between diesel and regular WTI still blown out? And what could possibly get diesel back in line?

Tracy

Well, I think that there’s been a shortage for a very long time. That spreads come in a lot, comparatively speaking. But now it’s starting to blow out again because again, you have the EU embargo of diesel, and they got literally like 95% of their diesel came from Russia. Another dependent project. And I’m sure Russian diesel will go somewhere else. It’s not more about that, but it’s more about really boils down to refining capacity as well. Because even in the United States, we can’t refine. If Europe wants to buy from us, we can’t even refine enough. We’re sending what we have over there as well as our domestic needs. So really, diesel to me comes down to refining capacity altogether.

Jim

That’s an unfixable problem, right?

Tony

Until Russia’s solved, right?

Albert

What about the Jones Act waivers for sending diesel up to these coast cheaper?

Tracy

Yes, they could do that, but they haven’t done that. They’ve done that in the past for Puerto Rico after the hurricane and all of that, but they still haven’t given waivers. Even when prices were extremely high in the United States, when we were at the height back in June, July, when prices, gas prices were highest, diesel prices were highest, they still wouldn’t give Jones Act waivers. You have to understand that the Jones Act came into play into 1920 when we had a fleet of over 1000 vessels, and we now have under 100 vessels that can transport that. So, you know, it’s the government could do it. They’ve chosen not to. Why? I’m not sure, but…

Jim

We can come up with some guesses. They’re either stupid or they’re nefarious. I believe at some point in time you’re going to have to say some of it’s nefarious, where they keep making the wrong decision at every turn. And I apologize for that.

Tony

No, don’t apologize. Look, it’s making it more expensive for people on the East Coast to get diesel. It’s not good.

Tony

Okay, great. Speaking of Russia, Albert, we saw a lot of news over last week about tanks going to Ukraine. And there’s a tweet from Max Abrams, who’s a great geopolitical professor talking about  Russia, says that tanks from the west count as, quote, “direct involvement in the war”.

So I wanted to get your… Jim said what would solve the diesel problem. Obviously, Russia coming back into the market would solve the diesel problem. Now with a lot of Western countries sending tanks to Ukraine, that doesn’t sound like we’re coming closer to a solution on that. So first of all, why are they sending them if they don’t have the people to operate them? Second, tanks are to take land. Right? So what do you think is being planned? And third, how risky is it? Do you think it really implicates these kind of donor countries as direct participants in the war?

Albert

I don’t really buy into the whole direct participants of the war. The rhetoric coming out of Russia is a little bit bombastic in that respect. Referring to those tanks, there’s only going to be about 100 of them, right? They’re not going to be able to push out the Russians with those tanks. On top of that, they’re going to be about six months out until they’re actually even deliver, and then you still have to train these guys and they need supplies, and the Ukrainians don’t really have all that. So the best guess that I have is that they’re forcing Russia to come into a ceasefire in about six to eight months time, which gives them a window now to try to take Dambus and have some kind of wind before these tanks get delivered. Listen, they’re no joke. The Leopard tanks and the Abrams are better than what the Russians have. But in terms of the Ukrainians using them to push Russians out of all Ukrainian territories, that’s just not happening.

Tony

Right. So are these just old tanks or is it a quality kit that they’re getting?

Albert

Well, I think they’re getting like the second tier tanks of what the west has, but that’s still better than what the Russians have or even willing to use for Ukraine. So, like I said, this is more of a measure to force the ceasefire later on in the year.

Tony

Okay. Yeah, Jim?

Jim

Albert, a couple of days ago, when this escalation started in Germany, we announced I immediately put on my screens, looked at oil, wheat, even the defense sector ETF, and nothing really budged. Do you think the market was looking at it like it wasn’t a big deal? Or do you think the market was looking at it as somewhat balanced, perhaps a quicker end of the war and not an escalation, or perhaps an escalation, the two things come around?

Albert

Oh, man, that’s a good one, Jim. I honestly think that the market’s probably in a wait and see position at the moment.

Jim

Numb to the shit kind of. Right?

Albert

Yeah. You got to wait and see what Moscow is going to do. I certainly think they’re going to use wheat and grains and other grains asymmetrical responses to the west to push inflation out over there, make it hurt. That’s the only thing they have. They don’t really have anything else to go after. I mean, the oil that they’re selling to India and China is enough to sustain their pocketbooks for a little while until this gets sorted out. But until there’s some sort of major upheaval in Ukraine, I don’t think the defense stocks will take off or wheat yet. But they will. I think they will. They haven’t moved.

Tony

The defense stocks haven’t moved for a while. If it is we and other AG stuff that is going to be their lever, that probably means the Turks will get more involved in the discussion because they’re the ones who arbitrated the discussion earlier. Is that right?

Albert

Well, they’re trying to get into the discussion. I actually have really good connections with the Turks and their main thing is to distract the West and the Russians into Ukraine while they push their trade deals out into Africa at the moment. You know, the Turks have a great drone, the TB Two, which they sell to pretty much everybody. So that’s as far as they’ll actually get into the war besides making media comments.

Tony

Right, okay. And so what risk do you think there is on wheat? Do you think we see more wheat risks, say, in Q2 – Q3 this year?

Albert

I absolutely do. The Ukrainians, they’re planting a lot less. I think 40% less is what they’re reporting, is probably even more than that.

Tony

Right.

Albert

And on top of that, if the Russians decide to blow up a port or blow up a few ships that are trying to get out with wheat, and all of a sudden, wheat, you know, takes off back to the 900 or $1,000 mark again. So I definitely see that happening in Q2 Q3.

Tony

Okay. That could be exciting. All right, guys, let’s close it up. We’re in that quiet period for the Fed. We have that Fed discussion next week. So what are you keeping an eye on next week aside from the Fed, of course, but what are you keeping an eye on in markets? Tracy, why don’t you get us started.

Tracy

Well, I know that most people are looking forward to OPEC is next week at the beginning of February. My personal stance on that is that I think they will keep everything as is. Right. They made that 2 million cut, even though it’s technically not 2 million, because they were under quota anyway. They said they were going to carry that through 2023 unless something came up that they really needed to address. And I just don’t see anything coming. I don’t see any reason they would need to change this policy stance right now. We have Russian barrels still on the market. We have China is still kind of an unknown because they haven’t really opened up yet. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, or at least that’s what my feeling is about the data.

Tony

Great. Okay. Albert, what are you looking at next week?

Albert

Well, obviously the Fed. I think, is in order with a hawkish tone, but honestly, I want to see how the dollar reacts to all this. And the VIX. The VIX at 17, start looking at some good old put options and call options with the 17 VIX is fantastic. But, yeah, basically what the dollar is going to do. I really want to see if the dollar breaks into the 90s with some kind of bull market talk.

Tony

Excellent. Okay. And Jim. Wrap us up. What are you looking at?

Jim

The unemployment numbers on Friday. Big deal. The last shooter drop is going to be the slack in the labor market that they want. Albert mentioned that level on the dollar. I call it like 101 to 100. As soon as it goes below that, as soon as we get a nine handle on the dollar, I think it greenlights a lot of risk assets. But the thing I’m mostly focused on is unemployment and then the week after that my trip to South Florida. Because every time I leave these damn markets, something crazy happened. So you guys can count on that. I’ll tell you when I’m on my flight. Something weird is going to happen.

Tony

When is that?

Jim

I don’t know. My wife makes the arrangements. I think it’s the next, like a week from next Thursday. I think we’re going on vacation.

Tony

Keep an eye on. Jim, thanks so much for joining us, Jim. Guys, this has been great. Thanks very much everyone have a great weekend. Thanks Jim.

Jim

Thank you guys. Yeah, let’s see you guys.

Categories
Week Ahead

China risks, tech earnings, and crude stockpiling: The Week Ahead – 31 Oct 2022

Learn more about CI Futures

In this episode, we’re joined by Isaac Stone Fish, who is the CEO of Strategy Risks. He’s the author of a book called America Second, and he lived in China for seven years.

We talk about how are foreign companies dealing with the political changes in China? Or what should they be paying attention to? We’ve seen changes in Xi’s team that, to be honest, weren’t all that unexpected, but seems unexpected anyway. It’s certainly a hard turn to the CCP’s commie roots. This tweet really underscores how desperate Xi is to set an old school tone.

Markets have seemed a little spooked this week, so we saw orders from Beijing to prop up the CNY and Chinese equities, which didn’t work all that well. But with all the political and market backdrop, what does all of this mean for US and other foreign businesses? Are foreign employees at risk? Do we expect direct investment to slow down?

On the risk side, we look at tech earnings, which are super bad. Hiring is a huge issue and tech firms seem to have been hiring based on their valuation not based on their revenues. When will we see headcount reduction announcements? One of Meta’s investors was saying they should cut 20%. Albert shares his views on this.

And we’re also looking at crude oil inventories and refined product inventories. They’re way below averages. We saw another draw on global inventories this week. As OPEC supply is contracting ~1.2m bpd. Russian crude sanctions start soon. And US exported 5.12m bpd last week, making it the 3rd largest crude exporter. We know global inventories are low, but when will it start to bite? Tracy shares to us what’s going in.

Key themes

1. China risk for Western companies
2. Tech earnings & China
3. Crude inventories & Asia stockpiling

This is the 39th 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:

Tony: https://twitter.com/TonyNashNerd
Isaac: https://twitter.com/isaacstonefish
Albert: https://twitter.com/amlivemon
Tracy: https://twitter.com/chigrl

Time Stamp:

0:00 Start
1:00 Key themes for this Week Ahead
2:52 What the news about China means to Western businesses
6:38 What has changed around the concept of Communist Party membership over the last ten or 15 years?
8:20 Anybody who’s overseeing a business in China has to understand modern Chinese history
9:31 Risks for foreign staff in China
12:34 Congress does not want US companies to do business with China
14:14 Danger of a rush to the exits in twelve months
17:58 Tech earnings are super bad – how bad will layoffs be?
21:10 Is it possible to cut 20% of Meta’s workforce?
22:44 China and US competition in India and other countries
24:52 Crude inventories – when will this start to bite?
28:31 Japan is stockpiling crude – is it because of geopolitical concerns?
29:47 China stimulus – will they do it in February?
31:55 What happens to the crude demand of Covid Zero ends?
34:27 Will oil prices raise by 30% before 2022 ends?

Transcript

Tony Nash: Hi, everybody, and welcome to the Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. Today we’re joined by Isaac Stone Fish. Isaac is the CEO of Strategy Risks. He’s the author of a book called America Second, and he lived in China for seven years as the New York Times in New York Times bureau. So we’re really lucky to have Isaac with us. We have Albert Marko, of course. And Tracy Shuchart. We’re very fortunate to have them again today with us.

So, Isaac, welcome and we’re really happy to have you.

Our theme today that we’re going to talk through first is how are foreign companies dealing with the political changes in China? Or what should they be paying attention to? 

On the risk side, we’re looking at tech earnings and the impact that tech earnings will have on other earnings and headcount reductions and other things over the next few months. And we’re also looking at crude oil inventories and refined product inventories. They’re way below averages. 

And we want to hear from Tracy as to what’s going on. 

Please take a look at our product, CI Futures. It’s a forecast subscription product. It’s $99 a month. We cover a few thousand assets over a twelve month horizon. Economics, currencies, commodities, equity indices. So please take a look at that. The URL is on the screen. Thanks a lot for that.

So, Isaac, welcome. Would you give us a quick overview of what Strategy Risks does?

Issac Stone Fish: Strategy Risks works with corporations and investors to help them manage and reduce their China risk. And with increased tensions between the United States and China, and growing awareness of the liabilities in both China and the United States of working with the People’s Liberation Army or the United Front or the Ministry of State Security or the Chinese Communist Party more broadly, it’s been a good couple of months for us.

And so excited to be joining you and chatting with you on these issues.

TN: You must be working 24 hours a day. I have no idea how you stay, how you get any rest right now with all the stuff that’s going on in China. 

ISF: Under drugs right here.

TN: Isaac, I’m curious, with all of the political changes announced this week, of course, that’s been way analyzed, a lot of different perspectives on things. I would warn people as they read through that analysis, just be careful of kind of some anti China bias, but we have to kind of read things for what they are too.

We saw changes in Xi’s team that, to be honest, weren’t all that unexpected. People have talked about this for months, but the fact that he actually carried through with it, I think made people feel like it was a little bit unexpected. 

But it’s certainly a hard turn to the CCP’s communist roots. I’m showing a Tweet right now looking at Xi taking his team to pilgrimage where the long march ended during the Communist revolution. And so he’s just the optics around the hard turn to the party’s communist roots are front and center.

So Isaac, markets were spooked this week. Of course, we saw orders from Beijing to prop up CNY and prop up Chinese equities. Obviously didn’t work very well. But with that backdrop, what does all this mean for US and other foreign businesses? I know it means a million things, but if you had some top level takeaways, what are the things that you’re seeing that it means for, say, US and other foreign businesses in China?

ISF: Have a really good understanding of leftist ideology. If you decide that you want to stay, which oftentimes we discourage, and if you decide that you don’t want to reduce your exposure, which we always discourage. Have a really good understanding of how Communism works, and read the tea leaves. Spend a lot of time on analysis. Understand that every Chinese company or every company in China that has at least three party members has to have a party cell. And for a long time people overlook that law.

But companies like Alibaba have tens of thousands of party members. So understanding that you’re partnering with the Chinese Communist Party and things that you used to be able to get away with, you can’t anymore. I think the other high level take away is with increased media, consumer and congressional scrutiny on China. 

What happens in China doesn’t stay in China. So the work that you do with a major Chinese charity which does say party building exercises in Chinese orphanages, aka Brainwashing Chinese Children on Party ideology, we can get that information here. Congressional staffers can read that, journalists can pick that up, and you’re going to have to start dealing with the liability of that from a PR perspective. The final highlevel takeaway, the more Xi marches to the left, the more draconian things get. And the more saber rattling we see with Taiwan, the more likely it is that the US and China go to war over Taiwan.

Right now, I would say that’s still not the base case. War is very avoidable. It probably won’t happen. But it’s a very concrete risk and investors and I would argue especially boards of major corporations, need to be discussing this risk. And perhaps the best thing to do with the risk is to say, okay, we know this, we’re not going to change. 

But I think if there is a war, companies are going to have to face some pretty serious shareholder lawsuits because it’s a viewable risk and you didn’t do anything about it.

TN: Right. So let me ask you, take two questions. First is, in 2010 or ’11, I spoke at the Central Party School in Beijing, and the person who drove. I was giving an economic update. I was working with the Economist at the time, and it was so surreal for me. The person who drove me to that event was a venture capitalist. And so I think the view that many people have of Communist Party members is, oh, you know, they’re these soft guys, they’re capitalists like us too, you know, that sort of thing. What has changed around the concept of Communist Party membership over the last ten or 15 years?

ISF: Think of the perception. So when Rupert Murdoch in early 2000s was going into business in China, he would downplay the importance of the Communist Party and say things like, oh, they’re just like us, there’s really no difference. And some people just join the party for opportunistic reasons, and some people do it because they believe, but they’re fairly soft spoken and gentle. And then there’s the very hard security element of the party. 

And I think people are realizing that for every venture capitalist, there’s also the PLA secret agent or the MSS agent or the public security agent in that these people are increasingly important in the Chinese system. 

And the other piece of it is that it used to be seen from a Western context, both PR and regulatory, relatively benign to be working with party members in the Communist Party. But after the genocide in Xinjiang, after Xi’s increasing authoritarianism, people are not getting the pass that they had before when you and I were out there.

TN: Right. And so I think it’s really critical. Anybody who’s overseeing a business in China has to understand modern Chinese history. You have to start from the great famine, really. I mean, start from the revolution, but really the great famine through the Cultural Revolution, through the 70s, through Deng Xiaoping, through… That era is really critical to understand what’s happening today. Right. Because that’s when Xi Jinping grew up and that’s when his ideologies were formed. Is that safe to say?

ISF: Good is safe to say. I think the other thing that we have to understand is we do have to be incredibly humble about our ability to understand what’s going on at the top of the party. We have very little idea. People are going to keep speculating about that crazy video with former Chairman Hujing Tao. We probably won’t know what happened there for decades, I would guess.

And I think when we talk about war with Taiwan, we talk about what’s going to happen between the US and China, we have a lot of insight into how Biden thinks and almost none into how Xi Jinping thinks. We just need to bake that into our predictions.

TN: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And I cautioned on that earlier this week about the Hoojin Tao exit. It could be health, you don’t know. Right? It could be intrigue. You don’t know. So none of us know. 

So let me also ask you, when you talk about you had a tweet about potential China-Taiwan war earlier this week, and you talked about Chinese staff for American companies or Western companies, sorry, and you talked about Western staff in China. So can we talk about some of those risks, like the real people risks for multinational companies who hire Chinese employees. And none of this is intended to be Xenophobic.

This is intended to be purely practical in understanding really what the risks are. And also with those foreign staff in China. Can you help us understand some of those risks?

Tracy Shuchart: Yeah, I was going to ask something along that line, if I can just tag on my question to that one. We saw a bunch of people who are Americans pulling their staff from Chinese chip companies right, lately. So I was wondering if you saw that, see that trend continuing and bleeding into other sectors besides just the tech sector.

ISF: I very much do, and I think there’s two ways to think about this. One is the economic and regulatory so increasing difficulty doing business in China, desire for localization of staff, Biden regulations that restrict the ability of Americans to work at certain Chinese chip companies. And then you have the potential for war. 

And the idea is that if the US and China go to war, American staff in China and also Chinese staff for certain American companies could be seen as enemy combatants. And we saw this with Afghanistan, we saw this with Ukraine. There’s orders of magnitude, more staff for Western companies in China than in these places. I mean, it’s not even comparable, the numbers. 

And I think from an ethical perspective, I get really worried that people don’t talk about war because then war could just be on us. And the United States has a terrible history of interning Japanese during World War II and harassing Germans during World War I. I think with the dynamic with Chinese people here, we need to have a concrete conversation about it so that we can defend the rights of Chinese and Chinese Americans in America if we go to war. 

And from a corporate perspective and from a risk perspective, companies need to have exit plans for their staff in China because they’re going to be dealing with major, major ethical and insurance risk issues if this happens. And they can’t just take the foreign staff out to Hong Kong anymore. Because that’s not like a free zone anymore. And you hear stories of people being smuggled out now, and I think we’re going to hear a lot more of those, and that’s going to be more and more common.

TN: So, Isaac, what are we missing when you see the discussion about China right now and with American businesses, what are we missing? What’s not being discussed that you’re like, Gosh, I can’t believe people don’t see this.

ISF: Congress does not want American companies to do business in China. And with the UFLPA, the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, we talked to a lot of corporates about that, and they don’t seem to understand how to comply with the law. And that’s the point. It’s a law that’s meant to deter behavior as opposed to shape behavior. 

So it’s okay, we can’t invest in Xinjiang, but this company that we work with, has a branch of Xinjiang. Well, don’t work with that company. And I think the American political calculus of this too. 

People don’t really get Pelosi’s trip, I think didn’t really bake into corporate behavior in the way that it should have because people think this is a Republican issue. They hear Marco Rubio, they hear Ted Cruz, they hear some of the awful remarks that Trump made, and they don’t realize that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer sound almost exactly like Rubio and Cruz on these issues. They think it’s a Republican issue. It’s not a Republican issue. There are holdouts on the progressive left, there are holdouts on the libertarian right. But the US is pretty united about this from a government perspective.

It’s just not from a business perspective. And that’s fine. You can have that discordance. But businesses need to understand main street and Congress feel very differently about these issues than they do.

TN: Yeah. So one last question on this. Unless Albert, Tracy, you guys were going to come in, but do you think we’ll see publicly traded American companies disposing of their China units with say a Hong Kong IPO? 

I mean, I know this is an old idea, but better than nationalization, at least they can get some value of it. And I think of like a GM or something like that, right? It’s a huge business for them. So they could potentially either have that nationalized or they could make it public on the Hong Kong stock exchange or something. 

So do you think we’ll see more of this? Young Brands is the one that everyone knows about from ten years ago or whatever, but do you think we’ll see more of this? And if people don’t do it now, is there a danger of a rush to the exits in say twelve months?

ISF: I think that’s an excellent point. Ping on, which is a major shareholder of HSBC, suggested HSBC break up into two different banks, one headquartered in Hong Kong to focus on China market and one of the rest of the world. 

And companies like Boeing, which has an airplane business that I think it’s something like 14% to 18%, goes to China, specifically the Chinese Communist Party and then has a very important government contracting business which is increasingly at odds with its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party and need to start considering these issues. 

I think you’re right also on the timing, these things take a lot of time and companies are very private with them for obvious reasons. So if they’re considering them now and we’re going to see announcements on it and it doesn’t require that much scrutiny from Cyphius or the Beijing’s regulatory Agency or other Beijing other Chinese agencies, I can see these things happening.

I think if companies are starting to think about it now, it’s probably too late. I think years process. But in the same way that nobody wants to talk about war, nobody wants to talk about spinning off their China assets.

TN: Right. But you either do it now or it gets nationalized. Or you do it for $0.10 on the dollar in a year or two years.

ISF: I think you’re exactly right. And Tony, we should write something on this, and I think this is a good time to talk about this issue.

Albert Marko: Okay. There are other issues. Capital flight out of China, even if you decide to list in Hong Kong, is like, where’s the money going to come from? It’s not going to come from the west. Even the Chinese are starting to take their money out into Singapore and Macau  and anywhere else they can get it out of at the moment.

But I agree with Isaac on 90% of what he’s saying. I don’t think that war, Taiwan is even a remote possibility in the next ten years, to be honest with you.  The pilot bureau, Xi is inspired politburo. It looks scary. There’s no question about that. And the Western companies need to take a look at that because it reminds me of the Nazis from the 1930s.

Now, I’m not talking about what the Nazi crimes were, but just the mobilization of the country and the nationalization of corporations and then starting to boost the economy internally. It’s most likely going to start happening, and they will nationalize companies that they see are instrumental for their vision going forward.

TN: Yes. I mean, honestly, I don’t know why anybody related to SAIC Shanghai automotive. Why would that not become the property of SAIC? If they’re really taking this nationalist bent, that’s a real risk, right? I think so. Any of these guys really need to pay attention and really start to evaluate what is their path going forward? What is their path for Chinese staff? What is their path for foreign staff there? What is their path for IP that’s shared between those units? These are real head scratcher questions. 

Okay, Isaac, thank you so much for that. This is so insightful. I’d love to spend 2 hours with you on this, but we’ve got to talk about tech earnings.

So, Albert, tech earnings are super bad, right? Super bad.

AM: Super bad is an understatement.

TN: Yeah. Horrific. It’s a tech wreck, all that stuff. So we can talk about what missed and kind of we all know what’s missed. That’s been analyzed over the last 24 hours or say a few days or whatever. But I guess what I’m most interested in tech is staffing. 

So the vacancies in the US. Workforce has been a big issue for the Fed. Okay. And I’m showing right now on the screen that the Meta’s stock price from $350 all the way down to I think it was $97 yesterday, just over one year. It’s incredible, right? 

So a lot of these tech firms have been over hiring. They’ve been putting out job wrecks for things that they where they just want to target one person and they don’t really want to target the job and all this stuff. They’ve almost been hiring based on their valuation rather than their revenues. So in terms of those productivity metrics, do you think we’ll start to see headcount reduction in tech? Or they’ve been saying, hey, we’re just going to slow down our hiring.

So do you think they’re going to stick to only slowing down their hiring? Or do you think we’re going to see this kind of tech halt and kind of shrink the tech workforce?

AM: Oh, absolutely. You got to shrink the tech workforce. But that’s not going to come till after midterms. I mean, nobody wants to be in the line of sight of Biden’s firing squad over firing 10 thousand people just before midterms happen. But afterwards you will. Probably after Christmas, you’ll actually start seeing quite the number of job layoffs in the tech industry.

TN: Every time I’ve worked with a tech related firm, the pink slips come literally the week before Christmas.

AM: Yeah, you know what I mean? I don’t think that people understand how bad these tech earnings are. Right. We can note Facebook and Amazon and whatnot, but they had tailwinds of inflation of an extra 10% because CPI, they say 8%. It’s really like 20%. So they had an extra 10% baked into their earnings that people don’t really catch. Right? And even with that, they’re down 30, 40%. 

Amazon lost 25% in two days. Amazon. These are just astronomical. Which is a solid company. I love Amazon. I don’t have any… Company. Yeah, it is a solid company. And I like Amazon, I like the tech, I like the delivery service. And everything they do is correct. But I mean, realistically, they were, them and along with another dozen tech names were so over inflated for the last two years because the market just kept pumping up to just the high heavens that this was just I mean, it was an easy call that tech had to come down.

And on top of that, tech is based on zero rates. We’re not going to see zero rates for years.

TN: Right, that’s fair. Okay, so, you know, one of the hedge funds, I can’t remember who, was pushing Meta or Facebook now, I guess, again, to cut 20% of their workforce. Do you think something like that is possible?

AM: And it sounds like a lot, but given what’s happened with their valuations, do you think a 20% cut is possible? Do you think more or less is possible? And 20% is a lot. Usually when you have over 12%, you start looking at a company as going into bankruptcy. That’s one of the signs that you look at. So 20% is way too much. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe seven to 10% staggered over the next few years.

TN: Okay, that’s fair. But I mean, they hire a huge number of people. What that would do to wages in tech would be immediate, right? $300,000, 22-year-old dev, that would be gone.

AM: Well, yeah, that cuts into the state’s budgets also because they take those tax revenue and whatnot. The other thing that we should talk about is China’s mix with the tech industry. I mean, now that the US congress, like Isaac was saying, is actively trying to prevent companies to go over there, I don’t know where tech earnings are going to come from. I just don’t see it. They’re taking away massive market share. They’re taking away supply chains and semiconductors and everything. I don’t see any silver lining in tech for the next two, three years.

I think they need to run size their organizations and really focus. Plus there’s more competition in the ad market, so you’re not going to see ad rates necessarily rise from here for some time.

So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of headwinds. I actually have to get Isaac’s opinion on this one is no one is talking about the tech industry in China competition with American companies in countries like India. Right? Because you have Chin Data and a couple of other countries that are massive and makes generate a ton of cash out of there.

And nobody’s talking about the competition level in India between the two. And I don’t know if you’ve heard anything, Isaac, but like, that’s something that I wanted to start looking into.

ISF: I think that’s an excellent point, is it doesn’t get nearly enough attention. And the market for the rest of the world for most of these companies is larger than the market for the US and China combined. There are a lot of contested spaces, especially in countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia. 

And I think the lens through which we should see it is the political battle between the US and China because both countries are really pushing all of these third countries to be more sympathetic towards their way of view because so many of these tech companies can be hobbled by regulations. We see that with Huawei. We see that a lot in India where there’s a lot of distrust for Chinese tech companies, a lot of restrictions on the ability of Chinese tech companies to operate.

And so it’s protectionist, but it’s good political warfare for both sides to be making these arguments in countries around the world. And it is good business for these companies to be spending heavily on government affairs in all of these companies, in all of these countries and figuring out how they position their relationship with the government, whether it be the Chinese government or the US.

AM: Yeah, and that’s something I actually criticized the Biden administration that they’ve been so hard on India about using Russian tech and Russian oil. It’s like, come on, you guys got to be a little bit pragmatic here. You know what I mean? They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place with China and Pakistan.

TN: True.

ISF: I think that’s a great I mean, they buy huge amount of weapons from Russia, and they buy those in large part to defend against China.

TN: Yeah, very good. Okay, great. Thanks for that, Albert.

Now, Tracy, let’s move on to crude inventories. I’ve got a Tweet up where you talk about there was another draw this week.

And we saw a draw on global inventories. As we have inventory drawdowns, we have OPEC supply contracting by what, about 1.2 million barrels per day, something like that. Russian crude sanctions starting. We also have with the SPR, it was interesting to see the US became the third largest exporter of crude, I think last week or something, with over 5 million barrels per day because of the SPR draw. 

So we know global industries are low, but when does that start to bite? I feel like the easy answer is well, after the SPR stops, right? What more to the story is there?

TS: I mean, I think it really depends on where you are. I mean, we’re already seeing the SPR. Those draws are kind of dwindling down, right? We’ve gone from about seven, 8 million barrels per week to 3.5 million. Even though that’s still a lot. That’s been part of the reason why we’re exporting, because we kind of, first, we were drawing down sour crude because that’s really what US refiners need. But at some point, that’s almost gone, so we had to start releasing sweet crude, and we can’t do anything with those barrels. And so they are making their way to China, they are making their way overseas.

And that’s why our exports have increased over the last few months there. In particular, we’re kind of seeing an uneven balance where we’re seeing global inventories are drawing, still drawing, right? US inventories are drawing, by all intents and purposes. I mean, we had, what, a 2.8 million build, but we also had a 3.5 million SPR release and an adjustment factor of 15.8 million barrels. Technically, we are drawing. And really, if you include the SPR, we had a draw of 5.9 million barrels total crude plus products this week.

But we are seeing what’s interesting is we are seeing Japan. Their stocks are actually going up because they’re stockpiling mad right now. So they’re buying everything from everybody. It’s stockpiling, and they were giving subsidies for companies to buy that in their SPR. So Japan kind of had a different kind of way of looking at things and the rest worlds just dumping. But they’re literally stockpiling.

China did stockpile for a while, but really their SPR is down, obviously, from the 2020 highs. They’re not stockpiling as much. But with China, I know that there are many problems going on there, but if they increase those import quotas for the Teapots, then we’re going to start seeing them by a lot.

TN: By Teapots, you mean the small refinery?

TS: Is just correct, because they’re talking about possibly raising those import quotas. But we won’t really find that out until December, and that’ll be for into 2023.

TN: Okay, so just a question on both, well, in Japan, first of all. With the yen at these dramatic lows, they’re stockpiling and it’s hugely expensive for them. It’s not just kind of incidental decision, this is a really intentional decision for them to stockpile. So are they partly, do you know, are they partly stockpiling

on geopolitical concerns?

TS: Yes, absolutely. I believe so. And all around, because we really saw them that sort of started to kick off in March after Ukraine invasions. Same with LNG, right? They’ve always been huge importers of LNG, the world’s largest, but they’re importing even more because they’re kind of seeing what’s happening in Europe right now and they don’t want that to happen to them.

AM: I think it’s a little bit more than that. Also, I think that they see that we’re probably even got cues from the US that Japan is going to be a manufacturing hub to try to pick up the slack from China. So I think they’re preparing for that in 2023, 2024. And on top of that, the price of oil right now, that’s still discounting China not stimulating because once China stimulates, the demand is just going to skyrocket.

TN: Okay, all three of you guys want to ask about that China stimulus. So you guys all know China Beige Book, and they’ve been saying everyone’s really foolish for thinking China is going to stimulate, and they’ve been saying that for something like six months. Right? And I hear a lot of people say, oh, they’ll stimulate after the Party Congress. I said that too, and we still haven’t seen that. Do we think that we’re going to see stimulus in China, say, before Chinese New Year, which is what, February?

ISF: I would say absolutely not. I think the real stimulus for the Chinese economy, too, will be less a government led infusion of capital and more a relaxation of COVID concerns. 

And I think that’s going to be a lot more likely after Spring Festival than after the March Congress because, A, you have the appointment of the premiere, you have some important events there, but you also don’t have to worry about mass contagion with hundreds of millions of people wanting to travel.

So I think the base case for the opening of the economy and then potentially economic inflation is after the Congress, after Spring Festival. And who knows, it’s very hard to predict, but that would be my best guess for that.

TN: I think that’s really solid. What do you think about that?

AM: Yeah, I think COVID Zero policies are going to be still in place until March. There’s no question about that. I think stimulus happens around the same time that they think that inflation is under control. I think that’s pretty much their driver at the moment, because if they stimulate price of copper and oil and everything in the country is going to go to the moon and they know this. So I think it really depends on inflation. What the US can do to tame it.

TN: So when do you think they’ll think that inflation is under control?

AM: I think close around March after the US. And also the end of quantitative tightening and whatnot. So it’ll probably be a coordinated effort.

TN: Okay, so Tracy, if they just let go of the lockdowns, what does that do to crude demand?

TS: Well, definitely we obviously start to see that rise because they’re locking down millions of people at a time, you know what I’m saying? An entire city, and not for a couple of days. We’ve seen some cities lock down as long as two months. 

So I think as soon as they start relaxing that we’re definitely going to see demand come flooding into the market. 

And again, China hasn’t really been stockpiling this whole time during this, which they have a little bit from their lows, if you look at their SPR, but not a lot. Not as much as everybody thinks they are. Everybody thinks they are because oil prices are lower and they like lower oil prices. But really, comparatively speaking to how they purchased in the past, the SPR hasn’t been as much as most people think. 

AM: Okay, do you think that they could be? First of all, I don’t trust the data of China. I don’t have anything.

TS: Well, what we can see from satellite systems, right? We have no idea what their underground storage looks like or anything of that nature. But what we can tell and what we can track, what’s actually going into the country. 

AM: Do you think that they can hide that in tankers on the sea for a while?

TS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they’ve been known to do that before. Absolutely. They’ve used Myanmar,

AM: Singapore also, I believe.

TS: Well, Singapore is a little bit harder to hide just because it’s so huge and so many people are tracking vessels there. So they kind of like to kind of stay away from there when they’re kind of trying to hide stuff.

But definitely, I mean, they’ve, you know, hidden purchases from Venezuela through Singapore, through other ports in that area. From what you can see from the best guess. From the best guess, what you can see, what you can tell what satellite services have picked up, like Kepler or whatever.

TN: OK, let me kind of close up with this question. So I just filled up with gas in the US last night and I posted this price in Texas is $2.95. So I’m sure you’re all jealous. I said, will this be 30% higher by the end of the year? Because post election, SPR releases stop, other things? Do you expect gasoline to rise, say, as much as 30% before the end of the year since SPR release and other things are stopping? Or do you think we’re kind of in this zone that we’re going to be in for a little while?

TS: Well, I think that generally this is kind of lower demand season anyway, right? I mean, usually typically we don’t see prices really start to rise again until about mid December, just seasonally speaking, right before the holidays. Christmas in particular, and everybody goes on vacation, et cetera, et cetera.

But I think, I don’t know. 30% might be a lot for this year, but definitely for next year we’re going to have some problems because they took that last 10-15 million barrels and they pushed that out for December, so we’ll still have some releases then.

So I think they did that it was actually 14 million barrels that are left and so they did push those out until December. So they’re kind of going to triple it out in order to kind of control prices.

TN: Okay, so the selection bias for people telling me that I was right is wrong.

TS: I think it’ll probably depend on where you are in the country, you know, depending on the state. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you’re in the Northeast, you’re going to have a huge problem, right, because they have the same issues going on that Europe. They don’t have any pipelines, they don’t have any storage, and they don’t have any refining capacity.

So this winter, especially with the diesel shortage, you’ll probably see the highest gasoline prices, obviously in California and then the Northeast will be the next higher.

TN: And I just want to say to everybody, I’m not promoting the gasoline price as a reason to move to Texas. I mean, it’s all scorpions and rattlesnakes and really terrible bagels here, so please don’t move here. It’s just an incidental benefit of living in a place that’s a pretty rough place to survive.

So anyway, guys, thank you so much. Isaac, really invaluable. I don’t think we’re going to gotten this perspective from anybody else on earth, so I really appreciate the time that you spent with us.

Albert. Tracy. Thank you, guys. I always appreciate your point of view. So thanks very much. Have a great weekend. Thank you.

Categories
Week Ahead

US Policy for Small Businesses: The Week Ahead – 17 Oct 2022

Learn more about CI Futures here.

We’ve had several policies that have hurt small businesses, especially since the advent of Covid. The US administration just implemented a policy to move gig/independent workers to employee status. How does this hurt small businesses? Carol Roth, our special guest for this episode, discussed that in this Week Ahead.

Also, we’ve seen a lot of negative news this week with producer prices, wages, consumer prices rising. One Twitter user asked what would Carol do if she was in charge? What would she do and how does she think it’d help?

Albert helped us look at the Fed and is the dovish Fed dead? We’ve known this for some time, and there were hopes for a pivot, but that seems to be over.

Tracy also talked about diesel inventories, which she talked about for a very long time. She helped us dig into that in this episode.

Key themes
1. US policy punishing small businesses
2. The dovish Fed is dead
3. Diesel inventories
4. The Week Ahead

This is the 38th 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:
Tony: https://twitter.com/TonyNashNerd
Carol: https://twitter.com/caroljsroth
Albert: https://twitter.com/amlivemon
Tracy: https://twitter.com/chigrl

Time Stamp:
0:00
Start
0:48 Key themes for this week ahead
2:43 US policy on gig workers
7:48 Is this to slow down job creation?
10:00 What other things will make things uncompetitive for small businesses?
12:07 What adjustments would Carol Roth do if she’s with the Fed?
16:47 Debt buying and the Fed
19:00 Forecasts for some currencies
20:00 Does the Fed understand that this is a supply-induced inflation?
23:50 They’re not thinking through the political fallout
25:25 Is diesel priced in dollars globally? And what’s the impact?
28:00 How long does the diesel shortage last?
31:34 What’s for the week ahead?

Transcript

Tony Nash: Hi, everybody, and welcome to the week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. Today we are joined by Carol Roth. Carol is from Chicago. She’s the author of the War on small business. She’s got an amazing Twitter following an amazing Twitter presence. Carol, thanks so much for joining us. Really looking forward to getting your perspectives today. 

We also have Albert and Tracy and I’m looking forward to getting their views on the Fed and on energy today as well. The key themes today we’re looking first at US policies punishing small business. Carol has a really unique perspective, obviously a book on the broader implications of this, but there are some recent policies that she’s been focusing on that will talk about some of those things. 

Next. Albert will help us dig into the Fed. And are we looking at the end of the Dovish Fed? I think we’ve known this for some time, but there’s always kind of been some hope that there’s going to be some sort of pivot and that seems to be over. 

Next we’ll look at diesel inventories. Tracy has been talking about this for a long, long time, but it really seems to be coming to a head. So we’ll dig into that today as well. Please take a look at our product CI Futures. It’s a forecast subscription product. It’s $99 a month. We cover a few thousand assets over a twelve month horizon economics, currencies, commodities, equity indices. So please take a look at that. The URL is on the screen. Thanks a lot for that.

Before we move on, please like this video, please subscribe to this video. You’ll be able to see all of them and we really want you to be able to see us every week as we bring these in.

So Carol, thank you very much for joining us. I know you’re busy, really demanding schedule. It means a lot to us that you could join us. So thank you very much.

Carol Roth: This is an amazing crew and I can’t believe you left out recovering investment banker out of my introduction because that’s really the most important part,

TN: Right, exactly. And a Raiders fan as we learned last week over Twitter as well. So we’ll forgive you for that. Anyway, thanks very much. I love the work you do on small business. And you’ve been talking about a recent policy and we’ve got a tweet of yours on the screen talking about the Bind regime pushing gig employees to be full time employee status with companies. Can you talk us through what that means for small businesses and why is that a competitive disadvantage?

CR: Yeah, I think the first thing that people really need to understand is how important small business is to the economy. Because I think a lot of people think, oh, it’s small, it’s just a little piece. Before COVID, small business was about half the GDP and about half the jobs. And at this point we have about 32 6 million small businesses in the US.

So if you’re somebody who believes in the concept of decentralization and that being important to economic freedom, this is the decentralized portion of the economy. This is very independent. It’s very spread out geographically via industries backgrounds. Whatnot by the way which is why big business, big governments and big special interests don’t like small businesses because they’re very hard to corral. If you look at the other half of the economy, it’s in the hands of 20 plus thousand big businesses. So it really is that sort of David versus Goliath battle but also this battle between decentralization and centralization. And we have seen all of these efforts over a long period of time to destabilize small businesses and to make competitive advantages to really tip the free market in favor of those big businesses.

And certainly the policies around COVID right, were the biggest example of that ever. It was an epic wealth transfer from Main Street to Wall Street done not based on data and science but based on political cloud and connections. So now that we kind of know what the story is in terms of this unholy triumvirate, if you will, the big business, the big special interest, big government attacking small businesses, you then look as to what else they can do to really make it harder for small businesses to compete.

So there’s this Department of labor ruling that’s come out. It’s followed something called AB Five in California. If anybody has heard or followed what was going on in California and then it has been and passed the House on a federal basis under the Pro Act. But basically the idea is they want to take gig workers and independent contractors which by the way the estimates, they number around 53 million people in the United States. 

So again, this is not a small number of people who are being affected and they want to say you can no longer have the freedom to decide how you work. We don’t want you to be able to enter into a contract in a way that works for you. We don’t want you to have that flexibility. You have to be an employee. Now this may sound like, oh well, that sounds great for people.

Why would they not want to be an employee? Well, there are a lot of reasons why you don’t want to be an employee. The first is you might not have that opportunity. And that’s the biggest issue because it is very difficult. And the government are the ones who have made this very difficult for a company to hire their first employee and also to keep them on an ongoing basis. 

If you hire somebody as an employee versus a contractor, you have to pay in a portion to Social Security. It affects interest. It can affect your 401K or step plans. It just kind of reverberates throughout your business and so it becomes very challenging and difficult. So if you are a small business who maybe gets busy during a certain season or need help just in certain areas, you tend to bring on independent contractors. Or if you’re creative, if you’re running a movie, you’re obviously not bringing everybody unnecessarily as an employee. You might have a caterer who comes in and feeds people, or if you’re a hairdresser, you may want to rent out a chair in a salon. And the salon doesn’t have the wherewithal to make these employees.

So they’re framing this as we’re trying to help the employees. This is going to really stick it to big business. But there are literally hundreds and hundreds of different categories of employees. Anybody who’s a 1099 employee and doesn’t have a business entity that this will threaten not only their economic freedom, the ability to work the way that they want to be flexible, but literally their livelihoods.

So if you believe in choice, it should be your work, your choice. And now the Department of labor wants to give another giveaway to all of those big special interests.

TN: So, Kara, when we’re in an environment right now where the Fed is trying to slow down job

creation, our small company is the largest portion of job creation as well. So is that another tool potentially, maybe unintended or not, I don’t know to slow down job creation? 

CR: Yeah, I mean, certainly if you think of the small companies, they’re the ones that don’t have the financial wherewithal or the fortress balance sheets. They have not been loading up on the cheap debt because they have to personally guarantee it and don’t have the same scale as the big companies. So it’s a challenge for them to survive an environment where the Fed is going, we’re going to destroy demand. It’s basically we’re going to destroy the little guys who can’t endure this pain. So that’s small business. And you’re right. Having the ability to be flexible going, well, maybe I can’t hire an employee, but maybe I can hire somebody as a contractor parttime, and when things get better, I can bring them on as an employee. Or maybe this is just a flexible way that we can work in the future so we can have different people and they can also work with different companies in a way that suits them.

Absolutely. This is going to be on the shoulders of small business. And as they always do, they say, oh, this is an attack on Uber and Lyft. When this happened in California, Uber and Lyft went out and they put it on the ballot. They got an exemption, but they didn’t take everybody else with them. They just got it for a handful of big industries. And all of the other small guys were basically screwed.

So the idea that this is somehow in an attack in the front against the big guys and the small guys are going to come out smelling like a rose is a joke. If you believe that. I’ve got a bridge to sell.

TN: You right. Okay. So we have small businesses that just barely made it through COVID. So that was really a regulatory way to suffocate small business. And my company is one of them that scraped through and now we have these full time employee regulations coming in from the Department of labor. Are there other things on the horizon that you’re seeing that could make it even more uncompetitive for small businesses?

CR: I mean, everything that they’ve done is making it noncompetitive for small business, whether it’s regulation. You think about all of these minimum wage regulations and how these big companies like Amazon and Walmart have shifted their position and decided to lobby for them. Well, why do you think that is? That’s because they know they’re going to pay that level anyway and they don’t want to have the flexibility for the smaller companies to be able to maneuver around.

That certainly a higher interest rate environment messing with the labor force in general, let alone having a rule like this. The supply chains, the decisions that were made, whether it was a direct you have to close your business down or these indirect issues that affected labor supply, whatnot they killed by mandate around seven figures worth of small businesses. And unfortunately, Tony, as you’ve shared personal stories, there are many others that are just scraping by to survive.

And it’s just this like, you know, you get knocked down, you get up again and then they just keep knocking you down and you keep knocking you down. If you wanted people to succeed, if you wanted people to pursue the American dream, if you wanted economic freedom, you would be working to remove

barriers, make it easier for people to work, make it easier for companies to hire in the way that makes sense for both parties, and make it easier to be a small business. And every single thing that comes out

of government at all levels, by the way, it’s not just federal, but state and local is doing the exact opposite.

TN: Yeah, it’s overwhelming. We could talk about just that alone for hours. Let’s move on to former investment banker Warden Grad. You know your way around the economy. There is a tweet put out a few days ago asking you, if you had the big chair, what adjustments would you make to the economy, monetary policy, whatever, to change the environment today to make things better? What are a few things that you would do if you were Chair Powell or Janet Yellen or something like that?

CR: Burn the fed down. I burned down the Federal Reserve. The very first order of business, I put myself out of a job. And I say that kind of jokingly, but I like to clarify. I would take away the Fed’s powers because as I’ve said to many people before, the only thing worse than the Fed making monetary policy decisions and meddling in the markets and doing things like printing money and whatnot would be Congress doing that? So you don’t want to have those if you get rid of the Fed, you don’t want to have somebody else take away the powers. We’re really getting at, you know, getting rid of those powers to interfere. So that would be the first thing I would do.

But obviously that would not solve what is going on. Now. This is not going to be a surprise to any of you, but what we’re dealing with right now is a supply side imbalance. And it has been. They stimulated demand, but they stimulated it into a supply constrained economy. And so we are under supplied, as I know Tracy tweets about all the time in energy, certainly in labor, as we’re talking about food, housing, other commodities. So I personally don’t believe that the Fed has the tools to solve this problem and attack it. And frankly, I think that they’re going to just cause a massive amount of destruction not only here in the US. But reverberating through the global economy, which then swings back and has an impact on the US.

So what needs to be done, again, are policies that remove barriers to supply. What we’ve been talking about, certainly on the energy front, anything that we could do to stimulate supply of energy, which again, do it here, where we do it more cleanly, and not let China and Venezuela and all these countries that don’t do it cleanly be the ones to do that. Because the last time I checked, we all share the same air. It’s not like you believe in a smoking section, right? Like, oh well, they’re just smoking over there, we’re great over here in the same restaurant. Like, that’s so stupid.

So we would obviously do a 180 on energy policy. The same thing with labor. All the things we’re talking about make it easier for companies to hire people to go to work in the way that they want to work and then we close that gap in the labor market, which is insane. 

The same thing in housing. The National Association of Home Builders did a study last year. $94,000 in regulatory costs are added to the cost of every new home from the government. I mean, that’s insane. The average house is almost 4000. So like 25% of the cost is in regulation. And I’m not saying we don’t need anything, but that’s certainly excessive and it’s gone up by something like 30% to 50% over a very short period of time. So it’s those kinds of things that the policies need to be focused on stimulating the supply and shrinking that supply, demand and balance by increasing supply, not by trying to kill the demand. And that’s just where I land on it.

Albert Marko: That’s exactly what I was tweeting last few months now. And actually on the show is they are trying to create demand destruction, but the problem is the supply disruption that they’re creating and they put themselves in a doom loop to where when demand comes back, there’s no supply. So you get a cycle of inflationary situations happening, and it’s bad here, it’s worse in Europe and it’s even worse in Asia. So we’re going to be stuck in this until the policies start changing, not just from the Fed, but it’s got to be political also because the governments are doing this COVID zero in Asia and the energy crisis in Europe, and they’re just making it worse. So until those policies change, we’re going to be stuck in this cycle.

TN: Yeah. So I respect both of you, but the Fed doesn’t. So they’re going to do whatever the hell they want. What’s really interesting to me is you guys may have seen today. The treasury was asking investment banks. Hey. Do we need to buy some of the debt off of you so that we can create some liquidity in debt markets. Just basically transfer some cash to you so we can take some of those assets off your balance sheet.

Whether it’s the Fed or the treasury or whatever is done. It just seems like the benefit is for the small circle of people. And when you talk about whether it’s interest rates or QT or whatever, it seems like interest rates are the bluntest instrument that hit the biggest number of people. Right. And it’s hard for me to understand why that’s absolutely necessary.

And Albert, we’re going to segue into your section on the death of the Davis Fed. If we look at interest rates, we’re looking at a terminal rate about around 5% now. Right. And so help me understand what is happening with the Fed, what you’re hearing, what you’re seeing and what you’re expecting for the next couple of months.

AM: Well, I mean, everything at this point well, it should have been for a year now, but everything from this point on is strictly to combat inflation. They are getting screamed at by literally everybody to get the 5.5%. Not just five, they’re going to get the 5.5%. They’re going to do 75 again on this next meeting and then another 75 after that. And their intention is demand destruction. That’s what they’re going to do. And they’re not going to be dovish anymore. But they’re have to walk a tightrope here because Europe, they’ve destroyed so much in the global market, specifically Europe that lost 30 trillion in the bond market, that it could be a systemic problem.

And they can’t have that, so they’ll do 70. Five to 75. Talk guidance extremely hawkish. They’re intent on trying to get inflation down until November and December.

TN: November and December.

AM: They’re going to do 75 both. And they’re just going to have to because their time is out and they have

no more tools left to hit. Inflation at JPY at. Euro will be at 90.

TN: And JPY will be what?

AM: I don’t know the correlation on that one off hand, but the euro is definitely going to go to 90. 90 to 90 on this. But it’s all $30 trillion, Tony. That’s a lot of money. The only people in the money. Yeah, it’s still a lot of money. So when the treasury starts talking about, do we need to buy debt back from banks? Is that the US. Banks or is that European banks? Because I guarantee there’s going to be some European banks in there.

TN: Oh, they have to be. Yeah.

AM: Like I said, they’re causing systemic problems and they can’t have your completely blow up. I mean, they’ll use them for a scapegoat to stop QT announce QT stop. But that’s where we’re at it right now.

TN: Okay, so does the Fed understand that this is largely supply induced inflation?

AM: No, they don’t. They don’t? No, because people do what they know, right? If you go back and you look at what Yelen did, when I say Fed, I just toss in the treasury at the same time because they’re one of the same. They talk. They talk, and they have correlating policies and whatnot. And if you look back in 2013, this is what Yellen did last time. She drove the dollar up, crushed the markets, and drove all the money back into the United States. Yes, the United States market looks all beautiful at 3600 to 3700, and people talking about Fed pivots and 3900 in the es, but it’s not real.

CR: Okay, so first of all, can we just discuss the fact that between the time that Janet Yellen was Fed chair and Treasury Secretary, the woman pulled down over $7 million in economic speeches when she didn’t know how to handle, you know, coming out of quantitative easing. She didn’t see inflation. She said that I think this was actually from you, Tracy, but she said that everything looked great in the treasury markets and then the next day went, oh, yeah, I’m worried about liquidity. I mean, clearly, I’m not sure she knows anything. 

And I want to know how to get in on that gig in terms of making that money for speeches for something that you know nothing about. But I find it hard to believe since everybody and their brother has been talking about all of the issues that are going to happen here. 

And maybe it’s my wart and bias, but I go along with Jeremy Siegel, noted finance professor who’s been out there hammering the Fed, saying, look, first of all, you not only do you not necessarily have the tools we’ve seen some elements of demand destruction in small places, and it takes a while to work through the system.

So if you go too fast, kind of like you didn’t see it on the front side, you’re going to do the same thing and you’re going to overshoot. But the bigger issue alluding to what Albert said is the potential to drag down the global economy. I mean, that the fact that you can end up with currency crises, with a treasury market crises, the whole slew of risk assets could be a massive sale of risk assets so that they

could get their hands on dollars because the Fed wants to keep raising interest rates.

It just seems to me it’s not a question of do they not know this? It’s a question of what’s their intention are. They trying to drag down the global economy so there is a financial reset, so they can introduce some sort of a central bank digital currency and have an excuse for it. It just seems to me to go, oh, they’re ignorant of what’s going on. When every single one of us sees this, you’ve got the IMF talking about it, you’ve got professors talking about it.

The fact that this hasn’t crossed their mind with the people that are involved yelling aside, but the Powells of the world and other folks there, that just seems not very likely to me.

AM: No, it’s not. A lot of it is political right there’s. U.S. Midterms, they don’t want Trump back, so they start throwing in these economic numbers to make Biden Democrats look good. And that screws up Fed

policy going forward. I mean, Yellen takes a dollar up, the Fed gets stuck, and then they have to go back and create a new crisis in Europe or Ukraine or whatever crisis they want to create sometime in the future to blame for everything. Yeah, I think the Fed guys are smart. I think they do know these are not stupid people, although certain people, they. Know they just don’t care.

TN: I think you’re right. I think they don’t care. But what I think they’re not thinking through is the political fallout we saw that Chancellor or the exchequer in the UK kicked out today after about two weeks in office or something. And that’s relatively light compared to what happened in Sri Lanka a few months ago and what’s happening in Africa, what’s happening in, say, Pakistan, Bangladesh, what’s happening in Latin America.

So I think we’ll see political fallout here as a result of the Fed’s inability to understand the implications. Where it will really hurt is if it hits Japan and you get minority party in Japan back in power. They’ll pay attention then. And if you see powers in Europe that aren’t favorable to the US. But that’s already kind of starting to see Czech Republic and Hungary, certainly we’ve. Already started to see this, and it’s just getting started. 

We thought we saw populism in 2016. I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. I think we’re going to see

this in a big way globally.

AM: Yeah, Tony, you’re right. I mean, the Europeans are absolutely screaming at yelling about this because she straight up lied to them about the bond market. She can’t even talk to the Norwegians

or the Swiss at the moment. This is how bad it’s become.

TN: Yes, I believe it. Okay, so let’s move on to energy. Tracy, you’ve talked a lot about distillates for a reason, warned us for months about diesel shortages and diesel prices, and it seems like it’s really coming back. And as you talk about this, I want to understand, is diesel priced in dollars globally? And so is that going to hit supply chains in other countries as well because of the pricing basis of diesel. Coming out of refineries

Tracy Shuchart: diesel’s price in local currencies and trade in local currencies. Products are crude, obviously, prices in dollars and traded that way globally, except for some instances. But products are generally like Nat gas, it’s traded in different currencies. But really, I mean, we were having a diesel problem. This started back in 2021, so this is nothing new. I was tweeting about it summer of 2021. I was really worried about distalates. I started tweeting about that then because I saw our inventory slow down. It’s even worse now. 

But what’s come to a head all of a sudden, and what’s making this obviously 10 million times worse, is that Europe, for instance, mostly bought diesel from Russia, and they’re trying to lean off of that, right? And so in the meantime, the US. Is trying to supply Europe with diesel. But now over the last week, we’ve had three weeks of ongoing refinery strikes with total. So France has 2500 gas stations that have at least one product that is completely gone, and 2000 of them are shut down entirely. And then we just had a malfunction in the Netherlands and Shells Curtis refinery, which is the largest diesel refinery in all of Europe. 

So right now we have a massive global problem that is just getting worse. And if you see the diesel crackspreads have been they’re ridiculously flowing out. And backwardation is flying right now, which is kind of obscene. In the meantime, we’re still drawing these distills. We had a 9 million build and a 4 million draw in distance, and we’re headed into winter. So we’re going to have major problems here already in the United States, particularly in the Northeast, because they don’t have the refinery capacity there to really supply that area.

TN: Okay, so what does that mean? How long does this last? Does it last into spring? Does it last beyond spring? I’m curious about the magnitude of the impact on price, but I’m also curious about the duration, how long this is going to last.

TS: Well, you know, I mean, this has pretty much been gone ongoing since 2021. We’ve had times where it’s worse and times where it’s not. But it’s been over a year now, over a year and a half now. I don’t see that going away anytime soon because we don’t have the supply. We don’t have enough heavy oil to, you know, to make these products globally, especially when you’re cutting off Russia, because that’s what they produce is heavy oil. You’ve got Venezuela that’s producing 700K bpd. They’re not producing anything. And most of that’s going to China to pay for debts. We don’t have them. We’ve got Canada, but we don’t want to build pipelines right. For that. We can import more for that. So, I mean, we have kind of a global shortage of heavier oils. And sure, we get some from the Middle East.

That’s fine. We get some from Saudi Arabia. They own motiva here in the United States. And certainly they do produce diesel, but it’s still it’s still not enough. And especially when you’re talking about the west, it’s talking about, you know, we’re talking about a complete oil embargo on December 5 of Russian

oil and oil products.

TN: So this isn’t something that’s done by January. This has legs for quite a while.

TS: Yeah, absolutely. We’re already seeing prices rise. We’re at 518 a gallon for diesel here in the United States on a national average, which is higher than gasoline prices, by lots higher than the average. And the gasoline people that I talked to at Opus basically say, man, this is not even a safe level. This is going much, much higher.

CR: I have a question for you, Tracy. So it seems to me everyone seems to be focused on getting through the winter in Europe and the immediate impacts, as if there’s, like, some magic solution waiting on the other side as more of a layperson in this area. It seems to me that this massive under investments, this supplied depression that we’ve been having, there’s nothing coming online to help with that. So doesn’t that suggest that this is something that doesn’t get sorted out even though there may be some volatility, but, like years and years and years that we’re going to be dealing with?

TS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we’ve got a problem for the next eight to ten years. Really? And if you look at, you know I know if we look at the natural gas situation in Europe, everybody’s thinking, oh, we’re at 95% full before winter, we’re going to be fine. If we just make it through winter, that’ll be fine. That’s great and all, but if you are not replacing that, you’re going to need it in the summer. You need to keep refilling that. So it’s not like, you know, unless they decide to stop using natural gas in March, end of story, we still have a problem. Right. And the next winter is probably going to get even worse.

TN: Great. Just so you know. Awesome. Okay, so let’s move into kind of the week ahead section. Albert, you want to get us started. What are you looking at going into the week ahead? What’s on your mind?

AM: Continuation of the Feds 100 basis point rate hike. I mean, they’re not going to do 100, but they’ll tell the market that they might start thinking about it and the market might start pricing it in. So we’ll definitely have a lot of weakness in the market going ahead in the next week, but it’s midterms, so you never know,

 they could defend the quote unquote Trumpl ine of 35, 40 so they don’t look like complete idiots and give them Fodder for the midterms. Do you still think we’re going to hit maybe 3200 or something eventually? I can guarantee you that by the end of the year for sure. The economic indicators across multiple data sets is just atrocious right now.

TN: Okay, great. Carol, I know you’re not really kind of in Marcus, but what are you keeping your eye on for the week ahead?

CR: So I do actually commentate on markets from a sort of a macro perspective, and much like Albert, I’m sort of in the camp that until the Fed tells us what is their intention, is this really just about the midterms? Are they feeling the pressure that it’s risk off from my perspective until we know what’s happening with them. So that’s been sort of my perspective.

TN: Great. Okay. Thanks, Tracy.

TS: On China next week, party congress looking at China, I want to see what they’re going to do policy wise because that’s definitely going to affect the commodities market. We all know that they’re looking for a five 5% GDP by the end of the year, which they’re not going to get. They’ll say they got it, but we all know that they’re not going to get it. So I want to look, an economy is suffering right now and we’re starting to see stirrings of unrest in China. Right. 

There was just that article where they had the people on the bridge with the signs that got scrubbed from China Internet. But I think that she is going to have to do something to stimulate that economy. So I’m kind of looking to see what his focus is on that and if they have any plans going forward to simulate the time. Because again, that’s going to affect the commodity markets and to see if he has a plan for the housing market. Oh, he’s got a plan.

TN: Central planners always have plans, don’t they?  That’s right. So if you talk to any China economist

for the bank, they’ll tell you that China is going to hit five 5% or maybe they live on the edge and say five three. Right. So as you said, we know they’re going to make it issh somewhere in the ballpark, but we know in reality you can’t have a zero code environment and make a growth rate that high. So my worry, I was just talking about this with somebody earlier in the week, my worry is that China really has made that transition to a slower growth environment for starting with demographic reasons, but also some structural reasons that they put in place.

And I think what she’s going to talk through next week, although not directly, but someone indirectly, is much more control, which will lead people to the conclusion that it’s not a safe place for foreign investment anymore, which will lead them to a slower growth environment economically. Because he’s basically talking about leveling people out. Right. And everyone has the same maybe not opportunity, but the same outcome. And you can’t necessarily do that in China with some of the economic outperformers that you’ve had, like Jack Ma and other people. You have to bring people down instead of push people up. And that’s what I’m expecting. 

Again, he’s not going to say he’s going to bring people down, but that’s what I expect is the main message coming out of next week’s meeting.

AM: Yeah, he has already done that, Tony. And there is a little bit of a power struggle with Wang. Yang is actually slated to be power sharing with him. All they’re trying to get him to do that, but all my sources have said that they’re locking down for code with zero until at least March, so we’ll see what kind of fake numbers they come out with.

CR: I will add that this all ties into their social credit system, which is the most advanced one in the world right now. And they really started the social credit on the business front, which is notable for the reasons you were saying. You can’t have that capitalism that’s leaked in a little bit over the past several decades and have these outperformers. So it’s an easy way to sort of bring those folks down a peg and then let that bleed into sort of the individual social credit. And it’s something we should be paying very close attention to as the Fed keeps talking about things like Central Bank, Digital Currencies, and as we see these companies going after people for misinformation, what part of that could leak here as well.

TN: Yep, very worries. So okay, guys, thank you so much for your time. Carol, I’m so grateful that you can join us today. Please come back anytime. Really appreciate this, guys, and have a great week ahead.

Categories
QuickHit

Quick Hit Cage Match: Van Metre vs Boockvar on Inflation (Part 1)

This special QuickHit Cage Match edition is joined by opposing sides of inflation versus deflation with Steven van Metre and Peter Boockvar. Why one thinks we’re having deflation and the other believes in inflation? How soon will this happen and to which commodities and industries?

 

This is the first part of the discussion. Subscribe to our Youtube Channel to get notified when Part 2 is out.

 

Part 2 is out. Watch it here.

 

Steven van Metre is a money manager who have invented a strategy called Portfolio Shield. He also has a YouTube show that discusses economic data and the news three days a week.

 

Peter Boockvar is the Chief Investment Officer and portfolio manager at Bleakley Advisory Group. He has a daily macromarket economic newsletter called The Boock Report.

 

 

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This QuickHit episode was recorded on October 14, 2021.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this Quick Hit Cage Match: Van Metre vs Boockvar on Inflation 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

 

TS: I kind of want to start broadly here. So if you could give me your two minute elevator pitch on your view on whether you’re an inflationist or deflationist, even though we already know who is who. And how fluid is your view?

 

PB: So if we just break down, inflation is just the simple, too much money chasing too few goods. We certainly have too few goods with supply challenges around the world and too much money with a lot of fiscal spending over the past 18 months financed by the Federal Reserve buying most of that debt that the treasury issued to finance a lot of this fiscal spending. So it’s combining with inflation situation where it’s really just a good side. That is the part of the debate.

 

Services inflation is rather persistent. For the past 20 years leading into Covid, services inflation XNERGY is averaged almost 3%, but goods have been basically zero. And it’s always that trade off that has resulted in an inflation rate of 1% to 2% over the last couple of decades. But now you are back on trend with services inflation, and I’ll argue that will accelerate from here because of rents. And now you combine that with a period of goods inflation. Now, goods inflation is typically cyclical, if history is any guide. But how long of a cyclical rise we have really is the question. And I just think it’s not going to be so short term that it could last a couple of years.

 

SVM: Yeah. So I think that the inflation story is going to be more, at least the former Fed’s view of being on the transitory side, and I take that view strictly from my understanding of how the monetary system works, looking at the velocity of money, the fiscal stimulus cliff going away.

 

While I do agree that Peter will be right and that we will likely see higher inflation, and I agree in where he thinks it’s coming from in terms of the supply chain. I completely agree with that. But I do think ultimately those higher prices will get rejected without a sustained amount of new money coming in from fiscal or other means or from lending growth. And so even though we’ll see rising prices and they will probably go up a bit more, ultimately, I think the consumer will reject them just like we saw during the great financial crisis and that we are more likely to see inflation turn down pretty hard and perhaps even into the deflation.

 

TS: Either one of you can jump in here. Where do you see inflation, deflation hitting the soonest and the hardest? We’re looking at commodities that are still running very hot, supply chains that are very stressed. At what point do you think we see demand destruction? And how long do you think that we’re going to see these extremes in the destruction and supply chains that are causing much of this current inflation?

 

PB: Well, we’re already seeing some demand responses. We are seeing a slowdown in economic growth. Part of that is a pushback against these price increases. If you look at the housing market, there’s particularly the first time home buyer that has sticker shock and doesn’t want to pay for a home that’s priced 20% more than it was a year ago. And they’re saying, okay, let me take a pause here.

 

So there is some of that. But then, of course, there’s also some forced demand destruction because enough product can’t be delivered and that an auto plan has to shut down an assembly line because they can’t get enough parts, and they’re not sure when they’re going to be able to get enough. Or it’s Nike that can’t deliver enough store product to foot locker because it’s going to take 80 days to get it from their factory in Vietnam rather than 40 days.

 

Now, at some point, goods, inflation is going to be temporary. The question is, how long does it take to resolve itself? And one of the things that I think will unfold here is that let’s just take transportation costs, because that is a main factor in the rise in inflation, because every single thing that’s made in this world ends up on a plane, a ship, a truck or a railroad to get it from point A to point B.

 

So let’s just say I’m a toy manufacturer, and my transportation costs are now 35% year of year on top of the cost of my wholesale cost to actually get the product, and my cost of labor is up 5% to 7% year over year. Well, I’m not going to recoup that all in one shot by raising prices to Walmart by 10%. It could take me a couple of years to recoup that. But I promise you, I’m going to do my best to do so, and I’m going to space that out. I’m going to try my best to cushion the blow to that end, buyer who’s buying for their kids for Christmas by spacing out that price increase. But I know I’m going to have visibility because everyone else is going to be doing the same thing for the next three years in raising prices so I can recapture, I may not be able to regain completely, but recapture some of my lost profit margin. So that’s one of the reasons why I think this is going to be sticky.

 

And to Steve’s point, yes, there’s going to be a fiscal fall up next year to some extent. We’ll see how much of the lost transferred payments are going to be offset by both the child tax money, plus people going back to work. We saw jobs claim have a two handle today for the first time since pre-Covid and to what extent wage increases can offset the rise in the cost of living? And yeah, we’ll have to see that. But the question is, how much do prices come back in?

 

You take lumber, for example, and I’ll give it to Steve right after this, lumber prices in the heart of the housing bubble in the mid 2000s was about $300. Now it went up to $1600 now it’s about 650. The cost of a home, construction wise, and what a builder would charge their customer is not going back to where it was. They are going to use this and fatten their margin as best they can, and it’s going to take years for that buyer to experience what is truly reflected at 650 lumber, but that’s even more than double where it was. So it’s still multiple years of price increases that are going to flew through the chain.

 

SVM: Yeah. Peter, you bring up some absolutely excellent points about how long this could go. And that’s something I really haven’t considered that it could run a couple of years because I look at this fiscal cliff and to me, you go back to the pandemic and we know all this was driven by fiscal stimulus. And without it, and I know we still have the child tax credit for a bit. I’m just concerned that this drop off comes a lot stronger than most people are expecting. And I do realize a lot of these goods are sitting off ports waiting to get shipped in, waiting for truckers to take them to warehouses and eventually on the stores.

 

The question I keep asking is when those goods hit the shelves, will consumers be there with money? Do they have the money to spend? Are they going to go back to work fast enough? And even though, as you mentioned, we had a two handle today, we both know that that’s almost 50% higher than normal.

 

So the question is we still see this huge amount of job openings everywhere. We’re not seeing people go back to work. We saw the jolt state. I know you looked at that recently from the other day where people are quitting their jobs. And so I keep coming back to the same question is will consumers come and spend and keep these prices up? If they don’t, then we get the reversal. But that’s my question. Do they come?

 

PB: It’s a great question of whether that will be the case. I don’t think the labor market is going back to where it was pre Covid. And all you have to do is look at the participation rate to confirm that, particularly for the age group of 25 to 54 year olds, which is sort of the core wage earning population, and it’s still well below where it was in February 2020. So, yeah, we’re not going back to a 3.5% unemployment rate with the same number of employed people anytime soon.

 

Now, what is replacing a lot of the lost sort of or not made up fiscal money that has been spent, particularly December 2020 with Trump’s last fiscal package and then repeated just a few months later with Biden, is that eventually we do have that child tax money that’s going out. We do have an increase in food stamps. Basically that reservation wage, which is basically the wage level at which someone has a tough choice of whether do they go take that job or do they collect all the government handout? That continues to go up.

 

So that person who may not want to go back to work while they’re getting a lot of benefits elsewhere. And while the aggregate, we’re going to probably see some sort of fiscal drop off. The question is, is that enough from the demand side to offset what’s going on in the supply side?

 

Now, again, supply side is going to normalize at some point. There’s no question about it. Just a matter of when. Taiwan semi is spending billions of dollars that just broke ground in June in Arizona to build a semi plant. Well, it’s not going to be done until 2024.

 

Now, there could be a lot of double ordering, triple ordering that’s going on in Semis right now. We’re going to have this major inventory hangover. We’re already actually seeing it in DRAM, for example. And that could happen. And there’s going to be a mess at the other end of this. I just think that this drags out and also a key part of this inflation debate, too, is in what context is this coming in?

 

If we had a Fed funds rate in the US of 3%, if we had a ten year at four to five, if we didn’t have such thing as negative interest rates, I’d say, “you know what the world can handle about of higher inflation because interest rates are higher. If equity valuations weren’t as extreme as they are and they were more in line with history,” I would say, okay, “we can absorb it.” But that’s not the case right now. We have valuations that are excessive in a variety of different things. Obviously, we have zero interest rates, negative interest rates, QE and so on. So even if inflation decelerated to, let’s just say a 3% rate for a year or two. I just don’t think that the world is positioned for that.

 

SVM: Yeah. I’m not worried about the upper 50%. I’m really curious about the bottom 50%, who is really the big recipients. I know a lot of people got the fiscal checks, but my wife is a fourth grade teacher, and one of the problems they’re having in schools right now, and you’ve probably been hearing about this is a kid or a staff or a teacher gets Covid, and next thing you know, they’re quarantining out segments of the classroom. They’re sending them home. And the parents are really struggling with this because they want to go back to work. But then all of a sudden, their kids back and they can’t.

 

And so they’re forced to stay at home and they don’t have the family support. Maybe they don’t want to send the kids to grandma and grandpa because they don’t want them to get sick in case their kid has it. And so I keep wondering, without all this fiscal support from the government is the natural expectation, particularly with higher energy prices, as we go into the winter, that these cash-strapped households are going to ultimately make the choice to I’ve got to buy food. We all know that’s gone up. We have to pay for energy. We know that’s gone up. As Peter, as you mentioned earlier, that rents are probably going up. So what does that leave in terms of discretionary income to spend to drive inflation?

 

And I kind of wonder, without their spending power, how is this going to last? And that’s my big concern is I don’t think it does. I think consumers are going to reject it. I don’t think they have the income. I don’t think the money supply is growing fast enough. And then you start looking at the dollar and interest rates and you would want to see the dollar going down. You want to see interest rates going up and we keep seeing the dollar fighting to go higher.

 

We keep seeing interest rates trying to press back lower, and it’s telling us that financial conditions are tight. And, of course, the Feds potentially about to taper and start to remove their support of that. And I just keep kind of shaking my head going, like, how are we going to get through the holiday season unless consumers come out and spend a big way? I’m just not convinced.

 

TS: Well, perfect segue into what I kind of wanted to get into next was talking about the Fed tapering. So first, because everybody’s talking about this. Do you see the Fed tapering? And if they do, how much is this going to affect inflation? And also, I know the market is saying the Fed is going to raise rates in ’22, ’23. But is this a reality at all?

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