ASX 200 gravestone

Australian housing prices are falling.

Australia: Housing Prices

Fueled by declining credit growth.

Australia: Housing Credit growth

With falling contribution to GDP growth from dwelling investment, and mining investment shrinking….

Australia: GDP Contribution

GDP growth is expected to weaken further.

Australia: GDP growth

The gravestone candlestick on the ASX 200 weekly chart warns of selling pressure. The primary trend is down and the index unlikely to break through resistance at 6300. Expect a correction to test support at 5650; breach would warn of another decline.

ASX 200

I remain cautious on Australian stocks and hold more than 40% in cash and fixed interest in the Australian Growth portfolio.

12 Charts on the Australian economy

Australian GDP grew at a robust 3.1% for the year ended 31 March 2018 but a look at the broader economy shows little to cheer about.

Wages growth is slowing, with the Wage Price Index falling sharply.

Australia: Wage Price Index Growth

Falling growth in disposable income is holding back consumption (e.g. retail spending) and increasing pressure on savings.

Australia: Consumption and Savings

Housing prices are high despite the recent slow-down, while households remain heavily indebted, with household debt at record levels relative to disposable income.

Australia: Housing Prices and Household Debt

Housing price growth slowed to near zero and we are likely to soon see house prices shrinking.

Australia: Housing Prices

Broad money growth is falling sharply, reflecting tighter financial conditions, while credit growth is also slowing.

Australia: Broad Money and Credit Growth

Mining profits are up, while non-mining corporation profits (excluding banks and the financial sector) have recovered to about 12% of GDP.

Australia: Corporate Profits

But business investment remains weak, which is likely to impact on future growth in both profits and wages.

Australia: Investment

Exports are strong, especially in the Resources sector. Manufacturing is the only flat spot.

Australia: Exports

Iron ore export tonnage continues to grow, while demand for coal has leveled off in recent years.

Australia: Bulk Commodity Exports

Our dependence on China as an export market also continues to grow.

Australia: Exports by Country

Corporate bond spreads — the risk premium over the equivalent Treasury rate charged to non-financial corporate borrowers — remain low, reflecting low financial risk.

Australia: Non-financial Bond Spreads

Bank capital ratios are rising but don’t be fooled by the risk-weighted percentages. Un-weighted Common Equity Tier 1 leverage ratios are closer to 5% for the four major banks. Common Equity excludes bank hybrids which should not be considered as capital. Conversion of hybrids to common equity was avoided in the recent Italian banking crisis, largely because of the threat this action posed to stability of the entire financial system.

Australia: Bank Capital Ratios

Low capital ratios mean that banks are more likely to act as “an accelerant rather than a shock-absorber” in times of crisis (2014 Murray Inquiry). Professor Anat Admati from Stanford University and Neel Kashkari, President of the Minneapolis Fed are both campaigning for higher bank capital ratios, at 4 to 5 times existing levels, to ensure stability of the financial system. This is unlikely to succeed, considering the political power of the bank sector, unless the tide goes out again and reveals who is swimming naked.

The housing boom has run its course and consumption is slowing. The banks don’t have much in reserve if the housing market crashes — not yet a major risk but one we should not ignore. Exports are keeping us afloat because we hitched our wagon to China. But that comes at a price as Australians are only just beginning to discover. If Chinese exports fail, Australia will need to spend big on infrastructure. And infrastructure that will generate not just short-term jobs but long-term growth.

Should we Worry that Velocity of Money is plunging?

Some writers have attributed slow GDP growth in the US to the plunging velocity of money.

In layman’s terms, the velocity of money is the ratio between your bank balance and the amount you spend. For the economy as a whole, it is measured as the ratio of GDP (or national income) against the total stock of money (or money supply).

When the economy is hot, consumers have a higher propensity to spend — or invest in the latest hot stock — and the ratio normally rises. When the economy cools, the ratio falls.

If the ratio was fixed, the job of central bankers would be simple: print more money and GDP would rise.

M1 Money Supply and GDP Growth

Unfortunately that is not the case. GDP growth has remained slow, post-2007, despite a sharp boost in the money supply.

M1 is a narrow definition of money: cash in circulation plus travelers checks, demand deposits (at call) and check account balances.

The ratio of GDP to M1 money (or M1 Velocity) has almost halved, from a 2007 high of 10.7 to a current low of 5.5.

M1 Money Supply and GDP Growth

Does this mean that consumers are feverishly stuffing cash into mattresses as the economy goes into a death-dive or is there a more rational explanation?

Examine the above chart more closely and you will see a clear relationship until 1980 between the velocity of money and interest rates (in this case the Fed funds rate). When interest rates rise, the velocity of money rises. So when interest rates fall, as they have post-2007, to near zero, the velocity of money should fall. As it has done.

The anomaly is not the current fall in the velocity of money but the rise in velocity of money between 1990 and 2000, when interest rates were falling. There are two explanations that I can think of. One is the digital revolution, with the advent of online bank accounts and automated clearing of business checking accounts which enabled depositors to minimize balances in non-interest bearing accounts. Second, is the rapid growth of money market funds which fall outside the ambit of M1 and M2.

Velocity of money measured as GDP/MZM gives a clearer picture, with velocity rising when rates rise and falling when rates fall. MZM is M1 plus all savings deposits and money market funds that are redeemable (at par) on demand.

M1 Money Supply and GDP Growth

We should expect to see the velocity of money recover as interest rates rise. If that doesn’t happen, then it will be time to worry.

Strange as it may seem, we could witness something really unusual: if higher interest rates stimulate GDP.

Nasdaq soars

GDP results for the second quarter of 2017 reflect recovery from the soft patch in 2016.

Nominal GDP compared to Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours * Average Hourly Rate

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS & BEA

Nominal GDP for Q2 improved to 3.71%, measured annually. This closely follows our intial estimate calculated from Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours * Average Hourly Rate.

Real GDP, after adjustment for inflation, also improved, to a 2.1% annual rate.

Real GDP compared to Nonfarm Payroll * Average Weekly Hours

Source: St Louis Fed, BLS & BEA

Bellwether transport stock Fedex is undergoing a correction at present but selling pressure appears moderate. Respect of medium-term support at 200 is likely and would confirm the primary up-trend (and rising economic activity).

Fedex

The Nasdaq 100 gained more than 20% year-to-date, from 4863 at end of December 2016 to 5908 on July 28th. Growth since 2009 has been consistent at around 20% a year but now appears to be accelerating. To my mind that warns sentiment may be running ahead of earnings, increasing the risk of a major adjustment. But there is no indication of this at present.

Nasdaq 100

The S&P 500 continues its advance towards 2500 at a more modest pace. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow warns of selling pressure but this seems to be secondary in nature, with the indicator holding well above zero.

S&P 500

Target 2400 + ( 2400 – 2300 ) = 2500

Australia: Lean years ahead

Growth in total monthly hours worked has slowed to 1.3% for the 12 months to April 2017. In fact, growth has been pretty lean over the last 5 years, except for the period January 2015 to February 2016.

ABS: Hours Worked & GDP growth

High commodity prices in 2004 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 coincide with periods of strong employment and GDP growth, as indicated on the chart above.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

The current down-trend in commodity prices, depicted on the DJ-UBS Commodity Index above, and low growth in hours worked both point to anemic employment (and GDP) growth ahead.

Dow Descending Wedge

Dow Jones Industrial Average displays a descending broadening wedge on the daily chart. Thomas Bulkowski describes this as a “mid list performer ….found most often with upward breakouts in a bull market. Downward breakouts are quite rare.”

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The correction seems mild and lacks urgency from sellers. It is very likely to end with an upward breakout, above the wedge at 20800, signaling another advance. Watch for a failed down-swing within the wedge pattern. According to empirical testing done by Bulkowski, a partial decline has a high probability (87%) of resolving in an upward breakout.

Latest GDP numbers confirm that low growth of the past decade continues.

GDP & Forecast

The quick rule-of-thumb forecast — Private sector employee payroll x Average Hours Worked x Average Hourly Rate — has proved remarkably accurate and has become one of my favorite indicators.

US Job Growth, Wage Rates & Inflation

Payrolls jumped by a seasonally adjusted 235,000 jobs in February, setting the Fed on track for another rate rise next week.

US Job Growth

GDP growth is projected to lift in line with employment, wage rates and hours worked. At this stage, the Fed is still attempting to normalize interest rates rather than slow the economy to cool inflationary pressures.

Projected GDP

Wage rate growth remains muted, at close to 2.5 percent, so rate hikes are likely to proceed at a gradual pace.

Hourly Wage Rates and Money Supply

The need to tighten monetary policy is only likely to be seriously considered when wage rate growth [light green] exceeds 3.0 percent [dark green line]. Then you are likely to witness a dip in money supply growth [blue], as in 2000 and 2006, with bearish consequences for stocks.

*The dip in 2010 was a mistake by the Fed, taking its foot off the gas pedal too soon after the 2008 crash.

US: Robust underlying GDP growth trend

From Elliot Clarke at Westpac:

In assessing the strength and persistence of US growth, it is important to recognise the impact that inventories and net exports continue to have on headline results. Inventories added significantly to growth through the first half of 2015 on rapid inventory accrual; but a more modest pace of stocking in Q3 resulted in a 1.4ppt subtraction from quarterly GDP growth. Similarly, while net exports reduced the annualised Q1 headline outcome by 1.9ppts, it subsequently added modestly to growth in Q2, circa 0.2ppts. If we omit both factors from our assessment (and thereby focus on domestic final demand, DFD), we see a robust, enduring underlying growth trend. Annualised DFD growth in 2015 averages out at 2.7% – or 3.3% if we focus solely on the past six months, when the weather was more favourable.

On the whole, stripping away the impact of inventories and net exports, the past two years have seen a material improvement in the growth trend. This acceleration has primarily been the result of stronger consumption growth, particularly within the services sub-sector and in housing construction. Given the ongoing improvement in the labour market and credit availability as well as robust consumer confidence, this trend should endure into 2016.

Construction spending is the key.

Construction Spending

Why Fixed Investment is Critical to the US Recovery

The financial sector normally acts as a conduit, channeling savings from private investors to the corporate sector. When the conduit works effectively, the injection of demand from corporate Investment is sufficient to offset the ‘leakage’ from demand caused by Savings. Savings patterns alter during a financial crisis, however, with concerned households cutting back on expenditure and using any surplus to pay down debt, rather than depositing with the bank or buying stocks. Household Savings rise but corporate Investment contracts. The resulting ‘leakage’ from demand causes GDP to spiral downward.

When Investment contracts, unemployment rises. The relationship is evident on the graph below, but it could also be said that Investment rises when employment grows — businesses invest in anticipation of rising demand. Either way, it is safe to conclude that rising investment and job growth go hand-in-hand.

Employment Growth and Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment

Fixed Investment and Corporate Profits

Rising corporate profits also lead to increased investment. The lag on the graph below — investment growth follows profit growth — clearly illustrates the causative relationship.

Employment Growth and Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment

This is an encouraging sign, as the current surge in corporate profits is likely to be followed by rising investment — and further job growth.

Weekly Earnings and GDP

Rising weekly earnings already point to improving aggregate demand and consequent investment growth.

Weekly Earnings Growth

All that is missing is for the federal government to increase investment in productive* infrastructure to further boost job growth.

*Infrastructure investment needs to generate a sufficient return to repay debt incurred to fund the spending. Something many politicians seem to forget when preoccupied with buying votes for the next election.

More….

The Long War [podcast]

The Impunity Trap by Jeffrey D. Sachs | Project Syndicate

RIP ZIRP | PIMCO

How much longer can the global trading system last? | Michael Pettis

Crude retraces

Gold breaks $1180 support

Itzhak Perlman: Schindler’s List (video)

There are two kinds of discontented in this world, the discontented that works and the discontented that wrings its hands. The first gets what it wants and the second loses what it has. There is no cure for the first but success and there is no cure at all for the second.

~ Og Mandino

Why Fixed Investment is Critical to the US Recovery

The financial sector normally acts as a conduit, channeling savings from private investors to the corporate sector. When the conduit works effectively, the injection of demand from corporate Investment is sufficient to offset the ‘leakage’ from demand caused by Savings. Savings patterns alter during a financial crisis, however, with concerned households cutting back on expenditure and using any surplus to pay down debt, rather than depositing with the bank or buying stocks. Household Savings rise but corporate Investment contracts. The resulting ‘leakage’ from demand causes GDP to spiral downward.

When Investment contracts, unemployment rises. The relationship is evident on the graph below, but it could also be said that Investment rises when employment grows — businesses invest in anticipation of rising demand. Either way, it is safe to conclude that rising investment and job growth go hand-in-hand.

Employment Growth and Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment

Fixed Investment and Corporate Profits

Rising corporate profits also lead to increased investment. The lag on the graph below — investment growth follows profit growth — clearly illustrates the causative relationship.

Employment Growth and Private Nonresidential Fixed Investment

This is an encouraging sign, as the current surge in corporate profits is likely to be followed by rising investment — and further job growth.

Weekly Earnings and GDP

Rising weekly earnings already point to improving aggregate demand and consequent investment growth.

Weekly Earnings Growth

All that is missing is for the federal government to increase investment in productive* infrastructure to further boost job growth.

*Infrastructure investment needs to generate a sufficient return to repay debt incurred to fund the spending. Something many politicians seem to forget when preoccupied with buying votes for the next election.