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There's good economic news on the horizon, and that's rattling markets. Wait, what? – CBC.ca

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The first signs that the world is winning the battle with COVID-19 has sparked great news for the global economy as the number vaccinated grows and the death rate falls.

Once shops and factories reopen, once people trapped working from home are finally set free to spend on restaurant meals and travel, sharing the savings they couldn’t spend during lockdown, that recirculation of money is the very thing that will make economies strong.

So it is fair to ask why stock markets tumbled on Thursday — the Dow and the Toronto market were down again Friday — if the economy is recovering.

As Jim Reid, research strategist at Deutsche Bank told the Financial Times last week it “proved to be nothing short of a rout in global markets, with the sell-off in sovereign bonds accelerating as investors looked forward to the prospect of a strengthening economy over the coming months.”

A global rout in markets, a sell-off in bonds, all due to the prospect of a strengthening economy? The explanation involves the uncertainty of where interest rates go from here if a post-COVID-19 economy gets cooking. 

The market not the economy

But the first step in understanding the paradox is remembering that “The stock market isn’t the economy,” as now-U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen once said.

Over the long haul, there is no question that a strong and growing economy adds to the value of the companies that operate within it. A study of 17 advanced economies by researchers at the University of Bonn showed that over the long term, total stock market values climb with gross domestic product.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen departs the White House. The stock market is not the economy, she once said. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

But as we clearly saw last year when the U.S. stock markets hit record highs even as GDP shrank more than it had in 70 years, that relationship is not perfectly in sync.

In both Canada and the U.S., central banks have expressed confidence that the economy will grow strongly this year and next. Not only that, but to help put people back to work, both Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have promised to keep interest rates low until there are clear signs the employment and business activity have recovered.

So everyone seems to agree the economy will grow stronger. But while central banks try to hold rates down, there are increasing signs that the private investors in the bond market are anticipating rates will rise, making existing bonds worth less.

Interest rates rising?

Bonds are not generally the subject of supper table conversation in Canadian households, but the interest rates set in bond markets affect Canadians in many ways, including the rate you pay for your mortgage. According to mortgages brokers Rate Spy there are early signs that mortgage prices may be following bond yields up.

The key point to understand the role of bonds in the rising economy is one of the things people often find most confusing about them: existing bonds fall in value as interest rates rise. (For more explanation of how that works and why bonds matter, this previous column serves as a primer.)

As Reuters reported on Friday, “from the United States to Germany and Australia, government borrowing costs on Friday were set to end February with their biggest monthly rises in years as expectations for a post-pandemic ignition of inflation gained a life of their own.”

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem says he expects any rise in inflation to be temporary, but bond traders seem to disagree. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Economists are divided over whether low interest rates set by central banks and large injections of cash into the economy announced by governments will lead to inflation. Macklem has offered a pretty firm “no” but it appears that last week, the mass of global bond traders appeared to disagree with the Bank of Canada governor and voted with their money. On Friday some suggested the shift in bonds was actually due to technical factors.

Confusingly, the bond market’s anticipation of inflation — if that’s what it is — is a vote of confidence in the future, because traders think consumers and businesses will want to buy more goods and services, driving up their prices.

Speculation vs. fundamentals

As to why stocks fell in response, there are a number of possible reasons, especially in a market where some fear a growing stock bubble. One is that higher bond prices increase the cost of borrowing for companies that raise money in the bond market. Another is that companies must compete with bonds in the money they pay out in dividends. Both cut into profits.

But perhaps most interesting is the idea that stock markets are going through a transition from speculative casino-style investing, where people buy more because they see prices go up (and vice versa) to one based on actual return.

“Markets are increasingly dominated by price action. The more price falls, the more they sell,” James Athey, an investment manager with Aberdeen Standard Investments told the Wall Street Journal last week. “The problem is that not every investor is a fundamental investor.”

In a market where traders have been making bets on bitcoin with no earnings at all or companies that have so far failed to cover their costs, a switch to “fundamental” investing where valuations are based on what a company is likely to earn in a surging economy could lead to greater market stability in the longer term. But there may be a rough patch first.

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter @don_pittis

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Major economies should inject 'significant' support for global economy: Yellen – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By Andrea Shalal and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday warned of the risk of a permanence divergence in the global economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and urged major economies to inject significant new fiscal support to secure a robust recovery.

In a statement to the steering committees of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Yellen underscored the need for major economies to continue supporting developing countries as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and high debt burdens.

She urged the World Bank to help countries, particularly the world’s poorest, get timely access to COVID-19 vaccines, and backed accelerated negotiation to replenish the World Bank’s International Development Association fund for the poorest countries – a goal the bank aims to reach by December.

The United States had pledged $4 billion to the COVAX global vaccine distribution initiative, Yellen said, urging others to join in.

She signalled that Washington, which so far has only loaned vaccines to Mexico and Canada, could provide excess doses to other countries in the future.

“The United States will continue to work with partners to increase vaccine supplies, explore sharing excess vaccines, and make sure financing does not become an obstacle for global vaccination,” Yellen said, without providing any details.

Yellen’s comments reflect the Biden administration’s focus on strong international cooperation to tackle global challenges – a sharp departure from the “go-it-alone” approach pursued by former President Donald Trump’s administration.

“The (COVID-19) crisis has exacerbated the trend of rising income inequality, raising concerns about a divergent path within and across countries. We also face the existential threat of climate change. We can only resolve these problems through strong international cooperation,” Yellen said in remarks prepared for her first meeting with the IMF’s International Monetary and Financial Committee and the World Bank’s Development Committee.

The former head of the Federal Reserve said substantial fiscal and monetary support from major economies had improved the global economic outlook significantly, but more efforts were needed.

Washington was implementing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan and was working on another large infrastructure package, Yellen said, urging other major economies to take similar actions.

“The job is not yet done, given high uncertainty and the risk of permanent scarring,” she said. “I urge major economies to not just avoid removing support too early, but to strive to provide significant amounts of new fiscal support to secure a robust recovery.”

Yellen said developing countries should work with the IMF and World Bank on economic policies and structural reforms and seek full-fledged IMF financing programs, which carry conditions, where necessary. Some countries may need deeper debt treatment, she added.

She called on all creditors to “fully and transparently” implement the Group of 20’s common framework for debt treatments to avoid “unnecessary delays that can prolong debt overhangs and exacerbate growth shocks.”

She also urged the World Bank to lead on “transformative climate investments” and to continue to set an aggressive agenda on climate and the green recovery from the crisis.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder; Editing by Toby Chopra and Paul Simao)

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Canadian dollar pulls back from two-week high ahead of trade data

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Canadian dollar

TORONTO (Reuters) -The Canadian dollar weakened against its U.S. counterpart on Tuesday as concern rose about Canada‘s third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and investors awaited domestic economic data that could offer clues on the Bank of Canada‘s policy outlook.

The loonie was trading 0.4% lower at 1.2573 to the greenback, or 79.54 U.S. cents, having pulled back from its strongest level since March 22 on Monday at 1.2497.

Canada‘s trade report for February is due on Wednesday, while the March employment report is due on Friday.

“Our expectation is for a little bit stronger CAD on the back of some positive data,” said Kyle Dahms, economist at National Bank of Canada.

He expects Canada‘s current account balance to turn positive over the coming months, helped by higher commodity prices, and that the Bank of Canada will cut its bond purchases when it makes its next interest rate announcement on April 21.

Such a move would put the Canadian central bank at odds with some peers, including the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, which have said they will maintain or even increase the pace of bond-buying.

The IMF raised its 2021 growth forecast for Canada by 1.4 percentage points to 5%, the biggest upgrade among G7 economies, while strong economic data from China and the United States helped to lift the price of oil, one of Canada‘s major exports. U.S. crude prices settled 1.2% higher at $59.33 a barrel.

Still, Canada‘s hospitalizations are surging as a third wave of the pandemic sweeps across much of the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Canadian government bond yields were lower across a flatter curve in tandem with U.S. Treasuries. The 10-year touched its lowest level since March 29 at 1.485% before edging up to 1.490%, down 6.5 basis points on the day.

(Reporting by Fergal SmithEditing by Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

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Economy

TSX rises 0.41% to 19,104.14

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX rises 0.41 percent to 19,104.14

* Leading the index were OceanaGold Corp <OGC.TO​>, up 6.8%, Silvercorp Metals Inc​, up 6.6%, and Real Matters Inc​, higher by 6.5%.

* Lagging shares were OrganiGram Holdings Inc​​, down 5.0%, Aphria Inc​, down 4.8%, and Denison Mines Corp​, lower by 4.3%.

* On the TSX 163 issues rose and 65 fell as a 2.5-to-1 ratio favored advancers. There were 23 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 205.4 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Tc Energy Corp and Bank Of Nova Scotia.

* The TSX’s energy group rose 1.14 points, or 1.0%, while the financials sector slipped 0.09 points, or 0.0%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.94%, or $0.55, to $59.2 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.87%, or $0.54, to $62.69 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 9.6% for the year.

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