S&P 500: A cautious advance

A monthly chart shows the S&P 500 cautiously advancing after breaking resistance at 3000. Short candle bodies reflect hesitancy but Trend Index troughs above zero remain bullish.

S&P 500

ETF flows reveal risk-averse investors, with outflows from US Equities in the last week and a relatively much larger outflow from Leveraged ETFs. Inflows are mainly into Fixed Income and Inverse.

ETF Flows

Year-to-date flows tell a similar story, with outflows from Equities and into Fixed Income. So where is the money flow into equities coming from?

Twitter: Buybacks

Meanwhile, the Fed has eased up on their balance sheet expansion now that the PBOC is back in the market. But broad money (MZM plus time deposits) continues to spike upwards, warning that the Fed is trying to head off a potential liquidity squeeze. They are not always successful. A similar spike occurred before the last two recessions.

Fed Assets and Broad Money Growth

The personal savings rate is climbing. Far from a positive sign, this warns that personal consumption, the largest contributor to GDP, is likely to fall.

Saving Rate

This is a dangerous market and we urge investors to be cautious.

S&P 500 bearish as Fed forced to expand

Juliet Declercq at JDI Research maintains that the normal business cycle has been replaced by a liquidity cycle, where market conditions are dictated by the ebb and flow of money from central banks. Risk will remain elevated for as long as natural price discovery is suppressed and risk-reward decisions are made in an artificial environment controlled by central bankers.

The Fed is again expanding its balance sheet (commonly known as QE) in response to the recent interest rate spike in repo markets.

Fed Assets and Excess Reserves on Deposit

Jeff Snider from Alhambra Partners maintains that the Dollar shortage has been signaled for some time. First by an inverted yield curve in Eurodollar futures, well ahead of in US Treasuries. Then in March 2019, the effective Fed Funds Rate (EFFR) stepped above the interest rate paid by the Fed on excess reserves (deposited by commercial banks at the Fed). According to Jeff, this showed that primary dealers were willing to pay a premium for liquidity. The likely explanation is that they anticipated a severe contraction in inter-bank markets, similar to 2008.

Effective Fed Funds Rate - Interest on Excess Reserves

When the spread spiked upwards in late September, the Fed finally woke up and started pumping money into the system, expanding their balance sheet by over $200 billion in the past few weeks.

Fed balance sheet expansion is normally welcomed by financial markets but broad money (MZM plus time deposits) is surging. Far from a reassuring sign, a similar surge occurred ahead of the last two recessions.

Broad Money

Bearish divergence between the S&P 500 and Trend Index on the daily chart warns of secondary selling pressure. An engulfing candle closed below 3000, strengthening the bear signal. Expect a test of secondary support at 2840.

S&P 500

Volatility (21-day) remains elevated. Volatility spikes at close to, or above, 2% normally accompany market down-turns signaled by arrows on the index chart. Note how rising troughs precede most down-turns and culminate in a trough above 1%. We are not there yet but Volatility above 1% is an amber-level warning.

S&P 500 Volatility

CEO Confidence is falling and normally precedes a fall in the S&P 500 index. What is more concerning is that confidence is at the same lows (right-hand scale) seen in 2001 and 2009.

CEO Confidence

Exercise caution. Probability of a down-turn is high and we maintain a reduced 34% exposure to international equities.

NY Fed conducts first overnight repo in 10 years as rates surge

The last time that the New York Fed had to inject liquidity into financial markets via overnight repo operations was during the 2008 global financial crisis, when concerns over Bear Sterns and Lehman Bros were threatening to bring the financial system to its knees. From The Street:

The New York branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve said Tuesday that it was prepared to add as much as $75 billion in cash to broader markets in order to hold the Fed’s key rate inside its target range.

The so-called Repo operation, during which twenty four Primary Dealers in the Fed system can exchange eligible collateral, such as U.S. Treasury bonds or mortgage-backed securities, for cash. The move comes amid a massive surge in the price of what is known as ‘general collateral”, which is normally the cheapest batch of securities that banks use to pledge against cash, or other assets.

The costs for borrowing general collateral, often referred to as GC, spiked by 2.5% on Monday, and was followed by a 6% surge today, taking the price to as high as 8.75% at one point, some 6.5% higher than the upper-end of the Fed’s target rate range.

The Fed’s announced operation, however, pushed that overnight rate back down to 0% shortly after it was launched….

Steven Bartholomeusz at The Age suggests that the liquidity squeeze may be an anomaly:

There was an unusual confluence of events in the past few days that may have exacerbated underlying structural problems within the market.

US companies paid their quarterly taxes on September 15. They often prepare for the payment by parking the funds in short term money market fund accounts to generate a return.

The payments of those taxes, estimated at more than $US100 billion, meant a large amount of cash was withdrawn from those funds, which are a source of the cash for repo deals.

At almost the same time there was a settlement of auctions of about $US78 billion of Treasury bonds. With only about $US24 billion of bonds maturing at the same time that meant about $US54 billion of net cash was drained from the market to pay for those bonds.

The Financial Times’ Alphaville blog posited another strand to the explanation for the dollar shortage, albeit one it described as “highly speculative,’’ suggesting that the severe spike in oil prices after the drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s most important oil processing complex might have triggered margin calls in oil futures markets, forcing a frantic scramble for US dollar-denominated cash.

Quarterly tax payments are a regular occurrence and the markets are accustomed to dealing with them as part of the quarterly cycle. Large fiscal deficits causing a net issue of $54 billion in Treasuries is a more likely culprit. The first rule of margin calls is never meet a margin call, so that seems an unlikely cause, but the spike in oil prices may have impacted elsewhere on financial markets.

We need to be on the lookout for a repeat. Demand for cash is surging. The graph of broad money (MZM plus time deposits) below shows a surge in broad money ahead of the last two recessions. And another worrying rise this year.

Broad Money: MZM plus Time Deposits

S&P 500: Upside limited, while downside risks grow

Corporate profits (before tax) ticked up slightly in the second quarter of 2019 but remain below 2006 levels in real terms. The chart below shows corporate profits adjusted for inflation using the GDP implicit price deflator.

Real GDP and Hours Worked

Growth in production of durable consumer goods remains week, reflecting poor consumer confidence.

Durable Goods Production

The chart below shows growth in bank credit and the broad money supply (MZM plus time deposits). Credit growth (blue) remains steady at around 5%, slightly ahead of nominal GDP growth (4.04% for 12 months ending June); a healthy sign. Broad money (green) surged upwards in the first three quarters of this year. Not an encouraging sign when there were similar surges in broad money before the last two recessions.

Broad Money & Credit Growth

The S&P 500 is testing resistance at 3000. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow warns of secondary selling pressure. Expect a test of support at 2800. Breach would flag a reversal, with a target of 2400.

S&P 500

The cyclical Retailing Index displays a similar pattern, with resistance between 2450 and 2500.


Our view is that upside is limited, while downside risks are growing.

On the global front, the outlook is still dominated by the prospect of a prolonged US-China trade war. More great insights from Trivium China:

Tariff delays may be aimed at creating warm, fuzzy feelings before the next round of talks in early October, but……These small gestures do nothing to resolve the underlying trade conflict. We’re still pessimistic on prospects for a deal.

Zhou Xiaoming – China’s former top diplomat in Geneva – expressed the same view in a recent interview (Guancha):
“The two sides disagree too much on the objectives of the negotiations……It is almost impossible to reach an agreement in the short term.”

Zhou urged Chinese officials to be clear on the US’s objective:
“Economic and technological decoupling is the objective of the entire US government.”

Zhou said that officials must prepare for that potentiality, even if it is not their desired outcome.

So should we.

Dow Jones – UBS Commodity Index found support at 76 before rallying to 79. Rising troughs on the Trend Index reflect increased support. Consolidation between 76 and 81 is likely but we maintain our bearish long-term outlook for commodities.

DJ-UBS Commodities Index

On the global front, weak crude oil prices flag an anticipated slow-down in the global economy. Trend Index peaks below zero indicate selling pressure. Breach of support at $50/$51 per barrel would be a strong bear signal, warning of a decline to $40 per barrel.

Nymex Light Crude

We maintain our investment in quality growth stocks but have reduced equity exposure to 40% of (International Growth) portfolio value.

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

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

Credit Growth and Broad Money Supply

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

Hours Worked and Real GDP growth

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

Average Hourly Wage Rate

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

Philadelphia Fed Leading Index

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

Philadelphia Fed Leading Index

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

Treasury Yields

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

ASX 200 spikes but will it last?

The reason for the upward spike in the ASX 200 is clear. While shortage in iron ore supply may be temporary, while Brazil reviews mine safety, it is sufficient to cause spot prices to jump 20% in the last week.

Iron Ore

Windfall profits are likely to benefit not only the Materials sector but the entire economy over the next few months. The ASX 200 Materials Index ran into resistance at 12500 while a bearish divergence on Money Flow continues to warn of selling pressure.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 broke resistance at 6000 but remains in a bear market. Reversal below 5650 would signal a primary decline, with a target of the 2016 low at 4700.

ASX 200

ASX 200 Financials Index rallied on release of the Royal Commission on Banking final report. The outcome could have been a lot worse, or so the market seems to think.

ASX 200 Financials

I suspect the bank rally will be short-lived. Credit growth is falling and broad money warns of further contraction.

Australia Credit and Broad Money Growth

House prices are falling and concerns over a slowing economy have caused many to call for further rate cuts. I believe this is short-sighted.

Australia House Prices and Household Debt

One of the biggest threats facing the economy is ballooning household debt. Tighter credit and falling house prices are likely to curb debt growth….provided the RBA doesn’t pour more gasoline on the fire.

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest investments in the Australian Growth portfolio.

ASX 200 bear rally

Credit growth in Australia is falling (with help from the Royal Commission) and broad money growth is anemic, below the lows of the GFC, warning that the economy is close to a contraction.

RBA: Credit & Broad Money

Banks are particularly vulnerable because of the falling housing market. The bubble threatens to burst after a long expansion and the RBA is low on ammunition. How many rate cuts do you think they have left in reserve?

The ASX 200 Financials Index is testing long-term support at 5400. Declining Momentum peaks warn of a bear market. Breach of support is likely to lead to another decline, with a long-term target of 4000.

ASX 200 Financials Index

The Resources sector is in far better shape but the ASX 200 Materials Index is also slowing, with a strong bearish divergence on 13-week Momentum. Reversal below primary support at 11000 would confirm a primary down-trend.

ASX 200 Materials

The ASX 200 is testing resistance at the former band of primary support between 5650 and 5800 (revised up from 5750). The rally could go further, possibly as high as 6150, but this is a bear market and the probability that this rally will change that is low. Respect of resistance is likely and reversal below 5650 would confirm the bear market for Australian stocks. Initial target for a primary decline is 5000.

ASX 200

Our hope is that China rescues us with another massive stimulus spend,  as in the GFC, lifting the resources sector. But hope isn’t a strategy.

I have been cautious on Australian stocks, especially banks, for a while, and hold 40% cash in the Australian Growth portfolio.

ASX 200: Miners rally but banks a worry

The ASX 200 found support at 6120/6150, with a long tail indicating buying interest. Follow-through above 6250 would suggest another advance. Breach is now unlikely but would warn of a test of the rising long-term trendline at 6000.

ASX 200

A rally on resources stocks helped support the overall index. Expect the ASX 300 Metals & Mining index to test 4000.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Miners were helped by a weakening Aussie Dollar. Breach of support at 71 US cents offers a target of 69 cents. Trend Index peaks below zero warn of strong selling pressure.


Banks, on the other hand, are weakening. The ASX 300 Banks index  broke support at 7700, with a declining Trend Index warning of selling pressure. Expect a test of primary support at 7300.

ASX 300 Banks Index

Falling broad money and credit growth warn of a contraction — unless an unlikely Chinese-led mining boom can keep the wolf from the door.

Broad Money and Credit Growth

House prices are falling.

House Prices

Returns on bank equity are declining due to increased capital requirements, lower credit growth and narrow margins.

Banks Return on Equity

I remain cautious on Australian stocks, holding over 30% cash in the Australian Growth portfolio.