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Biden's inflation danger: Some economists sound alarm over stimulus plans

President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.


On one side: Economists at Goldman Sachs raised their 2021 U.S. GDP forecast to 6.6% — a full 2.5 percentage points above consensus — and are projecting an unemployment rate of 4.5% at the end of 2021, down from 4.8%.

  • Goldman's economists are further expecting to see 4.3% GDP growth in 2022 as well as nominal disposable income growth of 4.5% next year.
  • The predictions are well above the already rosy consensus of most economists.

Between the lines: Goldman's economists have consistently been above consensus in their projections for the U.S. economy's rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. And they've largely been correct.

On the other side: "Right now everybody thinks we’re going to get reflation — that’s real growth going forward," Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research, told me on the latest Voices of Wall Street podcast.

  • "If that morphs itself into inflation that could be [a problem] for financial markets throughout the second half of the year."

Why it matters: Investors warn that rising inflation threatens the real economy and the stock market.

  • "If we get to 2.6% or 2.7% on the core [inflation] number that’s the highest level we would have in 30 years," Bianco noted.
  • "With the 10-year yield at 1.1% and with the stock market at a new high and a forward P/E ratio of 24 [times earnings] that’s going to be a problem for risk markets to see that kind of level of inflation even if the Fed says that they want that level of inflation."

What to watch: Even though Fed chair Jerome Powell and other top officials have said they welcome inflation, Bianco warns they are not in charge.

  • "If you look at the policy shifts from the Fed … the last two times the Fed has changed policy the market has forced it on them and forced it on them rather quickly," he added.
  • The Fed "can lay out all the plans in the world that they want as long as the market is in agreement with them. But if the market ever changes its mind the Fed is within days of changing policy."

With a vaccine boosting demand and continued supply chain disruption threatening supply, inflation is a real threat and a worry for many sectors of the economy, says Danielle DiMartino Booth, CEO of Quill Intelligence.

What we're hearing: "What happens to housing and everything that we’ve poured into housing if mortgage rates come off their record lows?" DiMartino Booth, a former staffer at the Fed, told me on the Voices of Wall Street podcast.

  • "I think that’s the last thing that Jay Powell wants. Especially if you’re looking at what happens to risky assets because the world is not prepared for higher interest rates."
  • "The Fed should be extremely careful of saying that it wants inflation … once the genie gets let out of the bottle the Fed’s not going to have a say in where inflation goes and I don’t think policymakers understand that."

Schumer says Democrats are "delighted" Ron Johnson is forcing relief bill to be read out loud

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of going to "ridiculous lengths" to show his opposition to a COVID relief package widely supported by the American public, after Johnson demanded that the entire 600-page bill be read on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Johnson's procedural move will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate, during which Republicans will propose amendments to force uncomfortable votes for Democrats. Schumer promised that the Senate will stay in session "no matter how long it takes" to finish voting on the $1.7 trillion rescue package.

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Why gas prices are back up

Data: EIA and FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Gas prices are hitting new post-pandemic highs across the country, but this isn't a story of America reopening. It's really just a function of the price of oil going up.

By the numbers: Gasoline cost $2.71 on average as of Monday, per the Energy Information Administration. The highest average price was $3.59 in Los Angeles, while the lowest was $2.33 in Houston.

  • All of these prices represent the highest level seen since 2019.

The big picture: The price of crude oil reflects more than half of the cost of a gallon of gasoline. (The rest is refinery costs, distribution costs, and taxes.)

  • Demand for oil has actually been declining, per the New York Fed, but supply has been falling even faster, with the result that prices have now topped $64 for a barrel of Brent crude.

What central bank digital currencies mean for crypto

Central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs,represent the ultimate ratification of digital finance: Its adoption by the most venerated guardians of the international monetary architecture.

Why it matters: Crypto-evangelists often talk about CBDCs in awed terms. But it's far from clear that the bitcoin-and-ethereum crowd would ultimately benefit from money going digital.

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Capitol Police asks for National Guard to stay on-site for two more months

U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday asked that the National Guard remain on-site for an additional 60 days due to ongoing security concerns surrounding the building, AP reports.

Why it matters: While many lawmakers are eager for security measures surrounding the Capitol — including fencing and an increased law enforcement presence — to be lightened, the request by Capitol Police reflects concerns about ongoing threats.

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Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

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Leaked government documents spotlight Biden's child migrant dilemma

Fresh internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show how quickly the number of child migrants crossing the border is overwhelming the administration's stretched resources.

Driving the news: In the week ending March 1, the Border Patrol referred to HHS custody an average of 321 children per day, according to documents obtained by Axios. That's up from a weekly average of 203 in late January and early February — and just 47 per day during the first week of January.

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Mounting emissions data paints bleak picture on Paris climate goals

Researchers keep finding new ways to reveal that nations are together showing very few signs of getting on track to meet the Paris Agreement's goals.

One big question: That's whether a spate of recent analyses to that effect, and scientific reports coming later this year, will move the needle on meaningful new policies (not just targets).

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How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

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