September 19, 2017, 6:00 pm EST Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr
With a Fed decision queued up for tomorrow, let’s take a look at how the rates picture has evolved this year.
The Fed has continued to act like speculators, placing bets on the prospects of fiscal stimulus and hotter growth. And they’ve proven not to be very good.
Remember, they finally kicked off their rate “normalization” plan in December of 2015. With things relatively stable globally, the slow U.S. recovery still on path, and with U.S. stocks near the record highs, they pulled the trigger on a 25 basis point hike in late 2015. And they projected at that time to hike another four times over the coming year (2016).
Stocks proceeded to slide by 13% over the next month. Market interest rates (the 10 year yield) went down, not up, following the hike — and not by a little, but by a lot. The 10 year yield fell from 2.33% to 1.53% over the next two months. And by April, the Fed walked back on their big promises for a tightening campaign. And the messaging began turning dark. The Fed went from talking about four hikes in a year, to talking about the prospects of going to negative interest rates.
That was until the U.S. elections. Suddenly, the outlook for the global economy changed, with the idea that big fiscal stimulus could be coming. So without any data justification for changing gears (for an institution that constantly beats the drum of “data dependence”), the Fed went right back to its hawkish mantra/ tightening game plan.
With that, they hit the reset button in December, and went back to the old game plan. They hiked in December. They told us more were coming this year. And, so far, they’ve hiked in March and June.
Below is how the interest rate market has responded. Rates have gone lower after each hike. Just in the past couple of days have, however, we returned to levels (and slightly above) where we stood going into the June hike.
But if you believe in the growing prospects of policy execution, which we’ve been discussing, you have to think this behavior in market rates (going lower) are coming to an end (i.e. higher rates).
As I said, the Hurricanes represented a crisis that May Be The Turning Point For Trump. This was an opportunity for the President to show leadership in a time people were looking for leadership. And it was a chance for the public perception to begin to shift. And it did. The bottom was marked in Trump pessimism. And much needed policy execution has been kickstarted by the need for Congress to come together to get the debt ceiling raised and hurricane aid approved. And I suspect that Trump’s address to the U.N. today will add further support to this building momentum of sentiment turnaround for the administration. With this, I would expect to hear a hawkish Fed tomorrow.
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July 13, 2017, 4:00 pm EST Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr
With some global stock barometers hitting new highs this morning, there is one spot that might benefit the most from this recently coordinated central bank promotion of a higher interest environment to come. It’s Japanese stocks.
First, a little background: Remember, in early 2016, the BOJ shocked markets when it cut its benchmark rate below zero. Counter to their desires, it shook global markets, including Japanese stocks (which they desperately wanted and needed higher). And it sent capital flowing into the yen (somewhat as a flight to safety), driving the value of the yen higher and undoing a lot of the work the BOJ had done through the first three years of its QE program. And that move to negative territory by Japan sent global yields on a mass slide.
By June, $12 trillion worth of global government bond yields were negative. That put borrowers in position to earn money by borrowing (mainly you are paying governments to park money in the “safety” of government bonds).
The move to negative yields, sponsored by Japan (the world’s third largest economy), began souring global sentiment and building in a mindset that a deflationary spiral was coming and may not be leaving, ever—for example, the world was Japan.
And then the second piece of the move by Japan came in September. It was a very important move, but widely under-valued by the media and Wall Street. It was a move that countered the negative rate mistake.
By pegging its ten-year yield at zero, Japan put a floor under global yields and opened itself to the opportunity to doing unlimited QE. They had the license to buy JGBs in unlimited amounts to maintain its zero target, in a scenario where Japan’s ten-year bond yield rises above zero. And that has been the case since the election.
The upward pressure on global interest rates since the election has put Japan in the unlimited QE zone — gobbling up JGBs to push yields back down toward zero — constantly leaning against the tide of upward pressure. That became exacerbated late last month when Draghi tipped that QE had done the job there and implied that a Fed-like normalization was in the future.
So, with the Bank of Japan fighting a tide of upward pressure on yields with unlimited QE, it should serve as a booster rocket for Japanese stocks, which still sit below the 2015 highs, and are about half of all-time record highs — even as its major economic counterparts are trading at or near all-time record highs.
March 9, 2017,5:15pm EST Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr
With today marking eight years from the bottom in the stock market, let’s talk about why it bottomed. And then take look at the run up in stocks since 2008.
First, why did stocks (the S&P 500) turn at 666 on March 9th, 2009?
Policymakers were scrambling to stop the bleeding in banks, trying to unfreeze global credit, and stop the dominos from continuing to fall.
The Fed had already launched a program a few months earlier to buy up mortgage back securities, to push down mortgage rates and stop the implosion in housing. Global central banks had already slashed interest rates in attempt to stimulate the economy. The U.S. had announced a $787 fiscal stimulus package a few weeks earlier. And then finance ministers and central bankers from the top 20 countries in the world met in London on March 14.
Here’s what they said in the opening of their communique: “We have taken decisive, coordinated and comprehensive action to boost demand and jobs, and are prepared to take whatever action is necessary until growth is restored.”
The key words here are “coordinated” and “whatever action is necessary.”
The Fed met four days later and rolled out bigger purchases of mortgages, and for the first time announced they would be buying government debt. This was full bore QE. And it was with the full support of global counterparts, which later followed that lead.
What wasn’t known to that point, was to what extent policymakers were willing to intervene to avert disaster. This statement by G20 finance heads and the action by the Fed let it be known that all options are on the table (devaluation, monetization, etc) — and they were all-in and all together in the fight to stave off an apocalypse. With that, the asset reflation period started. And it started with QE.
With that said, let’s take a look at the chart on stocks and the impact QE has had along the way.
The baton has now been passed to fiscal stimulus in the U.S. But we have the benefit of QE still full bore in Europe and Japan. The question is, can that continue to anchor interest rates in the U.S. and keep that variable from stifling the impact of growth policies.
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November 18, 2016, 4:30pm EST
In my November 2 note (here), I talked about three big changes this year that have been underemphasized by Wall Street and the financial media, but have changed the outlook for the global economy and global markets.
Among them was Japan’s latest policy move, which licensed them to do unlimited QE.
In September they announced that they would peg the Japanese 10 year government bond yield at ZERO. At that time, rates were deeply into negative territory. In that respect, it was actually a removal of monetary stimulus in the near term — the opposite of the what the market was hoping for, though few seemed to understand the concept.
I talked about it earlier this month as an opportunity for the BOJ to do unlimited QE, and in a way that would allow them to keep stimulating the economy even as growth and inflation started moving well in their direction.
With this in mind, the Trump effect has sent U.S. yields on a tear higher. That move has served to pull global interest rates higher too — and that includes Japanese rates.
You can see in this chart, the 10 year in Japan is now positive, as of this week.
With this, the BOJ came in this week and made it known that they were a buyer of Japanese government bonds, in an unlimited amount (i.e. they are willing to buy however much necessary to push yields back down to zero).
Though the market seems to be a little confused by this, certainly the media is. This is a big deal. I talked about this in my daily note the day after the BOJ’s move in September. And the Fed’s Bernanke even posted his opinion/interpretation of the move. Still, not many woke up to it.
What’s happening now is the materialization of the major stimulative policy they launched in September. This has green lighted the short yen trade/long Japanese equity trade again. It should drive another massive devaluation of the yen, and a huge runup in Japanese stocks (which I don’t think ends until it sees the all-time highs of ’89 — much, much higher).
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August 22, 2016, 4:30pm EST
As we head into the end of August, people continue to parse every word and move the Fed makes. Yellen gives a speech later this week at Jackson Hole (at an economic conference hosted by the Kansas City Fed), where her predecessor Bernanke once lit a fire under asset prices by telegraphing another round of QE.
Still, a quarter point hike (or not) from a level that remains near zero, shouldn’t be top on everyone’s mind. Keep in mind a huge chunk of the developed world’s sovereign bond market is in negative yield territory. And just two weeks ago Bernanke himself, intimated, not only should the Fed not raise rates soon, but could do everyone a favor — including the economy — by dialing down market expectations of such.
But the point we’ve been focused on is U.S. market and economic performance. Is the landscape favorable or unfavorable?
The narrative in the media (and for much of Wall Street) would have you think unfavorable. And given that largely pessimistic view of what lies ahead, expectations are low. When expectations are low (or skewed either direction) you get the opportunity to surprise. And positive surprises, with respect to the economy, can be a self-reinforcing events.
The reality is, we have a fundamental backdrop that provides fertile ground for good economic activity.
For perspective, let’s take a look at a few charts.
We have unemployment under 5%. Relative to history, it’s clearly in territory to fuel solid growth, but still far from a tight labor market.
What about the “real” unemployment rate all of the bears often refer to. When you add in “marginally attached” or discouraged job seekers and those working part-time for economic reasons (working part time but would like full time jobs) the rate is higher. But as you can see in the chart below that rate (the blue line) is returning to pre-crisis levels.
In the next chart, as we know, mortgage rates are at record lows – a 30 year fixed mortgage for about 3.5%.
Car loans are near record lows. This Fed chart shows near record lows. Take a look at your local credit union or car dealer and you’ll find used car loans going for 2%-3% and new car loans going for 0%-1%.
What about gas? In the chart below, you can see that gas is cheap relative to the past fifteen years, and after adjusted for inflation it’s near the cheapest levels ever.
Add to that, household balance sheets are in the best shape in a very long time. This chart goes back more than three decades and shows household debt service payments as a percent of disposable personal income.
As we’ve discussed before, the central banks have have pinned down interest rates that have warded off a deflationary spiral — and they’ve created the framework of incentives to hire, spend and invest. You can see a lot of that work reflected in the charts above.
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