Falling bond yields fail to tame Gold bears

10-Year Treasury yields retreated below 3.0 percent after threatening a bond bear market for the past week.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Breakout above 3.0 percent would complete a large double bottom reversal in the secular down-trend.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Rising bond yields would be expected to weaken demand for gold as the opportunity cost of holding precious metals increases.

The other major influence on gold prices, the Dollar, continues to strengthen. A strong Dollar would weaken the Dollar-price of gold.

The Dollar Index is rallying to test resistance at 95. Penetration of the long-term descending trendline in April suggests that a bottom is forming. Bullish divergence on the Trend Index indicates buying pressure.

Dollar Index

Spot Gold retraced to test the new resistance level at $1300/ounce — the former support level. The declining Trend Index indicates selling pressure and respect of the descending trendline would warn of a test of primary support at $1250/ounce.

Spot Gold

Australian gold stocks fared better, with the All Ordinaries Gold Index finding support at 4950 and the rising Trend Index signaling buying pressure. Respect of the long-term trendline would confirm another primary advance.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

The reason is not hard to find. The Australian Dollar is at a watershed, testing primary support at 75 US cents as the greenback rallies. A Trend Index peak below zero would warn of strong selling pressure. And breach of primary support would signal a decline to 69/70 US cents.

AUDUSD

Offering a potential bull market for Aussie gold stocks.

Banks hurt the ASX

Banks face continued selling pressure as the Royal Commission progresses. The ASX 300 Banks Index broke medium-term support at 7700, confirming the primary down-trend and a target of the 2016 low at 7200.

ASX 300 Banks

Financials are the largest sector in the ASX 200. Materials, consisting of mainly Metals & Mining are second.

ASX 200
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index remains in a primary up-trend but threatens a correction to test the long-term rising trendline. Respect of the trendline is likely and would signal continuation of the up-trend. Breach of 3400 is unlikely but would present a bearish outlook, not only for Metals & Mining, but the entire ASX.

ASX 300 Banks

The ASX 200 is correcting to test medium-term support at 5950. Breach would warn of a test of primary support at 5750 but respect of support is just as likely. Breakout from the triangle on Twiggs Money Flow (13-week) will indicate the likely direction.

ASX 200

Low inflation risk keeps yield curve safe

The Fed is advancing interest rates at a measured pace, with the objective of restoring balance in financial markets rather than to curbing inflationary pressures. Only if inflation spikes is the Fed likely to adopt a restrictive stance.

Elliot Clarke from Westpac sums up the FOMC (Fed Open Market Committee) view from their latest minutes:

Beginning with inflation, whereas the market has recently been concerned that inflation may be getting away from the FOMC (given annual CPI inflation at 2.5%yr and persistent strength in the oil price), the Committee is unperturbed.

Instead of the CPI, the FOMC’s benchmark remains PCE inflation, which is currently 2.0%yr on a headline basis and 1.9%yr for core…..

To see upside inflation risks build, a stronger wage inflation pulse is necessary. At present the employment cost index is only reporting “a gradual pickup in wage increases”, and the signal from other wage measures is “less clear”. Two other important considerations for the pass through of wages to activity and thus inflation is that real hourly earnings growth is currently flat and the savings rate near historic lows. The capacity of households to boost consumption and thus inflation is therefore very limited.

Hourly wage rates are growing at a gradual pace.

Hourly Wage Rate Growth

Personal savings are low.

Personal Savings

And credit growth is modest.

Credit Growth

So not much sign of inflationary pressure.

….Turning to financial conditions, as yet there is no concern of them becoming an impediment to growth or policy. The 10yr yield has moved back to the highs of 2013, but the US dollar has only partly retraced its 2017 depreciation. Further, asset markets remain near recent highs.

Equally significant however is the reference to being nearer neutral and a clear desire to keep the yield curve’s positive slope…..

We do not believe that the yield curve will invert in this instance, in part because higher deficits should see the term premium rise. However, the curve will remain comparatively flat versus history, restricting both the timing and the scale of further rate hikes. This is a key justification for both the market’s and our own view of only two further hikes in 2018 and two more in 2019 – a stark contrast to the FOMC’s seven hikes to end-2020.

Yield Differential

A negative yield curve — when 10-year minus 3-month Treasury yields falls below zero — would give a strong recession warning. But the yield curve is only likely to invert if the Fed steps up interest rate increases. With little sign of rising inflationary pressure at present, the prospect seems remote.

Price & Earnings: The Race to the Top

Now that 93% of S&P 500 stocks have reported first quarter earnings we can look at price-earnings valuation with a fair degree of confidence. My favorite is what I call PEMax, which compares Price to Maximum Annual Earnings for current and past years. This removes distortions caused by periods when earnings fall faster than price, by focusing on earnings potential rather than necessarily the most recent earnings performance.

PE of Maximum Earnings

Valuations are still high, but PEMax has pulled back to 22.78 from 24.16 in the last quarter. Valuations remain at their highest over the last 100 years at any time other than during the Dotcom bubble. Even during the 1929 Wall Street crash (Black Friday) and Black Monday of October 1987, PEMax was below 20.

While that warns us to be cautious, as valuations are high, it does not warn of an imminent down-turn. Markets react more to earnings than to prices as the chart below illustrates.

S&P 500 Earnings per Share Growth

The last two market down-turns were both precipitated by falling earnings — the blue columns on the above chart — rather than valuations.

While it is concerning that prices have run ahead of EPS — as they did during the late 1990s — consolidation over the past quarter should allow earnings room to catch up.

S&P 500: Volatility falling

The S&P 500 has broken out above its symmetrical triangle and we are now witnessing retracement to test the new support level at 2700. Volatility is falling and a dip below 1.0% would suggest that the market has returned to business as usual.

S&P 500

Twiggs Money Flow remains a respectable distance above the zero line and is flattening out. Breach of primary support at 2550 seems unlikely.

S&P 500

ASX 200 tug-of-war

At times it pays to look at the big picture. A monthly chart shows the ASX 200 recovering from 2 months of uncertainty (February – March), when the index broke its new support level at 6000. Recovery is almost complete, with the index testing the last level of resistance at 6150. Breakout would signal a primary advance but bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow (13-week) warns of selling pressure. Another test of support at 6000 is likely.

ASX 200

The ASX faces a bi-polar medium-term outlook with its two largest sectors headed in opposite directions.

ASX 200
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

Mining is going gang-busters with the ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index offering a medium-term target of 4200 after breaking through 3800.

ASX 300 Banks

But the largest sector, Finance, is in trouble. The impact of the Royal Commission is likely to slow bank lending growth and APRA’s efforts to raise bank lending standards will also adversely affect declining housing growth. The ASX 300 Banks Index remains in a primary down-trend, having broken support at 8000. Retracement respected the new resistance level at 8000 and breach of support at 7700 would signal a test of the 2016 low at 7200.

ASX 300 Banks

Gold stocks retreat

The Dollar rally continues, with the Dollar Index heading for a test of resistance at 95. Penetration of the long-term descending trendline suggests that a bottom is forming. Bullish divergence on the Trend Index indicates buying pressure.

Dollar Index

But rising crude prices still threaten to weaken the Dollar.

WTI Light Crude

Spot Gold broke support at $1300, warning of a test of primary support at $1250/ounce as the Dollar strengthens. The declining Trend Index indicates selling pressure.

Spot Gold

A weakening Australian Dollar continues to test support at 75 US cents as the greenback rallies. Breach would offer a long-term target of 69/70 US cents.

AUDUSD

The weaker Aussie Dollar offered some respite for local gold stocks but the All Ordinaries Gold Index is retracing to test its new support level at 4950/5000. Respect of the rising trendline would confirm a fresh advance and long-term target of 6000.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

China sees red

From Darren Gray & Kirsty Needham at The Age:

Relations with China have taken another backward step after one of Australia’s biggest exporters, Treasury Wine Estates, was among several companies whose products were being stalled because of new customs rules targeting Australian companies and industries….

2018/2019 Budget Net Debt and Fiscal Deficit/Surplus

“Chinese officials have introduced new and different verification and certification processes and we’ve been working with the Chinese authorities and the officials, as well as with Australian authorities and officials, to ensure that we can meet these new and additional processes, which are not just applied to Treasury Wine Estates, it’s being applied to a number of other companies, across a number of different industries from Australia,” Treasury boss Michael Clarke said.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said in Shanghai he had been informed of the situation by Treasury, the largest importer of foreign wine into China, in the past 24-36 hours.

“The questions being asked relate to certificates of origin. We will look at precisely what the situation is and if we can get to the bottom of it,” Mr Ciobo said.

….Amid a looming trade war between the US and China, and threatened punitive tariff packages worth hundreds of billions of dollars, American exporters have also reportedly encountered pre-emptive slow downs and extra scrutiny from Chinese customs in recent weeks.

China is attempting to use trade relationships to coerce trading partners into complying with their political demands, applying Lenin’s dictum “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

Australia faces a clear choice. Acquiesce and the trade issues will likely disappear…for a short time until China wants something else. Effectively we will become China’s southernmost province, responding to the will of the Central Committee in Beijing.

The alternative is a lot tougher: politely but firmly resist any pressure from Beijing and demand to be treated as an equal partner in international relations. The price is high but the rewards are far greater. Our freedom and independence.

No Fed Squeeze in Sight

In January I warned that the Fed’s normalization plan, which will shrink its balance sheet at the rate of $100 billion in 2018 and $200 billion a year thereafter, would cause Treasury yields to rise and the Dollar to weaken.

10-Year Treasury yields are now testing resistance at 3.0 percent. Breakout would signal the end of a decades-long bull market in bonds and start of a bear market as yields rise.

10-Year Treasury yields

The Dollar Index is in a primary down-trend but the recent rally above the descending trendline suggests that a bottom may be forming.

Dollar Index

Commodity prices, which I suggested would climb as the Dollar weakened, are strengthening but remain in an ascending triangle, testing resistance at 90 on the Dow Jones – UBS Commodity Index.

Dow Jones - UBS Commodity Index

Crude, however, is surging and commodities are likely to follow.

WTI Light Crude

Rising commodity prices — especially crude — would lift inflation, raising the threat of tighter Fed monetary policy.

Until now, financial markets have absorbed the Fed shrinking its balance sheet. Primarily because there hasn’t been any contractionary effect at all.

The orange line on the chart below shows Fed assets net of excess reserves of commercial banks on deposit at the Fed. If commercial banks withdraw excess reserves at a faster rate than the Fed shrinks its balance sheet then the net effect is expansionary, with a rising orange line as at present. There are still $2 trillion of excess reserves on deposit at the Fed, so this could go on for years.

Fed Assets Net of Excess Reserves

The Fed funds rate is climbing, but at a measured pace. I doubt that the market will be too concerned by the FFR at 2.0 percent. The threat is if the Fed accelerates rate hikes in response to rising inflation, as in 2004 to 2006.

Fed Funds Rate and MZM Money Stock

Inflationary forces remain subdued, with the average hourly wage rate growing at a modest 2.6 percent a year.

Average Hourly Wage Rate Growth

A spike above 3.0 percent would spur the Fed into action but there is no sign, so far, as rising automation and competition from offshore labor markets ease upward pressure despite low unemployment.

ASX 200: Bi-polar economy

A sign of the economy’s good health is the largess distributed in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s recent budget, without wrecking the fiscal balance sheet. Net Debt is projected to peak at 18.6 percent of GDP in 2017/2018, with the budget returning to surplus in 2019/2020.

2018/2019 Budget Net Debt and Fiscal Deficit/Surplus
Source: Budget.gov.au

The ASX 200 is testing resistance at 6100/6150 despite the weakening Australian Dollar and troubled banking sector. Breakout above 6150 would signal a primary advance.

ASX 200

Led by the ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index. Breakout above 3800 signals a fresh primary advance, with a medium-term target of 4200.

ASX 300 Banks

But the ASX 300 Banks Index is in a primary down-trend, having broken support at 8000. Retracement that respects the new resistance level at 8000/8100 is likely and would confirm a primary down-trend with a medium-term target of the 2016 low at 7200.

ASX 300 Banks

We have a bi-polar economy, with Resources exports surging, along with Services and Rural (agriculture). Manufacturing exports are the only flat spot.

Export Volumes

But the banking sector faces challenges from a threatened housing down-turn, with near zero house price growth, and a regulator racing to shore up bank balance sheets before the bubble bursts.

Housing Price Growth