Stock bulls continue to struggle as more data indicates that inflation is still running hot. Notably, bond yields have again been cruising steadily higher this week with 10-Year Treasuries topping 4% for the first time since last November. Meanwhile, the two-year Treasury yield ended yesterday just shy of 4.9%, marking the widest gap between two-year and 10-year yields since October 1981, according to Dow Jones.

Bond traders are responding to recent data showing that inflation rebounded in the first two months of the year, prompting bets that the Federal Reserve will need to raise its benchmark interest rate higher than currently expected.

The Fed's most recent projections suggested interest rates would max out around 5% but strong jobs data and the return of rising prices has Wall Street worried that the central bank may need to tighten financial conditions even further.

According to the CME FedWatch Tool, traders now give 40% odds to a Fed target rate between 5.25%-5.50% by the end of 2023 versus 0% at the beginning of February.

The Fed's current rate stands at 4.5%-4.75%. Most (70.1%) believe it will be raised by +25 basis-points at the upcoming March 21-22 meeting, though odds of a 50 basis-point hike are climbing, now at almost 39% compared to around 0% a month ago.

Fed officials fanned those fears yesterday with Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic calling for continued rate hikes to above +5% and leaving it there "well into 2024." Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said he's open-minded about whether the March hike is 25 or 50 basis points but reiterated his view that what really matters is the Fed's end point.

In December, he advocated for pushing rates up to 5.4% but says he is currently undecided where his next estimate will be. The central bank will provide new interest rate forecasts, aka the "dot plot," at the March meeting.

It's worth noting that Kashkari also singled out wage growth as a particularly problematic source of inflation, saying it is at a level that is "too high to be consistent” with the Fed's 2% inflation target.

Data yesterday highlighted the economy's "sticky" inflation problem with the ISM Manufacturing Index showing 25% of respondents paid higher prices for materials in February, the highest in five months. It's also the second month in a row that input prices have climbed and suggests that hopes for a return of "disinflation" in February may not pan out.

If there was any good news in the ISM report it was that hiring slowed down somewhat, which could indicate a cooling labor market that hasn't yet been captured by government data.

The January jobs report showed employers added over half a million new people to payrolls, the exact opposite of what would be considered a cooling labor market. However, independent data this week from job posting sites shows that the number of listings has declined more than government data reflects, which could in turn mean a slower pace of hiring and wage gains ahead.

The latest government data showed that job openings in December were +57% above February 2020 levels, just before Covid-19 hit the economy. ZipRecruiter yesterday said its December job postings were only +26% above pre-Covid levels and have fallen even further over the last two months.

Still, the company noted that service industry job listings remain elevated, which is the sector of the economy that Fed officials have pinpointed as a leading driver of inflation.

The February Employment Report is due next Friday (March 10).

Today's key economic data is the final estimate of Productivity and Costs for Q4. Turning to earnings, AnheuserBusch InBev, Best Buy, Burlington Stores, Costco, Dell, Hewlett Packer, Hormel Foods, Kroger, Macy's, and VMware report results today.

Has China’s Post-Covid Economic Bounce Arrived? China’s economy has kicked off the year of the rabbit with a bounce worthy of its sprightly zodiac avatar. That raises the probability of stronger global growth this year, and higher oil prices, too although the biggest effects are likely to show up in the second half of 2023. The January and February Chinese purchasing managers indexes are always worth watching because they are one of the few pieces of concrete data to emerge from China in late winter and early spring. Both the official and privately compiled Caixin manufacturing indexes jumped, with the former reaching 52.6, its highest since 2012. Services, construction, export orders and overall employment all bounced back sharply, too. Still, there are some important caveats, for instance, the big month-on-month bounce which is what PMIs measure is still coming from a low base thanks to the disastrous Covid-related lockdowns in late 2022. The rebound in the construction PMI probably reflects a surge of infrastructure spending as local governments take advantage of a first-quarter special project bond quota, which is a full 50% higher than last year, according to Capital Economics. Source WSJ

TikTok Earned +$205 Million More Than Facebook, Twitter, Snap, And Instagram Combined On In-App Purchases: Big social networks are pulling a massive revenue U-turn since Apple’s introduction of App Tracking Transparency. ATT, announced in 2020 and implemented in 2021, limits the data Facebook, TikTok, Snap, and Instagram can use to target ads, so big social is making a collective push to direct user payments as an alternative to ad-focused monetization. Keep in mind Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat are still without paywalls but they now all offer products/services for charge via an in-app purchase, which Apple and Google get a cut of, according to Adam Blacker, a vice-president at mobile metrics company Apptopia. He adds that TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter combined have grown quarterly IAP revenue 91% since Apple introduced ATT. More user data meant better-targeted ads, and better-targeted ads generated higher revenue multiples, especially for Facebook. With less data available, ad relevance has suffered and ad revenue has taken a hit. Collectively, big social appears to be trying to replace that lost revenue via direct payments from its users. Source Forbes

American Car Owners are Increasingly Upside Down: The build-up in Americans' negative car equity — or the amount that debt exceeds a vehicle’s value — is rattling consumers and raising alarms within the industry. Though it’s not unusual for drivers to carry negative equity, some dealers say more people are arriving at their lots up to $10,000 underwater, or “upside down,” on their trade-ins. They’re buying at still-sky-high prices and rolling debt from one car to another and even onto a third. Loans are commonly stretching to seven years. “Unless American car shoppers break their habit of buying again too soon, we’ll see the negative equity tide continue to rise," said Ivan Drury, director of insights at auto-market researcher Edmunds. Even if the US economy avoids a recession this year, consumers will likely struggle to make payments on their auto loans, especially with the Federal Reserve planning to keep raising interest rates. The average new-car interest rate rose to 6.9% in January from 4.3% a year earlier, according to Edmunds. The cost of new vehicles has risen 20% since the start of the pandemic, while used vehicles are still up 37% even after cooling in the fall. In January, severely delinquent auto loans hit their highest rate since 2006, based on Cox Automotive data. Source Bloomberg

EPA Proposes Expanded Higher-Ethanol Gasoline Sales in Midwest: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed a rule to allow sales of gasoline with a higher ethanol blend in certain U.S. Midwest states, a win for the ethanol and farm industries that have sought the expansion for years. Any change would not take effect until summer of 2024, the EPA said. Governors in major corn-producing Midwestern states including Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois had requested that the EPA effectively lift a ban on E15, or fuel containing 15% ethanol. They had asked that the EPA lift restrictions starting the summer of 2023. The EPA enforces a summertime ban on E15 because of concerns it contributes to smog in hot weather. Research has shown, however, that E15 may not increase smog more than E10, which is sold year-round and contains 10% ethanol. Proponents of the EPA's proposal say that increased E15 supply would ease pump prices and help farmers. However, critics of the idea - including those in the refining industry - have voiced concerns that a piecemeal approach to augmenting E15 sales could lead to distribution challenges. The EPA will hold a public hearing for the proposed rule in late March or early April 2023, it said. Source Reuters

Two Office Landlords Defaulting May Be Just the Beginning: For years, property owners have been grappling with the rise of remote work — a problem so large that one brokerage estimates roughly 330 million square feet (31 million square meters) of office space will become vacant by the end of the decade as a result. But low interest rates allowed the investors to muddle along more easily without worrying about the debt. Now, many office landlords are seeing borrowing costs skyrocket, leading owners such as Pimco’s Columbia Property Trust and Brookfield Corp. to default on mortgages. While remote work hurt the office market, rising rates could push landlords, which often use floating-rate debt, closer to a tricky edge. The clock is ticking for more office owners with the Federal Reserve on the path to raising its benchmark rate even higher, more than 17% of the entire US office supply vacant and an additional 4.3% available for sublease. Nearly $92 billion in debt for those properties from nonbank lenders comes due this year, and $58 billion will mature in 2024, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Source Bloomberg

America's Housing Market Suggests Recession is on the Way: The importance of American housing resides not so much in its absolute size, big though it is at about $45trn in total value. Rather, it serves as a bellwether of the economy’s performance amid rising interest rates. Until the past month, the evidence seemed clear. Even before the Fed started jacking up its policy rate, mortgage lenders, anticipating the bank’s tightening, had started charging more. From 3% at the end of 2021, the rate on 30-year fixed mortgages surpassed 7% by October, the highest in more than two decades. Lo and behold, activity quickly tailed off. But recently, signs of an early and largely unexpected rebound have emerged, prompting concerns that higher rates are not having the desired effect. The case for optimism is that America’s property market has found a floor. Buyers are returning but the covid-era frenzy is not. The case for pessimism rests on the idea that the interaction between the property market and inflationary trends is too powerful to ignore: if buyers return to a supply-constrained housing market, price rises will follow and the Fed may judge that it needs to be more hawkish. Strikingly, despite the nascent rebound in demand, new housing starts have so far fallen. Dhaval Joshi of bca Research notes similar-sized declines in housing investment have almost always presaged recessions in the past. Source The Economist

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