“May you live in interesting times” is an English translation of a traditional Chinese curse. I am beginning to understand fully why that old saw is considered a curse based on the interesting scenarios emerging in the marketplace right this very moment.
Situations are unfolding that I cannot fully grasp or explain easily. Consequently, I am having a difficult time wrapping my mind around what is going on with a number of markets.
Here are a few examples of what has my head spinning, leaving me feeling cursed. Let’s start with the Federal Reserve and the fact it intends to lower interest rates sooner than later in the face of a strong economy.
William McChesney Martin Jr. was the longest serving chairman of the Federal Reserve. He served under five presidents from April 2, 1951 to Jan. 31, 1970.
He once said, and famously so, “the job of the Federal Reserve is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.”
Historically, the Fed tends to move aggressively by hiking rates to cool the economy down out of fear that inflation will suddenly rear its ugly head.
However, current Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently stated, “the Fed is open to cutting rates if necessary to keep the expansion going.” But now there are no signs policymakers have made up their minds about a July cut or any cut at all, for that matter.
In the past, the Fed was reluctant to cut rates when unemployment was low. Today, the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low with wages rising at a rate of 3.1%.
In past years, the Fed would be taking the punch bowl away in face of such data. But now, it wants to spike the punch bowl instead
Is it a given the Fed will lower rates to push the current economy to even greater gains? No, and by the time this column is published, the Fed will have made a decision one way or another.
Still, the fact that the Fed is even contemplating spiking the punch bowl to keep the party going with historically low unemployment rates and solid gains with wage growth makes my head hurt. It makes me curse the fact I know about history.
And then there is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which on June 28 released an acreage report that was shockingly bearish and sent grain values dropping 40 to 50 cents a bushel.
The report was released knowing full well that this year’s corn crop was the latest planted in history and the soybean crop the second slowest seeded in history.
The rain and flooding this year in the Grain Belt exceeded that experienced in 1993. And in ‘93, the failure to plant corn acres was so pronounced that prices doubled in value.
But the June 28 USDA report suggested that things were not all that bad and farmers were able to seed their crops in a timely manner. That report left me speechless.
It still does.
I cannot believe with all the rain and flooding so many acres were indeed planted. I am not the only one holding such views.
Here is what one of my favorite groups had to say about the issue of what was and was not planted this spring. From FCStone, dated this week: “As the evidence leaks out that acreage claimed in (prevent plant) is not only a record amount, but much more than expected, the market is taking note.
“While the last USDA acreage was over the top on corn and well below expectations on beans, we may be coming to a realization that planted ideas and reality are much closer and that intentions may have been just that good intentions, but nothing close to reality.”
FCStone is echoing my thoughts perfectly. First, it argues that a record amount of acres were not planted this spring due to wet and flooding conditions.
It goes on to argue that the June 28 USDA report showed what farmers intended to plant amid good intentions. But when push came to shove, the reality was simple.
Farmers were unable to fulfill their intentions due to the reality of the wet conditions. Thus, the June 28 report may turn out to have been a huge, huge miss on the part of the USDA.
If FCStone and yours truly are correct, the USDA “do-over” report to be released on Aug. 12 could be one of the most bullish grain reports released in years — assuming, of course, the unplanted acres this year are record large.
If so, that also means ending stocks of corn and soybeans could conceivably be reduced by half. I cannot imagine any scenario so bullish as having ending stocks of corn and soybeans in one growing season due to unplanted acres.