The market is going great so no need to worry, right?

The market is going great so no need to worry, right?


There are weeks when sitting down to write this piece is tough because not much worthy of note has happened in the markets or the economy outside of the usual noise. This week, that was most definitely not the case. Thank God it is Friday – we all need a break.


New Market Highs and the Economy Gets Uglier

Thursday the S&P 500 closed at a new all-time high and is now above its 50-day, 100-day and 200-day moving averages. The post Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting debrief gave the market essentially what it wanted, a significantly more dovish stance with plenty of reasons to believe future rate cuts are imminent. Perhaps the Marty Zweig adage, “Don’t fight the Fed,” has been flipped on its head to “Fed, don’t fight the markets.” Unemployment is at multi-decade lows with more job openings than unemployed persons, rising hourly earnings, and improving retail sales while the market hits all-time highs and yet the Fed is preparing to stimulate. Yeah, something’s off here.

Stocks may be partying like it is 1999 (for those who remember that far back) but the yield on the 10-year closed at 2.01% Thursday. To put that in context, on June 9th when the 10-year was down to 2.09%, the Wall Street Journal ran an article asserting that, “Almost nobody saw the nosedive in bond yields coming, but a few players were positioned well enough to profit. Some think there is more room for yields to fall further,” along with this chart. To be clear, despite not one respondent predicting the yield on the 10-year would fall below 2.5% in 2019, none of these economists are idiots, but the thing is they all tend to read from the same playbook.

The stock market is giddy over its expectations for lower rates, yet the spread between the 3-month and the 10-year Treasury has been inverted for four weeks as of this writing, not exactly a ringing endorsement for economic growth prospects. Every time this curve has been inverted for 4 consecutive weeks, it has been followed by a recession (hat tip @Saxena_Puru) for this chart. Note that the chart uses 10-year versus 1-year until the 3-month became available in 1982. Much of the mainstream financial media and fin twit believe this time is different. Time will tell.

The red arrows denote 4 consecutive weeks of inversion and the blue arrows mark bear-market lows (20% declines).

Then there is this, with a hat tip to Sven Henrich whose tweet with a chart from Fed went viral – that in and of itself says a lot.

Both US imports and exports have declined from double-digit growth in 3Q 2018 to essentially flat today. The recent CFO Outlook by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business found that optimism about the US and about their own companies amongst CFO’s had fallen from the prior year.

The shipments of goods being moved around the country have plummeted since the beginning of 2018, as shown by the Cass Freight Index.

The Morgan Stanley Business Conditions Index fell 32 points in June, the largest one-month decline in its history.

If all that doesn’t have your attention, consider that the New York Fed’s recession probability model puts the probability that we are in a recession by May 2020 at 30%. Note that going back to 1961, whenever the probability has risen to this level we have either already been in a recession or shortly entered one with the exception of 1967 – 7 out of 8 times.

But hey, the market is going great so no need to worry right? If that’s what you are thinking, skip this next chart from @OddStats.


Geopolitics – From Bad to Oh No, No No

Brinksmanship with Iran continues as in the early hours of Friday we learned that the US planned a military strike against Iran in response to the shooting down of an American reconnaissance drone. The mission was called off at the last minute after the President learned that an estimated 150 people would likely have been killed. Frankly, the official story sounds a bit off, but what we do know is that we are in dangerous territory and one can only hope that some cooler heads prevail, and the situation gets dialed back a whole heck of a lot.

Given we weren’t enjoying enough nail-biting out of the Middle East news, an independent United Nations human rights expert investigating the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is in a 101-page report recommending an investigation into the possible role of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam citing “credible evidence,” and while not specifically assigning blame to bin Salam, did assign responsibility to the Saudi government. This week the US Senate voted to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, rebuking the President’s decision to use an emergency declaration to move the deal forward. This matters when it comes to investing because there are some seriously high-stakes games being played out that have the potential to suddenly rock markets without any warning.

Over in Europe more and more data points pointing to a slowing economy, which led to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to announce that more stimulus could be in the works if inflation fails to accelerate. At the ECB’s annual conference in Sintra, Portugal Draghi stated that, “In the absence of improvement, such that the sustained return of inflation to our aim is threatened, additional stimulus will be required.” It isn’t just inflation that is troubling the region. Euro Area Industrial Production (ex Construction) has only seen increases in 2 of the last 11 months.

Italy continues to struggle with its budget deficit outside the limits allowed by the European Union, leading to a battle between Rome and Brussels. Friday Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (head of the euro-skeptic Lega party) threatened to quit his position if he is not able to push through tax cuts for at least €10 billion. While the US has been laser-focused on the Fed (and the president’s tweets) the Italian situation is getting more tense and a time when UK leadership with respect to Brexit is also getting a lot more tense. To put the Italian problem in perspective and understand why this problem is not going away, look at the chart below.

Today, Italy’s per capita GDP is 2.8% BELOW where it was in 2000 while Germany is 24.8% higher. Even the beleaguered Greece has outperformed Italy. Italy’s debt level is material to the rest of the world, its economy is material to the European Union, its citizens are losing their patience and its leadership consists of a tenuous partnership between a far-right, fascist-leaning Lega and a far-left, communist(ish) 5 Star movement lead by folks that very few in the nation respect. So that’s going well.

As if the European Union didn’t have enough to worry about as its new parliament struggles to find any sort of direction or agreement on leadership, the parliamentary process for selecting the next Prime Minister of the UK is down to two finalists. Enthusiam is rampant.

A hard Brexit is looking more likely and that is not going to be smooth sailing for anyone.


The Bottom Line

All this is a lot to take in, but there is a bright light for the week. Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief and eternal trend-setter, has given flip-flops her seal of approval. So, we’ve got that going for us. If that didn’t put a little spring into your step, I suggest you check out this twitter feed from Paul Bronks. Your soon-to-be more swimsuit ready abs will thank me, but your neighbors will wonder what the hell is going on at your place.

Improving Data? Income or Tax Receipts

Improving Data? Income or Tax Receipts

This morning we learned that Real Disposable Personal Income rose at the fastest month-over-month rate since April 2015, up 0.6 percent.

Looking at a year-over-year basis, real Disposable Personal Income rose at the fastest rate since October 2016. That growth in income however, didn’t translate into spending with Personal Consumption Expenditures nearly flat, with an increase of just 0.055 percent on a month-over-month basis.

On a year-over-year basis, May’s spending was up 4.2 percent, although the rate of increase has been slowing since March.

 

Rising income levels are supported as well by recent comments we’ve seen.

“Labor, we continue to see some pretty good inflationary pressure…there’s 3% to 4% wage inflation in our labor number, right now; we’re able to offset some of that with productivity enhancements. But labor continues to be something that we’re focused on” —Darden CEO Gene Lee (Restaurants)

This is consistent with the Consumer Confidence data we’ve been seeing that show strong sentiment for Current Conditions, but Expectations have been trending down significantly. Folks feel pretty good about their situation today, which makes sense if incomes are rising at a faster rather, but aren’t too confident in the future, which would reasonably result in less spending and more saving.

Looking at federal tax receipts gives us a different image and shows an economy in no way accelerating, which is consistent with much of the data we have been discussing recently, but contrasts with today’s income data. In fact, individual income taxes on are track to drop by 0.2 percent of GDP this year.

Back to the positive side, the recent Cass Freight Index Report gives us cause for optimism. Cass shows that both Shipment and Expenditures have been positive for five consecutive months and even more importantly, look to be accelerating. This index had been in negative territory for 20 months, breaking out back in last October, making it one of the first indicators that a recovery in freight had begun.

If we look at the typical trends during a year, 2017 is shaping up to look pretty good as well.

This more optimistic view is supported by the Baltic Dry Index.

However, we do have some concerns when we look at the Index today. After having moved up since February 2016, with a few bumps along the road, we now see the 50-day moving average has turned negative and the 200-day moving average looks to be flatlining. The 50-day had turned negative earlier this year, then reverted, but this is the first time we’ve seen the 200-day flatlining since the start of this uptick, which could indicate a material change in direction. This could then be reflected later in the Cash Freight as this index revealed an upturn prior to Cass and could be foreshadowing a directional change again.

Bottom Line: Consumers feel good about today which makes sense with improving incomes. They are nervous about the future though, so spending isn’t keeping up with incomes. When we look at other data coming in, we see that businesses have excessive levels of inventory on hand, which is more problematic when spending declines. How long can transports look good when businesses have too much inventory and consumers are spending less? 

Taking a step back we recall that 1.5 million baby boomers are hitting 70 every year for the next 15 years and most don’t have enough in savings and on top of that, Millenials are saddled with record levels of student loan debt.