S&P 500 volatility falls

The Philadelphia Fed Leading Index at 1.42 for June 2018 maintains a healthy margin above the 1% level that would warn of a potential slow-down.

Philadelphia Fed Leading Index

The picture reinforces a steeply-climbing Freight Transportation Index, indicating strong economic activity.

Freight Transportation Index

Concerns that the economy may over-heat, spiking inflation, are not reflected in strong growth in average hourly earnings. The Fed has done a good job of containing money supply growth, with growth in the broad money supply (MZM plus time deposits) closely tracking nominal GDP.

Nominal GDP and Money Supply Growth

Credit and money supply expansion at faster rates than nominal GDP have in the past flagged an overheating economy and higher inflation, leading to a recession when the Fed attempts to curb inflation.

We are in stage 3 of a bull market but there are few signs that the economy will slow or earnings will fall.

The S&P 500 respected its new support level at 2800, confirming an advance to 3000. Declining Twiggs Volatility (21-day) signals that market risk is low and we can expect business as usual.

S&P 500

The NASDAQ 100 continues to warn of a correction, with bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow. This is secondary in nature, because of the indicator’s position relative to the zero line, but could test support at 7000.

Nasdaq 100

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

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.

US GDP: Where is it headed?

I originally got this from Matt Busigin (I think). Average Hourly Earnings multiplied by Average Weekly Hours (Total Private: Nonfarm) gives a pretty good indication of where GDP is headed, well ahead of the BEA accounts.

Nominal GDP compared to Average Hourly Earnings of All Employees (Total Private) multiplied by Average Weekly Hours (Total Private Nonfarm)

Remember this is nominal GDP, so the latest (April 2015) figure of 4.38% would need to be adjusted for inflation. Inflation is somewhere between 0.5% and 1.75% depending on how you measure it. The GDP deflator looks like it will come in below 1.0% which would leave us with real GDP of at least 3.38% p.a.

GDP Price Deflator compared to Core CPI

Will the stock market collapse when QE is withdrawn?

This chart in Westpac’s Northern Exposure chart summary implies that US stocks rely on Fed balance sheet expansion (QE) for support.

Fed Securities Held Outright v. S&P 500

The curve shows an almost perfect fit. There are just two things wrong with it. First, the scales on the left and right sides of the chart are not proportionate: the scale on the left compares a 9 times increase to a 3 times increase on the right. Second, while the Fed has expanded its balance sheet to more than $4 Trillion, a large percentage of that money has washed straight back to the Fed — deposited by banks as excess reserves.

Fed Total Assets and Excess Reserves

The impact on the working monetary base (monetary base adjusted for excess reserves) is far smaller: a rise of 66% (or $544 billion) over the past 7 years.

Fed Total Assets minus Excess Reserves compared to Working Monetary Base

A chart since 1985 shows nominal GDP (GDP before adjustment for inflation) normally expanded between 5% and 7.5% a year outside of recessions. But NGDP has not recovered above 5% after 2008. This may be partly attributable to lower inflation, but the Fed would clearly want to see NGDP above 5% — roughly 3% real growth and 2% inflation.

Working Monetary Base Growth compared to NGDP

We can also see that growth of below 5% in the working monetary base is often precursor to a recession, 1995/1996 being one exception. The second is when the Fed took their foot off the gas pedal too early, after QE1 in 2010, but were able to resume in time to head off a major contraction. They have been far more circumspect the second time and are likely to maintain monetary base growth North of 5%. Too sharp a slow-down would be cause for concern.

When we calculate the ratio of total US stock market capitalisation to the working monetary base [blue line] it is apparent that market response to the increase in monetary base is far more cautious than it was in 1998/1999.

Working Monetary Base Growth compared to NGDP

With Forward Price to Earnings Ratios for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq close to their long-term average (Westpac Northern Exposure, Page 118), I consider the likelihood of the QE taper precipitating a major market collapse to be remote.