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Kitco daily macro-economic/business digest - May 10

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Inflation Rose 4.9% in April Vs Year Ago, Less Than Expectations

China and others continue to take actions re: decreased use of U.S. dollar

In Today's Digital Newspaper

Consumer prices rose 4.9% on an annual basis in April, according to data released by the Labor Department on Wednesday, marking the smallest year-over-year increase since May 2021 and coming in better than economists' expectations for inflation to remain flat at 5%. Also, core inflation decreased slightly to 5.5%. Still, compared to the previous month, the CPI and the core rose 0.4%, matching market expectations and pointing out that inflationary pressures remain elevated. The index for shelter was the largest contributor to the monthly all items increase, followed by increases in the index for used cars and trucks and the index for gasoline.

"It's going to be a bumpy ride back down to 2%," said Andrew Patterson, senior international economist at Vanguard. He pointed to used car prices, which could begin to heat up as prices rise on the wholesale market for used cars and for new cars, and added: "Nuance matters, so you really want to lift up the hood for any of these data releases."

Bottom line to CPI report: While the Fed's policymakers have signaled they are likely to pause the increases, we're still a far way off from rate cuts.

In April, gas prices increased 3% but are down 12.2% from a year ago. In recent weeks, pump prices have fallen again. Nationally, regular unleaded gasoline averaged $3.53 a gallon Tuesday, down from $3.60 a month ago.

Grocery prices edged down 0.2%, the second straight monthly drop, and the yearly rise eased to 7.1% from 8.4%. The cost of commodities such as wheat and corn has fallen in recent months because of easing global demand. In April, the price of eggs dropped by 1.5%, the third straight monthly decline, after a string of sharp bird flu-related increases but costs are still up 21.4% over the past year. Pork prices fell 1.2%; fish and seafood costs dipped 0.7%; and bread was down 0.3%. But some costs continued to climb. Chicken prices increased 0.5% and uncooked ground beef, 0.6%. Restaurant prices increased by 0.4% and are up 8.6% annually.

G7 finance ministers and central bank governors are in Japan this week, set to debate the risk of more bank failures, the need for debt restructuring, and the threat of a U.S. default.

Report: U.S. households built up record levels of savings when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the government pumped billions of dollars into the economy. They've still got quite a bit left, even after a spending splurge and rocketing inflation. "Despite recent rapid drawdowns of those savings, a large amount — around $500 billion — remains in the overall economy." More in Markets section.

Debt crises usually go down to the wire. The 2011 deal was struck two days ahead of the X-date, not enough time to avert a market-rattling credit downgrade from the ratings agency S&P Global. President Biden yesterday gave reassuring statements about the state of negotiations, adding that default was "not an option."

Leaders of the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee — which include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executives Beth Hammack and Ashok Varadhan and former JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Operating Officer Matt Zames — sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, calling the potential for a U.S. debt default "unthinkable," adding that the "magnitude of adverse consequences from a prolonged negotiation, or a default, is unquantifiable." The TBAC, which advises the Treasury Department on borrowing, argued for either new requirements that raise the debt limit simultaneously with appropriations or a permanent repeal of the debt limit.

Home prices fell in more parts of the U.S. than they have in over a decade during the first quarter, when nearly a third of metro areas posted annual price declines, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. Meanwhile, many Americans who want to move can't afford to lose their low-interest rate mortgages, keeping the supply of homes for sale unusually low and making the market more competitive and pricier than some forecasters expected. The reluctance of homeowners to sell could keep home prices from falling significantly on a national basis, economists say. This could dull the Federal Reserve's efforts to slow inflation by cooling the economy. More in Markets section.

Several updates on China in today's report: (1) Is China making an end-around move on the U.S. dollar? (2) Italy is reportedly ready to pull out of China's Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, Pakistan is seeking a long-term deal to pay for Russian oil imports with Chinese yuan, in the latest development in country efforts to de-dollarize that have cropped up worldwide.

Usually, state departments of agriculture don't make the news, but it did in Michigan. And it involves a China-owned company… and horses. Details below.

U.S. and China trade chiefs plan to meet in Detroit later this month. Details in Trade Policy section.

Russia: Ukraine's spring offensive has begun, while Russia keeps repeating how it is unhappy with the Black Sea Gran pact. Russia says its "position is well known... and consistent" as talks to extend the Black Sea grain deal beyond the current May 18 deadline are scheduled to get underway in Istanbul. Senior officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are scheduled to meet over the next two days in hopes of reaching an agreement to continue Ukraine's grain shipments under the deal and also facilitate greater shipments of Russian grains and fertilizers.

Ukraine said it had destroyed two units of a Russian brigade in the eastern city of Bakhmut after months of grinding combat.

Tucker Carlson said he is launching a show on Twitter and alleged that Fox breached its contract with him. The former Fox News host said he would soon bring a new version of his show to the social-media platform, putting him on a potential collision course with the news network, which ousted him last month in the middle of a multiyear contract.


Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed to weaker overnight. U.S. Dow opened around 150 points higher after the latest inflation reading for April was tamer than feared, but then turned slightly lower in early trading. In Asia, Japan -0.4%. Hong Kong -0.5%. China -1.2%. India +0.3%. In Europe, at midday, London -0.2%. Paris -0.2%. Frankfurt -0.3%.

U.S. equities yesterday: All three major indices ended with losses on Tuesday. The Dow was down 56.88 points, 0.17%, at 33,561.81. The Nasdaq lost 77.36 points, 0.63%, at 12,179.55. The S&P 500 fell 18.95 points, 0.46%, at 4,119.17.

Market quotes of note:

  • New York Fed chief John Williams said yesterday it's too soon to say the central bank is done. "We haven't said we are done raising rates," he said. "If additional policy firming is appropriate, we'll do that." He noted during a Q&A session that the Fed has opted not to provide signals about its next rate moves.

  • China is expanding its gold reserves and may be abandoning the U.S. dollar. Nigel Green of deVere Group says such may be occurring after news that China's gold reserves increased by 8.09 tons in April. Total gold stockpiles in China reached 2,076 tons after that nation added 120 tons in the five months through March. "Historically, China has been a major buyer of U.S. Treasuries, but this has seen a marked cooling off as Beijing swaps them out in favor of gold." Green said this strategic move will limit China's dependence on the U.S. dollar, as trade and political relations with the U.S. deteriorate. "Buying gold rather than dollars may also signal moves by China that it is eventually seeking to replace the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency. Building stocks of the precious metal and allowing the Chinese yuan to be traded freely would weaken the U.S. dollar's dominance as the global reserve currency."

    Meanwhile, Pakistan is seeking a long-term deal to pay for Russian oil imports with Chinese yuan, in the latest development in country efforts to de-dollarize that have cropped up worldwide.

  • Lagarde: Still work to do on inflation. European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde says the central banks moves have been deliberate and decisive in the fight against inflation but there's still more work do to on that front. She told Nikkei the ECB must "be extremely attentive to those potential risks... in particular, in relation to wage increases in various European countries." Lagarde said there are emerging signs of weakness in demand for manufactured goods and there is still a lot of uncertainty, including the war in Ukraine.

  • "I can't make products just for 41-year-old tech founders. That's not a really big market. So I've gotta make sure I remember the 26-year-old me that didn't have a lot of money when I started the company." — Brian Chesky, Airbnb's co-founder and CEO on rebooting the company after the pandemic, with a renewed focus on room rentals. Airbnb reported strong quarterly results yesterday, but its cautious outlook on bookings sent shares lower in premarket trading.

On tap today:

• Consumer Price Index for April is expected to rise 0.4% from one month earlier and 5% from one year earlier. Excluding food and energy, the CPI is forecast to increase 0.4% and 5.5%. (8:30 a.m. ET) UPDATE: See initial items in today's dispatch for the report's results

• U.S. Treasury is expected to report a budget surplus of $242.5 billion for April, down from $308 billion one year earlier. (2 p.m. ET

• China's consumer price index for April is expected to rise 0.4% from one year earlier. Producer prices are forecast to fall 3.3%. (9:30 p.m. ET

• President Biden is set to depart the White House at 10:50 a.m. ET en route to Valhalla, N.Y., where he will deliver remarks on the debt ceiling at 1:30 p.m. Biden is set to attend campaign receptions in New York City at 5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m. He will depart for the White House at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Home prices fell in nearly a third of U.S. metro areas in the first quarter, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday, the biggest share posting declines in more than a decade, with prices still rising in many parts of the Midwest, South and Northeast while sliding in Western states. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sale price fell 0.2% from a year earlier, the first year-over-year price decline since 2012.

Toyota, the world's largest carmaker, published better-than-expected full-year results and forecast its annual operating profit to rise by 10% to ¥3 trillion ($22 billion) amid easing chip shortages. The Japanese firm expects a five-fold increase in electric-vehicle sales this business year, from 38,000 to 202,000 units, signaling a more aggressive approach to electrification.

U.S. households built up record levels of savings when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the government pumped billions of dollars into the economy. They've still got quite a bit left, even after a spending splurge and rocketing inflation. "Despite recent rapid drawdowns of those savings, a large amount — around $500 billion — remains in the overall economy. ... Data on household assets and checking account balances support the view that households across the income distribution generally have considerably more liquid funds at their disposal compared with the pre-pandemic period. Overall, we expect the aggregate stock of excess savings will continue to support consumer spending at least into the fourth quarter of 2023," the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's Hamza Abdelrahman and Luiz Oliveira write in a new report.

Biden discusses border security with Mexican president as U.S. troops arrive at border. President Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday discussed border security measures as they prepare for a potential migrant wave when a key U.S. border policy ends this week. In a statement, the White House said Biden and Lopez Obrador "discussed the urgency of reducing crowding in northern Mexico, and affirmed their commitment to address the root causes of migration from Central America."

President Biden predicted the U.S./Mexico border would be "chaotic for a while" when pandemic-related restrictions end, as 550 active-duty troops began arriving and migrants weighed whether or when to cross.

The federal government estimates more than 150,000 migrants were waiting in shelters and on the streets of northern Mexican states bordering the U.S. this weekend, including 60,000 migrants in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, 35,000 in the state of Tamaulipas and 25,000 in the state of Coahuila, among others. The administration also estimates hundreds of thousands of migrants were in the pipeline in southern Mexico and Central American countries.

Market perspectives:

• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index was, with the euro and British pound slightly weaker against the greenback. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note was lower, trading around 3.50%, with a mostly lower tone in global government bond yields. Crude oil was under pressure, with U.S. crude around $73 per barrel and Brent around $76.65 per barrel. Gold and silver were lower ahead of US inflation figures, with gold around $2,036 per troy ounce and silver around $25.77 per troy ounce.

• Higher seasonal demand and lower-than-expected output supported prices following a report from the Energy Information Administration. "We expect the seasonal rise in oil consumption and a drop in OPEC crude oil production to put some upward pressure on crude oil prices in the coming months," the Energy Information Administration said in its Short Term Energy Outlook.

• Natural gas prices surged in western Canada as wildfires forced drillers in the nation's largest producing region to shutter supplies. Blazes in Alberta may have cut energy output by the equivalent of 500,000 barrels a day, Rystad Energy said Tuesday. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, and there were still 88 active fires as of Tuesday afternoon, though prices dropped back. The region has been dry, with large areas of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan gripped by drought through March.

• Liquefied natural gas stored on ships has risen to a record for this time of year, signaling wavering demand despite lower prices. Meanwhile, RWE AG is preparing to pull out of a controversial LNG project off Germany amid political rows and delays to key decisions.

• The Financial Times reports on plans to halt Russia's diamond trade, saying G7 nations are working on an inspections program to target the country's gemstones, but risk destabilizing the global industry. Link/paywall.

• Ag trade: Taiwan purchased 65,000 MT of Brazilian corn. Japan is seeking 60,000 MT of feed wheat and 20,000 MT of feed barley.


— The head of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force, again berated the Kremlin's military leaders — this time for their "stupidity" in the war against Ukraine. In a message posted on Telegram, Yevgeny Prigohzihn said troops were fleeing positions near Bakhmut because of "absolutely criminal" commands. Meanwhile, France's parliament adopted a resolution calling on the EU to formally label the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization.

— Ukraine claims gains around Bakhmut as fighting rages. Ukrainian troops said Wednesday they had destroyed two units of a Russian brigade during fighting for control of the city in the country's east, as Kyiv's forces seek to dislodge Russia's troops occupying most of Bakhmut after months of grinding combat. On Tuesday, French news agency Agence France-Presse said that one of its video journalists had been killed by rocket fire outside the city. In the U.S., the Defense Department unveiled a $1.2 billion security package for Ukraine.

— The FBI said it disabled malware that Russia has allegedly used for two decades to steal documents from NATO allies. The operation highlights the FBI's increasing efforts to go beyond arresting hackers and find new ways to disrupt cyberattacks, the WSJ reports (link). The operation effectively hobbled one of Russia's most well-known and oldest cyber espionage groups, officials and security experts said, a vaunted hacking team that has been previously linked to devastating thefts of U.S. secrets.


— Horse farm under investigation by Michigan Dept. of Ag following Gotion rally; State Reps call for investigation. Majestic Friesians Horse Farm is being investigated by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) after its owner hosted a rally against the proposed Gotion battery plant owned by China. The owner, Lori Brock, believes the investigation is a form of harassment and retaliation for the rally. Two state representatives are calling for an investigation into MDARD for potential misuse of power. MDARD claims the investigation is legally required due to a Right to Farm complaint received about manure run-off, and denies any targeted action against the farm. If the complaint is verified, MDARD will work with the farm to resolve the issue following the Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices (GAAMP) program guidelines.

— Italy is reportedly ready to pull out of China's Belt and Road Initiative. The country is the only G7 nation part of what President Xi Jinping refers to as the "project of the century," or what critics call a "debt trap" designed to create political goodwill and cement Chinese influence on the world stage.


— U.S. and China trade chiefs plan to meet in Detroit later this month, Bloomberg reports (link), citing people familiar with the matter. This would mark the most senior in-person confab between the nations since the spy balloon incident. The meeting between USTR Katherine Tai and Wang Wentao would likely occur on the sidelines of a gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers on May 25-26, according to the people.

— U.S., EU trade chiefs meet with focus on critical minerals negotiations, China. USTR Katherine Tai and European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis held a discussion Tuesday to focus on issues for the U.S./EU Trade and Technology Council (TTIC) meetings set for May 30-31.

Comments from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) indicated the two also discussed a potential critical minerals agreement with the EU under negotiations started in March 2022. If so, that could mean that relevant critical minerals extracted or processed in the EU could qualify toward electric vehicle (EV) credits under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).


— Biden administration: Restocking SPR will resume after maintenance is done later this year. The Department of Energy (DOE) said that it will start buying oil to put into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) once maintenance work is completed later this year.

The SPR is at its lowest level in 40 years after the Biden administration withdrew 180 million barrels from the supply to bring down gasoline prices.

DOE said they are "committed to refilling the SPR in a manner that will deliver the best value for American taxpayers and protect U.S. national (and economic) security interests, while abiding by congressional mandates and undertaking necessary maintenance that is also part of good stewardship."

DOE said that its strategy includes returning oil from previous exchanges requested by refiners and avoiding "unnecessary sales unrelated to supply disruptions," a reference to sales that were mandated by Congress.

— End-around China. The U.S. has largely depended on China for rare-earth magnet processing, used for everything from consumer electronics to missile guidance systems. Noveon Magnetics, a Texas startup with $150 million in equity funding, has a grand recycling plan — and some patented technology — to bypass China. Link to details via Forbes.


— Lab-grown meat could be 25 times worse for the climate than beef unless researchers find ways to overhaul energy-intensive steps in its production, according to the New Scientist (link)/paywall). Analysis finds the carbon footprint of cultivated meat is likely to be higher than beef if current production methods are scaled up because they are still highly energy intensive.

This is not the first time the issue has been raised as research was published in 2019 which also raised questions about the environmental impacts of lab-grown meat in an item published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

— Drive-thru service at Wendy's will soon use artificial intelligence, joining similar moves at restaurants like McDonald's, Panera and Popeyes, as more industries attempt to automate their processes. Google developed the AI chatbot and will attempt to mirror the customer-employee experience.


Cancer deaths are on the decline in every congressional district, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Cancer. They're generally down between 20% and 45% among males and 10% and 40% among females over the past 25 years.

— Nearly 20% of more women's lives could be saved if all women start getting mammograms at age 40. New research indicating fewer people could die of breast cancer if more start screening at a younger age led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to recommend all women get screened for breast cancer every other year starting at 40 rather than 50.


— Melania Trump expresses support for husband's campaign. In an interview with Fox News, Melania Trump said her husband, former President Donald Trump, "has my support" in his campaign for a second term. The only rally of this campaign Melania Trump appeared at was its kickoff. She also said that if she became first lady again, "My focus would continue to be creating a safe and nurturing space for children to learn, grow, and thrive."

— Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman is holding off on backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a potential presidential candidate, making the Blackstone CEO the latest GOP donor who has expressed hesitation in supporting DeSantis and concern about who to back in next year's presidential race. Other GOP backers are unhappy with DeSantis over his policy positions as he prepares to declare his candidacy. Meanwhile, DeSantis severed his connection to his longstanding state political committee and its nearly $86 million, a step he needs to take ahead of a presidential campaign.

— The 2024 Senate map favors Republicans, but candidates remain the wild card. Link to how the Wall Street Journal sizes the upcoming elections. Republicans worry they risk another disappointing election and two more years in the minority. In 2022, the party expected a "red wave" fueled by economic anxiety would carry it to power in the Senate, but candidates lost races in battleground states including Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, leaving Democrats with a 51-49 majority.


Feinstein returns to Senate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) ended her absence from the Senate of more than two months and was back in Washington Tuesday after being absent from the chamber since mid-February after being diagnosed and briefly hospitalized with shingles. Her absence hampered approvals of Biden judicial nominees and some legislation.

— George Santos is in custody after turning himself in. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), whose pivotal victory in New York was soon followed by revelations that he had falsified his biography on the campaign trail, surrendered to the authorities at federal court on Long Island on Wednesday morning. Santos was charged with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.


— A jury found Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll a writer. In a civil case Carroll accused the former president of raping her in a Manhattan department store over 25 years ago; she was awarded $5 million in damages, $3 million of which for defamation. The Manhattan jury did not go as far as agreeing that the assault constituted rape. Trump said he would appeal the case.

The verdict injected new uncertainty into the 2024 presidential race, testing whether voters and Republican allies will stick with Trump through another controversy. Initial consensus: It could help Trump get the GOP presidential nomination but hurt him in the national race.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview Tuesday with NBC's Dasha Burns, suggested that voters wouldn't care about the verdict against Trump. "I think that's a question for the American people," Pence said when asked if the verdict changed his view if Trump was fit to serve as president again. "But I really can't comment on a judgment in a civil case. I have no knowledge of those matters. And I'm sure the president will defend himself in that matter." Pence continued, "But it strikes me that we – it's just one more instance where at a time when American families are struggling, when our economy is hurting when the world seems to become a more dangerous place, almost every day, that it's just one more story, focusing on my former running mate that I know is a great fascination to members of the national media. But I just don't think it's where the American people are focused."

Meanwhile, Trump will appear at a CNN town hall event starting at 8 p.m. Eastern.

— Twitter CEO Elon Musk said the platform will soon add voice and video calling along with encrypted messaging in a series of moves that appear to be part of his plan to turn Twitter into a so-called "everything app." Coming soon: Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson said he will return with a news show on Twitter, calling the platform the "last big" platform that permits "free speech." Musk, who appeared on Carlson's Fox News show just last month, tweeted, "We have not signed a deal of any kind whatsoever." He added that Carlson would not get a special deal, instead receiving the same subscription revenue-sharing arrangement as anyone else.

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