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.

Gold and Silver threaten fall

Silver closed at $14.965/ounce, threatening a break below medium-term support at $15/ounce. Follow-through would warn of a test of primary support at $14. Declining Trend Index peaks flag selling pressure.

Spot Silver in USD

Spot Gold is testing the base of its descending triangle, at $1280/ounce, and is likely to follow Silver lower. The bearish triangle and declining Trend Index peaks warn of selling pressure. Breach of $1280 would offer a target of primary support at $1180.

Spot Gold in USD

ASX 200 divergence

REITs and Utilities found support, partially recovering from their sell-off last week.

ASX 200 REITs

Financials continue to test support at 5800; breach would signal another test of primary support at 5300.

ASX 200 Financials

The RBA sums up the outlook for banks in its April 2019 Financial Stability Review:

“Analysts expect minimal growth in bank profits over the year ahead. Net interest income growth is expected to be below average as credit growth slows further and NIMs [net interest margins] remain under pressure. Bad and doubtful debt charges are also expected to pick up a little from their current very low level. The final cost of remediation for misconduct identified over recent years is uncertain, and could exceed existing provisions, while spending on compliance and IT may remain elevated in order to address some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Overall, there appears to be greater-than-usual uncertainty about the future profit outlook for banks because of the increased scrutiny on banks and the weaker outlook for property prices and housing credit growth.”

Materials encountered resistance at 13500, with a lower peak on the Trend Index warning of selling pressure. Another test of support at 12500 is likely.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 is heading for another test of resistance at 6350 but divergence with a declining Trend Index continues to warn of a correction. Expect stubborn resistance at 6350, followed by another test of 6000. Breach of 6000 would signal another correction to test primary support at 5400/5500.

ASX 200

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

S&P 500: Expect slower earnings growth but no sign of recession

Credit growth in the US above 5% shows no signs of tighter credit conditions from an inverted yield curve. Growth in the broad money supply (MZM plus time deposits) has also not slowed, remaining close to 5%.

Credit Growth and Broad Money Supply

Growth in hours worked has slowed to 1.71%, suggesting that real GDP growth will dip below 2% in 2019 but remain positive.

Hours Worked and Real GDP growth

The Fed is unlikely to cut interest rates when average hourly earnings are growing at 3.2% (Total Private for the 12 months ended March 2019).

Average Hourly Wage Rate

The Leading Index from the Philadelphia Fed fell below 1%, giving an early warning that GDP growth will slow.

Philadelphia Fed Leading Index

A similar dip below 1% occurred ahead of the last three recessions. A second, stronger dip would warn of recession ahead.

Philadelphia Fed Leading Index

The S&P 500 is advancing to test resistance at 2950/3000, while the Volatility Index crossed below 1%, signaling that risk is no longer elevated.

Treasury Yields

Real GDP is likely to slow this year but remain positive. S&P 500 earnings growth is expected to slow and the index is likely to meet stubborn resistance at 2950/3000. The Fed is still a long way off cutting interest rates (a strong bear signal) and there is no sign of recession on the 2019 horizon. An extended top is the most likely outcome.

Gold descending triangle

The Dollar continues to test resistance at 97.50, threatening a breakout. A strengthening Dollar weakens demand for Gold.

Dollar Index

Spot Gold has formed a descending triangle, testing medium-term support at $1280/ounce. The bearish formation and declining Trend Index warn of selling pressure. Breach of $1280 would offer a target of primary support at $1180.

Spot Gold in USD

Silver is likewise testing medium-term support at $15/ounce, warning of a decline to $14.

Spot Silver in USD

ASX 200 offshore investors retreat

The ASX has undergone a sell-off in the last two days, presumed to be offshore investors withdrawing from Australian investments.

Bell Direct equities analyst Julia Lee (Thursday) said it appeared that overseas investors – or even just one large player – had pulled their money from the Australian market, as losses were concentrated among the ASX’s top 20 companies. (thebull.com.au)

Worst hit were REITs.

ASX 200 REITs

Followed by Utilities.

ASX 200 Utilities

ASX 200 Financials are testing support at 5800, while the Trend Index warns of a correction. Breach of 5800 would signal another test of primary support at 5300.

ASX 200 Financials

Materials continue their advance, benefiting from the iron ore windfall.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 retreated from resistance at 6350. Declining Trend Index warns of a correction. Breach of 6000 would confirm.

ASX 200

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

Australia: Headwinds persist

From Elliot Clarke & Simon Murray at Westpac:

…the take home from Budget 2019 is that, while supportive of activity over the long-term, the near-term impact on incomes and activity is limited. Labor’s alternative proposals, as per the budget reply, are also spread out over time. So no matter which party wins in May, the headwinds of persistent weak income growth and declining house prices are set to hold growth well below trend through 2019. This is clear justification for interest rate cuts from the RBA, which Westpac believes will come in August and November.

While the RBA is yet to adopt an easing bias, the April meeting decision statement did emphasise the fluidity of the situation…

The last sentence is important: the RBA has not yet adopted an easing bias. Perhaps because of the housing debt bubble.

Australia: Household Debt and Disposable Income

Business investment has already failed to respond to interest rate cuts.

Australia: Business Investment

10-Year AGB yields are already below US Treasuries but have failed to significantly weaken the Australian Dollar.

Australia: Difference to US 10-Year Bond Yield

House prices are falling.

Australia: Housing Prices

Plunging high-density housing approvals promise a sharp slow-down in housing construction.

Australia: Building Approvals

Dwelling Investment is likely to join Mining Investment in the red, detracting from GDP growth. Windfall iron ore prices (Exports) are keeping the economy afloat, while they last.

Australia: GDP Components

Bank’s impaired and total non-performing assets are low, but likely to rise if the housing fall (and construction down-turn) continues.

Australia: Bank Non-Performing Assets

Bank capital ratios are modest at just over 10% of common equity (CET1) against risk-weighted assets. But that falls to about 5.5% without risk-weighting (leverage ratio). Not a lot of room for comfort.

Australia: Bank Capital

ASX 200 continuation likely

Weak red candles on the ASX 200 Financials index indicate support at 5900/6000. Rising troughs on Twiggs Money Flow flag buying pressure. Falling housing prices have not yet made a dent in investor confidence. Penetration of medium-term support at 5800 would warn of another test of primary support at 5300 but a rally is more likely.

ASX 200 Financials

Materials respected their new support level at 12500, benefiting from high iron ore prices.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 is consolidating at 6200 but continuation to test resistance at 6300/6350 is likely.

ASX 200

Expect stubborn resistance at 6350, followed by a correction.

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

Gold weakens as Dollar strengthens

The Dollar is again testing resistance at 97.50, threatening a breakout.

Dollar Index

Spot Gold is testing medium-term support at $1280/ounce. Declining Trend Index peaks warn of selling pressure. Breach of $1280 would offer a target of primary support at $1180.

Spot Gold in USD

Silver is likewise testing medium-term support at $15/ounce, warning of a decline to $14.

Spot Silver in USD

Inverted yield curve is no cause for panic….yet

10-Year Treasury yields continue to fall. A Trend Index peak below zero signals strong selling pressure (purchases of bonds).  Target for the decline is primary support at 2.0%.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The spread between 10-Year and 3-Month Treasury yields is at zero, warning that the yield curve is about to invert. While there is no cause for panic, an inverted yield curve is a reliable predictor of recession within 12 to 18 months, preceding every recession since 1960*.

*1966 is an arguable exception. Initially classed as a recession by the NBER, it was later reversed and airbrushed out of history.

10-Year minus 2-Year Treasury Yields & Bank Credit

The 10-year/3-Month spread last crossed below zero in August 2006 and was followed by a recession in December 2007. While credit conditions tighten when the yield curve inverts, there is considerable lag and the chart below shows that credit growth remains high while the yield curve is inverted.

Yield Curve Inversions & Bank Credit

A far more imminent warning (of recession) is when the yield differential recovers above zero.

Why does a recovering yield curve warn of impending recession?

First, you need to understand what causes the yield curve to invert. Economic prospects weaken to the extent that bond investors are prepared to accept lower long-term yields than the current short-term yield, in anticipation that interest rates will fall. The inverted yield curve will continue for as long as rates are expected to fall but will rapidly recover when the Fed starts to cut rates.

Treasury Yields

Falling short-term yields flag that the Fed is cutting interest rates, confirming bond investors earlier suspicions of a weakening economy. That serves as a reliable warning, after an inverted yield curve, of impending recession.

We are not there yet. The Fed may have eased off on further rate rises but is still some way off from cutting rates.