Oct 102017

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By G. Steven Bray

Bond markets got spooked last week, and interest rates moved higher. The media blamed the move on many things, but I think the underlying motivation is fear of inflation. While the Fed’s favored inflation metric, the PCE, continues to show negligible inflation, some other measures are beginning to show pricing pressure.

The first hint was the consumer price index a couple weeks ago, which showed consumer inflation approaching 2% again. Some analysts discounted the reading due to potential effects of Hurricane Harvey; however, the rise was greater than expected.

Very strong Manufacturing and Non-manufacturing surveys followed last week. The internals of both reports showed businesses reporting significantly higher input prices. While these pricing pressures don’t always percolate up to consumer prices, the magnitude of the increases was disconcerting.

The topper was the jobs report last Fri. The headline numbers were contradictory. The business survey showed the economy lost 33k jobs, but the household survey showed it gained about 900k. But what caught my eye was the impressive 0.5% monthly wage growth. Economists have been predicting low unemployment would push wage growth for years now, and we finally may be seeing it.

But, as I’ve said before, one month doesn’t make a trend, so it will be interesting to see if the readings remain higher once the effects of the hurricanes dissipate. It also will be interesting to see if consumer sentiment surveys begin to show expectations of higher inflation. If expectations start to align with economic reports, higher inflation could get locked into place.

Could rates move lower again? Sure they could, especially given all the potentially explosive issues facing the world. But I suggest you stay defensive unless and until you see rates heading down again.

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