Category Archives: Wall Street

NatWest Plc pleads guilty in criminal proceedings

National Westminster Bank Plc (NatWest) entered guilty pleas at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to criminal charges brought by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 (MLR 2007).

NatWest accepts that it failed to comply with regulation 8(1) between 7 November 2013 until 23 June 2016; and regulations 8(3) and 14(1) between 8 November 2012 until 23 June 2016 under MLR 2007 in relation to the accounts of a UK incorporated customer. These regulations require certain firms, including those regulated by the FCA, to ensure they have adequate anti-money laundering systems and controls to prevent money laundering.

The case has now been referred to the Southwark Crown Court for sentencing.

This is the first criminal prosecution under the MLR 2007 by the FCA.

No individuals are being charged as part of these proceedings.

CFTC Orders Interactive Brokers LLC to Pay a $1.75 Million Penalty for Supervision Failures

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission today filed and simultaneously settled charges against Interactive Brokers LLC, a registered futures commission merchant, for failing to diligently supervise the handling of its customer accounts by not adequately preparing and configuring its electronic trading system to receive negative prices and calculate margin on April 20, 2020, in violation of CFTC Regulation 166.3.         

The order requires Interactive Brokers to pay a civil monetary penalty of $1.75 million and restitution of $82.57 million to its customers. Interactive Brokers is credited the full restitution due to its compensation payment to its customers. 

“This enforcement action demonstrates that the CFTC will hold registrants responsible for their handling of customer accounts and ensuring the integrity of trades on their trading platforms and electronic systems, including during instances of market volatility,” said Acting Director of Enforcement Vincent McGonagle.

Case Background

According to the order, Interactive Brokers’ supervisory failures were discovered on April 20, 2020, when the benchmark West Texas Intermediate light, sweet crude oil (CL) futures contract on CME Group Inc.’s New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) traded into negative prices, settling at negative $37.63 per barrel for the May 2020 contracts set to expire the following day. This price was the basis for determining the settlement price for certain cash-settled contracts, including the E-mini crude oil (QM) futures contract on the NYMEX and the West Texas Intermediate light, sweet crude oil (WTI) futures contract on the Intercontinental Exchange Europe. Because the QM and WTI contracts settle based on the trading of the CL contract in the settlement window, both contracts settled at negative $37.63 per barrel. Interactive Brokers customers held long positions in the May QM and WTI contracts on April 20, 2020 and experienced trading losses on those positions as a result of the firm’s systems issues.

The order finds that Interactive Brokers was on notice of the possibility of negative oil futures prices prior to April 20, 2020, but did not adequately prepare and configure its electronic trading system to recognize negative prices. Specifically, Interactive Brokers failed to deploy necessary system changes before negative prices occurred resulting in two significant systems issues on April 20, 2020: (1) negative prices were not displayed to customers and customers were unable to place orders with negative-priced limit orders to buy or sell; and (2) internal minimum margin requirements were not correctly enforced prior to trade execution for trades in the WTI contract. These issues impacted hundreds of customer accounts that held long QM or WTI futures positions into settlement, and those customers experienced trading losses on April 20, 2020, initially determined by Interactive Brokers to exceed $82.57 million. 

The order recognizes Interactive Brokers’ substantial cooperation and systems remediation in the form of a reduced civil monetary penalty. 

The Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this matter are Danielle Karst, Julia Colarusso, Dmitriy Vilenskiy, Christine Ryall, and Paul G. Hayeck.

SEC Charges Crowdfunding Portal, Issuer, and Related Individuals for Fraudulent Offerings

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged three individuals and one issuer with conducting a fraudulent scheme to sell nearly $2 million of unregistered securities through two crowdfunding offerings. The SEC also charged the registered funding portal and its CEO, who placed the offerings on the portal’s platform.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Robert Shumake, alongside associates Nicole Birch and Willard Jackson, conducted fraudulent and unregistered crowdfunding offerings through two cannabis and hemp companies, Transatlantic Real Estate LLC and 420 Real Estate LLC.  Shumake, with assistance from Birch and Jackson, allegedly hid his involvement in the offerings from the public out of concern that his prior criminal conviction could deter prospective investors. The complaint alleges that Shumake and Birch raised $1,020,100 from retail investors through Transatlantic Real Estate, and Shumake and Jackson raised $888,180 through 420 Real Estate. Shumake, Birch, and Jackson allegedly diverted investor funds for personal use rather than using the funds for the purposes disclosed to investors. As alleged, TruCrowd Inc., a registered funding portal, and its CEO, Vincent Petrescu, hosted the Transatlantic Real Estate and 420 Real Estate offerings on TruCrowd’s platform. Petrescu allegedly failed to address red flags including Shumake’s criminal history and involvement in the crowdfunding offerings, and otherwise failed to reduce the risk of fraud to investors.

“Crowdfunding offerings enable issuers to cast a wide net for potential investors, emphasizing the importance of full and honest disclosure,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “As companies continue to raise funds through crowdfunding offerings, we will hold issuers, gatekeepers, and individuals accountable and enforce the protections in place for all investors.”

The SEC’s complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, charges Shumake, Birch, Jackson, and 420 Real Estate with violating the antifraud and registration provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and seeks disgorgement plus pre-judgment interest, penalties, permanent injunctions, and officer and director bars. The complaint also charges TruCrowd and Petrescu with violating the crowdfunding rules of the Securities Act and seeks disgorgement plus pre-judgment interest, penalties, and permanent injunctions.

The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has issued an investor bulletin on crowdfunding and investor alerts on the red flags of investment fraud. Additional information is available at Investor.gov.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Jerrold H. Kohn, Dante A. Roldán, Pesach Glaser, and Kristine Rodriguez, and supervised by Ana D. Petrovic, and the litigation will be led by John Birkenheier, all of the Chicago Regional Office. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Fitch downgraded Sinic – Chinese Real Estate Developer Slumps 87%

Fitch downgraded yesterday Sinic’s IDR to ‘CCC’ on the lower likelihood of bond refinancing.

Fitch Sinic’s downgrade reflects the diminishing likelihood of Sinic refinancing its immediate maturity, a USD 246 million bond due on 18 October 2021

Fitch does not believe that Sinic can reduce land acquisitions for a prolonged period due to its high-churn business model.

9-20-2021

Sinic Holdings one of the biggest Chinese real estate developers slumped 87% at 0.50 and trading halted in Hong Kong as fears of Evergrande contagion grow in the region. The stock hit the daily low at 0.37, on Friday Sinic stock closed at 3.85.

Investors fear that Sinic will follow Evergrande in a panic effect through the Chinese economy and around the globe. Evergrande is trading 15% lower in Hong Kong on fears that the company will fail to meet the financial obligations expiring this week.

Last Wednesday, Fitch Ratings cut the outlook on Sinic (2103) Long Term Issuer Default Rating to Negative from Stable with a “B+” rating. Sinic Holdings faces a 9.5% 246 million bond expiring on October 18. Reports indicate that the company is planning a pay cut up to 70% to its senior management staff.

Stocks around the globe are under heavy selling pressure, Hang Seng index ended 3.30% lower at 24099. In Australia, the ASX 200 had its worst trading session in the last seven months with a loss of over 2%.

European Stocks in Deep Red

European stock markets followed Asian indices as investors dump stocks. The DAX index as of writing is 2.12% lower at 15160 while the FTSE 100 in London is giving up 1.72% at 6857. In Wall Street, the futures are also lower. S&P500 futures trading 1.04% lower at 4379 and the Nasdaq futures are 0.84% lower at 15183.

CFTC Charges Former Hawaii Resident in Forex and Futures Ponzi Scheme

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission today filed a civil enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii against Gregory Demetrius Bryant, Jr., formerly of Hawaii, for fraudulent solicitation, misappropriation, operation of an unlawful commodity pool, and failure to register with the CFTC.

According to the complaint, Bryant fraudulently solicited approximately $426,000 from at least 35 participants for pooled futures and foreign currency (forex) trading—misappropriating at least $356,000 to pay personal expenses, including international travel, shopping, and rent, as well as at least $66,000 to make Ponzi payments to conceal and further his fraudulent scheme.

Case Background

The complaint alleges that since approximately September 2016 through at least June 2020, Bryant—while using the alias “Gregory Surrey England,” purported president of the nonexistent company “Surrey Libor Capital, LLC”—falsely guaranteed monthly futures and forex trading returns of $6,000 to $8,000 in some instances and 60 percent to 80 percent in other instances. It is further alleged that Bryant made numerous false statements to prospective and current pool participants about his trading experience, his trading success, and being registered with the National Futures Association. According to the complaint, Bryant also failed to tell pool participants that he was a convicted criminal with a history of financial problems, including three bankruptcies.

Rather than trade futures and forex as he represented in his solicitations, Bryant, as alleged, misappropriated the vast majority of pool funds for personal expenses and to make purported “returns” to pool participants. Bryant further concealed his fraud and misappropriation of pool participants’ funds by falsely telling them their accounts were “in great shape,” to expect returns or disbursements soon, and/or that his business was being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In its continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, civil monetary penalties, permanent trading and registration bans, and a permanent injunction against further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and CFTC regulations, as charged.

The CFTC acknowledges and thanks the National Futures Association, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii for their assistance.

The Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this case are Elsie Robinson, Rachel Hayes, Jenny Chapin, Jeff Le Riche, Christopher Reed, Charles Marvine, and former staff member Jo Mettenburg.

CFTC’s Commodity Pool and Forex Fraud Advisories

The CFTC has issued several customer protection Fraud Advisories that provide the warning signs of fraud, including the Commodity Pool Fraud Advisory and the Forex Fraud Advisory, which alert customers these types of fraud and list simple ways to spot them.

The CFTC also strongly urges the public to verify a company’s or individual’s registration with the CFTC before committing funds. If unregistered, a customer should be wary of providing funds to that company or individual. A company’s or individual’s registration status can be found using NFA BASIC.

Customers and other individuals can report suspicious activities or information, such as possible violations of commodity trading laws, to the Division of Enforcement via a toll-free hotline 866-FON-CFTC (866-366-2382), file a tip or complaint online, or contact the Whistleblower Office. Whistleblowers are eligible to receive between 10 and 30 percent of the monetary sanctions collected paid from the Customer Protection Fund financed through monetary sanctions paid to the CFTC by violators of the CEA. 

SEC Charges Investment Advisers With Cherry-Picking, Obtains Asset Freeze

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that it has obtained an asset freeze and other emergency relief, and filed fraud charges, against a Miami-based investment professional and two investment firms for engaging in an alleged “cherry-picking” scheme in which they channelled millions of dollars in trading profits to preferred accounts.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed under seal on June 10 in federal court in the Southern District of Florida and unsealed today, defendants Ramiro Jose Sugranes, UCB Financial Advisers Inc., and UCB Financial Services Limited engaged in a scheme since at least September 2015 to divert profitable trades to two accounts believed to be held by Sugranes’ relatives and saddle other clients with losing trades. The defendants allegedly used a single account to place trades without specifying the intended recipients of the securities at the time they placed the trades. As alleged, after the defendants established a position, if the price of the securities increased during the trading day, the defendants usually closed out the position and allocated those profitable trades to the two preferred accounts. Conversely, the complaint alleges that if the price of the securities decreased during the trading day, the defendants usually allocated the unprofitable trades to other client accounts. According to the complaint, the preferred clients, who are named as relief defendants, received approximately $4.6 million from profitable trades while other clients sustained more than $5 million in first-day losses.

“We allege that Sugranes used the UCB investment firms to funnel millions of dollars to two clients, while unloading over $5 million in first-day losses on their other clients,” said Joseph G. Sansone, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit.  “The SEC uses sophisticated analytical tools to ferret out investment professionals who abuse their positions to engage in cherry-picking and other fraudulent conduct, as we allege happened here.”

The SEC’s complaint charges Sugranes and the two UCB entities with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws, and seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties. The complaint also names the preferred clients as relief defendants and seeks to recover their unlawful gains and prejudgment interest. On June 14, the court granted the SEC’s request for emergency relief, including an asset freeze, accounting, and expedited discovery.

The SEC’s investigation, which is ongoing, stems from the Market Abuse Unit’s Analysis and Detection Center, which uses data analysis tools to detect suspicious patterns, including improbably successful trading. The investigation is being conducted by Jeffrey E. Oraker, Daniel M. Konosky, and Helena Engelhart Bean of the Market Abuse Unit and Denver Regional Office with assistance from John Rymas of the Market Abuse Unit and Stuart Jackson and Joshua Mallet of the SEC’s Division of Economic and Risk Analysis. The investigation is supervised by Danielle R. Voorhees and Joseph G. Sansone. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Christopher E. Martin and Mark L. Williams under the supervision of Gregory A. Kasper.

CME Group to Launch Micro WTI Futures on July 12

CME Group, the world’s leading and most diverse derivatives marketplace, today announced it will expand its suite of micro-sized futures contracts with the introduction of Micro WTI futures.  The contracts are expected to launch on July 12, pending regulatory review.

Micro WTI futures will be one-tenth the size of the company’s global benchmark WTI Crude Oil futures contract and cash-settled. They will enable market participants – from institutions to sophisticated, active, individual traders – to fine-tune exposure to crude oil markets and enhance their trading strategies in an efficient, cost-effective way.

“As U.S. crude continues to gain global significance, we are seeing increasing demand for tools that help a broader range of clients access these markets,” said Peter Keavey, Global Head of Energy Products at CME Group. “WTI futures have always been a top product for active traders around the world, and the smaller size of Micro WTI futures will offer more flexibility and greater precision to market users – all while enabling them to benefit from the transparency and liquidity of the world’s most robust crude oil contract.”

“Interactive Brokers’ advantage has always been our low cost, advanced technology, and breadth of products offered,” said Steve Sanders, Executive Vice President, Marketing and Product Development at Interactive Brokers. “We are excited to add Micro WTI futures to our product roster, which will allow more of our sophisticated individual investor and active trader clients to participate in the global oil markets.”

“We continue to see demand from retail active traders for micro sized futures products like this that provide access to attractive markets with greater flexibility and efficiency,” said J.B. Mackenzie, Managing Director at TD Ameritrade Futures and Forex, LLC.  “The launch of Micro WTI futures brings the crude oil markets to our clients in a more cost-effective way and is one more tool to help our clients diversify their exposure and hone their trading strategies.”

“As a growing audience of self-directed investors and traders continues to gravitate to the futures markets, we are excited to introduce the new Micro WTI Crude Oil contracts to the NinjaTrader user community,” said Martin Franchi, CEO of NinjaTrader Group, LLC.  “The smaller contract size available through this product innovation will significantly increase accessibility for more traders to this dynamic market and the opportunities available through futures.”

“TradeStation Securities, Inc. is proud to continue our strong relationship with CME through the launch of Micro Crude Oil Futures. As a platform for retail and institutional investors, we’re excited to offer our clients access to U.S. crude at a lower barrier of entry,” said John Bartleman, President of TradeStation Group, Inc., TradeStation’s parent company. “As day-one supporters of this new product, we’re continuing to prioritize our clients access to the latest Futures products and technology.”

Micro WTI futures will be cash-settled based on the daily settlement price of NYMEX WTI futures. The contracts will be listed on and subject to the rules of NYMEX. For more information or for product specifications please see: https://cmegroup.com/micro-wti

As the world’s leading and most diverse derivatives marketplace, CME Group (www.cmegroup.com) enables clients to trade futures, options, cash and OTC markets, optimize portfolios, and analyze data – empowering market participants worldwide to efficiently manage risk and capture opportunities. CME Group exchanges offer the widest range of global benchmark products across all major asset classes based on interest ratesequity indexesforeign exchangeenergyagricultural products and metals.  The company offers futures and options on futures trading through the CME Globex® platform, fixed income trading via BrokerTec and foreign exchange trading on the EBS platform. In addition, it operates one of the world’s leading central counterparty clearing providers, CME Clearing. With a range of pre-and post-trade products and services underpinning the entire lifecycle of a trade, CME Group also offers optimization and reconciliation services through TriOptima, and trade processing services through Traiana.

Federal Court Orders Virginia Resident to Pay More Than $5 Million for Futures and Options Fraud

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced today that Judge John A. Gibney, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia entered a Consent Order for Permanent Injunction, Restitution and Ancillary Equitable Relief against defendant Leonard J. Cipolla finding, among other things, that Cipolla fraudulently solicited individuals to place funds in a commodity pool to trade futures and options while misappropriating more than $5 million of the money he was given to trade. The order requires that Cipolla pay restitution of $5,102,283.51 and imposes permanent trading and registration bans.

The order resolves a CFTC action against Cipolla filed in the Eastern District of Virginia on September 19, 2019. [See CFTC Press Release No. 8020-19] Litigation against Cipolla’s company, Tate Street Trading, Inc., continues. 

Case Background

According to the order, and as Cipolla admitted, from June 2009 through April 2019, Cipolla fraudulently solicited and received approximately $7,096,303 from pool participants in connection with futures and options pooled trading. The order also found that Cipolla misappropriated more than $2.5 million for business expenses or personal use and made more than $3 million in Ponzi-like payments to pool participants.  

Despite having accepted approximately $7,096,303 from pool participants, the order found that Cipolla transferred only approximately $1,462,834 into Tate Street’s trading accounts. While Cipolla typically promised pool participants substantial returns, his actual trading between June 2009 and April 2019 was profitable in only two years and resulted in cumulative net losses of approximately $1,462,305. The order also found that Cipolla provided statements to pool participants that did not accurately reflect their trading results.

Parallel Criminal Action

In a separate, parallel criminal action, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia previously announced that Cipolla pleaded guilty to mail fraud and acting as an unregistered commodity pool operator in connection with the scheme. On July 1, 2020, Cipolla was sentenced to 121 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to victims. [See United States v. Leonard J. Cipolla, Case No. 3:19-cr-00126, ECF No. 40 (E.D. Va. Jul. 1, 2020)]

The CFTC cautions that orders requiring repayment of funds to victims may not result in the recovery of any money lost because the wrongdoers may not have sufficient funds or assets. The CFTC will continue to fight vigorously for the protection of customers and to ensure the wrongdoers are held accountable.

The CFTC appreciates the cooperation and assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in this matter.

The Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this case are James A. Garcia, Michael Loconte, James Deacon, Erica Bodin and Rick Glaser.

Governor Christopher J. Waller: The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy

At The Global Interdependence Center’s 39th Annual Monetary and Trade Conference, The LeBow College of Business, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (via webcast)

Thank you, Kathleen, and thank you, George and the Global Interdependence Center, for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon. I am with you to talk about my outlook for the U.S. economy and the implications for monetary policy.1 In the last week we have received employment and inflation reports that have garnered a lot of attention. Incorporating this information into my outlook, I have two messages today. The first is that, despite an unexpectedly weak jobs report, the U.S. economy is hitting the gas and continuing to make a very strong recovery from the severe COVID-19 recession. Let’s remember, and this applies to latest inflation data too, that a month does not make a trend—the trend for the economy is excellent. My second message is that, despite the unexpectedly high CPI inflation report yesterday, the factors putting upward pressure on inflation are temporary, and an accommodative monetary policy continues to have an important role to play in supporting the recovery.

The pandemic and resulting public health response led to the sharpest drop in employment and output the United States has likely ever experienced—22 million jobs lost in eight weeks and an annualized decline of 30 percent in real gross domestic output for the second quarter of 2020. These numbers are simply staggering, and they left us in a deep, deep hole. Not so long ago, it seemed like the economic damage from COVID-19 might be with us for a long time, and that a full recovery could take many years. But thanks to the rapid development of vaccines and aggressive fiscal and monetary policy, the economy is recovering much faster than anyone expected six months ago.

I said a few weeks ago that the economy was ready to rip, and in many respects, that is exactly what it is doing. The initial estimate of first quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) growth came in at a 6.4 percent annual rate, surpassing the level of output in the first quarter of 2020, before the full force of COVID-19 hit the economy. Second-quarter growth is likely to be as much as 8 percent, and the prospects are good that GDP will be close to trend output by the end of 2021. New home sales continue to be strong. We are seeing robust household spending on durable goods despite supply bottlenecks that I will discuss in a moment. Surveys of purchasing managers point to continued solid growth in both manufacturing and business services.

So, what about that jobs report? That thud you heard last Friday was the jaw of every forecaster hitting the floor. It was a big surprise for me and most people, but it probably should not have been, because it fits with what we have been hearing from businesses about labor supply shortages. GDP is back to its pre-pandemic level, but we have recovered only 14 million of the 22 million jobs lost last spring.

To fully understand how the labor market is performing, I like to refer to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s labor market distribution spider chart.2 The chart plots data for 15 different labor market indicators in an easy-to-read manner. Using this chart, you can compare all these indicators for February 2020, April 2020, and March 2021. Looking at these months allows one to compare the very healthy labor market of February 2020 with the depths of the pandemic decline in April 2020 and see both how well we have rebounded since then and how much farther we still have to go.

The takeaway from that chart is that the labor market has recovered on many dimensions, such as hiring plans, job openings, quits rates, and firms unable to fill job openings. But on other dimensions, the labor market is far from recovering to its pre-pandemic level. Employment, as I said, is still below where it was in February 2020, by 8 million jobs. The unemployment rate is still 2.5 percentage points higher than it was in February 2020, and we know that it is even worse for some groups—nearly 10 percent for Black workers and nearly 8 percent for Hispanics. The employment-to-population ratio continues to be depressed from February 2020. The upshot is that several measures of labor market conditions have fully recovered, but other measures indicate that the overall labor market has a long way to go to get back to full strength. In short, some of the labor market’s cylinders are firing away, and some are still sputtering, so monetary accommodation continues to be warranted.

This chart, like the disappointing jobs report for April, shines a light on a current puzzle characterizing the U.S. labor market—a lot of job openings, but high unemployment rates and a low labor force participation rate. We hear repeatedly from our business contacts about firms boosting wages yet still being unable to attract workers.3 While clearly this is a real problem for some firms at the moment, I believe this mismatch is temporary.

I think of the current problem as follows. When the pandemic hit, both labor demand and labor supply fell dramatically. The combination of widespread vaccines and fiscal and monetary stimulus caused consumer demand to recover sharply. This situation, in turn, caused labor demand to rebound quickly, particularly in goods-producing industries. However, due to factors like continued fears of the virus, the enhanced unemployment insurance, child-care issues, and early retirements, labor supply has not rebounded in the same fashion, which led to a situation with excess demand for labor and upward pressure on wages.4 And that is exactly what we saw in the April jobs report. Average hourly earnings rose 20 cents in April for private-sector nonsupervisory workers, to $25.45.

But it is likely the labor supply shortage will be temporary. As vaccinations continue to climb, fears of reentering the labor force should decline. By September, most schools and daycare facilities are expected to fully reopen, resolving recent child-care issues for many families. Finally, the enhanced unemployment benefits passed in response to the pandemic expire in September, and research has shown repeatedly that the job-finding rate spikes as unemployment benefits run out.5 Thus, while labor demand is currently outrunning labor supply, supply should catch up soon.

Now let me turn to the other leg of the Fed’s dual mandate, price stability. That second thud you heard yesterday was forecasters’ bodies following their jaws to the floor after the CPI report was released. It was a surprise, but a look at its causes doesn’t alter my fundamental outlook, which is that the main pressures on inflation are temporary.

First, let me address concerns that strong growth threatens to unleash an undesired escalation in inflation. In August 2020, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) adopted a new policy framework that includes flexible average inflation targeting and a policy stance based on economic outcomes as opposed to economic forecasts.

Flexible average inflation targeting means we aim to have inflation overshoot our 2 percent longer-run goal if inflation had been running persistently below target. Given that we missed our inflation target on the low side consistently for the past eight years or so, the FOMC has said that it will aim to moderately overshoot its inflation target for some period but then have it return to target. Our willingness to aim for above-target inflation also means we will not overreact to temporary overshoots of inflation—we need to see inflation overshoot our target for some time before we will react.

An outcomes-based policy stance means that we must see inflation before we adjust policy—we will not adjust based on forecasts of unacceptably high inflation as we did in the past. Call this the “Doubting Thomas” approach to monetary policy—we will believe it when we see it.

We asked to see it, and lo and behold, we are now starting to see inflation exceeding our inflation target. But the critical question is: for how long? Although inflation is starting to exceed our 2 percent target, in my view, this development is largely due to a set of transitory factors that are occurring all at once. I can think of at least six.

First, there is what we economists call “base effects,” which is the simple arithmetic of what happens when the very low inflation readings of the first half of 2020 fall out of our 12-month measure of inflation. That adjustment will be over in a few months. A second temporary factor is higher energy prices, which have rebounded this year as the economy strengthens but are expected to level off later this year. Retail gasoline prices have jumped in some areas due to the disruption of the Colonial Pipeline, but the effect on inflation should be temporary also.

A third factor is the significant fiscal stimulus to date. Stimulus checks put money in people’s pockets, and when they spend it, there will be upward pressure on prices. But when the checks are gone, the upward pressure on prices will ease.

A fourth factor is a reversal of the very high savings that households have built up over the past year. As households draw down these savings, demand for goods and services will increase, which again will put upward pressure on prices. But, just like stimulus checks, once the excess savings is gone, it is gone, and any price pressures from this factor will ease.

A fifth factor is supply bottlenecks that manufacturers and importers are currently experiencing; supply chain constraints are boosting prices, particularly for goods—less so for services. One strength of a capitalist system is that markets adjust. If demand and prices rise for a product, supply will follow, and bottlenecks will dissipate. So once again, price pressures induced by bottlenecks should reverse as supply chains catch up and orders get filled.

Finally, the excess demand for labor I described earlier is likely to continue to push wages up in the next couple of months. How much of this increase gets passed through to prices is unknown, but some of it will. However, as I argued earlier, once labor supply catches up, this wage pressure should ease.

I expect that all of these factors will cause inflation to overshoot our 2 percent longer-run goal in 2021. But they will not lead to sustained, high rates of inflation. Financial markets seem to think the same—5-year breakeven inflation expectations are around 2.5 percent, and 5-year, 5-year-forward measures are around 2 percent, when adjusted for the difference between CPI (consumer price index) and PCE (personal consumption expenditures) inflation rates.6 Hence, markets do not believe the current factors pushing up inflation will last for long.

While I fully expect the price pressure associated with these factors to ease and for some of the large increases in prices to reverse, it may take a while to do so. Shortages give producers pricing power that they will be reluctant to let go of right away. Wage increases for new workers may cause firms to raise wages for existing workers in order to keep them. Consequently, there may be knock-on effects from the current wage increases. The pandemic has also caused firms to restructure their supply chains, and, as a result, bottlenecks may last longer than currently anticipated as these supply chains are rebuilt. There are also asymmetric price effects from cost shocks—prices go up very quickly but often tend to come down more slowly, as consumers slowly learn that the bottlenecks have gone away.

For these reasons, I expect that inflation will exceed 2 percent this year and next year. After that, it should return to target. And in my view, this fluctuation is okay—our new framework is designed to tolerate a moderate overshoot of inflation for some time as long as longer-term inflation expectations remain well-anchored at 2 percent.

Before I turn to the implications of all this for monetary policy, a word about the housing market. As I said earlier, housing is a bright spot in the economy that is encouraging investment and lifting household wealth, which is all good, but with memories of recent history in mind, the fast growth in housing prices in most areas of the United States does bear close watching. Housing is becoming less affordable, and that price increase has the biggest effect on low-income individuals and families who have struggled the most since last spring and who are always the most vulnerable to rising rents and home prices. Prices for lumber and other inputs for housing are skyrocketing, and while that occurrence is not having a significant effect on inflation, it is limiting the supply of new homes and helping feed the house price boom. Fortunately, the banking system is strong and resilient—going through multiple Fed stress tests and a tough, real-life stress test this past year. Nevertheless, I am watching this sector closely for signs of stress and will continue to do so.

So, in summary, the economy is ripping, it is going gangbusters—pick your favorite metaphor. But we need to remember that it is coming out of a deep hole, and we are just getting back to where we were pre-pandemic. Labor market indicators are more mixed with 8 million workers still without jobs. But many of the problems holding back labor supply will dissipate over time, and we should return to the robust labor market we had in February 2020. Inflation is currently being driven above our 2 percent inflation target but is expected to return to target in subsequent years as transitory inflation shocks fade.

Highly accommodative monetary policy, in conjunction with unprecedented fiscal support, has supported a rapid recovery from a uniquely sharp, pandemic-caused recession. The improving economy is helping repair the significant economic damage suffered by individuals, families, and businesses, but there is still a way to go before we fully recover.

In light of that fact, I expect the FOMC to maintain an accommodative policy for some time. We have said our policy actions are outcome based, which means we need to see more data confirming the economy has made substantial further progress before we adjust our policy stance, because sometimes the data does not conform to expectations, as we saw last Friday. The May and June jobs report may reveal that April was an outlier, but we need to see that first before we start thinking about adjusting our policy stance. We also need to see if the unusually high price pressures we saw in the April CPI report will persist in the months ahead. The takeaway is that we need to see several more months of data before we get a clear picture of whether we have made substantial progress towards our dual mandate goals. Now is the time we need to be patient, steely-eyed central bankers, and not be head-faked by temporary data surprises.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you, and I would be happy to respond to your questions.

Amazon News Analysis and Earnings

4-29-201 – Amazon reported 1Q earnings beating the analyst’s expectations both in top and bottom line. Amazon reported earnings: of  $15.79 /share well above Wall Street expectations of $9.54/share. The revenue came up to $108.52 billion topping the expectations of $104.47 billion.

Net sales for AMZN rose to $108.52 billion in 1Q from $75.45 billion, above the analysts’ expectations of $104.47 billion.

Amazon stock is trading 3.85% higher at $3605 in the post market trading.

Amazon Guidance

The company now expects operating income for the current quarter to be between $4.5 billion and $8 billion, which implies almost $1.5 billion of costs related to coronavirus.

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