The disconnect between long-term and short-term rates

Bob Doll highlighted the disconnect between long-term and short-term rates in his latest review. The chart below plots the 3-month T-bill rate against 10-year Treasury yields.

Spot Gold/Light Crude

At this stage, the disconnect is not significant. But a disconnect as in 2004 – 2005 is far more serious. Large Chinese purchases of Treasuries prevented long-term rates from rising in response to Fed tightening, limiting the Fed’s ability to contain the housing bubble.

Bob Doll: Mid-Year Assessment of Our Ten Predictions

Interesting review of Bob Doll’s ten predictions for the year. They highlight the hazards of making predictions: you can be right for the wrong reasons or wrong for the right reasons.

1 ❓ U.S. and global economic growth improves modestly as the dollar strengthens and reaches parity with the euro.
First quarter U.S. gross domestic product growth was relatively slow at 1.2%, but we think second quarter growth could approach 3%. We are on the wrong side of this second prediction, as the euro has advanced against the dollar.

2 ✔ Unemployment drops to its lowest level in 17 years as wages increase at the fastest pace since the Great Recession.
The first half of this prediction came true in May, when unemployment hit 4.3%, lower than the 4.4% reached in May 2007. Wage growth has remained stubbornly slow, but we expect wages will rise.
[Unemployment fell as expected but I would rate this a “?” as wage growth impacts on inflation and is an important part of the overall scenario.]

3 ❓ Treasury yields move higher for a third consecutive year for the first time in 36 years as the Fed raises rates at least twice.
In June, the Fed raised interest rates for the second time this year. Treasury yields, however, are lower now than at the start of the year.
[“X” IMO. A disconnect between long-term and short-term rates, as in 2004-2005, limits the Fed’s ability to control asset bubbles and inflation.]

4 ❓ Stocks hit their 2017 highs in the first half of the year as earnings rise but price/earnings multiples fall.
Equity markets hover close to their all-time highs, but the momentum that dominated the first part of the year has faded. Earnings have improved dramatically: S&P 500 earnings were up almost 14% in the first quarter, although multiples have risen.
[Stocks rising faster than earnings is typical of a stage III bull market]

5 ❓ Stocks outperform bonds for the sixth year in a row for the first time in 20 years while volatility rises.
Stocks are currently comfortably ahead of bonds. While volatility has actually fallen this year, we expect it to pick up in the coming months.
[Volatility is close to record lows and likely to stay there if no major geo-political surprises.]

6 ❌ Small caps, cyclical sectors and value styles beat large caps, defensive and growth areas.
We are on the wrong side of all three components of this prediction. We expect economic growth to rebound this year, which should lead investors to bid up cyclical and value sectors.
[Large caps and defensive stocks are overpriced because of low yields. Growth stocks are typical of stage III but normally joined by small caps.]

7 ✔ The financials, health care and information technology sectors outperform energy, utilities and materials.
A basket of our favored sectors (up 14.0%) is comfortably outperforming a basket of our least-favored ones (up 2.5%).
[Good call.]

8 ✔ Active managers’ performance improves as flows into equities rise.
Last year, only 19% of U.S. large cap active equity managers beat their benchmarks. As of May, 52% are ahead. The pace of equity fund outflows has also slowed this year.
[I would rate this a “?”.]

9 ✔ Nationalist and protectionist trends rise as pro-domestic policies are pursued globally.
President Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris climate change accords, has reconsidered trade deals and questioned fellow NATO member states. In Europe, Brexit negotiations are ongoing, although the French presidential election provided a nod back toward globalization.
[Nationalism still dominates.]

10 ✔ Initial optimism about the Trump agenda fades in light of slow legislative progress.
It is almost hard to remember the high level of political optimism when we made this prediction six months ago. Now the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction.
[Good call. Little has been achieved on infrastructure and tax reform.]

[Conclusion: Secular trends, as in #7, make the most reliable predictions, while it’s hard to beat a 50% success rate with shorter cycles.]

Source: Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen

Gold-Oil ratio warns of further easing

I don’t attach much significance to the Gold-Oil ratio on its own but it’s back in overbought territory, above 25.

Spot Gold/Light Crude

The chart below — plotting inflation-adjusted prices (over CPI) — far better depicts the relationship between gold and crude oil. Each major spike in crude prices over the last 50 years has been followed by a rising gold price.

Spot Gold/Brent Crude

Falling crude prices are likely to weaken demand for gold over the next few years, both through lower inflation and declining foreign reserves of major oil producing nations.

Gold finds support at $1250

The Dollar Index continues to test support at 96.50. The primary trend is down and breach of support is likely, signaling a decline to test the 2016 low at 92/93.

Dollar Index

Spot Gold found support at $1250. A weaker Dollar and rising political uncertainty both favor an up-trend but rising interest rates are expected to weaken demand. Respect of support at $1250 would confirm the up-trend, while breach of $1200 would warn of another decline.

Spot Gold

Westpac Leading Index counters jobs surge

In stark contrast to the buoyant recent ABS jobs numbers, the Westpac Leading Index slowed:

From Matthew Hassan at Westpac:

The six month annualised growth rate in the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Leading Index, which indicates the likely pace of economic activity relative to trend three to nine months into the future, eased from 1.01% in April to 0.62% in May.

…..The index is pointing to a clear slowing in momentum. While the growth rate remains comfortably above trend, the pace has eased markedly since the start of the year….

Read more at Westpac.

Australia: Jobs surge

The May 2017 ABS Labour Force Survey surprised to the upside, with employment increasing by 42,000 over the previous month (full-time jobs even better at +52,100). These are seasonally adjusted figures and the trend estimates are more modest at 25200 jobs.

Australia Jobs and Unemployment

Seasonally adjusted hours worked also jumped, reflecting an annual increase of 2.3%.

Australia Hours Worked and Real GDP

The Australian Dollar surged as a result of the impressive numbers but Credit Suisse warns that there may be some issues with the latest strong NSW estimates:

By state, the gains in full-time employment were particularly strong in NSW…..

But beware the sample rotation bias ….the ABS has confessed that for the sixth time in seven months, it has rotated the sample in favour of higher employment-to-population cohorts. Officials report that this has had a material impact on the NSW employment outcomes.

If the numbers are correct, there are only two areas that could account for the job growth: apartment construction and infrastructure. The former is unlikely to last and the latter, while an important part of the recovery process, are also not a permanent increase.

I would prefer to wait for confirmation before adjusting my position based on a single set of numbers.

One swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day.

~ Aristotle

Draining the swamp?

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration proposed a wide-ranging rethink of the rules governing the U.S. financial sector in a report that makes scores of recommendations that have been on the banking industry’s wish list for years.

….If Mr. Trump’s regulatory appointees eventually implement them, the recommendations would neuter or pare back restrictions from the Obama administration, which argued the rules were necessary to guard against excessive risk taking and a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

Seems to me like the exact opposite of ‘draining the swamp’. The new administration proposes removing or limiting the rules intended to reduce risk-taking in the financial sector.

This could end badly.

Especially with bank capital at current low levels.

Source: Trump Team Proposes Broad Rethink of Financial Rulebook – WSJ

Steady growth in US hours worked

Growth of total hours worked, calculated as Total Nonfarm Payroll multiplied by Average Hours worked, improved to 1.575% for the 12 months to May 2017.

Total Hours Worked

And the April 2017 Leading Index, produced the Philadelphia Fed, is tracking at a healthy 1.64%. Decline below 1.0% is often an early warning of a slow-down; below 0.5% is more urgent.

Hourly Wage Rate Growth and Core CPI

Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to advance. Rising troughs on Twiggs Money Flow signal long-term buying pressure.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Dow Jones Transportation Average is slower, headed for a test of resistance at 9500. But recent breakout of Fedex above $200 is an encouraging sign and the index is likely to follow.

Dow Jones Transportation Average

We are in stage III of a bull market, but this can last for several years.

Australia: RBA hands tied

Falling wage rate growth suggests that we are headed for a period of low growth in employment and personal consumption.

Australia Wage Index

The impact is already evident in the Retail sector.

ASX 300 Retail

The RBA would normally intervene to stimulate investment and employment but its hands are tied. Lowering interest rates would aggravate the housing bubble. Household debt is already precariously high in relation to disposable income.

Australia: Household Debt to Disposable Income

Like Mister Micawber in David Copperfield, we are waiting in the hope that something turns up to rescue us from our predicament. It’s not a good situation to be in. If something bad turns up and the RBA is low on ammunition.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and — and in short you are for ever floored….

~ Mr. Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

Upside Possibilities Look More Likely Than Downside Risks | Bob Doll

From Bob Doll’s latest weekly update:

Investors remain highly focused on global political issues. Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France has reduced some political risk in Europe, but investors are growing increasingly skeptical about President Trump’s ability to deliver on his pro-growth agenda. The growing scrutiny over White House ties to Russian operatives, escalating risks of global terrorism and rising uncertainty around North Korea are all negatives for investor confidence.

But these negatives have not offset positive global macroeconomic conditions. Global economic growth is hardly robust, but looks better than it has in several years, especially in Europe. Manufacturing activity is improving and global trade appears to be recovering. Corporate profits are also trending higher across most markets and industry sectors. Financials remain a weak spot in many areas of the world, but we expect global bond yields will rise as economic growth solidifies, which should help this sector. Finally, monetary policy remains growth- and equity-friendly. The Fed is in the midst of a rate-hiking campaign, but should continue raising rates slowly and predictably…..

Source: Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen

Is the US labor market tightening?

I wouldn’t read too much into weaker US job gains of 138 thousand for May 2017. Job gains seem to be tapering in 2017, with February highest at 232 thousand, but this could also be a sign of tightening labor conditions.

Monthly Nonfarm Payroll: Job Gains

Comments from respondents in yesterday’s ISM report showed hints of a tightening labor market:

  • “Business conditions are steady, and with competition increasing, it’s making negotiations even more intense to reduce costs.” (Machinery)
  • “Business is booming, and getting direct employees is increasingly difficult.” (Fabricated Metal Products)
  • “Difficult to find qualified labor for factory positions.” (Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products)

Unemployment continues to fall, reaching 4.3% for May 2017. The dip below the natural rate of unemployment also warns of tighter labor market conditions.

Unemployment and the Natural Rate

But there are no real signs of a tight labor market in hourly wages. In fact, hourly wage rate growth in the manufacturing sector is slowing.

Hourly Wage Rate Growth and Core CPI

Employee compensation as a percentage of value added (Q1 2017) is starting to rise and the percentage of profits (after tax) is declining. The lines tend to invert, with employee compensation peaking and profits dipping ahead of a recession. This still seems 12 months away.

Profits and Employee Compensation as % of Value Added

In summary, declining unemployment and rising employee compensation as a percentage of value added both indicate a tight labor market. But soft wage rate growth and falling core CPI suggest the Fed will be in no haste to apply the brakes. At least for the next three quarters.

ISM May 2017 Report

After a setback in April, activity in the manufacturing sector is again expanding:

MANUFACTURING AT A GLANCE
May 2017
Index Series
Index
May
Series
Index
Apr
Percentage
Point
Change
Direction Rate
of
Change
Trend*
(Months)
PMI® 54.9 54.8 +0.1 Growing Faster 9
New Orders 59.5 57.5 +2.0 Growing Faster 9
Production 57.1 58.6 -1.5 Growing Slower 9
Employment 53.5 52.0 +1.5 Growing Faster 8
Supplier Deliveries 53.1 55.1 -2.0 Slowing Slower 13
Inventories 51.5 51.0 +0.5 Growing Faster 2
Customers’ Inventories 49.5 45.5 +4.0 Too Low Slower 8
Prices 60.5 68.5 -8.0 Increasing Slower 15
Backlog of Orders 55.0 57.0 -2.0 Growing Slower 4
New Export Orders 57.5 59.5 -2.0 Growing Slower 15
Imports 53.5 55.5 -2.0 Growing Slower 4
OVERALL ECONOMY Growing Faster 96
Manufacturing Sector Growing Faster 9

Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business® data is seasonally adjusted for the New Orders, Production, Employment and Supplier Deliveries Indexes.

*Number of months moving in current direction.

Notable comments from respondents:

  • “Business conditions are steady, and with competition increasing, it’s making negotiations even more intense to reduce costs.” (Machinery)
  • “Business is booming, and getting direct employees is increasingly difficult.” (Fabricated Metal Products)
  • “Difficult to find qualified labor for factory positions.” (Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products)

Read the full report at ISM May Report

Why we’re selling all shares and handing cash back to investors – Philip Parker | Livewire

Philip Parker – veteran fund manager decides to sell all shares in Altair’s Trusts to hand back cash and hands back mandates for SMA/IMA’s and also sells MDA family office mandates to cash from shares.

Why?
AUSTRALIAN EAST COAST PROPERTY MARKET BUBBLE AND THE IMPENDING CORRECTION
CHINA PROPERTY AND DEBT ISSUES LATER THIS YEAR
THE OVERVALUED AUSTRALIAN EQUITY MARKETS AND
OVERSIZED GEO-POLITICAL RISKS AND AN UNPREDICTABLE US POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

The underlined above are some of the more obvious reasons to exit the riskier asset markets of shares and property – in my opinion.

As a result of the above and after 25 years as a fund manager and 30 years in this industry I am taking around 6 to 12 months off. The main reason is in my opinion that there are just too many risks at present, and I cannot justify charging our clients fees when there are so many early warning lead indicators of clear and present danger in property and equity markets now….

Read more at: Why we’re selling all shares and handing cash back to investors – Philip Parker | Livewire

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

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.

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