ASX double-bottom breakout

The ASX 200 completed a double-bottom reversal with breakout above 7100, suggesting another test of resistance at 7600. The signal is strengthened by subsequent retracement that respected the new support level at 7100, as well as 100-day Momentum crossover above zero.

ASX 200

Australian Bond ETFs are forming a base, signaling that expectations of long-term interest rates have plateaued.

Australian Bond ETFs

A-REITs rallied off support at 1200, penetrating the descending trendline which suggests that a base is forming. However, the move has not been confirmed by 100-day Momentum which remains well below zero.

ASX 200 REITs

Financials have made a stronger recovery, breaking above their August high, with Momentum crossing above zero. We expect a test of 7000.

ASX 200 Financials

Housing price growth is slowing as the RBA hikes interest rates.

Housing

But low unemployment keeps bank loan impairments down.

Unemployment

Net interest margins remain under pressure, however, as liquidity tightens.

Net Interest Margins

Consumer Discretionary continues to test resistance at 3000 but respect remains likely, which would warn of further consolidation.

ASX 200 Discretionary

Staples rallied off long-term support at 12000 but Momentum remains below zero. Breakout above resistance at 13000 would signal another test of 14000.

ASX 200 Staples

A higher trough on Health Care and 100-day Momentum cross to above zero are bullish signs. Breakout above 44K would signal another advance, with a target of 49K (44K + 44K – 39K).

ASX 200 Health Care

Information Technology remains weak, with 100-day Momentum deep below zero. Expect another test of 1250.

ASX 200 Information Technology

Utilities broke resistance at 8400, signaling an advance. Momentum crossover to above zero strengthens the bull signal..

ASX 200 Utilities

Industrials are headed for another test of resistance at 6700. But further ranging between 6000 and 6750 remains likely.

ASX 200 Industrials

Telecommunications are slowly edging towards resistance at 1500 but Momentum below zero indicates weakness.

ASX 200 Telecommunications

Energy remains in a long-term up-trend, testing resistance at 12000. Retracement that respects support at 11000 would strengthen the bull signal.

ASX 200 Energy

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining index broke resistance at 5650, signaling an up-trend. Retracement that respected the new support level and 100-day Momentum cross to above zero both strengthen the bull signal.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

But weakness in major metal groups makes us wary. Declining iron ore prices are testing support at 90. Breach would signal a test of $50/tonne

Iron Ore

Base metals are similarly testing support at 150. Breach would warn of another test of 100.

DJ Industrial Metals Index

The All Ordinaries Gold Index broke through resistance at 5500, with retracement respecting the new support level to confirm the breakout. But 100-day Momentum is a long way below zero, warning buyers to be wary. Expect further tests of the new support level.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

The Australian Dollar is ranging between A$2500 and A$2700 with no clear direction at present.

Gold in Australian Dollars

Conclusion

Growth in Australia is slowing but recession is unlikely unless there is a sharp rise in unemployment — and fall in the housing market — or a global recession.

ASX 200 completed a double-bottom reversal, offering a target of 7600, but we do not believe this to be the start of a bull market. A negative yield curve in the US, warning of a recession next year, makes a bull market unlikely. Respect of resistance at 7600 would confirm that we are still in a bear market.

Our weighting for ASX sectors (ST = short-term, LT = long-term):

  • A-REITs: ST underweight, LT overweight in industrial REITs
  • Financials: overweight
  • Staples: overweight
  • Discretionary: ST underweight, LT neutral
  • Utilities: overweight
  • Industrials: neutral
  • Telecommunications: neutral
  • Health Care: overweight
  • Information Technology: underweight
  • Energy: overweight
  • Iron ore & Base Metals: ST underweight, LT neutral
  • Critical Materials: heavily overweight
  • Gold: ST neutral, LT overweight

Fed hikes now, pain comes later

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell announced a 75 basis point increase in the Fed funds target rate at his post-FOMC press conference today:

“Today, the FOMC raised our policy interest rate by 75 basis points, and we continue to anticipate that ongoing increases will be appropriate. We are moving our policy stance purposefully to a level that will be sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2 percent. In addition, we are continuing the process of significantly reducing the size of our balance sheet. Restoring price stability will likely require maintaining a restrictive stance of policy for some time.”

The target range is now 3.75% to 4.0%.

Fed Funds Rate

Commenting on today’s announcement, Michael Contopoulos from Richard Bernstein says little has changed:

“Nothing really changed today, the Fed has been hawkish since Jackson Hole. It doesn’t matter how high rates go, what matters is that the Fed is going to be restrictive and they’re going to bring down long-term growth…..The end game is not cutting rates, at least any time soon, the end game is to slow growth and slow the economy.” (CNBC)

Chris Brightman from Research Affiliates, co-manager several PIMCO funds, offers a useful rule-of-thumb as to how far the Fed will need to hike. The unemployment rate has to rise by 1.0% for every 1.0% intended drop in core inflation.

Core inflation is close to 6.0% at present, if we take the average of core CPI (purple), growth in average hourly earnings (pink), and core PCE index (gray). To achieve the Fed’s 2.0% inflation target, using the above rule-of-thumb, would require a 4.0% increase in the unemployment rate.

Unemployment

That means an unemployment rate of 7.5% (red line below), making a recession almost certain.

Unemployment Rate

The recent 10-year/3-month Treasury yield inversion also warns of a recession in 2023.

Treasury 10-Year minus 3-Month Yield

Conclusion

We expect the Fed to hike the funds rate to between 5.0% and 6.0% — the futures market reflects a peak of 5.1% in May ’23 — then a pause to assess the impact on the labor market. Employment tends to lag monetary policy by 6 to 12 months, so the results of recent rate hikes are only likely to show in 2023. The recent inversion of 10-year and 3-month Treasury yields also warns of a recession next year.

The unemployment rate will most likely need to rise to 7.5% to bring inflation back within the Fed’s target range. That would cause a deep recession, especially if the Fed holds rates high for an extended period as they have indicated.

Uncertainty still surrounds whether the Fed will be able to execute its stated plan. A sharp rise in unemployment or bond market collapse could cause an early Fed pivot as the Treasury yield curve and Fed fund futures still expect.

Treasury Yield Curve & Fed Funds Rate Futures

There’s always more than one cockroach

There is always more than one cockroach. ~ Doug Kass, 50 Laws Of Investing (#8)

Rising interest rates, soaring energy prices, and plunging exchange rates of major energy importers — Europe, Japan and China — are likely to expose widespread misuse of leverage in financial markets.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon says investors should expect more blowups after a crash in U.K. government bonds last month nearly caused the collapse of hundreds of that country’s pension funds. The turmoil, triggered after the value of U.K. gilts nosedived in reaction to fiscal spending announcements, forced the country’s central bank into a series of interventions to prop up its markets. That averted disaster for pension funds using leverage to juice returns, which were said to be within hours of collapse. “I was surprised to see how much leverage there was in some of those pension plans,” Dimon told analysts Friday in a conference call to discuss third-quarter results. “My experience in life has been when you have things like what we’re going through today, there are going to be other surprises.” ~ CNBC

Contagion

Financial turmoil in one market soon spreads to others as market bullishness collapses.

Extreme Fear

Financial chaos in the UK is hitting the shores of Japan and roiling the $1 trillion global market for collateralized loan obligations. Norinchukin Bank, once known as the “CLO whale”, has stopped buying new deals in the US and Europe for the foreseeable future because of volatility sparked by UK pension funds…. (Bloomberg)

Misuse of debt

Speculators in a bull market, encouraged by the low cost of debt and the consequential rise in asset prices, borrow money in expectation of leveraging their gains. Companies, encouraged by the low cost of debt and rising stock prices, also borrow money to invest in projects with low returns or without proper consideration of downside risks should the economy go into recession. Companies may generate sufficient cash flow to service interest on their debt but insufficient to repay the capital. Their survival depends on rolling over their debt when it matures. Known as “zombies”, they are vulnerable to rising interest rates, shrinking liquidity and stricter credit standards during an economic down-turn.

Zombie Companies

The Great Repricing

“We’re seeing the beginning of the Great Repricing…and that repricing is going to have significant impacts on portfolios of many investors…But this is an inevitable consequence, in my view, of a return to more normal levels of interest rates…” ~ Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England

Rising interest rates and tighter liquidity force speculators to sell off assets to repay debt. The sell-off causes a fall in asset prices, prompting further margin calls, fire sales and a downward spiral in asset prices. Also, zombie companies, devoid of support from creditors, go to the wall. Publicity surrounding bankruptcies and layoffs raises fears of further corporate failures and increases the difficulty for borderline companies to roll over debt, reinforcing the downward spiral.

The ratio of stock market capitalization to GDP — Warren Buffett’s favorite long-term indicator of market valuation — has fallen sharply to 211% (Q2) but is still well above the Dotcom bubble high of 189%. And a long way from the long-term average of 104% (dotted red line below).

Stock Market Capitalization to GDP

Government intervention

Attempts to support inflated asset prices, as in China’s real estate markets, prevent markets from clearing and merely compound the problem. They simply prolong the bubble, allowing further debt accumulation and increase the eventual damage to financial markets.

No soft landing

In the past few recessions the Fed has stepped in, injecting liquidity to end the deflationary spiral but this time is different. The recent rapid surge in inflation has tied the Fed’s hands. They cannot inject liquidity to slow the rate of descent without risking a bond market revolt as seen in the UK.

30-Year Gilts Yield

Portfolios with a 60/40 split between stocks and bonds are showing their worst year-to-date performance in the past 100 years as both asset classes suffer from shrinking liquidity.

60/40 Portfolio Performance

Conclusion

“The investor who says, ‘This time is different,’ when in fact it’s virtually a repeat of an earlier situation, has uttered among the four most costly words in the annals of investing.” ~ Sir John Templeton

We should not underestimate the ingenuity of governments and their central bankers in postponing the inevitable pain associated with sound economic management. Instead they kick the can down the road, compounding the initial problem until it assumes Godzilla-like proportions, making further avoidance/postponement almost inevitable. It takes the courage of a Paul Volcker to confront the problem head-on and restore the economy to a sound growth path.

The million-dollar question facing investors is whether Fed chair Jerome Powell can do another Volcker. But Volcker had the advantage of a federal debt to GDP ratio below 50% in 1980. Treasury could withstand far higher interest rates than at the present ratio of well over 100%. So Powell is unlikely to succeed in meeting financial markets head-on.

Federal Debt to GDP

We expect the Fed to pivot. Just not this year.

Acknowledgements

Bond market: No place to hide

Advance retail sales were flat in September, reflecting slowing growth, but remain well above their pre-pandemic trend. So far, Fed rate hikes have failed to make a dent in consumer spending.

Advance Retail Sales

Even adjusted for inflation, real retail sales are well above the pre-pandemic trend.

Advance Real Retail Sales

The culprit is M2 money supply. While M2 has stopped growing, there has been no real contraction to bring money supply in line with the long-term trend. A fall of that magnitude would have a devastating effect on inflated asset prices.

M2 excluding Time Deposits

Inflation is proving persistent, with CPI hardly budging in September. Hourly earnings growth is slowing but remains a long way above the Fed’s 2.0% inflation target.

CPI & Hourly Earnings Growth

Treasury yields have broken their forty year down-trend, with the 10-year testing resistance at 4.0%. Stubborn inflation is expected to lift yields even higher.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Inflation is forcing the Fed to raise interest rates, ending the forty-year expansion in debt levels (relative to GDP). Cheap debt supports elevated asset prices, so a decline in debt levels would cause a similar decline in asset prices.

Non-Financial Debt/GDP

A decline of that magnitude is likely to involve more pain than the political establishment can bear, leaving yield curve control (YCC) as the only viable alternative. The Fed would act as buyer of last resort for federal debt, while suppressing long-term yields. The same playbook was used in the 1950s and ’60s to drive down the debt to GDP ratio, allowing rapid growth in GDP while inflation eroded the real value of public debt.

Federal Debt/GDP

Conclusion

We are fast approaching a turning point, where the Fed cannot hike rates further without collapsing the bond market. In the short-term, while asset prices fall, cash is king. But in the long-term investors should beware of financial securities because inflation is expected to eat your lunch. Our strategy is to invest in real assets, including gold, critical materials and defensive stocks.

Appen Ltd (APX)

Stock: Appen Ltd
Exchange: ASX Symbol: APX
Date: 05-Oct-22 Latest price: A$3.29
Market Cap: $406 m Fair Value: A$2.99
Forward DY: 3.16% Payback (Years): N/A
Financial Y/E: 31-Dec-22 Rating: HOLD
Sector: Technology Industry: IT Services
Investment Theme: Technology Macro Trends: A.I.

Summary

Appen (APX) is trading at a discount to our estimate of fair value. Our recommendation is HOLD in the current bear market.

Valuation

We reduced our fair value estimate for Appen (APX) by 74%, to A$2.99 per share, based on the following projections:

  • real organic long-term growth of zero (formerly 15%);
  • EBITDA margin of 12% (formerly 15%);
  • capital expenditure of 5.2% of revenue (formerly 5.4%);
  • working capital of 0.4% of revenue (formerly 0.6%); and
  • an effective tax rate of 25%.

We selected a payback period of 10 years to reflect the company’s small cap size and a competitive industry.

Business Profile

Appen provides quality data solutions and services for machine learning and artificial intelligence applications for technology companies, auto manufacturers and government agencies. The company’s business segments are Relevance; Speech & Image and Others. Relevance generates the most revenue, providing annotated data used in search technology for improving the relevance and accuracy of search engines, social media applications, and e-commerce. Geographically, the majority of revenue is derived from the USA.

Performance

“Appen’s half year results reflect lower earnings due to challenging external operating and macro conditions, resulting in weaker digital advertising demand and a slowdown in spending by some major customers…” (1H FY22)

FY22 EBITDA margin is expected to be materially lower than FY21.

Capital structure

APX has net cash (after deducting capitalized leases) of $33 million.

Disclosure

Staff of The Patient Investor may directly or indirectly own shares in the above company.

Will a recession kill inflation?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that recessions cause a sharp fall in the consumer price index. Alfonso Peccatiello recently analyzed US recessions over the past century and concluded that they caused an average drop in CPI of 6.8%.

MacroAlf: CPI & Recessions

A recession no doubt reduces inflation but it does not necessarily kill underlying inflationary pressures. It took massive pain inflicted by the Volcker Fed in the early ’80s to reverse the long-term up-trend in inflation. Average hourly earnings (gray) is a better gauge of underlying inflation as can be seen on the graph below.

CPI, Average Hourly Earnings & Recessions

Recessions cause a fall in earnings growth but do not interrupt the underlying trend unless the economy is administered a severe shock. In the early 1980s, it took four recessions in just over a decade, a Fed funds rate (gray below) peaking at 22% in December 1980, and unemployment (blue) spiking to 10.8%.

Fed Funds Rate & Unemployment

In the current scenario, we have had one recession, but cushioned by massive fiscal stimulus and Fed QE. Another recession would be unlikely to break the up-trend in underlying inflation unless there is a sharp rise in unemployment.

A study by Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard maintains that unemployment will have to rise above 5% in order to tame inflation. The chart below suggests that unemployment may need to rise closer to 10% — as in 1982 and 2009 — in order to kill underlying inflationary pressures.

Unemployment(U3) & Average Hourly Earnings Growth

Conclusion

We are not suggesting that the Fed hike rates sufficiently for unemployment to reach 10%. That would cause widespread destruction of productive capacity in the economy and take years, even decades, to recover. Instead, we believe that the Fed should tolerate higher levels of inflation while Treasury focuses expenditure on building infrastructure and key supply chains, to create a more robust economy. Largely in line with Zoltan Pozsar’s four R’s:

(1) re-arm (to defend the world order);
(2) re-shore (to get around blockades);
(3) re-stock and invest (commodities); and
(4) re-wire the grid (to speed up energy transition).

An early Fed pause, before inflation is contained, would drive up long-term yields and weaken the Dollar. The former would cause a crash in stocks and bonds and the latter would increase demand for Gold and other inflation hedges.

A weaker Dollar would make US manufacturing more competitive in global markets and reduce the harm being caused to emerging markets. Unfortunately, one of the consequences would be higher prices for imported goods, including crude oil, and increased inflationary pressures.

The US Fed and Treasury are faced with an array of poor choices and in the end will have to settle for a strategy that minimizes long-term damage. In an economic war as at present, higher inflation will have to be tolerated until the war is won. An added benefit is that rapid growth in nominal GDP, through high inflation, would reduce the government’s precarious debt burden.

Federal Debt/GDP

Acknowledgements

Alfonso Peccatiello for his analysis of CPI and recessions.

CPI shock upsets markets

The consumer price index (CPI) dipped to 8.25% (seasonally adjusted) for the 12 months to August but disappointed stock and bond markets who were anticipating a sharp fall.

CPI

The S&P 500 fell 4.3% to test support at 3900. Follow-through below 3650 would confirm earlier bear market signals.

S&P 500

Services CPI — which has minimal exposure to producer prices and supply chains — climbed to 6.08%. Rising services costs indicate that inflation is growing embedded in the economy.

CPI Services

Fueled by strong growth in average hourly earnings.

CPI & Wage Rates

But it is not only services that present a problem.

Food prices are growing above 10% p.a. — signaling hardship for low income-earners.

CPI Food

The heavily-weighted shelter component — almost one-third of total CPI — climbed to 6.25%. We expect further increases as CPI shelter lags actual home prices — represented by the Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index (pink) on the chart below — by 6 to 12 months.

CPI Shelter

CPI energy is still high, at 23.91% for the 12 months to August, but the index has fallen steeply over the past two months (July-August).

CPI Energy

The decline is likely to continue until the mid-term elections in November, as the US government releases crude from its strategic reserves (SPR) in order to suppress fuel prices.

SPR Levels

The reduction in strategic reserves is unsustainable in the longer-term and reversal could deliver a nasty surprise for consumers in the new year.

SPR Lowest since 1984

Conclusion

Strong CPI growth for the 12-months to August warns that inflation will be difficult to contain. Services CPI at 6.08% also confirms that inflation is growing embedded in the economy.

Energy costs are falling but this may be unsustainable. Releases from the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) are likely to end after the mid-term elections in November.

The Fed is way behind the curve, with the real Fed funds rate (FFR-CPI) at -5.92%, below the previous record low of -4.97% from 1975.

Real Fed Funds Rate (FFR-CPI)

We expect interest rates to rise “higher for longer.” A 75 basis-point hike is almost certain at next weeks’ FOMC meeting (September 20-21).

Long-term Treasury yields are rising, with the 10-year at 3.42%. Breakout above resistance at 3.50% is likely, signaling the end of a four decade-long secular bull trend in bonds.

10-Year Treasury Yields

Stocks and bonds are both falling, with the S&P 500 down 18.0% year-to-date compared to -25.4% for TLT.

S&P 500 and iShares 20+ Year Treasury ETF (TLT)

The best short-term haven is cash.

Putin’s war

“The economy of imaginary wealth is being inevitably replaced by the economy of real and hard assets”.

Vladimir Putin gave some insight, last week, into his strategy to force Europe to withdraw its support for Ukraine. It involves two steps:

  1. Use energy shortages to drive up inflation;
  2. Use inflation to undermine confidence in the Euro and Dollar.

Will Putin succeed?

There are plenty of signs that Europe is experiencing economic distress.

When asked whether he expected a wave of bankruptcies at the end of winter, Robert Habeck, the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, replied:

Robert Habeck

Belgian PM Alexander De Croo also did not pull his punches:

“A few weeks like this and the European economy will just go into a full stop. The risk of that is de-industrialization and severe risk of fundamental social unrest.” (Twitter)

Steel plants are shutting down blast furnaces as rising energy prices make the cost of steel prohibitive. This is likely to have a domino effect on heavy industry and auto-manufacturers.

Europe: Steel Production

Aluminium smelters face similar challenges from rising energy costs.

Europe: Aluminium

How is the West responding?

Europe is reverting to coal to generate base-load power.

German Coal

And increasing shipments of LNG. Germany is building regasification plants and has leased floating LNG terminals but there are still bottlenecks as the network is not designed around receiving gas from Russia in the East, not ports in the West.

Europe LNG

Also, extending the life of nuclear power plants which were scheduled to be mothballed.

The new British prime minister, Liz Truss, is going further by lifting the ban on fracking. But new gas fields and related infrastructure will take years to build.

The President of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement of increased investment in renewables will also be of little help. It takes about 7 years to build an offshore wind farm and the infrastructure to connect it to the grid.

Energy subsidies announced are likely to maintain current demand for energy instead of reducing it. A form of government stimulus, subsidies are also expected to increase inflation.

Price cap

The G7 has also responded by announcing a price cap on Russian oil. The hope is that the Russians will be forced to keep pumping but at a reduced price, avoiding the shortages likely under a full embargo.

Vladimir Putin, however, will try to create an energy crisis in an attempt to break Western resolve.

Russian Oil

Putin responded to the price cap at the Asian Economic Forum, on Wednesday, in Vladivostok:

“Russia is coping with the economic, financial and technological aggression of the West. I’m talking about aggression. There’s no other word for it…….

We will not supply anything at all if it is contrary to our interests, in this case economic. No gas, no oil, no coal, no fuel oil, nothing.”

Ed Morse at Citi has expressed concerns about the price cap, calling it “a poor judgement call as to timing.” His concerns focus on the political implications of Winter hardship in Europe, especially with upcoming elections in Italy, the potential effect of lower flows out of Russia, and the impact increased demand for US oil would have on domestic prices.

The Dollar

Attempts to undermine the Dollar have so far failed, with the Dollar Index climbing steadily as the Fed hikes interest rates.

Dollar Index

While Gold has fallen.

Spot Gold

Conclusion

The West is engaged in an economic war with Russia, while China and India sit on the sidelines. War typically results in massive fiscal deficits and soaring government debt, followed by high inflation and suppression of bond yields.

We expect high inflation caused by (1) energy shortages; and (2) government actions to alleviate hardships which threaten political upheaval.

The Fed and ECB are hiking interest rates to protect their currencies but that is likely to aggravate economic hardship and increase the need for government spending to alleviate political blow-back.

We maintain our bullish long-term view on Gold. Apart from its status as a safe haven — especially when the Dollar and Euro are under attack — we expect negative real interest rates to boost demand for Gold as a hedge against inflation. In the short-term, breach of support at $1700 per ounce would be bearish, while recovery above the descending trendline (above) would signal that a base is forming. Follow-through above $1800 would signal another test of resistance at $2000.

Acknowledgements

Brookings Institution: Discussion on the Price Cap
FT Energy Source: How Putin held Europe hostage over energy
Alfonso Peccatiello: Putin vs Europe – The Long War
Andreas Steno Larsen: What on earth is going on in European electricity markets?