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Juliet Declercq at JDI Research maintains that the normal business cycle has been replaced by a liquidity cycle, where market conditions are dictated by the ebb and flow of money from central banks.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.

Trade war reality sinks in

Realization that we are slipping into a trade war is starting to sink in.

The S&P 500 broke medium-term support at 2800, warning of a correction. The target is primary support at 2400. Volatility is flashing an amber warning, above 1.0%.

S&P 500

Nymex crude is plunging as anticipated global demand falls.

Crude Oil

Long-term Treasury yields are falling, with the 10-Year headed for a test of support at 2.0%. The Yield Differential (purple line) is back below zero, warning of a recession.

Yield Differential: 10-Year and 3-Month Treasuries

As I have mentioned earlier, a negative yield curve is a reliable early indicator of recession but trouble is imminent when it recovers above zero. Normally caused by the Fed cutting interest rates in response to falling employment growth. The critical indicator to watch is non-farm payroll growth. When that falls below 1.0% (right-hand scale), watch out!

Employment Growth and Fed Funds Rate

War is an evil thing; but to submit to the dictation of other states is worse…. Freedom, if we hold fast to it, will ultimately restore our losses, but submission will mean permanent loss of all that we value…. To you who call yourselves men of peace, I say: You are not safe unless you have men of action on your side.

~ Thucydides (circa 400 BC)