Historically, bond yields have not been very good at predicting inflation.
In the last 70 years, bond yields rarely rose ahead of inflation, going up only after inflation takes hold. One study indicated that past inflation trends were a better predictor of bond rates than what future inflation turned out to be.
Does this mean bond traders are wrong? Not necessarily. It may just reflect that inflation is unpredictable and bond traders don’t know any more about the future than the rest of us. All they have is the past data and current prices to make their predictions, too. So when inflation suddenly spikes — as it has in the past — bond traders are as surprised as everyone else.
The sharp increase in consumer prices this Spring may be a blip but may also be a sign that inflation is returning as a chronic problem. For those of us who can accurately recall the 1970s economy, it is a frightening prospect. Everyone else would benefit from reading contemporaneous news coverage.
Recent events call into question pronouncements of the leading Modern Monetary Theorists who thought that the U.S. could sustain much larger deficits without triggering major hikes in the cost of living. Instead, it appears that the traditional rules of public finance still hold: deficit spending financed by Federal Reserve money creation is inflationary.
Analogies between today’s situation and the 1970s are not quite on target. By the early 70s, inflation was well underway. Instead, we should be drawing lessons from the year 1965, when price inflation began to take off. Prior to that year, inflation seemed to be under control with annual CPI growth ranging from 1.1 percent to 1.5 percent annually between 1960 and 1964 — not unlike the years prior to this one.
For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve has bucked investor expectations and taken a more hawkish policy stance. After months of projecting near-zero interest rates through 2023, yesterday the Federal Open Market Committee forecast two rate hikes by the end of 2023. With consumer prices and spending rising in tandem of late, the revised projections are a tacit admission that recent inflation may not be as transitory as the Fed has maintained.
“Is there a risk that inflation will be higher than we think? Yes,” said chair Jay Powell. The ten-year Treasury yield increased roughly 80 basis points to 1.57 percent after the press conference.
But the Fed’s revised policy outlook was not matched by an increased medium-term inflation forecast. The central bank continues to expect an average inflation rate of 2.1 percent over the next three years. Goldman Sachs’s macro researchers interpret that to mean that “the FOMC sees the 2021 inflation overshoot, which will bring the average inflation rate since the recession began above 2 percent, as largely sufficient to accomplish its averaging goal.”
Ever since the Fed adopted an average inflation target last summer, markets have been left guessing as to the time horizon over which the Fed would target 2 percent. Yesterday’s projections suggest it will be two to three years.
Decentralized Finance — or DeFi — has experienced explosive growth in the past year. But in order for DeFi to fulfill its promise as a disintermediated ecosystem that helps rather than harms, “now is the time to evaluate its benefits and dangers,” write Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach and David Gogel, a recent Wharton MBA graduate, in the article that follows. Werbach is author of the book The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trustand leads Wharton’s Blockchain and Digital Asset Project. Werbach and Gogel recently collaborated with the World Economic Forum to create the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) Policy-Maker Toolkit, providing guidance to regulators and blockchain watchers everywhere.
The market experienced explosive growth beginning in 2020. According to tracking service DeFi Pulse, the value of digital assets locked into DeFi services grew from less than $1 billion in 2019 to over $15 billion at the end of 2020, and over $80 billion in May 2021. Novel business models such as yield farming — in which holders of cryptocurrencies earn rewards for providing capital to various services — and aggregation to optimize trading across exchanges in real-time are springing up rapidly. Innovations such as flash loans, which are either repaid or automatically unwound during the course of a transaction, open up both new forms of liquidity and unfamiliar risks.
The Labor Department’s consumer price index surged 5% year-over-year in May, the largest increase since August 2008 when oil was $140 a barrel. But don’t worry, Americans. The Federal Reserve says inflation is “transitory” and that it has the tools to control prices if they start to spiral out of control. Let us pray.
Nobody should be surprised that prices are increasing everywhere from the grocery store to the car dealership. Demand is soaring as the pandemic recedes while supply constraints linger, especially in labor and transportation. As always, this is a price shock largely made by government. Congress has shovelled out trillions of dollars in transfer payments over the past year, and the Fed has rates at zero while the economy may be growing at a 10% annual rate.
The personal savings rate in April was 14.9%, double what it was before the pandemic. Record low mortgage interest rates have enabled homeowners to lower their monthly payments to burn more cash on other things. Congress’s $300 unemployment bonus and other welfare payments for not working have contributed to an enormous worker shortage, which is magnifying supply shortages.
All of this is showing up in higher prices. Over the last 12 months, core inflation excluding food and energy is up 3.8% and much more for used cars (29.7%), airline fares (24.1%), jewelry (14.7%), bikes (10.1%) and footwear (7.1%). Commodity prices from oil to copper to lumber have surged. Higher lumber prices are adding $36,000 to the price of a new home.
The Fed has embarked on a massive expansionary quest in recent years. In 2020, total Reserve Bank assets rose from $4.2 trillion to $7.4 trillion amidst the pandemic and related government lockdown and fiscal “stimulus” policies. That was roughly three times the extraordinary growth in the consolidated balance sheet for the Reserve Banks in the 2008-2009 financial crisis. And in the latest weekly “H.4.1” release, total assets were up to $7.8 trillion – rising about a hundred billions dollars a month so far this year.
Today, short and long-term interest rates on government bonds rest near historic lows, important in part because the Fed massively expanded its purchases of government bonds. But low interest rates can’t be taken for granted, particularly if we get significantly higher inflationary expectations — which appear to have begun to sprout in recent weeks.
If we get significantly higher interest rates for that reason, the Reserve Bank balance sheet impact from losses on securities assets would arrive if the losses become “realized” – a realistic prospect if the Federal Reserve reverses course and starts selling off securities as a means of conducting monetary policy amidst higher inflationary expectations.
An agreement by wealthy countries to impose minimum taxes on multinational companies faces a rocky path to implementation, with many governments likely to wait to see what others, especially a divided U.S. Congress, will do.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen hailed the deal, reached by finance ministers of the Group of Seven leading rich nations over the weekend in London, calling it a return to multilateralism and a sign countries can tighten the tax net on profitable firms to fund their governments.
In countries with parliamentary systems, governments can quickly deliver on pledges, turning them into local laws and regulations. In the U.S., however, a slim Democratic majority in the House, an evenly split Senate, antitax Republicans and procedural hurdles complicate passage.
Buy-in will also have to come from a broader group of 135 countries in what is known as the Inclusive Framework. Some countries with very low tax rates — such as Ireland, with a 12.5% charge on profit — are reluctant to sign up. The U.S. has proposed tax changes that would penalize companies from countries that don’t impose the minimum taxes.
Author(s): Richard Rubin, Paul Hannon, Sam Schechner
Congressional lawmakers from both parties are considering incentives such as providing federal funding to pay for hiring bonuses for workers and expanded tax credits for employers. A handful of states are moving to implement such programs on their own, without waiting for Washington.
Some economists, Republican lawmakers and business owners say enhanced federal unemployment benefits are contributing to the labor shortage, because many workers receive more in government aid than they would get on the job. Those benefits — $300 a week on top of regular state payments — are due to expire after Labor Day.
Other economists say the payments have provided a boost to many lower-income families, who have disproportionately lost jobs in the coronavirus pandemic, while in turn pushing money back into the broader economy.
Fiscal policy boosted U.S. GDP growth by 8.5 percentage points at an annual rate in the first quarter of 2021, the Hutchins Center Fiscal Impact Measure (FIM) shows. The FIM translates changes in taxes and spending at federal, state, and local levels into changes in aggregate demand, illustrating the effect of fiscal policy on real GDP growth. GDP rose at an annual rate of 6.4% in the first quarter, according to the government’s latest estimate.
The boost to economic growth in the first quarter from fiscal policy is largely the result of two rounds of rebate checks (the $600 per person from legislation enacted in December that was paid in January, and the $1,400 per person from the American Rescue Plan Act that was paid in the last few weeks of March). An uptick in purchases by the federal government, reflecting in part spending on vaccines and processing of Paycheck Protection Program loans, also boosted economic activity.
Author(s): Manuel Alcala Kovalski, Sophia Campbell, Tyler Powell, Louise Sheiner
Publication Date: 1 June 2021 (most recent data update)
In the United States and other developed countries, fertility tends to drop during periods of economic decline. U.S. fertility rates fell to low levels during the Great Depression (1930s), around the time of the 1970s “oil shock,” and since the onset of the recent recession in 2007 (see Figure 1). The U.S. total fertility rate (TFR) stood at 2.0 births per woman in 2009, but preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the TFR dropped to 1.9 in 2010—well below the replacement level of 2.1.1 A similar decline—or leveling off—of fertility rates has been reported in Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and several other European countries.
Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.
A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.
The strain of longer lives and low fertility, leading to fewer workers and more retirees, threatens to upend how societies are organized — around the notion that a surplus of young people will drive economies and help pay for the old. It may also require a reconceptualization of family and nation. Imagine entire regions where everyone is 70 or older. Imagine governments laying out huge bonuses for immigrants and mothers with lots of children. Imagine a gig economy filled with grandparents and Super Bowl ads promoting procreation.
“A paradigm shift is necessary,” said Frank Swiaczny, a German demographer who was the chief of population trends and analysis for the United Nations until last year. “Countries need to learn to live with and adapt to decline.”
Author(s): Damien Cave, Emma Bubola, Choe Sang-Hun.
It seems that not a week goes by without an announcement of another merger/acquisition transaction in the life insurance industry. With an overlay of persistent capital market volatility and a sharply increased focus on ESG risk factors, life insurance executives will have their plates full of challenges for the balance of 2021. Whether large national carriers or smaller regional players, virtually every life company will experience changes in their operating environment. Our panelists will share their perspectives on how these trends will shape the insurance markets and discuss the implications for credit and risk management.
Author(s): Peter Giacone, KBRA; Celeste Guth, Erinn King, David Marcinek