September 25, 2020

The first debate is Tuesday. And it appears at this point that both candidates will be in the same location, and on the same stage.  If that is indeed the case, we can probably throw out all of the polling to this point.  The debate will be the reset button. 

The markets have gone fairly range bound for the past two weeks heading into this event, so Tuesday will set the tone. 

If the biggest overhang for markets and the economy, right now, is the government policy on the virus, then we have two distinctly different strategies to evaluate.

Trump will clearly push to get the economy operating at full capacity, with the political obstacle of an election removed.  That would be good for a continued economic recovery, and good for stocks.  And we would be on path to see the inflationary impact of a policy response that has been far bigger than the economic damage (i.e. trillions of excess dollars floating around).

Biden, if we listen to the broader party line on the virus, would likely ramp up government guidelines on virus mitigation, which would include more restrictions on business capacity – more economic damage.  The strategy would be focused around the vaccine timeline.  Adding more economic damage increases the risk of a deflationary bust.  To counter that risk, he would need an aligned Congress to get a monster stimulus package passed.  That scenario requires a lot of pieces to fall into place.

September 24, 2020

We’ve heard a lot this week from Jay Powell (Fed Chair) and Steve Mnuchin (Treasury Secretary) as they’ve addressed House and Senate committees on the coronavirus relief efforts.

Today the Senate Banking Committee had their shot.

The markets liked some of the headlines.  Does this mean the door might be open for a big, second fiscal stimulus deal now?  I doubt it.

Let’s talk about the takeaways …

First, as we know, these events are always used by politicians as an opportunity to grandstand for personal political gain.  They get face time on national TV, and they use it.  And in the current environment, they are sure to use it in attempt to further the narrative of the party.

This week was all about communicating to the American people that they want to get money to you, but the other side is obstructing.

That’s not a recipe for getting a deal done.  Moreover, history shows us that these massive packages only tend to get done when a crisis is at peak severity and both sides are scared.

With that said, with the funds for the extended federal unemployment subsidy set to run out, in some states, this week, we could be in for a very difficult October.

The democrats want a big “comprehensive” package.  The word comprehensive means they want relief money for state and local governments, and they want money to invest in their vision of the future.

The Republicans want a targeted package.  They want to address unemployment and small businesses, without bailing out what they deem to be mismanaged states.

Today, with both sides of the Senate committee belaboring over the need for more aid, Mnuchin offered up an easy and quick stop gap.

There is $200 billion of unspent money from Cares Act 1.0.  And there is $130 billion of unspent money from the Payroll Protection Program.  He called on Congress to reallocate and reauthorize use of these funds, and send checks to the hardest hit small businesses.  Of course, that would further erode the negotiating positions within Congress.  So, that won’t happen.

But Trump may be able to reallocate those funds by, once again, using Executive Order.

Remember, while Congress has exclusive control of the purse, once it has appropriated funds, “the President and executive branch enjoy considerable discretion as to how those funds are spent” (paper on Presidential Spending Discretion and Congressional Controls, here).  Another executive order to get money in the hands of the unemployed and struggling small businesses would bridge the country to the election finish line, and leave big stimulus bullets to fire for the winner.

September 23, 2020

We've been watching a big technical level in Apple the past couple of days as a proxy on global risk appetite. 

With a broad risk-off day in markets, let's take another look …

Apple finishes the day testing this big line again.  Remember this line represents the recovery from the pandemic-induced lows.  

Let's take a look at some other key charts to see if price might be telling us something …

First, here's a look at Copper.  

Copper is an industrial metals that tends to be an early signal on a turning point in the economy, and a good inflation hedge. With that, copper put in a bottom on March 19th, just two trading days before the Fed's announced it would backstop the corporate bond market.  It has since climbed 50%.  But we get a break of this big trendline today (similar to the line being tested in Apple). 

Is copper predicting a slowdown in the economic recovery?  Maybe. 

That would align with what's happening in gold. Gold is now down 10% from early August.

As we discussed earlier this month, as we approach a very high stakes election, we have a vacuum to be filled with uncertainty and speculation.  And we're beginning to see that play out in markets through some "de-risking" and some profit taking on inflation bets. 

As for uncertainty, there is plenty.  Adding to the mix, Trump said today that he expects the election "will end up at the Supreme Court" (i.e. a contested election).  And we also have an uptick in virus concerns. The UK stepped up "slow the spread" guidelines yesterday.   Israel has become the first developed country to go into a second lockdown.  And the head of the CDC said today that less than 10% of the U.S. has been infected by the virus.  


September 22, 2020

Yesterday we looked at this chart below on Apple, as a proxy on the direction of broader stocks and on global risk appetite.

As you can see, Apple was testing a big trendline yesterday, which comes in from the pandemic-induced lows.

Here's how the chart looks today …

This line did indeed hold (at least, so far).  In fact, big tech (Apple, FB, MSFT, AMZN, GOOG) each outperformed the S&P 500 on the day. 

Is this money plowing back into the dominant monopolies that have crushed it in the stay-at-home economy?  Maybe.  The UK put its foot on the economic brakes this morning, by tightening up some lockdown restrictions.  And with cases rising here, this combination only emboldens the "stay-at-home" bets, which means buy big tech.   

Also, something a tech and global investor should find to be encouraging:  With all of the rhetoric out of Trump in recent years about regulating big tech, he had an easy one in the crosshairs to prove he meant business — TikTok.  But instead of banning it, as was threatened, he agreed to a bizarre deal. 

The takeaway here might be that two powerful American-based/born global companies (Oracle and Walmart) ended up playing mediator between Trump and China.  This could be a foreshadowing of how the U.S. and China could get to a place of co-existance again, in a Trump second term.  It may take powerful American companies, with big businesses in China, to broker a deal. 

September 21, 2020

Just when you thought the political landscape couldn't get crazier, it has, with the opening of a Supreme Court Justice seat.

Markets are broadly lower today (global stocks and commodities) on the idea that more fiscal aid is NOT coming, because of the (even uglier) partisan war that will now transpire over a new Justice nomination and confirmation.  

I've argued that another package wasn't coming anyway.  As we've discussed, the democrats lost their leverage last month, when Trump used executive order to extend the federal unemployment subsidy.

That federal unemployment check was the bargaining chip that the democrats were relying on, to force republicans to submit to nationwide mail-in voting legislation, "because people shouldn't have to risk their lives (i.e. risk getting Covid) to vote."  When Trump stripped the unemployment check out of the negotiations, the deal was dead – the dems lost their path to mail-in voting. 

With this in mind, for markets, does the uptick in political chaos mean there is more risk in markets today, than there was last week. No.  

Even if that were not true, knowing that the Fed is in full backstop mode (and will be there for a long time), the dip in broad stocks should be bought. 

Stocks are important to promoting confidence, stability and wealth.  If stocks were to get messy (i.e. a quick and "disorderly" decline), we know exactly what the Fed would do.  There is no doubt. 

They would outright buy stocks.     

In fact, they will do anything and everything to preserve stability and to preserve the recovery — and to protect the trillions of dollars that have been spent to manufacture that recovery.  

As a proxy on broader stocks, and broader risk appetite, this is probably the most important chart to watching in the coming day(s).

As you can see, Apple is testing this big trendline from the March bottom.  This line comes in at 105.88.  A sustained break here would project a move to the low-to-mid $90 area, which would represent a return to the late July levels.  That would be giving back all of the gains of big tech's (including Apple's) monster Q2 earnings, where it was revealed just how stacked the lockdown economy deck was in favor of the big tech monopolies.  

September 18, 2020

As we end the week, stocks have continued a September correction, today making lower lows on the month.

This, just days after a very market-friendly Fed meeting.

This looks very similar to June (which also coincided with a very market-friendly Fed meeting).  As you can see in the chart below, we’ve had a 9% correction in stocks in June.  We’ve had a 9% correction this time.

Similar to June, the chatter about rising cases has returned.

Back in June, businesses were reopening, and those going back to work were forced to test.  That did nothing but reveal the degree to which asymptomatic were walking around.  Still, the media and the politicians used it as ammunition to fuel their “respective” agendas.

The result of “spiking cases” this summer:  The rate-of-change in the death-to-cases ratio only declined more quickly as the rate-of-change in testing increased.

This time around, testing has ramped up for back to school.  Again, it’s only revealing the degree to which asymptomatic people are walking around. The death rate-to-case ratio continues to decline.

We’re eight months in since the first U.S. case was recorded.  And the death-to- diagnosed case rate is 2.9%.  If you believe the CDC that at least 10 times as many people have it or have had it (undiagnosed), that death rate falls to 0.29%.   Antibody tests from a July published study in JAMA suggest the multiplier could be as much as 24. 

Add to this, while the absolute number of cases diagnosed might be reaching new daily highs, the trajectory on the rate-of-change in daily cases, as you can see in the chart below, is down.


September 17, 2020

Yesterday, we talked about oil, as one of the most beaten down markets in a world where asset prices are resetting higher (by the design of policymakers).

Oil was up 5% yesterday.  The biggest mover of the day among global stock markets, currencies and commodities.  And today, it was up another 2%. 

Crude oil is up 11% since Tuesday. 

What happened on Tuesday?  Trump hosted the leaders of Bahrain, UAE and Israel to sign a peace treaty. 

Does the Middle East peace deal represent a catalyst for oil?  It may, to the extent that it may have increased the probability of the survival of the fossil fuels industry.   

There is clearly a global war against fossil fuels.  And it's a war the climate change activists have been winning. They are all in, and near the finish line.  Standing in the way has been Trump.

Climate change activists believe that climate change is an existential threat to the world.  And the financial backing is nearly unlimited.  A group called Climate Action 100+ has the most powerful investors in the world (representing $32 trillion in assets under management).  And they have been dictating how major energy companies are deploying capital on new projects – forcing the pivot to climate responsible initiatives.  And then you have major global government entities/cooperatives behind the activist movement, feeding the effort with cash and subsidies.   

And because they view Trump as a climate change denier, they have explicitly said he (Trump) is an existential threat to the world.  

With that, you might imagine how desperately they want him to "disappear" (in the words of George Soros). 

Now, what does this have to do with the Middle East deal? 

This deal may have increased the probability of a second term for Trump.  That's positive for the outlook/the survival of the fossil fuels industry.  And it may increase the global support (with Middle East) for Trump's stand against China.     

September 16, 2020

We heard from the Fed today.  As we discussed yesterday, we should expect the Fed to continue doing whatever it takes to preserve stability and to manufacture recovery.  And within that effort, we should expect them to continue to set our expectations that they will keep rates at zero for a long, long time.  Indeed, that's the message they delivered today.  

The intent is to get us spending, not saving.  And that is intended to drive demand, drive economic output, and drive inflation. 

That should all be taken as very optimistic for the economic outlook.  The Fed acted early and aggressively to avert an economic apocalypse.  And they make clear that they will continue to be there to manufacture the desired outcome. Maybe the statement of the day, from Jay Powell:  We remain "strongly committed to achieving our goals and the overshoot on inflation."

The theme we've been discussing here, since March, has been a global reset of asset prices.  By overshooting inflation, the Fed is telling us that, by policy, they are resetting asset prices.  

And according to their economic projections on economic output and employment, it (inflation) will be sooner than they want us to believe.

The Fed has revised up their GDP forecast for this year to just a 3.7% contraction.  And they are projecting 4% growth for 2021.  That would mean a recovery in GDP, to new record highs, by next year.   And they're looking for unemployment to recover to 5.5% by next year.  That would be a reflection of a hot economy.  And the Fed would still be at zero rates, with QE … and signalling for it to indefinitely continue. 

With this outlook, if we look across commodities, currencies, bond and stock markets, the worst performing market in the world this year has been oil. If  you're looking for a beaten down market to buy, crude oil is down 34% ytd.  It's the best performer on the day, up 5%, and back over $40. 

September 15, 2020

The markets seem to have gone range bound, for now. And without a fresh catalyst, things may very well stay this way into the debates (the first one, scheduled for September 29). 

We talked yesterday about the prospects of the U.S. being pulled into a China/India war.  That would be a catalyst for markets. 

Otherwise, some seem to be awaiting fresh stimulus out of Capitol Hill, as a greenlight to get more aggressive.

It will likely be a long wait.  The democrats lost their leverage last month, when Trump used executive order to extend the federal unemployment subsidy. With that, the daily posturing on stimulus, at this stage, is just politicking. 

Today we had more manufacturing data that continues to support the projections that Q3 will be a huge counterpunch to the 32% (annualized) economic contraction in Q2.  The Atlanta Fed's GDP model is now projecting +31% annualized for Q3. 

We have a Fed decision tomorrow afternoon.  We already know that the Fed has done and will continue to do whatever it takes to preserve stability and to manufacture recovery. 

Part of that effort has been a campaign to make us believe that they will keep rates at zero forever (not really forever, but for a very long time). 

Back in July, in a survey of primary dealers (trading counterparties to the New York Fed), they were already expecting the Fed to stay put, at zero, until 2024.  Since then, Jay Powell has made it Fed policy that they will let inflation run hot (sustainably over 2%) before they will even think about budging. So the expectation of zero rates has been pushed out even farther.  

That's all intended to promote an expectation that inflation is coming.  And that is intended to promote spending, not saving.    

September 14, 2020

I've said in my daily notes here that it seems like we are on path for some military action with China, before the election. 

The election is drawing closer.  Nothing yet.  Though China has made many provocative moves (handling of the virus, expansionist actions in the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong).

And the U.S. has stepped up rhetoric and action, with bans on Chinese technology companies, condemnation of China's human rights abuses, and calling out the broad threat of the Chinese Communist Party to the future of the free world.

Add to that, Trump has laid out, as part of his second term agenda, a plan to decouple the U.S. and Chinese economy.  

So, what could be the trigger to turn rhetoric and a 'cold war' into a 'hot war?'  

At this point, it looks like, if anything, it could be the border dispute in India

For the past several months, China has ramped up the bullying of India, over a long disputed stretch of Chinese/Indian border.  It has resulted in plenty of military flexing.  There were 20 deaths from a ground fight back in June.  And shots were fired last week, for the first time in 45 years. 

The CCP's voice on Twitter, the Editor of the Global Times, has been posting threats and war propaganda.  Below is the latest, from this morning …  

So, where does the U.S. come down on this?  

Trump has said over the summer that he would be a mediator.  But Pompeo has been out alliance building with democratic nations to stand against the Chinese Communist Party.  As he said in his July speech at the Nixon Library, "maybe it's time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies."  India is the largest democracy in the world.  And Pompeo was just there in late July.  And in his Congressional testimony he named India as a friend (along with Australia, Japan and the UK) that is working in coordination with the U.S. to discourage China's actions in the South China Sea. 

What does it all mean?  If this China/India dispute were to escalate into military action, the U.S. would be drawn in, to take a side — and it seems clear that it would be supporting India.  That would put us in the middle of a war, which would further complicate a very high stakes election.  But as we’ve said, incumbent Presidents, when they’ve actively sought a second term in war time, have a 6-0 record.