UK Autumn Budget 2021 preview: What to watch this week

Forex

Chancellor Rishi Sunak presents his Autumn Budget this Wednesday. We profile some of the big issues to watch out for this October in this budget preview.

UK budget preview

The UK’s economic health

The budget is a time to reflect on where the UK has gone, economically, and where it’s going. Chancellor Sunak will be on hand to let us know the headline stats regarding employment, GDP growth, and inflation.

We know the UK economic recovery is also beginning to slow. Supply chain issues, rising unemployment in some industries, such as hospitality, and rising inflation, are all conspiring to inhibit growth.

The GDP has dropped 10% since the start of the pandemic. Bank of England forecasts suggest 2% growth in Q3 2021. Consumer price inflation stands at 4.5%.

This will fit into Sunak’s thinking and planning.

“Inflation, interest rates – those are two of the factors which I have to think about as I determine what’s the appropriate fiscal policy, what’s the right level of tax and borrowing and spending,” Sunak told the Radio Times in a recent interview.

The Office of Budget Responsibility is thought to be preparing GDP growth figures outstripping its 4% rebound shared in March. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen.

Blonde Money CEO and macroeconomics guru Helen Thomas has shared here thoughts on what could be a “Halloween horror show” for the UK this autumn:

How will the pound perform this budget?

Forex traders and general economic observers will be interested to see where sterling goes from here.

At the time of writing, GBP/USD was floating around the 1.375 level. Resistance was formed around 1.385.

Watch for where the pound goes. A strong budget could strengthen sterling against other currencies, but one that shows slumping economic growth may cause it to fall.

Taxes, taxes, taxes

With record levels of borrowing, in excess of £320bn, to keep the country running in light of the pandemic, the real question is who is going to pay for it?

The answer could be more personal taxes. Chancellor Sunak has already increased National Insurance, with contributions increasing by 1.25% from April 2022 onwards. It’s unlikely this will be enough to foot the government’s pandemic-led spending.

We could be about to see more higher levels of personal tax. There has been talk of an online sales tax percolating for a while now. It might not come this Wednesday, but it could be that the Autumn budget gets the ball rolling in this area.

There have also been calls from sectors to raise inheritance and capital gains tax too. The tax on dividends is probably going up to 1.25% too. Sunak may become the most tax-happy Chancellor in post-war Britain, but I guess extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.

Unless you’re a bank. KMPG has said it understands that Sunak will be dropping the Bank Levy from 8% to 3% by 2023. It’s a move to keep the City competitive in light of Brexit.

Although with rising fuel costs, one mooted plan to protect consumers would be a dropping of VAT on household energy bills.

That said, the government also has a green agenda to pursue. If it wants the UK to go net-zero by the middle of the century, then grants, loans, and so on will need to be put in place. How else can the government level up its green credentials? It’s estimated that the UK will lose £37bn in fuel duties every year if/when petrol-powered cars leave the roads.

Spending and borrowing

The conclusion to the UK’s 2021 Spending Review will coincide with this week’s budget too.

The Chancellor has had a lot to review. All of the UK’s support and spending programmes that originated during the Pandemic will no doubt be under the magnifying glass.

With GBP 68bn in Covid spending planned for 2021/22, the Chancellor has left little to no allowance for pandemic spending next fiscal year. COVID has not gone anywhere. In fact, it may be starting to ramp up again in the UK as the winter months roll in.

If Sunak has not left any spare cash available to anticipate a rise in COVID-19 cases, then that seems irresponsible. He may have to find some from the Spending Review or from the extra taxes and levies we discussed earlier.

There’s also the question of green spending. In order to reach that mythical net-zero status by 2050, the UK will have to spend at least £55bn a year. That means sustained solid investment in renewable energy projects and other things like proper house insulation and boiler replacement.

COP26 is looming so perhaps we’ll see more money allocated to green projects as a way of paying lip service to the UK’s climate goals.

But where there is spending there must also be cuts.

Sunak tasked all government departments to find 5% in savings going forward under this 2021/22 Spending Review.

“The scale of efficiency savings will be of immense interest when looking at the potential scale of fiscal consolidation over the next few years,” KPMG said in its Autumn Budget preview.

Tesla stuff, Squid Games

Morning Note

Tesla stuff: Haters hate, regulators regulate: don’t confuse the two. Duke University engineering and computer science professor Missy Cummings is set to become a new senior adviser for safety at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many Tesla fanboys and girls are crying foul. Cummings, a former pilot and robotics expert, is seen as ‘anti-Tesla’. Now that’s kind of interesting in the first place: you’re either definitely for Tesla or definitely a hater. No room for a middle ground. That’s kind of odd for a carmaker. Most people are not anti or pro Ford, or GM. They maybe like/dislike their cars, think they’re doing a good/bad job with the tech and think management are capable/useless. No one would say they’re anti-Ford. They might have an objective, rational view on the cars and/or the stock, but not a creed. But rational objectivity and Tesla seldom go hand in hand. And I’m not sure if you could say she’s anti-Tesla per se, just sceptical about the level of technology that is being touted around by some companies. But, particularly Tesla. 

 

For instance, last year she tweeted“LMAO…there is NO WAY Tesla will have a viable robo-taxi service this year. My lab has been running controlled experiments on Tesla Autopilot & I can say with certainty that they are not even close to being ready. My student on this project should get hazardous duty pay.”  In one 2018 tweet she said “The only killer robot out there is @elonmusk’s Tesla.” There are lots of examples on the feed.

 

It’s fair to say Cummings is a vocal critic of the ability of self-driving systems to cope with bad weather, and authored plenty of research that calls into question some of the main claims that companies like Tesla make when they market their ‘full self-driving’ systems. There are numerous papers, some choice tweets and essentially you can say she doesn’t buy the tech being anything like close enough to be objectively safe for the roads.  

 

After news of her appointment broke Elon Musk tweeted today: “Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla.”  

 

Tesla’s self-driving technology is already being investigated by the NHTSA. The company must provide the regulator with extensive data about its Autopilot system by Friday. Tesla has been getting away with marketing ‘Full Self Driving’ technology for a while; Cummings could mark time for a much tougher stance. Steven Cliff, deputy administrator since February, has also been nominated by the White House to lead the NHSTA. He’s currently in charge of the Tesla investigation. Another Tesla ‘hater’, according to many. Regulators are maybe finally going to regulate.

 

Meanwhile, in other Tesla ‘stuff’. Get a load of Elon Musk, who told a customer apparently not impressed with the look of the side mirrors on the cyber truck, that it’s OK to remove them. “They’re required by law, but designed to be easy to remove by owners,” he tweeted. I am ‘absolutely sure’ that is not irresponsible or unsafe…

 

Tesla earnings are due out today: the company hit record deliveries in Q3 as it found chips no one else seems to be able to find. EPS is seen around $1.50, on revenues of $13.6bn. Looking for updates on the Berlin Gigafactory, competition in China, internal chip production, Cyber truck and Semi releases, and, of course, the beta FSD progress. Let’s hope for some analyst questions around the NHSTA today.

 

Squid Games: Netflix posted solid subscriber growth in the third quarter of 4.4m, well ahead of the 3.84m expected. A deluge of hit new content that had been delayed by the pandemic is helping to drive interest such that the company anticipates 8.5m net adds next quarter. Earnings per share were a handsome beat at $3.19 vs $2.56 expected. In Q3, revenue grew 16% year over year to $7.5 billion, while operating income rose 33% vs. the prior year quarter to $1.8 billion. Content and subscribers are in good shape, but free cash flow remains elusive as it reported a second consecutive quarter of negative free cash. Still when you have low-cost, high margin content in multiple languages, you think Netflix will be able to drive non-US subscriber growth substantially in the coming years. Shares fell slightly in after-hours trade.

 

Markets: Stocks are flat again this morning in early trade in Europe, with the FTSE 100 hovering around the 7,200, looking like it has decent support.  The S&P 500 rallied three-quarters of one percent yesterday to close within 0.4% of its record high. Megacap tech had a decent day despite rising bond yields. If it’s stagflation then growth is still a premium.  

 

US 10-year rates rose to a 5-month at 1.67% as the Fed’s Waller said tapering should start in November and that if inflation keeps rising “a more aggressive policy response” might be required in 2022. Bitcoin at or around all-time highs post the ProShare ETF launch.

 

Inflation: UK inflation has fallen! But before we rejoice too much, it’s probably a one-off. CPI fell to 3.1% in September from 3.1% in August. The end of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme at the end of August last year, which led to restaurants raising prices in September, is a big factor. The surge in energy prices and ongoing supply chain problems are still expected to drive inflation to 4% this year. Moreover, the RPI rose 4.9%. 

 

As we said in yesterday’s note on Will the Bank of England actually raise rates in November?, the reading of the inflation print is important: the consensus remains firmly on the MPC voting to raise rates in two weeks’ time. But, as stressed in the same commentary, it’s not a slam dunk given the make-up of the MPC right now. 

Meanwhile, German produce price inflation surged – rising 2.3% month-on-month vs the +1% expected. That took the annual rate to 14.2%. Supply chain and capacity problems abound. Underlines that rising cost pressures are not going away. 

 

Sterling just eased back on the inflation miss. GBPUSD retreated to test the support offered at 1.3770, the OCt 15th swing high, where sits the 50hr SMA. Recent price action indicates this is the chief support before resumption of the uptrend, though we are less convinced that GBP can rally with rate expectations now they are baked in. However, I do see further dollar weakness likely to support further gains for cable following the topping pattern on the last 3 weekly candles.

Will the Bank of England actually raise rates in November?

Forex

• GBPUSD hits highest in a month ahead of tomorrow’s CPI inflation print
• Hike in November fully priced by markets…
• But will the MPC hawks have enough votes?

Recent commentary from senior Bank of England officials indicates the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) will raise interest rates when it next meets in November, barely over two weeks from now. Market positioning has also shifted significantly in recent weeks from a single hike next year to one this year and at least two next, with the base rate expected to hit 1% by August.

BoE members have had numerous occasions to push back against market expectations and have led traders towards a November hike as being the most likely outcome. Over the weekend governor Andrew Bailey stressed that the Bank of England “will have to act” to counter inflation. That’s one for team sticky – which if you are a regular reader, you will know I’ve been saying all along. “That’s why we, at the Bank of England, have signalled, and this is another such signal, that we will have to act,” Bailey said. “But, of course, that action comes in our monetary policy meetings.” Ah, but which policy meeting did he mean? Did he mean November – the market certainly thinks so, and there has been no push back on that. Failure to raise rates next month risks Bailey becoming the Old Lady’s second unreliable boyfriend and the inevitable disapprobation for her taste in gentlemen.

Inflation problems

Inflation expectations in the UK increased to 4.1% in September from 3.1% in August of 2021. Actual inflation is also rising quickly. The latest Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 3.2% in the 12 months to August 2021, up from 2% in July. The increase of 1.2 percentage points is the largest ever recorded increase in the CPI series, which began in January 1997. Soaring energy costs are a big factor, but the whole basket is seeing upwards pressure.

The reading of tomorrow’s CPI print is important. Another hot reading underlines the sense of urgency at the BoE. Cooler raises concerns that officials have got their communication muddled. It is once again expected to hit 3.2%.

Team sticky is winning for now but team transient have some cards up their sleeves. For instance, headline inflation would have been 0.3 percentage points lower in August 2021 without the Eat Out to Help Out discounts in August 2020. Demand destruction from higher prices may also start to feed into lower run rates for inflation.

Yield curve inversion

Markets are pricing in a fairly aggressive tightening cycle by the BoE. 2yr gilt yields have hit a two-and-a-half year high. This could be premature – the MPC may not be as hawkish as recent signals indicate, but if it’s correct then the market is also anticipating that the Bank would quickly need to reverse its actions. Forwards and implied interest rate expectations point to inversion – higher rates at the front end, lower further out. This only implies the market believes the Bank would be making a ‘policy mistake’ by hiking prematurely. Others would point out that taming inflation is its core mandate.

Certainly, the BoE like all central bank is dealing with something rather new: a supply shock. Central banks’ policy toolkits are based around levers to drive demand when it is low. They cannot fix supply crunches and imbalances in the economy very easily by stimulating demand. Nevertheless, the Bank is clearly mindful that allowing inflation to run rampant would a) destroy its credibility and b) allow longer-term inflation expectations to become de-anchored. If supply-side worries are longer lasting than first thought, and demand stays robust, it seems prudent for the MPC to use what tools it has to lean on inflation. What’s clear is that the intense debate around the recent comments and change in market expectations shows the Bank is not doing a particularly good job of communicating its position. We may be left in a position where the MPC hikes a couple of times and then has to dial it back, which risks its credibility – albeit whether more or less than it would by allowing inflation expectations off the leash is an open question.

The last meeting

• MPC voted 7-2 to maintain QE, unanimous on rates
• Ramsden joins Saunders in voting to scale back the QE programme to £840bn, ending it immediately
• CPI inflation is expected to rise further in the near term, to slightly above 4% in 2021 Q4 – and the BoE signalled greater risk it would be above target for most of 2022
• Overall, Bank staff had revised down their expectations for 2021 Q3 GDP growth from 2.9% at the time of the August Report to 2.1%, in part reflecting the emergence of some supply constraints on output
• Shift in forward guidance: MPC noted ‘some developments … [since the August Monetary Policy Report] … appear to have strengthened’ the case for tightening monetary policy.
• Rate hikes could come early, even before end of QE: “All members in this group agreed that any future initial tightening of monetary policy should be implemented by an increase in Bank Rate, even if that tightening became appropriate before the end of the existing UK government bond asset purchase programme.”

Doves vs Hawks

But will it go for the hike? The MPC is relatively evenly split in terms of hawks and doves, so it is not abundantly clear if the recent messaging from some members – albeit including the governor – matches with the votes.

Bailey has sounded hawkish, and we know Ramsden and Saunders are itching to act. Huw Pill, the new chief economist replacing Andy Haldane has also sounded hawkish, though less so than his predecessor.

Commenting after UK inflation expectations hit 4% for the first time since 2008, he said: “The rise in wholesale gas prices threatens to raise retail energy costs next year, sustaining CPI inflation rates above 4 per cent into 2022 second quarter.” We place him in the ‘leaning hawkish’ camp.

On the dovish side, Silvana Tenreyro is highly unlikely to vote for a hike next month, calling rate rises to counter inflation ‘self-defeating’.

Deputy Governor Broadbent said in July that he saw reasons for the inflation tide to ebb. The spike in energy prices since then could lead him to change his mind but for now, we place in the ‘leaning dovish’ camp,

Rate-setter Haskel said in May he’s not worried by inflation, and in July said there was no need to reduce stimulus in the foreseeable future. He goes in the Dovish camp with Catherine Mann, who said last week that she can hold off from raising rates since markets are doing some of the tightening already. “There’s a lot of endogenous tightening of financial conditions already in train in the UK. That means that I can wait on active tightening through a Bank Rate rise,” she said.

That leaves Jon Cunliffe somewhat the swing voter. In July he stressed that inflation was a bump in the road to recovery. We look to see whether the recent spike in inflation and inflation expectations has nudged the likes of Cunliffe, Pill and even Broadbent to move to the Hawkish camp. It seems unlikely that governor Bailey would have pointed the market towards quicker hikes if he did already have a feeling for the MPC’s views on the matter.

Dovish  Leaning dovish  Centre  Leaning hawkish  Hawkish 
Tenreyro

Mann

Haskel

Broadbent Cunliffe Pill Saunders

Ramsden

Bailey

Charts

GBPUSD: The hawkishness from policymakers and market repricing for hikes has supported £, though we do note some noticeable dollar weakness in Tuesday’s session that is flattering the view that it’s all BoE driven. Cable breaks new highs ahead of CPI, above 1.3820 to test the 50% retracement off the May peak. Bullish MACD crossover still in play, but starting to look a tad extended.

GBPUSD Chart 19.10.2021

EURGBP Gains capped with a stronger EUR today, but has made a fresh 18-month high. BoE racing to hike against a much more dovish ECB ought to be positive, but yield curve inversion highlights the dangers of viewing FX trades purely from a CB tightening/loosening point of view.

EURUSD 19.10.2021

Week Ahead: Is hot UK inflation here to stay?

Week Ahead

Quite a lot to look out for in terms of big data this week. First up, we have UK CPI data. Is inflation sticking around for longer than we thought? UK and EU flash PMIs come too at a time when it looks like economic activity is starting to slow down. It’s also US earnings season with leading tech players reporting in. 

UK CPI: circling hawks and hot prints 

On the data front, one of the week’s big releases are the latest UK Consumer Price Index numbers. 

September’s print showed that UK inflation had far exceeded the Bank of England’s 2% target in August. Consumer prices surged by 3.2% in the twelve months up to that month official data showed – the highest month-on-month increase since records began in 2017. 

The Office for National Statistics said the surge was “likely to be a temporary change” and flagged the government’s Eat Out to Help Out (EOHO) scheme may have been a contributing factor to the jump. 

“In August 2020 many prices in restaurants and cafes were discounted because of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offered customers half-price food and drink to eat or drink in (up to the value of £10) between Mondays and Wednesdays,” the ONS said in its statement. 

“Because EOHO was a short-term scheme, the upward shift in the August 2021 12-month inflation rate is likely to be temporary.” 

The official line has been that higher prices are transitionary – but voices from within the Bank of England warn it could be here for longer than first thought.  

The BoE’s new Chief Economist Huw Pill has said he believes hot inflation could be sticking around. 

“In my view, that balance of risks is currently shifting towards great concerns about the inflation outlook, as the current strength of inflation looks set to prove more long-lasting than originally anticipated,” Pill said in September. 

Pill lends his voice to the hawkish chorus steadily building in the Bank of England’s council. A number of MPC members are calling for a rate hike early next year. As such, another high CPI print in September may lead to a turning up of the volume from the hawks. 

PMI rush to signpost economic slowdowns? 

It’s also the time of the month when flash PMI scores start landing thick and fast. 

British and EU data is released this week off the back of last month’s reports which indicate growth is slowing in these two major economies. 

Let’s start with the UK. The IHS Markit flash composite for September indicated output had dropped to the lowest level since February. The UK’s score came in at 54.1 that month, slipping from 54.8 in August. 

Recovery appears to be stalling as we head into the winter months. Lower economic activity matched with higher inflation does not create the most positive of outcomes for Britain’s economy going forward.  

The PMI for the services sector fell to 54.6 in September from 55.0 in August, its lowest level since February when Britain was still in lockdown. Manufacturing fell from 60.3 to 56.4, which is again the lowest level since February. 

It’s the same story across the Channel. European growth was stymied by supply constraints pushing input costs the 20-year highs throughout the EU last month. Will this month’s PMI data show the same? 

In terms of scores, the IHS composite reading showed economic growth had dropped to a five-month low in September. The EU scored 56.1 that month against 59.0 in August. 

This was well below market forecasts. A Reuters poll indicated economists and analysts believed output would slow, but at the much lower rate of 58.5. 

Supply line squeezes coupled with a general slowing of GDP growth appear to be the main factors here. The EU economy is approaching its pre-pandemic size, so a slowdown was always on the cards, but not one quite so drastic. 

I would expect to see a lower EU PMI print on Friday when the latest data lands. 

Wall Street earnings keep on coming – enter the tech stocks 

Next week, we’ll be in the thick of it when it comes to Q3 earnings season. Big banks, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and JPMorgan, kicked things off for us last week. Now, it’s the turn of some big tech mega caps to share their latest financials. 

Netflix and Tesla are the two headliners to watch out for this week. Both reported strong Q1 and Q2 figures but have advised performance may start to drop off in 2021’s third quarter. 

For more information on which companies are reporting and when be sure to check out our US earnings season calendar. 

Major economic data 

Date  Time (GMT+1)  Asset  Event 
Mon 18-Oct  3:00am  CNY  GDP q/y 
  3:00am  CNY  Retail Sales y/y 
  2:15pm  USD  Industrial Production m/m 
  3:30pm  CAD  BOC Business Outlook Survey 
Tue 19-Oct   1:30am  AUD  Monetary Policy Meeting Minutes 
       
Wed 20-Oct  7:00am  GBP  CPI y/y 
  1:30pm  CAD  CPI m/m 
  1:30pm  CAD  Common CPI y/y 
  1:30pm  CAD  Median CPI y/y 
  1:30pm  CAD  Trimmed CPI y/y 
  3:30pm  USD  Crude Oil Inventories 
       
Thu 21-Oct  1:30pm  USD  Philly Fed Manufacturing Index 
    USD  Unemployment Claims 
       
Fri 22-Oct  7:00am  GBP  Retail Sales m/m 
  8:15am  EUR  French Flash Manufacturing PMI 
  8:15am  EUR  French Flash Services PMI 
  8:30am  EUR  German Flash Manufacturing PMI 
  8:30am  EUR  German Flash Services PMI 
  9:00am  EUR  Flash Manufacturing PMI 
  9:00am  EUR  Flash Services PMI 
  9:30am  GBP  Flash Manufacturing PMI 
  9:30am  GBP  Flash Services PMI 
  1:30pm  CAD  Core Retail Sales m/m 
  1:30pm  CAD  Retail Sales m/m 
  2:45pm  USD  Flash Manufacturing PMI 
  2:45pm  USD  Flash Services PMI 
  Tentative  USD  Treasury Currency Report 

 

Key earnings data 

Tue 19 Oct  Wed 20 Oct  Thu 21 Oct  Fri 22 Oct 
Philip Morris International (PM)   Verizon Communications Inc (VZ)   AT&T (T)   American Express (AXP)  
       
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)   International Business Machines (IBM)  Intel Corp (INTC)   Schlumberger Ltd (SLB)  
       
Procter & Gamble (PG)  Tesla Inc (TSLA)   Snap Inc A (SNAP)    
       
Netflix Inc (NFLX)        

 

Mixed start for European equities ahead of NFP

Morning Note

Mixed start in Europe after another positive session on Wall Street as the US Senate approved raising the debt ceiling until December. Treasury yields are higher, with the 10yr hitting 1.6%, which may cool megacap tech’s recovery. All eyes today on the nonfarm payrolls report and what this means for the Fed and tapering. 

 

Whilst European bourses are mainly in the red the FTSE 100 is trying to break above 7,100, but as noted yesterday there is moving average congestion to clear out the way just underneath this and it’s still firmly within the range of the last 6 months. The S&P 500 was up 0.83% on Thursday and has now recovered a chunk of the Monday gap and is now just 3% or so off its all-time high. Momentum just flipping in favour of bulls (we note bullish MACD crossover for futures) – has the supply chain-stagflation worry peaked? Maybe, but rising rates could undermine the big weighted tech sector in the near-term and it is unclear whether there is enough appetite among investors to go more overweight cyclicals when the macro outlook still seems somewhat cloudy in terms of growth, policy and inflation. Next week is earnings season so we either get more bullish conference calls for the coming quarters or a bit of sandbagging re supply chain issues, inflation – for the index a lot will depend on whether the C-suite is confident or cautious about their outlooks.

 

Inflation nation: We can keep banging on about inflation, but it’s well understood now. Even the Bank of England has woken up – BoE chief economist Pill warned that inflation looks to be more persistent than originally anticipated. UK inflation expectations have hit 4% for the first time since 2008 – soaring gas and fuel bills not helping. “The rise in wholesale gas prices threatens to raise retail energy costs next year, sustaining CPI inflation rates above 4 per cent into 2022 second quarter.” said Pill. Tax hikes and labour shortages also featuring in the inflationary mix. There was a rumour doing the round yesterday that BoE’s Broadbent has “taken Nov off the table”. However, with inflation racing higher it’s clear the Bank should be acting to hike in Nov to get ahead. Markets currently pricing a first 25bps rate hike fully by Feb 2022, another 70bps by the end of that year. 

 

Nonfarm payrolls watch: US employers are expected to have added 490k jobs in September, up from 235k in August, which was a big miss on the forecast. NFPs are important and could be market moving later since the Fed has explicitly tied tapering + subsequent rates lift-off to the labour market. A weak number could just dissuade the Fed from announcing its taper in Nov, but I see this as a low-risk outcome. More likely is steady progress on jobs (ADP was strong on Wed) and the November taper announcement to follow. The persistence of inflation and rising fuel costs in particular has changed the equation for the Fed entirely. Benign inflation that we were used to is no longer to be counted on to provide cover for trying to juice the labour market. The problem is not demand side, it’s supply side. Central banks are seeing rising inflationary pressures that are proving more persistent than thought. Slowing economic growth and risks to the outlook stem from the supply side not the demand side – so pumping the demand side even further into a supply side crisis is not helping matters much. 

Monthly recap: German elections, hot UK inflation and NFP miss

We recap some of the key market movers from September in this monthly round-up. 

Monthly markets recap: September 2021

Germany waves goodbye to Angela Merkel in tight federal elections 

After sixteen years at the helm, Angela Merkel will step down as German Chancellor following late September’s closely contested German elections. 

It’s a hugely fragmented result. Pretty much all parties did worse than they thought. The SPD is the majority party, but they’re still very close to the CDU to really have a massive advantage. You could only separate them with a cigarette paper really.  

The Green’s, after topping the polls four months ago, came in third while the FDP came in fourth.  

Olaf Scholtz, the leader of the SPD, now has his work cut out trying to turn these close results into a working coalition. But what we’ve seen is what our political guru and Blonde Money CEO Helen Thomas calls a Code Red for Germany – that is a shift to the left with a bit of a green hint too. 

What the next German federal government looks like now is up for debate. The Green Party is probably going to be central, after doubling their Reichstag presence, but it’s out of the CDU and FDP to see who becomes the third coalition partner. See Helen Thomas’ election round-up below for more information. 

Nonfarm payrolls’ massive miss 

Nonfarm payrolls came in well below expectations in a wobbly US jobs report.  

In August, 275,000 new jobs were added to the US economy, falling far below the 750,000 forecast. 

The unemployment rate dropped to 5.2% while labour force participation stayed unchanged at 61.7%. Hourly earnings rose 0.6% in August, surpassing market predictions of a 0.3% rise. 

Jerome Powell and the Federal Reserve keeps a close eye on the jobs report. Labour market participation has been one of the key metrics the Fed has been looking at throughout the pandemic to decide on whether to start tapering economic support. 

We know that Jerome Powell and the Fed loves a strong jobs report. But we also know that tapering is on its way anyway – likely in November. August’s job data may not have impacted decision making too much, given the tapering signals were made long before its release.  

However, Fed Chair Powell still believes the US is still far from where he’d comfortably like employment to be. 

Speaking last week, Powell said: “What I said last week was that we had all but met the test for tapering. I made it clear that we are, in my view, a long way from meeting the test for maximum employment.” 

A recent survey taken by the National Association for Business Economics showed 67% of participating economists believed job levels won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2022. 

UK inflation jumps 

August’s CPI data, released in September, showed UK inflation had reached 3.2%. That’s the highest level since 2012. 

Rising from 2% in July, the latest CPI print also showed a huge month-on-month rise in prices. Inflation soared well clear of the Bank of England’s 2% target – although the UK central bank did say it believed inflation would hit 4% in 2021. 

However, some market observers believe there is a risk that inflation will overshoot even the 4% level. 

The question is how will the BoE respond? A more hawkish tilt could be possible.  

Markets.com Chief Markets Analyst Neil Wilson said: “Unanchored inflation expectations are the worst possible outcome for a central bank they’ve been too slow to recognise the pandemic has completely changed the disinflationary world of 2008-2020. 

“My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the Bank, just like the Fed, has allowed inflation overshoots to allow for the recovery, but it’s been too slow and too generous. Much like the response to the pandemic itself, the medicine (QE, ZIRP) being administered may be doing more harm (inflation) than good (growth, jobs).” 

China intensifies its crypto crackdown 

Bitcoin was rocked towards the end of September after being hit with a body blow landed by the People’s Bank of China. 

The POBC has ruled that all cryptocurrency transactions in China are illegal. That includes all transactions made by Chinese citizens domestically and those coming from offshore and overseas exchanges. 

BTC lost over 8% and nearly dropped below the $40,000 mark on the news from Beijing. It has subsequently staged a comeback, but this latest move from China tells us a couple of important things about crypto. 

Number one: volatility is ridiculous. The fact that Bitcoin is still so susceptible to big swings on both positive and negative news shows it’s still very volatile. It seems hard to see a future driven by crypto right now if such price swings will be the norm. If this is the case, let’s hope it calms down in the future. 

Secondly, it’s that central banks are still wary of digital finance. In China’s case, it loves control.  

Beijing’s official stance is that cryptocurrency is a) illegitimate, b) an environmental disaster, and c) something it cannot control completely. Freeing finances from government oversight is the entire point of decentralised finance (DeFi) after all. In a country as centralised as China, that’s a no-go.  

China has pledged to step up its anti-crypto, anti-mining efforts further. This could cause major ripples for Bitcoin and the digital finance sector as a whole. A significant chunk of global token supply comes from Chinese miners. Someone else will have to pick up the slack. 

Oil & gas prices stage major rally 

A global gas shortage and tighter oil supplies pushed prices into overdrive towards the end of September. 

Natural gas, in particular, was flourishing. At one point, gas had climbed above $6.30, reaching highs not seen for three years. Basically, there’s not enough gas to go around. High demand from the UK and EU is pushing prices up, while the US, which is meant to be in injection season, is also suffering. Asian demand is also intensifying. 

In terms of oil, a supply squeeze coupled with higher demand caused by major economies reopening is putting a support under oil prices.  

Traders are also confident. Energy markets are the place to be right now. As such, trader activity appears to be pushing these new highs and is confident regarding the market’s overall strength. 

Goldman Sachs has also revised its oil price targets upwards. 

Goldman said: “While we have long held a bullish oil view, the current global oil supply-demand deficit is larger than we expected, with the recovery in global demand from the Delta impact even faster than our above-consensus forecast and with global supply remaining short of our below consensus forecasts. 

“The current oil supply-demand deficit is larger than we expected, with the recovery in global demand from the Delta impact even faster than our above-consensus forecast and with global supply remaining short of our below consensus forecasts.” 

Sterling HOD, FTSE weaker as markets digest slightly hawkish BoE

After a bit of time to digest the Bank of England decision, it looks to have provided that hawkish pivot we’d anticipated. But I would not say it’s enough to really tell the market that it will fulfil its mandate to keep inflation in check and ensure longer-term inflation expectations remain in check. A missed opportunity, I would say, to get a better grip on inflation expectations.

Key points

• MPC votes 7-2 to maintain QE, unanimous on rates
• Ramsden joins Saunders in voting to scale back the QE programme to £840bn, ending it immediately
• CPI inflation is expected to rise further in the near term, to slightly above 4% in 2021 Q4 – and the BoE signalled greater risk it would be above target for most of 2022
• Overall, Bank staff had revised down their expectations for 2021 Q3 GDP growth from 2.9% at the time of the August Report to 2.1%, in part reflecting the emergence of some supply constraints on output
• Shift in forward guidance: MPC noted ‘some developments … [since the August Monetary Policy Report] … appear to have strengthened’ the case for tightening monetary policy.
• Rate hikes could come early, even before end of QE: “All members in this group agreed that any future initial tightening of monetary policy should be implemented by an increase in Bank Rate, even if that tightening became appropriate before the end of the existing UK government bond asset purchase programme.”

Market reaction thus far

• GBPUSD has rallied to highest since Monday off a month low and is looking to hold above 1.37, having risen one big figure today. Needs 1.3740 for bulls to regain control, big test here with trend support recently tested at the neckline. Question is this mildly hawkish pivot is enough to put the floor under GBP. I would still argue for softer dollar into year end allow GBP (and EUR) some scope to strengthen, particularly if the BoE is progressing towards raising rates sooner than previously thought.
• That sterling strength sent the FTSE 100 lower after a solid morning session, leaving the blue chips flat on the session, around 45pts off the highs of the day. Looking now for a lift from Wall St with US futures indicated higher: S&P 500 around 4420, Dow Jones at 34,460.
• 2yr gilt yields jumped to +0.3435% from around 0.28% earlier in the day as markets moved expectations for the first 15bps rate hike forward to Feb 2022.

GBPUSD chart 23.09.2021

Summary view

The BoE trying to tell what we already know without telling us what we already know; ie, that inflation is way stickier than they thought it would be. The BoE said “there are some signs that cost pressures may prove more persistent. Some financial market indicators of inflation expectations have risen somewhat”. Somewhat what? It’s all a bit wishy washy. The problem is the dogma of transient inflation is hard to shake without admitting that they were plain wrong on a very basic assessment of the economic outlook. “The committee’s central expectation continues to be that current elevated global cost pressures will prove transitory,” the statement from the BoE said.

Earlier, PMIs show across Europe and Britain growth momentum is waning, inflation is sticking. The UK composite PMI revealed further loss of growth momentum as output slowed to the weakest in 7 months, whilst the rate of input cost inflation accelerated and charges raised to the greatest extent on record.

Taken together with the PMIs this morning and the Fed last night we are presented with a very simple picture: growth is slowing, supply constraints are deepening, inflation is proving way more persistent than central banks anticipated. This could have important consequences for monetary policy going forward, but for now the CBs are still waiting it out and getting further behind the curve. A bitter pill today has been avoided, but the medicine required will be harder to swallow when it finally comes. Rates are going to need to rise to tame inflation.

Bank of England responds to hot inflation print

The Bank of England will need to respond to biggest jump in inflation on record when it convenes this week. Inflation accelerated to 3.2% in August from 2% in July, well above the central bank’s 2% target. Could this force the BoE to tighten monetary policy sooner than had been expected? A hawkish-sounding Bank of England would be a boost for sterling. In order to be hawkish enough to nudge sterling higher and show it’s prepared to kill inflation as required, the Bank probably ought to end QE now – as the now ex-MPC hawk Andy Haldane argued for last time around. There is a clear risk inflation will overshoot the 4% forecast, let alone the 2% goal. Unanchored inflation expectations are the worst possible outcome for a central bank they’ve been too slow to recognise the pandemic has completely changed the disinflationary world of 2008-2020. Hikes will be required too in the not too distant future and the bank should appreciate that a bitter pill now would be better than even harsher medicine later on. A jobs market with 1m vacancies does not suggest the UK economy is in trouble at the moment. Wage growth remains strong – albeit the picture is very complex due to furlough, the pandemic and base effects + inflation on real wages.

Does the bank go for a more hawkish signal? That is harder to say: it’s already well into a taper and markets anticipate the BoE will be raising rates 2-3 times over the next couple of years – does it need to do more than that? The question is whether the inflation ready has got the right kind of attention that it deserves or whether the BoE is ignoring the red flags. My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the Bank, just like the Fed, has allowed inflation overshoots to allow for the recovery, but it’s been too slow and too generous. Much like the response to the pandemic itself, the medicine (QE, ZIRP) being administered may be doing more harm (inflation) than good (growth, jobs).

Stocks drop, Bitcoin weaker again

Morning Note

You couldn’t really have set it up better. On the day El Salvador made Bitcoin legal tender, the asset plunged by 16%. It’s almost as if the inherent volatility in Bitcoin makes it really bad at being a currency that people use to spend and save. After hitting a fresh high above $52,000 overnight, prices dropped to under $44,000 before finding some stability around the $45,000 area. Not a good start to its life in the mainstream. It simply underscores the fact that it is not a good means of payment or reliable store of value. The El Salvadoran government apparently bought more Bitcoin on the dip.

 

Cathie Wood of Ark was talking on Bitcoin – responding to comments by investor John Paulson. She wheeled out the Bitcoin-bro case that it’s not just digital gold, it’s new global monetary system. She said it’s not subject to the whims of policymakers – in fact it’s a hedge against the whims of policymakers. That may be or may not be, investors should be extremely cautious. The impoverished people of El Salvador don’t have much choice.

 

Stagflation: inflation plus a tax rise plus slowing growth is probably not a great setup for the UK economy. The Tories are pushing on with a regressive tax hike for workers, plus increase the tax on dividends which is going to be an extra blow to investors. It means the overall tax burden is the highest in this country since the second world war. The question that needs to be asked is a bigger one – if you can print money to pay for furlough, test and trace and the rest, why can’t you print money for social care reform?  

 

European stocks saw brisk selling in early trade after a drop for Wall Street and a weak handover from Asia. All sectors in the Stoxx 600 are down in early trade and the major bourses trade -1% to the downside. But it was another record high for the Nasdaq and again there is a slow growth feel to the stock market – things that don’t need cyclical economic growth doing well like Netflix – new all-time high – and Tesla. Cruise liners, casinos and Disney were the best performers though – signs that it’s all doom and gloom with regards Delta and vaccines. Industrials were weak but so too some of the bond proxies like real estate and utilities as bond yields rose. The Dow fell 270pts to 35,100, while the S&P 500 declined 0.34% to 4,520. It seems like the kind of uptick in consumer spend and consumption into the back end of the year will not be as strong as thought due to delta. James Bullard, a relative hawk, said tapering should go ahead soon. US futures heading lower – definite pullback mode so watch out – question is how quickly the market is to buy the dip, so schooled in doing so it is.

 

Time to sell bonds? The 10yr Treasury yield approached 1.4%, hitting a two-month high and breaking above its 200-day SMA. The July high of 1.42% and the 100-day SMA at 1.44% are in view. Gold fell as yields moved up along with the US dollar, which is recovering some ground lost over the last fortnight. USD/JPY ticked up to its best in 3 weeks, while sterling is weaker again after a sharp fall yesterday.

 

Morrisons shares are trading up a touch as the company said it will engage with the panel on a possible auction. Neither Fortress nor CD&R have declared their offers final, so a ‘competitive situation’ exists still. Shares ticked up by about half of one percent at the start of the session.

Stocks make further gains as oil bounce carries on

Morning Note

Risk is bid again: Stocks rallied for a second day this week with European bourses making gains in early trade Tuesday after a solid day on Wall St and another good handover from Asia in the wake of the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer jab, whilst markets seem to found their safe space regards Delta after last week’s wobble. European stocks maybe also got a slight boost as data showed the German economy grew faster than expected in the second quarter. Nevertheless, the Bundesbank cautioned on Monday that the Delta variant could see the country miss full-year growth estimates.

Gains in early trade come off the back off record highs on the Nasdaq, while the S&P 500 is called to open at a fresh all-time high later today. The FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine boosted shares in both companies, with the latter rallying over 9% in Frankfurt, whilst PFE was up almost 3% in New York. Moderna also rose 7%. The decision – which should increase vaccination rates in the US – helped cement the risk rally started in Asia and which followed through the European session and into the New York open. Reopening stocks like the cruise operators did well as markets bet it means more vaccines and an easier path for companies to make them mandatory. It’s also evident that booster shots will be rolled out in many countries. Energy stocks led the charge as oil prices rallied over 6% at one point, snapping a 7-day losing streak. Growth/ large cap tech/ momentum provided a solid back up, with Apple and Facebook both +1%, Tesla +3%. Keep your eyes on On Holding, a running shoemaker backed by Roger Federer. The company filed for an IPO in New York, looking at a valuation of $6-8bn after it said net sales had risen by 85% in the first half of the year. It’s said to be in more than 8,000 shops worldwide and with the Federer name backing it has a powerful brand image to lever.

Last week’s wobble hardly registered on the Richter scale – a test of the 50-day for S&P futures, almost, proving enough to get dip buyers back in the hunt. Watch the long-term MACD divergence on the daily, though we could be about to see a bullish crossover.

US 500 Chart 24.08.2021

But despite the gains in the market, the macro data keeps telling us we are well past peak growth, albeit traders are looking at a reignition of the reflation/reopening trade in September. The headline from yesterday’s PMI report for the UK economy said it all, and nothing we didn’t know already: Recovery loses momentum as supply constraints hit output growth in both the manufacturing and service sectors. The composite output index slumped to a 6-month low, with constraints on growth stemming from supply chain problems and staff shortages. Some will blame Brexit, and it may be a factor, but this is being seen everywhere in the developed world as countries rebuild post-covid. IHS Markit said incidences of reduced output due to shortages of staff or materials were x14 higher than usual and the largest since the survey began in January 1998. And just as in Europe, although there may be a sign of inflationary pressures easing from Jun/Jul peaks, higher wages due to the tightness in the labour market and severe shortages of raw materials continue to be a major problem.

US PMI data also slowed and missed expectations. The report showed the third month of declining momentum and prices keep going up, with the twin drivers of supply chains and staffing to blame.

• Services input prices 73.5 vs 72.3 prior
• Manufacturing input prices 88.4 vs 86.7 prior
• Composite input prices 75.9 vs 74.6 prior

But slowing momentum in the economy could just keep the Fed from getting too hawkish, which stock markets would certainly prefer. Stickier inflation makes it harder for the Fed to stay easy for too long – the FOMC is in a bind, and we won’t know if this is a policy mistake for some months. Declining momentum in the economic data would favour a more dovish response from the Fed. Past peak growth, past peak Delta variant worries all we can do is wait for the Fed to tell markets where to go.

Stickier inflation helping gold to maintain momentum towards the $1,800 area where we look for a possible bullish 100/200day crossover to follow up the bullish MACD.

Gold chart 24.08.2021

Oil rebounded sharply – big outside day reversal rejecting the May low suggests bulls have wrestled back control. Monday’s over 5% jump for WTI saw it snap its worst run since 2019. Although there are still big worries about demand – the market seems to be saying that the recent selling was overdone. GS analysts on Monday argued that steadily tightening markets will overcome macro trends like Delta variant worries to push prices to a new cycle high in the autumn. They are similarly bullish for base metals.

Spot Oil Chart 24.08.2021

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