Times They Are A’ Changin’

A decade ago, not one Chinese company made it in the list of the worldwide top 20 tech giants (based upon company valuations). Now, they hold 3 of the top 10 and 9 of the top 20.

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Is this a temporary passing like what happened with Japanese companies in the ‘80s? Or is just the beginning of a longer term shift of power eastward?


When economist talk about the “yield curve” they are really just referring to a plot of yield versus varying bond maturities. An inverted curve is when the difference between the yields of long term bonds (usually 10 year) rates to short (usually 2 year) is negative (short term yields are higher than long). This is a very closely watched benchmark by knowledgeable investors because we know every recession that has occurred in the US over the past 60 years has been preceded by an inverted yield curve, according to research from the San Francisco Fed. Curve inversions have correctly signaled all nine recessions since 1955 and had only one false positive, in the mid-1960s, when an inversion was followed by an economic slowdown but not an official recession, according to the Fed’s data. 

While the US yield curve is still positive (NOT inverted) the global curve just recently inverted for the first time since 2007 where its inversion lasted briefly (less than 6 months).  I have not seen any studies that show if global yield curve inversion has the same strong correlation to economic slowdowns (recessions) as it has in the US, so the implications of the crossover may or may not be of significance.   

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As a minimum though, it raises a warning flag for investors to take the portfolio off autopilot and have a plan. There is no question, a recession, if it were to ensue around the world would likely drag the US along. Economic slowdowns are rarely ever good for stock prices and when combined with us being in the latter stages of the 2009 economic recovery cycle while stock prices are at very extended valuations, next year looks like it could be shaping up to present challenges investors have not had to face in many years.

May 2018 Charts on the Move Video

The US stock markets continue to consolidate and digest its huge 2017 year run-up and subsequent double digit correction. The lone exception being small cap stocks as they have moved on to all-time highs. Will the rest of the market follow suit?  The benefit of the doubt has to be given to the prior underlying trend but I don't think the answer will be resolved any time soon. Until then, check out this month's Charts on the Move video at the link below  ...


The Fed is Behind but Still Screwing Up

With the markets still in a sideways, consolidative, sloppy, directionless chop, it’s becomes more difficult to identify ideas that aren’t following suit. During times like these I like to share the thoughts and views from other technicians. Not only does it provide a different perspective but also helps to keep investment biases in check. Regular readers know one of the people I respect and follow closely is Tom McClellan. Not only does Tom have a very unique and interesting approach to viewing the markets but his accuracy is very compelling. Today’s post, Tom’s latest hits home on a topic that has me very concerned about stocks continuing their climb higher over the intermediate term.


 The Fed is Behind but Still Screwing Up


Make me Emperor for a day, and I would compel the FOMC to outsource interest rate policy to the bond market.  Why should we pay 12 experts, most with expensive Ivy League PhD degrees, to do what the bond market can do far more efficiently (and cheaply)?

This week’s chart compares the 2-year T-Note yield to the stated Fed Funds target rate.  The FOMC has actually said that the target rate is 1.5% to 1.75%, so I’m splitting the difference by calling it 1.625%.  What this chart shows is that first, the two interest rates are very strongly correlated over time, which is as one would expect.  But second and more importantly, the 2-year yield knows best what the Fed should do.  And the Fed screws up when it does not listen.

If the FOMC would just set the Fed Funds target to within a quarter point of wherever the 2-year T-Note yield is, we would have fewer and quieter bubbles, and also much less severe economic downturns.  For whatever reason, the FOMC members have not learned this lesson.  None of them, as far as I know, is a subscriber, which is their loss. 

The “Taylor Rule” for setting short term rates is an equation involving figures for GDP, inflation rate, and “potential output”, all of which are numbers which can be fudged by statisticians.  The “McClellan Rule” is much simpler: listen to the 2-year T-Note Yield, which the statisticians cannot monkey around with.  By this rule, the Fed is still being overly stimulative, by setting the Fed Funds target well below where it ought to be.  In other words, the Fed is being “too loose” with interest rate policy, according to this measure.

But complicating that equation is what else the Fed is doing, in terms of liquidating its holdings of Treasury debt and Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS).  During 3 separate rounds of “quantitative easing” or QE, the Fed got up to total holdings of $4.25 trillion.  At the most rapid rate of acquisition, the Fed was buying up $85 billion per month in 2014.

In 2017, the Fed announced it would be starting to unwind those holdings, slowly at first, but accelerating to a rate of $30 billion per month of “quantitative tightening” (or QT) now in Q2 of 2018, and supposedly going to a rate of $40 billion per month in Q3.  So while interest rate policy is still arguably stimulative, that effect is counteracted by what the Fed is doing in other ways, sucking liquidity out of the banking system with its QT.


The Fed was a little bit slow at first in keeping up with its stated rate of QT, but it is catching up now.  One could argue that the Fed is not really selling off these assets, and instead it is just allowing them to expire and not be renewed.  But it is still the case that several billion dollars of debt are having to be absorbed by the market place instead of by the Fed.  It is also true that the size of QE between 2009 and 2015 was small compared to the total amount of federal debt, but it was still important enough to lift the stock market in a huge way. 

Now the amounts of the QT unwinding are pretty small compared to the total debt, but they are having a similar effect of depressing the stock market, just as QE elevated it.  And this is where the modeling gets difficult - interest rate policy is stimulative, by the Fed Funds target rate being below the 2-year yield.  But at the same time the Fed is being repressive by sucking liquidity out of the banking system with QT.  I don’t know how to construct a “balance of forces equation” to depict how those two factors interact with each other, as this is pretty new territory for market history.

But I can say that when the Fed worked hard to reduce the size of its balance sheet in 2008, during the worst liquidity crisis in decades, the effect was pretty direct and pretty obvious.  The Fed blew up Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers by sucking too much liquidity out of the banking system.


In a text note within this chart, I pose the rhetorical question of why the then-president of the NY Fed, Timothy Geithner, would orchestrate a huge reduction in the Fed’s holdings of Treasury debt during the worse liquidity crisis in years.  Part of the answer can be found in the historical observation that this bear market helped to assure the election of President Obama in November 2008.  And Mr. Obama very quickly appointed Timothy Geithner as his Treasury Secretary.  You can insert your own conspiracy theory here, since I don’t have subpoena authority to investigate contacts between the Obama campaign and the New York Fed in 2008. 

The point of that historical lesson which we should remember in the current moment is that having the Fed reduce the size of its balance sheet carries an enormously powerful effect on banking system liquidity.  My expectation is that by sometime later this summer, the FOMC is going to realize that its reduction of holdings of Treasuries and MBS is creating a big liquidity problem, and they will abandon or curtail those plans.  But it is going to require a lot of damage to the stock market to get them to realize what they need to do.  I expect that realization to hit them sometime around August 2018, and it should lead to a huge stock market rebound into year-end.  But it will be a rebound from a big selloff.

Is This the Reason for the High Divorce Rate?

This the Reason for the High Divorce Rate?

Do you think, based upon the Economists data below, if the tradition of the man giving his bride-to-be an engagement ring changed to giving stock certificates would materially decrease the divorce rate? At least they would be starting off on better financial footing (said with tongue planted firmly in cheek)

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