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What The Fed’s Rate Hike Means For Inflation, Housing, Crypto And Stocks

As expected, the U.S. Federal Reserve lifted rates 25 basis points. Here’s what experts say that decision could mean for your portfolio. What The Fed’s Rate Hike Means For Inflation, Housing, Crypto And Stocks

America’s central bank increased its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday, pushing it up by a quarter percentage point.

What The Fed’s Rate Hike Means For Inflation, Housing, Crypto And Stocks

The hike — the first since 2018 — was widely expected. But at a time when Russia’s war in Ukraine has roiled global markets, U.S. inflation is at its highest level since the 1980s and Covid-19 cases are increasing in some parts of the world, consumers and investors are contending with the prospect of rates going even higher.


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At Stake: Will stocks tank or soar? Will the pandemic-induced demand for housing continue even though borrowing costs are going up? And will rate hikes be enough to tame inflation?

“The Fed is faced with a real predicament,” said Lauren Goodwin, economist and portfolio strategist at New York Life Investments. “Even before the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the Fed was facing an inflation problem and also an expectation that economic growth would slow. The overall economic growth impact is less pronounced in the short term, but the longer the conflict drags on, the more risk we will see.”

What the Fed does to interest rates affects nearly every aspect of Americans’ financial lives, from the interest rates on credit cards and auto loans to the returns on their retirement savings.

And this increase is expected to be the first of many. Before the meeting, traders were pricing in a total of seven rate hikes this year and the Fed itself signaled six more hikes after this one.

Here’s What Experts Say Consumers Should Be Mindful Of As Interest Rates Rise:

Stocks and Retirement Accounts

An oft-cited theory is that interest rates and stock prices move in opposite directions. The idea is that equity valuations reflect the present value of a company’s future earnings, dividends or cash flows. Higher interest rates make that future money worth less today, which in turn drags down stock prices.

But history tells a different story. During the previous eight hiking cycles, the S&P 500 Index was higher one year after the first increase every single time, according to LPL Financial.

“The intuition is that higher rates are bad for stocks, particularly growth stocks,” said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer of wealth management at Northern Trust. “But if you look back to the post-global financial crisis period, stocks did well. The Fed did increase rates several times over that period, stocks rose and growth stocks outperformed value stocks.”

That’s not carte blanche to go all in on stocks, Nixon said. She worries that some investors, concerned about rising rates, may be overexposing themselves to equities and shunning bonds, bringing too much risk into their portfolios. Bond prices typically fall when interest rates rise.

“Even in a rising-rate environment, fixed income does give you diversification against risk-asset volatility,” she said, noting that a rate hike is a good time for investors to reexamine their asset allocation.

Savings Accounts

The Fed’s hike also means that the rates on so-called high-yield savings accounts will probably increase as well.

These online accounts — like the Marcus product from Goldman Sachs Inc. — became popular in the past decade as an easy way for everyday investors to keep their cash savings fairly liquid yet still earn higher returns than those offered by most regular retail banks.

When the Fed cut interest rates at the onset of the pandemic, the companies behind these accounts lowered their rates as well to maintain profits. In mid-2019, Marcus offered a 2% rate, but it’s now only 0.5%.

Although there will almost certainly be a lag, the rates on high-yield savings accounts will likely move higher as the Fed tightens policy.

“It’s this timing game that everybody is trying to play,” said Matt Miskin, co-chief investment strategist at John Hancock Investment Management. “Do you put something in now? Do you wait until it goes a bit higher?”

Still, it’s going to be a tough environment for savers, with inflation at almost 8%. That underscores the importance of having a balanced portfolio that includes both high-risk, high-return plays as well as safer bets like bonds, Miskin said.

Real Estate

Raging housing prices have everyone asking the same question — when will the market cool down?

The answer is impossible to predict, but some are hoping the Fed’s rate hikes will help temper demand and lower prices. That’s because mortgage rates will likely move higher as well, lessening the appeal of buying a home. Mortgages track the 10-year Treasury yield, which tends to move in the same direction as the Fed’s benchmark rate.

The mortgage market has already priced in some of the impact of higher rates, with the average for a 30-year loan hitting 3.85% last week, up from 3.05% at the same time last year.

“The short-term rate hikes that the Fed will embark on to try to tame inflation will certainly put upward pressure on auto loans and mortgage rates,” said Taylor Marr, deputy chief economist at real estate brokerage Redfin.

Another big factor is the end of the Fed’s bond-buying program, which helped support fixed-income markets during the pandemic. A large portion of the purchases were mortgage-backed securities, contributing to lower mortgage rates. Marr expects program’s end, alongside higher rates, to decrease demand for homes and slow price growth.

In the short term, though, increases in borrowing costs could further pinch homebuyers already struggling with the effects of inflation.

“You’ve got a higher mortgage rate and high costs for food and other things — that’s not going to be easy to manage for everyday people,” Miskin said.


Bitcoin, Ether and many other tokens have become popular with investors looking for potentially high returns, even if that means more risk compared to traditional assets, like stocks or bonds. Government stimulus checks also prompted new investors to begin trading during the pandemic, and a fair amount of that money ended up in crypto markets.

“Rising rates are like a wet blanket on crypto,” said Matt Hougan, chief investment officer at Bitwise Asset Management. If investors can find yield in lower-risk corners of the market, that suddenly makes crypto less attractive. Bitcoin prices have slumped around 40% from their high in November, and Ether has lost nearly 45%.

However, some recent developments in the crypto space may help reduce its risk. Greater regulatory clarity is taking shape, particularly after President Joe Biden signed an executive order earlier this month that industry participants viewed as “benign.” Institutional investors and venture capitalists have also flocked to the space, giving it more liquidity.

The Future

The number of rate hikes this year will depend on factors like inflation, economic growth and geopolitical risks. Estimates from Wall Street economists vary widely, with some predicting as many as seven total in 2022.

Others believe that estimate is overblown. Miskin at John Hancock expects the Fed to “start like a hawk and end like a dove” this year — essentially, the central bank will raise rates in the first half to combat inflation, but not as aggressively as some are predicting.

“We do believe there is downside risk to the global economy given the Russian war and the spike in commodity prices,” he said. “That’s going to potentially dent global growth.”

For consumers, the biggest focus is likely on inflation, which they can feel in everyday purchases. The Fed hikes will help lower prices, but not immediately, according to Goodwin at New York Life Investments.

“What they are hoping to achieve by raising interest rates is that by increasing the cost of financing they can slow demand on the margin for some of the goods and services that have seen such large increases in prices,” she said. “That process takes time.”

What The Fed’s Rate Hike Means For Inflation, Housing, Crypto And Stocks
The stock market is likely to push higher even as the Fed embarks on its first interest rate hikes since 2018, LPL says.

History shows the S&P 500 can climb following multiple interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve , LPL Financial said Wednesday as investors prepared for the US central bank to start raising rates for the first time since 2018.

The Fed on Wednesday was set to start ramping up interest rates from the ultralow range of 0%-0.25% where it was cut in 2020 as policymakers responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The S&P 500 has suffered this year in part as investors anticipate the Fed will issue a string of rate increases to combat inflation that’s jumped to a 40-year high of 7.9% as of February. The S&P 500 was down about 9% through Tuesday’s session, with all but the energy sector in the red, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to rocking US stocks and other global equities lower.

The central bank led by Jerome Powell was widely expected to lift off with 25 basis points, or 0.25%, with markets pointing to the possibility of three to four more moves in 2022.

While borrowing costs will become more expensive, the S&P 500 equity benchmark can manage to advance under such conditions, LPL Financial said as a reminder in a note.

The “Fed rarely kicks off a new cycle of hikes with a 50 basis point hike. It is later in the cycle that tends see 50 basis point hikes or larger,” said Ryan Detrick, LPL’s chief market strategist, adding that stocks “tend to do just fine” during periods of multiple rate increases.

“The mid-2000s cycle is what has our attention, as there were 17 total rate hikes in 2004, 2005, and 2006, yet the S&P 500 managed to gain in every year,” he said.

In that two-year cycle, the fed funds rate went up from 1% to 5.25%. The S&P’s annualized return was 5.6% during the period.

“Investors need to remember that Fed rate hikes usually happen near the middle of the economic cycle, with potentially years left of gains in stocks and the economy,” said Detrick. “In fact, a year after the first hike in a cycle has been fairly strong, higher a year later the past six times.”

One of LPL’s charts showed the S&P 500 was up 9.1% a year after the Fed in December 2015 increased rates by 0.25% under then-Chair Janet Yellen, To achieve that, the index had to overcome a loss of 1.1% in the three months after liftoff.

The chart’s largest advance of 39.6% took place a year after the March 1997 rate hike of 0.25%. But the equity benchmark dropped by 11.7% in the 12 months after a quarter-percentage point increase in April 1987. The Black Monday stock crash unexpectedly took place in October 1987.

When the Fed raised rates by a hefty 0.5% in August 1983, the S&P 500 returned 2.1% a year later.

“The bottom line is rate hikes usually aren’t bearish events and we don’t expect this cycle to be any different,” said Detrick.

Updated: 3-16-2022

Biden Is Calling Out The Surge In Gas Prices — Again

* Pump Prices Will Come Down Eventually As Crude Eases: Analyst
* Biden Is Grappling With Soaring Inflation And Energy Costs

Oil prices may have eased, but gasoline at the pump hasn’t — a familiar problem for the Biden administration grappling with elevated inflation in the U.S.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures, the U.S. benchmark, have dropped from multi-year highs above $120 a barrel touched after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the national average for retail prices is still above $4 a gallon.

The near record-high price levels pose a significant issue for President Joe Biden as he looks to provide relief for American households struggling with soaring energy costs. A second planned release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve this month has had a muted effect.

“Last time oil was $96 a barrel, gas was $3.62 a gallon. Now it’s $4.31,” Biden said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Oil and gas companies shouldn’t pad their profits at the expense of hardworking Americans,” he added.

Yet, there is always a lag between movements in crude oil and pump prices as it takes time for costs to filter through the supply chain — from wholesale prices down to so-called racks that are the source of supplies for gas stations.

The time it takes to acquire crude, refine it and ship fuel to distribution facilities and service stations helps contribute to the lag, said Garrett Golding, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “It’s not price gouging or a grand plot by the industry,” he said on Twitter. “This is how the business functions.”

Prices at the pump also more closely track movements in the gasoline futures market. Over the last week, gasoline futures traded in New York have tumbled by about 70 cents, clawing back nearly 77% of the recent surge, said Omair Sharif, president of Inflation Insights LLC.

“Unfortunately, pump prices typically adjust much faster on the way up than on the way down, so it’ll take a few weeks for the latest move to filter into what you see at the station,” Sharif said. “Still, if things hold as they are now, the national average should be back below $4 per gallon in the next month (by around mid-April) and closer to $3.80-$3.85 per gallon by late April.”

That hasn’t quelled mounting political pressure from Democrats blaming oil companies for high prices. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer bemoaned “the bewildering incongruity between falling oil prices and rising gas prices,” saying it “smacks of price gouging,” and that oil executives will be held accountable.

“The Senate is going to get answers, and that’s why we will be calling on the CEOs of major oil companies to come testify before Congress,” Schumer said.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, also seized on Tuesday’s crude price plummet to blame sustained high gasoline prices on “profiteering” and warn “there should be consequences for it.”

The oil industry’s top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, has highlighted that some 95% of retail filling stations are independently owned and not operated by oil companies.

“Across the economy, retail prices in many industries go down slower than they go up — this isn’t a new phenomenon,” said Frank Macchiarola, API’s senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs. “As we’ve seen in the past, it takes time for changing market conditions to work through the supply chain and for the price of crude oil to be widely reflected in the price we pay at local gas stations.”

In November, a group of major oil-consuming nations including the U.S. announced a coordinated plan to release crude from strategic reserves in order to bring down soaring energy costs. Prices at the pump were slow to come off then, too.

Despite elevated pump prices, there is no sign of demand destruction yet. The four-week average gasoline product supplied, a gauge of demand, is at the highest level this year, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed.

Germany Warns Gas Stations It’s Watching Out For Price Gouging

* With Oil Declining, Pump Prices Should Too, Watchdog Says
* Minister Habeck Pushes For ‘Action’ In Case Of Bad Behavior

Germany warned gas station operators and refiners that it’s keeping a close eye on fuel prices and would hit back if authorities find that gouging is taking place.

The Economy Ministry asked the country’s competition watchdog to monitor fuel prices and “take action” in case of bad behavior, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement on Wednesday.

The war in Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions against Russia drove wild price swings in oil. Brent crude had surged to nearly $140 a barrel earlier this month, only to swiftly fall back to below $100 this week. German authorities are now expecting gasoline and diesel prices at the pump to follow suit.

“The oligopoly situation on the German fuel market has long been a structural problem,” Habeck said. “It’s not right if companies make inappropriate profits from the current situation.”

Fuel costs have become a political issue with regional elections later this month in Saarland on the French border — the first since national elections in September. Truckers are planning to disrupt Autobahn traffic on Wednesday to protest increased costs, local media reported.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner has proposed a gasoline rebate to help motorists and businesses struggling with higher pump prices, but Habeck’s Greens have pushed back saying there needs to be broader support.

The Federal Cartel Office — Germany’s antitrust authority — receives price data from all fuel companies in the country and is evaluating the causes of price trends.

“If crude oil prices fall again and gas station prices don’t follow or even continue to rise, we have to take a close look at this,” Andreas Mundt, the agency’s president, said Wednesday in a press release. “This includes several market levels: from the crude oil market to refineries and wholesalers to gas station operators.”


Updated: 3-23-2022

Bitcoin’s Correlation To S&P 500 Hits 17-Month High

The 90-day correlation between the top cryptocurrency and the S&P 500 has risen to its highest level since October 2020.

The perennial debate of whether bitcoin (BTC) is a gold-like haven asset or a risky investment may heat up as the cryptocurrency’s sensitivity to stock markets increases – amid concerns the Federal Reserve’s aggressive tightening plans may tip the U.S. economy into recession.

The 90-day correlation between bitcoin, the top cryptocurrency by market value, and Wall Street’s benchmark equity index, the S&P 500, rose to 0.49 on Friday, the highest since October 2020, according to data tracked by Arcane Research.

“Bitcoin’s correlation to the S&P 500 has only been higher for five days in BTC’s history, showing that the current correlation regime is unprecedented in BTC’s history,” according to Arcane Research’s weekly newsletter published on Tuesday.

The correlation has strengthened alongside a relentless tightening of the U.S. Treasury yield curve, a sign the Fed may have a hard time avoiding much-feared stagflation with rapid-fire interest rate rises without destabilizing the economy. The yield curve, represented by the spread between the 10- and two-year yields, is now just 20 basis points (bp) short of inversion, or turning negative – an unusual setup that’s often viewed as a recession indicator.

So the long-held crypto market belief of bitcoin being a digital haven is yet to come to fruition.

“I wish I could say that crypto is really responding to fundamentals [high inflation], but I think the chief fundamental here is the crypto is responding to the rise in equity prices,” Marc Chandler, managing director and chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex, told CoinDesk TV when asked about bitcoin’s recent rise.

Are Stocks An Inflation Hedge?

The rising correlation comes as some analysts in traditional financial markets are starting to argue that stocks might actually serve as a decent hedge against inflation – because companies could theoretically raise prices to protect their profit margins.

It’s a shift in focus that brings the stock market narrative closer to that of bitcoin, which has long been viewed by many investors as a potential hedge against fast-rising prices or a depreciating U.S. dollar.

The cryptocurrency has risen 8% since the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points, or 0.25 percentage point, last Wednesday, the first hike since 2018. Officials with the U.S. central bank also raised their inflation forecasts.

Bitcoin’s price move higher since then has some wondering whether investors are parking money in the cryptocurrency to hedge against inflation.

However, the ascent seems to have been powered by the uptick in the stock markets. The S&P 500 has risen 6% since the Fed rate hike and the tech-heavy Nasdaq index has rallied by 8.7%, according to data provided by charting platform TradingView.

“What I am interested in is the change in bitcoin and change in Nasdaq and what you find is the correlation is over 60%,” Chandler said. “The stock market [has been] going bid.”

What Could Drive Bitcoin’s Price Higher?

According to Noelle Acheson, head of market insights at Genesis Global Trading, macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainties seem to be keeping bitcoin from drawing store of value bids. Genesis is owned by Digital Currency Group, of which CoinDesk is an independent subsidiary.

“One of the main reasons is uncertainty,” Acheson said in a LinkedIn post. “Bitcoin is a volatile asset, and in times of uncertainty, harnessing that volatility – which is usually a feature, not a bug – is difficult enough to dissuade even the most experienced volatility traders. This is especially acute in the current market, given that the uncertainty is driven largely by the war in Europe, and it is hard to predict outcomes when we do not know if the news emerging from the conflict zone is trustworthy.”

In the post, titled “Bitcoin’s battle,” Acheson added: “The outlook for rates is also a source of significant market uncertainty, as last week’s hike of 25 [basis points] will not make a dent in the inflation already hurting consumers’ pockets, let alone that which is yet to come.”

Bitcoin was last trading near $42,180, representing a 0.8% drop on the day. Since late January the cryptocurrency has been restricted between $36,000 to $45,000.

Per Acheson, bitcoin needs needs “either renewed speculation or new macro investment to be able to break out of the current range.”

Updated: 4-12-2022

U.S. Inflation Accelerated To 8.5% In March, Hitting Four-Decade High

What The Fed’s Rate Hike Means For Inflation, Housing, Crypto And Stocks

Consumer-price index increase from year earlier driven by skyrocketing energy and food costs.

U.S. inflation surged to a new four-decade high of 8.5% in March from the same month a year ago, driven by skyrocketing energy and food costs, supply constraints and strong consumer demand.

The Labor Department on Tuesday said the consumer-price index—which measures what consumers pay for goods and services—last month rose at its fastest annual pace since December 1981, up from the 7.9% annual rate in February. Rising prices have been unrelenting, with six straight months of inflation above 6% that is well above the Federal Reserve’s average 2% target.

U.S. stocks gave up their early gains and government-bond yields declined following the inflation report.

High inflation is the downside of booming growth as the economy bounces back from Covid-19, powered in part by low interest rates and government stimulus to counter the pandemic’s impact.

The Fed’s top goal is to reduce inflation, Fed governor Lael Brainard said Tuesday at The Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit. The central bank faces a tough balancing act of tightening monetary policy without damping growth.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove a March surge in oil and gasoline prices, which hit records in mid-March, and overall energy prices shot up 11% from the prior month, the department said. Prices for groceries accelerated in March, rising 1.5% from a month earlier, while the cost increases for dining out moderated.

The so-called core price index, which excludes the often-volatile categories of food and energy, increased 6.5% in March from a year earlier—up from February’s 6.4% rise, and the sharpest 12-month rise since August 1982.

Economists and investors are looking for evidence the inflation surge that started in early 2021 is close to a peak. One possible early sign came from the monthly change in the core index. It rose 0.3% in March from the prior month, the slowest pace in six months, driven by a 3.8% decline in used vehicle prices.

Another encouraging sign was that airline fares, hotel prices and other more volatile categories drove much of the price gains for services, while pressure from categories such as housing, which tend to be more persistent, eased, said Blerina Uruci, U.S. economist at T. Rowe Price Group Inc.

However, Ms. Uruci added that supply-chain constraints continue to push prices up, except for an easing of the costs for used cars.

“The other red flag is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rise of Covid in China,” she said. “Those pose risks that the so-called normalization of supply chains takes longer to materialize.”

China has in recent weeks locked down parts of the country, including Shanghai, as Covid-19 cases hit a pandemic record there, leading to the possibility of additional supply disruptions.

U.S. airline fares leapt 10.7% in March from February, accelerating as travel demand recovered from the last Covid-19 wave. Air-travel prices were 23.6% higher than they were a year earlier.

Auto prices, which have powered much of the inflationary surge, eased in March. New vehicle prices decelerated on a one-month basis, rising 0.2% in March from the prior month.

However, the 12.5% 12-month increase was the sharpest since 1975. Despite the monthly decline in used-vehicle prices, those were still up 35.3% from a year earlier.

Persistently higher prices come as the overall economy is strong and the labor market is tight. Employers added 431,000 jobs in March, the 11th consecutive month with gains above 400,000—the longest such stretch since records began in 1939.

High and rising inflation readings have cranked up pressure on the Fed to keep lifting interest rates this year to lower price pressures. The central bank raised its benchmark rate in March for the first time since 2018.

With job growth strong and inflation well above the Fed’s target, many Fed officials have indicated they could support raising rates by a half percentage point—instead of the traditional quarter point—at their next meeting in early May.

Food inflation is also raising consumers’ grocery bills. Meat prices were up 14.8% in March from a year ago, with hot dogs and lunch meats rising at the fastest clip since 1979. Breakfast cereal prices climbed 9.2% in the past year, the sharpest increase since 1989.

The Ukraine crisis is likely to add more pressure in coming months because of disruptions to global wheat and fertilizer production.

The burden of price rises could be triggering a consumer pullback, said Richard F. Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. Consumer spending decelerated in February, rising 0.2% from January, though it remains strong—up 13.7% from the same month in 2021.

“There’s an element of sticker shock when people go to fill up their tank or go to the grocery store. Lower- and middle-income households are already having to make choices about what to buy because they’re having to pay so much more for food and energy,” Mr. Moody said.

Alex Salwisz, 40 years old, is facing the rising costs of raising his five children. “The thing about having a big family is that each incremental increase is multiplied,” he said.

He said he has tried to substitute generic food products for name-brand foods as prices shot up—not always successfully. His children—ages 3 to 12—pushed back recently when he sneaked a bag of off-brand marshmallow cereal into a Lucky Charms box.

“It didn’t pass,” said Mr. Salwisz, a program manager in information technology who lives in the Denver suburbs. “They had a little revolt, and more than one of them told me I shouldn’t do that again.”

Inflation has eroded their living standard in other ways, Mr. Salwisz said. The children have grumbled when the family crams uncomfortably into the smaller of two vans to save on gas. They have substituted a fast-food meal for the once-a-month sit-down dining experience.

He and his wife, Amber Salwisz, are considering scrapping plans for summer camp because of a sharp increase in prices. One partial-day camp increased its price to $800 a week this summer from $500 the prior.

The bounceback in demand for travel, dining and other services as Covid-19 cases decreased is also driving price gains, and could gain momentum as summer holidays spur more recreational spending. A steady upswing in housing costs, which account for nearly one-third of the CPI, is also adding to inflationary pressure.

Solid demand for labor has shifted bargaining power toward workers, putting upward pressure on wages, which could feed into broader price gains. Annual wage growth was 6% in March, the fastest pace since records began in 1997, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s wage tracker.

Still, wages for most are growing too slowly to offset inflation. This could push workers to demand higher wages, creating a feedback loop that puts upward pressure on inflation.

“Inflationary pressures are building across the basket but also across both prices and wages. We need to see that process start to settle down,” said Robert Rosener, senior U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley.

One indicator of building inflationary pressure moderated in March. Consumers’ median inflation expectation for three years from now fell to 3.7% last month, down from 3.8% in February, according to a survey by the New York Fed released on Monday. However, the median expectation for inflation a year from now shot up to 6.6% from 6% in February.

Ron Mayland, an aerial photographer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has experienced the triple-whammy of high costs from energy, supply-chain disruptions and labor.

“If you think filling up a car is expensive, try an airplane,” he said, adding that he puts hundreds of dollars’ worth of fuel in the tank every day. When he needed to buy small parts to repair one of his plane’s oil-pressure systems, it took him two or three days to find the materials and they cost twice as much as he expected.

“I’m still getting sticker shock when pulling up to the pump, and then for the parts and the repairs—that’s where it’s really hitting me,” he said. “It seems like the numbers are just getting bigger.”

Updated: 4-13-2022

Supplier Prices Rose (11.2%) Sharply In March, Keeping Upward Pressure On U.S. Inflation

Key reading of producer-level inflation rose at an 11.2% annual rate, the fourth straight month of double-digit increases.

Suppliers raised prices sharply last month, a sign inflation continues to percolate through the U.S. economy.

The Labor Department on Wednesday said the producer-price index, which generally reflects supply conditions in the economy, increased a seasonally adjusted 1.4% in March from the prior month, a pickup from an upwardly revised 0.9% gain in February.

Producer prices rose 11.2% on a 12-month basis, compared with an upwardly revised 10.3% increase in February. That marked the fourth consecutive month with a double-digit gain and was the highest since records began in 2010.

The upswing in producer prices was a signal that strong demand, fueled in part by government stimulus, continues to collide with supply-chain disruptions, pushing prices higher.

This dynamic is being exacerbated by rising energy and commodities prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China also has locked down parts of the country in recent weeks as Covid-19 cases hit a pandemic record there, leading to the potential for additional supply disruptions.

“The severe imbalance between robust demand and handicapped supply will persist throughout [the second quarter], keeping producer-price inflation sticky and elevated until price pressures start to decelerate in the latter part of 2022,” said Mahir Rasheed, U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “With a new wave of lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine raging on, however, risks to the inflation outlook remain firmly to the upside.”

The report comes a day after the government said consumer prices increased by 8.5% in March to a four-decade high, adding pressure on the Federal Reserve to speed up a series of interest-rate increases expected in May and June.

These developments complicate the Fed’s tough challenge to cool inflation without causing unemployment to rise. The Fed’s top goal is to curb inflation, Fed governor Lael Brainard said Tuesday at The Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit.

Persistent inflation comes as the overall economy is strong and the labor market is tight. March marked the 11th consecutive month with job gains above 400,000—the longest such stretch since 1939, when records began.

With job growth booming and inflation well above the Fed’s average 2% target, many Fed officials have indicated they could support raising rates by a half percentage point—instead of the traditional quarter point—at their next meeting in early May.

The producer-price index measures what suppliers are charging businesses and other customers. The index generally captures the changes in input costs that producers are facing. Those don’t necessarily feed directly into the prices consumers pay, though they can reflect inflation pressure building throughout the production pipeline.

Economists are watching the numbers closely for signs that inflation pressures are easing. They also are keeping an eye on the PPI to predict the trajectory of the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the personal-consumption-expenditures price index, which is drawn largely from the consumer-price index, but also from certain components from the PPI.

The so-called core PCE price index, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, rose 5.4% in February from a year earlier, the biggest increase since 1983 and up from a 5.2% increase for the year through January.

March’s increase suggested that businesses continue to struggle with high costs but are also passing on those costs.

Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, flagged big gains in the measure of margins for wholesalers and retailers in March. “The latter indicates that retailers, despite all of the cost increases they are seeing, are expanding their profit margins,” he said.

In another signal of acute price pressure, some 72% of small businesses in March reported raising their average selling price, on net, the highest in 48-year history of the survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade association.

Some 50% of respondents said they planned to raise prices in the next three months, up four percentage-points from February, according to the survey, which was released Tuesday. The share of small businesses flagging inflation as their single most important problem jumped to 31%, the highest since January 1981.

The so-called core producer-price index—which excludes the often-volatile categories of food, energy and supplier margins—climbed 0.9% in March from a month earlier, after increasing 0.2% in February.


Updated: 4-19-2022

Crypto Stocks Perform Worse Than Cryptocurrencies

Coinbase is off 40% so far this year as trading volume sinks; TeraWulf, Marathon Digital and Riot Blockchain are down sharply as well.

The picks and shovels of the cryptocurrency world have been a worse bet lately than cryptocurrencies themselves.

The cryptocurrency market has been in selloff mode recently even as hundreds of millions of people now trade bitcoin, ether and other digital assets. Bitcoin is down 11% this year.

Ether is down 16%. As of Monday, the entire crypto market had fallen about 19%, though prices were off their year lows, according to data from CoinMarketCap.

Stocks of publicly traded, crypto-focused companies, however, are doing worse, falling as much as 60% so far this year, according to FactSet.

The largest U.S. exchange, Coinbase Global Inc., is down 40% year to date. Silvergate Capital Corp. is down 11%. Marathon Digital Holdings Inc. is down 35%. Riot Blockchain Inc. is down 33%. TeraWulf Inc., a bitcoin-mining companybased in Easton, Md., is down 61%.

The combined market capitalization of crypto companies that trade publicly has fallen to roughly $60 billion from $100 billion in November, when bitcoin rose to a record, according to JPMorgan analysts. More than half that slide—roughly $20 billion—came from Coinbase alone.

On Monday, Coinbase closed at $145.16, the lowest price since its public debut in April 2021. It rose to $151.27 in Tuesday trading.

The divergence between cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency companies shouldn’t be a surprise, said Nicholas Colas, co-founder of research firm DataTrek. There is always some difference between the value of an asset and the companies that build businesses around that asset, he said.

Bitcoin and its peers, Mr. Colas said, are driven by consumer interest and usage, but companies such as Coinbase, Silvergate and Marathon derive their value from how well they sell their products to customers

The same dynamic can be seen in the oil and gold markets, as well as for other commodities.

For Coinbase, whose $33 billion market cap makes it the largest U.S. crypto company, the overriding issue is simply that trading volume has fallen sharply. For the top 10 exchanges, trading volume declined 40% from the fourth quarter to the first, according to research firm CoinGecko.

Coinbase derives substantially all of its revenue from transaction fees. Coinbase was averaging about $4 billion in trading volume a day in January, according to data from analytics firm Nomics. So far in April, it has averaged $2.6 billion a day.

Additionally, Coinbase said it planned to invest heavily in the business in 2022 and that could push the company into a loss if trading continued to fall.

Analysts slashed their estimates of Coinbase’s first-quarter earnings per share from $1.89 in November to 2 cents in April, according to analysts on FactSet.

Crypto stocks have also been swept up in the fintech selloff that began in the fall and have decoupled to an extent from the underlying crypto market, said BTIG analyst Mark Palmer.

Technology stocks have been slumping since the Federal Reserve and other central banks signaled a rise in interest rates. The higher rates make riskier investments relatively less attractive. Affirm Holdings Inc. is down 63% this year, while PayPal Holdings Inc. is off 45% and Lemonade Inc. is down 44%.

The stock prices of crypto mining companies—the companies that actually process crypto transactions and keep the networks alive—tend to be volatile because their shareholder base is mostly individual investors, said D.A. Davidson analyst Chris Brendler.

“Miners are a different animal in a lot of ways,” he said.

Miners do nothing but run hardware that processes crypto transactions, mostly bitcoin. The category doesn’t attract a lot of institutional investment. The fewer number of long-term holders tends to lead to a boom-and-bust trade, he said.

Mining hardware is expensive and must run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Investors are concerned about how they will finance new equipment purchases with stock prices down and lower crypto prices cutting into mining profitability, Mr. Brendler said.


Updated: 4-25-2022

Sam Bankman-Fried And Matt Levine On How To Make Money In Crypto

Tons of money is entering the space. But what’s it going to do?

The price of major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have been moving sideways for awhile. But it doesn’t seem like there’s any slowdown in terms of money entering the space. Every day, some new fund is being launched or some legacy financial institution is diving into it. But what’s all this money going to do?

On this episode we speak with Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO and co-founder of FTX, as well as Bloomberg Opinion columnist, Matt Levine, the money making opportunities that people are exploiting, whether it’s directional bets on coins or yield farming or arbitrage, and how much potential profit there is for the taking.


Updated: 4-29-2022

Labor Costs Jump By Most In 2 Decades, Adding To Inflationary Surge

This move adds more pressure on the Federal Reserve to hike rates fast.

U.S. employment costs jumped by the most in two decades, adding pressure on the Federal Reserve to keep inflation in check and possibly opening a new chapter in the bitcoin (BTC) market narrative.

The employment cost index (ECI), a lesser-known economic indicator that tracks wages and benefits, rose by 1.4% in this year’s first quarter, according to a report published by the Labor Department Friday.

Labor costs increased 4.5% compared to a year ago. Analysts had expected a 4.3% jump.

This means that employers are paying workers 1.4% more on average than three months ago, signaling a tight labor market. Higher wage costs might add further pressure on inflation, already at at four-decade high of 8.5% – that has so far largely been blamed on supply-chain disruptions and commodity-price increases due to COVID-19 restrictions and, more recently, the Ukraine-Russia war.

Bitcoin traders and analysts monitor inflation because the largest cryptocurrency by market value is considered by some investors to be a hedge against inflation, or as a risky asset whose price can rise or fall depending on Federal Reserve monetary policy and the U.S. dollar’s strength in foreign-exchange markets.

The labor market is currently at or near full employment, meaning that nearly everyone who wants to work has a job. There were 11.3 million job openings in February but only 5.4 million people were looking for a job that month.

The ECI is widely watched as an indicator of the current labor market situation. In essence, it measures inflation in wages. Especially during the Alan Greenspan era of the Fed, the ECI was seen as the most reliable measure to track labor costs.

Another index published Friday by the Commerce Department was the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, the Fed’s preferred measure to track inflation.

The PCE, which tracks inflation in a more comprehensive way than the widely followed consumer price index (CPI), climbed 6.6%, up from 6.4% in February, a fresh 40-year high.

The Fed is widely expected to raise the benchmark U.S. interest rates by 50 basis points (0.5 percentage point) at its May meeting next week. In a panel hosted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that “it may be that the actual [inflation] peak was in March, but we don’t know that, so we’re not going to count on it.”

He added that it might be appropriate to “move a little more quickly” in tightening monetary policy to keep inflationary pressures in check.

With the ECI growing at such a fast pace and PCE at a fresh high, analysts are increasingly expecting the Fed to raise its interest rate by 75 basis points in June, according to data from the CME Group’s FedWatch tool. Market-implied odds of a 75 basis point increase in June are currently 99.1% versus 15.9% a month ago.


Updated: 5-6-2022

Bitcoin’s Rocky Road To Becoming A Risk-Off Asset

Bitcoin has long been known as a “store of value,” but is the world’s largest cryptocurrency transitioning to becoming a risk-off asset in 2022?

Thursday was a bloodbath for traditional and cryptocurrency markets. On the worst day of trading since 2020, Bitcoin (BTC) dropped over 7%, while the Nasdaq slipped over 5%.

Many hoped for capitulation in the trade and crypto markets, and although the short-term outlook for Bitcoin looks weak, one analyst and some evidence would suggest that Bitcoin is still on course to becoming a risk-off asset.

Markets are by no means math-based or infallible, but a risk-off asset describes an asset that performs well–or is an asset that investors flock to–when overall market sentiment wanes.

Government bonds are risk-off assets. Conversely, tech stocks and cryptocurrencies are considered risk-on assets. Risk-on assets perform well when the overall “mood” in the market is up and when the United States Federal Reserve isn’t hiking interest rates.

Nonetheless, one Bloomberg analyst shared an interesting graph describing “adoption, maturation and Bitcoin beating equities,” implying that Bitcoin may finally be showing its colors as a safe harbor during troubled waters.

The graph shows that volatility in Bitcoin and the performance of Bitcoin is outcompeting that of the Nasdaq 100 stock index.

Crucially, Mike McGlone explained that “the crypto market at the start of May appears as a nascent revolution in fintech and money.”

“The fact that the world’s most fluid, 24/7 trading vehicle — Bitcoin — was down only about 15% in 2022 to May 3 vs. 20% for the Nasdaq 100 Stock Index may portend the crypto transitioning to a risk-off asset.”

Mike McGlone, the author of the report interviewed with Cointelegraph in January this year. McGlone suggested that the transition of Bitcoin to become a risk-off asset “will propel it to $100K in 2022.”

Crucially, he described that “what’s happening to advance money and finance into the 21st century is unstoppable.”

To back up the argument, according to one chart provided by InvestAnswers YouTube, over the past 90 days, Bitcoin is up 6% vs. the Nasdaq’s 12% lows.

Ultimately, Bitcoin has slowly proved itself as a store of value, or Gold 2.0, as the Winkelvoss twins describe it. However, with the worsening macroeconomic backdrop, popular YouTuber Benjamin Cowen said that Bitcoin may not hit $100,000 this year in the current “risk-off” environment–not “until inflation is under control.”

Resultantly, it may still be a tad prescient to call Bitcoin a “risk-off” asset, especially as it wallows in the mid $30,000s.

That said, there are a couple of certainties. Do Kwon will continue to buy Bitcoin in the billions, Michael Saylor will continue to orange pill big-name investors and there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoin.


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