From Crypto To Qatar – These Were The Best & Worst Assets In 2017

2017 saw global central bank balance sheets explode almost 17% higher (in USD terms) – the biggest annual increase since 2011 – and while correlation is not causation, one can’t help but see a pattern in the chart below…
Global stocks up, Global bonds up, Global commodities up, Financial Conditions easier (despite 3 Fed rate hikes), and Dollar down (most since 2003)…
As we noted earlier, Craig James, chief economist at fund manager CommSec, told Reuters that of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year.
‘For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,’ said James. ‘Globalization and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.’
Still, the good times may not last: an State Street index that gauges investor risk appetite by what they actually buy and sell, suffered its six straight monthly fall in December, Reuters reported.
“While the broader economic outlook appears increasingly rosy, as captured by measures of consumer and business confidence, the more cautious nature of investors hints at a concern that markets may have already discounted much of the good news,’ said Michael Metcalfe, State Street’s head of global macro strategy.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Global Stocks Set To Close 2017 At All Time Highs, Best Year For The Euro Since 2003

With just a few hours left until the close of the last US trading session of 2017, and most of Asia already in the books, S&P futures are trading just shy of a new all time high as the dollar continued its decline ahead of the New Year holidays.
Indeed, markets were set to end 2017 in a party mood on Friday after a year in which a concerted pick-up in global growth boosted corporate profits and commodity prices, while benign inflation kept central banks from snatching away the monetary punch bowl. As a result, the MSCI world equity index rose another 0.15% as six straight weeks and now 13 straight months of gains left it at yet another all time high.
In total, world stocks haven’t had a down month in 2017, with the index rising 22% in the year adding almost $9 trillion in market cap for the year.
Putting the year in context, emerging markets led the charge with gains of 34%. Hong Kong surged 36%, South Korea was up 22% and India and Poland both rose 27% in local currency terms. Japan’s Nikkei and the S&P 500 are both ahead by almost 20%, while the Dow has risen by a quarter. In Europe, the German DAX gained nearly 14% though the UK FTSE lagged a little with a rise of 7 percent.
Craig James, chief economist at fund manager CommSec, told Reuters that of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year.
‘For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,’ said James. ‘Globalization and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.’

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Squeezing The Consumer From Both Sides

The Federal Reserve raised the Federal Funds rate on December 13, 2017, marking the fifth increase over the last two years. Even with interest rates remaining at historically low levels, the Fed’s actions are resulting in greater interest expense for short-term and floating rate borrowers. The effect of this was evident in last week’s Producer Price Inflation (PPI) report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Within the report was the following commentary:
‘About half of the November rise in the index for final demand services can be traced to prices for loan services (partial), which increased 3.1 percent.’
While there are many ways in which higher interest rates affect economic activity, the focus of this article is the effect on the consumer. With personal consumption representing about 70% of economic activity, higher interest rates can be a cost or a benefit depending on whether you are a borrower or a saver. For borrowers, as the interest expense of new and existing loans rises, some consumption is typically sacrificed as a higher percentage of budgets are allocated to meeting interest expense. On the flip side, for those with savings, higher interest rates generate more wealth and thus provide a marginal boost to consumption as they have more money to spend.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 27, 2017.

Peak Good Times? Stock Market Risk Spikes to New High

Leverage, the great accelerator on the way up and on the way down.
Margin debt is the embodiment of stock market risk. As reported by the New York Stock Exchange today, it jumped 3.5%, or $19.5 billion, in November from October, to a new record of $580.9 billion. After having jumped from one record to the next, it is now up 16% from a year ago.
Even on an inflation-adjusted basis, the surge in margin debt has been breath-taking: The chart by Advisor Perspectives compares margin debt (red line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line), both adjusted for inflation (in today’s dollars). Note how margin debt spiked into March 2000, the month when the dotcom crash began, how it spiked into July 2007, three months before the Financial-Crisis crash began, and how it bottomed out in February 2009, a month before the great stock market rally began:

This post was published at Wolf Street on Dec 27, 2017.

The Great Recession 10 Years Later: Lessons We Still Have To Learn

Ten years ago this month, a recession began in the U. S. that would metastasize into a full-fledged financial crisis. A decade is plenty of time to reflect on what we have learned, what we have fixed, and what remains to be done. High on the agenda should be the utter unpreparedness for what came along.
The memoirs of key decision-makers convey sincere intentions and in some cases, very adroit maneuvering. But common to them all are apologies that today strike one as rather lame.
‘I was surprised by the sudden crisis,’ wrote George W. Bush, ‘My focus had been kitchen-table economic issues like jobs and inflation. I assumed any major credit troubles would have been flagged by the regulators or rating agencies. … We were blindsided by a financial crisis that had been more than a decade in the making.’
Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed wrote, ‘Clearly, many of us at the Fed, including me, underestimated the extent of the housing bubble and the risks it posed.’ He cited psychological factors rather than low interest rates, a ‘tidal wave of foreign money,’ and complacency among decision-makers.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 27, 2017.

Venezuelans Abandon Bolivar – Merchants Insist On Being Paid In Dollars

Venezuelans are struggling to carry out basic transactions like purchasing food as the value of their currency, the bolivar, has plunged against the dollar amid the country’s worsening economic collapse.
According to Reuters, over the past year, Venezuela’s currency weakened 97.5% against the greenback: Put another way, $1,000 of local currency purchased in early January would be worth just $25 now. The annual inflation rate in 2017 could reach $2,000. Though at least one other estimate puts the real rate of inflation closer to 2,800%.
Of course, President Maduro has blamed websites like DolarToday – which publishes the closest thing to an official black-market rate by surveying clandestine exchanges in Caracas and other cities – for the spread of black-market activity, part of a conspiracy organized by Washington and his local political opponents to force him from power.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 27, 2017.

From ‘Definitely Transitory’ to ‘Imperfect Understanding’ In One Press Conference

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of Alhambra Investments. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.
When Janet Yellen spoke at her regular press conference following the FOMC decision in September 2017 to begin reducing the Fed’s balance sheet, the Chairman was forced to acknowledge that while the unemployment rate was well below what the central bank’s models view as inflationary it hadn’t yet shown up in the PCE Deflator. Of course, this was nothing new since policymakers had been expecting accelerating inflation since 2014. In the interim, they have tried very hard to stretch the meaning of the word ‘transitory’ into utter meaninglessness; as in supposedly non-economic factors are to blame for this consumer price disparity, but once they naturally dissipate all will be as predicted according to their mandate.
That is, actually, exactly what Ms. Yellen said in September, unusually coloring her assessment some details as to those ‘transitory’ issues:
For quite some time, inflation has been running below the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run objective. However, we believe this year’s shortfall in inflation primarily reflects developments that are largely unrelated to broader economic conditions. For example, one-off reductions earlier this year in certain categories of prices, such as wireless telephone services, are currently holding down inflation, but these effects should be transitory. Such developments are not uncommon and, as long as inflation expectations remain reasonably well anchored, are not of great concern from a policy perspective because their effects fade away.
Appealing to Verizon’s reluctant embrace of unlimited data plans for cellphone service was more than a little desperate on her part. Even if that was the primary reason for the PCE Deflator’s continued miss, it still didn’t and doesn’t necessarily mean what telecoms were up to was some non-economic trivia.

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on December 26, 2017.

The Integrated Non-USD Platforms

The many new integrated non-USD platforms devised and constructed by China finally have critical mass. They threaten the King Dollar as global currency reserve. Clearly, the USDollar cannot be displaced in trade and banking without a viable replacement for widespread daily usage. Two years ago, critics could not point to a viable integrated system outside the USD realm. Now they can. The integration of commercial, construction, financial, transaction, investment, and even security systems can finally be described as having critical mass in displacing the USDollar. The King Dollar faces competition of a very real nature. The Jackass has promoted a major theme in the last several months, that of the Dual Universe. At first the USGovt will admit that it cannot fight the non-USD movement globally. To do so with forceful means would involve sanctions against multiple nations, and a war with both Russia & China. Their value together is formidable in halting the financial battles from becoming a global war. The United States prefers to invade and destroy indefensible nations like Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, and by proxy Yemen. The USMilitary appears formidable against undeveloped nations, seeking to destroy their infra-structure and their entire economies, in pursuit of the common Langley theme of destabilization. In the process, the USMilitary since the Korean War has killed 25 million civilians, a figure receiving increased publicity. The Eastern nations and the opponents to US financial hegemony will not tolerate the abuse any longer. They have been organizing on a massive scale in the last several years. Ironically, the absent stability can be seen in the United States after coming full circle. The deep division of good versus evil, of honest versus corrupt, of renewed development versus endless war, has come to light front and center within numerous important USGovt offices and agencies.
The shape of the US nation will change with the loss of the USDollar’s status as global currency reserve. The starting point for the global resistance against the King Dollar was 9/11 and the onset of the War on Terror. It has been more aptly described as a war of terror waged by the USGovt as a smokescreen for global narcotics monopoly and tighter control of USD movements. Then later, following the Lehman failure (killjob by JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs) and the installation of the Zero Interest Rate Policy and Quantitative Easing as fixed monetary policies, the community of nations has been objecting fiercely. The zero bound on rates greatly distorted all asset valuations and financial markets. The hyper monetary inflation works to destroy capital in recognized steps. These (ZIRP & QE) are last ditch desperation policies designed to enable much larger liquidity for the insolvent banking structures. Without them, the big US banks would suffer failure. They also provide cover for the amplified relief efforts directed at the multi-$trillion derivative mountain. In no way, can the global tolerate unbridled monetary inflation which undermines the global banking reserves.

This post was published at GoldSeek on 26 December 2017.

Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Good, The Bad, and the Inflationary

At last, tax reform is happening! Last week, President Donald Trump celebrated the passage of the most important legislation so far of his presidency.
The final bill falls far short of the ‘file on a postcard’ promise of Trump’s campaign. It even falls short of the bill trotted out by Congressional Republicans just a few weeks ago. It is, nevertheless, the most significant tax overhaul in more than a decade.
Corporations and most individual taxpayers will see lower overall rates. That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, there is also some not so good news investors need to be aware of.
Because no spending cuts will be attached to ‘pay’ for the tax rate reductions, the legislation will grow the budget deficit by an estimated $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over the next decade. The actual number could end up being smaller…or bigger, depending on how the economy performs. But more red ink will spill.

This post was published at GoldSeek on Tuesday, 26 December 2017.

Citi’s “What If?” Scenarios: Part 2

Yesterday we published the first set of 7 “What If” scenarios that didn’t make it into the Citi Credit team’s (already rather gloomy) year-ahead forecast. Because while Citi’s “base case” was clearly bearish (our summary can be found here), what was left unsaid was even more unsettling, if not troubling. As the bank’s credit team wrote “what about the outcomes that didn’t quite make it into our base case? The scenarios that aren’t central, but which aren’t entirely implausible either – both bullish and bearish.” Citi then listed the following 7 scenarios in the first part of its quasi-forecast:
idiosyncratic risk is returning to credit? European corporates get more aggressive? global growth & commodity prices disappoint? inflation accelerates as output gaps close? the US yield curve inverts? central bank tapering really is a non-event? the market doesn’t like the choice of ECB successor?” A full discussion of the above scenarios was posted yesterday.
Today, we follow up with part 2, or the second set of 7 hypothetical questions for 2018, which shifts away from economics and finance, and focuses on politics and Europe. As Citi’s credit team writes “you tend to worry less about your leaky roof when the sun is shining. And at the moment the cyclical economic upturn is beaming across Europe. Yet there are clouds which might conceivably hold moisture – or as our economists have put it: political risk is not dead in Europe.”

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.

Doug Noland: Epic Stimulus Overload

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of Credit Bubble Bulletin . To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.
Ten-year Treasury yields jumped 13 bps this week to 2.48%, the high going back to March. German bund yields rose 12 bps to 0.42%. U. S. equities have been reveling in tax reform exuberance. Bonds not so much. With unemployment at an almost 17-year low 4.1%, bond investors have so far retained incredible faith in global central bankers and the disinflation thesis.
Between tax legislation and cryptocurrencies, there’s been little interest in much else. As for tax cuts, it’s an inopportune juncture in the cycle for aggressive fiscal stimulus. And for major corporate tax reduction more specifically, with boom-time earnings and the loosest Credit conditions imaginable, it’s Epic Stimulus Overload. History will look back at this week – ebullient Republicans sharing the podium and cryptocurrency/blockchain trading madness – and ponder how things got so crazy.
From my analytical vantage point, the nation’s housing markets have been about the only thing holding the U. S. economy back from full-fledged overheated status. Sales have been solid and price inflation steady. While construction has recovered significantly from the 2009/2010 trough, housing starts remain at about 60% of 2004-2005 period peak levels. It takes some time for residential construction to attain take-off momentum. Well, liftoff may have finally arrived. As long as mortgage rates remain so low, we should expect ongoing housing upside surprises. An already strong inflationary bias is starting to Bubble. Is the Fed paying attention?

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on December 23, 2017.

Americans have no savings and with very good reason: housing, education, and health care have seen extraordinary inflation while wages are stagnant.

It has now become a daily ritual in which story after story of broke Americans plaster the web. Yet somehow on the mainstream press, very little is discussed about this topic. Americans are largely broke because inflation is vey real. Housing, education, and health care costs have soared out of control while wages have remained stagnant. The way Americans continue to pay for these items is by going into loan shark levels of debt. There used to be a pretense that ‘we’ actually cared about having a middle class but that is now thrown out the window. At this point, we are in a full on sprint towards low wage capitalism. Many people live on a paycheck to paycheck diet and are berated about saving more for retirement. The reality is, the new retirement model is working until you die.
In the land of no savings
Sunday morning, I wake up and take a stroll through the neighborhood. ‘Did you hear about Bitcoin? Wild right?’ I’m asked by a stranger at the park. ‘Sure seems wild. You own any?’ To which I get the following response, ‘I wish I had some money to even invest!’ I think we live in a world where most Americans are merely spectators to the wild gyrations of the market. They hear about investments too late or mistake speculation with actual investing.

This post was published at MyBudget360 on December 21, 2017.

Coming Housing Boom Could Mean It’s Time to Add Raw Materials

In its November report, mortgage security firm Freddie Mac called 2017 the ‘best year in a decade’ for the housing market by a variety of measures. These include low inflation, strong job growth and historically-low mortgage rates. This assessment is very encouraging, not just for homebuyers and builders and the U. S. economy in general, but also for commodities, resources and raw materials as we head into 2018.
Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, it’s still instructive to look back at how materials performed the last time the U. S. was ramping up housing starts and mortgages. The last housing boom, which peaked in 2006, was accompanied by elevated commodity prices. We could see a return to these valuations over the next couple of years on higher demand, a stronger macroeconomic backdrop and cyclical fundamentals, as shown in the following chart courtesy of DoubleLine Capital:
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Speaking on CNBC’s ‘Halftime Report’ last week, DoubleLine founder Jeffrey Gundlach said he thought “investors should add commodities to their portfolios’ for 2018, pointing out that they are just as cheap relative to stocks as they were at historical turning points.
‘We’re at that level where in the past you would have wanted commodities’ in your portfolio, Gundlach said. ‘The repetition of this is almost eerie. And so if you look at that chart, the value in commodities is, historically, exactly where you want it to be a buy.’

This post was published at GoldSeek on Thursday, 21 December 2017.

“In The End, There Was Absurdity” – The Great Crash Of 2018?

Crises always take longer to arrive than you think, and then happen much quicker than they ought to.
– Rudiger Dornbusch
An eerie calm has taken over the world markets. Volatility is crashing, and economic and political shocks come and go without any noticeable effect on the asset markets. Inflation and interest rates are also low. So ‘Goldilocks’ is here, right?
Well, no. I have written a collection of dark pieces about the world economy this year. They have followed the tone set in our business cycle forecasts. In March, we took a deep dive behind the faade of the economic expansion to discover the sources of growth. We found them to be unstable, depending on political decisions and thus prone to crash.
In our latest forecast, we envisaged how the world economy would respond if the foundations of global growth would break. It was not pretty. Here I present the main takeaways.
I consider the Figure 1 (below) to give the most compelling picture on the absurdity we have arrived to. It presents the yield of the US 10 year treasury bond, the yield of Italian 10 year bond and yields of junk bonds of European and US companies as well as the QE:s of the ECB and the Fed. It implies that the default probability of an average European junk-rated company is smaller than that of the US government. This, naturally, is just absurd and it only tells the tale of a massive central bank induced market distortion. The pricing of risk in the normal sense does not exist in the capital markets anymore.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 20, 2017.

Bi-Weekly Economic Review: Animal Spirits Haunt The Market

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of Alhambra Investments. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.
The economic data over the last two weeks continued the better than expected trend. Some of the data was quite good and makes one wonder if maybe, just maybe, we are finally ready to break out of the economic doldrums. Is it possible that all that new normal, secular stagnation stuff was just a lack of animal spirits? Is it possible that the mere anticipation of tax cuts was sufficient to break us out of the 2% growth paradigm? Or are there other factors that have us on the precipice of a third consecutive quarter of 3%+ growth?
It is easy to find the positives in the economic data these days. Retail sales surged last month and are now up nearly 6% year over year. Wholesale sales are up over 8% and inventories are improving relative to sales. Imports and exports are up 7% and 5.6% respectively. Factory orders are rising at about a 4% clip. Productivity was up 3% last quarter. The Fed’s worries about inflation also seem reasonable considering CPI and PPI well above the Fed’s target rate of inflation. Import and export prices are both up over 3% year over year. With the unemployment rate down to 4.1% you can understand why the Philips Curve disciples are getting antsy.

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on December 19, 2017.

Are Bonds Really On The Run? Why One Trader Is Skeptical

Yesterday we observed the biggest 2-day steepening in the 2s30s yield curve since the Trump election, following a confluence of events which we discussed in this post, and which resulted in a generous payday for at least one rates trader.
***
So has the long-awaited moment of a long-end selloff arrived? Or, as SocGen’s FX strategist, Kit Juckes, put it, are “Bonds on the run?” Maybe not so fast, especially since much of the recent increase in yields has been for breakevens. Here are his thoughts.
Bonds on the Run?
The Tax Bill is still moving towards the Oval Office, and even critics concede that it boosts
growth a bit (more from the corporate tax cut than from the income tax cuts). While the
relationship between growth, economic slack and inflation remains as much a mystery as how
Father Christmas gets down the chimney, an uptick in breakeven inflation and in 10-year Note
yields isn’t shocking. The more breakevens rise, the less real yields rise, the less this affects the
dollar, unless or until it triggers a wholesale rethink on where Fed Funds are headed. So far, the
market remains convinced the destination is 2-point something. Bearish bond bets may make
sense, but FX conclusions are messier. We like short yen trades for now, but as with any carrybased
FX trades, it feels a bit like picking up pennies in front of a present-loaded sleigh…

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 20, 2017.

What China Can Learn from America’s Great Depression

When Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression first appeared in print in 1963, the economics profession was still completely dominated by the Keynesian Revolution that began in the 1930s. Rothbard, instead, employed the ‘Austrian’ approach to money and the business cycle to explain the causes for the Great Depression, and to analyze the misguided and counterproductive policies that were followed in the early 1930s, which, in fact, only intensified and prolonged the economic downturn.
To many of the economists in the early 1960s, Rothbard’s ‘Austrian’ approach seemed out-of-step with the then generally accepted textbook, macroeconomic approach that focused on a highly ‘aggregate’ analysis of economic changes and fluctuations on general output and employment as a whole. There was also the widely held presumption that governments could easily maintain economy-wide growth and stability through the use of a variety of monetary and fiscal policy tools.
Mises, Hayek and the Austrian Theory of Money and the Business Cycle However, in the early and middle years of the 1930s, the Austrian explanation of the Great Depression was at the forefront of the theoretical and policy debates of the time. Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973), first developed this ‘Austrian’ theory of the causes of inflations and depressions in his book, The Theory of Money and Credit(1912; 2nd revised ed., 1924) and then in his monograph, Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy (1928).
But its international recognition and role in the business cycle debates and controversies in the 1930s were particularly due to Friedrich A. Hayek’s (1899 – 1992) version of the theory as presented in his works, Prices and Production (1932) Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle (1933), and Profits, Interest and Investment (1939). A professor of economics at the London School of Economics throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Hayek was, at the time, considered by many to be the main competitor against John Maynard Keynes’s ‘New Economics’ that emerged out of Keynes’s 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 12/19/2017.

Will Myanmar Embrace Market Reforms?

The economic growth in Myanmar is now among the highest in Asia, and it’s come a long way since the 1960’s when it was considered one of the world’s most impoverished countries. It’s instructive to understand how this change took place, what some of the current economic metrics indicate, and current pressures being placed on Myanmar from the outside.
For starters, the general history of Myanmar (also known as Burma, and the reason for the two names is interesting in itself) is long and fascinating. More recently, Myanmar was conquered by Great Britain (it was actually a part of British India, which was responsible for much of the administration) in 1855, and became relatively affluent in this part of the world, primarily due to the trade of rice and oil.
However, even before British rule, Myanmar was already relatively well off due to its strategic location along important trade routes. Myanmar is located between India and China – Indian influence is still present, even today, and was resented, along with British control – and this trading activity helped offset a country based on self-sufficient agriculture and centralized control via a king.
Britain ruled Myanmar until independence in 1948, when a series of nationalization and central planning efforts created a welfare state. The results were disastrous. Rice exports fell by two-thirds in the 1950’s, along with a 96% decline in mineral exports. In order to maintain central planning efforts, the government resorted to printing money, and runaway prices resulted from this inflation of the money supply.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on Dec 18, 2017.