ASX 200 spikes but will it last?

The reason for the upward spike in the ASX 200 is clear. While shortage in iron ore supply may be temporary, while Brazil reviews mine safety, it is sufficient to cause spot prices to jump 20% in the last week.

Iron Ore

Windfall profits are likely to benefit not only the Materials sector but the entire economy over the next few months. The ASX 200 Materials Index ran into resistance at 12500 while a bearish divergence on Money Flow continues to warn of selling pressure.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 broke resistance at 6000 but remains in a bear market. Reversal below 5650 would signal a primary decline, with a target of the 2016 low at 4700.

ASX 200

ASX 200 Financials Index rallied on release of the Royal Commission on Banking final report. The outcome could have been a lot worse, or so the market seems to think.

ASX 200 Financials

I suspect the bank rally will be short-lived. Credit growth is falling and broad money warns of further contraction.

Australia Credit and Broad Money Growth

House prices are falling and concerns over a slowing economy have caused many to call for further rate cuts. I believe this is short-sighted.

Australia House Prices and Household Debt

One of the biggest threats facing the economy is ballooning household debt. Tighter credit and falling house prices are likely to curb debt growth….provided the RBA doesn’t pour more gasoline on the fire.

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest investments in the Australian Growth portfolio.

CPI rises but US stocks rally

June consumer price index (CPI) jumped to 2.8% but forward estimates of inflation, represented by the 5-Year breakeven rate (5-year Treasury yield minus TIPS) remain subdued at 2.06%.

CPI and 5-Year Breakeven

Core CPI (excluding food and energy) is at 2.2% while average hourly earnings (total private: production and non-supervisory employees) annual growth, representing underlying inflationary pressure, is higher at 2.7%.

Core CPI and Average Hourly Earnings: Production and Nonsupervisory

Credit and broad money supply (MZM plus time deposits) growth remain steady, tracking nominal GDP growth at around 5.0%. A spike in credit growth often precedes a similar spike in broad money supply by several quarters.

Credit and Broad Money Supply Growth

And a surge in broad money supply growth, ahead of nominal GDP, flagged rising inflationary pressures ahead of the last two recessions, prompting the Fed to step on the brakes.

Nominal GDP and Broad Money Supply Growth

Overall, the inflation outlook appears subdued, with little urgency to hike interest rates at present.

The market is also getting more comfortable with the idea of trade tariffs. The S&P 500 is testing resistance at 2800. Breakout is likely and would suggest a primary advance to 3000.

S&P 500

The Nasdaq 100 followed through above 7300, confirming the primary advance, with a target of 7700.

Nasdaq 100

This is the final stage of a bull market but there is no sign of it ending. I am wary of the impact of a trade war on individual stocks and have reduced exposure to multinationals that make a sizable percentage of their sales in China.

Financial markets are supposed to swing like a pendulum: They may fluctuate wildly in response to exogenous shocks, but eventually they are supposed to come to rest at an equilibrium point…. Instead, as I told Congress, financial markets behaved more like a wrecking ball, swinging from country to country and knocking over the weaker ones. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the international financial system itself constituted the main ingredient in the meltdown process.

~ George Soros on the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the need for greater regulation of global financial markets

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.

RBA strategy: Fight fire with gasoline

This is just plain wrong.

Bulk Commodity Prices

The Australian economy is sitting atop an enormous housing bubble caused by credit expansion from 1995 to 2007. To counter the end of the mining boom, the RBA lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy. While this may be necessary to relieve pressure on borrowers, what we don’t need is another credit expansion. That would simply make the economy more unstable and increase the risk of a crash. Banks are moving to curb lending to speculators, with lower LVRs, but not fast enough in my view. We can’t afford a credit contraction, but the RBA needs to impose sufficient discipline to keep credit growth at/below the inflation rate — so that it gradually declines in real terms as the economy grows.

GOLDMAN: Here’s The Simple Reason We’re Probably Not About To Have Another Huge Crash | Business Insider

From Joe Weisenthal:

Historical analysis of past big busts done by top economist Jan Hatzius and Sven Jari Stehn shows that while there is growing risk of a stock market drop because of the big rally we’re missing one of the key preconditions needed for a true bust: high credit growth.

They write: “[C]redit growth is the most important predictor of house price busts, especially when we focus on busts that involve a recession. House price busts have also tended to follow periods of high inflation, high equity volatility and large current account deficits, although all of these effects become less pronounced when we focus on recessionary busts….”

via GOLDMAN: Here's The Simple Reason We're Probably Not About To Have Another Huge Crash | Business Insider.

High credit growth prolongs recessions

Research by the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco shows how high credit growth prior to a financial crisis can prolong the recession by three or more years. The graph below compares the average recovery time for a normal recession to recessions preceded by low credit growth [blue or red] and recessions preceded by high credit growth [green or orange].

Recession Recovery Time

Differences in public debt growth appear to have little impact, but public debt levels are another matter.

Read more at Federal Reserve Bank San Francisco | Private Credit and Public Debt in Financial Crises.

Hat tip to Barry Ritholz

Rude Awakening Awaits Western Economies | WSJ

Michael J. Casey at WSJ interviews HSBC group chief economist Stephen King, author of When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence:

Mr. King’s thesis….. is that we in the West are in line for a shock when we discover that the high-growth rates to which we’re accustomed aren’t coming back. In the U.S., we’ve been wrongly budgeting for a return to 3.5% average real growth rates that persisted through the second half of the 20th century — an affliction suffered by both policymakers and households that he calls an “optimism bias” — and yet even before the financial crisis destroyed trillions of dollars of wealth the economy was only clocking gains of 2.5% per year. Forget worrying about the post-crisis onset of a Japan-style “lost decade,” Mr. King says. “We have been through a lost decade already. ”Among the reasons for this long-term shift to a slower potential growth rate, he cites the exhaustion of a various one-off productivity gains that boosted growth after World War II: the entry of women into the workforce; the liberalization of world trade; a tripling in rates of consumer credit founded on an unsustainable increase in housing prices; and education. These gains are no longer to be had, he says, but policymakers are blind to that fact and so are burdening the economies of the U.S., Europe and Japan with long-term debts.

While I agree that we are unlikely to see a resumption of the rapid debt growth of the last 3 decades, this should contribute to lower inflation and greater stability, without a credit-fueled boom-bust cycle, that could partially offset the negative effects. I also question whether productivity gains are really exhausted, or if this is a temporary after-effect of low, post-GFC capital investment. There is ample evidence that the global economy is slowing and productivity gains will fall — if one is prepared to ignore evidence to the contrary such as the rise of automation, advances in genetics, nanotechnology, sustainable energy and slowing global population growth — which should alleviate the poverty trap that many countries are still in. The researcher has to beware of confirmation bias, where they gather data to support a preconceived opinion.

Read more at Horror Story: Rude Awakening Awaits Western Economies – Real Time Economics – WSJ.

Taking the leverage out of economic growth | Reuters

Edward Hadas points out that long-term credit growth has exceeded growth in nominal GDP (real GDP plus inflation) in the US and Europe for some time. Not only does this fuel a credit bubble but it leads to a build up of inflationary pressure within the economy. If not evident in consumer prices it is likely to emerge as an asset bubble.

For the last two decades, accelerating credit has been closely correlated with the change in GDP – both in the United States and the euro zone. GDP growth tended to speed up shortly after the rate of credit growth increased, and slowed down after credit growth started to decrease.

This correlation implies there is an equilibrium rate of credit growth – the rate that corresponds to the long-term pace of nominal GDP growth. Though the pace of credit growth can vary from year to year, over time private debt and nominal GDP have to expand at the same rate for overall leverage to stay constant. That’s not what happened in the past two decades. Since 1990, Deutsche found a significant gap between credit and GDP growth in the United States and the euro zone.

In both, the neutral rate of credit growth – the rate associated with the economy’s long-term growth rate – was 7 percent. Those long-term nominal GDP growth rates were lower: 4.8 percent in the United States and 4 percent in the euro zone. In a single year, the difference of 2-3 percentage points doesn’t have much effect. Over a generation, though, it leads to a massive increase in the ratio of private debt to GDP.

The gap between growth in Domestic Debt and Nominal GDP widened in 2004/5 during the height of the property bubble and has narrowed to near zero since 2010.
Domestic Debt Growth Compared to GDP Growth
Hopefully the Fed have learned their lesson and maintain this course in future.

via Analysis & Opinion | Reuters.

Conversation with Bridgewater Associates' Ray Dalio | Credit Writedowns

The video below is an in-depth full hour-long segment and well worth watching. Notice that Dalio sees the credit accelerator as a key component adding to aggregate demand and the key component that creates instability in that demand. Unlike traditional econometric models that do not use the debt and credit stock as a consideration for a flow variable like spending, yet again we see that someone who anticipated the crisis does.

via Credit Writedowns

Australia: Housing market weakens

Housing credit growth is at its lowest level in over 30 years: lower than the dip of the early 1980s and the crash of 1987. The current rate of growth is barely sufficient to match already depressed construction rates for new homes*. The decline should see a gradual softening of housing prices, accelerating if there are any further falls in housing credit growth.

RBA Housing Credit Growth

*Housing finance, for both owner-occupied and investor housing, totaled $59.8 billion for the year ended June 2012 according to the RBA, while residential construction — excluding land — was $44.2 billion according to ABS estimates.