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Should Investors be Worried About Stagflation?

One of the least pleasant economic environments for investors is that of “stagflation”. Growth remains weak, so it’s hard for companies to earn money….

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This article was originally published by Money Week

One of the least pleasant economic environments for investors is that of “stagflation”.

Growth remains weak, so it’s hard for companies to earn money. But inflationary pressures stay high, so margins are squeezed and monetary policy stays tight.

The latest US jobs data has some commentators already reaching for the “s” word.

Are they right to be worried?

The US jobs data springs a nasty surprise

The latest jobs data in the US showed its economy added 235,000 jobs in August.

That was a big disappointment. In normal times, that’d be a huge number, but we’re not in normal times. We’re meant to be recovering from a big economic shutdown and we’re hearing about labour shortages across the board. So markets had expected the figure to come in at more like 730,000.

Needless to say, that’s a big miss.

We shouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions. There are lots of reasons why this might have happened.

Most obviously, the last 18 months have been really weird. You can’t expect statistical series – even long-running ones – to be as reliable as usual at times like these. This data is full of estimates, guesstimates and assumptions.

Even at the best of times, the non-farm payrolls data is very prone to revision. I’ve commented here before on how ridiculous it is that the market takes it so seriously. A big miss or a big gain can drive big swings in the market – and then a month later, the figure can be revised to show the exact opposite.

Indeed, the gains for July were revised up to 1.05 million from an already very strong number.

However, if the data is relatively accurate, then what does it suggest? Most analysts reckon that the big issue is the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

As Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics points out, Delta may not just be scaring off customers, it may be putting people off returning to the labour force as well. “Close to three million [potential workers] are still missing compared with the pre-pandemic level.”

Yet at the same time, wage inflation remained strong. Despite the weak reading for actual job numbers, wages rose more strongly than expected, up by 0.6% month-on-month, and 4.3% year-on-year (accelerating from 4.1% previously).

As Ashworth adds, this puts the Federal Reserve – the US central bank – “in an uncomfortable position – with the slump in the real economy and employment growth accompanied by signs of ever more upward pressure on wages and prices.”  

From an investor’s point of view, there are two things that matter here. One is that every weak piece of data gives the Federal Reserve another excuse to delay normalising monetary policy. At the Jackson Hole conference the other week, Fed chairman Jerome Powell stuck with the story that the US central bank will start to “taper” by the end of this year, perhaps announcing it as soon as this month.

However he also emphasised the importance of the Fed’s employment target. So if the data implies that we’re further away from “full employment”, then the Fed is not going to be keen to rock the boat by being overly aggressive on tightening. I suspect that the wage data won’t matter as much to Powell and colleagues as overall employment levels.

You can see this thinking in the initial reaction to the weak data. The US dollar was a little weaker, gold was a bit stronger, and stocks ambled about a bit before deciding they weren’t too bothered.

Are we heading for stagflation again?

The second thing to keep an eye on is what this says about the economic recovery. We’re already starting to see “stagflation” headlines cropping up all over the place. This disappointing jobs report has only added to that concern.

Stagflation is a toxic mix of weak growth and high inflation – similar to what we saw in the 1970s. That’s not a decade that any investor particularly wants to repeat.

It’s understandable why this is a concern. The “misery index” – which just involves adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate – is extremely high relative to recent decades, what with unemployment remaining above pre-pandemic levels and inflation picking up sharply.

In my view, it’s probably a little early to worry about stagflation. I am quite sure that inflation is going to become a longer-term issue and won’t be “transitory”. What I’m less concerned about right now is growth.

Delta has knocked back progress on lots of fronts, and supply chains are a particular issue right now. But there’s still a lot of demand out there (otherwise wages wouldn’t be going up). And you would hope that, as a result, unemployment will fall – there’s certainly plenty of demand for labour out there.

So I wouldn’t be worrying about stagflation quite yet. But it’s certainly worth keeping an open mind.

We’ll be discussing the topic in more detail in a forthcoming issue of MoneyWeek magazine. Get your first six issues free here if you haven’t already subscribed.

Until tomorrow,

John Stepek

Executive editor, MoneyWeek

Economics

UK Gas Crisis Stuns Poultry Slaughterhouses, May Trigger Higher Chicken Prices

UK Gas Crisis Stuns Poultry Slaughterhouses, May Trigger Higher Chicken Prices

Soaring natural gas prices across the UK have disrupted companies…

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UK Gas Crisis Stuns Poultry Slaughterhouses, May Trigger Higher Chicken Prices

Soaring natural gas prices across the UK have disrupted companies from operating. The latest is slaughterhouses that use carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fertilizer derived from natural gas. 

Richard Griffiths, chief executive officer of the British Poultry Council, told Bloomberg surging natural gas prices is a massive blow for poultry companies, which frequently use a byproduct of fertilizer production -- carbon dioxide -- to incapacitate birds at slaughterhouses.

CO2 supplies are incredibly tight, Griffiths said, adding that any further shortages could create massive headwinds for the industry and hinder chicken production. Already, weekly chicken output has dropped 5-10%, and Christmas turkey production could drop by a fifth. 

The unintended consequences of natural gas shortages are the effects on the food industry and how it may result in rising meat prices if slaughterhouse output continues to decline. 

On Thursday, we outlined how CF Industries Holdings' fertilizer plants, one in Billingham and another in Ince, suspended operations "due to high natural gas prices." 

"I would expect it to be having impacts very quickly," Griffiths said by phone. "At the moment, we've got all the Brexit effects, including labor shortages, all the Covid add-ons. And now, we're seeing these supply-chain problems emerge at a time when we really don't need it." 

Energy inflation could be a company's worse nightmare in the UK -- prices for the fuel have already doubled this year, while power costs are on a record-breaking run thanks to the lack of renewable energy output

More companies could be impacted by soaring natural gas prices and elevated electricity prices. This problem isn't likely to fade anytime soon as gas inventories remain low ahead of the winter season. 

All of this is feeding into inflation across the continent. European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde recently said energy markets are a significant driver in higher inflation. To solve this, Germany has to certify Russia's Nord Stream 2 to begin receiving shipments - but as we recently noted, that could take months and may suggest European inventories won't be resupplied in time for winter. 

    Tyler Durden Sat, 09/18/2021 - 07:35
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    Economics

    US stocks close in a sea of red as tax hike fears grow

    US stocks closed the week in a sea of red on Friday September 17 after technology shares led the broad losses across segments and tax hike fears dragged…

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    US stocks closed the week in a sea of red on Friday, September 17, after technology shares led the broad losses across segments and tax hike fears dragged the benchmark indices down.

    The S&P 500 fell 0.91% to 4,432.99. The Dow Jones fell 0.48% to 34,584.88. The NASDAQ Composite Index declined 0.91% to 15,043.97, and the small-cap Russell 2000 was up 0.18% to 2,236.87.

    Markets have been volatile this week amid mixed global cues. Loses in the Asian markets over worries of slow economic recovery and recent geopolitical developments weighed on investors’ minds. The tech-savvy Nasdaq declined the most.

    In addition, the recent retail sales and unemployment data offered mixed signals about the US economy. While retails sales were up in August, jobless benefits claims rose noticeably last week.

    Meanwhile, lawmakers were considering a proposal to hike corporate tax. The news could be worrisome for some investors as a tax hike may eat into the companies’ profits. Democrats are seeking to increase the corporate tax from the current 21% to 26.5%.

    Investors will now eagerly wait for the Fed’s monthly meeting next week. The central bank officials are expected to discuss the latest economic data as they continue with the stimulus tapering talks.

    All the S&P 500 stock segments stayed in the negative territory. Technology and communications services stocks were the biggest losers, pushing the index down. Stocks of vaccine manufacturers Moderna, Inc. (MRNA) and Pfizer Inc. (PFE) plunged 3.57% and 1.34%, respectively.

    Invesco Ltd. (IVZ) stock rose 5.71% after reports that it is in talks to merge with the asset management unit of State Street Corporation (STT). STT stock declined 2.47% in intraday trading.

    SmileDirectClub, Inc. (SDC) shares surged 12.92% after the stock was discussed on social media.

    AbCellera Biologics Inc. (ABCL) stock rose 2.53%, a day after the US Food and Drug Administration extended the emergency use authorization for its covid drug Bamlanivimab.

    In technology stocks, Apple Inc. (AAPL) fell 1.94%, Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) fell 1.65%, and ASML Holdings N.V. (ASML) declined 3.18%. Adobe Inc. (ADBE) and Cisco Systems, Inc. (CSCO) fell 1.75% and 1.19%, respectively.

    In communication stocks, Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) fell 2.08%, Facebook, Inc. (FB) declined 2.96%, and T-Mobile US, Inc. (TMUS) declined 1.19%. In addition, Sea Limited (SE) dropped 1.23%, and Snap Inc. (SNAP) advanced 3.08%.

    In the material sector, BHP Group (BHP) fell 4.46%, Rio Tinto Group (RIO) fell 3.02%, and Vale S.A. (VALE) fell 2.21%. Ecolab Inc. (ECL) and Freeport-McMoRan Inc. declined 2.01% and 4.10%.

    Also Read: Check these 5 oil and gas stocks with high price-to-earnings ratio

     

    Copyright ©Kalkine Media 2021

    Also Read: ASAN, FORG, & DATS stocks shine on higher demand hopes

    Top Gainers

    Top performers on S&P 500 included Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc (6.49%), Invesco Ltd (5.46%), Centene Corp (4.95%), Diamondback Energy Inc (3.18%). On NASDAQ, top performers were Corvus Pharmaceuticals Inc (135.40%), Helbiz Inc (96.56%), Priority Technology Holdings Inc (47.23%), Innate Pharma SA (40.87%). On Dow Jones, Amgen Inc (0.93%), UnitedHealth Group Inc (0.80%), American Express Co (0.79%), Procter & Gamble Co (0.16%) were the leaders.

    Top Losers

    Top laggards on S&P 500 included Unum Group (-6.04%), International Flavors & Fragrances Inc (-5.53%), Copart Inc (-5.46%), Nucor Corp (-4.49%). On NASDAQ, Protagonist Therapeutics Inc (-62.00%), TCR2 Therapeutics Inc (-36.45%), Eliem Therapeutics Inc (-21.92%), Janux Therapeutics Inc (-20.26%). On Dow Jones, Dow Inc (-2.89%), Caterpillar Inc (-1.89%), Apple Inc (-1.83%), Microsoft Corp (-1.75%) were the laggards.

    Volume Movers

    Top volume movers were Bank of America Corp (43.29M), Nov Inc (41.49M), Apple Inc (40.72M), AT&T Inc (38.62M), Oracle Corp (37.24M), Lucid Group Inc (39.05M), Match Group Inc (36.06M), SoFi Technologies Inc (33.81M), Tellurian Inc (28.37M), Corvus Pharmaceuticals Inc (26.47M).

    Also Read: Top five mid-cap retail stocks with more than 100% YTD gain

    Futures & Commodities

    Gold futures were down 0.22% to US$1,752.85 per ounce. Silver decreased by 1.87% to US$22.367 per ounce, while copper fell 1.15% to US$4.2322.

    Brent oil futures decreased by 0.45% to US$75.33 per barrel and WTI crude was down 0.81% to US$71.97.

    Bond Market

    The 30-year Treasury bond yields was up 1.13% to 1.902, while the 10-year bond yields rose 2.43% to 1.363.

    US Dollar Futures Index increased by 0.33% to US$93.227.

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    Economics

    Victor Davis Hanson: The Death Of Science

    Victor Davis Hanson: The Death Of Science

    Authored by Victor Davis Hanson,

    The scientific method used to govern much of popular American…

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    Victor Davis Hanson: The Death Of Science

    Authored by Victor Davis Hanson,

    The scientific method used to govern much of popular American thinking.

    In empirical fashion, scientists advised us to examine evidence and data, and then by induction come to rational hypotheses. The enemies of "science" were politics, superstition, bias and deduction.

    Yet we are now returning to our version of medieval alchemy and astrology in rejecting a millennium of the scientific method.

    Take the superstitions that now surround COVID-19.

    We now know from data that a prior case of COVID-19 offers immunity as robust as vaccination. Why, then, are Joe Biden's proposed vaccination mandates ignoring that scientific fact? Dr. Anthony Fauci, when asked, seemed at a loss for words.

    Is this yet another of the scientific community's Platonic "noble lies," as when Fauci assured the public last year that there was no need for masks?

    He later claimed he had lied so that medical professionals would not run out of needed supplies.

    Fauci also threw out mythical percentages needed for herd immunity, apparently in an attempt to convince the public that it will never be safe until every American is protected from COVID-19 by vaccination only.

    And why was it that hard for the scientific community to postulate a likely origin of COVID-19 Some of the very scientists engaged in gain-of-function research oversaw an investigation with Chinese authorities. They confirmed the predetermined conclusion that the virus likely had little to do with gain-of-function engineering. And they saw little proof it was birthed in a Wuhan virology lab. Yet scientific opinion, emerging evidence and basic logic have suggested the opposite.

    How can the government hector citizens that they have a moral duty -- and soon a legal obligation -- to be vaccinated when it does not mandate vaccinations for unvetted refugees flying in from Afghanistan?

    How can the government medical community remain largely silent when an anticipated 2 million foreign nationals will cross into the United States in the current fiscal year -- almost none of whom are vaccinated or tested for COVID-19?

    Why do the media and government blame particular races for the delta variant outbreak on grounds that they were insufficiently vaccinated?

    Why wouldn't officials simply urge the Latino and Black communities to be vaccinated as quickly as possible?

    Data shows that both groups have lower vaccination rates than white and Asian populations.

    Are woke political agendas discrediting science and losing public health?

    We saw just that in June 2020, when more than 1,200 "health care professionals" signed a petition demanding exemptions from lockdowns and quarantines for Black Lives Matter protesters marching en masse. And they concocted medical excuses such as "vital to the national public health" to insist that violating quarantines was less unhealthy than not pouring into the streets.

    Why did presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, warn the American people on the eve of vaccination rollouts that an inoculation under the Trump administration could be unsafe, thereby undermining confidence in vaccines?

    Why was the medical community largely silent about such dangerous sabotaging of new vaccines, but months later became vociferous in warning the public that any doubts about the safety of these Operation Warp Speed vaccinations were scientifically misplaced? Was there a medical breakthrough on Jan. 20, 2020, to alter their consensus?

    From rewarding wokeness in medical school admissions to the peer reviewing of scientific papers, the anti-scientific mania has polluted scientific endeavors.

    "Critical race theory" would preposterously tell us that we need racism to fight racism.

    "Critical legal theory" ludicrously claims that laws have no rational basis but simply reflect power inequities.

    "Modern monetary theory" defies millennia of evidence and basic logic in stating that governments can simply print money without worrying about balancing expenditures with revenues or inflating the currency to ruination.

    Corporations are now asked to substitute a new woke agenda theory -- "Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG)" -- in lieu of market realities, rules of investment and economic data.

    Science is dying; superstition disguised as morality is returning. And we'll all soon become poorer, angrier and more divided.

    Tyler Durden Fri, 09/17/2021 - 22:20
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