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

Seven Weeks of Gains, Seven Equity Themes | Bob Doll

Great market summary from Bob Doll at Nuveen Asset Management:

  1. Economic data remains strong and hurricane effects have been surprisingly muted. Real third quarter gross domestic product was reported to be 3.0%, with nominal growth hitting 5.2%. Both numbers came in higher than expected, with nominal growth reaching its strongest pace since 2006.
  2. Home sales are increasing, demonstrating that economic growth remains broad. New home sales hit their highest level since 2007.
  3. The Federal Reserve is on track to increase rates again in December. We expect the central bank will enact its third hike of the year, while continuing to reduce its balance sheet. Fed policy remains accommodative, but is clearly normalizing.
  4. Corporate earnings are on track for another strong quarter. We are past the halfway point of reporting season, and the vast majority of companies have beaten expectations. On average, companies are ahead of earnings growth expectations by 4.9%.
  5. Stock buybacks appear to have slowed, but companies are still deploying cash in shareholder-friendly ways. From our vantage point, we are seeing companies pour more resources into hiring and modest amounts of capital expenditures.
  6. Tax reform prospects still appear uncertain, but we have seen progress on the regulatory front. While President Trump has struggled to enact his pro-growth legislative agenda, he has had success in rolling back regulatory enforcement. The financial and energy sectors in particular appear to be benefiting from less scrutiny.
  7. It is possible that tax reform will focus on corporate rather than individual rates. The most controversial aspects of tax reform are focused on possible changes to individual tax rates (such as arguments over the deductibility of state and local taxes). In contrast, corporate tax reform appears less controversial, as Congress seems to have broad agreement on the need to reduce corporate taxes and solve the issue of overseas profits. While still a small probability, Republicans may choose to separate the two issues and proceed solely on a corporate tax bill.

Economic growth remains muted but earnings are exceeding expectations. High levels of stock buybacks in the last few years must be playing a part.

Rising home sales are a bullish sign.

The Fed remains accommodative for the present but I expect increasing inflationary pressure to temper this next year.

Slow rates of investment remain a cause for concern and could hamper future growth — buybacks are cosmetic and won’t solve the low growth problem in the long-term.

Corporate tax reform would be a smart move, creating a more level playing field, while avoiding the acrimony surrounding individual tax rates.

Stage 3 of the bull market continues…..

Source: Weekly Investment Commentary from Bob Doll | Nuveen

China holds its head above water

A quick snapshot from the latest RBA chart pack.

Manufacturing is holding its head above water (50 on the PMI chart) and industrial production shows a small upturn but investment growth is falling, as in many global economies including the US and Australia. Retail sales growth has declined but remains healthy at 10% a year.

China

Electricity generation continues to climb but steel, cement and plate glass production all warn that real estate and infrastructure development are slowing.

China

Interest rates remain accommodative.

China

Real estate price growth is slowing but remains an unhealthy 10% a year. Real estate development investment rallied in response to lower interest rates but is clearly in a long-term decline.

China

There are no signs of an economy in immediate trouble but there are indications that the real estate and infrastructure boom may be ending. Through a combination of fiscal stimulus and accommodative monetary policy the Chinese have managed to stave off a capitalism-style correction. But failure to clear some of the excesses of the past decade will mean that the inevitable correction, when it does come, is likely to display familiar Asian severity (Japan 1992, Asian Crisis 1997).

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.

Did the RBA just signal the end of rate cuts?

From Jens Meyer:

Did the RBA just signal the end of rate cuts and no-one noticed?

Well, not exactly no-one. Goldman Sachs chief economist Tim Toohey reckons the speech RBA assistant governor Chris Kent delivered on Tuesday amounts to an explicit shift to a neutral policy stance.

Dr Kent spoke about how the economy has been doing since the mining boom, and in particular how its performance matched the RBA’s expectations.

Reflecting on the RBA’s forecasts of recent years, Dr Kent essentially framed the RBA’s earlier rate cut logic around an initial larger than expected decline in mining capital expenditure and subsequent larger than expected decline in the terms of trade, Mr Toohey said.

Having so closely linked the RBA’s easing cycle to the weakness in the terms of trade (and earlier decline in mining investment), Dr Kent’s key remark was to flag “the abatement of those two substantial headwinds” and highlight that this “would be a marked change from recent years”….

Source: Did the RBA just signal the end of rate cuts and no-one noticed?

Gold: Should I BREXIT?

Odds of a BREXIT are drifting at the bookmakers, with REMAIN a firm 1 to 4 favorite. Fears of a BREXIT have been driving demand for gold and a REMAIN vote is likely to spur a sell-off.

Gold

* Target calculation: 1300 + ( 1300 – 1050 ) = 1550

Breakout above resistance at $1300/ounce turned into a bull trap with a sharp retreat to support at $1250/$1260. A REMAIN vote on June 23rd would test support at $1250 and possibly $1200. But the up-trend remains intact if support at $1200 holds.

Political uncertainty is unlikely to fade before the November US election. And economic uncertainty, fueled by Chinese instability, is likely to last a lot longer.

USDCNY

Capital outflows from China continue, with USDCNY running into resistance at 6.60. This is a sign that PBOC sale of foreign reserves has resumed, weakening the Dollar and boosting demand for Gold.

Gold’s up-trend is likely to continue. And breakout above $1300 would offer a long-term target of $1550/ounce*.

Disclosure: Our Australian managed portfolios are invested in gold stocks.

Gold strengthens as Dollar weakens

Long-term interest rates continue their decline, with 10-year Treasury yields testing support at 1.65 to 1.70 percent. Breach would signal a test of the all-time (July 2012) low of 1.40 percent.

10-year Treasury yields

Gold rallied in response, breaking initial resistance at $1250/ounce to signal a test of $1300.

Gold

The Chinese appear to have resumed selling foreign reserves to support the Yuan, with USDCNY running into resistance at 6.60. PBOC sale of reserves would weaken the Dollar, boosting demand for Gold. Failure to support the Yuan is unlikely, but would increase safe haven demand for Gold from Chinese investors.

USDCNY

The Dollar Index, representing predominantly the Euro and Yen crosses, fell sharply. Breach of support at 93 would confirm the primary down-trend earlier signaled by 13-week Momentum below zero.

Dollar Index

The Australian All Ordinaries Gold Index broke through 4500 to signal another advance, with the weakening Australian Dollar adding further impetus. Gaps between trough lows (orange line) and preceding highs (brown line) indicate strong buying pressure.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

Disclosure: Our Australian managed portfolios are invested in gold stocks.

Gold tanked? Not yet!

Gold broke below its recent flag formation, warning of a test of support at $1200/ounce.

Gold

Selling is driven by expectations of a Fed interest rate hike in June …..and recent Chinese stimulus which postponed Yuan devaluation against the Dollar. But expectations of a rate hike are causing a sell-off of the Chinese Yuan, with the USDCNY strengthening over the last few weeks.

USDCNY

…Which in turn will cause the Chinese to sell foreign reserves to support the Dollar peg (…..else devalue which would panic investors and cause a downward spiral). Sale of Dollar reserves by China would drive the Dollar lower.

Dollar Index

…and Gold higher. I remain bullish as long as support at $1200/ounce holds.

Disclosure: Our Australian managed portfolios are invested in gold stocks.

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

Low interest rates and secular stagnation

Interesting observation by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, a research associate at the NBER:

In recent theoretical work, Caballero, Farhi, and I show that the safe-asset scarcity mutates at the ZLB [Zero Lower Bound], from a benign phenomenon that depresses risk-free rates to a malign one where interest rates cannot equilibrate asset markets any longer, leading to a global recession. The reason is that the decline in output reduces net-asset demand more than asset supply. Hence our analysis predicts the emergence of potentially persistent global-liquidity traps, a situation that actually exists in most of the advanced economies today.

…..our results point to a modern — and more sinister — version of the Triffin dilemma. As the world economy grows faster than that of the U.S., so does the global demand for safe assets relative to their supply. This depresses global interest rates and could push the global economy into a persistent ZLB environment, a form of secular stagnation.

Source: The Structure of the International Monetary System | NBER

Are US stocks really over-valued?

Let us start with Warren Buffet’s favorite market valuation ratio: stock market capitalization to GDP. I have modified this slightly, replacing GDP with GNP, because the former excludes offshore earnings — a significant factor for multinationals.

US stock market capitalization to GNP

The ratio of stock market capitalization to GNP now exceeds the highs of 2005/2006, suggesting that stocks are over-valued — approaching the heady days of the Dotcom era.

Corporate Profits

If we dig a bit deeper, however, while the ratio of market cap to sales is also high, market cap to corporate profits remains low.

US stock market capitalization to Business Sales and Corporate Profits

Clearly profit margins have widened, with corporate profits increasing at a faster rate than sales. The critical question: is this sustainable?

Sustainability of Profits

At some point profit margins must narrow in response to rising costs. Increases in aggregate demand may lift employment and sales, but also drive up labor costs.

Profits and Labor Costs as a percentage of Net Value Added

The brown line above depicts labor costs as a percentage of net value added, compared to corporate profits (blue) as a percentage of net value added. There is a clear inverse relationship: when labor costs rise, profit margins fall (and vice versa). At first the effect of narrower margins is masked by rising sales, but eventually aggregate profits contract when sales growth slows (gray stripes indicate past recessions).

Interest Rates and Taxes

Other contributing factors to high corporate profits are interest rates and taxes. Corporate profits (% of GNP) have soared over the last 30 years as bond yields have fallen. The benefit is two-fold, with lower interest rates reducing the cost of corporate debt and lower finance costs boosting sales of consumer durables.

Corporate Profits as % of GNP and AAA Bond Yields

Lower effective corporate tax rates (gray) have also contributed to the surge in profits as a percentage of GNP.

US stock market capitalization to GNP

The most enduring of these three factors (labor costs, interest rates, and tax rates) is likely to be taxes. Corporate tax rates have fallen in most jurisdictions and US rates are high by comparison. Even if a long-overdue overhaul of corporate taxation is achieved in the next decade (don’t hold your breath), the overall tax rate is likely to remain low.

If Not Now, When?

The other two factors (labor costs and interest rates) may not be sustainable in the long-term but it will take time for them to normalize.

Treasury yields are rising, with the 10-year at 2.37 percent. Breakout above 3.0 percent still appears some way off, but would confirm the end of the 35-year secular down-trend.

10-Year Treasury Yields Secular Trend

Interest rates are likely to remain low until rising labor costs force the Fed to adopt a restrictive stance.

Labor Costs as a percentage of Net Value Added

Labor markets have tightened to some extent, as indicated by the higher trough on the right of the above graph. But this is likely to be slowed by the low participation rate, with potential employees returning to the workforce, and a strong dollar enhancing the attraction of cheap labor in emerging markets.

Hourly earnings growth in the manufacturing sector remains comfortably below the Fed’s 2.0 percent inflation target. Any breakout above this level, however, would be cause for concern. Not only would the Fed be likely to raise interest rates, but profit margins are likely to shrink.

Manufacturing: Hourly Earnings Growth

For the present

None of the macroeconomic and volatility filters that we monitor indicate elevated market risk. I expect them to rise over the next two to three years as the labor market tightens and interest rates increase, but for the present we maintain full exposure to equities.

Are US stocks really over-valued?

Stock Market Capitalization

Let us start with Warren Buffet’s favorite market valuation ratio: stock market capitalization to GDP. I have modified this slightly, replacing GDP with GNP, because the former excludes offshore earnings — a significant factor for multinationals.

US stock market capitalization to GNP

The ratio of stock market capitalization to GNP now exceeds the highs of 2005/2006, suggesting that stocks are over-valued — approaching the heady days of the Dotcom era.

Corporate Profits

If we dig a bit deeper, however, while the ratio of market cap to sales is also high, market cap to corporate profits remains low.

US stock market capitalization to Business Sales and Corporate Profits

Clearly profit margins have widened, with corporate profits increasing at a faster rate than sales. The critical question: is this sustainable?

Sustainability of Profits

At some point profit margins must narrow in response to rising costs. Increases in aggregate demand may lift employment and sales, but also drive up labor costs.

Profits and Labor Costs as a percentage of Net Value Added

The brown line above depicts labor costs as a percentage of net value added, compared to corporate profits (blue) as a percentage of net value added. There is a clear inverse relationship: when labor costs rise, profit margins fall (and vice versa). At first the effect of narrower margins is masked by rising sales, but eventually aggregate profits contract when sales growth slows (gray stripes indicate past recessions).

Interest Rates and Taxes

Other contributing factors to high corporate profits are interest rates and taxes. Corporate profits (% of GNP) have soared over the last 30 years as bond yields have fallen. The benefit is two-fold, with lower interest rates reducing the cost of corporate debt and lower finance costs boosting sales of consumer durables.

Corporate Profits as % of GNP and AAA Bond Yields

Lower effective corporate tax rates (gray) have also contributed to the surge in profits as a percentage of GNP.

US stock market capitalization to GNP

The most enduring of these three factors (labor costs, interest rates, and tax rates) is likely to be taxes. Corporate tax rates have fallen in most jurisdictions and US rates are high by comparison. Even if a long-overdue overhaul of corporate taxation is achieved in the next decade (don’t hold your breath), the overall tax rate is likely to remain low.

If Not Now, When?

The other two factors (labor costs and interest rates) may not be sustainable in the long-term but it will take time for them to normalize.

Treasury yields are rising, with the 10-year at 2.37 percent. Breakout above 3.0 percent still appears some way off, but would confirm the end of the 35-year secular down-trend.

10-Year Treasury Yields Secular Trend

Interest rates are likely to remain low until rising labor costs force the Fed to adopt a restrictive stance.

Labor Costs as a percentage of Net Value Added

Labor markets have tightened to some extent, as indicated by the higher trough on the right of the above graph. But this is likely to be slowed by the low participation rate, with potential employees returning to the workforce, and a strong dollar enhancing the attraction of cheap labor in emerging markets.

Hourly earnings growth in the manufacturing sector remains comfortably below the Fed’s 2.0 percent inflation target. Any breakout above this level, however, would be cause for concern. Not only would the Fed be likely to raise interest rates, but profit margins are likely to shrink.

Manufacturing: Hourly Earnings Growth

For the present

None of the macroeconomic and volatility filters that we monitor indicate elevated market risk. I expect them to rise over the next two to three years as the labor market tightens and interest rates increase, but for the present we maintain full exposure to equities.

RIP ZIRP | PIMCO

From Marc Seidner:

At this point, the evidence is close to overwhelming that the Federal Reserve will embark on a tightening cycle this year. The base case for markets should be a move in September. While the pace of tightening should be very shallow and the ultimate destination for interest rates considerably lower than historical experience, investors should not underestimate the potential volatility emanating from the first interest rate increase in nine years and the first move off of the zero bound in six years….

Read more at RIP ZIRP | PIMCO Blog.

QE: The end is nigh?

I have read a number of predictions recently as to how stocks will collapse into a bear market when quantitative easing ends. The red line on the graph below shows how the Fed expanded its balance sheet by $3.5 trillion between 2008 and 2014, injecting new money into the system through acquisition of Treasuries and other government-backed securities.

Fed Assets and Excess Reserves on Deposit

Many are not aware that $2.7 trillion of that flowed straight back to the Fed, deposited by banks as excess reserves. So the net flow of new money into the system was actually a lot lower: around $0.8 trillion.

The Fed has indicated they will end bond purchases in October 2014, which means that the red line will level off at close to $4.5 trillion. If excess reserve deposits continue to grow, that would cause a net outflow of money from the system. But that is highly unlikely. Excess Reserves have been growing at a slower rate than Fed Assets for the last three quarters, as the graph of Fed Assets minus Excess Reserves shows. If that trend continues, there will be a net injection of money even though asset purchases have halted.

Fed Assets and Excess Reserves on Deposit

Interest paid on excess reserves is a powerful weapon in the hands of the FOMC. The Fed can accelerate the flow of money into the market by reducing the interest rate, forcing banks to withdraw funds on deposit in search of better returns outside the Fed. Alternatively, raising interest paid above the current 0.25% p.a. on excess reserves would have the opposite effect, attracting more deposits and slowing the flow of money into the market.

The Fed is likely to use these tools to maintain a positive flow into the market until the labor market has healed. As Janet Yellen said at Jackson Hole:

“It likely will be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time after our current asset purchase program ends.”

That’s Fedspeak for “Read my lips: there will be no interest rate hikes.”

Dollar surges as crude falls

  • Dollar surges
  • Treasury yields rally, but the trend is down
  • Crude oil prices fall
  • Gold uncertainty continues

Interest Rates and the Dollar

The Dollar Index followed through above resistance at 81.50, signaling a long-term advance to test the 2013 highs at 84.50. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Momentum above zero strengthens the signal. Reversal below 81.50 is most unlikely, but would warn of another test of support at 80.00.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 81.50 – ( 81.50 – 79.00 ) = 84.00

The yield on ten-year Treasury Notes recovered above support at 2.40 percent, but the primary trend is downward. Respect of the descending trendline is likely and reversal below 2.40 would confirm a decline to 2.00 percent*. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum holding below zero strengthens the bear signal. Recovery above the descending trendline is unlikely, but would suggest a rally to 2.65/2.70 percent.

10-Year Treasury Yields

* Target calculation: 2.50 – ( 3.00 – 2.50 ) = 2.00

There are two factors driving the fall in long-term interest rates. The first is aggressive purchases of US treasuries by China in order to maintain a weak yuan. The second is the abysmal state of the employment market when we look past the official unemployment figures. Employment levels for males in the 25 to 54 age group remain roughly 6% — and females 5% — below their previous high.

Employment levels

Gold

Gold is consolidating in a triangle pattern, between $1200 and $1400/ounce. Price action is now too close to the apex (“>”) of the triangle for breakouts to be reliable, but breach of support at $1280 would test $1240, while breakout above $1320 would test $1350. Oscillation of 13-week Twiggs Momentum close to zero continues to signal hesitancy. In the longer term, recovery above $1350 would indicate a primary up-trend, while breach of support at $1240/$1250 would signal a down-trend.

Spot Gold

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

Declining crude prices may be contributing to lower inflation expectations and weaker gold demand (as an inflation hedge). Brent Crude breach of $99/barrel would confirm a primary down-trend as would Nymex WTI crude below $92/barrel.

Gold and Crude

Platinum founder warns on property “act of faith”

ScreenHunter_3505 Jul. 29 08.50

By Leith van Onselen

The founder of Platinum Asset Management, billionaire investor Kerr Neilson, has released an interesting report warning about Australia’s frothy house price valuations and the risks of a correction once “conditions change, [and] a lot of the assumptions are found wanting”.

The report highlights four “facts” about Australian housing:

1. Returns from housing investment are often exaggerated and flattered by inflation.
2. Holding costs of rates, local taxes and repairs are estimated to absorb about half of current rental yields.
3. Long-term values are determined by affordability (wages + interest rates).
4. To be optimistic about residential property prices rising in general much faster than inflation is a supreme act of faith.

It then goes on to examine each of these facts.

On returns, the report notes that “the rise in the price of an average home in Australia…[has] been about 7% a year since 1986. In dollar terms, the average existing house has risen in value by 6.3 times over the last 27 years. No wonder most people love the housing market!”

But rental returns have gotten progressively poor:

…we earn a starting yield of say 4% on a rented-out home or if you live in it, the equivalent to what you do not have to pay in rent. But again, looking at the Bureau of Statistics numbers, they calculate that your annual outgoings on a property are around 2%. This takes the shape of repairs and maintenance, rates and taxes, and other fees. This therefore reduces your rental return to 2%, and what if it is vacant from time to time?

And the prospect for future solid capital growth is low due to poor affordability:

…the last 20 or so years has been exceptional. Australian wages have grown pretty consistently at just under 3% a year since 1994 – that is an increase of about 1% a year in real terms.

Affordability is what sets house prices and this has two components: what you earn and the cost of the monthly mortgage payment (interest rates).

…even though interest rates have progressively dropped, interest payments today absorb 9% of the average income, having earlier been only 6% of disposable income.

ScreenHunter_3506 Jul. 29 09.21

Today, houses cost over four times the average household’s yearly disposable income. At the beginning of the 1990s, this ratio was only about three times household incomes. As the chart over shows, this looks like the peak.

ScreenHunter_3507 Jul. 29 09.22

Finally, the report argues that for Australian home prices to significantly outpace inflation over the next ten years, as they have in the past, “would require a remarkable set of circumstances”, namely a combination of:

1. Continuing low or lower interest rates.
2. Willingness to live with more debt.
3. Household income being bolstered by greater participation in the income earning workforce.
4. Average wages growing faster than the CPI.

The last point is improbable seeing that wages and the CPI have a very stable relationship, while the other points are not very likely.

Reproduced with kind permission from Macrobusiness.

Interest rates and corporate profits

Low interest rates clearly boost corporate profits. The inverse relationship is evident from the strong profits recorded in the 1950s, when corporate bond rates were lower than at present, and also the big hole in profits in the 1980s, when interest rates spiked dramatically during Paul Volcker’s reign at the Fed.

Corporate Profits and AAA Bond Yields

The outlook for inflation is muted and the rise in interest rates likely to be gradual over several years, rather than a sharp spike, if the Fed has its way.