Looking Ahead – Wile E. Coyote
We at Markets Policy Partners do not claim to be experts on cryptocurrency – if we were, we would probably be on a yacht somewhere rather than pounding out these briefings and reports. But while the crypto crowd can give you their latest prediction for the price outlook of Dogecoin or the merits of Ethereum versus XRP, they may not have as good a handle on how US policymakers are reorienting their approach to these assets under the Biden administration.
As we wrote this morning, Bitcoin, the flagship cryptocurrency, is trading below $50k today, which represents a 22% loss from its all-time high of nearly $64k last Thursday, with the ongoing downtrend accelerating over the past day amid news of the Biden administration’s reported proposal to hike the capital gains tax rate to 39.6% for those earning more than $1 million. These worries were compounded by rumors on Twitter yesterday that Treasury Secretary Yellen will advocate a capital gains rate of 80% on cryptocurrencies. Other popular cryptocurrencies, like XRP and Ethereum, are experiencing similar corrective episodes after their steep valuation gains year-to-date.
We doubt that Secretary Yellen will propose such a lofty capital gains tax rate targeting Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – in fact, Treasury officials may well have had a chuckle over this probably unfounded report at their senior staff meeting this morning. But we cannot rule out its veracity, and neither should crypto speculators. US policymakers have all kinds of policy justifications for a more heavy-handed approach to an asset class that is associated with tax evasion, money laundering, and other illicit activities, not to mention being a vehicle for rampant speculation, securities fraud, and investor protection problems. It is certainly to the benefit of policymakers to keep the crypto crowd on notice, as rumors like this might on the margin curb some of the ongoing criminal behavior in this space and cool the speculative frenzy through the sentinel effect (i.e. Uncle Sam is watching). For US economic policymakers, a rough patch for Bitcoin also brings the benefit of suppressing the animal spirits that have been running wild in financial markets and have threatened to make the Fed’s job of maintaining appropriately easy monetary conditions harder to achieve without risking an adverse degree of asset price froth.
Over the past few months, we had pondered whether Bitcoin and crypto in general could buck the downtrend in other “bubble basket” assets (like Tesla and the ARK Innovation ETF) and keep diverging to the upside, but they finally appear to have had a Wile E. Coyote moment over the past week, where they stop running, look down, and drop. News that the Treasury will be more proactive in taxing cryptocurrencies should come as no surprise, but it seems to have for some – and we suspect that the process of mainstreaming Bitcoin will involve further meaningful challenges to its valuation.
Plus, investors are well aware that big, splashy IPOs/listings at market highs (like Coinbase last Wednesday) can mark an inflection point (Blackstone’s IPO in 2007 was a last hurrah for the financial sector, as was the Glencore IPO in 2011 for commodity prices). Yes, these are big cyclical industries and it is clear that cryptocurrencies play by a different set of market rules, but it would not be surprising if we look back on the past week as a turning point (at least an interim turning point) for the digital asset complex.
Looking ahead to next week, Thursday’s Federal Reserve decision is the headliner, which will be preceded by a Bank of Japan meeting overnight Monday, with both expected to retain their current dovish settings. On the data front, US personal income, spending, and prices (the Fed’s favored inflation metric) for March are due on Friday, with EU and German preliminary Q1 GDP prints earlier in the week, along with EU regional economic confidence gauges, China’s March PMI, and durable goods and jobless claims in the US. Meanwhile, corporate earnings reporting will feature the heaviest concentration of mega-tech companies, like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and Tesla, which bring a greater potential for these reports to drive broader market sentiment.
- Federal Reserve Meeting
- Bank of Japan Meeting
- US Personal Income, Spending & Prices
- EU/German Q1 GDP
- China PMI
- US Initial Jobless Claims
- Corporate Earnings
Global Economic Calendar: Fed decision time
The Ifo Business Climate indicator for Germany rose to 96.6 in March, the highest level since June 2019 and comfortably above market expectations of 93.2. Companies became optimistic regarding developments over the coming months, while their assessments of the current situation were also better. Sentiment among manufacturers improved firmly as export expectations exploded due to strong demand from the US and China, while that among service providers also rose markedly. Business confidence among constructors was also back in positive territory and that among traders became less negative.
US Durable Goods Orders unexpectedly sank 1.1% m/m in February, compared to market forecasts of a 0.8% increase. It is the first decline in durable goods order in ten months, mainly due to a 1.6% drop in transportation, namely motor vehicles. Other declines were also seen in orders for computers and electronic products, fabricated metals, communication equipment, machinery and primary metals. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, dropped 0.8%, reversing from a 0.6% gain in January. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.9% and excluding defense, new orders fell 0.7%.
The day closes with a Bank of Japan Interest Rate Decision. The BoJ left its key short-term interest rate unchanged at -0.1% and maintained the target for the 10-year Japanese government bond yield at around 0% during its March meeting, as widely expected. Meantime, the central bank decided to widen the band at which it allows long-term interest rates to move around its 0% target, amid efforts to make its ultra-easy policy more sustainable on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and a continued battle to boost inflation. Policymakers removed their explicit guidance to buy ETF at an annual pace of roughly JPY 6 trillion, saying they would buy it when necessary and maintain a JPY 12 trillion ceiling for annual purchases. The BoJ also mentioned that it would allow long-term rates to move up and down by 0.25% from its target, instead of by 0.2%.
The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index in the US jumped 11.1%y/y in January, following an upwardly revised 10.2% growth in the previous month and slightly above market expectations of 11%. It is the biggest annual increase in house prices since March of 2014. Phoenix, Seattle, and San Diego continued to report the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in January. Considering the whole nine US census divisions, house prices increased 11.2%, the highest price growth since February of 2006 and following a 10.4% rise in November. House prices have been rising at faster pace in the past year amid strong house demand supported by low interest rates, the need of more space and as many people moved away from the big cities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Retail sales in Japan declined by 1.5% y/y in February, following a 2.4% drop a month earlier and compared with market expectations of a 2.8% fall. Sales continued to fall for: general merchandise, fabrics, apparel & accessories, food & beverages, fuel, and medicine & toiletry. On the flip side, sales grew for motor vehicles, machinery & equipment, and others. On a monthly basis, retail sales rose by 3.1% in February, the most since June 2020.
The annual inflation rate in Australia unexpectedly was at 0.9% in Q4 2020, compared with market consensus and the prior quarter’s figure of 0.7%. This was the highest reading in three quarters, amid a rise in tobacco excise and the introduction, continuation, and conclusion of childcare fee subsidies and home building grants. Prices increased faster for both alcohol & tobacco and education. Also, there were rises in cost of food, furnishings & household equipment, and insurance & financial services. At the same time, cost of recreation & culture was flat. In contrast, cost fell further for housing, transport, clothing & footwear, and communication. On a quarterly basis, consumer prices also went up by 0.9%, after a 1.6% gain in Q3 and above forecasts of a 0.7% gain.
The GfK Consumer Climate Indicator in Germany increased to -6.2 heading into April, the highest level for five months and well above market expectations of -11.9, due to the gradual easing of lockdown measures to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus. However, the survey took place from March 3rd to 15th, before the extension of German lockdown until April 18th and the temporary suspension of Astra Zeneca COVID-19 shots. The income expectations sub-index increased 15.8 points to 22.3, while the gauge for economic outlook rose 9.7 points to 17.7, the willingness to buy indicator increased 4.9 points to 12.3, and consumer climate rose 2.8 points to -12.7 “Another hard lockdown will seriously damage the consumer climate and the current improvement will remain a flash in the pan”, GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl said.
Retail sales in Canada dropped 1.1% m/m in January, less than market forecasts of a 3% decline. Still, it marks the second consecutive month of falls in retail sales as the resurgence of COVID-19 cases led to the reintroduction of physical distancing measures, which directly affected the retail sector. Approximately 14% of retailers were closed at some point in January for an average of three business days. Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers contracted 1 percent. Core retail sales which exclude gasoline stations and motor-vehicle, and parts dealers also posted their second consecutive decline, falling 1.4 percent because of lower sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores. In contrast, sales at gasoline stations rose 0.9%.
Wholesale inventories in the US increased 0.6% m/m in February, after a 1.4% rise in January and above a preliminary estimate of a 0.5% advance. It was the seventh consecutive month of gains in wholesale inventories. Nondurable goods stocks rose 1.1% and durable goods inventories were up 0.3%. On a yearly basis, wholesale inventories advanced 2% in February.
The US Goods Trade Balance showed a record deficit record of $86.7 billion in February from $84.6 billion in January. Exports of goods were $130.1 billion, $5.1 billion less than January exports. The biggest decreases were seen in sales of capital goods, autos, consumer goods and food and beverages. Imports of goods were $216.9 billion, $3.0 billion less than in the previous month, dragged down by a 10.7% slump in purchases of autos.
The main event of the week will be a Fed Interest Rate Decision. Minutes of the last meeting in March showed Fed officials commented on the notable rise in Treasury yields and generally viewed it as reflecting the improved economic outlook, some firming in inflation expectations, and expectations for increased Treasury debt issuance. Also, the outlook for inflation is seen broadly balanced while supply disruptions and strong demand could push it up more than anticipated. The Fed also noted that asset purchases would continue at least at the current pace until substantial further progress toward maximum-employment and price-stability goals would be realized and highlighted the importance of clearly communicating its assessment of progress toward its goals well in advance of a change in the pace of asset purchases. At the meeting, the Fed left the target range for its federal funds rate unchanged at 0-0.25% and signaled a strong likelihood that there may be no rate hikes through 2023.
The unemployment rate in Germany inched down to 4.5% in February, remaining close to the previous month’s five-and-a-half-year high of 4.6%, as the number of unemployed went down 0.3% to 2.01 million while employment was little-changed at 42.16 million. Still, the number of persons in employment in February was down by 1.7%, or 765,000, February 2020, the month before restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. The youth unemployment rate, measuring job seekers under 25 years old, declined to 6.1% percent from 6.3%.
Consumer prices in Germany increased 1.7% y/y in March, in line with preliminary estimates and following a 1.3% rise in February. It is the highest inflation rate since February of 2020 as the temporary reduction of the VAT rates ended. Reduced VAT rates came into effect on July 1st 2020 for six months, as part of government measures to support the economy during the pandemic. Higher commodity prices, a CO2 charge introduced at the beginning of the year and a base effect as last year the inflation fell, also contributed to the rise in the CPI. Main increases were seen for energy, namely heating oil, motor fuels, natural gas, fruit and dairy products and tobacco. On a monthly basis, consumer prices were up 0.5%, also in line with early estimates.
The Advanced Estimate of First Quarter GDP is expected to be 6.3%. The US economy expanded an annualized 4.3% on quarter in Q4 2020, higher than 4.1% in the second estimate, mainly due to an upward revision to private inventory investment that was partly offset by a downward revision to nonresidential fixed investment. Still, the expansion was slower compared to a record 33.4% growth in Q3 as the continued rise in COVID-19 cases and restrictions on activity moderated consumer spending. Considering full 2020, the GDP shrank 3.5%, the most since 1946 and following a 2.2% growth in 2019. The outlook for 2021 seems brighter than a few months ago as the vaccination campaign continues, the $1.9 trillion aid bill was approved, and Americans already started receiving stimulus checks.
Initial and Continuing Jobless Claims. Last week the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to 547 thousand from 586 thousand and now the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Claims came in well below market expectations of 617 thousand, as continued moves to reopen the economy continued to support the labor market, as now 50% of adults are vaccinated. An additional 133 thousand people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, up from the previous week’s which saw 131 thousand. Furthermore, continuing jobless claims, which measure unemployed people who have been receiving unemployment benefits for a extended period of time, fell to 3.67 million in the week ending April 10th, from 3.71 million in the previous period and in line with market expectations. In total, 17.405 million people received some sort of Federal assistance in the week of April 3, up from 16.913 in the previous week.
Pending home sales in the US fell 0.5% y/y in February, following an upwardly revised 13.5% rise in January. It is the first decline since May as interest rates edged up and supply was near all-time lows. On a monthly basis, pending home sales shrank 10.6%, the second consecutive month of declines. “The demand for a home purchase is widespread, multiple offers are prevalent, and days-on-market are swift but contracts are not clicking due to record-low inventory. Only the upper-end market is experiencing more activity because of reasonable supply. Demand, interestingly, does not yet appear to be impacted by recent modest rises in mortgage rates”, said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.
Japan’s unemployment rate stood at 2.9% in February, unchanged from the previous month and slightly below market consensus of 3.0%. The number of unemployed was flat at 2.03 million in February, while employment rose by 30 thousand to 66.97 million. The non-seasonally adjusted labor force participation rate edged up to 61.9%. Meantime, the jobs-to-application ratio decreased to 1.09 from 1.10. A year earlier, the unemployment rate was at 2.4%.
Industrial production in Japan dropped 1.3% m/m in February, compared with a preliminary estimate of 2.1% decline and following a downwardly revised 3.1% jump a month earlier. The industries that mainly contributed to the decline were motor vehicles, electrical machinery, and information and communication electronics equipment, transport equipment, petroleum and coal products and food and tobacco, pulp, paper and paper products. On a yearly basis, industrial output fell 2.0% in February, after an upwardly revised 5.3% decrease in January.
The official NBS Manufacturing PMI for China rose to 51.9 in March from 50.6 in February, beating market consensus of 51.0. This was the highest reading since December 2020, as factories resumed their production after being closed for the Lunar New Year holiday. Output, new orders, and buying levels all grew the most in three months, export sales returned to expansion and employment rose for the first time in eleven months. As for prices, both input costs and output charges continued to rise at a solid pace. Looking ahead, business sentiment remained upbeat.
The consumer confidence index in Japan increased by 2.2 points from the previous month to 36.1 in March, the highest since February last year, as all main sub-indices have improved: overall livelihood, income growth, willingness to buy durable goods, and employment perceptions.
Germany will release First Quarter 2021 Flash GDP Estimates. The German economy expanded 0.3% on quarter in the last three months of 2020, much better than initial estimates of a 0.1% growth, led by an 8.3% jump in gross capital formation, namely in construction and inventories. Net trade also contributed positively while consumer and government spending shrank due to the second coronavirus wave and another lockdown imposed from November. Year-on-year, the economy contracted 3.7%. Full 2020 drop was revised lower to -4.9% from a preliminary -5.3%. The German economy is seen expanding 3% in 2021, according to government estimates from late January 2021.
The consumer price index in the Eurozone was confirmed at 1.3% y/y in March, the highest since January 2020, driven mainly by higher cost for services and energy. On the other hand, prices rose at a softer pace for non-energy industrial goods and food, alcohol & tobacco. The ECB has said already it is expecting a spike in headline inflation on the back of base effects and temporary factors, warning that it may even exceed the central bank’s target by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the annual core inflation, which excludes volatile prices of energy, food, alcohol & tobacco eased to 0.9% from 1.1% in February. On a monthly basis, consumer prices climbed 0.9% in March.
The Eurozone will release the Flash Estimate for First Quarter 2021 GDP. The Eurozone economy shrank by 0.7% in the fourth quarter of 2020, following a record 12.5% expansion in the previous three-month period and an unprecedent 11.6% contraction in the second quarter due to the COVID-19 crisis. Household consumption decreased by 3.0%, and net external demand contributed negatively to the GDP as exports rose less than imports. Meanwhile, fixed investment grew by 1.6% and changes in inventories added 0.6% points to growth. Among the bloc’s largest economies, France, Italy and the Netherlands contracted in the fourth quarter, while GDP growth in Germany and Spain slowed sharply. For the year 2020 as a whole, GDP fell by 6.6%, following a 1.3% expansion in 2019.
US Personal income declined 7.1% m/m in February, down from an upwardly revised 10.1% jump in January and compared to market expectations of a 7.3% drop. It is the biggest fall on record reflecting a decrease in government social benefits to persons. Within government social benefits, “other” social benefits, specifically the economic impact payments to households, decreased. The CRRSA Act authorized a round of direct economic impact payments that were mostly distributed in January.
US Personal spending declined 1.0% m/m in February, following an upwardly revised 3.4% growth in January and compared with market consensus of a 0.7% drop. It was the largest decline in consumer spending since the April 2020 record slump as the cold weather weighed on demand and the boost from a second round of stimulus checks faded. Consumption of durable goods slumped 4.7% and that of non-durable goods dropped 2.0%. Meanwhile, spending on services was up 0.1%. Real PCE fell 1.2% in February, due to decreases in spending for both goods and services.
The personal consumption expenditure price index went up 0.2% m/m in February of 2021, easing from a 0.3% rise in January. Cost of goods increased 0.3%, easing from a 0.6% advance in the previous month, while services inflation was steady at 0.2%. Excluding food and energy, Core PCE edged up 0.1%, slowing from a 0.2%. Year-on-year, the PCE price index advanced 1.6%, the biggest gain in a year as energy cost increased and the core index increased 1.4%.
The MNI Chicago Business Barometer increased by 6.8 points to 66.3 in March, the highest level since July 2018 and above market expectations of 60.7. Among the main five indicators, production saw the largest gain, followed by new orders while order backlogs saw the biggest drop. Through the first quarter the index gained 4.4 points to 63.2, the strongest reading since Q3 2018.