War is Good for the Cold-Hearted Stock Market

Look at the headlines.

Figure 1: Trump Military Headlines. Google Trends – “North Korea”

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.

Figure 2: S&P 500 Index (SPX) – Daily Chart.
The first circle represents the time of news reports on U.S. airstrikes on Syrian bases.
The second circle represents the time of news reports on most powerful non-nuclear bomb being dropped in Afghanistan

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.

Figure 3: S&P 500 Index – Daily
The first headline shows two arrows.
The first arrow represents when the headline came out. The second arrow represents February 12 when NK conducted the nuclear test.
The second headline represents North Korea threatening the west as usually.

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.

Figure 4: War is Good for the Cold-Hearted Stock Market
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%.

Figure 5: S&P 500’s reaction to the U.S. military action in Afghanistan – Weekly Chart

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%.

Figure 6: S&P 500’s reaction to the U.S. military action in Iraq – Weekly Chart

On March 19th of 2011, multiple countries part of NATO intervened in Libya. By the end of intervention on October 31st, the market slid 20%. The drop cannot be blamed on the NATO-led forces. This was due to the fears of contagion of the European debt crisis and first-ever downgrade of U.S. AAA credit rating.

Figure 5: S&P 500 reaction’s to the U.S. military action in Libya – Weekly Chart

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.

Figure 6: Capital Market Performance During Times of War
Sources: The indices used for each asset class are as follows: the S&P 500 Index for large-Cap stocks; CRSP Deciles 6-10 for small-cap stocks; long-term US government bonds for long-term bonds; five-year US Treasury notes for five-year notes; long-term US corporate bonds for long-term credit; one-month Treasury bills for cash; and the Consumer Price Index for inflation. All index returns are total returns for that index. Returns for a war-time period are calculated as the returns of the index four months before the war and during the entire war itself. Returns for “All Wars” are the annualized geometric return of the index over all “war-time periods.” Risk is the annualized standard deviation of the index over the given period. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Pros and Cons of Brexit

On June 23rd, Britain people will vote to stay in or leave (Brexit) the European Union. The verdict matters a lot since it is a life-changing decision. I will briefly address some of the pros and cons of Brexit, but will further address it after the vote, especially if UK leaves EU.

Brexit Pros:

  • The European Union costs United Kingdom 350 million pounds ($503 million) a week. That’s $26.2 billion a year, 4.6 times less the UK education budget of $121.1 billion in 2015. That $26.2 billion is 1% of 2015 GDP of $2.63 trillion. That $26.2 billion is 2.45% of 2015 total spending of $1.07 trillion.

Note: That 350 million pounds a week cost is before “the rebate.” In 2015, Britain actually paid under 250 million ($359 million) pounds a week. But hey, UK does not control the rebates. The cost of membership has been increasing over the years, especially after the financial crisis.

UK Payments To EU Budget Since 1973
UK Payments To EU Budget Since 1973

What happened with Greece and is still happening, is a warning sign of more economic troubles to come in Europe. That possibly will continue to increase the cost of EU membership.

  • Under EU fundamental right of free movement, Britain cannot prevent anyone from another member state coming in to the country. This has resulted in a huge increase in immigration into Britain from Europe.

In 2015, 270,000 EU citizens immigrated to the UK and 85,000 EU citizens emigrated aboard. Net-migration was 185,000.

Migration By Nationality
Migration By Nationality

2.94 million people living in the UK in 2014 were citizens of another EU member country. Those people account for 4.7% of the UK population.

2.2 million citizens of another EU member country are in work, 7.02% of working population. Majority of EU member citizens are coming to the UK for work reasons. 61% of the migration who came for work reasons were EU citizens.

Immigration To The UK By Main Reason
Immigration To The UK By Main Reason

See how EU citizens coming to the UK for work reason started to accelerate in 2013. This can be related to economic difficulties such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. As I mentioned above, “What happened with Greece and is still happening, is a warning sign of more economic troubles to come in Europe.” That should lead to even more upsurge in migration for work reason, making it more competitive for UK citizens to find jobs and possibly lowering wages.

If UK decides to leave EU, the country would be able to reform immigration laws without input from the EU and increase jobs and wages for UK citizens (hopefully they have the skills).

Brexit Cons:

  • EU membership makes UK attractive for international investment and provides access to trade deals with more than 50 countries around the world (expensive makeup, isn’t it?). Because EU institutions have the ability to prevent the UK from negotiating its own trade deals outside Europe, it would have to re-negotiate some trade deals, with EU and non-EU countries including the US, China, Japan and India. It is extremely possible the Brexit will impair confidence and investment for few years.

In 2015, the EU accounted for (pdf download) 43.7% of exports and 53.1% of imports

In 2014, the EU accounted for 496 billion pounds ($712 billion) of the stock of inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), 48% of the total. Globally, the UK is the third largest country in terms of its absolute value of inward FDI stock ($1.7 trillion), followed by China ($2.7 trillion) and U.S. ($5.4 trillion).

Why is FDI so important? It has the potential for job creation and productivity, increasing both output and wages.

If UK were to leave EU, it would dampen FDI due to uncertainty of the future. Firms would reduce investment in UK, leading to lay offs and so on (domino effect).

3.3 million UK jobs are linked to UK exports to other EU countries. Auto industry would be particularly at risk. In 2015, 77.3% of cars built in the UK were exported, a record high. EU demand grew 11.3%, with 57.5% of exports destined for the continent. In 2014, the motor vehicle manufacturing accounted for 7.9% (pdf download) of total manufacturing, up from 5.4% in 2007. The end of free trade agreements would definitely hurt UK automotive industry.

If UK were to leave the Single Market (EU), locating production in the UK would be less attractive because it would become more costly to ship to EU members. 77% of members of SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) – the voice of the UK motor industry – believes remaining in EU would be the best for their business. 9% believes Brexit is the best path. 14% doesn’t know, like economists don’t know the real impact of Brexit due to a large base of issues and views.

66% believes EU important to them because of its access to EU automotive markets.

Why The EU Is Important To SMMT Members
Why The EU Is Important To SMMT Members

Brexit would send a ripple effect. For the government (less tax revenue), for businesses (rising costs) and for consumers (lower income).

There’s also the issue of UK citizens in the other EU member countries. They have the right to live, work, vote, run a business, buy a property, and use public services such as health. Some, if not all, of these rights could vanish if UK leaves the EU.

Sure, UK will try to protect them. Since one of the main goals of Brexit is stop the inflows of immigrants into UK from EU, EU might retaliate against it.

UK (the wife) has been married to EU (the husband) for 43 years (UK joined EU in 1973). Part of her wants to get out of the cage. Other part of her wants to keep some of the benefits. If Brexit, it will be very expensive and messy divorce, but may be for the good.

 

There are so many views on this “monumental” and “out-of-focus” complicated issue. Not every issue is covered in this article. If UK is the first country to leave EU, I will do much more research and analyze it.

If you have any views, I would love to know in the comments below. If you have any questions about any issues related to Brexit, I would be happy to answer them ASAP. Don’t be surprised if the answer is 5 paragraphs long. Thank you.

Houston (Fed), We Have A Problem (Problems) – Part 2/2

In the previous article, Houston (Fed), We Have A Problem (Problems) – Part 1/2, I addressed two risks (growing monetary policy divergence and emerging markets)  that will force the Fed to “land” (lower back) rates this year. I will address more risks here.

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.

Junk Bonds, Credit Spreads, Energy, Manufacturing, Earnings Decline:

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.

BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Effective Yield Source: retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Effective Yield
Source: retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

 

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.

BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Option-Adjusted Spread AND BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Option-Adjusted Spread Source: FRED Economic Data
BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Option-Adjusted Spread AND BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield CCC or Below Option-Adjusted Spread
Source: FRED Economic Data

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.

iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG)
iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: HYG)

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).

2015 E&P Bankruptcy Filings Source: Law firm Haynes and Boone - Slide 5
2015 E&P Bankruptcy Filings
Source: Law firm Haynes and Boone – Slide 5

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.

Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – General Business Conditions Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – General Business Conditions
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

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.

Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – Business Indicators Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey – Business Indicators
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

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.

Debt service uses a rising share of U.S. onshore oil producers’ operating cash flow Source: EIA
Debt service uses a rising share of U.S. onshore oil producers’ operating cash flow
Source: EIA

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.

Why do I say that?

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.”

Not only energy companies will suffer, but also banks. The biggest U.S. banks – Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase – have exposure to energy as part of their overall portfolios.

  • Morgan Stanley: Energy exposure assumed at 5% of total loans.
  • Citigroup: Energy exposure assumed at 3.3% of total loans.
  • Bank of America: Energy exposure assumed at 2.4% of total loans.
  • Goldman Sachs: Energy exposure assumed at 2.1% of total loans.
  • Wells Fargo: Energy exposure assumed at 1.9% of total loans.
  • JPMorgan Chase: Energy exposure assumed at 1.6% of total loans.

According to Fitch Ratings, exposure to energy sector were “cited as higher risk segments for the banks.”

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.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York
The Empire State Manufacturing Survey
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

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.

Total Business: Inventories to Sales Ratio Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Total Business: Inventories to Sales Ratio
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

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.”

Central Banks Smash: No Growth, No Inflation

European Central Bank:

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.

Inflation Rate - Annual Percentage Change Source: Eurostat
Inflation Rate – Annual Percentage Change
Source: Eurostat

Europe’s economy will slow down due to export demand decreasing from China and emerging countries, where a quarter of all euro-zone exports gets shipped to.

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.

EUR/USD Reaction:

EUR-USD - ECB Press Conference - Nov 1 2015
EUR/USD – Hourly Chart

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?

Fed Statment Comparation - Sept. to Oct. Source: http://projects.wsj.com/fed-statement-tracker/
Fed Statment Comparation – Sept. to Oct.
Source: http://projects.wsj.com/fed-statement-tracker/

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.

Greenback (US Dollar) Reaction:

U.S. Dollar ( "/DX" on thinkorswim platform) - Hourly Chart
U.S. Dollar ( “/DX” on thinkorswim platform) – Hourly Chart

 

Reserve Bank of New Zealand:

On October 28 (Wednesday), Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) left rates unchanged at 2.75% after three consecutive rate-cuts since June. The central bank’s Governor Graeme Wheeler said that at present “it is appropriate to watch and wait.” “The prospects for slower growth in China and East Asia” remains a concern.

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.

NZD/USD Reactions:

NZD/USD - Hourly Chart
NZD/USD – Hourly Chart

 

Bank of Japan:

On October 30 (Friday), Bank of Japan (BoJ) maintained its monetary policy unchanged and downgraded its growth and inflation projections. BoJ left – by 8-1 majority vote – its QE program at current level of 80 trillion yen (about $660 billion) a year.

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?

Japan's ETF Market - BoJ's holdings Source: Bloomberg
Japan’s ETF Market – BoJ’s holdings
Source: Bloomberg

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.

USD/JPY Reaction:

USD/JPY - Hourly Chart
USD/JPY – Hourly Chart

US Market Reactions (ECB and FOMC):

S&P 500 ("SPX") - Hourly Chart
S&P 500 (“SPX”) – Hourly Chart

 

Next week, both Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and Bank of England (BoE) will meet. Will be very interesting to watch.