How Will Tax Cuts Affect the US Economy and Corporate America?

Bob Doll at Nuveen Investments discusses the likely impact of tax cuts in the US:

Is it even a good idea to enact tax cuts at this point in the economic cycle? After all, growth has picked up, unemployment is at a 17-year low and capacity utilization is high. It’s reasonable to wonder whether tax cuts spur inflation higher rather than boost economic growth. We agree that inflation is likely to move modestly higher next year (more so if tax rates are reduced), but lower tax rates will likely improve productivity and benefit the economy.

Tax cuts are unlikely to have a significant impact on inflation or productivity other than through indirect stimulation of new investment and job creation.

…..If the corporate tax rate is reduced from 35% to 20%, we estimate this would increase S&P 500 earnings-per-share between $12 and $15 annually. Companies could also see an additional boost in the form of earnings repatriation. It’s possible (and even likely) that some companies would use these earnings benefits to lower prices to increase market share, so some gains may be “competed away.” But we think an overall boost in profits and earnings is likely.

That would amount to an annual increase of between 10 and 13 percent in S&P 500 earnings per share (based on a forecast $114.45 EPS for calendar 2017). Companies that invest in building market share would expect a return on that investment by way of increased growth which would still benefit future earnings streams.

Furthermore, if U.S. companies finally bring their overseas earnings home in a tax-effective manner, it’s fair to wonder what they would do with their cash windfalls. Should this happen, we expect increases in balance sheet improvements, more hiring, a rise in capital expenditures, dividend increases, higher levels of share buybacks and an increase in merger and acquisition activity. All of these actions would be a positive for corporate health and equity prices.

I would expect a big increase in stock buybacks as that will boost stock prices and have a direct impact on executive bonuses. Mergers and acquisitions have less certain outcomes and are likely to be secondary, while new investment and job creation will most likely get the short straw.

S&P 500 reaches 2600

The S&P 500 reached its medium-term target of 2600. This is stage 3 of a bull market; a short correction or consolidation followed by further gains is likely.

S&P 500

A sharp correction during stage 3 often warns of an impending top but is unlikely at this stage.

Bellwether transport stock Fedex found short-term support after a 3-week correction. Bearish divergence on Twiggs Money Flow so far suggests secondary selling pressure and not an alteration in the primary trend. Recovery above 220 would respect the rising trendline, indicating a healthy up-trend — a bullish sign for the broader economy.

Fedex

Elliot Clarke at Westpac raises concerns over low investment growth:

…the FOMC clearly sought to cement market expectations of a rate hike in December in their October/November meeting minutes. The economy was seen as continuing to enjoy above-trend growth thanks to robust gains for household consumption. Built on income gains as well as strong confidence, this trend is expected to persist. Inevitably though, an economy cannot be built on consumption alone. Investment is necessary, and this is an area of the growth outlook where we harbor doubts. Should, as we expect, investment growth remain tepid, then productivity and income growth will be held back. This is a key reason why we believe that this rate hike cycle is likely to top out around 1.875%, after the December decision and two further hikes in 2018.

I think he is right that the Fed will remain cautious about raising interest rates until investment growth strengthens. Low inflation is partly caused by low investment, but this is likely to fade as new job creation strengthens.

The bull market in equities is aging | Bob Doll

Great summary of market conditions by Bob Doll:

Weekly Top Themes

  1. Last week’s elections signal possible trouble for Republicans in 2018. We caution against reading too much into the results. But Democratic gains in Virginia and elsewhere confirm signals from national polling that suggest the GOP will struggle to hold the House next year.
  2. We expect a tax bill to be passed in 2018, which should help the economy and equity markets. While there are significant differences between the two plans, the simple reality is that it would be political suicide for Republicans if they don’t pass tax reform before next year’s elections. Depending on the details of the final bill, we expect individual tax cuts to be a plus for consumption, while repatriation and corporate tax cuts should contribute to corporate revenues and earnings.
  3. Despite some views to the contrary, we believe the global economy should continue to improve. Some argue the world is in a period of secular stagnation. After all, growth remains very slow despite years of low or even negative interest rates. In our view, the world economy is enjoying a period of reflation and should experience more synchronized growth in 2018.
  4. Stronger global growth is benefiting multinational companies. These companies have reported stronger revenue and earnings results than domestically oriented companies this quarter.
  5. The bull market in equities is aging but remains very much intact. The current bull market is closing in on nine years, which makes it natural to ask how much longer it can continue. In our experience, there are several reasons for a bull market to end, including advanced Federal Reserve tightening, the flattening of the yield curve, slower levels of money growth, widening credit spreads and rising inflation. We are watching these factors closely, and don’t see signals yet that would point to the end of the current run.

In a nutshell: the bull market will continue until the Fed tightens monetary policy in response to rising inflation. When this will happen, no one is sure.

Read the rest of his report here: Nuveen Weekly Investment Commentary

Fed flunks econ 101: understanding inflation | MarketWatch

Caroline Baum’s opinion on the Fed’s approach to inflation:

For all the sturm und drang about the Fed debasing the dollar and sowing the seeds of the next great inflation, the public’s demand for money has increased. The increased desire to hold cash and checkable deposits has risen to meet the increased supply. Velocity, or the rate at which money turns over, has plummeted.

The Fed has two choices. It can adopt the Dr. Strangelove approach and learn to stop worrying and live with low inflation and low unemployment. Or it can do something about it, which runs counter to its stated intention to raise the funds rate and reduce the size of its balance sheet.

Option #1 involves learning to live with a low, stable inflation rate about 0.5 percentage point below the Fed’s explicit 2% target.

Not only has the Fed has achieved price stability in objective terms, but it has also fulfilled former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s subjective definition of price stability: a rate of inflation low enough that it is not a factor in business or household decision-making.

Option #2 means taking some additional actions to increase the money supply by lowering interest rates or resuming bond purchases. The Fed is taking the opposite approach. It began its balance sheet normalization this month, allowing $10 billion of securities to mature each month and gradually increasing the amount every quarter. And it has guided markets to expect another 25-basis-point rate increase in December….

The Fed faces a delicate balancing act. Unemployment is low but capacity utilization is also low, indicating an absence of inflationary pressure.

Capacity Utilization

Janet Yellen understandably wants to normalize interest rates ahead of the next recession but she can afford to take her time. The economy is unlikely to tip into recession unless the Fed hikes rates too quickly, causing a monetary contraction.

I believe the Fed chair is relying on the outflow from more than $2 trillion of excess reserves held by banks on deposit with the Fed to offset the contractionary effect of any rate hikes.

Capacity Utilization

If pushed, the Fed could lower the interest rate paid on excess reserves in order to encourage banks to withdraw excess deposits. But so far this hasn’t been necessary. The attraction of higher interest rates in financial markets has been sufficient to encourage a steady outflow from excess reserves, keeping the monetary base (net of reserves) growing at a steady clip of close to 7.5% p.a. despite rate hikes so far.

Capacity Utilization

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. ~ Milton Friedman

Makes you wonder why Donald Trump would even consider replacing the Fed chair when she is doing such a great job of managing the recovery.

Source: Fed flunks econ 101: understanding inflation – MarketWatch

Australia faces headwinds

Australian wage rate growth, on the other hand, is declining. is in a worse position, with a dramatic fall in investment following the mining boom.

Australia: Wage Price Index

Source: RBA & ABS

As is inflation.

Australia: Inflation

Source: RBA & ABS

Growth in Household Disposable Income and Consumption.

Australia: Household Income and Consumption

Source: RBA & ABS

And Banks return on shareholders equity.

Australia: Banks Return on Equity

Source: RBA & APRA

But not Housing.

Australia: Banks Return on Equity

Source: RBA, ABS, APM, CoreLogic & Residex

At least not yet.

Falling house prices would complete the feedback loop, shrinking household incomes, consumption and banks ROE.

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

Inflation surges

Inflation is rising, with CPI climbing steeply above the Fed’s 2% target. But core CPI excluding energy and food remains stable.

Consumer Price Index

Job gains were the lowest since May 2016.

Job Gains

But the unemployment rate fell to a low 4.5%.

Unemployment

Hourly wage rate growth has eased below 2.5%, suggesting that underlying inflationary pressures are contained.

Average Hourly Earnings Growth

The Fed is unlikely to accelerate its normalization of interest rates unless we see a surge in core inflation and/or hourly earnings growth.

Australia’s economic growth is slowing.

Employment and Participation rates are falling.

Australia Employment & Participation Rates

Wage rate growth is slowing.

Australia Wage Rates

Slowing wage rate growth and inflation confirm that the economy is faltering.

Australia Underlying Inflation

The RBA, with one eye on the housing bubble, has indicated its reluctance to cut rates further. Increased infrastructure spending by Federal and State governments seems the only viable alternative.

With the motor industry winding down and apartment construction headed for a cliff, this is becoming increasingly urgent.

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.

The Threat of Inflation

From the Trading Diary:

I received a message from a US reader suggesting I should “stay out of politics”.

I would love to stay out of politics. Frankly, I find it tiresome. Unfortunately, politics and the economy are so intertwined as to make the study of one meaningless without consideration of the other. I say “unfortunately” because a lot of the damage done to the economy is caused by the political system.

As for Donald Trump, I am a conservative but do not support him. He is not another Reagan who can lead from the center and inspire his country. If anything he is a polarizing force, more ego-driven than Nixon and just as unpredictable.

I hope I am wrong. Trump has many sound policies and has made some solid appointments to his team. Don’t believe everything you read from a hostile media. They could do a lot of good. Provided they are able to manage the elephant in the lifeboat — the destabilizing side of Trump’s nature.

Now that I have offended at least half of all US readers — slightly less than half if you listen to bleating about the majority vote — let me explain why politics and economics are so intertwined.

Apart from trade wars, which I will discuss at a later date, I see the main threat to the US economy as inflation.

Before I start, let me say that these dangers are not immediate and the present boom is likely to continue for the next 12 to 18 months. But they could quickly materialize, bringing the boom to a premature end, so it is best to keep a weather eye on them.

Inflation

Earlier this week I discussed why the inflation outlook is so important to stock market performance:

From Tim Wallace at The Sydney Morning Herald:

Nine years on from the start of the financial crisis, the US recovery may be overheating, Legal & General Investment Management economist James Carrick has warned.

He has predicted a series of interest rate hikes will tip the US into a 2018 recession.”Every recession in the US has been caused by a tightening of credit conditions,” he said, noting inflation is on the rise and the US Federal Reserve is discussing plans for higher interest rates.

Officials at the Fed have only raised interest rates cautiously, because inflation has not taken off, so they do not believe the Fed needs to take the heat out of the economy.

But economists fear the strong dollar and low global commodity prices have restricted inflation and disguised domestic price rises. Underneath this, they fear the economy is already overheating.

As a result, they expect inflation to pick up sharply this year, forcing more rapid interest rate hikes.

That could cause a recession next year, they say. In their models, the signals are that this could take place in mid-2018.

Harvard scholar Paul Schmelzing points out that inflation is starting to rear its head in both China and Germany, with producer prices rising. This may in part be a result of the falling value of the Yuan and Euro against the Dollar, resulting in higher domestic commodity prices.

The opposite, however, is true for the US, with a rising Dollar lowering import prices and acting as a headwind against inflation.

The consumer price index (CPI) is rising because of higher crude oil prices but core CPI (excluding food & energy) has remained fairly constant, around the 2.0 percent target, over the last five years.

Core CPI and CPI

So why the concern?

Well the Fed is more concerned about underlying inflation, best reflected by hourly wage rates, than the headline CPI figure.

A sharp rise in hourly earnings rates would force the Fed to respond with tighter monetary policy to take the heat out of the economy.

The chart below shows how the Fed slams on the brakes whenever average hourly earning rates grow above 3.0 percent. Each surge in hourly earnings is matched by a dip in the currency growth rate as the Fed tightens the supply of money to slow the economy and reduce inflationary pressure. And tighter monetary normally leads to recession.

Hourly Earnings Growth compared to Currency in Circulation

Two anomalies on the above chart warrant explanation. First, is the sharp upward spike in currency growth in 1999/2000 when the Fed reacted to the LTCM crisis with monetary stimulus despite high inflationary pressures. Second, is the sharp dip in 2010 when the Fed took its foot off the gas pedal too soon after the financial crisis of 2008/2009, mistaking it for a regular recession.

Hourly earnings growth is currently at 2.5 percent, so the Fed has some wiggle room and is only likely to react with tighter monetary policy when the figure reaches 3.0 percent.

Recent rate rises are more about normalizing interest rates — not taming inflation — and are not cause for alarm.

But Paul Schmelzing warns that the combination of a tight labor market and fiscal stimulus could fuel inflation and lead to a bear market in bonds similar to the 1960s.

That is exactly where Donald Trump is headed with a major infrastructure program likely to hit the ground next year. In a tightening labor market, the Fed would be forced to tighten monetary policy, slowing the economy and leading to another bear market in stocks as well as bonds.

Politics is tricky; it cuts both ways. Every time you make a choice, it has unintended consequences.

~ Stone Gossard

Gold weakens as interest rates rise

Interest rates are climbing steeply as the market anticipates more inflationary policies under a Trump presidency. 10-Year Treasury yields broke through 2.0 percent and are testing resistance at 2.50. Penetration of the descending trendline would warn that the long-term primary down-trend is weakening, signaling a test of 3.0 percent. Breakout above 3.0 is still some way off but would signal the end of the almost 30-year secular down-trend in Treasury and bond yields.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The Chinese Yuan has fallen sharply in response to rising interest rates, with the Dollar headed for a test of resistance at 7.0 Yuan (USDCNY).

USDCNY

Gold responded to rising interest rate expectations with a test of primary support at $1200. Narrow consolidation is a bearish sign, as is reversal of 13-week Momentum below zero. Breach of primary support would signal a primary down-trend with an immediate target of $1050/ounce.

Spot Gold

In the long-term, higher inflation and a weakening Yuan could both fuel demand for gold as a store of value. But the medium-term outlook is bearish.

Rising inflation, Dollar weakens

The consumer price index (CPI) ticked up 1.14% (year-on-year) for April 2016, on the back of higher oil prices. Core CPI (excluding energy and food) eased slightly to 2.15%.

CPI and Core CPI

Inflation is muted, but a sharp rise in hourly manufacturing (production and nonsupervisory employees) earnings growth (2.98% for 12 months to April 2016) points to further increases.

Manufacturing Hourly Earnings Growth

Despite this, long-term interest rates remain weak, with 10-year Treasury yields testing support at 1.65 percent. Breach would signal another test of the record low at 1.50% in 2012. The dovish Fed is a contributing factor, but so could safe-haven demand from investors wary of stocks….

10-year Treasury Yields

The Dollar

The US Dollar Index rallied off long-term support at 93 but this looks more a pause in the primary down-trend (signaled by decline of 13-week Momentum below zero) than a reversal.

US Dollar Index

Explanation for the Dollar rally is evident on the chart of China’s foreign reserves: a pause in the sharp decline of the last 2 years. China has embarked on another massive stimulus program in an attempt to shock their economy out of its present slump.

China: Foreign Reserves

But this hair of the dog remedy is unlikely to solve their problems, merely postpone the inevitable reckoning. The Yuan is once again weakening against the Dollar. Decline in China’s reserves — and the US Dollar as a consequence — is likely to continue.

USD: Chinese Yuan

Will the RBA cut interest rates in May?

From Justin Smirk at Westpac:

The headline CPI surprised in Q1 falling 0.2% compared to Westpac’s forecast for +0.4%….. The annual rate is now just 1.3%yr compared to 1.7%yr in Q4.

The core measures, which are seasonally adjusted and exclude extreme moves, rose 0.2% compared to the market’s expectation of 0.5% rise…. The annual pace of the average of the core inflation measures is now 1.5% from 2.0% in Q4 (Q4 was unrevised) and is the lowest print we have yet seen from this measure.

From Jens Meyer at The Age:

Today’s weak inflation numbers are a game changer for the Reserve Bank that will trigger a rate cut, says JPMorgan head of fixed income and foreign exchange strategy Sally Auld.

The investment bank now expects the RBA to cut by 0.25 percentage points next week and to follow this up with a further 25 basis points cut in August, taking the cash rate to 1.50 per cent.

Smirk disagrees:

…..But low inflation, on its own, is not a trigger for a rate cut. Sure, it unlocks the interest rate door for the RBA should it decide it needs to walk through that door as the Bank would not have to wait for another CPI update before doing so. However, it does not mean that the RBA will cut rates! A rate cut is dependent on local economic conditions demanding a rate cut. With unemployment on a new downtrend this is not so at the moment and we suggest that the RBA is waiting to see a new weaker trend in domestic activity and employment before it would embark on such a strategy.

Source: Australian 14 CPI 2016 | Westpac

Source: Three reasons for the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut official interest rates in May

Gold breaks support

Gold fell to $1070/ounce, breaching the band of primary support between $1080 and $1100 per ounce. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum peaks below zero indicate a strong primary down-trend. The next level of support is $1000/ounce*.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1100 – ( 1200 – 1100 ) = 1000

Inflation

Core CPI is close to the Fed target of 2.0 percent but inflation expectations continue to fall, with the 5-year breakeven rate (5-year Treasury minus 5-year TIPS yield) as low as 1.2 percent.

5-Year Breakeven Rate

Interest Rates and the Dollar

Long-term interest rates are rising, anticipating a Fed rate hike. 10-Year Treasury yields retraced to test the new support level after breaking through 2.25 percent. Respect of support is likely and will signal an advance to 2.50 percent. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Momentum above zero suggests an up-trend. Breakout above 2.50 percent would confirm.

10-Year Treasury Yields

Low inflation and a stronger Dollar are weakening demand for gold. The Dollar Index is testing resistance at 100. Respect of zero by 13-week Twiggs Momentum indicates long-term buying pressure. Breakout above 100 is likely and would signal an advance to 107*.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 100 + ( 100 – 93 ) = 107

Weak US retail sales belie strong fundamentals

Lucia Mutikani at Reuters writes:

U.S. retail sales barely rose in September and producer prices recorded their biggest decline in eight months, raising further doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. The weak reports on Wednesday were the latest suggestion that the economy was losing momentum in the face of slowing global growth, a strong dollar, an inventory correction and lower oil prices that are hampering capital spending in the energy sector. Job growth braked sharply in the past two months.

Readers of the headline Weak U.S. retail sales, inflation data cloud rate hike outlook could be forgiven for believing the US economy is headed for recession. After all, retail sales growth has slowed to a crawl.

Retail Sales

And the producer price index is declining.

Producer Price Index

But if we strip out food and energy prices, PPI remains close to the Fed’s 2% inflation target. And low energy prices will eventually feed through as a stimulus.

Hourly earnings in the manufacturing sector are starting to grow.

Average Hourly Earnings Growth: Manufacturing and Total Private

“The overall message is that consumer spending has remained extremely strong. If sentiment had indeed shifted, it would be hard to explain why sales of cars, certainly among the more expensive items, jumped in September to their highest level since July 2005,” said Harm Bandholz, chief economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

Light vehicle sales continue their upward trajectory.

Light Vehicle Sales

And construction spending is decidedly bullish.

Construction Spending

Not much here to keep Janet Yellen up at nights. When it comes to rate rises, the sooner we get the economy back on a sound footing the better, I say. Otherwise we encourage further capital misallocation and dependency on Fed stimulus. There are no free lunches from central bankers. Everything comes at a price.

Gold and Treasury yields decline as inflation weakens

US inflation. Core CPI is hovering below 2.0 percent but the 5-year inflation breakeven (5-year Treasury yield minus TIPS yield) suggests that inflation will fall. The recent slow-down in average hourly manufacturing earnings growth (production and non-supervisory employees) may just be statistical noise, but decline of either of these signals below 1.0% p.a. would be cause for concern.

5 Year Inflation Breakeven

Treasury yields remain weak, with the 10-year yield testing support between 1.85 and 2.0 percent.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The Dollar Index continues to range between 93 and 98. Falling inflation would favor an upward breakout. But flight to safety could drive the Dollar up (and yields downward). The biggest factor that may the Dollar down (and yields up), however, would be a Chinese sell-off of foreign reserves (largely Treasury investments) — to support the Yuan and/or stimulate their economy.

Dollar Index

Spot gold is likely to test primary support between $1080 and $1100 per ounce. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum, with peaks below zero, signals a strong down-trend. Breach of primary support would offer a target of $1000/ounce*.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000

RBA strategy: Fight fire with gasoline

This is just plain wrong.

Bulk Commodity Prices

The Australian economy is sitting atop an enormous housing bubble caused by credit expansion from 1995 to 2007. To counter the end of the mining boom, the RBA lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy. While this may be necessary to relieve pressure on borrowers, what we don’t need is another credit expansion. That would simply make the economy more unstable and increase the risk of a crash. Banks are moving to curb lending to speculators, with lower LVRs, but not fast enough in my view. We can’t afford a credit contraction, but the RBA needs to impose sufficient discipline to keep credit growth at/below the inflation rate — so that it gradually declines in real terms as the economy grows.

Inflation steady while Gold tests support

CPI continues below zero, but core CPI (excluding food and energy) came in at 1.81% for April 2015, indicating long-term inflationary pressures are constant.

CPI and Core CPI

Low inflation relieves upward pressure on bond yields. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes encountered resistance at 2.25%, with tall shadows on the last 3 weekly candles. Expect another retracement to test support at 1.85%. Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero would strengthen the signal.

10-Year Treasury Yields

* Target calculation: 2.25 + ( 2.25 – 1.85 ) = 2.65

The Dollar Index broke resistance at 96 despite falling bond yields, indicating the correction is over and another test of 100 likely. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum is declining, but recovery above the descending trendline would support the (bull) signal. Reversal below 96 is unlikely, but would test support at 93.

Dollar Index

Gold

The inflation-adjusted price of gold (gold/CPI) suggests that gold has further to fall. Unusually high levels of intervention by central banks in financial markets may, however, be fueling support at current prices — suggesting a gradual decline rather than a sharp adjustment.

Gold/CPI

Spot gold is headed for another test of medium-term support at $1180/ounce after respecting resistance at $1220. Breach of support would test the primary level at $1140. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum peaks below zero suggest a primary down-trend. Failure of $1140 would test the long-term target of $1000*.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000