S&P 500 and Europe: New deal or a false dawn?

Donald Trump and is making noises about an interim trade deal with the CCP, while Boris Johnson appears to be making progress on a Brexit deal with Ireland premier Leo Varadkar.

Trump’s announcement is little more than a sham, intended to goose financial markets, with nothing yet committed to writing:

“Trump said the deal would take three to five weeks to write and could possibly be wrapped up and signed by the middle of November….”

…what could possibly go wrong?

The economy continues to tick along steadily, with unemployment and initial jobless claims near record lows.

Unemployment & Initial Jobless Claims

But high levels of uncertainty are likely to create a drag on consumer spending and stock earnings.

At the outset of Donal Trump’s presidency, value investor Seth Klarman, who runs the $30 billion Baupost Group hedge fund, predicted the impact that Trump would have on financial markets:

“The erratic tendencies and overconfidence in his own wisdom and judgment that Donald Trump has demonstrated to date are inconsistent with strong leadership and sound decision-making…..

The big picture for investors is this: Trump is high volatility, and investors generally abhor volatility and shun uncertainty…. Not only is Trump shockingly unpredictable, he’s apparently deliberately so; he says it’s part of his plan.”

In his letter, Mr Klarman warned: “If things go wrong, we could find ourselves at the beginning of a lengthy decline in dollar hegemony, a rapid rise in interest rates and inflation, and global angst.”

While not entirely prescient — we have low interest rates and low inflation — Klarman was right about the decline in dollar hegemony and the rise in global angst.

Markets are clearly in risk-off mode.

US Equity ETFs recorded a net outflow of $824m this week, compared to a net inflow of $2,104m into US Fixed Income. Year-to-date flows present a similar picture, with a 3.3% inflow into US Equity compared to 13.9% into US Fixed Income (Source: ETF.com).

ETF Flows YTD

Long tails on the S&P 500 candles indicate buying support. Expect another test of our long-term target at 3000. Volatility remains above 1%, however, indicating elevated risk. Breach of 2800 is unlikely at present but would offer a target of 2400.

S&P 500

According to Factset, the S&P 500 is likely to report a third quarter this year with a year-on-year decline in earnings.

S&P 500 Earnings

The Nasdaq 100 paints a similar picture, with another test of 8000 likely.

Nasdaq 100

It is becoming impossible to justify current heady earnings multiples when reported earnings are declining.

Europe

If Johnson’s “free trade zone” for Northern Ireland can break the Brexit impasse, then there may be room for optimism over the future UK – EU relationship.

Europe seems to be stirring. Trailing a distant third, to North America and Asia in terms of investment performance, there are some early encouraging signs. A higher trough indicates buying pressure and breakout above 400 on DJ Stoxx Euro 600 would signal a primary advance.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

The Footsie shows similar early signs of a potential recovery. A higher trough on the trend Index indicates buying pressure. Breakout above 7600 would signal a primary advance.

FTSE 100

Let us hope that this is not a false dawn and the UK and EU are able to resolve their differences.

For the present, our outlook for the global economy remains bearish and equity exposure for International Growth is a low 34% of portfolio value.

S&P 500: Donald Trump and the next recession

Treasury yields continue to fall, with the 10-Year testing long-term lows at 1.50%. A sign that investors are growing increasingly risk averse.

10-Year Treasury Yields

Crude oil prices remain weak; a bearish signal for the global economy. Breach of support at $50/$51 per barrel would warn of a decline to $40.

Nymex Light Crude

Volatility (21-Day) above 1.0% on the S&P 500 is flashing an amber warning. Breakout above 2940 is likely and would signal another test of 3000. But expect stubborn resistance at our 3000 target level.

S&P 500 Volatility

Bearish divergence (13-Trend Index) on the Nasdaq 100 warns of secondary selling pressure. Breach of 7400 would warn of a test of primary support at 7000.

Nasdaq 100

Robert Shiller maintains that Donald Trump is unlikely to survive a recession:

“So far, with his flashy lifestyle, the US president has been a resounding inspiration to many consumers and investors. But his personal narrative is unlikely to survive an economic downturn….the end of confidence in Trump’s narrative is likely to be associated with a recession.

During a recession, people pull back and reassess their views. Consumers spend less, avoiding purchases that can be postponed: a new car, home renovations, and expensive vacations. Businesses spend less on new factories and equipment, and put off hiring. They don’t have to explain their ultimate reasons for doing this. Their gut feelings and emotions can be enough.”

I would go further and argue that Trump’s management style is likely to cause a recession.

Some of the aims the President is attempting, like addressing China’s unfair trade practices, are vitally important to long-term US interests and he should be given credit for tackling them. But his constant hyperbole, erratic behavior, with a constant mix of bouquets and brickbats, and on-again-off-again tactics, has elevated global uncertainty. Consumers are likely to increase savings and cut back on expenditure, while corporations may cut back on hiring and new investment, which could tip the economy into recession.

GDP growth contracted to 2.3% in the second quarter, while growth in hours worked contracted to 0.92% for the year ended July 2019, pointing to further falls in GDP growth for the third quarter.

Real GDP and Hours Worked

August employment figures are due for release next week and will either confirm or allay our fears.

We maintain our bearish outlook and have reduced equity exposure for international stocks to 40% of portfolio value.

Hope is not a strategy

Bob Doll’s outlook this week at Nuveen Investments is less bearish than my own:

Trade-related risks seem to be growing. President Trump looks to be holding out hope that the U.S. economy will stay resilient in the face of escalating tariffs and rising tensions. So far, the U.S. economy has not faltered, thanks largely to continued strength in the consumer sector and labor market. But if business confidence crumbles (as it has in parts of Europe), it could lead to serious economic damage…..

The president’s recent actions to delay the implementation of some new tariffs show that he is sensitive to the market impact of his trade policies. But the erratic nature of his on-again, off-again approach adds too policy uncertainty. At this point, we can’t predict the ultimate economic impact from these issues. Our best guess is that the U.S. remains more than a year away from the next recession, but risks are rising. In addition to the solid consumer sector, we don’t see financial stress in the system. Liquidity is still broadly available, and fixed income credit spreads are generally stable outside of the energy sector.

With additional Federal Reserve rate cuts already priced into the markets and bond yields falling sharply, the only catalyst for better equity market performance could be improving global economic data. We hold out hope that the global economy will improve, and still think there is a better-than-even chance of manufacturing activity and export levels to grow. But those improvements will take some time, suggesting equities will remain volatile and vulnerable for now.

Where we seem to differ is on the inevitability of the US-China trade war escalating into full-blown disengagement. This week’s events have not helped.

China’s national English language newspaper, Global Times, under the People’s Daily, announced new tariffs.

Global Times

Followed by an admission that the timing of the announcement was intended to cause maximum disruption to US stock markets.

Global Times

The inevitable Twitter tantrum ensued.

Donald Trump

The President also tweeted “Now the Fed can show their stuff!”

He is deluded if he thinks that the Fed can help him here. The best response would be announcement of a major infrastructure program (not a wall on the Mexican border). Otherwise business confidence will decline due to the increased uncertainty. Business investment will contract as a result and slow employment growth.

Retail sales have shown signs of recovery in recent months but will decline if consumer confidence erodes.

Retail Sales

Especially consumer durables such as light motor vehicles and housing.

Consumer Durables Production

The global economy is already contracting, as indicated by falling crude oil

Nymex Light Crude

…and commodity prices.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

Volatility (21-Day) is rising as the S&P 500 tests support at 2840. Breach is likely and would test primary support at 2750.

S&P 500 Volatility

Bearish divergence (13-Week Money Flow) on both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 (below) warn of selling pressure. The Nasdaq 100 is likely to test primary support at 7000.

Nasdaq 100

The Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM) is testing primary support at 146. Follow through below 145 is likely and would signal a primary down-trend.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF

Fedex breach of support at 150 would also warn of a primary down-trend and slowing activity in the US economy.

Fedex (FDX)

We maintain our bearish outlook and have reduced equity exposure for international stocks to 40% of portfolio value because of elevated risk in the global economy.

Approaching stall speed

With 89.7% of companies having reported, S&P are projecting 4.4% earnings growth for June quarter 2019 compared to the second quarter in 2018. Even more interesting is their projection of 3.4% growth for the September quarter. With EPS growth boosted by a stock buyback yield of 3.5%, this warns that the economy is close to stall speed.

S&P 500 Earnings per share Forecast

The daily chart for the S&P 500 shows support at 2830/2840, while a higher trough on 21-Day Money Flow indicates (secondary) buying pressure. I expect another test of resistance at 3030; breakout above resistance at 2940 would confirm.

S&P 500

But divergence on 13-Week Money Flow, as on the Nasdaq 100 below, warns of longer-term selling pressure.

Nasdaq 100

Small-cap stocks, as depicted by the Russell 2000 ETF below, are not enjoying the same support as large caps. A sign of rising risk aversion.

Russell 2000 ETF

Bellwether transport stock Fedex is testing primary support at 150. Breach would warn of a primary decline, suggesting a slow-down in activity for the broad economy.

Fedex

We maintain a bearish outlook on the global economy and maintain less than 50% exposure to US and International equities. Our view is that probability of a US recession in the next 6 to 12 months is as high as 70% to 80%.

We expect stocks to rally for another attempt at the 3020/3030 high for the S&P 500 and will use opportunity to further reduce our exposure to equities.

S&P 500: Flight to safety

10-Year Treasury yields are near record lows after Donald Trump’s announcement of further tariffs on China. The fall reflects the flight to safety, with rising demand for Treasuries as a safe haven.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Crude found support at $50/barrel. Breach would warn of a new down-trend, with a target of $40/barrel. Declining crude prices reflect a pessimistic outlook for the global economy.

10-Year 3-Month Treasury Spread

The S&P 500 found support at 2850. Rising volatility warns of increased market risk. A test of support at 2750 remains likely.

S&P 500

Declining Money Flow on the Nasdaq 100 reflects rising selling pressure. Expect a test of 7000.

Nasdaq 100

The Shanghai Composite Index broke support at 2850. A Trend Index peak at zero warns of strong selling pressure. Expect a test of support at 2500.

Shanghai Composite Index

India’s Nifty is testing support at 11,000. Breach would offer a target of 10,000.

Nifty Index

Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 600, reflecting large cap stocks in the European Union, is testing primary support at 368. Strong bearish divergence on the Trend Index warns of a double-top reversal, with a target of 330.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

The Footsie is similarly testing support at 7150. Breach would offer a target of 6600.

FTSE 100

I have warned clients to cut exposure to the market. It’s a good time to be cautious.

“There is a time for all things, but I didn’t know it. And that is precisely what beats so many men in Wall Street who are very far from being in the main sucker class. There is the plain fool, who does the wrong thing at all times everywhere, but there is the Wall Street fool, who thinks he must trade all the time.”

~ Jesse Livermore

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

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.

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.

S&P 500: Rate cuts and employment

Ten-year Treasury yields rallied for the last two weeks but remain in a down-trend. Respect of resistance at 2.60% would warn of another decline.

10-year Treasury yields

Inflation is subdued and it would be difficult for the Fed to motivate a rate cut when inflation is close to its 2.0% target. The consumer price index (CPI) came in at 1.86% for the 12 months to March 2019, while the more stable Core CPI (ex- Food & Energy) remains close to target at 2.04%.

CPI and Core CPI

After price stability, the second part of the Fed’s dual mandate is to maintain maximum sustainable employment. A review of the last three cycles shows the Fed raising the funds rate (FFR) to curb inflation and then being forced to cut (red highlights) when growth in employment slows.

Payroll Changes and Fed Funds Rate

Total non-farm payrolls are currently growing at close to 2.0%. The Fed would normally need payroll growth to slow by at least 1.0% to motivate a rate cut. The exception is if inflation falls below target, then the Fed may act sooner.

The S&P 500 is headed for another test of its high at 2950, while Trend Index (13-week) recovered to signal moderate buying pressure.

S&P 500

The Nasdaq 100 is similarly testing its earlier high at 7700.

Nasdaq 100

Momentum is slowing and we can expect stubborn resistance at the former highs.

It’s a funny kind of bear market

The US economy continues to show signs of robust good health.

Total hours worked are rising, signaling healthy real GDP growth.

Real GDP and Total Hours Worked

Growth in average hourly wage rates is rising, reflecting a tighter labor market. Underlying inflationary pressures may be rising but the Fed seems comfortable that this is containable.

Average Hourly Wage Rates

The Leading Index from the Philadelphia Fed maintains a healthy margin above 1.0% (below 1% is normally a signal that the economy is slowing).

Leading Index

But market volatility remains high, with S&P 500 Volatility (21-day) above 2.0%. A trough above 1% on the next multi-week rally would confirm a bear market — as would an index retracement that respects 2600.

S&P 500

The Nasdaq 100 is undergoing a similar retracement with resistance at 6500.

Nasdaq 100

The primary disturbance is the trade confrontation between the US and China. There is plenty of positive spin from both sides but I expect trade negotiations to drag out over several years — if they are successful. If not, even longer.

I keep a close watch on the big five tech stocks as a barometer of how the broader market will be affected. So far the results are mixed.

Apple is most vulnerable, with roughly 25% of projected sales to China. Recent downward revision of their sales outlook warns that Chinese retail sales are falling. AAPL is testing its primary support level at 150.

ASX 200

Facebook and Alphabet are largely unaffected by a Chinese slowdown, but have separate issues with user privacy. Facebook (FB) is in a primary down-trend.

ASX 200

While Alphabet (GOOGL) is testing primary support at 1000.

ASX 200

Amazon (AMZN) is similarly isolated from a Chinese slow-down although there may be a secondary impact on suppliers. Primary support at 1300 is likely to hold.

ASX 200

Microsoft (MSFT) is the strongest performer of the five. Their segment reporting does not provide details of exposure to China but it appears to be a small percentage of total sales.

ASX 200

The outlook for stocks is therefore mixed. Be cautious but try to avoid a bearish mindset, where you only see problems and not the opportunities. Even if China does suffer a serious slowdown we can expect massive stimulus similar to 2008 – 2009, so the impact on developing markets and resources markets may be cushioned.

Best wishes for the New Year.