ASX 200 tests support

The ASX 200 retreated from resistance at the high of 7600 and is now testing support at 7400. Breach would warn of a correction to test primary support at 6750.

ASX 200

The Financials Index has similarly retreated from resistance at 6800. Reversal below 6650 would warn of a correction.

ASX 200 Financials

The A-REIT Index would likewise warn of a correction to test 1200 if support at 1440 is breached. The recent rally was in response to falling long-term bond yields.


The correction in yields is secondary in nature and is unlikely to reverse the long-term up-trend. Further increases in long-term yields are expected to weaken A-REITs.

10-Year AGB Yield

Healthcare also rallied strongly in the past two months but could reverse if long-term bond yields strengthen.

ASX 200 Healthcare

Consumer Staples are in a strong down-trend. Breach of support at 11500 would warn of another decline.

ASX 200 Staples

Discretionary has surprised to the upside, breaking resistance at 3200. A Trend Index trough at zero indicates buying pressure. Retracement that respects the new support level would signal a further advance.

ASX 200 Discretionary

Energy rallied to test resistance at 11000 but a Trend Index peak below zero warns of selling pressure. Another test of primary support at 10000 is likely.

ASX 200 Energy

The All Ordinaries Gold Index fell sharply as the US Dollar strengthened. Follow-through below 6500 would warn of another test of support at 6000.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index is falling sharply as China’s recovery falters. Another test of primary support at 5600 is likely.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining


Rate cuts and measures to stimulate the Chinese economy have been modest as the PBOC is trying to protect the Yuan from further depreciation against the US Dollar.

ASX 200 Discretionary

The result is slowing growth and deflation as weak demand persists.

China & India Inflation


Falling long-term bond yields have boosted Financials, REITs, Health Care and Consumer Discretionary sectors but the correction in yields is secondary and we expect this to reverse in 2024.

The Metals & Mining sector is falling sharply as China struggles to overcome weak demand while at the same time protecting the Yuan from further depreciation against the Dollar.

Our overall outlook for the ASX 200 remains bearish. Breach of support at 7400 would warn of a correction to test primary support from the October 2022 low at 6750.

Global minimum corporate tax rates

There appears to be widespread support for a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%.

From CNBC:

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced Thursday that a group of 130 nations has agreed to a global minimum tax on corporations, part of a broader agreement to overhaul international tax rules.

If widely enacted, the GMT would effectively end the practice of global corporations seeking out low-tax jurisdictions like Ireland and the British Virgin Islands to move their headquarters to, even though their customers, operations and executives are located elsewhere.


We expect a global minimum tax on corporations of 15% to be passed and are adjusting our valuation models to ensure that all earnings projections include a minimum tax rate of 15% on international income.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

A reader asked me to explain MMT. I am not an economist and will try to avoid any jargon.

The basic tenet of MMT is that government has the power to reduce unemployment by increasing stimulus spending. Government spending in excess of tax revenues (a deficit) is funded by an increase in public debt. Deficits are likely to cause inflation but MMT holds that inflation can be reduced by raising tax revenues.

Problem with Lags

There is normally a lag between an increase in debt and the resulting increase in inflation. If you wait for inflation to rise before raising taxes, underlying inflationary pressures have already built and will be hard to contain.

There is also likely to be a lag between raising taxes and a resulting fall in inflation. This means that authorities will keep raising taxes for longer, causing an eventual contraction in employment.

The second problem is that it is far easier to increase government spending than it is to raise taxes. Voters seldom object to an increase in public spending but are likely to punish any government that increases taxes. This is likely to make the lag between identifying inflation and raising taxes even bigger.

Third, regular increases in government spending followed by tax increases (to subdue inflation) are likely to ratchet up government spending relative to GDP. Rising levels of public spending followed by rising taxes is simply creeping socialism and is likely to slow long-term economic growth.

Finally, sharp increases in public debt no longer deliver bang for buck.

Real GDP & Public Debt

Has inflation been tamed?

The consumer price index (CPI) is nowadays a lot less volatile than producer prices (PPI) which it tracked quite closely in the 1960s and 70s. Some of this can be attributed to better management at the Fed but the primary reason is the offshoring of manufacturing jobs to Asia.

CPI, PPI & Hourly Earnings

The service sector is largely immune from producer prices and fluctuations in offshore manufacturing costs are partially absorbed through a floating exchange rate.

We have witnessed a decline in global trade over the past two years and this is likely to develop into a long-term trend towards on-shoring key supply chains in both Europe and North America. On-shoring is likely to drive up prices.


Inflation is not dead. On-shoring of supply chains is likely to drive up prices. Rapid expansion of public debt is expected to weaken the Dollar, slow growth and fuel inflation. Long-term costs of bringing inflation under control are likely to outweigh the shorter-term benefits of MMT-level stimulus.


Hat tip to Neils Jensen at Absolute Return Partners and Luke Gromen at FFTT.

Is GDP doomed to low growth?

GDP failed to rebound after the 2008 Financial Crisis, sinking into a period of stubborn low growth. Economic commentators have advanced many explanations for the causes, while the consensus seems to be that this is the new normal, with the global economy destined to decades of poor growth.

Real GDP Growth

This is a classic case of recency bias. Where observers attach the most value to recent observations and assume that the current state of affairs will continue for the foreseeable future. The inverse of the Dow 100,000 projections during the Dotcom bubble.

Real GDP for Q1 2018 recorded 2.9% growth over the last 4 quarters. Not exactly shooting the lights out, but is the recent up-trend likely to continue?

Real GDP Growth and estimate based on Private Sector Employment and Average Weekly Hours Worked

Neils Jensen from Absolute Return Partners does a good job of summarizing the arguments for low growth in his latest newsletter:

The bear story

Putting my (very) long-term bearishness on fossil fuels aside for a moment, there is also a bear story with the potential to unfold in the short to medium-term, but that bear story is a very different one. It is a story about GDP growth likely to suffer as a consequence of the oil industry’s insatiable appetite for working capital, which is presumably a function of the low hanging fruit having been picked already.

In the US today, the oil industry ties up 31 times more capital per barrel of oil produced than it did in 1980, when we came out of the second oil crisis. ….Such a hefty capital requirement is a significant tax on economic growth. Think of it the following way. Capital is a major driver of productivity growth, which again is a key driver of economic growth. Capital tied up by the oil industry cannot be used to enhance productivity elsewhere, i.e. overall productivity growth suffers as more and more capital is ‘confiscated’ by the oil industry.

I am tempted to remind you (yet again!) of one of the most important equations in the world of economics:

∆GDP = ∆Workforce + ∆Productivity

We already know that the workforce will decline in many countries in the years to come; hence productivity growth is the only solution to a world drowning in debt, if that debt is to be serviced. Why? Because we need economic growth to be able to service all that debt.

Now, if productivity growth is going to suffer for years to come, all this fancy new stuff that we all count on to save our bacon (advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, etc.) may never be fully taken advantage of, because the money needed to make it happen won’t be there. It is not a given but certainly a risk that shouldn’t be ignored.

….For that reason, we need to retire fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Ageing of society (older workers are less productive than their younger peers) and a global economy drowning in debt (servicing all that debt is immensely expensive, leaving less capital for productivity enhancing purposes) are widely perceived to be the two most important reasons why productivity growth is so pedestrian at present.

I am not about to tell you that those two reasons are not important. They certainly are. However, the adverse impact the oil industry is having on overall productivity should not be underestimated.

I tend to take a simpler view, where I equate changes in GDP to changes in hours worked and in capital investment:

∆GDP = ∆Workforce + ∆Capital

Workers work harder if they are motivated or if there is a more efficient organizational structure, but these are a secondary influence on productivity when compared to capital investment.

The chart below compares net capital formation by the corporate sector (over GDP) to real GDP growth. It is evident that GDP growth rises and falls in line with net capital formation (or investment as it is loosely termed) by corporations.

Net Capital Formation by the corporate sector/GDP compared to Real GDP Growth

A quick primer (with help from Wikipedia):

  • Capital Formation measures net additions to the capital stock of a country.
  • Capital refers to physical (or tangible) assets and includes plant and equipment, computer software, inventories and real estate. Any non-financial asset used in the production of goods or services.
  • Capital does not include financial assets such as bonds and stocks.
  • Net Capital Formation makes allowance for depreciation of the existing capital stock due to wear and tear, obsolescence, etc.

Net Capital Formation peaked at around 5.0% from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, made a brief recovery to 4.0% during the Dotcom bubble and has since struggled to make the bar at 3.0%. Rather like me doing chin-ups.

Net Capital Formation Declining in the Corporate Sector

There are a number of factors contributing to this.

Intangible Assets

Capital formation only measures tangible assets. The last two decades have seen a massive surge in investment in intangible assets. Look no further than the big five on the Nasdaq:

Stock Symbol Price ($) Book Value ($) Times Book Value
Amazon AMZN 1582.26 64.85 24.40
Microsoft MSFT 95.00 10.32 9.21
Facebook FB 173.86 26.83 6.48
Apple AAPL 169.10 27.60 6.12
Alphabet GOOGL 1040.75 235.46 4.42

Currency Manipulation

Capital formation first fell off the cliff in the 1980s. This coincides with the growth of currency manipulation by Japan, purchasing excessive US foreign reserves to suppress the Yen and establish a trade advantage over US manufacturers. China joined the party in the late 1990s, exceeding Japan’s current account surplus by 2006. Currency suppression creates another incentive for corporations to offshore or outsource manufacturing to Asia.

China & Japan Current Account Surpluses

Tax on Offshore Profits

Many large corporations took advantage of low tax rates in offshore havens such as Ireland, avoiding US taxes while the funds were held offshore. This created an incentive for large corporations to invest retained earnings offshore rather than in the USA.

The net effect has been that retained earnings are invested elsewhere, while new capital formation in the USA is almost entirely funded by debt.

Net Capital Formation by the corporate sector/GDP compared to Corporate Debt Growth/GDP

Donald Trump’s tax deal will make a dent in this but will not undo past damage. The horse has already bolted.

Offshore Manufacturing

Apart from tax incentives, lower labor costs (enhanced by currency manipulation) led large corporations to set up or outsource manufacturing to Asia and other developing countries. In effect, offshoring capital formation and — more importantly — GDP growth to foreign destinations.

Offshoring Jobs

Along with manufacturing plants, blue-collar jobs also moved offshore. While this may improve the company bottom-line for a few years, the long-term, macro effects are devastating.

Think of it this way. If you build a manufacturing plant offshore rather than in the USA you may save millions of dollars a year in labor costs. Great for the bottom line and executive bonuses. But one man’s wage is another man/woman’s income (when he/she spends it). So, from a macro perspective, the US loses GDP equal to the entire factory wages bill plus the wage component of any input costs. A far larger figure than the company’s savings. As more companies offshore jobs, sales growth in the USA is affected. In the end this is likely to more than offset the savings that justified the offshore move in the first place.

Stock Buybacks

Stock buybacks accelerate EPS (earnings per share) growth and are great for boosting stock prices and executive bonuses. But they create the illusion of growth while GDP stands still. There is no new capital formation.

Can GDP Growth Recover?

Yes. Restore capital formation and GDP growth will recover.

How to do this:

Trump has already made an important move, revising tax laws to encourage corporations to repatriate offshore funds.

But more needs to be done to create a level playing field.

Stop currency manipulation and theft of technology by developing countries, especially China. Trump has also signaled his intention to tackle this thorny issue.

Repatriating offshore manufacturing and jobs is a much more difficult task. You can’t just pack a factory in a box and ship it home. There is also the matter of lost skills in the local workforce. But manufacturing jobs are being lost globally at an alarming rate to new technology. In the long-term, offshore manufacturing plants will be made obsolete and replaced by new automated, high-tech manufacturing facilities. Incentives need to be created to encourage new capital formation, especially high-tech manufacturing, at home.

Stock buybacks, I suspect, will always be around. But remove the incentive to boost stock prices by targeting the structure of executive bonuses. It would be difficult to isolate benefits from stock buybacks and tax them directly. But removing tax on dividends — in my opinion far simpler and more effective than the dividend imputation system in Australia — would remove the incentive for stock buybacks and make it difficult for management to justify this action to investors.

We already seem to be moving in the right direction. The last two points are relatively easy when compared to the first two. If Donald Trump manages to pull them (the first two) off, he will already move sharply upward in my estimation.

Judge a tree by the fruit it bears.

~ Matthew 7:15–20

Consider Republicans’ tax plan | Ross Garnaut

From Patrick Hatch:

“Our existing tax base for the corporate income tax is in deep trouble,” Professor Garnaut told the Melbourne Economic Forum on Tuesday. “It’s subject to egregious avoidance or evasions, with two of the main instruments of avoidance being arbitrary use of interest on debt to reduce taxable income and, more importantly, arbitrary use of payment for import of services as deductions.

“You have a lot of what must be fundamentally some of the most profitable enterprises in Australia paying no corporate income tax.

“Google and Microsoft and Uber, they manage to generate very large sales in Australia … but somehow make no profit from it because of payment for intellectual property, payments for services.”

Cutting rates while broadening the base is a step in the right direction. But the broader base has to offset the rate cut, so that tax revenues are not depleted.

One of the oldest tricks in the tax avoidance industry is to set up a structure where A receives a deduction for an expense while the receiving party (B) is either tax exempt or is resident in a tax haven, and does not pay tax on the income. The effect is to substantially reduce tax payable by A.

Disallowing all deductions would unfairly penalize legitimate transactions. A simpler method would be to require A to collect a withholding tax on the payment to B (or B provides a tax file number showing that the income will be taxed in Australia) else the deduction by A will be disallowed.

Source: Consider Republicans’ tax plan, says economist Ross Garnaut

Priming the Pump

US stocks are buoyant on hopes that a Donald Trump presidency will benefit business, with major indexes flagging a bull market. But promises come first, the costs come later. While I support a broad infrastructure program and the creation of a level playing field in global markets, the actual execution of these ideas is critical and should not be allowed to be hijacked by the establishment for their own ends.

Erection of trade barriers is a useful negotiating position but is unlikely to be achieved without enormous damage to the global economy. As long as your trading partners think you are crazy enough to do it, they may be more amenable to establishing fair ground rules for international trade. If they don’t believe the threat, they will be happy to continue on their present path. So Trump walks a fine line between reassuring his allies and the domestic market, while keeping others guessing about his intentions.

Before we get carried away with hopes and expectations, however, we need to evaluate the current state of the economy in order to assess the current potential for growth.

The Cons

Let’s start with the negatives.

Construction spending is slow, at about three-quarters of pre-GFC (and sub-prime) levels. It will take more than an infrastructure program to restore this (though it is a step in the right direction). What is needed is higher growth expectations for the economy.

Construction Spending to GDP

Industrial production is close to its pre-GFC peak but has been declining since 2014.

Industrial Production Index

Job growth is slowing. Decline below 1.0 percent would be cause for concern.

Employment Growth

Rail and freight activity also reflects a slow-down since 2015.

Rail & Freight Index

The Philadelphia Fed’s broad-based Leading Index has also softened since 2014. Decline below 1.0 percent would be cause for concern.

Leading Index

One of my favorite indicators, this graph compares profit margins (per unit of gross value added) to employee costs. There is a clear cycle: employee costs (per unit) fall after a recession while profits rise. As the economy recovers and approaches full capacity, employee costs start to rise and profits fall — which leads to the next recession. At present we can clearly see employee costs are rising and profit margins are falling.

Profits and Employee Costs per unit of Value Added

It will be difficult for corporations to continue to grow earnings in this environment. Business investment is falling.

Gross Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment

Plowing money into stock buybacks rather than into new investment may shore up corporate performance for a while but hurts construction and industrial production. Turning this around is a major challenge facing the new administration.

The Pros

Retail sales are rising as increased employee compensation costs lift consumer confidence. Solid November sales with strong Black Friday numbers would help lift confidence even further.

Retail Sales

Light vehicle sales are also recovering, a key indicator of consumers’ long-term outlook.

Light Vehicle Sales

Rising sales and infrastructure investment are only part of the solution. What Donald Trump needs to do is prime the pump: introduce a fairer tax system, minimize red tape and reduce political interference in the economy, while enforcing strong regulation of the financial sector. Not an easy task, but achieving these goals would help restore business confidence, revive investment, and set the economy on a sound growth path.

In the short run, the market is a voting machine
but in the long run it is a weighing machine.

~ Benjamin Graham: Security Analysis (1934)

Big government doesn’t kill growth???

I take issue with this article published in Macrobusiness:

Sorry Coalition, “big Government” doesn’t kill growth

By Leith van Onselen

During the Federal Election campaign, Labor’s shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, confirmed that the overall tax burden would hit 24.8% GDP by 2026-27 under Labor, up from 23.5% in 2019-20:

Mr Bowen told The Australian Financial Review that his number was lower than the 25.7 per cent of GDP that Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed Labor would deliver, but higher than the Coalition’s ceiling of 23.9 per cent.

Mr Bowen said the alternative would be spending cuts to essential services.

“Let me be clear: tax-to-GDP will be higher over the medium term under both the Coalition and Labor government. Either that, or the Coalition will continue to deliver more savage cuts to Medicare and education,” he said.

The admission was immediately seized upon by Treasurer Scott Morrison, who claimed that a higher tax burden would damage the Australian economy’s growth:

“Labor might want to think you can have a tax-to-GDP ratio approaching 26 per cent and that will have no impact on the Australian economy. They are kidding themselves…”

The Coalition’s 23.9% of GDP ceiling on tax is based on the National Commission of Audit’s recommendation that taxation revenue as a share of GDP should be capped at 24%.

The assumption that higher tax equals less economic growth is a popular one among conservatives, not just in Australia.

However, four American academics have published an important new book, entitled “How Big Should our Government Be?”, which examines in detail the vexed issue of government size and growth.

According to the Washington Post, which provides a good summary of the book, there is actually a positive correlation between the size of government and economic growth per capita:

ScreenHunter_14443 Aug. 10 08.40

Using data on 12 advanced economies from 1870, the authors of the book conclude with the following:

“In the century and a half since then, government expenditures as a share of GDP have risen sharply in these countries. Yet they didn’t experience a slowdown in their long-run economic growth rates. The fact that economic growth has been so stable over this lengthy period, despite huge increases in the size of government, suggests that government size probably has had little or no impact on growth.”

The authors also note that “A national instinct that small government is always better than large government is grounded not in facts but rather in ideology and politics,” and that the evidence “shows that more government can lead to greater security, enhanced opportunity and a fairer sharing of national wealth.”

In particularly, the authors call for more investment in infrastructure, education, as well as proper safety nets for the unemployed and those that get sick.

The Turnbull Government should take note as it considers taking an axe to Australia’s public services.


Let me start by saying that I am not in favor of austerity as a response to a major economic slow-down. If anything that will exacerbate unemployment and prolong the contraction. Instead I advocate major infrastructure programs to stimulate the economy. But with two caveats: (1) investments must generate a market-related return on investment; and (2) there must be strong involvement from the private sector. Investment in assets that do not generate direct revenue leaves future taxpayers with a pile of debt and no income (or saleable assets) that can service (or repay) it. Involvement of the private sector should be structured to ensure that the benchmark of market-related returns is not superseded by projects selected to win the most votes. Also, the private sector should have skin in the game to restrict cost blowouts. They are not immune to cost blowouts but are not in the same league as big government.

I also believe that weak government will harm an economy. We need strong regulators, rule of law, police and military to ensure stability. Also spending on education and science to foster growth.

But the article by Jared Bernstein in the Washington Post typifies the kind of rubbish pedaled to voters around election time. And seems to have been swallowed hook-line-and-sinker by the author of the MB article.

Where do I start?
First, the fact that a book by four unnamed academics is cited as proof in itself should tell us how much credibility to attach to their claims.

Second, the author mentions that there is “a positive correlation between the size of government and economic growth per capita…”. A positive correlation is any correlation coefficient greater than zero. The highest correlation is a value of 1.0 which represents a perfect fit. No correlation coefficient is provided in either article and judging from the graph I would assume it is closer to zero than 1, meaning there is only a vague correlation. If you ignore the line drawn on graph, the data looks randomly scattered with no clear trend.

Also the author overlooks that he is only dealing with a sample of 12 countries, which again would give a low level of confidence in any result.

Further, in the WP article the author concedes that correlation is not equal to causation: “That positive slope in the figure on the left above could easily be a function of reverse causality: As economies grow, their citizens demand more from them.” This is omitted in the MB report.

Then the study of data for the 12 economies from 1870 up top the present is used to argue that growth in government expenditures does not hinder GDP growth. I would be surprised if the data didn’t show growth in government across all countries as it spans the era from horse-drawn carts up to the area of modern jets and space travel. From the country GP with a stethoscope to modern nuclear medicine and MRIs. From slate and chalk to super-computers and digital technology. Of course the demand for infrastructure has grown exponentially over that time. To argue otherwise would be stupid.

But that is not an argument in favor of a welfare state or increased government expenditure. In fact, most of those advances in technology were driven by private individuals and not by government.

Finally, I will use another graph from “How big should our government be,” Bakija et al in the same Washington Post article to argue the case for lean government (as opposed to small government circa 1870):

Tax Revenue as Percentage of GDP and GDP Growth

The graph shows that tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have steadily declined, since the late 1990s, for every country except France. Why has this occurred in even model welfare states like Sweden and, to a lesser extent, Canada? Simply because they reached “peak welfare” in the 1990s and realized that the only way to revive GDP growth was to reduce the role of government in the economy.

Tax Revenue as Percentage of GDP

The only one who hasn’t accepted the evidence is France. Which may well be contributing to their poor economic performance.

Michael Pettis: Brexit could speed breakup of the Euro

On secular stagnation: “I don’t see growth picking up until you either redistribute income downwards — which is politically quite difficult and slow — or developed countries which are credible borrowers engage in massive infrastructure spending — which would be a great idea but politically difficult — so I’m afraid secular stagnation is going to last several more years.”

On BREXIT: “I’m not to optimistic that the Euro will be around in 10 years…BREXIT could speed up the process if England does well.”

On future crises: “It’s always the same thing: a huge switch from New York to Washington (in American terms) where policy begins to dominate the whole process…because the solutions to the problems are political solutions, not really economic or financial solutions…”