ASX 200 rises despite falling Dollar

The Aussie Dollar was trading above 80 US cents 18 months ago but has now broken support at 70 US cents. The immediate target is 68 cents but our long-term target is 60 cents, the lows of 2008.

AUD/USD

While this may benefit mining and other export-led sectors, the medium-term impact may be increased cost of offshore funding for the major banks. The chart below, sourced from the RBA, shows major banks rely on offshore funding of close to $650 billion (between 18% and 19% of total funding of $3.4 trillion).

Major Bank Funding

The ASX 200, buoyant after a surprise election result, broke resistance at 6400. Expect retracement to test the new support level, shown at 6350/6400 below on the daily chart. Respect would confirm a fresh advance.

ASX 200

I remain cautious of Australian stocks because of two factors: (1) potential fallout from a US-China trade war; and (2) declining housing prices and construction activity in Australia. With (common equity Tier 1) leverage ratios close to 5%, banks are under-capitalized and could act as “an accelerant rather than a shock-absorber” with any external shocks.

The eye of the storm

“On Wednesday, the US Department of Commerce added Huawei – and 70 other companies – to its “Entity List.” …. Huawei cannot buy parts or components from US companies without the explicit approval of the US government.” (Trivium China)

We are sliding towards a fully-fledged trade war. Following straight after the imposition of tariffs by both the US and China, US action against Huawei will be taken as a direct attack on Chinese industry.

The CCP is already stoking nationalist sentiment to bolster public support.

“Last night and today, CCTV replaced regularly scheduled programming with two films about the Chinese army fighting the US in the Korean War.” (Trivium China)

Market response is so far muted. On the daily chart, the S&P 500 correction is modest. Expect another test of 2800. Breach would offer a target of 2600.

S&P 500

The Nasdaq 100 retreated below its new support level at 7700 but Money Flow remains strong.

Nasdaq 100

China’s Shanghai Composite found support at 2900.

Shanghai Composite Index

Japan’s Nikkei 225 is ranging between 20000 and 24000. Expect another test of primary support at 20000.

Nikkei 225

India’s Nifty is testing support at 11000. Respect would confirm the primary up-trend.

Nifty Index

In Europe, The DJ Euro Stoxx 600 is undergoing a correction that is likely to test support at 365. But Trend Index above zero continues to signal buying support.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

The Footsie found support at 7200, with Trend Index again signaling buying support.

FTSE 100

10-Year Treasury yields are testing support at 2.40%. One of the few clear signs that markets are growing increasingly risk averse, as demand for bonds drives down yields.

10-Year Treasury Yields

Is the S&P 500 way over-priced?

Robert Shiller’s CAPE (Price/10-year simple MA of inflation-adjusted earnings) is at 30.31, the second-highest peak (behind the Dotcom bubble) in 120 years.

S&P 500 CAPE

PEmax (Price/highest prior 12-month earnings) is far lower at 21.04. I prefer this as a more accurate measure of stock pricing than CAPE. But PEmax is still high relative to the peaks of Black Friday in October 1929 and Black Monday in October 1987.

S&P 500 PE of Maximum Prior Earnings

Forecast earnings for the remainder of 2019 may be slightly optimistic, given recent escalation of the US-China trade war, but the forward price-earnings multiple is lower, at 18.62. The sharp difference between forward and historic PE ratios (as in PEmax) is largely attributable to the earnings hiccup in Q4 of 2018 which is excluded from the forward ratio.

S&P 500 Forward Price-Earnings Ratio

Forecast earnings growth, on the chart below, shows a similar anomaly in Q4 of the current year, caused by comparison to the earnings dip in Q4 of 2018. Forecasts assume that earnings will grow between 7.1% and 7.8% for the rest of 2019, rising to above 11% in 2020.

S&P 500 Earnings Growth

Their projections seem optimistic.

Year-on-year sales growth is a modest 5.8% for Q1 of 2019 and is likely to continue between 4.0% and 6.0% for the foreseeable future. The spike in sales growth in 2017 – 2018 is a result of recovery from negative growth in 2015 and is unlikely to be repeated.

S&P 500 Quarterly Sales

Operating margins are just as important. Margins recovered to 11.25% for Q1 2019 (89.9% of stocks reported), after a sharp fall in Q4 2018, but it is questionable whether these are sustainable.

S&P 500 Quarterly Operating Margins

Conclusion

Earnings forecasts seem optimistic. With lower sales growth and downside risk in operating margins, long-term earnings growth of between 4.0% and 6.0% is likely. The 30-year average is 6.17% p.a. but low inflation (and a possible trade war) is likely to see us undershoot this.

Forward Price-Earnings ratio of 18.6 is on the high side for expected low earnings growth. A forward PE of 16.0 or less, however, should be viewed as a buy opportunity.

ASX 200 recovers as Aussie Dollar plunges

The Aussie Dollar broke long-term support at 70 US cents (as shown on the quarterly chart below), closing below 69 cents. Target for the decline is 60 cents.

AUD/USD

The ASX 200, reflecting the counter-balance between its two largest sectors, recovered to test resistance at 6350. The Trend Index trough above zero signals buying pressure.

ASX 200

Financials (32% of the ASX 200) penetrated its rising trendline to warn of a correction. Follow-through below 5800 would indicate a test of primary support at 5300.

ASX 200 Financials

Materials (18% of the index), on the other hand, rallied strongly after respecting support at 12500. Follow-through above 13500 would signal another advance.

ASX 200 Materials

I would be cautious of any breakout on the ASX 200 and would wait for retracement (respecting the new support level) to confirm the advance.

S&P 500: No deal

It looks like there will be no trade deal any time soon.

“Trade talks between China and the United States ended on Friday without a deal as President Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports and signaled he was prepared for a prolonged economic fight….. Trump is now moving ahead with plans to impose 25 percent tariffs on all remaining Chinese imports. Those new tariffs could go into effect in a matter of weeks.” (New York Times)

Signature of a document was always going to be more theater than substance. Earlier in Bloomberg:

“U.S. President Donald Trump has good reason to be skeptical about China’s willingness to live up to its commitments in any trade deal. Seasoned foreign business executives on the mainland know that any agreement there represents the start of a bargaining process, not the end….”

Response of stock markets, to signs that negotiations had reached an impasse, were muted. The pull-back on the S&P 500 is modest.

S&P 500

The Nasdaq 100 retreated below its new support level at 7700 but the Trend Index remains strong.

Nasdaq 100

China’s Shanghai Composite is undergoing a correction but this week’s long tail suggests selling pressure is moderate.

Shanghai Composite Index

The yuan fell sharply, acting as a shock-absorber.

Chinese Yuan/US Dollar

Stocks like Boeing and Apple may be re-rated but the broad view of the market seems largely unchanged.

ASX 200 and the Banks

The ASX 200 retreat below support level at 6350 has been gentle, with a long tail indicating that buying support remains. The Trend Index likewise shows only a moderate decline. Respect of support at 6000 would be a bullish sign.

ASX 200

Financials are the largest sector, comprising 32.1% of the ASX 200 according to S&P Indices. Retracement has so far been gentle and respect of the new support level at 6000 would be a bullish sign.

ASX 200 Financials

Apart from a declining housing market and the RBNZ call for more than $8 billion in additional equity capital (estimated by S&P Global Ratings), the four major banks face declining margins.

Net Interest Income (as % of Total Assets) has rallied since 2015 but remains in a long-term down-trend, with a projected average of 1.7%. Fee income (right-hand scale) has declined to below 0.50% of total assets, while other income (RHS) fluctuates around 0.20%.

Banks Income as % of Total Assets

Source: APRA – Major Banks

If we compare income to operating expenses, the gap between non-interest income (fees, commissions & other income) and operating expenses is widening. Combined with declining net interest margins and increasing capital requirements, the heady days of strong profit growth may be nearing an end.

Banks Income & Expenses as % of Total Assets

Source: APRA – Major Banks

I am cautious of Australian banks, more because of the headwinds they face over the next two years than the long-term outlook, but declining margins do not help. We hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest in the Australian Growth portfolio.

Materials (the second largest sector at 18.1%) are undergoing a modest correction. Respect of support at 12500 would be a bullish sign. Declining Money Flow peaks, however, warn of strong selling pressure and a test of 12000 remains likely.

ASX 200 Materials

Employment lifts but S&P 500 tentative

Growth in total non-farm payrolls ticked up to 1.76% for the 12 months to April 2019, supporting Fed reluctance to cut interest rates.

Payroll Growth

The Philadelphia Fed Leading Index has been revised upwards, above a comfortable 1.0%.

Leading Index

Real GDP growth came in at a healthy 3.2% for the 12 months ended 31 March 2019 but growth in total hours worked sagged to 1.47%, suggesting that GDP growth is likely to slow.

Real GDP and Total Hours Worked

Growth in average hourly earnings came in at 3.23% (total private), suggesting that inflationary pressures remain under control. Little chance of a Fed rate hike either.

Average Hourly Earnings

The S&P 500 retracement respected support at 2900. Rising Money Flow indicates buying pressure but gains seem tentative.

S&P 500

US growth looks to continue but commodity prices warn that global growth is slowing.

Nymex crude penetrated its lower trend channel, warning of a correction. Despite the supply impact of increasing sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, and the threat of supply disruption in Libya.

Nymex Light Crude

A similar correction on DJ-UBS Commodities index reinforces that global demand is slowing.

DJ-UBS Commodities Index

ASX 200 bull trap

The ASX 200 retreated below its new support level at 6350, warning of a bull trap. Declining Money Flow peaks indicate selling pressure. Expect retracement to test support at 6000.

ASX 200

With the Aussie Dollar testing support at 70 US cents, international investors are noticeably skittish, as illustrated by price action in REITs over the past few weeks. Penetration of the rising trendline warns of a correction.

ASX 200 REITs

ASX 200 Financials is also retracing, to test its new support level at 6000. Lower peaks on the Money Flow indicator warn of secondary selling pressure.

ASX 200 Financials

Banks face headwinds from a declining housing market and the RBNZ call for an additional $8.1 billion in common equity capital (as estimated by S&P Global Ratings).

Materials have started a correction after penetrating its rising trendline. Expect a test of support at 12000. Declining Money Flow peaks warn of strong selling pressure.

ASX 200 Materials

I remain cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest in the Australian Growth portfolio.

Nasdaq breaks resistance

Real GDP growth came in at a healthy 3.2% for the 12 months ended 31 March 2019. Growth in total hours worked is lagging below 2.0%, suggesting that further acceleration is unlikely.

Real GDP and Total Hours Worked

Growth in total non-farm payrolls continues at close to 2.0%, minimizing the chance of an interest rate cut by the Fed.

Payroll Growth

The S&P 500 is testing its previous high at 2940, while a rising Trend Index (13-week) indicates buying pressure.

S&P 500

The Nasdaq 100 broke resistance at 7700, signaling another advance. Expect retracement to test the new support level. The long-term target is 9000.

Nasdaq 100

A rapid advance would outstrip earnings growth, with high earnings multiples warning of elevated risk. The market is quite capable of continuing this behavior for an extended time but I urge readers to be cautious and look for rising sales and earnings to support the stock price.

ASX 200 breakout

ASX 200 Financials broke resistance at 6050, signaling continuation of the up-trend after a weak correction. Rising troughs on the Trend Index indicate buying pressure. The next target is the August 2018 high at 6450.

ASX 200 Financials

Low inflation, with March Quarter CPI at 0%, increases the chance of another RBA rate cut. Short-term market response to this has been positive but we need to remember that the RBA will only cut rates, which are already at record lows, if the economy is going down the gurgler.  Banks also face headwinds from a declining housing market and the RBNZ call for an additional $8.1 billion in common equity capital (as estimated by S&P Global Ratings).

Materials penetrated the rising trendline after encountering resistance at 13500. Expect another test of support at 12500.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 broke resistance at 6350, signaling another advance. Expect retracement to test the new support level (at 6350). Respect would strengthen the bull signal.

ASX 200

Long-term (LT) target for an advance is 7400 but I remain cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest in the Australian Growth portfolio.

I suspect that the RBA will resist cutting rates unless the situation gets really desperate. Ultra-low interest rates encourage risk-taking and speculative behavior, offering short-term gain but courting long-term disaster. Walter Bagehot, editor of The Economist, observed more than 100 years ago: “John Bull can stand many things, but he cannot stand 2%.” Sound economic management requires that central bankers make the hard choices, resisting pressure from commercial banks and politicians.