Saturday, August 15, 2009

Economics 15/08/2009: US rally is unlikely to last - implications for Ireland

Some are making lots of hay out of the idea that Germany, France, the US and the UK economies are improving and that this will have a positive effect on Ireland. Let me play a devil’s advocate here.

Yesterday I wrote about my view of GDP growth debate when the premise of growth is predicated on our exports (here).

One more factor is worth considering in this debate: interest rates and FOREX.

Scenario most likely: US is coming out of the recession in Q1 2010. By then, inflationary pressures are building up in the EU (we might be still below the target rate, but Monsieur Trichet is by then fully cognizant of deflation being over and money supply being out of whack by a thousand miles stretch). US inflation is already there, also below the target, but much closer than Eurozone’s. What happens next? Interest rates rise in the US and in the Eurozone. Dollar/Euro rate heads South, boosting our exports somewhat. But our CPI heads North as a combination of high taxes and rising mortgage financing costs wipes out households’ saving nests. Do you call this ‘growth’? or do you call it a disaster? Brendan Keenan and the likes of Davy seems to be happy to say it is the former. I would conjecture it is the latter.

Scenario less likely: US and EU come out of the recession jointly – around the end of Q1 2010. This means all of the above, but with Euro actually staying strong or even appreciating against the dollar. Double whammy then.

So let us cheer carefully any turnaround in the ‘partner’ economies, then…

But now, consider the whole idea of a turnaround. So far, our not too financially savvy media has been confusing stock market rally with economic fundamentals. I fear this is about to change in September/October. Here are three barometers:

Barometer 1: Personal. Last year, the crisis in our markets spelt a dramatic decline in my own income by ca 80% within a span of August-October. This year, the same process has just started anew with my sources of income falling and companies owing me cash falling further behind on their payments. And we are talking non-trivial amounts backlogged for over 90 days on invoices.

Barometer 2: Global trade. Once again, 2008 is perfectly reflected in 2009. In 2008, crisis in global trade and finance was pre-dated by the bottoming out of commodities cycles in late January 2008. In 2009, the same has happened in February 2009. As economy fell in 2008, Bear Sterns got rescued (March 15, 2008). In 2009 it was the turn for the Obama’s economic stimulus package – signed on March 6, 2009. Now, all along, global trade collapse followed smaller pre-shocks. June-August 2008: Baltic Dry Index, having peaked in May, collapsed 28%. June-August 2009, having peaked for the year in June 2009, BDI falls 25%. All seasonally adjusted, mind you. In 2008 this was followed by massive short selling in the financial markets and bottoming out of stock markets on July 15, 2008. Short-covering leads to a rally thereafter with the next two weeks yielding a 5% rise in S&P500. In 2009 the story is slightly different yet the timings are the same and the net impact is the same as well. Banned naked shortselling implies longer lags for translating expectations into price movements, so July 10 stock markets bottom coincident with the Fed injecting some $80bn into the market for the first time in a month, produce a short-covering rally of 12% (S&P500) in exactly the same period as last year.

Barometer 3: Fundamentals. In the meantime, as 2008 short-covering rally was unfolding, global trade was shrinking fast – chart below.

In case you are still wondering, the same has happened in 2009 so far (chart below):

So in both years we have BDI scissoring away from the S&P500 – right before the main wave hits the shores on Wall Street. The real economy took hold with a delay back in 2008 due to the short-covering rallies triggered by regulatory moves. Ditto this year. And trade flows fundamentals are not alone in showing no support for a sustained rally in the stock markets. Here are some other signs:

Short run dynamics in the stock markets are now firmly showing increasing volatility: VIX has declined from July 2008 through August before taking off up the cliff in September 2008. So far, the same dynamics are present in terms of decline and increasing volatility of VIX itself.

The US consumer sentiment index fell unexpectedly in early August to 63.2 from 66.0 in July - the lowest reading since March, according to the Reuters/University of Michigan index. Now, as the chart illustrates, UofM survey index also peaked in August 2008 before heading rapidly South.
Although the seasonally adjusted output of the US factories, mines and utilities increased 0.5% last month (for the first time since December 2007), reversing course after a 0.4% decline in June, annual output is still down 13.1% in the past year. But the current bounce is fictitious, as capacity utilization increase from 68.1% to 68.5% was minor and on top of the record low of June – so no restart of an investment cycle any time soon. Worse than that – all gains in industrial output in July were due to teh US car makers deciding to re-supply stocks. Motor vehicle production jumped 20.1% on a back of a planned increase following earlier severe production cutbacks as General Motors and Chrysler went through bankruptcy. So ex autos, industrial output for July was off 0.1% while manufacturing output rose just 0.2%. Output of high-tech industries rose 0.4% in July (still down 20% in the past year).

Finally, unemployment – I wrote about this ‘surprise dip’ in last month’s unemployment figures before (all based on an actual fall in the labour force participation rates, not on a slowdown of jobs destruction. But while ordinary unemployment rate is scarry, the duration of an average unemployment spell (the second chart below) is frightening. Since the Department of Labor started collecting data in the late 1940’s, there hasn’t been unemployment spell that lasted this
long: July 2009 at 25.1 weeks. The previous highest peak in the average duration of unemployment: July 1983 = 21.2 weeks.

So nothing, short of something strange brewing in Wall Street’s Caffeteria, underpins the last rally. And this means a nasty September/October market is a distinct possibility.

And what does this mean for Ireland? Ok, there is an interesting analysis to be had on the spillover from the potential correction in the US to that in here. In particular, we should look at the fundamentals behind the financial sector risk exposures to any additional shocks. Remember - in 2008 the meltdown of financials was much deeper in Ireland than it was in the rest of the Euroze. And of course in the rest of the Eurozone it was much deeper than in the US.

Why? Risk exposures differentials due to leverage. Americans had a subprime crisis. True. Eurozone had an over-borrowing crisis. Prior to the onset of the financial crisis, US financial sector leveraging was around 40% of GDP, Eurozone stood at 70% of GDP, in Ireland - at well over 350% of GDP. Hmmm... smelling the rat yet?

Well, take a look at the two charts below (courtesy of
R&S - Mediobanca):The first chart shows leverage as % of GDP in the financial sector, the second one - risk exposures measured as total securities relative to net tangible equity. Now, for Ireland, the comparable figures are: leverage at 425% (Q1 2009), risk exposure is simply indetrminable as our banks have been engaged in a wholesale re-shifting of liabilities and rewriting of assets, but it is hard to imagine our risk ratios to be less than 15% (given some of our banks are facing 30-39% stress on their loan books).

So if the US were to catch a cold in October, while Europe is to get another bout of flu, Ireland might come down with something so nasty, we wish we had an H1N1 'swine' flu hitting our financial markets...

What's that stock market equivalent of Tamiflu, then?


John Pardway said...

Wouldn't inflation be a good thing for Ireland. I would think that an Irish mortgage holder should lock in a low fixed rate now. Then when interest rates and inflation rise, they can inflate themselves out of their negative equity.

It seems to me that inflation is the only way Ireland can get out of its collapsed asset valuations. Plus it could also inflate itself away from current high levels of Public Service pay.

Regarding the VIX, I read some research this week from McMillan, that they calculate the US stock market in 2009 has an 89% correlation so far with 1938. That year, prices peaked in July, sloped down through September, but then whooshed up to new highs in Oct and Nov.

The Galway Tent said...

BIFFO, NAMA, DDDA+Anglo and co are destroying Ireland's future by misdirecting money into non-productive cement-related activities, falsely labelled as ‘assets’. This undermines the potential for a culture of innovation. The latest Leaving Cert students dream of civil service jobs.

Meanwhile in Silicon Valley:
"Silicon Valley is supporting fewer jobs but issuing fatter paychecks, according to a federal report that says high-tech payrolls have shrunk about 17 percent since 2001, while the average tech wage has risen nearly 36 percent."

Average high-tech salaries are mostly in the $125,000 to $165,000 range, varying by high tech segment {software is $164,000). Mid-level jobs are being eliminated in SV, and these offshored jobs will now bypass Ireland.