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As we near the end of the second quarter, we are struck by how much sentiment has shifted compared to the end of the first quarter. Perhaps this sentiment swing is best illustrated by the bond market.

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Read this week's Major Trend. 

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As is periodically the case, the Federal Reserve captured all the attention last week—particularly after bond and stock markets were so reactionary to Fed meeting notes, dot-plot changes, and Chairman Powell’s post-meeting press conference.

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U.S. inflation has surged in recent months for a number of reasons. The most concerning one is the extent to which this elevated level of inflation is due to the overuse and abuse of monetary and fiscal stimulus? Suppose this bout of inflation is primarily the result of rising monetary velocity, or it reflects heightened inflation expectations causing consumers to spend stimulus checks and run-down savings quickly. In that case, it will prove to be a serious and sustained inflationary challenge. Some of it is simply the base effect. A year ago, many prices dropped abnormally, and even a return to more standard pricing will produce a temporary, outsized inflation rate.

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Inflation has arrived, and investors, understandably, are worried about the impact it will ultimately have on the stock market. The S&P GSCI Commodity Price Index has risen by almost 70% in the last year, and annual consumer price inflation has adjusted upward to 5% from essentially zero. Consumer inflation is now at its highest level since 2008 and will likely soon reach a level not seen since the early 1980s!

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Given how fast the economy is recovering, could the stock market soon struggle with a scarcity of SLACK? Wall Street’s dirty little secret is that, historically, the stock market does best when there is slack on Main Street. This is illustrated in Chart 1, which shows how the S&P 500 has performed at various unemployment rates during the post-war period.

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Since 2008, the “direction” of the 10-year bond yield has been highly correlated with stock market leadership. Although the level and direction of yields have always been significant factors for stock investors, their role has seemingly become much more pronounced, since 2008, relative to earlier years. That is, since the Great Financial Crisis, the bond market has been determining, or at least coincidently signaling, which stock cars will be the winners and the losers.

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Everyone is struggling with allocations to a fixed-income market that seems exceptionally over-priced. Cash rates remain near zero, and the 10-year Treasury yield—at 1.65%—sells at a 61x P/E multiple for a coupon without any growth! Moreover, junk-yield spreads are near record lows, and investment-grade credit spreads are at their tightest levels in at least 20 years. Finally, it’s a pretty good bet that yields are headed higher in the next few years.

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Many worry what will happen when the Federal Reserve finally begins tapering? Quit worrying. Tapering has been happening for the last three months!

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For the first time in more than 20 years, U.S. capital spending has broken to new record highs and seems poised to remain robust for some time. As shown in Chart 1, core capital goods spending (i.e., non-defense capital goods orders, excluding aircraft) stalled after its early 2000 dot-com peak and was stuck in a broad sideways range until late 2020. Over the last year, though, capital goods spending has surged by 25.2%, its biggest twelve-month jump since early 1993!

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The 10-year Treasury yield is 1.58%, flat with the level it initially spiked to in late February and down from its late-March recovery high near 1.77%. The inflation rate is running far above the 10-year yield, and so is the 10-year breakeven rate. U.S. commodity prices have surged 75% in the last year, and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow estimate of current quarter real-GDP growth is a red-hot 10.1%.

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After significantly decreasing in the previous decade, employee compensation of U.S. corporations, as a percent of nominal GDP, has risen slowly but steadily since 2010. That is, rising labor costs have proved to be a modest but growing challenge for labor-intensive industries.

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Read this week's Major Trend. 

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Just a handful of arbitrary thoughts to start the week…

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Most bull markets of the last 40 years commenced when company fundamentals and earnings were still declining from a recession. Because of that, valuations often worsen considerably during a fresh bull run as the stock market surges despite continued earnings weakness.

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Everyone is struggling with allocations to a fixed-income market that seems exceptionally over-priced. Cash rates remain near zero, and the 10-year Treasury yield—at 1.65%—sells at a 61x P/E multiple for a coupon without any growth! Moreover, junk-yield spreads are near record lows, and investment-grade credit spreads are at their tightest levels in at least 20 years. Finally, it’s a pretty good bet that yields are headed higher in the next few years.

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