In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, it was easy to look the other way as governments and regulators considered nearly every course of action for keeping the engines of the economy from totally falling off the tracks, let alone from moving too fast in the wrong direction. But now, after massive stimulus spending, failures, and private-company ownership stakes, governments are dealing with numerous unintended consequences, forcing them to perform a difficult balancing act between immediate stimulus and long-term growth and stability.

This is now becoming evident in the Treasury market, where rising interest rates are putting pressure on the Fed's plan to bring down borrowing costs and help revive the housing market (see Bloomberg article). Mortgage rates, which have been increasing recently (see Bloomberg article and Reuters article), are now reaching high enough levels (if 5.25% is high) where they are beginning to decrease the number of new refinancing, not to mention making new home purchases more expensive and less attractive. While the increasing yield curve has been good for the net interest margins of the banks, the higher rates are coming at a bad time. It was recently reported that the number of homeowners who are getting behind on their mortgages is increasing, causing a spike in foreclosures (see NY Times article). Also, while the median price of a new home was up 3.7 percent in April, the general longer-term trend is still down, and will require a few more positive months to confirm a reversal. Sales of new homes also rose less than expected in April, with a downward revision of the March figures adding additional concern. Durable goods orders did see their largest gain in 16 months in April, but the March number was revised down sharply, causing concern for the accuracy of the current April reading.

Commodities and commodity-related stocks, on the other hand, have been rallying, with gold marching towards $1,000 an ounce, and oil rising above $65 a barrel (see WSJ article), up nearly 50 percent over the last five weeks (see Reuters article). The moves have come in part due to the falling greenback, with the dollar index down 10 percent over the last 3-months. Higher commodity prices have helped resource-rich emerging markets, lifting specific international indexes and causing a rally in emerging market bonds as the higher prices reflect an improved outlook concerning these nations ability to repay their debts (see Bloomberg article). Yet domestically, rising crude oil prices may slow down consumer spending as U.S. consumers find they once again have less disposal income (see Reuters article). Further increases in commodity prices, especially crude oil, will certainly draw concern from the Federal Reserve as it wrestles with the balancing act of growth and inflation, and subsequent worries about stagflation, making it difficult to raise rates. Capacity utilization is still low enough to make one believe that broad-based inflation is at least a year away, yet higher gasoline prices will influence consumer spending - which is vital to GDP and growth - with higher market rates adding extra pressure on spending.

In the area of "the news is good since it was not as bad as expected" camp, reported revisions highlight that GDP only contracted 5.7 percent in Q1, less than expected and previously reported, while corporate profits after taxes increased by 12.9 percent after falling 28.4 percent in Q4 (see WSJ article). Yet, not everything is rosy. Within the last few days, Tiffany posted a 64 percent drop in Q1 earnings, as margins slumped (see WSJ article). Cintas, the uniform maker, gave a weak Q4 outlook, saying that it also expects to have another round of layoffs, bringing its total workforce reduction to 12 percent over the past year (see WSJ article), and signaling further expected weakness in the broader labor market. As for technology, Dell warned that the PC market has not yet hit bottom (see WSJ article). Isolated, insignificant, and cheery-picked? Possibly. But certainly cause for concern.

All of this leaves the Fed and the Treasury with a difficult balancing act going forward. Fortunately for the Fed, or maybe unfortunately depending on your perspective, they may be off the hook, as investors and the markets take action themselves, and in the process drive up Treasury yields on debt and inflation fears (see Financial Post article). As equities enter the summer and currently appear to be stuck in a range as traders collectively make a market, the Fed may also find that it too could benefit from a little monetary consolidation. Unfortunately, the dollar, Treasuries, and commodity prices seem to have a mind of their own, with traders spotting the handwriting on the wall, and taking matters into their own hands. Quite possibility, the inflation train may have already left the station. Maybe the most the Fed can hope for is to make sure it simply arrives later than expected. Even those that feel inflation is a distant reality, see it as a reality, nonetheless. As investors and traders, we can prepare, and maybe make a little money along the way. Gold and commodity traders, as well as those shorting the dollar, are off to a good start.