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.

U.S. Rate-Hike Impending – Tick Tock

Last Thursday (July 30, 2015), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its advance (1st estimate out of 3) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter (April, May and June) of the year. It was positive enough to increase the chance of rate-hike in September significantly.


Before we go any further, let’s review what two types of GDP, nominal-dollar terms and real-dollar terms. Current (or nominal-dollar) GDP tallis the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. using present prices. On the other hand, Real (or chained-dollar) GDP counts only the value of what was physically produced. To clarify the point, suppose a hat-making factory announces that it made $1 million selling hats this year, 11% more than last year. The $1 million represents nominal company sales (or current dollar). However, something is missing. From this future alone, it’s unclear how the factory achieved the extra income. Did it actually sell 11% more hats? Or did it sell the same number of hats as the year before but simply raised prices by 11%? If the factory made more money because it increased the price tag by 11%, then in real (constant-dollar) terms, the true volume of hats sold this year was no greater than last year, at $900,000.

It’s vital to know if the economy grew because the quantity of products sold was greater or whether it was largely the result of price hikes, or inflation. (Source: “The Secrets of Economic Indicators” by Bernard Baumohl)


Real GDP increased at a annualized rate of 2.3%, vs expectations of 2.5%.  This is a major acceleration from the first quarter when real GDP increased 0.6% (expansion), revised from -0.2% (contraction). The economy bounced back after a slow start in the beginning of the year.

Real GDP - Quarterly (1Q 2011-2Q 2015)
Real GDP – Quarterly (1Q 2011-2Q 2015)

In the beginning of the year, US economy was hurt, or “walked backwards” due to unfavorable weather, lower energy prices, West Port strike, and stronger dollar. While, the economy has moved beyond the weather and west port strike, – a strong dollar, and lower energy prices will continue to limit growth.

While first quarter was revised upwards, 2011-2014 was revised lower. The economy grew 1.6% in 2011, down from the 2.3% initial reading; 2.2% in 2012, up from the 1.5% initial reading; 1.5% in 2013, down from 1.7%; and 2.4% in 2014, down from 2.7%. From 2011 to 2014, growth was essentially weaker. The economy expanded by an average annual rate of 2%, below initial reading of 2.3%.

Real GDP - Annual (2011-2014)
Real GDP – Annual (2011-2014)

Growth in the second quarter was boosted by consumer spending. Consumer spending grew at a 2.9% rate from a 1.8% in the first quarter. That is a very good sign because real personal consumption expenditures (PFE) AKA consumer spending, accounts for 70% of total GDP. If people are not spending, it spells serious trouble for the economy.

Real exports increased 5.3% in the second quarter, compared to 6% fall in the first quarter. First quarter’s significant drop was due to west port slowdown. The strong dollar has hurt exports but its effects have eased recently…for now. Port delays in the first quarter freed up exports and temporarily increased exports.

Business investment fell 0.6% in the second quarter, from previous 1.6% increase in the first quarter, as energy companies continue to scale back projects amid low oil prices.

Recently, crude oil prices have fallen back to the Earth. On Monday, August 3, crude oil prices hit just above $45 (currently below $45). It will continue to hurt energy companies, causing them to scale back projects and lay-offs. Low gasoline prices, however, would lead consumers to spend money. It’s better to pay off debts first before spending money on “wants”.

Crude Oil ("/CL" on thinkorswim) - Daily
Crude Oil (“/CL” on thinkorswim) – Daily

On Friday (July 31, 2015), Employment Cost Index (ECI) report for the second quarter was released and it was disappointing.

ECI, a broad measure of workers’ wages and benefits, increased 0.2%, smallest gain since records began in the second quarter of 1982, following 0.7% increase in the first quarter. Wages and salaries, which accounts of 70% of compensation costs, also increased 0.2% in the second quarter, the smallest gain on record.

Employment Cost Index (ECI) - Bloomberg Terminal
Employment Cost Index (ECI) – Bloomberg Terminal

The report suggests that slack remains in the labor market.  The unemployment rate fell to 5.3% in June – the lowest level since April 2008 – close to the Fed’s target of 5% to 5.2%, which the Fed policy makers consider consistent full employment.

S&P 500’s reaction to both GDP and ECI reports.

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

Dollar’s reaction to both GDP and ECI reports.

US Dollar ("/DX" on thinkorswim) - Hourly
US Dollar (“/DX” on thinkorswim) – Hourly

The Federal Reserve are counting on rising wages to boost both the economy and inflation (2% target). On Wednesday, July 29, the Fed said it won’t start lifting rates until there is “some further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term.”

The Fed is monitoring employment, inflation, and wages closely as it moves to closer to raising interest rates from near zero, for the first time since the recession. Raising rates too soon or too late can have its consequences.

The Fed will meet on September 16 and 17. I still believe the Fed will raise rates. If employment, inflation and wage reports are not very strong until September meeting, the Fed might raise the rates by little as 0.10% (10 basis points), instead of 0.25%.

I believe the disappointment of ECI is temporary as more companies are starting to increases wages and more people are slowly entering jobs market. I also believe that GDP continues to be strong. In fact, I believe current Q2 GDP will be revised higher. Preliminary (2nd estimate) of Q2 GDP will be released on Thursday, August 27.

On Friday (August 7), important reading data of US economy will be released, non-farm payrolls AKA jobs report. My guess for employment and unemployment rate is 285K and 5.4%, respectively. I believe wages will stay flat at this time and accelerate in the next few months.

I will take advantage of any pullback in the greenback (US Dollar). Greenback has a room to strengthen more. Currency pairs such as USD/JPY, USD/CAD, I would be long, and I would be short EUR/USD. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and/or leave comments below. Thank you.

Canada Crisis: Second Rate-Cut Of The Year

On July 15 (Wednesday), Canada’s central bank AKA Bank of Canada (BoC) cut overnight rate by 25 basis points (bps) from 0.75% to 50%. This is the second rate-cut this year. First rate-cut took place in January. Not only rate-cut, but lower growth forecasts.

BoC expects Gross Domestic Product growth to be 1.1% year-over-year (Y/Y) this year, down from its 1.9% forecast in April. Policy makers said that Gross domestic product probably “contracted modestly” in the first half. However, they did not call it recession. ‘‘The lower outlook for Canadian growth has increased the downside risks to inflation,’’ policy makers said.

Bank also reduced the net exports contribution to GDP by 0.8% to 0.6% from 1.4%. A stronger U.S. economy and a weaker Canadian dollar should contribute to higher export growth.

Bank of Canada's July Forecasts. Source.
Bank of Canada’s July Forecasts (Page 14). Source.

There has been a big shift in the inflation tone over the past few months:

April: “Risks to the outlook for inflation are now roughly balanced”

May: “the Bank’s assessment of risks to the inflation profile has not materially changed”

This time (July): “The lower outlook for Canadian growth has increased the downside risks to inflation”

“The Bank anticipates that the economy will return to full capacity and inflation to 2 per cent on a sustained basis in the first half of 2017.” In the April’s forecasts, the bank expected the economy to return to full capacity at the end of 2016. I can tell that the Bank is running scared.

Damages from low oil prices has been extensive.  Canada is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer and lower oil prices will definitely not help the economy. The damages from lower oil prices shrank the economy in the first half of the year.

Recently after Iran deal has been reached, oil prices fell sharply. It’s currently trading around $48. If the the deal is finalized, it won’t be very good for Canada economy since Iran might want to double its oil production, leading to much lower oil prices.

The bank also said “Additional monetary stimulus is required at this time to help return the economy to full capacity and inflation sustainably to target.” If conditions get worse, they will cut rates again.

Oil is not the only problem for Canada. Other concerns are potential bubbles in housing and consumer debt.

According to BoC’s Monetary Policy Report (June), “the vulnerability associated with household indebtedness remains important and is expected to edge higher in the near term in response to the ongoing negative impact on incomes from the sharp decline in oil prices and a projected increase in the level of household debt.” (Page 30).

Over the past few years, housing prices in Canada have skyrocketed. Lower borrowing costs will just add fuel to the fire (DEBT + HIGH PRICES IN HOUSING MARKET WITH LOW INTEREST RATES = NOT A GOOD COMBINATION) . There just might be a bubble in the housing market. But, BoC does not think so.

The next BoC meeting is on September 9th, about a week before the U.S. Federal Reserve meeting, the day that many believe lift-off from the zero interest rate policy will take place. CPI and non-farm payrolls data for July and August will decide whatever the Fed will hike or not.

Rate-cuts and plunging commodity prices, especially crude oil, has caused sell-off in Loonie. Ever since the first rate-cut of the year (January), Loonie (CAD) has weakened significantly. With strengthening dollar (USD), USD/CAD has skyrocketed. When looked at monthly chart, USD/CAD has developed ‘Cup and Handle’ formation. While this is a sign to short USD/CAD, I would be very careful because fundamentals for CAD are too weak. If I were to short it, I would put my stop above the resistance line (Bold Red line).

USD/CAD - Monthly
USD/CAD – Monthly

 

No Clear Direction Signs For US Economy…….Yet

Last Friday (May 8, 2015), non-farm payrolls report was released and it was in-line with expectations. 223,000 new jobs were added in April, and the unemployment rate fell by 0.1% to 5.4%, the lowest level since May 2008. While, this is a good news. March gains was revised down to 85,000 from the prior estimate of 126,000 (-41,000), lowest since 2012. I believe the April number (223,000) will also be revised lower.

Wage growth remained modest. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.2%. As unemployment rate falls, wages should start to pick up speed, which also will push up inflation.

Fed officials are closely watching the labor market and other key economic reports, as they are in a tough spot on raising short-term rates, which have been held near zero since December 2008.

There is a very little chance of rate hike in June. I believe the Fed won’t hike the interest rates, unless over 350,000 jobs are added in May and unemployment rate goes down by 0.2% to 5.2% (which certainly will not happen).

First quarter was very weak due to; strong U.S. dollar, low energy prices, West Coast port strike, and the bad weather. When these four are combined together, it creates a heavy roof to push down economic growth.

Hiring has been strong in many industries, except energy. About 15,000 energy jobs were lost in April, worst month since May 2009. Lower oil prices increased the pressure on the energy sector. Low energy prices has caused energy companies to lose profits. As a result, they had to cut jobs. Recently, crude oil inventories supply were declining, which caused oil prices to rise above $60.

Last Tuesday (May 5, 2015), trade balance report was released and it exploded. The US trade deficit widened by 43.1% to a seasonally adjusted $51.4 billion in March, largest monthly expansion in the trade gap since December 1996 and the largest deficit reading since October 2008. Trade balance is when you subtract imports from exports. In other words, it’s the difference between imports and exports.

Trade Balance for the past two years
Trade Balance for the past two years

A biggest reason for the weakness was the 9-month slowdown at West Coast port due to a labor contract dispute. West Coast ports is back in business. Imports arriving though the West Coast port surged. Imports increased 7.7% in March, the largest increase on record. While exports only increased 0.9% in March, reflecting strong dollar impact. In the past 12 months, the dollar has jumped almost 10%. Strong dollar had made Americans goods and services less competitive in global markets. Bigger imports and smaller exports mean a bigger deficit.

I believe it’s not to worry about in a long term. Once the backlog is cleared, imports will drop and the trade deficit will also drop.

Recently, the dollar has fallen sharply because of weak US economic reports, including Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

On April 29, 2015 (Wednesday), GDP Advance estimate increased at an annual rate of 0.2% in the first quarter of 2015, down from 2.2% in the fourth quarter of 2014 (-2.0%). This is a huge difference. Economists were anticipating growth of 1% in the first quarter.

Real GDP for the past three years
Real GDP for the past three years

Again, the weakness was due to U.S. dollar, low energy prices, West Coast port strike, and the bad weather. West Coast port strike disrupted the flow of trade, increasing imports which negatively impact GDP. In the past 12 months, the dollar has jumped almost 10%.

According to the report, Real exports of goods and services decreased 7.2% in the first quarter, from an increase of 4.5% in the fourth quarter. Real Imports of goods and services increased 1.8%, from an increase of 10.4% in the fourth quarter.

I’m afraid that Q1 GDP will be revised to negative number. Second estimate (Preliminary) of Q1 GDP will be released on Friday, May 29, 2015.

First quarter GDP was disappointing. I believe the economy should bounce back in the 3 quarters of 2015.

US markets were very happy with the jobs report, but not with other economic reports. The Dow soared more than 250 points, or 1.5% on Friday. While USD bracket currencies were mixed.

Check out the charts below; Dow Jones and US Dollar. US Dollar has fallen signification after hitting of $100.27 on mid-April. Dow Jones has been in a range. Dow Jones chart includes something “extra”, that’s not included in the post here.

US Dollar Index - Four Hourly Chart
US Dollar Index – Four Hourly Chart

 

Dow Jones ($DJI) - Hourly Chart
Dow Jones ($DJI) – Hourly Chart

 

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me anytime by going to “Contact Me” and/or leave comments below. Thank you.

Reserve Bank Australia (RBA) cuts cash rate

Last Monday (February 2, 2015), Reserve Bank Australia (RBA) cut rates to 2.25% from 2.50%, record low. On my post “Now, Bank of Canada (Boc) Shocks by rate cut. Who’s next?”, I predicted RBA was going to be the next central bank who will cut the rates. If you have not read it, feel free to go to the post. Immediately after the announcement, Aussie fell about 100 pips. In the statement by the Governor of RBA, Glenn Stevens, “The Australian dollar has declined noticeably against a rising US dollar over recent months…remains above most estimates of its fundamental value, particularly given the significant declines in key commodity prices. A lower exchange rate is likely to be needed to achieve balanced growth in the economy.” They are basically saying that Aussie is little stronger and needs weaker currency to help their economy grow.

In the same hour RBA announces rate cut, AUD/USD dropped all the way to 0.7651, lowest since May 2009. After dropping almost 200 pips, the next day was total opposite. In the next day, Aussie absorbed all of the loses, due to short squeeze in non-dollar currencies and rise in oil prices. The rebound in Aussie is a perfect sell opportunity. I believe, in the six months, AUD/USD will drop over 300 pips, under 0.7500.

/CL (Crude Oil) - Hourly Chart
/CL – Hourly Chart
AUD/USD - Hourly
AUD/USD – Hourly

Last Thursday (February 5,2 2015), RBA released its quarterly Monetary Policy Statement, signaling another rate cut coming in the way. RBA lowered its 2015 growth and inflation forecasts. In November, they expected expansion between 2% and 3%. Now, they are expecting 1.75% and 2.75% (lowering by 0.25%). They also predicted that unemployment will rise. I believe another rate cut is coming this year. But, the question is “When?”. Again, rebound in AUD/USD is selling opportunity not to be missed.

 

Now, Bank of Canada (BoC) Shocks by rate cut. Who’s next?

On Wednesday (January 21, 2015), Bank of Canada (BOC) announced that it is cutting the overnight rate to 0.75% from 1.00%. Bank rate and deposit rates stay the same, bank rate at 1.00% and deposit rate at 0.5%. Their reason for cutting overnight rate by a quarter?

Oil is the reason. For the past six months, crude oil (WTI) has been declining about 60%. BOC says that drop in oil prices are “negative for growth and underlying inflation…”. Fall in oil prices hurts Canadian economy because they are 3rd largest oil-exporting country. Oil-importing countries, such as China and the United States are benefiting from low oil prices.

Crude Oil
Crude Oil – Daily

Immediately after the announcement, loonie (CAD) fell over 200 pips, pushing USD/CAD to 1.2273 from 1.2063 (210 pips) in first 15 minutes (From 10:00 AM to 10:15 AM). USD/CAD kept hitting new highs since early 2009 (still is, for now). BOC expects oil prices to be around $60 in medium term (next two years). During the opening statement, BOC governor, Stephen S. Poloz said something that gave little more power for loonie to decline.

USD/CAD
USD/CAD – Hourly

During the opening statement, Governer Poloz said “The Bank has room to maneuver should its forecast prove to be either too pessimistic or too optimistic.” If conditions gets worse than what BOC expects, they might cut the overnight rate further. The statement caused USD/CAD to jump little higher. At the end, one thing that was said surprised me. Governor said “…we discussed the risk that by moving today we would surprise financial markets. We generally prefer that markets not be surprised by what we do…” Two opposite things are being said here. But, there were some rumors to rate cut days before. Since oil price decline increases the downside to Canadian economy. Rate cuts are” intended to provide insurance against these risks.”

If oil continues to decline until March, BOC might cut the overnight rate. I believe that because they warned us of further cuts from both on a press release and press conference. As of right now, I believe crude oil will fall to an area of $40.50. Then, stay there for several weeks. I’m saying this because technical analysis. I’m not an expert on crude oil, yet.

Who’s next to cut the rates? I believe it’s Reserve Bank of Australia  (RBA). Since August 2013, Cash Rate Target has been staying at 2.50%. In the beginning, most of their monetary policy decisions statements included sentences “The exchange rate remains high by historical standards, particularly given the declines in key commodity prices, and hence is offering less assistance than it might in achieving balanced growth in the economy.” Now, they say “The exchange rate has traded at lower levels recently, in large part reflecting the strengthening US dollar. But the Australian dollar remains above most estimates of its fundamental value, particularly given the significant declines in key commodity prices in recent months. A lower exchange rate is likely to be needed to achieve balanced growth in the economy”. They were saying that to weaken Aussie. They know how much their “words” has the power to cause large changes in the exchange rate. In the long-term, AUD/USD was (still is) in a downtrend. They might cut rates in February (February 2, 2015) or March (March 2, 2015), to further weaken Aussie. Further information about RBA monetary policy can be found here. (Note: times/dates are in EST).

 

AUD/USD - Daily
AUD/USD – Daily