At 17-years-old, Donald Trump was named a captain for his senior year at a military boarding school. Spending five years at New York Military Academy, the school taught Trump to channel his aggression into achievement.
Under the Trump budget, almost every budget increase goes to military departments, 10% increase Y/Y in the budget for military spending. It’s not a rocket science to figure out Trump madly loves force.
Even Trump’s Secretary of Defense loves force. Mad Dog James Mattis once said, “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”
At his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said, “My belief is that we have to stay focused on the military that is so lethal that on the battlefield, it is the enemy’s longest day and worst day when they run into that force.”
Then there came 59 Tomahawk missiles to military bases in Syria and “Mother of All Bombs” on Daesh tunnels in Afghanistan. All of those came during the heightened tensions with North Korea.
War is Good for the Cold-Hearted Stock Market
North Korea acting out is a good thing for America. War throughout the history has made us united. Not to mention that the stock market goes up.
As you can see in figure 2, the stock market barely reacted to the recent U.S. military actions that Trump gave a green light to.
As a trader and investor, I wouldn’t be concerned about the potential war with North Korea. (Although I would be concerned about the loss of human lives and loss of limbs.)
In early 2013, there were increased tensions with North Korea, similar to today. At the time, the stock market did not give a damn about the threats from DPRK.
Not only does the stock market not care about North Korea, but also for any other war in the past century. War is good for the cold-hearted stock market.
Over the past 4 decades, Dow Industrials on average was turned on by U.S.-led military operations, returning 4% in a month after the beginning of military operations and more afterward.
Recent Three Wars
When the U.S., with support from allies, started bombing against Taliban forces in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the stock market went up, not down. Even after 12 days later when the first wave of conventional ground forces arrived, the stock market kept going up. By the year-end when Taliban collapsed, S&P 500 was up about 14.5%.
When the U.S. began the major combat operations in Iraq on March 20, 2003, the stock market skyrocketed as shown in the candlestick bar on the highlighted portion of S&P 500 Weekly chart in figure 6 below. By the time the operations ended on May 1, the stock market was up about 11.5%.
The only difference this time is we got leaders who very much loves forces and are violent themselves. Another difference is that North Korea is little powerful today than they were in 2013. But they are very weak compared to China, Russia, Europe, and U.S. It’s better to act now before North Korea gets even stronger. Although lives and limbs will be lost, I think there’s a greater cost if we allow North Korea to get even stronger.
China and North Korea
With China possibly increasingly going against North Korea, Kim Jong-un might act even more violent. I don’t think China really wants to break off its relationship DPKR due to the geographic proximity and China’s willingness to make more friends in the region. Besides being a military and diplomatic ally, China is also an economic ally. In 2015, the second largest economy accounted for 83%, or $2.34 billion, of the North Korea’s exports.
In late February, China sanctioned coal shipments from North Korea, who is a significant supplier of coal. Instead, China has been ordering the coal from the U.S. In the past, Trump said he wants to help the country’s struggling coal sector.
As Reuters reported, Thomson Reuters Eikon data shows “no U.S. coking coal was exported to China between late 2014 and 2016, but shipments soared to over 400,000 tonnes by late February.”
Is China having a change of heart on its relationship with North Korea? I don’t think as China’s trade with North Korea still increased by almost 40% in the first quarter of this year. China also buys other stuff, such as minerals and seafood. Looks like China wants to be on the good side of North Korea and Trump. The Art of the Deal.
Is this time is also different when it comes to the stock market? I don’t believe so. I’m not worried about the negative impact on the stock market due to North Korea, even though they were to be invaded.
However, I’m watching very cautiously China and Russia getting into an armed conflict with the U.S because of the North Korea situation. Armed conflict between the superpowers is a game changer. Although that’s very unlikely as superpowers argue all the time.
Suggestion For Your Portfolio
The situations might affect the markets for a very short period of time, especially if there’s uncertainty. But investors shouldn’t worry about it. The market could care less about a war, specifically when it’s aboard.
During the times of war, don’t reduce your holdings because of misconception war is bad. If you do, you will miss the gains.
These tweets, as you can guess – sent the shares of Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), which is the supplier of F-35 program, and Boeing (NYSE: BA) – down. From both tweets, Lockheed Martin lost billions in market cap. The rival Boeing was barely unchanged at the end, as it means more opportunities for them to gain more contracts.
However, Trump targeted Boeing in earlier December when he tweeted this;
Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!
Trump’s tweets are just awesome. The volatility it brings allows me to make more money than the non-volatility. As I mentioned in my previous article, I recently opened RobinHood account, broker with $0 commissions. Using the broker in the future, I’m planning to buy some shares of the companies Trump negatively targets, especially if investors overreact.
Since it seems Trump has a strong hatred towards Mexico and the U.S. companies working there, here are the potential targets;
Algos have yet to incorporate Trump’s tweets into their codes. It’s not that simple yet as it can be difficult to determine the sentiment from a tweet. Algos can easily get the direction of the stock wrong. We need more tweets to better analyze it.
But, will the future tweets move the markets or not? It all depends on how successful Trump is in implementing what he tweets. If Trump is unable to do so, he will just lose credibility.
Meanwhile, markets will react to the tweets and I plan to take advantage of them.
Note: Also posted on Seeking Alpha. It can be found here.
April FOMC Meeting Minutes: “It likely would be appropriate for the Committee to increase the target range for the federal funds rate in June.”
Last Friday: 38K jobs created in May, the fewest since September 2010. Way way lower than 123K jobs gained (that number is revised….hold your breath) in April. Way way lower than 159K gain expected.
Labor market was seriously injured in May. The United States added only 38,000 new jobs, the fewest in almost six years. Things get worse. Prior two months reading were revised lower by 59,000. There were 123,000 jobs added in April down from initial estimate of 160,000. Nonfarm payroll for March was revised to 186,000 from 208,000.
Yet, unemployment rate surprisingly dropped by 0.3% to 4.7%, the lowest since November 2007. Hold on a second. How can unemployment rate drop so much if employment decreased so much? More people left the labor force, as confidence in the labor market is cooling down.
The labor force participation rate decreased by 0.2% to 62.6%, near 38-year low, unwinding about two-thirds of the rise between last September and March. A record 94,708,000 Americans were not in the labor force in May, 664,000 more than in April.
The report has evaporated the chance of a rate-hike this month from the Federal Reserve. Before the report, the federal funds futures were pricing in 55% chance of a rate-hike. Now, that is less than 5%.
The next probable rate-hike prediction is December. As I mentioned in early January, the Federal Reserve will lower back rates this year. Let’s dig deep into the jobs report.
About 35,000 job losses can be connected to a 45-day Verizon strike, which began on April 13. The workers returned to work on Wednesday, June 1st, after unions reached a deal with the telecommunications company on compensation and job security.
Since they were not working and was on a strike, they were counted as unemployed. Without the “Verizon strike effect,” May nonfarm payroll would have shown 73,000 gain, still way below from the prior month and expectations.
Information services employment, which Verizon workers would fall under, declined by 34,000 jobs in May, the first decline since November 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) even highlighted the impact of the strike, “employment in information decreased due to a strike.” “About 35,000 workers in the telecommunications industry were on strike and not on company payrolls during the survey reference period,” said BLS in the report.
This is not the first time Verizon workers went on a strike. In both 2000 and 2011, information services employment dropped as Verizon workers demanded more benefits. The month after the strikes, the sector’s employment numbers rebounded.
These 35,000 Verizon workers will be added back to the June’s nonfarm payrolls.
The agreement between the unions and the company gives Verizon workers 10.9% increase in pay over four years (contract expired on August 3, 2019), as well as other benefits. That pay raise is way more than stagnant wages across the country.
Average hourly earnings rose by 5 cents (0.2%) to $25.59, following 9 cents (0.4%) increase in April. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the wage growth was flat for two months, growing by 2.5%.
Unemployment at 4.6% is within the range the Fed considers “full employment.” The average unemployment rate from 1948 (oldest data I could find) to last month is 5.8%. This leads me to believe the unemployment rate is below its natural rate, 5.8%. Then, why is not inflation higher?
According to Phillips curve, inflation should be higher. Inflation has been hovering around 0% and 1% since the end of 2014. So, why is the Phillips curve not really working?
If there’s a recession later this year or next year (as some people are forecasting) and the inflation rate is the same as now, we will have a deflationary problem. This time, the deflationary problem will be much worse than they were before. At this time, I am not forecasting anything on recession. If there is one, it will be very interesting how the central banks react to the deflationary pressures, considering the fact that they are running out of ammunition.
I believe Phillips curve is not really working today due to unemployment engineering (like companies do with non-GAAP) and globalization. Workers should not be counted as unemployed because they didn’t look for work in the past four weeks. Instead, it should be three months or more. It gives them more time to think and flush out their savings, if they even have one. Such discouraged workers should be included in the calculation process of unemployment.
Mostly important, globalization has played a big part in the crisis of Phillips curve. Since the financial crisis and light-speed innovation of technology, many companies found ways and more ways to reduce the costs. Since they are battling for customers, they are reducing their prices, keeping inflation low. The trade agreement, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will keep or even lower inflation further.
The countries included in TPP (China is excluded) account for 36.2% of global economic output and 25.6% for world trade. By eliminating taxes on exports, companies with intense competition, will reduce their prices further. For example, TPP eliminates import taxes up to 70% on U.S. automotive product exports to TPP countries.
The prices of drugs, on the hand other, will continue to increase. TPP increases the protection of drug patents and copyrights, reducing the availability of cheap generics.
Back to the jobs report. Private sector added only 25,000 jobs, the fewest since February 2010. April’s private sector gain was revised down to 130,000 from 171,000. March’s gain was slightly revised down to 167,000 from 184,000. Constructions payrolls dropped by 15,000, the most since December 2013 and the second consecutive month of decline.
The goods producing sector, which includes mining, manufacturing, and construction, shed 36,000 jobs, the most since February 2010. Mining employment continued its downward trend as plunging oil prices penetrated the operations of energy companies, shedding 10,000 jobs in May. Mining employment have dropped by 207,000 since peaking in September 2014, with three-quarters of the losses in support activities.
Temporary-help service jobs shrank by 21,000 and are down by 64,000 so far this year.
Retail employment rose 11,400 (Shopping for summer?) after losing jobs in April for the first time since December 2014. Health care added the most jobs, with 45,700. Over the year, health care jobs jumped by 487,000 (Thanks, Obamacare?).
Diffusion index – which measures the breadth of employment across the private sector – collapsed to 51.3%, the lowest since February 2010. A reading of 50 represents that as many industries gained employment as lost employment. If it’s 0, employment of all industries decreased. If it’s 100, employment of all industries increased. That is down from 53.8% in April and 56.3% in March and from the recent peak of 71.2% in November 2014.
Further, the number of people employed for part time for economic reasons (involuntary part-time workers), climbed by 468,000 to 6.4 million, the highest since August and the largest jump since September 2012. This level, in addition to other numbers above, suggests slack still in the labor market. It is still high by historical standards.
These workers are included in the alternative measures of underutilization (U-6) that remained unchanged at 9.7% in May.
There are nearly 1.9 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks, down from 2.1 million in April. It’s the lowest since July 2008, but is still high by historical standards.
Three-month average of total nonfarm is down to 116,000 from 181,000 in April. It’s the lowest since July 2012 and is down from 203,000 three-month average during he same period last year. The three-month average of total private is nosedived to 107,000 from 173,000 in April.
The Federal Open Market Committee will meet on June 14-15. They will keep rates on hold, unless they don’t listen to the market like in December. Again, I continue to believe the Fed will lower back rates this year.
The labor market remains in hospital with serious injuries.
Liquidity is the investor’s ability to buy and sell a security without significantly impacting its price. Lack of liquidity in a security can have its consequences. Post financial crisis regulations, such as Volcker Rule (Dodd-Frank), and Basel 3, has made it more expensive and more difficult for banks to store bonds in their inventories and facilitate trades for investors. Regulations designed to make the system more safer have depressed the trading activity.
Lack of supply is one cause for diminishing liquidity. Banks, the dealers of corporate bonds, have reduced their inventories. According to Bank for International Settlements (BIS), “Market participants have raised concerns that regulatory reforms, by raising the costs of warehousing assets, have contributed to reducing market liquidity and could be keeping banks from acting as shock absorbers during periods of market stress.”
According to BIS, “US primary dealers…have continued to reduce their corporate bond inventories over the past years. Since the beginning of the year 2013, they have cut back their net positions in U.S. Treasuries by nearly 80%.
Another big cause of decreasing in liquidity is technology. A technology that has changed the structure of markets, high-frequency trading (HFT), an algorithm computer trading in seconds and in fractions of seconds, account for much larger share of the trading transactions and it leads to low liquidity. Majority of HFTs, if not all, reduces liquidity by pairing selected (self-interest), leaving out others. According to BIS, 70% of U.S. Treasury trading is done electronically, up from 60% in 2012. For both high-yield bonds (not highly liquid asset), it accounts for more than 20%. About 90% of transactions on bond futures take place electronically. I have no doubt electronic trading will continue to increase.
“Greater use of electronic trading and enhanced transparency in fixed income markets typically comes at the cost of greater price impact from large trades.”, BIS said in the report. Bonds now trade in smaller transaction sizes than they did before, “… large trades seem less suitable for trading on electronic platforms because prices move quickly against participants who enter large orders due to the transparency of the market infrastructure.” “It “discourages market-makers from accommodating large trades if they fear that they cannot unwind their positions without risking a sizeable impact on prices.”
BIS in its quarterly review report (March 2015) stated (source: FINRA’s TRACE data), the average transaction size of large trades of U.S. investment grade corporate bonds (so-called “block trades”) declined from more than $25 million in 2006 to about $15 million in 2013.
This is a sign of illiquidity since “trading large amounts of corporate bonds has become more difficult.” Trades facing constrained liquidity puts investors, especially large investors, to a disadvantage.
Capacity to buy/sell without too much influence on the market prices are deteriorating. Lack of liquidity can causes wild swings in the bond prices, which then can affect the rest of the financial markets. Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.
They are connected, but let me tell you why they are so important. The U.S Treasury securities market is the largest, the most liquid, and the most active debt market in the world. They are used to finance the government, and used by the Federal Reserve in implementing its monetary policy. I repeat, in implementing its monetary policy. Having a liquid market – in which having no problem buying and selling securities without affecting the market price – is very important to the market participants and policymakers alike.
Examples of high volatility in a low liquidity:
Flash Crash (May 2010)
In a matter of 30 minutes, major U.S. stock indices fell 10%, only to recover most of the losses before the end of the trading day. Some blue-chip shares briefly traded at pennies. WHAT A SALE! According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report, before 2:32 p.m., volatility was unusually high and liquidity was thinning, a mutual-fund group entered a large sell order (valued at approximately $4.1 billion) in “E-mini” futures on the S&P 500 Index. The large trade was made by an algorithm. The “algo” was programmed to take account of trading volume, with little regard, or no regard at all, to the price nor time. Since the volatility was already high during that time and volume was increasing, this sell trade was executed in just 20 minutes, instead of several hours that would be typical for such an order, 75,000 E-mini contracts (again, valued at approximately $4.1 billion).
According to the report, this sell pressure was initially absorbed by HFTs, buying E-mini contracts. However, minutes after the execution of the sell order, HFTs “aggressively” reduced their long positions. The increase in the volume again led the mutual-fund group “algo” to increase “the rate at which it was feeding the orders into the markets”, creating what’s known as a negative feedback loop. That’s the power of HFTs.
This was nearly 6 years ago. Today, there’s no doubt the power of the secretive section of the financial markets, HFTs, are much stronger and powerful and can destroy the markets with “one finger”.
With low liquidity in the bond market and increasing HFT transactions in it, the threat is real. Automated trades can trigger extreme price swings and the communication in these automated trades can quickly erode liquidity before you even know it, even though there is a very high volume. While liquidity in the U.S. bond market is high, it’s not high enough to battle the power of the technological progress.
Let’s not forget. Fixed-income assets such as, corporate bonds, are often traded over the counter in illiquid markets, not in more liquid exchanges, as stocks are.
It’s all about profits. Some, if not all HFTs, act the way they do, to make profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, the creators of the algorithms have to be ethical and responsible. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon since profits are the main goal (mine too) in the financial markets. So why should HFT “be fair” to others? I know I wouldn’t.
Taper Tantrum (2013 Summer)
In the summer of 2013, the former Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, hinted an end to the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities (taper off, or slow down its Quantitative Easing), which sent the financial markets, including the bond market into a tailspin.
On June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke during a press conference said, “the Committee currently anticipates that it would be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year.” That sentence alone started the financial market roller coaster.
Yields skyrocketed. The gravity took down the value of greenback (U.S. Dollar). U.S. long-term interest rates shot up by 100 basis points (1%). Even short-term interest rate markets saw the rate-hike to come sooner than the Fed policymakers suggested. Borrowings costs increased so much, as the markets was expecting tightening of the monetary policy, it “locked up” the Fed from cutting the pace of bond buying that year.
This raises (or raised) whatever the market prices can handle orders that are executed in milliseconds. It points to a lack of supply (dealer inventories), A.K.A illiquidity. I feel bad for funds that have a lot of corporate-bonds in their portfolio. The struggle is real.
An open-ended funds that allow investors to exit overnight are more likely to experience a run, as market volatility increases. A run on funds will force the funds to sell illiquid assets, which can push down the prices lower and lower. Recently example of that is the Third Avenue (“investors’ money are being held hostage”).
Brace for a fire sale. Coming soon in your area.
Market makers, where are you? Come back. I need to sell the investments at a current price, before it goes much lower.
October 15, 2014
The financial markets experienced – as the U.S. Department of the Treasury puts it – “an unusually high level of volatility and a very rapid round-trip in prices. Although trading volumes were high and the market continued to function, liquidity conditions became significantly strained.”
On October 15, 2014, the markets went into a tailspin again. The Dow plummeted 460 points, only to recover most of the losses. The Nasdaq briefly fell into a correction territory, only to rebound sharply. The 10-year Treasury yield “experienced a 37-basis-point trading range, only to close 6 basis points below its opening level”, according the U.S. Treasury Department report.
According to Nanex, a firm that offers real-time streaming data on the markets, between 9:33 A.M and 9:45 A.M, “liquidity evaporated in Treasury futures and prices skyrocketed (causing yields to plummet). Five minutes later, prices returned to 9:33 levels.” “Treasury futures were so active, they pushed overall trade counts on the CME to a new record high.”, said the report.
“Note how liquidity just plummets.”
Again, as I said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.” The mayhem in in the bond market can spread to the foreign exchange (forex) market.
These types of occurrences are becoming common, or the “new normal”. As the Fed raises rates, the market participants will be adjusting their portfolio and/or will adjust them ahead of it (expectations), these adjustments will force another market volatility. But this time, I believe it will be much worse, as liquidity continues to dry up and technology progresses.
Recent market crashes and volatility, including the August 2015 ETF blackout, is just another example of increasing illiquidity in the markets. Hiccups in the markets will get bigger and will become common. Illiquidity is the New Normal.
Hello HFTs, how are you doing? Making $$$? Cool.
With interest rates around 0 (well, before the rate-hike in December), U.S. companies have rushed to issue debt. With the recent rate-hike by the Fed, U.S. corporate bond market will experience more volatility. Lower and diminishing liquidity will “manufacture” a volatility to a record levels that the financial markets and the economy won’t be able to cope with it. As said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.”, the corporate bond market volatility will spread to the rest of the financial markets.
One huge risk that I will not address here, but will address in a future article is “lack of liquidity”. While I was doing research, I came across more information that I expected. I’m still getting more information and I believe it will be a great article. I will give a sneak peek of the article in the bottom of this article.
Earlier last month (December 10, 2015), Third Avenue’s Focused Credit Fund (FCF), a large mutual fund specializing in risky, high-yielding bonds, announced it would block investor redemptions, “no further subscriptions or redemptions will be accepted.” In mid-2014, they had $3.5 billion assets under management (AUM). As of December 31, 2015, they only had AUM of $660.67 million, as investors rushed to get their money back because of weakness in the junk bond market.
Now, investors’ money are being held hostage. “The remaining assets have been placed in a liquidating trust”, said David Barse, CEO of the firm, as the investor requests for redemptions and the “general reduction of liquidity in the fixed income markets” made it impossible for the fund to “create sufficient cash to pay anticipated redemptions without resorting to sales at prices that would unfairly disadvantage the remaining shareholders.”
The process is a pain in the ass, “Third Avenue anticipates that the full liquidation process may take up to a year or more.” Again, investors’ money are being held hostage.
This events highlights the danger of “over-investments” into risky areas, high levels of corporate debt, AND the lack of liquidity (will be addressed in a future article). With interest rates hovering around 0 (well, before the rate-hike in December), U.S. companies have rushed to issue debt.
Investors who poses a higher risk appétit can find junk bonds, yielding higher interest rates, to be “useful” for their style and capacity of investment. More rewards for more risks, right?
As the global economy continues to struggle, namely China and emerging markets, yield on junk bonds have been increasing since they are a higher chance of defaulting.
Rising interest rates adversely impact bond prices, pushing their yield of the bond higher (inverse relationship). While increase in rates does not largely affect junk bonds since they have a higher coupon (yield) and shorter maturities (shorter maturity means less price sensitivity to rates), current junk bond market combined the impacts of a stronger dollar and low commodity prices can be extremely adverse and dangerous.
High-yield debt yields, as represented by Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Effective Yield, have been increasing since mid of last year. It rose from 5.16% (June 23, 2014) to current 9.23%. That’s whopping 78.88% increase, representing the growing risks of junk bond market.
According to Lipper, investors pulled out a total $13.88 billion from high-yield funds in 2015, with $6.29 billion in December alone. As redemptions increase, funds may suffer as high-yields are harder to trade due to its lack of liquidity (will talk more about the major risk of illiquidity in a future article) and funds may have to take an action like the Third Avenue did.
Credit spreads (difference in yield between two bonds of similar maturity but different credit quality) are widening, which possibly signals a wider economic trouble ahead. Widening credit spreads mark growing concerns about the ability of borrowers to service their debt. Not only borrowers will suffer, but also lenders since they lost money.
BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Option-Adjusted Spread, representing the credit spread of the high yield bond market as a whole, have been increasing the middle of 2014. It’s currently at 775 (7.75%) basis points (bps).
BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Option-Adjusted Spread is currently 1,804bps wide (18.04), a level of highly distressed territory. Credits are defined as distressed when they are trading more than 1,000bps (10%) wide.
I believe it will continue to increase this year, reflecting the worsening of the credit conditions that would cause greater concern among investors and policymakers (Hi, Ms. Yellen. Time to reverse the policy?)
iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG), an index composed of U.S. dollar-denominated, high yield corporate bonds, is already down 1.39% year-to-date (YTD) and was down 10.58% in 2015, expressing the increasing uncertainty by the investors, as they pull back their money from high-yielding bonds/ETFs. The exposure of the index to CCC rated bonds, B rated bonds, and BB rated bonds, are 8.88%, 38.73%, and 50.25%, respectively. Stronger U.S. dollar and lower commodity prices are expected (and it will) to hurt the earnings of U.S. companies, increasing the chances of defaults, especially in energy.
The index’s energy exposure is 9.38%. Recently oil prices plunged to levels under $30. Energy companies borrowed a lot of debt during oil price boom, to increase production (so that they can gain more market share), are now being haunted by their own actions. A lot of energy companies are currently under an extreme pressure to make a dime, as oil prices plunge. According to law firm Haynes and Boone, 42 North American oil and gas producers filed for bankruptcy last year. Those 42 defaults account for approximately $17 billion in cumulative secured (over $9 billion) and unsecured debt (almost $8 billion).
Out of those 42 bankruptcy filings, 18 of them come from Texas, a leading state in energy production. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Texas had a capacity of over 5.1 million barrels of crude oil per day and accounted for 29% of total U.S. refining capacity, as of January 2015, and accounted for about 29% of U.S. gas production in 2014.
In 2014, Texas gross domestic product (GDP) increased 5.2% year-over-year (Y/Y), the second greatest change in state GDP after North Dakota. Mining industry accounted for 1.25% increase to GDP, its largest contributor. Texas’s GDP accounted for 9.5% of U.S. total GDP in 2014.
The collapse of energy prices over the past several years are “fracking” down the Texas economy. The Dallas Federal Reserve’s general business activity index “collapsed” to -34.6 in January, the lowest reading since April 2009, when Texas was in recession. Same with company outlook index, it fell to -19.5 in January from -10.5 in December.
The production index – a key measure of state manufacturing conditions – fell all the way from 12.7 in December to -10.2 in January. New orders index fell -9.2 in January from -7 in December.
Employment Index, on the other hand, sharply dropped to -4.2 in January from 10.9 in December. Texas is a home to many energy giants, such as Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB), Halliburton (NYSE: HAL), Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI), Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP). The companies slashed off tens of thousands of jobs over the past year and cut capex significantly, as the current stressed energy market heavily weighted on them.
In January 21, Schlumberger reported 38.7% decrease in fourth quarter revenue Y/Y, and net income declined substantially to a loss of $989 million, compared with profit of $317 million in the same period of 2014. Texas-based energy giant’s North American region 4th quarter revenue fell 54.79% to $1.9 billion from $4.3 billion in the same quarter of 2014. The company’s earnings announcement warned of a “deepening financial crisis in the E&P industry, and prompted customers to make further cuts to already significantly lower E&P investment levels. Customer budgets were also exhausted early in the quarter, leading to unscheduled and abrupt activity cancellations.” As a result of a weaker quarter and worsening conditions, they plan to lay off 10,000 workers, adding to already laid-off 34,000 workers, or 26% of its original workforce, since November 2014.
On Monday (January 25, 2016), Halliburton reported its fourth quarter earnings. Halliburton’s 4th quarter revenue fell 42% in Y/Y to $5.08 billion, including a 54.4% plunge to $2.1 billion in its North American region, which accounted for 42.4% of total revenue in 4Q. On a GAAP basis, the Texas-based energy giant (and another one) reported a quarterly net loss of $28 million ($0.03 per share) compared with net income of $9.01 million ($1.06 per share) in the fourth quarter of 2014.
On Thursday (January 28, 2016), Baker Hughes reported a 48.85% decrease in fourth quarter revenue to $3.4 billion from $6.6 billion in the same period of 2014. On GAAP basis, the Texas-based energy giant (and another one) reported a quarterly net loss of $1 billion ($2.35 per share) compared with net income of $663 million ($1.52 per share) in the fourth quarter of 2014. Its North American region revenue fell 65.59% to $1.14 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $3.30 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Chevron Corp., (NYSE: CVX), California-based energy giant, posted its first loss since the third quarter of 2002 on Friday (January 29, 2016). It reported a fourth quarter loss of $588 million ($0.31 per share), compared with $3.5 billion ($1.85 per share) in the same period of 2014. During the same period, its revenue fell 36.5% to $29.25 billion from $46.09 billion.
Below is a graph by EIA, showing how the cost of debt service for U.S. oil producers has grown since 2012. In the second quarter of 2015, more than 80% of these producers’ cash flow went to service their outstanding debt, leaving very little cash to fund operations, to pay dividends, and to invest for the future. To adjust to those pains, the producers have significantly reduced capital expenditures.
During the end of Q2 2015, oil prices were around $58. It’s currently at $38. Clearly, the situation has only gotten worse.
Both Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips will report its fourth quarter earnings next week.
I believe oil prices have hit bottom and it won’t break $27 this year.
I BELIEVE THE OIL HAS HIT BOTTOM. I'M GOING LONG!!!$CL_F
I believe the market already priced in Iran’s entry into oil war. Recently, hedge fund bearish bets on oil were at all-time high (crowded trade). Crowed trade includes: a large numbers of participants who share similar beliefs and heavy short-term bag holders (speculators). I tend to take advantage of this types of situations.
Not only bearish bets on oil are at all-time high and not only I believe Iran is already priced in, but some OPEC countries, including Nigeria and Venezuela, already started calling for emergency meetings to try to cut production. I’m starting to believe that they can no longer handle the pain. While this is a political game – to gain and preserve more market share – it won’t last long enough to get oil breaking below $27. They can no longer bluff.
For many OPEC members, operating costs are around $30. With slowing global growth, they can’t afford to have even lower oil prices.
Conclusion: Oil has hit bottom and it won’t break below $27 this year. If you disagree with me, feel free to comment below.
Speaking of junk bonds, the energy sector makes up about a fifth of the high-yield bond index. Fitch Ratings forecast the US high yield energy sector default rate to hit 11% this year, “eclipsing the 9.7% rate seen in 1999.”
According to Fitch Ratings, at the beginning of December of last year, “$98 billion of the high yield universe was bid below 50 cents, while $257 billion was bid below 80 cents. The battered energy and metals/mining sectors comprise 78% of the total bid below 50 cents. In addition, 53% percent of energy, metals/mining companies rated ‘B-‘ or lower were bid below 50 at the start of December, compared to 16% at the end of 2014, reflecting the decline in crude oil prices.”
The collapse in oil prices, strong U.S. dollar, and weakening global economy “crippled” manufacturers across the country. The Empire State manufacturing index fell to -19.4 in January from -6.2 in December, the lowest level since March 2009. The reading suggests manufacturing sector is slowing down and it raises questions about the outlook for the economy.
Manufacturing is very important to the U.S. economy. According to National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), there are 12.33 million manufacturing workers in the U.S., accounting for 9% of the nation’s workforce. Manufacturers recently contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy. “Taken alone, manufacturing in the United States would be the ninth-largest economy in the world.” according to NAM. For more facts and details, click here.
The manufacturing index have been below zero since July. Not only did the headline fell, but so did new orders index and shipments index. New orders fell 23.5 in January from -6.2 in December. Shipments fell -14.4 in January from 4.6 in December.
Slump in new orders can shift the production into lower gear and possibly jeopardize jobs. The employment (number of employees) index continued to deteriorate for a fifth consecutive month. The weaknesses in the Empire State indexes suggests that the earnings of manufacturers are under pressure.
According to FactSet, the S&P 500 is expected to report a Y/Y decline in earnings of 5.7% for the fourth quarter. For Q4 2015, the blended earnings decline is -5.8%. A Y/Y decline in earnings for the fourth quarter will mark the first time S&P 500 has reported three consecutive quarters of Y/Y declines in earnings since Q1 2009 through Q3 2009.
For Q1 2016, 33 companies out of S&P 500, so far, have issued negative EPS guidance and 6 companies have issued positive EPS guidance.
Another drag on earnings can be the current inventories to sales ratio. Since early 2012, the ratio has been increasing.
An increasing ratio is a negative sign because it shows companies may be having trouble keeping inventories down and/or sales have slowed. If they have too much of inventories, they may have to discount the products to clear their shelves, dragging on the earnings.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and/or leave comments below. Thank you.
Sneak peek of a future article that addresses one huge risk (lack of liquidity):
“With low liquidity in the bond market and increasing HFT transactions in it, the threat is real. Automated trades can trigger extreme price swings and the communication in these automated trades can quickly erode liquidity before you even know it, even though there is a very high volume. While liquidity in the U.S. bond market is high, it’s not high enough to battle the power of the technological progress.”
12….11…10…9….IGNITION SEQUENCE START….6….5….4….3….2….1….0….ALL ENGINES RUNNING….LIFTOFF….WE HAVE A LIFTOFF!
The Fed finally raised rates after nearly a decade. On December 16, the Fed decided to raise rates – for the first time since June 2006 – by 0.25%, or 25 basis points. It was widely expected by the markets and I only expected 10bps hike. Well, I was wrong on that.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) unanimously voted to set the new target range for the federal funds rate at 0.25% to 0.50%, up from 0% to 0.25%. In the statement, the policy makers judged the economy “has been expanding at a moderate pace.” Labor market had shown “further improvement.” Inflation, on the other hand, has continued to “run below Committee’s 2 percent longer-run objective” mainly due to low energy prices.
Remember when the Fed left rates unchanged in September? It was mainly due to low inflation. What’s the difference this time?
In September, the Fed clearly stated “…survey—based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.”
Now, the Fed clearly states “…some survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have edged down.”
So…umm…why did they raise rates this time?
Here is a statement comparison from October to December:
On the pace of rate hikes looking forward, the FOMC says:
In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. In light of the current shortfall of inflation from 2 percent, the Committee will carefully monitor actual and expected progress toward its inflation goal. The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run. However, the actual path of the federal funds rate will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
They clearly stated one of the things they look for, which is inflation expectations. But, they also did state that “inflation expectations have edged down.”
It seems to me that the Fed did not decide to raise rates. The markets forced them. Fed Funds Futures predicted about 80% chance of a rate-hike this month. If the Fed did not raise rates, they would have lost their credibility.
I believe the Fed will have to “land” (lower back) rates this year, for the following reasons:
Growing Monetary Policy Divergence
On December 3, European Central Bank (ECB) stepped up its stimulus efforts. The central bank decided to lower deposit rates by 0.10% to -0.30%. The purpose of lower deposit rates is to charge banks more to store excess reserves, which stimulates lending. In other words, free money for the people so they can spend more and save less.
ECB also decided to extend Quantitative Easing (QE) program. They will continue to buy 60 billion euros ($65 billion) worth of government bonds and other assets, but until March 2017, six months longer than previously planned, taking the total size to 1.5 trillion euros ($1.6 trillion), from the previous $1.2 trillion euros package size. During the press conference, ECB President Mario Draghi said the asset eligibility would be broadened to include regional and local debt and signaled QE program could be extended further if necessary.
ECB might be running out of ammunition. ECB extending its purchases to regional and local debt raises doubts about its program.
Not only ECB is going the opposite direction of the Fed. Three weeks ago, Bank of Japan (BoJ) announced a fresh round of new stimulus. The move was hardly significant, but it is still a new round of stimulus. The central bank decided to buy more exchange-traded fund (ETF), extend the maturity of bonds it owns to around 7-12 years from previously planned 7-10 years, and increase purchases of risky assets.
The extensions of its QE are beginning to become routine or the “new normal”.
The move by BoJ exposes the weakness of its past actions. It suggests the bank is also out of ammunition. Already owning 52% or more of the Japan’s ETF market and having a GDP-to-Debt ratio around 245%, it is only a matter of time before Japan’s market crashes. Cracks are already beginning to be shown. I expect the market crash anytime before the end of 2019.
So, what are the side-effects of these growing divergence?
For example, the impact of a US dollar appreciation resulting from a tightening in US monetary policy and the impact of a depreciation in other currencies resulting from easing in its monetary policies. Together, these price changes will shift global demand – away from goods and services produced here in the U.S. and toward those produced abroad. In others words, US goods and services become more expensive abroad, leading to substitution by goods and services in other countries. Thus, it will hurt the sales and profits of U.S. multinationals. To sum up everything that is said in this paragraph, higher U.S. rates relative to rates around the global harms U.S. competitiveness.
Emerging markets were trouble last year. It is about to get worse.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) decided to include China’s currency, renminbi (RMB) or Yuan, to its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket, a basket of reserve currencies. Effective October 1, 2016, the Chinese currency is determined to be “freely usable” and will be included as a fifth currency, along with the U.S. dollar, euro, Japanese yen, and pound sterling, in the SDR basket.
“Freely useable” – not so well defined, is it?
Chinese government or should I say People’s Bank Of China (PBOC), cannot keep its hands off the currency (yuan). It does not want to let market forces take control. They think they can do whatever they want. As time goes on, it is highly unlikely. As market forces take more and more control of its exchange-rate, it will be pushed down, due to weak economic fundamentals and weak outlook.
China, no need to put a wall to keep market forces out. Let the market forces determine the value of your currency. It is only a matter of time before they break down the wall.
In August, China changed the way they value their currency. PBOC, China’s central bank, said it will decide the yuan midpoint rate based on the previous day’s close. In daily trading, the yuan is allowed to move 2% above or below the midpoint rate, which is called the daily fixing. In the past, the central bank used to ignore the daily moves and do whatever they want. Their decision to make the midpoint more market-oriented is a step forward, but they still have a long way to go.
China saw a significant outflows last year. According to Institute of International Finance (IFF), an authoritative tracker of emerging market capital flows, China will post record capital outflows in 2015 of more than $500 billion. The world’s second largest economy is likely to see $150 billion in capital outflow in the fourth quarter of 2015, following the third quarter’s record $225 billion.
Ever since the devaluation in August, PBOC has intervened to prop yuan up. The cost of such intervention is getting expensive. The central bank must spend real money during the trading day to guide the yuan to the level the communists want. Where do they get the cash they need? FX reserves.
China’s foreign-exchange reserves, the world’s largest, declined from a peak of nearly $4 trillion in June 2014 to just below $3.5 trillion now, mainly due to PBOC’s selling of dollars to support yuan. In November, China’s FX (forex) reserves fell $87.2 billion to $3.44 trillion, the lowest since February 2013 and largest since a record monthly drop of $93.9 billion in August. It indicates a pick-up in capital outflows. This justifies increased expectations for yuan depreciation. Since the Fed raised rates last month, I would not be surprised if the capital flight flies higher, leading to a weaker yuan.
Depreciation of its currency translates into more problems for “outsiders,” including emerging markets (EM). EMs, particularly commodities-linked countries got hit hard last year as China slowed down and commodity prices slumped. EMs will continue to do so this year, 2016.
The anticipation of tightening in the U.S. and straightening dollar put a lot of pressure on EM. EM have seen a lot of significant capital outflows because they carry a lot of dollar denominated debt. According to the October report from IFF, net capital flows to EM was negative last year for the first time in 27 years (1988). Investors are estimated to pull $540 billion from developing markets in 2015. Foreign inflows will fall to $548 billion, about half of 2014 level and lower than levels recorded during the financial crisis in 2008. Foreign investor inflows probably fell to about 2% of GDP in emerging markets last year, down from a record of about 8% in 2007.
Also contributing to EM outflows are portfolio flows, “the signs are that outflows are coming from institutional investors as well as retail,” said Charles Collyns, IIF chief economist. Investors in equities and bonds are estimated to have withdrawn $40 billion in the third quarter, the worst quarterly figure since the fourth quarter of 2008.
A weaker yuan will make it harder for its main trading partners, emerging markets and Japan, to be competitive. This will lead to central banks of EM to further weaken their currencies. Japan will have no choice but to keep extending their QE program. And to Europe. And to the U.S. DOMINO EFFECT
Why are EMs so important? According to RBS Economics, EMs have accounted for 50%-60 of global output and 70% of global economic growth each year since the 2008 crisis.
Some EM investors, if not all, will flee as U.S. rates rise, compounding the economic pain there. Corporate debt in EM economies increased significantly over the past decade. According to IMF’s Global Financial Stability report, the corporate debt of non-financial firms across major EM economies increased from about $4 trillion in 2004 to well over $18 trillion in 2014.
When you add China’s debt with EM, the total debt is higher than the market capitalization. The average EM corporate debt-to-GDP ratio has also grown by 26% the same period.
The speed in the build-up of debt is distressing. According to Standard & Poor’s, corporate defaults in EM last year have hit their highest level since 2009, and are up 40% year-over-year (Y/Y).
According to IFF (article by WSJ), “companies and countries in EMs are due to repay almost $600 billion of debt maturing this year….of which $85 is dollar-denominated. Almost $300 billion of nonfinancial corporate debt will need to be refinanced this year.”
I would not be surprised if EM corporate debt meltdown triggers sovereign defaults. As yuan weakens, Japan will be forced to devalue their currency by introducing me QE which leaves EMs with no choice. EMs will be forced to devalue their currency. Devaluations in EM currencies will make it much harder (it already is) for EM corporate borrowers to service their debt denominated in foreign currencies, due to decline in their income streams. Deterioration of income leads to a capital flight, pushing down the value of the currency even more, which leads to much more capital flight.
“Firms that have borrowed the most stand to endure the sharpest rise in their debt-service costs once interest rates begin to rise in some advanced economies. Furthermore, local currency depreciations associated with rising policy rates in the advanced economies would make it increasingly difficult for emerging market firms to service their foreign currency-denominated debts if they are not hedged adequately. At the same time, lower commodity prices reduce the natural hedge of firms involved in this business.”
According to its Global Financial Stability report, EM companies have an estimated $3 trillion in “overborrowing” loans in the last decade, reflecting a quadrupling of private sector debt between 2004 and 2014.
Rising US rates and a strengthening dollar will make things much worse for EMs. Jose Vinals, financial counsellor and director of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, said in his October article, “Higher leverage of the private sector and greater exposure to global financial conditions have left firms more susceptible to economic downturns, and emerging markets to capital outflows and deteriorating credit quality.”
I believe currency war will only hit “F5” this year and corporate defaults will increase, leading to the early stage of sovereigns’ defaults. I would not be surprised if some companies gets a loan denominated in euros just to pay off the debt denominated in U.S dollars. That’s likely to make things worse.
Those are some of the risks I see that will force the Fed to lower back the rates. I will address more risks, including lack of liquidity, junk bonds, inventory, etc, in my next article. Thank you.
My finals at Baruch College are over. I’m back now. In this post, I will write about November jobs report. On the next post, I will be writing about the European Central Bank (ECB), the Fed and the risks for a rate increase.
On December 4, the United States Department of Labor reported November payroll numbers, which was stronger than expected. There was 211K jobs added in November, stronger than expected and the second consecutive month increase above 200K. Additionally, September and October payrolls were revised higher by 35K. September was revised higher from 137K to 145K (+8K) and November from 271K to 298K (+27K). Over the past 12 months, an average monthly job gain was 237K, little higher than the 224K average in the same period of 2014. Year-to-date, however, only 210K jobs were added every month on average, compared to 253K last year for the same period.
I believe this hiring pace is only temporary due to holidays. A lot of employers, especially large department retailers, are adding temporary or “seasonal” workers. Retail trade payrolls rose 31K as retailers ramped up seasonal hiring.
The unemployment remained at a April-2008 low of 5%. The labor-force participation rate ticked up 0.1% higher from 38-year (1977) low of 62.4% to 62.5%. In a typical business cycle, the labor-force participation rate rises when the economy is growing reboustly. While this participation rate ticked higher, we should not get our hopes up. It has been in a long-term decline since the financial crisis of 2008. One month of data is not enough.
One interesting thing to note is the U-6 unemployment rate, or the underemployment. It is a broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who aren’t looking for work and those who are working fewer hours than they wish. An individual with a master’s degree working as a bus driver is considered to be underemployed. U-6 ticked up to 9.9% in November from 9.8% in October, but down from 11.4% a year ago. If it increases again in December, I look that as a sign that the economy is about to get worse. If it continues to increase and increase, the economy is headed for a trouble.
Average hourly earnings rose by 4 cents, or 0.2% to $25.25, following a 9-cent gain in October. Half of the monthly gain in November compared to October, pulled down the annual rate down from 2.5% to 2.3%. Average weekly hours worked fell 0.1 hours from 34.6 to 34.5.
“…wage growth might suggest that employers are having trouble finding new workers (should I say “skilled” workers) and they have to pay more to keep its workers and/or to get new skilled workers. This could draw more people back into the labor market, increasing the participation rate. Without the right skills, good luck.”
“Without the right skills, good luck.” Any escalation in minimum wages will cause more students to drop out to work at “no-skill needed” and/or “low-skill needed” places.
Young people should not drop out just to work at Mcdonald, Costco, etc, as a “minimum wage” employee. They need skills. Skills that will be very useful for their future. Not flipping burger skills.
You see the red line on a graph above? That’s the unemployment rate for 16-19 years old in the past two decades. The lower the education attainment, the higher the unemployment rate.
Don’t forget the threat of technology. Do not underestimate the power of technology. McDonald has already rolled out and are rolling out self-service kiosks in restaurants. In other words, replace the “minimum-wage” employees with technology.
While this is a strong jobs report again, it is time to change. Holiday season is nearing its end. Technology continues to destroy more jobs than it is creating. Back to “normal” jobs report and “poor” jobs report series, starting next month.
The total job gains for August and September were revised 12,000 higher. August was revised 17K higher to 153K from 136k, and September was revised -5K lower to 137K from 142K. Over the last 12 months, employment growth had averaged 230K per month, vs. 222K in the same-period of 2014. In 2014, average monthly payrolls was 260K. This year, it is 206K. Not only jobs gains for October were strong, but also unemployment and wages.
The unemployment rate dipped 0.1% to 5%, its lowest level since April 2008. Average hourly earnings rose by 9 cents an hour to $25.20. It rose 2.5% year-over-year (Y/Y), the best level since July 2009. For most of the “recovery”, wages has been flat. The increase in earnings is significant for two reasons. More money for employees means more spending (don’t forget debts), which accounts two-thirds of the economy. Second, wage growth might suggest that employers are having trouble finding new workers (should I say “skilled” workers) and they have to pay more to keep its workers and/or to get new skilled workers. This could draw more people back into the labor market, increasing the participation rate. Without the right skills, good luck.
The labor force participation rate remained unchanged at a 38-year (1977) low of 62.4%. The long-term decline in the participation rate is due to the aging of the baby-boom generation and loss of confidence in the jobs market. There hasn’t even been a rebound in participation rate of prime-age Americans (between the ages of 25 and 54).
More than 122 million Americans had full-time jobs at the end of October, the highest since December 2007 (121.6 million).
Immediately after the jobs report, the probability of a rate-hike in December lifted. Fed funds futures currently anticipates about 65% chance of a rate hike next month vs. about 72% immediately after the report and about 55% before the report.
Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, lately has been saying that December’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting was “live” for a potential rate-hike. While this jobs report is positive, I believe it is too early to jump in on conclusions.
The policymakers should not be too quick to act on one report. In September, the Fed left rates unchanged mainly due to a low inflation. Inflation is still low and we will get a fresh look on Tuesday (November 17) when Consumer Price Index (CPI) is released.
Right after the jobs report, the dollar skyrocketed and was 40 cents away from hitting $100 mark. It’s currently at $98.88 and there is a very high chance it will go above $100 until December 15, the first day of FOMC meeting.
If the November job numbers does not surprise to the upside (released in December 4), inflation stays low, and the dollar keeps strengthening, I do not believe the Fed will hit the “launch” button for a rate-hike liftoff.
On October 22 (Thursday), European Central Bank (ECB) left rates unchanged, with interests on the main refinancing operations, marginal lending, and deposit rate at 0.05%, 0.30% and -0.20, respectively. But the press conference gave an interesting hint. Mario Draghi, the President of ECB, was most dovish as he could be, “work and assess” (unlike “wait and see” before).
The central bank is preparing to adjust “size, composition and duration” of its Quantitative Easing (QE) program at its December meeting, “the degree of monetary policy accommodation will need to be re-examined at our December monetary policy meeting”, Draghi said during the press conference. They are already delivering a massive stimulus to the euro area, following decisions taken between June 2014 and March 2015, to cut rates and introduce QE program. In September 2014, ECB cut its interest rate, or deposit rate to -0.20%, a record low. Its 1.1 trillion euros QE program got under way in March with purchases of 60 billion euros a month until at least September 2016.
When ECB cut deposit rate to record low in September 2014, Mr. Draghi blocked the entry to additional cuts, “we are at the lower bound, where technical adjustment are not going to be possible any longer.” (September 2014 press conference). Since then, growth hasn’t improved much and other central banks, such as Sweden and Switzerland, cut their interest rates into much lower territory. Now, another deposit rate-cut is back, “Further lowering of the deposit facility rate was indeed discussed.” Mr. Draghi said during the press conference.
The outlook for growth and inflation remains weak. Mr. Draghi – famous for his “whatever it takes” line – expressed “downside risks” to both economic growth and inflation, mainly from China and emerging markets.
Given the extent to which the central bank provided substantial amount of stimulus, the growth in the euro area has been disappointing. The euro area fell into deflation territory in September after a few months of low inflation. In September, annual inflation fell to 0.1% from 0.1% and 0.2% in August and July, respectively. Its biggest threat to the inflation is energy, which fell 8.9% in September, down from 7.2% and 5.6% in August and July, respectively.
As the ECB left the door open for more QE, Euro took a dive. Euro took a deeper dive when Mr. Draghi mentioned that deposit rate-cut was discussed. Deposit rate cut will also weaken the euro if implemented. After the press conference, the exchange rate is already pricing in a rate-cut. Mentions of deposit rate-cut and extra QE sent European markets higher and government bond yields fell across the board. The Euro Stoxx 50 index climbed 2.6%, as probability of more easy money increased. Swiss 10-year yield fell to fresh record low of -0.3% after the ECB press conference. 2-year Italian and Spanish yields went negative for the first time. 2-year German yield hit a record low of -0.32.
Regarding the exchange rate (EUR/USD), I expect it to hit a parity level by mid-February 2016.
As I stated in the previous posts, I expect more quantitative easing by ECB (and Bank of Japan also). I’m expecting ECB to increase its QE program to 85 billion euros a month and extend it until March 2017. When ECB decides to increase and extend the scope of its QE, I also expect deposit rate-cut of 10 basis points.
ECB will be meeting on December 3 when its quarterly forecasts for inflation and economic growth will be released. The only conflict with this meeting is that U.S. Federal Reserve policy makers meets two weeks later. ECB might hold off until the decision of the Fed, but the possibility of that is low.
U.S. Federal Reserve:
On October 28 (Wednesday), the Federal Reserve left rates unchanged. The bank was hawkish overall. It signaled that rate-hike is still on the table at its December meeting and dropped previous warnings about the events abroad that poses risks to the U.S. economy.
It does not make sense to drop “Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term.” (September statement) I’m sure the events abroad has its risks (spillover effect) to the U.S. economy and the Fed will keep an eye on them.
In its statement, it said the U.S. economy was expanding at a “moderate pace” as business capital investments and consumer spending rose at “solid rates”, but removed the following “…labor market continued to improve…” (September statement). The pace of job growth slowed, following weak jobs report in the past several months.
Let’s take a look at the comparison of the Fed statement from September to October, shall we?
The Fed badly wants to raise rates this year, but conditions here and abroad does not support its mission. Next Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting takes place on December 15-16. By then, we will get important economic indicators including jobs report, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), retail spending and Consumer Price Index (CPI). If we don’t see any strong rebound, rate-hike is definitely off the table, including my prediction of 0.10% rate-hike for next month.
The report caused investors to increase the possibility of a rate increase in December. December rate-hike odds rose to almost 50% after the FOMC statement.
Housing market continues to pose financial stability risk. House price inflation is way higher. Median house prices are about nine times the average income. Short supply caused the house prices to increase significantly. “While residential building is accelerating, it will take some time to correct the supply shortfall.” RBNZ said in a statement. Auckland median home prices rose about 25.4% from September 2014 to September 2015, “House price inflation in Auckland remains strong, posing a financial stability risk.”
Further reduction in the Official Cash Rate (OCR) “seems likely” to ensure future CPI inflation settles near the middle of the target range (1 to 3%).
Although RBNZ left rates unchanged, Kiwi (NZD) fell because the central bank sent a dovish tone, “However, the exchange rate has been moving higher since September, which could, if sustained, dampen tradables sector activity and medium-term inflation. This would require a lower interest rate path than would otherwise be the case.” It’s a strong signal that RBNZ will cut rates to 2.5% if Kiwi continues to strengthening. I will be shorting Kiwi every time it strengthens.
“The sharp fall in dairy prices since early 2014 continues to weigh on domestic farm incomes…However, it is too early to say whether these recent improvements will be sustained.” RBNZ said in the statement. Low dairy prices caused RBNZ to cut rates. New Zealand exports of whole milk powder fell 58% in the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period in 2014. But, there’s a good news.
Recent Chinese announcement that it would abolish its one-child policy might just help increase dairy prices, as demand will increase. How? New Zealand is a major dairy exporter to China. Its milk powder and formula industry is likely to benefit from a baby boomlet in China.
BoJ expects to hit its 2% inflation target in late 2016 or early 2017 vs. previous projection of mid-2016. Again and Again. This is the second time BoJ changed its target data. The last revision before this week was in April. It also lowered its growth projections for the current year by 0.5% to 1.2%.
They also lowered projections for Core-CPI, which excludes fresh food but includes energy. They lowered their forecasts for this fiscal year to 0.1%, down from a previous estimate of 0.7%. For the next fiscal year, they expect 1.4%, down from a previous estimate of 1.9%. Just like other central banks, BoJ acknowledged that falling energy prices were hitting them hard.
Low inflation, no economic growth, revisions, revisions, and revisions. Nothing is recovering in Japan.
Haruhiko Kuroda, the governor of BoJ, embarked on aggressive monetary easing in early 2013. So far he hasn’t had much success.
In the second quarter (April-June), Japan’s economy shrank at an annualized 1.2%. Housing spending declined 0.4% in September from 2.8% in August. Core-CPI declined for two straight months, falling 0.1% year-over-year both in September and August. Annual exports only rose 0.6% in September, slowest growth since August 2014, following 3.1% gain in August.
Exports are part of the calculation for Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Another decline in GDP would put Japan into recession, which could force BoJ to ease its monetary policy again. Another recession would be its fourth since the 2008 financial crisis and the second since Shinzo Abe (Abenomics), the Prime Minister of Japan, came to power in December 2012.
Its exports to China, Japan’s second-biggest market after the U.S., fell 3.5% in September. The third-quarter (July-September) GDP report will be released on November 16.
April 2014 sales tax (sales tax increased from 5% to 8%) increase only made things worse in Japan. It failed to boost inflation and weakened consumer sentiment.
In April 2013, BoJ expanded its QQE (or QE), buying financial assets worth 60-70 trillion yen a year, including Exchange Traded Funds (ETF).
QQE stands for Quantitative and Qualitative Easing. Qualitative easing targets certain assets to drive up their prices and drive down their yield, such as ETF. Quantitative Easing targets to drive down interest rates. Possibility of negative interest rates has been shot down by BoJ. But, why trust BoJ for their word? Actions speak louder than words.
In October 2014, BoJ increased the QQE to an annual purchases of 80 trillion yen. When is the next expansion? December?
Did you know that the BoJ owns 52% of Japan’s ETF market?
For over a decade, BoJ’s aggressive monetary easing through asset purchases did not help Japan’s economy. Since 2001, the central bank operated 9 QEs and is currently operating its current 10th QE (or QQE). The extensions of its QE are beginning to become routine or the “new normal.”
Growth and prices are slowing in China, with no inflation in United Kingdom, Euro-zone, and the U.S. The chances that Japan will crawl out of deflation are very slim.
US Market Reactions (ECB and FOMC):
Next week, both Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and Bank of England (BoE) will meet. Will be very interesting to watch.
Last Wednesday (October 7, 2015), I had a chance to meet Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and the most powerful man in the world (well, was).
Not that I got a handshake, but got to ask a question.
So how did I get to meet him? It was part of WSJ Pro Central Banking events.
Recently, Wall Street Journal introduced a subscription service, “WSJ Pro”. It debuted with WSJ Pro Central Banking. Its parent company, Dow Jones, describes it as a “premium suite of industry and subject-specific content services, combining news, data, and events in a single membership platform.” The key word is “events”. “Events” is what I love about the subscription. “Events” in other words mean, meeting high-profile people and networking with people in the financial industry.
I had a free access for a while, but now that’s gone. During my trial, I registered for two events, “Breakfast Interview Series: William Dudley” and “Breakfast Interview Series: Ben Bernanke”. I was lucky enough to be chosen to go to both of them.
The event with William Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, took place on September 28. Did not get a chance to ask a question. Nevertheless, great event. Full video of the interview can be found here.
The event with Ben Bernanke took place on October 7. I was so excited for this particular event. Well, who doesn’t want to meet Ben Bernanke? I woke up on 4:30 in the morning and left my house at 6:45 AM. I got to the location of the event by about 7:50. When I checked in, I got an autographed copy of Mr. Bernanke’s new book, “The Courage to Act.” Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
It wasn’t until 8:30 AM when Mr. Bernanke entered the room, getting me and others excited. Along with him, there was WSJ’s Chief Economics Correspondent, Jon Hilsenrath, who also interviewed William Dudley the week before.
During the Q&A session, I got a chance to ask a question. I was so excited and confident. I strongly believed that I was not nervous at all. But, that wasn’t the case.
When I got handed the microphone, I instantly went blind. I forgot most of what I was going to say. It was like Warren Buffett, my idol, interviewing me for a job.
The first word out of my mouth was “student”, when I actually should have stated my name. Asking a question to a person like Ben Bernanke got me so nervous, I mumbled and rambled during my question. My question basically was, “If you were the president, what would you do about the taxes, corporate taxes, which is too high?”
Full video of the interview can be found here. I can be heard asking the question at 42:30.
I asked it because I strongly believe U.S. corporate taxes are too high, causing inversions. Although I got a reasonable answer, I believe I would have gotten better answer if I asked the question in a different way.
My first encounter with a high-profile person made me so nervous, yet taught me a big lesson. It significantly improved my confidence and ability to ask a question (to a high-profile person) without being so nervous. Who’s the next high-profile person I will meet? Janet Yellen?
A short video of Mr. Bernanke leaving the “stage”
A picture of Mr. Bernanke leaving the “stage”
I will forever remember this day, October 7, 2015.
Thank you, Wall Street Journal.
UPDATE: At the event when I was asking the question,