Investors have a lot on their plate this week, including the first look at March inflation data, the "minutes" from the US Federal Reserve's most recent policy meeting, and the start of Q1 earnings season.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) due on Wednesday is expected to show inflation slowed month-over-month while the Producer Price Index (PPI) on Thursday is seen holding unchanged. It's worth noting that the so-called CPI "core" rate, which strips out food and energy prices, is projected to increase again to a rate of +5.6%, which would be above the headline rate of +5.2% that economists are forecasting.

Most equate this to stubbornly high "shelter" costs, while energy prices and to a lesser degree, food prices, have both come down since a year ago. This could be problematic for the Fed's inflation fight as the central bank prefers "core" rates, viewing them as a better gauge of the true price pressures that consumers face. However, there are still numerous signs that inflationary forces are receding. The biggest and perhaps most important to the Fed is mounting evidence that the job market is cooling off. Notably, the March Employment Situation on Friday showed job gains came in lower-than-expected at +236,000, slightly below expectations and the slowest pace since 2020. Average weekly hours as well as wage growth also declined, indicating a reduction in labor demand by businesses. This backs up other data that points to the US job market loosening up, although conditions vary by sector. The job market for the services sector still remains extremely tight with wages rising at an annual rate of +6.1% in March, versus overall wage growth of +4.2%.

Still, stock bulls believe signs of "disinflation" are enough to justify a pause in Fed rate hikes at the upcoming May 2-3 meeting. Many bulls are hopeful that getting the threat of higher rates off the board will clear the way for higher stock prices ahead. Bears mostly believe that recession is inevitable and argue an end to Fed rate hikes will prove little consolation to investors in the long run if an economic downturn threatens earnings.

Bears also warn that Q1 earnings season may be worse-than-anticipated, particularly for big tech companies that have led recent gains. Bulls further expect companies will be delivering warnings about the quarters ahead during Q1 announcements over the next few weeks, which could see more money rotating out of stocks and into safer havens like money markets and bonds. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo "unofficially" kick of Q1 earnings season on Friday.

Most big tech results start rolling out the week of April 24. It's also worth noting that China is set to release a series of key economic data this week including readings on inflation, trade, and renminbi lending, all of which have the potential to inject more volatility into markets.

The renminbi lending report will be particularly scrutinized as those flows are viewed as a forward looking view of China's growth potential as its reopening from pandemic restrictions continues.

Interesting Thoughts from Latest CoStar Reports: More than 50% of the 2.9 Trillion in commercial mortgages will need to be renegotiated or refinanced in the next 24 months with over 70% of the originations coming from Regional Banks. Morgan Stanley is suggesting some CRE will drop -40% peak to trough which amounts to worse results in some cases than the Great Financial Crisis. 65% of new construction is Class A apartments, but at the same time multifamily vacancy rates are starting to creep higher meaning we could end up with way too much multifamily inventory in many cities. Office vaccancy rates keep rising as businesses close and existing business are needing 10-20% less space than they did in 2019.

Millennial Homeowners Finally Outnumber Renters: Approximately 52% of millennials owned a home by the end of 2022. The number of millennial homeowners hit 18.2 million in 2022, growing by +7.1 million in the past five years. But despite the progress, baby boomers are still the largest share of homeowners in the U.S., with 32.1 million owning their own homes, nearly double the rate of millennials. About 24.4 million Gen Xers are homeowners which makes sense considering these older generations have had more time to accumulate wealth. But thanks to the Great Recession’s economic headwinds and widespread student loan debt, it’s taken millennials a bit longer than previous generations to cross the threshold as a homeowner majority generation. In 2022, the average millennial was 34. When Gen X reached this same milestone, their average age was 32. Boomers achieved majority homeownership as a generation at the average age of 33. Source Fortune

US Bank Lending Slumps by Most on Record in Final Weeks of March: US bank lending contracted by the most on record in the last two weeks of March, indicating a tightening of credit conditions in the wake of several high-profile bank collapses. Commercial bank lending dropped nearly -$105 billion in the two weeks ended March 29, the most in Federal Reserve data back to 1973. The more than -$45 billion decrease in the latest week was primarily due to a a drop in loans by small banks. The pullback in total lending in the last half of March was broad and included fewer real estate loans, as well as commercial and industrial loans. Friday’s report also showed commercial bank deposits dropped $64.7 billion in the latest week, marking the 10th-straight decrease that mainly reflected a decline at large firms. Economists are closely monitoring the Fed’s so-called H.8 report, which provides an estimated weekly aggregate balance sheet for all commercial banks in the US, to gauge credit conditions. The Fed’s report showed that by bank size, lending decreased -$23.5 billion at the 25 largest domestically chartered banks in the latest two weeks, and plunged -$73.6 billion at smaller commercial banks over the same period. Source Boomberg

Zillow and Moody's Issue Starkly Different Home Price Forecasts: The first half of 2022 saw national home prices jump +10.7% in just six months. The latter half of 2022 then saw national home prices fall -4.5%. That speaks to the 180 degree shift the U.S. housing market went through last year as the Federal Reserve’s inflation fight set off the first housing correction in over a decade. However, through the first few months of 2023 that housing correction has lost a great deal of steam as markets across the South, Northeast, and Midwest once again begin to post month-over-month home price increases. That raises the question: Is this the home price bottom or simply a head fake? The answer depends on who you ask. Heading forward, Zillow economists expect U.S. home values as tracked by the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) to rise +0.5% between January 2023 and January 2024. Meanwhile, economists at Moody’s Analytics expect U.S. home prices, as measured by the Moody’s Analytics Repeat Sales House Price Index, to fall -4.2% between December 2022 and December 2023. Zillow expects only 39% of major markets to post a home price decline over the coming year. According to Zillow, tight supply will make it hard for home prices to fall much heading forward. In contrast, Moody's expects 98% of major markets to post a home price decline over the coming year. By the time house prices bottom nationally, Moody's expects house prices to be about -10% below levels hit at the peak in June 2022. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, says prices are simply too far detached from underlying fundamentals like incomes. Source Fortune

Is Private Equity's Debt-Fueled Food Binge Adding to Inflation?: Private-equity funds went on a buying binge for food companies before markets crashed in 2022. The funds snapped up a record 786 makers of food and beverages worth $32 billion in 2021, using bundles of debt to pay for their purchases, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The financiers projected that staple goods would keep making profits no matter how the economy fared. But that forecast changed, with the food industry soon hammered by higher labor costs, supply-chain disruptions, and surging inflation. Now food manufacturers are earning less cash to cover their heavy debt loads. The squeeze is heightening pressure to further raise prices that have skyrocketed over the past year. Private-equity firms own a small part of the food industry, but their share increased during a 2021 boom in leveraged buyouts when the firms scooped up all manner of companies. Buyouts can generate returns above +20% for private-equity firms in good times. But when inflation rose last year, performance turned negative and private-equity firms lost an average of -9% through September, according to a report by McKinsey & Co. Source WSJ

Simple Blood Tests to Detect Cancer May Be Nearing FDA Approval: Like cancer vaccines, cancer blood panels aren’t some far-flung, futuristic goal. Multi-cancer early detection tests, known as MCEDs, are a thing—right now. It’s a concept that has promise, experts say. “The technology is advancing truly at a rapid pace,” Karen Knudsen, CEO of the American Cancer Society, tells Fortune. “I think all of us in the oncology world think that the next frontier is liquid biopsy”—another term for MCED. Roughly 20 companies are working to develop a blood test that detects a multitude of cancers in a variety of ways—some by detecting associated proteins, others by looking at alterations in DNA. The trouble—for now—is that researchers aren’t quite sure what to do with the data produced by these tests. It’s a reality that could render them a novelty—albeit a (hopefully) temporary one. As Dr. Ernest Hawk, head of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences division at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, explains, “Just because you find cancer DNA doesn’t mean you have meaningful cancer.” Source Fortune

Warehouse Jobs Drop to Lowest Level in 15 Months: Warehousing employment fell to the lowest level in more than a year as companies slashed payrolls amid a downturn in the goods-moving economy. U.S. employers cut -11,800 warehouse and storage jobs from February to March, according to the seasonally adjusted Labor Department preliminary jobs report released Friday. Warehousing companies have reduced employment by nearly -50,000 jobs since June, when overstocked retailers started paring inventories because of wavering consumer demand. Employment at U.S. warehouses surged by nearly 700,000 jobs from April 2020 to June 2022, as widespread lockdowns early in the Covid-19 pandemic sent homebound consumers rushing online to buy goods. Warehousing and storage employment fell to 1.91 million jobs in March, the fewest number of jobs in the sector since January 2022, when companies employed 1.88 million workers. Real-estate analysis firm CoStar Group Inc. said new warehouse construction starts fell by -24% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, reaching the lowest level since the start of the pandemic. The pullback has been hitting employment in what was, during the pandemic, one of the fastest-growing employment markets. Source WSJ

Americans Grow More Concerned With Drug Use, Social Security: Among 15 key problems facing the country, more Americans worry about inflation and the economy than any others, with six in 10 expressing “a great deal” of concern about these issues. Americans are about as concerned with inflation and the economy as they were a year ago, but they are more worried now about drug use, healthcare and Social Security. They are less likely to say they worry about energy and the environment. In addition to inflation and the economy, at least half of U.S. adults also worry a great deal about healthcare (54%), crime and violence (54%), federal spending and the budget deficit (52%), and hunger and homelessness (50%). From a broader perspective, an average of 45% worry a great deal about the 12 issues that have been measured consistently since 2005 (these exclude federal spending, guns, and inflation). That ties 2011 as the highest average worry level, although the range of this average has been fairly narrow between 38% and 45% in the past 18 years. When there are economic challenges, Americans are usually more concerned about those than other issues facing the country. And that is the case now, with elevated inflation, higher interest rates, depressed stock values and fears of an upcoming recession. Americans’ concern about the economy is higher than Gallup has measured in most prior years but still below post-Great Recession levels. Source Gallup

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