Stocks and precious metals headed for a correction

Stocks are retreating across the board after climbing to dizzy heights in recent weeks. They continue to enjoy support, however, from falling Treasury yields and robust financial market liquidity. Support from crude oil is less certain, with a potential up-trend that could delay interest rate cuts.

Gold and silver are also retreating after strong gains in recent weeks. The correction appears to be a secondary movement. Base metals copper and aluminum are also weakening but the sell-off appears far stronger.

Stocks

Three out of seven mega-caps in the S&P 500 (Nvidia, Tesla, and Meta Platforms) show gains on Thursday, while four declined.

Top 7 Technology Stocks

The S&P 500 as a whole declined steeply, headed for a test of support at 5500.

S&P 500

The equal-weighted index ($IQX) took a similar pounding, breaking support at 6900. Retracement that respects the new resistance level would confirm a target of 6600.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

The retreat is across the board, with the Russell 2000 Small Cap ETF (IWM) [pink] falling faster than Russell 1000 Large Caps ETF (IWB) [blue] after spectacular gains earlier in the week.

Russell 1000 Large Cap ETF (IWB) & Russell 2000 Small Cap ETF (IWM),

Treasuries

Ten-year Treasury yields are retracing to test resistance at 4.2%. Respect is likely and would confirm our short-term target of 4.0%. Declining Trend Index peaks below zero continue to warn of downward pressure on yields. The low inflation outlook is bullish for bonds.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Financial Markets

Commercial bank reserves at the Fed finished largely unchanged for the week ended Wednesday, July 17, suggesting stable liquidity levels.

Commercial Bank Reserves at the Fed

Bitcoin is retracing to test support at $60K; respect would signal rising liquidity in financial markets.

Bitcoin

Labor Market

Initial claims climbed to 243K for the week ended July 13. This still well below levels normally seen leading up to a recession.

Initial Claims

Continued unemployment below 2.0m indicate a tight labor market.

Continued Claims

The Conference Board Leading Economic Indicator shows signs of a recovery after initially warning of a recession with a fall below -5.0%.

Conference Board Leading Economic Indicator

Dollar & Gold

The Dollar index reversed its sharp fall from Wednesday. Penetration of the descending trendline would warn of another test of 105 but we think this is unlikely considering the fall in Treasury yields.

Dollar Index

Gold retreated below support at $2,450 per ounce, indicating another test of $2,400. Respect of $2,400 would signal another attempt at $2,500, while breach would warn of a correction to $2,300.

Spot Gold

Silver followed through below $30, headed for a test of primary support at $29.

Spot Silver

Declining Trend Index peaks warn of medium-term selling pressure. But respect of support at $29 per ounce would suggest a target of $35 per ounce.

Spot Silver

Crude Oil

Nymex WTI crude steadied at close to $83 per barrel. Respect of resistance at $84 would be a strong bear signal.

Nymex WTI Crude

Brent crude is similarly testing resistance at $86 per barrel. Breach of support at $84 would be a strong bear signal.

Brent Crude

Base Metals

Copper broke support at $9,400 per metric ton. Expect retracement to test the new resistance level but respect is likely and would confirm the long-term target of $8,000.

Copper

Copper and aluminum track each other closely. The down-trend below has a likely target of $2,200 and is bearish for copper.

Aluminum

Conclusion

Stocks and precious metals appear headed for a much-needed correction after climbing to dizzy heights in recent weeks.

Of the three pillars, falling Treasury yields and robust financial market liquidity continue to support stocks. But crude oil is less certain, with a potential up-trend that would threaten higher inflation and could delay interest rate cuts.

Gold and silver are also retreating, after strong gains in recent weeks, in what appears to be a secondary correction. Support would provide a base for further gains.

But weakness in copper and aluminum is more concerning, signaling slowing demand from China which could easily trigger a global recession.

Acknowledgements

Small caps signal Risk On

Falling Treasury yields and a surge in liquidity in financial markets is bullish for stocks, bonds and precious metals. The rotation from growth to value has slowed, while increased interest in small caps signals risk on for stocks.

Crude and base metals are weakening as demand from China slows. Uranium prices are also testing support, despite long-term growth prospects.

Financial Markets

Bitcoin rebounded from $56K to $64K, confirming a resurgence of liquidity in financial markets. Retracement that respects support at $60K would strengthen the bull signal.

Bitcoin

Treasuries

Ten-year Treasury yields are testing support at 4.2%, reflecting optimism over an early rate cut. Breach of support is likely and would offer a target of 4.0%.

S&P 500

Stocks

The sector rotation between growth and value has slowed, with both the Russell 1000 Growth ETF (green) and Value (blue) advancing at a similar rate.

Russell 1000 Growth ETF (IWF) & Russell 1000 Value ETF (IWD)

The S&P 500 made a small gain but the weak close and declining Trend Index warn of selling pressure.

S&P 500

The equal-weighted index ($IQX) shows a similar weak close, retracing to test support at 6800.

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

But the rotation into small caps continues, with the Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (Pink) closing the gap with the large cap Russell 1000 ETF (blue).

Russell 1000 Large Cap ETF (IWB) & Russell 2000 Small Cap ETF (IWM)

Precious Metals

Gold respected support at $2,400 per ounce, signaling another test of $2,450. Rising Trend Index troughs continue to signal buying pressure.

Spot Gold

Silver remains below resistance at $31 per ounce, with a lower Trend Index peak warning of secondary selling pressure. Another test of $30 is likely.

Spot Silver

Crude Oil

Nymex WTI crude continues to test support at $82 per barrel. Breach of $80 would be a strong bear signal.

Nymex WTI Crude

Brent crude retreated below support at $86 per barrel. Breach of $84 would offer a similar strong bear signal.

Brent Crude

Falling crude prices would ease the prospect of resurgent inflation and increase the likelihood of an early Fed rate cut.

Base Metals

Aluminum broke support at $2,420 per metric ton, warning of another decline. Retracement that respects the new resistance level would strengthen the bear signal.
Aluminum

Copper and aluminum tend to track each other closely, so the breach is bearish for copper as well.

Copper

Uranium

The Sprott Physical Uranium Trust (SRUUF) respected resistance at $20.50, signaling another test of support at $18.50. Breach of $18.50 would signal a down-trend for uranium prices.

Sprott Physical Uranium Trust (SRUUF)

Several uranium stocks, apart from Canadian miner Cameco (red), are testing support levels. Uranium Stocks

Conclusion

Treasury yields are declining as prospects for an early rate cut grow. Stock prices are also supported by rising liquidity in financial markets.

The rotation from growth to value sectors has slowed but the move to small caps is accelerating, signaling a more aggressive risk on stance from investors.

Weak crude prices are also bullish for stocks and bonds. The prospect of lower inflation is likely to result in lower Treasury yields.

Gold respected support at $2,400 per ounce, indicating another test of $2,450, boosted by the prospect of falling Treasury yields and a weaker Dollar. Silver lags behind, encountering stronger selling pressure and less domestic demand from China.

Aluminum broke support, signaling a down-trend. This is a bear signal for copper which tends to track closely.

Uranium is also looking bearish, with several stocks testing support levels.

Acknowledgements

Australian Outlook | Chris Joye

Central banks are too much under the sway of government and not doing enough to contain inflation. None worse than the RBA which is holding rates lower than they should be. The last time that we had inflation at 4.0% in 2008, the cash rate was 7.25%. Now the cash rate is only 4.35%.

RBNZ is far more independent and hiked their official cash rate to 5.5%. The NZ economy is in recession but they still face the threat of stagflation, with low growth and high inflation.

In Australia we have a negative output gap, where demand exceeds production capacity, far worse than in most other major economies. The only solution is to raise unemployment to lower demand. But RBA governor Michelle Bullock has publicly stated that the RBA is not looking to reduce employment.

The latest Australian government budget is highly stimulatory and likely to fuel further inflation.

The outcome is likely to be long-term inflation and higher long-term interest rates.

Conclusion

We expect strong inflationary pressures in the next decade as governments run large fiscal deficits. Additional government spending is needed to:

  1. Address the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables and nuclear;
  2. On-shore critical supply chains; and
  3. Increase defense spending in response to geopolitical tensions.

Long-term interest rates are expected to rise over the next decade, fueled by higher inflation.

Central banks may attempt to suppress interest rates by further expanding their balance sheets to buy long-term fiscal debt but that is short-sighted. Inflation would accelerate even higher.

Apart from the hardship to wage-earners, and the subsequent political chaos, high inflation would threaten bond market stability. Bond market investors would be reluctant to fund deficits when interest earned is below the inflation rate. Unless there are no alternatives.

That is why the long-term outlook for gold and silver is so bullish.

S&P 500 retreats, along with crude and precious metals

Treasury yields are trending upwards, as inflation proves persistent, but also driven by the scarcity of foreign buyers in the UST market. Rising Japanese long-term yields, the result of a weak Yen and higher inflation, make Treasuries less attractive to Japanese institutional investors. Geopolitical tensions have also motivated the BRICS, led by China, and the Saudis, to reduce exposure to the Dollar and increase their gold reserves.

10-Year Treasury yields are retracing to test support at 4.5%. Rising Trend Index troughs indicate upward pressure and respect of support would confirm another test of 4.7%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Liquidity in financial markets is improving, however, with commercial bank reserves restoring almost half of the amount lost during the April tax payment season.

Commercial Bank Reserves at the Fed

Stocks

The S&P 500 is undergoing a retracement, likely to test support at 5200. Declining Trend Index peaks warn of secondary selling pressure, with the strong primary up-trend unlikely to be threatened.

S&P 500

The equal-weighted S&P 500 fared slightly better, finding short-term support at 6600. But a steeper Trend Index decline warns of stronger selling pressure. Breach of 6600 would warn of a test of primary support at 6450.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

Gold and the Dollar

The Dollar index twice respected resistance at 105 and another test of the key 104 level is likely. Breach of 104 and the rising trendline would warn of a reversal to test the band of primary support (red) between 100 and 101.

Dollar Index

Gold made a weak recovery above support at $2330 per ounce. The Trend Index warns of significant selling pressure and another test of primary support at $2280 is likely. Domestic Chinese demand remains strong, however, with the Shanghai Gold Exchange Au99.99 contract trading at an equivalent of $2373 per ounce.

Spot Gold

Silver also shows selling pressure, with a lower peak on the Trend Index. Another test of support at $30 per ounce is likely.

Spot Silver

Crude Oil

Nymex light crude is again testing support at $78 per barrel after a strong inventory build reported by the EIA. Follow-through below $77 would signal another decline, with a likely test of primary support at $68.

Nymex Light Crude

Crude oil and petroleum inventories are rebuilding after a decline in early 2024.

Crude Oil & Refined Petroleum Products Inventory

The managed money short position in Brent Crude futures is at its highest level since 2020, suggesting a bearish outlook for crude oil. But beware of a surprise OPEC+ production cut in the lead-up to the November US elections.

Crude Oil Short Positions

Conclusion

The key variable in our short-term outlook is financial market liquidity. That is improving and should support stock prices.

In the long-term, lower crude oil prices are expected to ease inflationary pressures and allow the Fed to maintain easy monetary policies. But the Treasury market is susceptible to selling by foreign investors — which should maintain upward pressure on long-term yields.

Lower inflation and higher long-term yields are bearish for precious metals. But these are outweighed by increased central bank buying due to geopolitical tensions and collapse of the Chinese real estate market. This has left domestic investors shifting to Gold as an alternative store of value.

We remain short-term bullish on stocks. Long-term, we prefer critical materials needed for the energy transition — especially lithium, copper and uranium; heavy electrical industry; and defensive sectors with strong dividends.

Acknowledgements

In Gold we Trust

Rising demand for gold and silver reflect the failure of central banks to maintain price stability and efficient functioning of credit markets. Private investor mistrust of fiat currencies was historically an emerging market problem, with countries like India and China holding large private savings in the form of precious metals or real estate.  But now growing US fiscal problems have caused mistrust to spread to the global reserve currency as central banks reduce exposure to the Dollar and increase purchases of gold bullion.

Stocks & Treasuries

The S&P 500 respected support at 5250, the short harami candle indicating uncertainty. Breakout above Thursday’s high would confirm our target of 5500.

S&P 500

Ten-year Treasury yields are testing resistance at 4.5% but the short candle and weak close look tentative and respect is likely.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Gold & Silver

Gold is likely to test support at $2,300 per ounce. Respect is likely and would confirm that the up-trend is intact.

Spot Gold

Silver is similarly poised to test support between $29 and $30 per ounce. Respect of support is again likely to confirm the up-trend.

Spot Silver

Gold Demand from the East

Ronnie Stoeferle — managing director of Liechtenstein-based asset manager Incrementum AG and author of the annual In Gold We Trust report — says that 70% of gold demand is now from the East. Mainly China and India but supported by buying in Vietnam, Thailand and lately Japan.

De-Dollarization

Jeff Currie — chief energy strategist at the Carlyle Group and former Global Head of Commodities Research at Goldman Sachs — says that central banks are now recycling commodity surpluses into Gold, not Dollars. When prices are high, crude oil producers generate trade surpluses which they historically have invested in Dollar-based assets — mainly US Treasuries — but are now investing in gold.

The Saudis and Russia are increasingly selling crude oil and gas in Yuan and Rupees which they then use to import goods from China and India. Any remaining surplus is then used to purchase gold as they do not want to hold the currencies in their official reserves. Physical gold is flowing from West to East, to meet increased demand, and driving up prices.

The change has caused a dramatic divergence between gold (brown below) and real long-term interest rates, represented by the TIPS yield (blue) below.

Gold & TIPS Yield

Source: Gainesville Coins

The scale of increased demand and its impact on gold prices is not hard to imagine when one considers that global crude oil production is more than 13 times the Dollar value of total gold output.

USD Value of Gold & Crude Oil Production

Source: FFTT

Central Bank Purchases

China and India are ranked among the top 10 countries in terms of official gold holdings.

Official Gold Reserves by Country - Top 10 Holdings

Source: Gold.org

But many purchases are not made through official channels and go unreported. Jan Nieuwenhuijs estimates that the PBOC actually held close to 5,550 metric tons1 at the end of Q1 2024.

Quarterly Central Bank Gold Buying

Source: Gainesville Coins

Private Purchases

Private gold holdings in China and India dwarf official reserves.

China’s private sector holds approximately 25,700 metric tons2 at the end of Q1 2024, according to Nieuwenhuijs.

India’s gold market is similar in size, with private investors holding between 24,000 and 27,000 metric tons of gold jewellery and bullion according to Blue Hill Research.

Conclusion

Gold demand is driven by a lack of faith in fiat currencies — whether it be US Dollars, Chinese Yuan or Indian Rupees — to maintain their value. Private investors are buying gold as a store of value while central banks are recycling trade surpluses into gold, rather than holding fiat currencies.

Silver and Copper are becoming the “poor man’s gold”, with price-sensitive buyers switching from gold into silver and copper as they grow relatively cheaper.

Countries with high private gold investment are likely to experience low rates of growth. Keyne’s Paradox of Thrift illustrates how savings parked in assets like gold and silver crowd out investment in productive assets, leading to lower growth in output.

Savings invested in debt and equity markets, by comparison, are largely channeled into investment in productive assets3 that contribute to GDP growth.

Efficient credit markets are the lifeblood of the economy, ensuring the transfer of savings into productive investment. Demand for speculative assets — such as precious metals and much real estate — reflect the failure of central banks to maintain price stability. Inflation increases investment risk in debt markets, leading to higher interest rates and increased demand for speculative assets, lowering economic growth. Inflation also accentuates the boom-bust cycle as central banks flip-flop between restrictive and stimulative monetary policy in an attempt to undo the consequences of their failed monetary policies.

The world is edging back towards a “gold standard” of sorts, where trade surpluses are converted to gold — or some other commodity like silver, copper or crude oil — rather than held as currency reserves. While not a perfect system, this would impose greater fiscal discipline on sovereigns, including the US, and contribute to increased price stability. It would also reduce the role of the US Dollar as global reserve currency and help to stem the damage done to the US economy over the past forty years by this “exorbitant privilege”.

Notes

  1. Estimated total PBOC gold holdings are 5,358 metric tons at the end of 2023 plus 189 tons in Q1 of 2024.
  2. Estimated total private gold holdings in China are 23,745 metric tons at the end of 2022 plus 1,411 tons in 2023 and 543 tons in Q1 of 2024.
  3. Debt that finances investment in speculative assets — producing low returns, like many real estate investments — does not contribute much to economic growth.

Acknowledgements

Silver stars as stocks retrace

Markets are retracing to test new support levels after a strong surge during the week on weaker than expected inflation data. Silver and Gold are the exception, making new highs, with demand fueled by lower long-term Treasury yields, a weaker Dollar, and strong buying from China.

Stocks

The S&P 500 is retracing to test support at 5200/5250. Higher Trend Index troughs indicate buying pressure. Respect of support is likely and would confirm our target of 5500.

S&P 500

In Australia, the ASX 200 retreated from resistance at 7900. Follow-through below 7700 would warn of another test of support at 7500/7550. Rising Trend Index troughs, however, warn that respect is more likely — that would mean another test of the all-time high.

ASX 200

Financial Markets

Ten-year Treasury yields retraced to test new resistance between 4.4% and 4.5%. Respect is likely and would signal a decline to test support between 4.1% and 4.2%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Financial market liquidity is improving, with commercial bank reserves at the Fed recovering after a sharp fall during April tax payment season.

Commercial Bank Reserves at Fed

The Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Index is again falling, signaling easier monetary conditions.

Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Index

Bitcoin (BTC) recovered above the former $64K support level, confirming easier financial conditions. Retracement that respects the new support level would strengthen the signal.

Bitcoin (BTC)

Economic Activity

Real retail sales are edging lower but remain in line with their pre-pandemic trend (dotted line) — supported by full employment, lower inflation and government spending to secure critical supply chains.

Advance Real Retail Sales

Light vehicle sales remain below 2019 levels but sales above 15 million continue to reflect robust consumer sentiment.

Light Vehicle Sales

Heavy truck sales rebounded to 40.2K units, indicating reasonable business activity. Continuation of the recent down-trend, however, with a fall below 37.5K, would signal that the economy is slowing. Breach of 35K would warn that a recession is imminent.

Heavy Truck Sales

Precious Metals & the Dollar

The Dollar index is retracing to test new resistance at 105. Lower Trend Index peaks warn of selling pressure and respect of resistance is likely, offering a short-term target of 103.

Dollar Index

Silver is the star performer of the week, climbing steeply to close at $31.43 per ounce, following a brief pause on Thursday. Rising Trend Index troughs indicate strong buying pressure and our target of $32 is likely to be broken.

Spot Silver

Gold also displays buying pressure, although the Trend Index rise is not as steep as Silver. Expect retracement to test the new support level at $2400 per ounce, but respect is likely and would confirm our target of $2500.

Spot Gold

The chart below from Jan Nieuwenhuijs shows Gold as a percentage of global central bank reserves, from 1880 to today. There is plenty of potential for holdings to increase as central banks attempt to diversify away from a Dollar-based global reserve currency.

Gold as a percentage of International Reserves

China: Gold Demand

China sold a record amount of Treasury and US agency bonds in the first quarter as it diversifies away from US financial assets. Bloomberg:

Beijing offloaded a total of $53.3 billion of Treasuries and agency bonds combined in the first quarter, according to calculations based on the latest data from the US Department of the Treasury. Belgium, often seen as a custodian of China’s holdings, disposed of $22 billion of Treasuries during the period.

China: Reserves

At the same time, China is rapidly increasing its official Gold holdings.

China: Gold Holdings

China’s domestic Gold price consistently shows a strong premium over the international price, currently RMB 567 per gram (Au99.99) versus 558.8 for the iAu99.99 international contract on the Shanghai Gold Exchange. The cause of strong domestic Gold demand is not hard to find.

China: Home Prices

Chinese investors have in the past favored residential real estate as a store of wealth but growth in real estate prices ended in 2021. Investors are now switching their focus to Gold.

Crude Oil

Nymex light crude respected support at $79 per barrel. Penetration of the secondary (orange) trendline would suggest that a base is forming. Lower crude oil and gasoline prices are likely to ease inflationary pressure.

Nymex Light Crude

Conclusion

Silver is the star performer of the week, rising steeply to close at $31.43 per ounce. Gold also broke resistance — breakout above $2400 per ounce offering a target of $2500.

Stocks are bullish after weaker than expected CPI growth for April. The S&P 500 is likely to respect support at 5200/5250, confirming our target of 5500.

Ten-year Treasury yields are also softening on weaker inflation data. Respect of resistance at 4.4% to 4.5% would offer a target between 4.1% and 4.2%. Lower yields are likely to weaken the Dollar, further boosting Gold and Silver prices.

China continues to switch its official reserves from US Treasuries to Gold. Coupled with strong domestic demand from Chinese investors — disillusioned with real estate and the weakening Yuan — combined official and private investor demand from China is expected to maintain upward pressure on bullion prices.

Acknowledgements

Gold, Crude, Copper and the Elephant

Gold, crude and copper is where the action is, while stocks and Treasuries take a back seat for the present.

Markets are signalling a reluctance to take on risk, while long-term Treasury yields threaten to trend higher.

We also revisit rising Treasury debt — the elephant in the room — and examine the CBO’s budget projections in more detail.

Crude Oil

Brent crude respected resistance at $84 per barrel, signaling a decline to below $80.

Brent Crude

Nymex light crude breach of support at $78 per barrel would confirm the reversal. A decline in crude oil is likely and would ease inflationary pressures, with the expected fall in long-term yields bullish for stocks, bonds and precious metals.

Nymex Light Crude

Crude oil production remains steady at a massive 13.1 million barrels per day according to the EIA report for the week to May 3.

EIA: Crude Oil Production

Inventories (including SPR) recovered to above 1.6 trillion barrels, while market concerns eased over Iran-Israel tensions.

EIA: Total Crude Oil and Petroleum Products (Incl. SPR) Inventory

Copper

Copper is testing short-term resistance at $10K per metric ton. Breakout is likely and would test major resistance (green) at $10.5K.

Copper

The rise, however, is caused by a production halt at Cobre Panama. Production could be resumed if the mine-owner First Quantum can reach agreement with the new president-elect Jose Raul Mulino. From Reuters:

Mulino, a 64-year-old former security minister, won Panama’s election on Sunday [May 5] with 34% of the vote and said his government would be pro-investment and pro-business, adding that the Central American country would honor its debts, while he vowed to not forget the poor. He won with the help of popular former President Ricardo Martinelli who was barred from running due to a money laundering conviction. Mulino, who served as security minister during Martinelli’s administration from 2009 to 2014, had been Martinelli’s vice presidential candidate and took his place.

Gold & the Dollar

The Dollar Index continues to test support at 105. Respect remains likely, with Trend Index troughs above zero signaling buying pressure, unless Janet Yellen at Treasury intervenes to weaken the Dollar in support of the UST market.

Dollar Index

Gold broke resistance at $2350 per ounce, signaling another advance. But first expect retracement to test the new support level. Respect would confirm a target of $2500 per ounce.

Spot Gold

Shanghai Gold Exchange domestic contract Au99.99 is trading at 553 RMB/gram, equivalent to a USD price of $2380 per ounce at the current USDCNY exchange rate of 7.2268.

Stocks

The S&P closed above 5200 on Friday but a doji candlestick and lower Trend Index peaks indicate a lack of enthusiasm from buyers.

S&P 500

The Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) reflects the lack of broad market support for the rally, with Trend Index peaks below zero warning of selling pressure. Another test of support at 200 is likely.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Financial Markets

Ten-year Treasury yields continue to test the band of support between 4.4% and 4.5%. Recovery above 4.5% would signal another test of 4.7%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Bitcoin is testing support at $61K. Follow-trough below say $60K would confirm the decline — initially signaled by breach of support at $64K — and warn that financial markets are moving to a risk-off position.

Bitcoin (BTC)

Commercial bank reserve balances at the Fed, however, grew by $78 billion in the week to May 8, indicating that financial market liquidity is improving.

Commercial Bank Reserves

Consumers

Consumer sentiment retreated to 67.4 in the University of Michigan survey for May 2024, but the up-trend continues.

University of Michigan: Consumer Sentiment

Five-year inflation expectations jumped to 3.1% but the three-month moving average, ranging between 2.9% and 3.0%, signals little change in the long-term outlook.

University of Michigan: 5-Year Inflation Expectations

The Elephant in the Room

Last week we published a note suggesting that investors were distracted by short-term noise and ignoring the elephant in the room — the precarious level of US federal debt. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that Treasury debt will grow to a clearly unsustainable 172% of GDP by 2034.

CBO: Debt-to-GDP

The US fiscal deficit is projected to grow from $1.6 trillion in 2024 to $2.6 trillion by 2034. Remember: all projections are wrong, but some are useful.

CBO: Projected Deficits

Often the most useful part of a projection is the underlying assumptions.

Real GDP growth below is a modest 1.5% in 2024, reaching 2.2% by 2026 — nothing controversial there. But the inflation projection is Pollyannaish, assuming a steady CPI decline from 3.2% in 2023 to 2.2% by 2034 — totally unrealistic if the budget deficit is to remain at close to 6.0% of GDP.

CBO: Economic Projections

Assumed inflation (above) also impacts on projected nominal interest rates, with the projected fed funds rate declining to 2.9% by 2027 and 10-year Treasury yields to a low 3.8%. Every 1.0% overshoot in inflation would be likely to cause a similar increase in both long- and short-term interest rates.

The budget projection below is equally unrealistic. Defense spending, the CBO would have us believe, declines to 2.5% of GDP by 2034. Given rising geopolitical tensions with Russia-China-Iran, defense spending is likely to exceed the long-term average of 4.2%.

CBO: Budget Projections

Net interest is budgeted to grow from 2.4% of GDP to 3.9% of GDP by 2034 but is based on unrealistic interest rate projections.

CBO: Interest Rate Projections

Treasury debt is likely to grow a lot faster than projections — because of the likely understatement of both defense spending and interest costs. That means that debt held by the “public” will have to grow a lot higher than the $48.3 trillion projected by 2034. If real interest rates are too low, any shortfall in take up by the public will have to be absorbed directly or indirectly by the Fed.

Conclusion

Rising inventory and easing Middle East tensions have weakened crude oil prices. A long-term decline in crude would be likely to relieve inflationary pressures and allow the Fed to cut interest rates.

Copper is rising steeply due to supply shortages, but prices could fall just as rapidly if the Cobre Panama mine is reopened by the new president-elect.

Gold broke resistance at $2350 per ounce, signaling another advance. Retracement that confirms the new support level at $2350 would offer a target of $2500.

Long-term Treasury yields are testing support. Respect of support is likely and would confirm the recent up-trend.

Perceptions of market risk are rising, with Bitcoin testing support at $61K and the Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) warning of selling pressure.

Financial market liquidity, however, recovered slightly in the last week.

Consumer sentiment continues to trend higher, while long-term inflation expectations remain steady at close to 3.0%.

The elephant in the room remains Treasury debt, with CBO projections understating likely deficits due to unrealistic assumptions for inflation, interest rates and defense spending. Debt issuance by Treasury is expected to exceed demand from foreign investors and the general public, leaving the shortfall to be absorbed by the Fed or commercial banks.

The result is likely to be higher long-term inflation, boosting real asset prices while eroding the value of financial assets.

We are long-term bullish on Gold, Defensive stocks, the Heavy Electrical sector, and Critical Materials (Lithium and Copper). The last two stand to benefit from the energy transition. We are also overweight short-term financial assets with duration of 2 years or less:  Mortgages, Term Deposits and Money Market Funds.

We remain underweight Growth stocks — which we consider overpriced — and long-duration financial assets.

Acknowledgements

The elephant in the room

A weak seasonally-adjusted increase of 175K in non-farm payrolls had a surprisingly bullish effect on stocks. The increased prospect of rate cuts from the Fed excited investors. The opposite of what one would expect from a sign that the economy is slowing.

Markets are focused on the immediate impact of shifts in data and policy but ignoring the elephant in the room — the long term consequences of current monetary and fiscal policy.

Labor market

Job growth slowed to 175K jobs in April, the lowest since October 2023.

Non-Farm Employment

Average hourly earnings growth remained low at 0.20% in April (2.4% annualized), signaling that inflationary pressures are easing.

Average Hourly Earnings Growth

The unemployment rate is still low at 3.9%. The Sahm Recession Indicator is at 0.37. Devised by former Fed economist Claudia Sahm, the indicator signals the start of a recession when the red line below rise to 0.50%.

The Sahm Rule signals the start of a recession when the three-month moving average of the national unemployment rate (U3) rises by 0.50 percentage points or more relative to the minimum of the three-month averages from the previous 12 months.

The rule has proved a reliable recession indicator in the past but we need to remember that: (a) it is not a leading indicator and normally only crosses above 0.5% after the start of a recession; and (b) this is a far from normal labor market.

Sahm Rule & Unemployment Rate

Non-residential construction jobs are way above previous highs as the industry benefits from fiscal spending on infrastructure and the drive to on-shore key industries such as semiconductors.

Non-Residential Construction Jobs

Average hourly earnings growth (green below) slowed to 4.0% for the 12 months to April (for production and non-supervisory employees) indicating that inflationary pressures are easing. In the past, average hourly earnings growth above the unemployment rate (blue) has caused high inflation as in the 1970s (red circle).

Unemployment Rate & Average Hourly Earnings Growth

Economic Activity

Aggregate weekly hours worked are growing at an annual rate of 1.8%. This is below the rate of real GDP growth, suggesting either that (a) productivity gains from AI and other new technologies are having an effect; or (b) real GDP growth is likely to slow.

Real GDP & Aggregate Hours Worked

The GDPNow model from the Atlanta Fed forecasts an optimistic 3.3% annualized real growth rate in Q2.

GDPNow

But the Lewis-Mertens-Stock Weekly Economic Index is far more cautious at an annualized rate of 1.7% for Q2 (so far).

Real GDP & Weekly Economic Index

ISM Services PMI declined to 49.4% for April, indicating a contraction in the large services sector. Earlier, the ISM Manufacturing PMI was slightly weaker, at 49.2%.

ISM Services

The Services New Orders sub-index remains above zero, suggesting some improvement ahead.

ISM Services - New Orders

The Employment sub-index, however, shows a sharp contraction, falling to 45.9%. The services sector is the major employer in the economy and the negative outlook warns that overall jobs growth could slow rapidly.

ISM Services - Employment

The Prices sub-index, on the other hand, warns of persistent inflation, rebounding to a strong 59.2%.

ISM Services - Prices

Financial Markets

Bitcoin rallied strongly to again test resistance at $64K. Respect of resistance, signaled by a fall below $61K, would confirm the down-trend and warn of contracting liquidity in financial markets.

Bitcoin (BTC)

The Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Index recovered slightly to -0.47, also warning that easy monetary conditions are receding.

Chicago Fed Financial Conditions Index

Ten-year Treasury yields declined on news of the weak labor report, testing support at 4.5%. Breach would indicate a decline to 4.2%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

The S&P 500 jumped above resistance at 5100, suggesting another test of resistance at 5250. But we first expect retracement to test support.

S&P 500

Gold & the Dollar

The Dollar weakened in line with falling Treasury yields, with the Dollar Index testing support at 105. Breach would signal a correction, with follow-through below 104 signaling end of the up-trend.

Dollar Index

Gold continues to test support at $2300 per ounce. If support holds, with recovery above $2350, the shallow correction would be a bull signal, suggesting another strong advance. Otherwise, a test of $2200 is likely.

Spot Gold

Crude Oil

Brent crude broke support at $84 per barrel as tensions in the Middle East ease. Follow-through below support at $82 would warn that the up-trend has weakened and is likely to reverse.

Brent Crude

Conclusion

Financial markets, like Pavlov’s dog, are conditioned to react bullishly to rate cuts. Long-term Treasury yields declined and stocks jumped in response to a weak labor report. However, weak jobs growth is not a bull signal, suggesting that the economy is likely to slow. This is borne out by a weak ISM Services PMI for April, warning of a contraction.

The unemployment rate remains low but average hourly earnings growth is declining, indicating that inflationary pressures are easing. ISM Prices sub indices for both Manufacturing and Services, however, warn of strong producer price pressures.

Brent crude broke its rising trendline and follow-through below the next support level at $82 per barrel would warn of reversal to test primary support at $75. Declining energy prices would help to ease inflationary pressures.

The Fed is likely to hold off cutting rates until the outlook for inflation is clearer.

Gold could weaken to $2200 per ounce in the short- to medium-term — if it can break stubborn support at $2300. But we remain long-term bullish on Gold. The elephant in the room is Government debt which is growing at a rate of more than $1 trillion a year, with little prospect of a bipartisan agreement in Congress to address the shortfall. The chart below shows the bipartisan CBO’s projection of federal debt as a percentage of GDP from 2024 to 2054.

CBO Projections of Federal Debt

The only practical way to solve this is to increase GDP at a faster rate than the debt, through inflation. That would erode the real value of the debt but is likely to send Gold and other real assets soaring.

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Markets move to Risk-Off

Bitcoin broke support at $64K, warning that financial markets are moving to risk-off . Traders and investors reduce their exposure to risk and focus on protecting their capital. Follow-through below $62K would confirm, warning of a sharp fall (in BTC) and a stock market correction.

Bitcoin

The 10-Year Treasury yield has climbed to 4.67%, confirming our target of 5.0%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

The Japanese Yen fell to 154 against the Dollar, increasing pressure on the Bank of Japan to loosen the cap on long-term JGB yields — to protect the Yen. The result of such a move would be an outflow of Japanese investors from the US Treasury market, increasing upward pressure on UST yields and downward pressure on the Dollar.

USDJPY

Fed Monetary Policy

From CNN:

The US economy’s enduring strength and a “lack of progress” on inflation means the central bank likely won’t cut interest rates at its upcoming policy meeting just two weeks away, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday.

“The recent data have clearly not given us greater confidence” that inflation is headed toward the central bank’s 2% goal, Powell said during a moderated discussion hosted by the Wilson Center. Instead, he said, there are indications “that it is likely to take longer than expected to achieve that confidence.”

Stocks

The S&P 500 broke support at 5100, warning of a correction. Lower Trend Index peaks reflect selling pressure. Our target is 4950.

S&P 500

The Equal-Weighted Index ($IQX) continued its downward path after breaking support at 6650, presenting a target of 6250.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index

US Consumers

Real retail sales ticked up in March to remain on trend.

Real Retail Sales

Light vehicle sales also remain reasonably strong, at 15.5 million units (annualized) in March.

Light Vehicle Sales

Gold & the Dollar

The Dollar Index climbed above 106, strengthened by safe haven demand and the appeal of higher long-term yields. Our target is the October 2023 high at 107.

Dollar Index

Gold is again testing resistance at our target of $2400 per ounce, currently at $2383. The Shanghai Gold Exchange continues to display a premium on its international gold contract (iAu99.99) at 558.3 Yuan which translates to $2399 per Troy ounce (31.10348 grams). The domestic contract trades at an even higher price of 569 per gram but is subject to capital controls. The price premium should ensure a constant inflow of physical gold from other exchanges to China for as long it is maintained.

Spot Gold

Silver retraced from resistance at $29 per ounce and is testing support at $28. The lower Trend Index peak warns of selling pressure. Breach of $28 would warn of a correction to $26. Breakout above $29 is less likely in the short-term but would signal a fresh advance, with a medium-term target of $34.

Spot Silver

Crude & Commodities

Brent crude is in a narrow consolidation (pennant) at $90 per barrel. Continuation is likely and would test resistance at $96 per barrel.
Brent Crude

Nymex crude has retraced to test short-term support at $85 per barrel. Respect is likely and would indicate an advance to our target at $90.
WTI Light Crude

Conclusion

Geopolitical risk dominates, with an Israeli retaliatory attack on Iran expected before the end of the month.

Rising crude oil prices are likely to increase inflationary pressure and the yield on long-term Treasuries, with the 10-year yield expected to test 5.0%.

Safe haven demand from investors is concentrated on Gold, with bond prices falling and stocks warning of a correction. We expect a short retracement to test support levels but respect is likely and would signal another advance.

Bitcoin is diverging from Gold as investors grow more risk averse. Breach of support at $62K would confirm a correction, with support expected at $52K.

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Rising Crude and Gold warn of inflation

Brent crude continued its advance, closing at almost $89 per barrel on Tuesday. Our target is $94 per barrel would increase inflationary pressure in the months ahead and possibly delay Fed rate cuts.

Brent Crude

Rising crude oil prices have forced cancellation of plans to restock the strategic petroleum reserve (Bloomberg). US crude and petroleum inventory (including SPR) is testing the lows from January 2023.

Crude & Petroleum Inventory

Treasury Market

10-Year Treasury yields broke resistance at 4.35% but is retracing to test the new support level. Respect would confirm an advance to test resistance at 5.0%. Failure of support is less likely but would warn of another test of 4.05%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Federal debt at 120% of GDP, deficits of 6% of GDP, and a growing interest rate burden limit the available options.

Federal Debt/GDP

The Fed can suppress long-term interest rates but the cost — in terms of inflation — is likely to be high.

Federal Debt Interest Burden

The US is well along the path to fiscal dominance as explained in this 2023 paper from the San Francisco Fed:

Fiscal dominance refers to the possibility that the accumulation of government debt and continuing government deficits can produce increases in inflation that “dominate” central bank intentions to keep inflation low….If global real interest rates returned tomorrow to their historical average of roughly 2 percent, given the existing level of US government debt and large continuing projected deficits, the US would likely experience an immediate fiscal dominance problem. Even if interest rates remain substantially below their historical average, if projected deficits occur as predicted, there is a significant possibility of a fiscal dominance problem within the next decade.

The essence of fiscal dominance is the need for the government to fund its deficits on the margin with non-interest-bearing debts. The use of non-interest-bearing debt as a means of funding is also known as “inflation taxation.” Fiscal dominance leads governments to rely on inflation taxation by “printing money” (increasing the supply of non-interest-bearing government debt).

The rise in Gold — currently at $2270 per ounce — reflects bond market fears of an inflation rebound.

Spot Gold

The same inflation fears are also driving demand for stocks.

S&P 500

US Economy

The US economy continues to display resilience, with job openings holding steady at 8.8 million in February, exceeding unemployment by a wide margin of 2.3 million.

Job Openings & Unemployment

Light vehicle sales remain robust at a seasonally-adjusted 15.8 million annual rate in February, reflecting consumer confidence.

Light Vehicle Sales

However, heavy truck sales (41.6K in February) are trending lower — with the 6-month moving average crossing below the 12- month MA — reflecting declining business confidence.

Heavy Truck Sales

Conclusion

The economy remains robust but fears of an inflation rebound are growing, fueled by rising crude oil prices and large fiscal deficits. The odds of Fed rate cuts in the second half of the year are shrinking but there are still two possible scenarios:

  1. A sharp decline in economic activity could still prompt the Fed to cut rates despite inflationary fears. That would be a strong bear signal for stocks.
  2. Fiscal dominance, with the deliberate use of inflation as a tax in order to restore the ratio of debt-to-GDP to more sustainable levels. This involves shrinking the public debt in real terms by expanding GDP through inflation. A strong bull signal for real assets such as Gold, Stocks and Commodities.

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