Santa rally: Monetary easing offsets China woes

China’s economy is struggling despite injection of moderate stimulus and efforts to support a collapsing real estate sector. Shrinking demand from China threatens a global economic contraction. G7 central banks have responded with monetary easing, causing a broad rally in stocks. This is most likely a bear market rally, with far shorter duration than a bull market.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is testing primary support at 2900, warning of an economic contraction. The Trend Index peak near zero confirms selling pressure.

Shanghai Composite

Copper, however, has penetrated its descending trendline. Follow-through above 8500 would test resistance at $8750 per metric ton, threatening a wide double-bottom reversal with a target of $9500. Breakout above $8750 would signal global economic recovery, while reversal below $7800 would warn of a global recession.

Copper

US Stocks

The S&P 500 is testing it 2022 high at 4800, buoyed by injections of liquidity into financial markets.

S&P 500

The equal-weighted S&P 500 broke resistance at 6300, suggesting a broader rally than just the top 7 stocks. Retracement that respects the new support level would confirm the target at 6665.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index ($IQX)

The Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) threatens a similar breakout above 200, offering a target of 240. Breakout would confirm that investors are growing more aggressive (risk-on) and downplaying risks.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Interest Rates

Ten-year Treasury yields are retracing to test resistance at 3.9% or 4.0%; respect is likely and would confirm the target of 3.5%.

10-Year Treasury Yield
An increase in supply of Treasury Notes will test bulls’ conviction next week:

A raft of fresh, post-Christmas government bond supply will put that comprehensive bullishness to the test. Next week, Treasury will auction $57 billion, $58 billion and $40 billion in two-, five- and seven-year notes, respectively. That’s up 20%, 15% and 7% from their average sizes over the past four monthly auctions. (Grant’s Current Yield)

The 2-year Treasury yield (purple below) is falling in anticipation of Fed rate cuts next year. A peak in the 2-year tends to lead the first rate cuts by 6 to 9 months. The signal misfired with the SVB banks crisis in March but the October peak warns of Fed rate cuts in Q2 or Q3 of 2024.
Fed Funds Rate Minimum Target & 2-Year Treasury Yield

International Stocks

The FTSE 100 is testing resistance at 7700, with a Trend Index trough at zero signaling buying pressure.

FTSE 100

The DJ Stoxx Euro 600 — reflecting the top 600 stocks in Europe — broke resistance at 470. Follow-through above 480 would test the 2022 high of 494.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

Japan’s Nikkei 225 is testing long-term resistance at 33750. Breakout would signal a fresh primary advance but declining Trend Index peaks show a lack of commitment from buyers.

Nikkei 225 Index

The ASX 200 is testing resistance at 7600, buoyed by strong iron ore prices and falling long-term bond yields. A sharp rise in the Trend Index indicates buying pressure but reversal below 7400 would warn of a correction to test support at 7000.

ASX 200

Gold & the Dollar

The US Dollar Index respected resistance at 102.50, confirming the target at 100. Trend Index peaks below zero signal strong selling pressure.

Dollar Index

Gold broke through resistance at $2050, closing at $2053 per ounce. Expect retracement to test the new support level; respect would confirm another attempt at $2100. A falling Dollar and increased bullion demand from central banks is expected to maintain upward pressure on Gold prices.

Spot Gold

Conclusion

Stocks are rallying in response to falling long-term Treasury yields and in anticipation of Fed rate cuts next year. But falling LT Treasury yields is a medium-term rally in a long-term bear market, with LT yields expected to rise in 2025. Fed rate cuts are also a bearish sign, normally preceding a recession by several quarters — falling earnings are definitely not bullish for stocks.

Investors will need to be agile, to take advantage of the current bullishness in stocks while guarding against:

  • a trend reversal in long-term yields; and
  • signs that the broad economy is falling into recession.

Vacation

This is our last newsletter of the year as we close our office for two weeks over Christmas and the New Year.

We wish all our readers peace and goodwill over the festive season and hope for a less tumultuous year ahead.

The Magpie by Claude Monet

The Magpie by Claude Monet

Michael Howell | Why Monetary Inflation will Drive Gold Higher

In this interview, Michael Howell from Cross Border Capital suggests that the Fed will be forced to step in to fund US federal government deficits.

Deficits will rise for two reasons:

  1. An ageing population means greater spending on Medicare, Medicaid and social security.
  2. Defense spending rising to 5.0% of GDP.

Japan and China are no longer buying Treasuries and the private sector doesn’t have the capacity. The Fed will have to step in.

In Howell’s words: “THERE IS NO OTHER WAY OUT”.

Conclusion

Gold is a great hedge against expected monetary inflation.

The Big Picture: War, Energy, Bonds and Gold

Two inter-connected themes likely to dominate the next few decades are War and Energy.

War may take the form of a geopolitical struggle between opposing ideologies, with conventional wars limited to proxies in most cases and nuclear exchanges avoided because the costs are prohibitive. But it is likely to involve fierce competition for energy and resources in an attempt to undermine opposing economies. The impact is likely to be felt throughout the global economy and across all asset classes, including bonds, stocks and precious metals.

War

War can take many forms: conventional war, nuclear war, proxy war, cold war,  economic war, or some combination of the above.

Nuclear war can hopefully be avoided, with sane leaders skirting mutually assured destruction (MAD). For that reason, even conventional war between great powers is unlikely — but there is a risk of it being triggered by escalation in a war between proxies.

Cold war, with limited trade between opposing powers — as in the days of Churchill’s Iron Curtain — is also unlikely. Global economic interdependence is far higher than sixty years ago.

Greg Hayes, chief executive of Raytheon, said the company had “several thousand suppliers in China and decoupling . . . is impossible”. “We can de-risk but not decouple,” Hayes told the Financial Times in an interview, adding that he believed this to be the case “for everybody”.

“Think about the $500bn of trade that goes from China to the US every year. More than 95 per cent of rare earth materials or metals come from, or are processed in, China. There is no alternative,” said Hayes. “If we had to pull out of China, it would take us many, many years to re-establish that capability either domestically or in other friendly countries.”

What is likely is a struggle for geopolitical advantage between opposing alliances, with economic war, proxy wars, and attempts to build spheres of influence. This includes enticing (or coercing) non-aligned nations such as India to join one of the sides.

Such a geopolitical arm-wrestle is likely to have ramifications in many different spheres, but most of all energy.

Energy

You can’t fight a war without energy. A key element of the geopolitical tussle will be to secure adequate supplies of energy — and to deprive the opposing side of the same.

The situation is further complicated by the attempted transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources.

Since the Industrial revolution, development of the global economy has been fueled by energy from fossil fuels, with GDP and fossil fuel consumption growing exponentially. Gradual transition to alternative energy sources would be a big ask. To attempt a rapid transition while in the midst of geopolitical conflict could end in disaster.

Global Energy Sources

The challenge is further complicated by attempts to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar which generate intermittent power. Base-load power — generated from fossil fuels or nuclear — is essential for many industries. Microsoft are investigating the use of nuclear to power data centers. The US Department of Defense (DoD) has commissioned Oklo Inc. to design and build a nuclear micro-reactor to power Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. Renewables are a poor option for critical applications.

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine highlighted Germany’s energy vulnerability despite billions of Euros invested in renewables over recent decades. You cannot run a modern industrialized economy without reliable energy sources.

Low investment in fossil fuel resources — which fail to meet ESG standards — has further increased global vulnerability to energy shortages during the transition.

Inflation

War and pandemics cause high inflation. Governments run large deficits during times of crisis, funded by central bank purchases in the absence of other investors. This causes rapid expansion of the money supply, leading to high inflation.

Geopolitical conflict and the attempt to rapidly transition to carbon-free fuels — while neglecting existing resources — are both likely to cause a steep rise in energy costs.

Energy Prices

Bond Market

The bond market has the final say. The recent steep rise in long-term Treasury yields is the bond market’s assessment of fiscal management in the US. The deeply divided House of Representatives has effectively been awarded an “F” on its economic report card.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Failure of a divided government to address fiscal debt at precarious levels and rein in ballooning deficits raises a question mark over future stability, with the bond market demanding a premium on long-term issues.

The rating downgrade of the United States reflects the expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, a high and growing general government debt burden, and the erosion of governance relative to ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ rated peers over the last two decades that has manifested in repeated debt limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions. (Fitch Ratings)

CBO projections show federal debt held by the public rising from 98% of GDP today to 181% in thirty years time.

CBO Debt Projections

Rising long-term yields also add to deficits as servicing costs on existing debt increase over time. The actual curve is likely to be even steeper. CBO projections assume an average interest rate of 2.5%, while current rates are close to 5.0%.

Yield Curve

Continuing large fiscal deficits in the next few decades appear unavoidable. The result is likely to be massive central bank purchases of fiscal debt — as in previous wars/pandemics — with negative real interest rates (red circles below) driving higher inflation (blue) and rising inequality.

Moody's Aaa Corporate Bond Yield & CPI

Political instability

Interest rate suppression effectively subsidizes borrowers at the expense of savers. Only the wealthy are able to leverage their large balance sheets, buying real assets while borrowing at negative real interest rates. Those less fortunate have limited access to credit and suffer the worst consequences of inflation, further accentuating the division in society and fostering political instability as populism soars.

Commodities

Resources are likely to be in short supply, from under-investment during the pandemic, geopolitical competition, and the attempted rapid transition to new energy sources. Prices are still likely to fall if global demand shrinks during a recession. But growing demand, shrinking supply (from past under-investment) and inflation pushing up production costs are expected to lead to a long-term secular up-trend.

Copper

Gold

High inflation, negative real interest rates and geopolitical competition are likely to weaken the Dollar, strengthening demand for Gold as a safe haven and inflation hedge. Breakout above $2000 per ounce would offer a long-term target of $3000.

Spot Gold

Conclusion

We expect large government deficits and shortages of energy and critical materials — such as Lithium and Copper — the result of a geopolitical struggle and attempt to transition to low-carbon energy sources over several decades.

Rising government debt will necessitate central bank purchases as the bond market drives up yields in the absence of foreign buyers. The likely result will be high inflation and interest rate suppression as central banks and government attempt to manage soaring debt levels and servicing costs.

Our strategy is to be overweight commodities, especially critical materials required for the transition to low-carbon fuel sources; short-term bonds and term deposits; and defensive (value) stocks.

We are also overweight energy, including: heavy electrical; nuclear technology; uranium; and oil & gas resources.

Gold is more complicated. Rising long-term interest rates will weaken demand for Gold, while geopolitical turmoil will strengthen demand, causing a see-sawing market with high volatility. If long-term yields fall — due to central bank purchases of US Treasuries — expect high inflation. That would be a signal to load up on Gold.

We are underweight growth stocks and real estate. Rising long-term interest rates are expected to lower earnings multiples, causing falling prices. Collapsing long-term yields due to central bank purchases of USTs, however, would cause negative real interest rates. A signal to overweight real assets such as growth stocks and real estate.

Long-term bonds are plunging in value as long-term yields rise, with iShares 20+ Year Treasury ETF (TLT) having lost almost 50% since early 2020.

iShares 20+ Year Treasury ETF

The trend is expected to reverse when Treasury yields peak but timing the reversal is going to be difficult.

Acknowledgements

Copper breaks support while crude gets hammered

Copper broke support at $7900/tonne, signaling a primary decline with a target of its 2022 low at $7000. The primary down-trend warns of a global economic contraction.

Copper

The bear signal has yet to be confirmed by the broader-based Dow Jones Industrial Metals Index ($BIM) which is testing primary support at 155.

DJ Industrial Metals Index ($BIM)

Crude oil

Crude fell sharply this week, after a 3-month rally.

Nymex Light Crude

The fall was spurred by an early build of gasoline stocks ahead of winter, raising concerns of declining demand.

Gasoline inventories added a substantial 6.5 million barrels for the week to September 29, compared with a build of 1 million barrels for the previous week. Gasoline inventories are now 1% above the five-year average for this time of year….. production averaged 8.8 million barrels daily last week, which compared with 9.1 million barrels daily for the prior week. (oilprice.com)

Gasoline Stocks

Crude inventories have stabilized after a sharp decline during the release of strategic petroleum reserves (SPR).

EIA Crude Inventory

Releases from the SPR stopped in July — which coincides with the start of the recent crude rally. It will be interesting to see next week if a dip in this week’s SPR contributed to weak crude prices.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR)

Stocks & Bonds

The 10-year Treasury yield recovered to 4.78% on Friday.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Rising yields are driven by:

  • a large fiscal deficit of close to $2T;
  • commercial banks reducing Treasury holdings; and
  • the Bank of Japan allowing a limited rise in bond yields which could cause an outflow from USTs.

Bank of Japan - YCC

The S&P 500 rallied on the back of a strong labor report.

S&P 500

The S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index test of primary support at 5600 is, however, likely to continue.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

Expect another Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) test of primary support at 170 as well.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Labor Market

The BLS report for September, with job gains of 336K, reflects a robust economy and strong labor market.

Job Gains

Average hourly earnings growth slowed to 0.207% in September, or 2.5% annualized. Manufacturing wages reflect higher growth — 4.0% annualized — but that is a small slice of the economy compared to services.

Average Hourly Earnings

Average weekly hours worked — a leading indicator — remains stable at 34.4 hours/week.

Average Weekly Hours

Unemployment remained steady at 6.36 million, while job openings jumped in August, maintaining a sizable shortage.

Job Openings & Unemployment

Real GDP (blue) is expected to slow in Q3 to 1.5%, matching declining growth in aggregate weekly hours worked (purple).

Real GDP & Hours Worked

Dollar & Gold

The Dollar Index retraced to test new support at 106 but is unlikely to reverse course while Treasury yields are rising.

Dollar Index

Gold is testing primary support at $1800 per ounce, while Trend Index troughs below zero warn of selling pressure. Rising long-term Treasury yields and a strong Dollar are likely to weaken demand for Gold.

Spot Gold

Conclusion

Long-term Treasury yields are expected to rise, fueled by strong supply (fiscal deficits) and weak demand (from foreign investors and commercial banks). The outlook for rate cuts from the Fed is also fading as labor market remains tight.

The sharp drop in crude oil seems an overreaction when the labor market is strong and demand is likely to be robust. Further releases from the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR), a sharp fall in Chinese purchases, or an increase in supply (from Iran or Venezuela) seem unlikely at present.

Falling copper prices warn of a global economic contraction led by China, with Europe likely to follow. Confirmation by Dow Jones Industrial Metals Index ($BIM) breach of primary support at 155 would strengthen the bear signal.

Strong Treasury yields and a strong Dollar are likely to weaken demand for Gold unless there is increased instability, either geopolitical or financial.

A bi-polar world

There is much talk in the media of a multipolar world, with the split between the West and the BRICS, led by China & Russia. That may be relevant in the long-term but the immediate challenge for investors is a bi-polar world, where some markets are rallying strongly while others are collapsing. Even within the US market, we have some sectors rallying while others are collapsing.

The S&P 500 is still in a bear market but the index has rallied to test resistance between 4200 and 4300. Breakout would confirm the bull signal from 250-day Rate of Change crossing to above zero.

S&P 500

The big 5 technology stocks — Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (GOOGL), Meta Platforms, and Microsoft — have all rallied strongly since the start of 2023.

Big 5 Technology Companies

Volatility is elevated but declining peaks on Twiggs Volatility (21-day) suggest that this is easing.

S&P 500 & Twiggs Volatility

However, the rally is concentrated in big tech stocks, with small caps struggling to hold above support. The Russell 2000 iShares ETF (IWM) is testing the band of support between 164 and 170. Breach of support would signal a second downward leg in the bear market.

Russell 2000 ETF (IWM)

The Treasury yield curve is also inverted, with the ever-reliable 10-Year minus 3-Month spread at its lowest level (-1.49%) since 1981. Recessions tend to only occur after the spread recovers above zero — when the Fed starts cutting short term rates — which tells us that the recession is only likely to arrive in 2024.

Treasury Yield Spread: 10-Year minus 3-Month

The longer than usual lag may be the result of the “pig in the python” — a massive surge in liquidity injected into financial markets during the pandemic.

Commercial Bank Deposits/GDP

We are already seeing cracks in the dyke as liquidity starts to recede. Regional banks are in crisis, caused by the sharp hike in interest rates and the collapse in value of their “most secure” assets. Risk-weighted capital ratios are meaningless when bank investments in Treasury and Agency securities — which enjoy the lowest risk weighting — fall sharply in value. True levels of leverage are exposed and threaten bank solvency.

The S&P Composite 1500 Regional Banks Index ($XPBC) is testing support at 75 after a sharp decline. Not only do regional banks have solvency problems, caused by losses on Treasury and Agency investments, many are also over-exposed to commercial real estate (CRE) which faces a major fall in value, primarily in the office sector as demand for office space shrinks due to the shift to work-from-home after the pandemic.

S&P Composite 1500 Regional Banks Index ($XPBC)

There is always more than one cockroach — as Doug Kass would say — and regional banks are also threatened by a margin squeeze. Short-term rates have surged to higher than long-term rates, pressuring net interest margins. Banks are funded at the short-end and invest (and lend) at the long-end of the yield curve.

The Fed is unlikely to solve the regional bank problem easily, especially with the political impasse in Congress — needed to support any increase in deposit guarantees.

Commodities

Falling commodity prices warn that the global economy is contracting.

Brent crude is in a bear market, testing support at $70 per barrel. But US cude purchases — to re-stock their strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) — may strengthen support at this level.

Brent Crude

Copper broke support at $8500/tonne, signaling another test of $7000. Sometimes referred to as “Dr Copper” because of its “PhD in economics”, the metal has an uncanny ability to predict the direction of the global economy.

Copper

We use the broader Dow Jones Industrial Metals Index ($BIM) to confirm signals from Copper. The base metals index breached secondary support, at 167, warning of a test of primary support at 150.

Dow Jones Industrial Metals Index ($BIM)

Iron ore has also retraced, testing support at $100/tonne. Breach would warn of another test of $80.

Iron Ore

Dollar & Gold

The Dollar is also in a bear trend, testing support at 101. The recent rally in our view is simply a “dead cat bounce”, with another test of support likely. Breach would warn of another primary decline in the Dollar.

Dollar Index

Gold is in a bull market as the Dollar weakens. Dollar Index breach of 101 would likely cause a surge in demand for Gold, with breakout above $2050 signaling another primary advance — with a medium-term target of $2400 per ounce.

Spot Gold

Australia

The ASX 200 recent (medium-term) bull trend is losing steam, with the index ranging in a narrow band between 7200 and 7400 since April.

ASX 200

Breakout from that narrow band will provide a strong indication of future direction. Breach of 7200 is, in our view, far more likely — because of weakness in global commodity prices — and would warn of another test of primary support between 6900 and 7000.

ASX 200

The All Ordinaries Gold Index (XGD), however, is in a strong bull trend. Respect of support between 6900 and 7000 would strengthen the signal, while breakout above the band of resistance (7500 – 7700) would signal another primary advance, with a medium-term target of 8200.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

Conclusion

The US market is bi-polar, with large technology stocks leading a rally, while small caps and regional banks are struggling. The lag between an inverted yield curve and subsequent recession may be longer than usual because of the “pig in the python” — large injections of liquidity into financial markets during the pandemic.

Commodities are in a bear market, with falling crude and base metals warning of a global recession.

The Dollar is weakening and we expect a primary advance in Gold — with a medium-term target of $2400 per ounce — if the Dollar Index breaks support at 101.

The ASX medium-term rally is weakening and breach of 7200 would warn of another test of primary support. Two major influences are global commodity prices and major Wall Street indices.

Our outlook remains bearish despite the rally in the US technology sector. We are underweight in growth, cyclical and real estate sectors and overweight in gold, silver, defensive stocks, critical materials, cash, money market funds and short-term interest-bearing securities.

Nouriel Roubini: “We are in a debt trap”

Nouriel Roubini was mocked by the media — who christened him “Dr Doom” — because of his prescient warnings ahead of the 2008 global financial crisis.

He has now published a book identifying 10 mega-threats to the global economy.

First and foremost is the debt trap. Private and public debt has expanded from 100% of GDP in the 1970s, to 200% by 1999, 350% last year — advanced economies even higher at 420%, China at 330%. Inflation forces central banks to raise interest rates. High rates mean many debtors will be unable to repay.

If governments print money to bail out the economy they will cause further inflation — a tax on creditors and savers [negative real rates threaten collapse of the insurance and pension industry].

We face prolonged high inflation.

Central Banks hiking rates is misguided, economic crisis will be so damaging they will be forced to reverse course.

Supply shocks from pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war and China zero-COVID policy.

Fiscal deficits will rise due to increased spending on national security and reducing carbon emissions.

Twenty years of kicking the can down the road [short election cycle incentivizes this], with politicians unwilling to support short-term costs for long-term gain because they are unlikely to be in power to reap the rewards. Older voters are also unlikely to support change as they may not be around to reap the benefits.

Carbon emissions are increasing due to the energy crisis from Russia-Ukraine war. Carbon tax of $200/tonne required, currently $2.

We need to reduce our energy consumption.

Also increase productivity. Technology is the only solution. AI and automation could lift GDP growth, providing sufficient income to fund the changes needed.

But technology is also a threat. It provides more dangerous weapons which risk greater destruction in the next conflict.

Democracy is still the best system. Autocracies are often corrupt and way too much concentration of power [echo chamber] leads to mistakes. They also increase inequality and political instability.

Nouriel seems bullish on gold because of geopolitical tensions. Also “green metals” because of the need to reduce CO2 emissions.

Our 2023 Outlook

This is our last newsletter for the year, where we take the opportunity to map out what we see as the major risks and opportunities facing investors in the year ahead.

US Economy

The Fed has been hiking interest rates since March this year, but real retail sales remain well above their pre-pandemic trend (dotted line below) and show no signs of slowing.

Real Retail Sales

Retail sales are even rising strongly against disposable personal income, with consumers running up credit and digging into savings.

Retail Sales/ Disposable Personal Income

The Fed wants to reduce demand in order to reduce inflationary pressure on consumer prices but consumers continue to spend. Household net worth has soared — from massive expansion of home and stock prices, fueled by cheap debt, and growing savings boosted by government stimulus during the pandemic. The ratio of household net worth to disposable personal income has climbed more than 40% since the global financial crisis — from 5.5 to 7.7.

Household Net Worth/ Disposable Personal Income

At the same time, unemployment (3.7%) has fallen close to record lows, increasing inflationary pressures as employers compete for scarce labor.

Unemployment

Real Growth

Hours worked contracted by an estimated 0.12% in November (-1.44% annualized).

Real GDP & Hours Worked

But annual growth rates for real GDP growth (1.9%) and hours worked (2.1%) remain positive.

Real GDP & Hours Worked

Heavy truck sales are also a solid 40,700 units per month (seasonally adjusted). Truck sales normally contract ahead of recessions, marked by light gray bars below, providing a reliable indicator of economic growth. Sales below 35,000 units per month would be bearish.

S&P 500

Inflation & Interest Rates

The underlying reason for the economy’s resilience is the massive expansion in the money supply (M2 excluding time deposits) relative to GDP, after the 2008 global financial crisis, doubling from earlier highs at 0.4 to the current ratio of 0.84. Excessive liquidity helped to suppress interest rates and balloon asset prices, with too much money chasing scarce investment opportunities. In the hunt for yield, investors became blind to risk.

S&P 500

Suppression of interest rates caused the yield on lowest investment grade corporate bonds (Baa) to decline below CPI. A dangerous precedent, last witnessed in the 1970s, negative real rates led to a massive spike in inflation. Former Fed Chairman, Paul Volcker, had to hike the Fed funds rate above 19.0%, crashing the economy, in order to tame inflation.

S&P 500

The current Fed chair, Jerome Powell, is doing his best to imitate Volcker, hiking rates steeply after a late start. Treasury yields have inverted, with the 1-year yield (4.65%) above the 2-year (4.23%), reflecting bond market expectations that the Fed will soon be forced to cut rates.

S&P 500

A negative yield curve, indicated by the 10-year/3-month spread below zero, warns that the US economy will go into recession in 2023. Our most reliable indicator, the yield spread has inverted (red rings below) before every recession declared by the NBER since 1960*.

S&P 500

Bear in mind that the yield curve normally inverts 6 to 18 months ahead of a recession and recovers shortly before the recession starts, when the Fed cuts interest rates.

Home Prices

Mortgage rates jumped steeply as the Fed hiked rates and started to withdraw liquidity from financial markets. The sharp rise signals the end of the 40-year bull market fueled by cheap debt. Rising inflation has put the Fed on notice that the honeymoon is over. Deflationary pressures from globalization can no longer be relied on to offset inflationary pressures from expansionary monetary policy.

S&P 500

Home prices have started to decline but have a long way to fall to their 2006 peak (of 184.6) that preceded the global financial crisis.

S&P 500

Stocks

The S&P 500 is edging lower, with negative 100-day Momentum signaling a bear market, but there is little sign of panic, with frequent rallies testing the descending trendline.

S&P 500

Bond market expectations of an early pivot has kept long-term yields low and supported stock prices. 10-Year Treasury yields at 3.44% are almost 100 basis points below the Fed funds target range of 4.25% to 4.50%. Gradual withdrawals of liquidity (QT)  by the Fed have so far failed to dent bond market optimism.

10-Year Treasury Yield & Fed Funds Rate

Treasuries & the Bond Market

Declining GDP is expected to shrink tax receipts, while interest servicing costs on existing fiscal debt are rising, causing the federal deficit to balloon to between $2.5 and $5.0 trillion according to macro/bond specialist Luke Gromen.

Federal Debt/GDP & Federal Deficit/GDP

With foreign demand for Treasuries shrinking, and the Fed running down its balance sheet, the only remaining market  for Treasuries is commercial banks and the private sector. Strong Treasury issuance is likely to increase upward pressure on yields, to attract investors. The inflow into bonds is likely to be funded by an outflow from stocks, accelerating their decline.

Energy

Brent crude prices fell below $80 per barrel, despite slowing releases from the US strategic petroleum reserve (SPR). Demand remains soft despite China’s relaxation of their zero-COVID policy — which some expected to accelerate their economic recovery.

S&P 500

European natural gas inventories are near full, causing a sharp fall in prices. But prices remain high compared to their long-term average, fueling inflation and an economic contraction.

S&P 500

Europe

European GDP growth is slowing, while inflation has soared, causing negative real GDP growth and a likely recession.

S&P 500

Australia, Base Metals & Iron Ore

Base metals rallied on optimism over China’s reopening from lockdowns. Normally a bullish sign for the global economy, breakout above resistance at 175 was short-lived, warning of a bull trap.

S&P 500

Iron ore posted a similar rally, from $80 to $110 per tonne, but is also likely to retreat.

S&P 500

The ASX benefited from the China rally, with the ASX 200 breaking resistance at 7100 to complete a double-bottom reversal. Now the index is retracing to test its new support level. Breach of 7000 would warn of another test of primary support at 6400.S&P 500

China

Optimism over China’s reopening may be premature. Residential property prices continue to fall.

S&P 500

The reopening also risks a massive COVID exit-wave, against an under-prepared population, when restrictions are relaxed.

“In my memory, I have never seen such a challenge to the Chinese health-care system,” Xi Chen, a Yale University global health researcher, told National Public Radio in America this week. With less than four intensive care beds for every 100,000 people and millions of unvaccinated or partially protected older adults, the risks are real.

With official data highly unreliable, it is hard to track exactly what impact China’s U-turn is having. Authorities on Friday reported the first Covid-19 deaths since most restrictions were lifted in early December, but there have been reports that funeral homes in Beijing are struggling to handle the number of bodies being brought in.

“The risk factors are there: eight million people are essentially not vaccinated,” said Huang Yanzhong, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Unless this variant has evolved in a way that makes it harmless, China can’t avoid what happened in Taiwan or in Hong Kong,” he added, referring to significant “exit waves” in both places.

The scale of the surge is unlikely to be apparent for months, but modelling suggests it could be grim. A report from the University of Hong Kong released on Thursday warned that a best case scenario is 700,000 fatalities – forecasts from a UK-based analytics firm put deaths at between 1.3 and 2.1 million.

“We’re still at a very early stage in this particular exit wave,” said Prof Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong. (The Telegraph)

China relied on infrastructure spending to get them out of past economic contractions but debt levels are now too high for stimulus on a similar scale to 2008. Expansion of credit to local government and real estate developers is likely to cause further stagnation, with the rise of zombie banking and real estate sectors — as Japan experienced for more than three decades — suffocating future growth.

S&P 500

Conclusion

Resilient consumer spending, high household net worth, and a tight labor market all make the Fed’s job difficult. If the current trend continues, the Fed will be forced to hike interest rates higher than the bond market expects, in order to curb demand and tame inflation.

Expected contraction of European and Chinese economies, combined with rate hikes in the US, are likely to cause a global recession.

There are two possible exits. First, if central banks stick to their guns and hold interest rates higher for longer, a major and extended economic contraction is almost inevitable. While inflation may be tamed, the global economy is likely to take years to recover.

The second option is for central banks to raise inflation targets and suppress long-term interest rates in order to create a soft landing. High inflation and negative real interest rates may prolong the period of low growth but negative real rates would rescue the G7 from precarious debt levels that have ensnared them over the past decade. A similar strategy was successfully employed after WWII to extricate governments from high debt levels relative to GDP.

As to which option will be chosen is a matter of political will. The easier second option is therefore more likely, as politicians tend to follow the line of least resistance.

We have refrained from weighing in on the likely outcome of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Ukraine presently has the upper hand but the conflict is a wild card that could cause a spike in energy prices if it escalates or a positive boost to the European economy in the unlikely event that peace breaks out.

Our strategy is to remain overweight in gold, critical materials, defensive stocks and cash, while underweight bonds and high-multiple technology stocks. In the longer term, we will seek to invest cash in real assets when the opportunity presents itself.

Acknowledgements

  • Hat tip to Macrobusiness for the Pantheon Macroeconomics (China Residential) and Goldman Sachs (China Local Government Funding & Excavator Hours) charts.

Notes

* The yield curve inverted ahead of a 25% fall in the Dow in 1966. The NBER declared a recession but later changed their minds and airbrushed it out of their records.

Deconstructing Evergrande’s effect on China

Elliot Clarke at Westpac says that China will be able to withstand the shock of Evergrande’s collapse and that power outages are a bigger threat.

We still think that the property sector contagion is part of a broader issue that China will struggle to overcome, as Michael Pettis succinctly explained:

China’s debt problem

Tweeted by Prof. Michael Pettis:

In the past — e.g. the SOE reforms of the 1990s, the banking crisis of the 2000s, SARS in 2003, the collapse of China’s trade surplus in 2009, COVID, etc. — whenever China faced a problem that threatened the pace of its economic growth, Beijing always responded by accelerating debt creation and pumping up property and infrastructure investment by enough to maintain targeted GDP growth rates. It didn’t adjust, in other words, but rather goosed growth by exacerbating the underlying imbalances.

That is why it had always been “successful” in seeing off a crisis. But when the main problem threatening further growth becomes soaring debt and the sheer amount of non-productive investment in property and infrastructure, it is obvious, or should be, that accelerating debt creation and pumping up property and infrastructure investment can no longer be a sustainable solution. All this can do is worsen the underlying imbalances and raise further the future cost of adjustment.