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2019 Headwinds Are Getting Stronger

2019 Headwinds Are Getting Stronger

In 2017, every prominent economic forecasting entity was shouting from the rooftops about “synchronized global growth.” This was a reference to the fact that not only were certain economies growing, but they were all growing at the same time.

Chinese GDP growth had come down but was still substantial at 6.85%. U.S. GDP growth was posting solid gains of 3.0% in the second quarter of 2017 and 2.8% in the third quarter. Japan and Europe were not growing as quickly as the U.S. and China, but growth was still accelerating from a low level.

Synchronization was a big part of the story. Growth was not isolated and episodic. Growth was fueling more growth in what seemed to be a sustainable way. The world economy was firing on all cylinders.

Then in 2018 the global growth story came screeching to a halt. Japanese growth went negative in the third quarter of 2018. Germany also went negative. Chinese growth continued its drop (6.5% in the third quarter) instead of stabilizing.

The U.K slowed partly because of confusion around Brexit. French growth slid amid riots triggered by a proposed carbon emissions tax. Australian home prices declined precipitously because export orders from China dried up and Chinese flight capital slowed to a trickle due to Chinese capital controls.

The U.S. economy held up fairly well in 2018, with 4.2% growth in the second quarter and 3.5% growth in the third quarter. But much of that growth was inventory accumulation from foreign suppliers in advance of proposed tariffs.

That inventory growth will likely dry up once the tariffs are either imposed or abandoned early this year. Fourth-quarter growth in the U.S. is currently projected at 3.0%, continuing the downtrend from the second quarter.

What happened?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Jarring” FedEx Outlook Cut Suggests “Severe Global Recession”

FedEx shares tumbled 7% after what Morgan Stanley called a “jarring” cut to its annual forecasts, suggesting global growth is slowing far more than most expect, and prompting expectations of an “uber-dovish hike” by the Fed.

The global logistics bellwether slashed its outlook just three months after raising the view, reflecting an unexpected and abrupt change in the company’s view of the global economy amid rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Not only were the cuts were deeper than the Street expected according to Morgan Stanley analyst Ravi Shanker, but everyone is pointing to the following comment from the press release: “Global trade has slowed in recent months and leading indicators point to ongoing deceleration in global trade near-term.”

Needless to say, with little in terms of warning, Morgan Stanley was shocked by the magnitude and severity of the cut, and suggested that this implies a “severe global recession” is unfolding:

“We recognize that global growth has slowed but we are very surprised by the magnitude of the headwind, which is what might be seen in a severe recession,” Shanker wrote. “We believe global growth concerns are also likely to get worse before they get better next year, which could mean more of a drag on FY20 EPS.”

Quoted by Bloomberg, Shankar also said that the Express unit is also likely to remain an overhang, Shanker said, as FedEx management didn’t provide an outlook for fiscal 2020 or its timeline for improving the cargo airline, which has been hit by worsening economic conditions in Europe.

FedEx shares tumbled 7% on Wednesday morning, the lowest intraday price in about two years and the 10th decline for FedEx in 11 days.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Market crash? Another red card for the economy

Market crash? Another red card for the economy

A few months ago I wrote this article at the World Economic Forum called “A Yellow Card For The Global Economy“. It tried to serve as a warning on the rising imbalances of the emerging and leading economies. Unfortunately, since then, those imbalances have continued to rise and market complacency reached new highs.

This week, financial markets have been dyed red and the stock market reaction adds to concerns about a possible impending recession.

The first thing we must understand is that we are not facing a panic created by a black swan, that is, an unexpected event, but by three factors that few could deny were evident:

  1. Excessive valuations after $20 trillion of monetary expansion inflated most financial assets.
  2. Bond yields rising as the US 10-year reaches 3.2%
  3. The evidence of the Yuan devaluation, which is on its way to surpass 7 Yuan per US dollar.
  4. Global growth estimates trimmed for the sixth time in as many months.

Therefore, the US rate hikes – announced repeatedly and incessantly for years – are not the cause, nor the alleged trade war. These are just symptoms, excuses to disguise a much more worrying illness.

What we are experiencing is the evidence of the saturation of excesses built around central banks’ loose policies and the famous “bubble of everything”. And therein lies the problem. After twenty trillion dollars of reckless monetary expansion, risk assets, from the safest to the most volatile, from the most liquid to the unquoted, have skyrocketed with disproportionate valuations.

(courtesy Incrementum AG)

Therefore, a dose of reality was needed. Monetary policy not only disguises the real risk of sovereign assets, but it also pushes the most cautious and prudent investor to take more risk for lower returns. It is no coincidence that this policy is called “financial repression“. Because that is what it does. It forces savers and investors to chase beta and some yield in the riskiest assets.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We Have Entered The Zone When Yields Trigger Market Selloffs

With payrolls now in the rearview mirror and nothing too outlandish revealed in the generally goldilocks data, traders have resumed contemplating the one question that is on everyone’s mind: how much higher (and at what pace) will rates rise before stocks are slammed?

To be sure, the recent spike in US yields – driven by a combination of very strong US growth data, sturdy equity gains, rising oil prices and improving global growth expectations – and the dollar can extend in the near-term, but as UBS points out, only as long as risk tolerates this (another key aspect is the recent speed of yields increase, which “might become problematic”): naturally, once rates rise high enough there will be a capital reallocation out of stocks and into bonds. The question, of course, is what is  “high enough.”

Alternatively, US yields could rise further, if global growth firms up and ex-US yields rise independently – and also if the neutral rate (r-star) is seen as rising in tandem with yields – but in that case the dollar rally would come to an end. Which is why, to UBS long term, US yields are likely to peak in the 12 months ahead “and the higher we go from here the closer we get to that peak – at least levels-wise.”

But the biggest question whether US yields keep rising will depend on whether risky assets tolerate the spike. Earlier this year, UBS looked at the uptick in US yields and subsequent equities sell-offs of at least 5%. What the Swiss bank found is that the more gradual the rise, the higher the threshold to generate equity pain, and inversely the faster the move higher – and the latest episode has seen a 40bps move higher in just over a month – the more acute the equity reaction.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Beware The Zombies: BIS Warns That Non-Viable Firms Are Crippling Global Growth

Ten years after central banks unleashed a period of record low interest rates, the central banks’ central bank is warning that this may not have been the smartest move.

In the latest quarterly review from the Bank of International Settlements, the Basel-based organization that oversees the world’s central banks warned that decades of falling interest rates have led to a sharp increase in the number of “zombie” firms, rising to an all time high since the 1980s, threatening economic growth and preventing interest rates from rising.

Zombie firms are defined as companies that are at least 10 years old, yet are unable to cover their debt service costs from profits, in other words the Interest Coverage Ratio (ICR) is less than 1x for at least 3 consecutive quarters. These types of companies, which first gained attention in Japan decades ago and have since gained prevalence in Europe and, increasingly, the United States.  According to a second definition, a requirement for a “zombie” is to have comparatively low expected future growth potential. Specifically, zombies are required to have a ratio of their assets’ market value to their replacement cost (Tobin’s q) that is below the median within their sector in any given year.

According to authors Ryan Banerjee and Boris Hofmann, zombie firms that fall under the two definitions are very similar with respect to their current profitability, but qualitatively different in their profitability prospects, which may be a function of how central banks have “broken” the market.  Graph 1 below shows that, for non-zombie firms, the median ICR is over four times earnings under both definitions. As the majority of zombie firms make losses, the median ICRs are below minus 7 under the broad measure and around minus 5 under the narrow one, so this is hardly a surprise.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Global Growth Hit A Wall: China Credit Growth Continues To Slow

QUICK TAKE: In short, our thesis is that city-level and regional macroprudential tightening policies in China currently will render economic growth in 2Q18, but more importantly 2H18, dismal; we believe this will spread to emerging markets, rendering the “global coordinated growth” bulls out of sync with reality. This, we believe, in turn, will weigh on metals prices, pushing many of the commodity pundits (i.e., Jeffery Gundlach) to reassess their bullishness. As this happens, we expect  steel/bulk exports out of China to rise (as profitability domestically falls with weakening domestic demand) pushing global bulk commodities prices lower.

Exhibit 1: China Total Credit Growth versus Bank Asset Growth, %Y/Y


Source: Peoples’ Bank of China (PBOC), Vertical Group.

Exhibit 2: It Appears Emerging Markets are no Longer “Feeling the China Love”


Source: Bloomberg, Vertical Group.

So how do things look at this juncture? Well, below we highlight the key takeaways from China’s April 2018 data dump. However, in short, looking at the below data in aggregate, we believe our thesis remains firmly intact; furthermore, in checks “on the ground” in China this week, we learned that the Consensus among domestic traders is that steel prices in China have “peaked” for the year as of this week.

GROWTH INTERNALS. As detailed below, while Y/Y industrial production growth edged higher to +6.9% in April 2018 (from +6.8% in March 2018), the all-important Fixed Asset Investment metric in China hit lows not seen in nearly two decades (at +7.0% Y/Y for April 2018 vs. +7.5% Y/Y in March 2018), while retail sales also dipped lower in the month of April at +9.4% Y/Y (vs. +10.1% Y/Y in March 2018). At risk of stating the obvious, at the margin, this suggests to us that China’s key growth internals are indeed slowing.

Exhibit 3: Growth Internals – China (FAI, Industrial Production, & Retail Sales)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Synchronized Global Growth is Ending: Shocks Come Next

Economic pleasant surprises are in the past, as is the buildup of the balance sheet. The future is deleveraging.

Alarm bells are ringing. No one cares. By now, everyone knows stock only go up.

For those in tune with other ideas, Financial Times writer Stephen King suggests the Global Economy is Due for a Downswing.

Jim Bianco at Bianco Research comments on synchronized growth in his report Concerted Economic Growth is in Jeopardy of Ending.

Summary

Less than 50% of the world’s economies are now producing economic data surprises. Realized economic data following suit in the months to come would remove the tailwind of ‘concerted economic growth’ for risk assets and central banks. Emerging markets may be first on the list to experience higher volatility.

Comment

We have all been discussing ‘concerted global economic growth’ since early 2017 as a tailwind to risk assets and central bank policies. The chart below shows the percentage of the world’s economies producing economic data surprises (orange line) and above-average data changes (blue line) since 2004.

Over 90% of economies were indeed posting realized data changes at above-average growth rates in mid-2017. However, reported data has slowed its ascent over the past month led by the Eurozone and Canada. The percentage of economies with upside surprises has fallen to 44%, which has been a leading indicator for actual data changes like payrolls, industrial production, and durable goods orders. Above-average data changes have also rolled over to 67%. A break below 50% would mean ‘concerted economic growth’ should no longer be proclaimed.

Economic Misses

The next chart offers the median returns by major asset classes after the percentage of economies growing above-average falls below 60%. The impact is not immediate, but higher volatility and drawdowns do ensue over the following months.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global Growth? Retail Sales Flop in US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia

Consumers unexpectedly threw in the towel in 5 countries but the central banks and the IMF insist everything is fine.

On February 14, I noted US Retail Sales Dive, Negative Revisions Too. This will impact both 4th quarter and first quarter GDP estimates.

On February 22, Bloomberg reported Canadian Retail Sales Drop Unexpectedly.

“Receipts fell 0.8 percent to C$49.6 billion in the last month of 2017, Statistics Canada reported Thursday. It was the biggest monthly decline since March 2016. Economists were expecting no change during the month.”

On February 16, the Financial Times reported UK retail sales figures disappoint. The results were positive but barely.

“The volume of retail sales grew by 0.1 per cent month-on-month, far below analysts’ expectations of 0.5 per cent growth in January, according to a poll from Thomson Reuters. On the year, sales were up by 1.6 per cent, from 1.4 per cent, far below expectations for a 2.6 per cent rise.”

On January 31, Reuters reported German Retail Sales Unexpectedly Fall in December.

Given the Fed’s outlook and increasing expectations of four rate hikes plus tapering in the US, tapering in the EU, and rate hikes in the UK, such reports must be meaningless.

Also note the IMF made a “Brighter Forecast” for the global economy in January. When has the IMF ever been wrong?

Weekly Commentary: The Grand Crowded Trade of Financial Speculation 

Weekly Commentary: The Grand Crowded Trade of Financial Speculation 

Even well into 2017, variations of the “secular stagnation” thesis remained popular within the economics community. Accelerating synchronized global growth notwithstanding, there’s been this enduring notion that economies are burdened by “insufficient aggregate demand.” The “natural rate” (R-Star) has sunk to a historical low. Conviction in the central bank community has held firm – as years have passed – that the only remedy for this backdrop is extraordinarily low rates and aggressive “money” printing. Over-liquefied financial markets have enjoyed quite a prolonged celebration.

Going back to early CBBs, I’ve found it useful to caricature the analysis into two distinctly separate systems, the “Real Economy Sphere” and the “Financial Sphere.” It’s been my long-held view that financial and monetary policy innovations fueled momentous “Financial Sphere” inflation. This financial Bubble has created increasingly systemic maladjustment and structural impairment within both the Real Economy and Financial Spheres. I believe finance today is fundamentally unstable, though the associated acute fragility remains suppressed so long as securities prices are inflating.

The mortgage finance Bubble period engendered major U.S. structural economic impairment. This became immediately apparent with the collapse of the Bubble. As was the case with previous burst Bubble episodes, the solution to systemic problems was only cheaper “money” in only great quantities. Moreover, it had become a global phenomenon that demanded a coordinated central bank response.

Where has all this led us? Global “Financial Sphere” inflation has been nothing short of spectacular. QE has added an astounding $14 TN to central bank balance sheets globally since the crisis. The Chinese banking system has inflated to an almost unbelievable $38 TN, surging from about $6.0 TN back in 2007. In the U.S., the value of total securities-to-GDP now easily exceeds previous Bubble peaks (1999 and 2007). And since 2008, U.S. non-financial debt has inflated from $35 TN to $49 TN. It has been referred to as a “beautiful deleveraging.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Abnormality of Oil

Oil barrelsAhmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Image

The Abnormality of Oil

At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

LONDON – Writing about oil prices is always risky. In a January 2015, I suggested that oil prices would not continue to fall, and even predicted that they would “finish the year higher than they were when it began.” I was wrong then; but I might not be wrong for much longer.

I recently spoke at the massive Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC), which is a kind of Davos for oil-market participants. While there, I caught the tail end of a discussion among senior oil executives who all agreed that at this time next year, crude oil will still be around $60 per barrel, as it is today.

I was about to be interviewed by the CNBC reporter Steve Sedgwick, to whom I said, “That would be a first. Oil prices hardly moving in a year?” Needless to say, Sedgwick began the interview by telling the audience what I had said, and quizzed me on why I disagreed with the others.

Before I get to my explanation, let me state the usual caveats. Forecasting oil prices is inevitably a fraught endeavor; in fact, it makes forecasting currency markets look easy. When I completed a doctorate on oil markets in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I had already concluded that trying to guess oil prices is a waste of time and energy. Later, when I was at Goldman Sachs, I was often amused to see commodity analysts in my research group struggling to cope with the usual chaos of oil-price developments.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Antidote to Optimism

The Antidote to Optimism

It is always brightest before they turn the lights out.

You can quote us on that, Dear Reader.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get better… guess what?

They don’t. They go dark as a dungeon.

Antidote to Optimism

Our task today is to show that however wonderful things may appear in today’s markets and economy, they may not be all that great.

We put our backs into this grim work neither for love nor for money, but simply out of a sense of stern duty.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Someone must put forward an antidote to the optimism now raging through markets around the world.

Someone must make the case for cynicism, suspicion, and mockery.

Someone must take the other side of the trade.

And so… the work, like shucking oysters on a cold day, falls to us. We open them up… hoping to find a pearl.

Donald Trump, Davos ManInstead, we find claptrap.

“The elite gathering at Davos [including Donald Trump],” begins a Financial Timesarticle, “takes place against a backdrop of improving economic activity across the world.”

The IMF says it is the “broadest synchronized global growth upswing since 2010.”

The FT goes on to tell us that the world economy is supposed to grow a healthy 3.9% “this year and next” thanks, at least in part, to the sweeping tax reform measure just implemented in the U.S.

Well, well, well. Gosh, it looks as though we were wrong about everything. You can predict the future after all.

As for the tax cut, we didn’t believe that the tax measure would have any positive consequences other than giving us more money.

What economic benefit could be reaped by taking money from one pocket and putting it in another?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Fly in the Economic Ointment?

A Fly in the Economic Ointment?

The holidays are fading from memory, and 2018 is off to a good start, economically speaking. Most of the forecasts I’ve read expect a good year – not a blockbuster year or a horrendous one, but a mild pickup that ought to satisfy investors. Even the bears seem less confident than usual.

The stock market is off to a rip-roaring start. For the first time ever, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has spent an entire quarter above its upper Bollinger band. That is, it’s more than two standard deviations above its 21-day moving average. You can click on the link for more detail. This might be a little technical for some of you, but it does demonstrate that there’s a great deal of exuberance in the market.


Tony Sagami

Further, Howard Silverblatt at S&P just came out with his forecasted earnings for 2018 (hat tip Ed Easterling for sending this to me). He revised 2017 earnings down by a few dollars to $110 as S&P analysts realized that companies are going to have to take write-downs for their deferred tax losses. But oh my is Howard positive about 2018. Look at this table straight from the S&P site. Focus on the reported earnings highlighted in yellow. Howard is expecting earnings to grow from $110 to $138 in 2018. That $28 jump in earnings represents about 25% earnings growth. If it actually materializes, the S&P 500 is going to be on a royal tear upwards.


Standard & Poors

The contrarian part of me wants to scream, “Aha! No one expects catastrophe, so that’s exactly what we’ll get.” While I don’t completely rule out anything, I’ve lived through several recessions and bear markets. This just doesn’t feel like another one.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Pretty Much Everywhere – John Rubino

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Pretty Much Everywhere - John Rubino

A recurring pattern of the past few decades involves governments promising to limit their borrowing, only to discover that hardly anyone cares. So target dates slip, bonds are issued, and the debts keep rising.

This time around the timing is especially notable, since eight years of global growth ought to be producing tax revenues sufficient to at least moderate the tide of red ink. But apparently not.

In Japan, for instance, government debt is now 250% of GDP, a figure which economists from, say, the 1990s, would have thought impossible.

Over the past decade the country’s leaders have proposed a series of plans for balancing the budget, and actually did manage to shrink debt/GDP slightly in 2016.

But now they seem to have given up, and are looking for excuses to keep spending:

Japan plans extra budget of $24-26 billion for fiscal 2017

(Hellenic Shipping News) – Japan’s government is set to compile an extra budget worth around 2.7-2.9 trillion yen ($24-26 billion) for the fiscal year to March 2018, with additional bond issuance of around 1 trillion yen to help fund the spending, government sources told Reuters. Following October’s big election win, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has made plans to beef up childcare support, boost productivity at small and medium-sized companies, and strengthen competitiveness of the farm, fishery and forestry industries.

In the UK, a balanced budget has been pushed back from 2025 to 2031:

Britain in the red until 2031: Bid to balance the books pushed back yet again

(Daily Mail) – Philip Hammond’s ambition to get Britain’s finances back into the black receded further last night – as the Treasury watchdog said he would struggle to eliminate the deficit before 2031. The Chancellor had promised to balance the books by 2025. The target has been pushed back twice already, after George Osborne’s pledge in his 2010 Budget to balance the books ‘within five years’, before he revised the figure to 2020. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Caution: Slowdown

Caution: Slowdown

Many of you know I keep posting charts keeping taps on the macro picture in the Macro Corner. It’s actually an interesting exercise watching what they do versus what they say. Public narratives versus reality on the ground.

I know there’s a lot of talk of global synchronized expansion. I call synchronized bullshit.

Institutions will not warn investors or consumers. They never do. Banks won’t warn consumers because they need consumers to spend and take up loans and invest money in markets. Governments won’t warn people for precisely the same reason. And certainly central banks won’t warn consumers. They are all in the confidence game.

Well, I am sending a stern warning: The underlying data is getting uglier. Things are slowing down. And not by just a bit, but by a lot. And I’ll show you with the Fed’s own data that is in stark contrast to all the public rah rah.

Look, nobody wants recessions, They are tough and ugly, but our global economy is on based on debt and debt expansion. Pure and simple. And all that is predicated on keeping confidence up. Confident people spend more and growth begets growth.

But here’s the problem: Despite all the global central bank efforts to stimulate growth real growth has never emerged. Mind you all this is will rates still near historic lows:

And central banks supposedly are reducing the spigots come in 2018:

I believe it when I see it. In September the FED told everyone they would start reducing their balance sheet in October. It’s November:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Normalization Delusion

The Normalization Delusion

LONDON – There is a psychological bias to believe that exceptional events eventually give way to a return to “normal times.” Many economic commentators now focus on prospects for “exit” from nearly a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy, with central banks reducing their balance sheets to “normal” levels and gradually raising interest rates. But we are far from a return to pre-crisis normality.

After years of falling global growth forecasts, 2017 has witnessed a significant uptick, and there is a good case for slight interest-rate increases. But the advanced economies still face too-low inflation and only moderate growth, and recovery will continue to rely on fiscal stimulus, underpinned if necessary by debt monetization.

Since 2007, per capita GDP in the eurozone, Japan, and the United States are up just 0.3%, 4.4%, and 5%, respectively. Part of the slowdown from pre-crisis norms of 1.5-2% annual growth may reflect supply-side factors; productivity growth may face structural headwinds.

But part of the problem is deficient nominal demand. Despite central banks’ massive stimulus efforts, nominal GDP from 2007-16 grew 2.8% per year in the US, 1.5% in the eurozone, and just 0.2% in Japan, making it impossible to achieve moderate growth plus annual inflation in line with 2% targets. US inflation has now undershot the Federal Reserve’s target for five years, and has trended down over the last five months.

Faced with this abnormality, some economists search for one-off factors, such as “free” minutes for US cell phones, that are temporarily depressing US inflation measures. But mobile-phone pricing in the US cannot explain why Japan’s core inflation is stuck around zero. Common long-term factors must explain this global phenomenon.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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