Daily Comment (May 27, 2021)

by Bill O’Grady, Thomas Wash, and Patrick Fearon-Hernandez, CFA

[Posted: 9:30 AM EDT] | PDF

Good morning.  It’s mostly a down day for risk assets in the U.S. this morning.  Our coverage begins with economics and policy, with a crypto update to follow.  China news is next.  Our international roundup comes after, and we close with pandemic news.

  Economics and policy:  A problem may be developing in the monetary plumbing.

  • We have been watching a development in the money markets recently; the Fed has needed to conduct rather aggressive reverse repo operations in recent days.

In these operations, the private sector is putting money on deposit at the prevailing fed funds rate.  The current target is 0.125%, but this onslaught of funds has left the effective fed funds rate at 0.06%.  There are several factors at work.  First, the Treasury has been issuing fewer T-bills, which can also absorb these funds.  Second, QE is taking Treasuries and mortgages off the market and replacing them with cash that the banks don’t need.  Third, banks are not lending; bank loans and leases have declined compared to last year for the past two months.  Thus, banks don’t have a good outlet for cash.  Here is where the problem comes in.  The closer fed funds fall toward zero, the greater the pressure on money market funds.  The Fed can address this by tapering or manually raising the fed funds rate.  Tapering would spook the financial markets but increasing the fed funds rate smacks of subsidizing banks for not lending.  Although we don’t expect a problem to develop, the rise in reverse repo activity does suggest stress and bears watching.

Cryptocurrencies:  China’s crackdown on bitcoin mining is gathering momentum.  As many things do in China, it originated from Beijing.  The last five-year plan has references to bringing emissions under control.  Bitcoin mining runs against that goal, prompting disfavor at the highest levels of the CPC.  That message is now moving its way into provincial and municipal governments who are starting to restrict mining activity.  Houbi (1611, HKD, 15.80) has indicated it would no longer sell mining equipment into China and cease operating its cryptocurrency exchangeBitcoin is a bit weaker this morning.

China:  It’s official; the era of engagement is over.

International roundup:  The EU and Switzerland are at loggerheads, and the business class is winning Brexit.

COVID-19:  The number of reported cases is 168,497,846 with 3,500,348 fatalities.  In the U.S., there are 33,191,164 confirmed cases with 591,957 deaths.  For illustration purposes, the FT has created an interactive chart that allows one to compare cases across nations using similar scaling metrics.  The FT has also issued an economic tracker that looks across countries with high-frequency data on various factors.  The CDC reports that 359,849,035 doses of the vaccine have been distributed with 289,212,304 doses injected.  The number receiving at least one dose is 165,074,907, while the number of second doses, which would grant the highest level of immunity, is 131,850,089.  The FT has a page on global vaccine distribution.  The Axios map shows that only one state, Wyoming, has rising cases.

 View PDF