In the first week of February, in the trading session just before the February 5 VIXtermination, the market tumbled as a result of a January average hourly earnings number that surged (even though as we explained at the time, the market had wildly misinterpreted the print), prompting speculation that the Fed was dangerously behind the curve and would need to accelerate its tightening, potentially hiking rates more than just 4 times in 2018, leading to an accelerating liquidation of risk assets which eventually culminated in the record VIX spike.
Since then, inflation fears moderated following several downward revisions (as expected) and more tame hourly earnings prints, with market concerns instead shifting to trader wars, the return of populism to Europe, the tech bubble, and the sustainability of record margins and net income.
But according to a recent analysis by Deutsche Bank's Aleksandar Kocic, traders are ignoring the risk of an imminent, "phase shift" spike in wages at their own risk. Specifically, Kocic looks at the current locus of the Philips curve - which many economists have left for dead due to its seeming failure to explain how the plunge in unemployment to record low levels has failed to boost wages - and notes that as the economy approaches the full employment, "wages tend to become more responsive." This, to the Deutsche Bank analyst, "is the inflection point that the Fed is monitoring."
Looking at the Phillips curve over the past 4 economic cycles, Kocic compares it to the Cheshire cat's smile from Alice in Wonderland, which is present even when the actual cat body is no longer there: "In each cycle, it falls apart, but after every annihilation, it re-composes itself and continues to play an important role."
Specifically, what Kocic highlights, is the sudden phase transitions between the end of one cycle and the start of another, in which one observes a "near vertical" spike in inflation to the smallest favorable change in underlying conditions. In the DB chart below, each cycle has a different color which implicitly marks their beginning and end.
In the current context, the most important message of this graph is the finale of each recovery. In the past, this stage always exhibited a dramatic (practically straight line) rise in wages in response to infinitesimal improvements in economic activity. These periods are highlighted with (almost) vertical lines in the chart.
Of course, as economists have long lamented, what has prompted many to speculate that the Phillips curve is broken or even dead, is the failure of the economy to respond with a sharp increase in wages to the already near record low unemployment rate, which is over 0.5% below what the Fed currently believes is the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment), or the unemployment rate which does not cause inflation to rise or decrease....