Aussie meets resistance

The Aussie Dollar met resistance at the former support level of 75 US cents, with a tall shadow on Tuesday’s shooting star candlestick pattern. Respect of resistance is likely and would warn of another test of support at 73.50. Breach of support would offer a target of 72, putting pressure on ASX stocks as international investors retreat.


The Aussie tends to take its direction from commodities. At present iron ore displays a weak rally that coincides with the rally on AUDUSD. Reversal through support at 60 is likely, and would warn of a decline to 50.

Iron Ore

Broad commodity indexes like the DJ-UBS Commodity Index are consolidating in a rectangle, between 82 and 90 on the chart below. Commodities have been trending lower since 2011, as shown yesterday. Breakout above 90 is unlikely but would signal a primary up-trend. Breach of support is more likely and would indicate a decline to test support at the January 2016 low, between 72 and 74.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

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.

Beijing eases pressure

China’s PBOC eased up on its crackdown on wealth management products (WMPs) and related bank lending. The resulting fall-off in new credit and a spike in interbank lending rates threatened to precipitate a sharp contraction.

Copper rallied off long-term support at 5400. The reaction is secondary and breach of 5400 remains likely, signaling a primary down-trend.

Copper A Grade

Iron ore is consolidating in a narrow bearish pattern above support at 60. Breach seems likely and would signal another decline, with a target of 50*.

Iron Ore

* Target: 60 – ( 70 – 60 ) = 50

Shanghai’s Composite Index rallied to test its new resistance level at 3100, after breach signaled a primary down-trend. Respect would confirm the decline, with a medium-term target of 2800*, but government intervention may bolster support. Recovery above 3100 would mean all bets are off for the present.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: May 2016 low of 2800

India: Sensex tall shadow

A tall shadow suggests the Sensex is also likely to retrace, to test its new support level at 30000. Respect would confirm the primary advance. Declining Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term selling pressure but the long-term signal remains bullish. Target for the advance is 32000*.

BSE Sensex

* Target: 29000 + ( 29000 – 26000 ) = 32000

Footsie retraces

The FTSE 100 is retracing to test the new support level at 7400. Respect is likely and would indicate an advance to 7700*. Declining Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term selling pressure but the long-term signal remains bullish.

FTSE 100

* Target: 7400 + ( 7400 – 7100 ) = 7700

The Quants Run Wall Street Now | WSJ

From Gregory Zuckerman and Bradley Hope:

For decades, investors imagined a time when data-driven traders would dominate financial markets. That day has arrived.

…. quantitative hedge funds are now responsible for 27% of all U.S. stock trades by investors, up from 14% in 2013, according to the Tabb Group, a research and consulting firm in New York.

Quants now dominate the short-term trading market but active managers (homo sapiens) are still very dominant in the much larger long-term investment market. And this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Source: The Quants Run Wall Street Now – WSJ

S&P 500: Tall shadows warn of selling pressure

The S&P 500 is recovering after Wednesday’s sharp fall but tall shadows on the last two candles indicate selling pressure. This is supported by a bearish divergence on 21-day Twiggs Money Flow, signaling medium-term selling pressure. Respect of resistance at 2400 is likely and would warn of another test of primary support at 2330.

S&P 500

Bellwether transport stock Fedex [FDX] has consolidated in a broad rectangle over the last six months. Bearish divergence on 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicates long-term selling pressure. Breach of support at 185 would signal a primary down-trend, warning that economic activity is slowing.


Gold finds support as the Dollar falls

The Dollar Index crashed on this week’s Trump turmoil. Follow-through below 98.50 confirms a primary down-trend with a medium-term target of the 2016 low at 93.

Dollar Index

* Target: 99 – ( 104 – 99 ) = 94

Spot Gold found support at $1250 after Thursday’s retracement. Follow-through above $1260 would indicate another primary advance, with a target of $1300. Reversal below $1220 is unlikely but would signal a primary down-trend.

Spot Gold

ASX banks break support

The big banks fell sharply on the week’s turmoil, with the ASX 300 Banks Index breaking support at 8500. Breach signals a primary trend reversal, offering a medium-term target of 8000*.

ASX 300 Banks

* Target: 8500 – ( 9000 – 8500 ) = 8000

Resources stocks rallied over the week. Expect strong resistance on the ASX 300 Metals & Mining index at 3000.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Iron ore continues in a bearish narrow consolidation above support at $60. Breach would offer a short-term target of $50*.

Iron ore

* Target: 60 – ( 70 – 60 ) = 50

These are ominous signs for the ASX 200 which is testing medium-term support at 5700. A sharp fall on Twiggs Money Flow flags strong selling pressure. Breach of primary support at 5600* would signal a reversal, offering a target of 5200*.

ASX 200

* Target medium-term: 5600 – ( 6000 – 5600 ) = 5200

Sell in May and run away?

Markets fell sharply today. But before we look at the charts, let’s examine three fundamental measures of market stress.

A yield differential near zero indicates bank margins are being squeezed. Lending normally slows, leading to a recession. But the current yield differential of 1.45%, calculated by subtracting the yield on 3-month T-bills from the yield on 10-year Treasuries, is reasonably healthy.

Yield Differential

The yield spread between the lowest investment grade corporate bonds (Baa) and 10-year Treasuries is a useful measure of market risk. The risk premium widens in times of uncertainty. Since 2016 the Baa spread has fallen by more than one percent, to 2.25%, indicating low market risk.

10-Year Corporate Bond Spreads

The above indications are supported by the St Louis Fed Financial Stress Index which is at a record low of -1.451 since its commencement in 1994.

St Louis Fed Financial Stress Index

The St Louis Fed Financial Stress Index measures the degree of financial stress in the markets and is constructed from 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators. Each of these variables captures some aspect of financial stress. Accordingly, as the level of financial stress in the economy changes, the data series are likely to move together.

The average value of the index, which begins in late 1993, is designed to be zero. Thus, zero is viewed as representing normal financial market conditions. Values below zero suggest below-average financial market stress, while values above zero suggest above-average financial market stress.

Real GDP growth dipped to 1.9% for the first quarter 2017, compared to 2.0% for Q4 2016. While growth is modest, hours worked by nonfarm employees improved to 1.55% in April 2017 from a low of 1.03% in February, suggesting that growth is likely to continue.

Real GDP & Hours Worked

There is little sign of stress in financial markets other than the latest Trump turmoil.

Trump Turmoil

Discussion of a possible impeachment action against President Donald Trump is rife in the media and seems to have spooked financial markets.

The Dollar Index fell through support at 98.50, signaling another decline. The long-term target is 93.00.

Dollar Index

Gold rallied, breaking through resistance at $1250/ounce. Follow-through above $1300 would signal another advance, with a target of the 2016 high at $1375.

Spot Gold

Dow Jones Industrial Average retreated from resistance at 21000. Expect a test of medium-term support at 20400. Reversal below 20000 would be cause for concern.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The S&P 500 is headed for a test of medium-term support at 2320. Breach would likewise signal a strong correction.

S&P 500

We are likely to get a secondary correction but I expect the bull market to continue. Impeachment of Trump would be a temporary setback and would make me more bullish on the long-term outlook.

It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out,
than outside the tent pissing in.

~ President Lyndon Johnson on FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover whom he mistrusted

The Only Question Investors Have Is About Trump | Bloomberg

Barry Ritholz sums up the impact President Donald Trump will have on your investments:

….We start with an overlooked truth: Presidents, regardless of party, get too much credit for when things go right and too much blame when they go wrong.

….Yes, Donald Trump can and will affect the economy and the markets. But we should not put all of our focus on the marginal impact of the president while giving short shrift to more important things such as corporate revenue and earnings, the Federal Reserve, interest rates, inflation, congressional spending, employment, retail sales, Supreme Court decisions, and, of course, valuations.

Quite right. Janet Yellen probably has more power over your investments than Trump does.

….I think we all hoped that once the election was over, we could go back to our normal lives without the incessant parade of campaign news.

No such luck.

Investors need a way to sequester the noisy news flow out of the White House. It is too easy to let the relentless and disturbing headlines throw off long-term financial plans. Investors must read the news, but not let it interfere with thinking clearly.

Look, let’s be honest about the commander-in-chief: He is the world’s leading Twitter troll, a man whose main goal is to interrupt your thinking, misquote and insult other people, engage in rhetorical sleight of hand, and impugn the integrity of those trying to do honest work. What all trolls want is a reaction, something Trump has achieved to great success.

Rule No. 1 on the internet is “Do not feed the trolls.” No one can really ignore the president of the United States, but it’s probably best to view much of what he says or tweets as minor background noise.

The President is not a conciliatory figure who is going to govern from the middle. The acrimonious feud with Democrats and the media is likely to continue for most of his term. So long as the GOP have a majority in Congress and the Senate, Trump has a fair shot at tax reform and infrastructure programs. If that should change, expect Obama-style gridlock.

Source: The Only Question Investors Have Is About Trump – Bloomberg

Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation | The Conversation

File 20170512 3682 1g3a9fh
A shot of fake news now and your defenses are raised in the future?

John Cook, George Mason University

As a psychologist researching misinformation, I focus on reducing its influence. Essentially, my goal is to put myself out of a job. The Conversation

Recent developments indicate that I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Misinformation, fake news and “alternative facts” are more prominent than ever. The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. Science and scientific evidence have been under assault.

Fortunately, science does have a means to protect itself, and it comes from a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. This borrows from the logic of vaccines: A little bit of something bad helps you resist a full-blown case. In my newly published research, I’ve tried exposing people to a weak form of misinformation in order to inoculate them against the real thing – with promising results.

Two ways misinformation damages

Misinformation is being generated and disseminated at prolific rates. A recent study comparing arguments against climate science versus policy arguments against action on climate found that science denial is on the relative increase. And recent research indicates these types of effort have an impact on people’s perceptions and science literacy.

A recent study led by psychology researcher Sander van der Linden found that misinformation about climate change has a significant impact on public perceptions about climate change.

The misinformation they used in their experiment was the most shared climate article in 2016. It’s a petition, known as the Global Warming Petition Project, featuring 31,000 people with a bachelor of science or higher, who signed a statement saying humans aren’t disrupting climate. This single article lowered readers’ perception of scientific consensus. The extent that people accept there’s a scientific consensus about climate change is what researchers refer to as a “gateway belief,” influencing attitudes about climate change such as support for climate action.

At the same time that van der Linden was conducting his experiment in the U.S., I was on the other side of the planet in Australia conducting my own research into the impact of misinformation. By coincidence, I used the same myth, taking verbatim text from the Global Warming Petition Project. After showing the misinformation, I asked people to estimate the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, in order to measure any effect.

I found similar results, with misinformation reducing people’s perception of the scientific consensus. Moreover, the misinformation affected some more than others. The more politically conservative a person was, the greater the influence of the misinformation.

Response to misinformation about climate change.
Cook et al. (2017), CC BY-ND

This gels with other research finding that people interpret messages, whether they be information or misinformation, according to their preexisting beliefs. When we see something we like, we’re more likely to think that it’s true and strengthen our beliefs accordingly. Conversely, when we encounter information that conflicts with our beliefs, we’re more likely to discredit the source.

However, there is more to this story. Beyond misinforming people, misinformation has a more insidious and dangerous influence. In the van der Linden study, when people were presented with both the facts and misinformation about climate change, there was no net change in belief. The two conflicting pieces of information canceled each other out.

Fact and “alternative fact” are like matter and antimatter. When they collide, there’s a burst of heat followed by nothing. This reveals the subtle way that misinformation does damage. It doesn’t just misinform. It stops people believing in facts. Or as Garry Kasporov eloquently puts it, misinformation “annihilates truth.”

Science’s answer to science denial

The assault on science is formidable and, as this research indicates, can be all too effective. Fittingly, science holds the answer to science denial.

Inoculation theory takes the concept of vaccination, where we are exposed to a weak form of a virus in order to build immunity to the real virus, and applies it to knowledge. Half a century of research has found that when we are exposed to a “weak form of misinformation,” this helps us build resistance so that we are not influenced by actual misinformation.

Inoculating text requires two elements. First, it includes an explicit warning about the danger of being misled by misinformation. Second, you need to provide counterarguments explaining the flaws in that misinformation.

In van der Linden’s inoculation, he pointed out that many of the signatories were fake (for instance, a Spice Girl was falsely listed as a signatory), that 31,000 represents a tiny fraction (less than 0.3 percent) of all U.S. science graduates since 1970 and that less than 1 percent of the signatories had expertise in climate science.

In my recently published research, I also tested inoculation but with a different approach. While I inoculated participants against the Petition Project, I didn’t mention it at all. Instead, I talked about the misinformation technique of using “fake experts” – people who convey the impression of expertise to the general public but having no actual relevant expertise.

I found that explaining the misinformation technique completely neutralized the misinformation’s influence, without even mentioning the misinformation specifically. For instance, after I explained how fake experts have been utilized in past misinformation campaigns, participants weren’t swayed when confronted by the fake experts of the Petition Project. Moreover, the misinformation was neutralized across the political spectrum. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, no one wants to be deceived by misleading techniques.

Putting inoculation into practice

Inoculation is a powerful and versatile form of science communication that can be used in a number of ways. My approach has been to mesh together the findings of inoculation with the cognitive psychology of debunking, developing the Fact-Myth-Fallacy framework.

Denial101x lecture on debunking myths.

This strategy involves explaining the facts, followed by introducing a myth related to those facts. At this point, people are presented with two conflicting pieces of information. You reconcile the conflict by explaining the technique that the myth uses to distort the fact.

We used this approach on a large scale in a free online course about climate misinformation, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. Each lecture adopted the Fact-Myth-Fallacy structure. We started by explaining a single climate fact, then introduced a related myth, followed by an explanation of the fallacy employed by the myth. This way, while explaining the key facts of climate change, we also inoculated students against 50 of the most common climate myths.

Denial101x lectures adhering to Fact-Myth-Fallacy structure.
Denial101x, CC BY-ND

For example, we know we are causing global warming because we observe many patterns in climate change unique to greenhouse warming. In other words, human fingerprints are observed all over our climate. However, one myth argues that climate has changed naturally in the past before humans; therefore, what’s happening now must be natural also. This myth commits the fallacy of jumping to conclusions (or non sequitur), where the premise does not lead to the conclusion. It’s like finding a dead body with a knife poking out of its back and arguing that people have died of natural causes in the past, so this death must have been of natural causes also.

Science has, in a moment of frankness, informed us that throwing more science at people isn’t the full answer to science denial. Misinformation is a reality that we can’t afford to ignore – we can’t be in denial about science denial. Rather, we should see it as an educational opportunity. Addressing misconceptions in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to teach science.

It turns out the key to stopping science denial is to expose people to just a little bit of science denial.

John Cook, Research Assistant Professor, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is the ASX over-priced?

On the weekend I discussed how earnings for the S&P 500 have grown by roughly 6.0% over the last three decades but the growth rate should rise as stock buybacks have averaged just over 3.0% a year since 2011. In an ideal world the growth rate would lift to close to 9.0% p.a. if buybacks continue at the present rate. Add a 2.0% dividend yield and we have an expected annual return close to 11.0%.

Forward Price Earnings Ratio for S&P 500

I conducted a similar exercise for the ASX using data supplied by

The first noticeable difference is that earnings for the ASX All Ordinaries Index grew at a slower pace. Earnings since 1980 grew at an average compound annual growth rate of 4.4%, while dividends grew at a much higher rate of 6.3%.

Forward Price Earnings Ratio for S&P 500

How is that possible?

Well the dividend payout ratio increased from the low forties to the high seventies. An average of just over 60%.

With a current payout ratio of 77% (Feb 2017), there is little room to increase the payout ratio any further. I expect dividend growth to match earnings growth (4.4% p.a.) for the foreseeable future.

Buybacks are not a major feature on the ASX, where investors favor dividends because of the franking credits. The dividend yield is higher, at just over 4.0%, for the same reason.

So the expected average return on the All Ordinaries Index should be no higher than 8.4% p.a. (the sum of dividend yield and expected growth) compared to an expected return of close to 11.0% for the S&P 500. That is, if buybacks are effective in lifting the earnings growth rate.

Obviously one has to factor in expected changes in the (AUDUSD) exchange rate, but that is a substantial difference for offshore investors. Local investors are also taking into account franking credits which benefit could amount to an additional 1.4% p.a.. But that still leaves a grossed-up return just shy of 10 percent (9.8% p.a.).

I would have expected a larger risk premium for a smaller exchange with strong commodity exposure.

At last, some sensible commentary on bank levy | MacroBusiness

From Leith van Onselen:

……The bank levy helps internalise some of the cost of the extraordinary public support that the big banks receive from taxpayers via the Budget’s implicit guarantee (which provides a two-notch improvement in the banks’ credit ratings), the RBA’s Committed Liquidity Facility, the implementation of deposit insurance, and the ability to issue covered bonds. All of these supports have helped significantly lower the banks’ cost of funding and given them the ability to derive super profits.

As noted by Chris Joye on Friday, the 0.06% bank levy is also very ‘cheap’, since it would only recover around one-third of the funding advantage that the big banks receive via taxpayer support:

“If the two notch government support assumption is removed from these bonds, their cost would jump by 0.17 per cent annually to 1.11 per cent above cash based on the current pricing of identical securities. So the majors are actually only paying 35 per cent of the true cost of their too-big-to-fail subsidy…

Requiring banks to pay a price for the implicit too-big-to-fail subsidy is universally regarded as best practice because it minimises the significant moral hazards of having government-backed private sector institutions that can leverage off their artificially low cost of capital to engage in imprudent risk-taking behaviour.”

Again, what better way to internalise some of the cost of the government’s support than extract a modest return to taxpayers via the 6 basis point levy on big bank liabilities?

The Turnbull Government’s unexpected bank levy announcement is the single best thing to come out of the 2017-18 Budget. It deserves widespread support from the community and parliament.

I have my doubts that the new bank levy is a step in the right direction. Most observers would agree that the banks are getting a free ride at the taxpayers expense, but this is not a solution.

Remember that the Commonwealth Treasury is not an insurance fund. And the risk premiums (levy) collected will go to fill a hole in the current budget, not to build up a fund against the future risk of a banking default.

There is no way to avoid it. Australian banks are under-capitalized, with about 6% capital against unweighted risk exposure (leverage ratio). Charging a bank levy does not solve this. Raising (share) capital does.

The levy merely provides the banks with another argument against raising more capital. I would much rather see a levy structured in such a way that it penalizes banks who do not carry sufficient capital, creating an incentive for them to raise further equity.

Neel Kashkari, President of the Minneapolis conducted a study to determine how much capital banks need to carry to avoid relying on taxpayer bailouts. The conclusion was that banks need about 15% capital against (unweighted) risk exposure. Too-big-to-fail banks require slightly more: a leverage ratio of about 18%.

Source: At last, some sensible commentary on bank levy – MacroBusiness

US inflation falls, Personal Consumption grows

A dip in the latest consumer price index (CPI) growth figures brings the inflation measure back in line with the Fed target of 2.0%. Inflationary pressures appear contained, easing Fed motivation to implement restrictive monetary policy.

Consumer Price Index

Personal consumption continues to grow at a modest pace. The down-turn in expenditure on services would be cause for concern — this normally precedes a recession — if not for a strong rise in expenditure on durables.

Personal Consumption

Manufacturers new orders for capital goods display a similar recovery.

Manufacturers New Orders: Capital Goods ex-Defense

The housing recovery continues at a modest pace.


Construction spending as a percentage of GDP remains soft, suggesting that the recovery still has plenty of room for improvement.


S&P 500 Price-Earnings Ratio rises

With 84.4% of S&P 500 index constituents having reported first-quarter earnings, 302 (73.84%) beat their earnings estimates while 77 (18.83%) missed. Forward estimates for 2017 contracted by an average of 4.6% over the last 12 months but not sufficient to raise the forward Price-Earnings Ratio above 20. That is the threshold level above which we consider the market to be over-priced.

Forward Price Earnings Ratio for S&P 500

Comparing the forward estimates for 2017 to actual earnings for 1989, we see that the market is expected to deliver a compound average growth rate of 6.0% over almost three decades.

With a dividend yield of 2.16%, that delivers a total return to investors of just over 8 percent.

Price-Earnings ratios fluctuate over time, so any improvement in the ratio should be considered temporary.

Buybacks have averaged just over 3 percent since 2011. The motivation for buybacks is that they should accelerate earnings growth but there is little evidence as yet to support this. As Reported Earnings grew at an average rate of 3.2% between December 2011 and 2016, below the long-term average.

A spike in earnings is projected for 2017 and 2018. Hopefully this continues. Else there will be a strong case for restoring dividends and reducing stock buybacks.

RBA stuck

Great slide from the NAB budget presentation:

RBA Interest Rates in a Cleft Stick

The RBA is in a cleft stick:

  • Raising interest rates would increase mortgage stress and threaten stability of the banking system.
  • Lowering interest rates would aggravate the housing bubble, creating a bigger threat in years to come.

The underlying problem is record high household debt to income levels. Housing affordability is merely a symptom.

There are only two possible solutions:

  1. Raise incomes; or
  2. Reduce debt levels.

Both have negative consequences.

Raising incomes would primarily take place through higher inflation. This would generate more demand for debt to buy inflation-hedge assets, so would have to be linked to strong macroprudential (e.g. lower maximum LVRs for housing) to prevent this. A positive offshoot would be a weaker Dollar, strengthening local industry. The big negative would be the restrictive monetary policy needed to slow inflation when the job is done, with a likely recession.

Shrinking debt levels without raising interest rates is difficult but macroprudential policies would help. Also policies that penalize banks for offshore borrowings. The big negative would be falling housing prices as investors try to liquidate some of their investments and the consequent threat to banking stability. The slow-down in new construction would also threaten an economy-wide down-turn.

Of the two, I would favor the former option as having less risk. But there is a third option: wait in the hope that something will turn up. That is the line of least resistance and therefore the most likely course government will take.