Wednesday, July 31, 2019

31/7/19: Fed rate cut won't move the needle on 'Losing Globally' Trade Wars impacts

Dear investors, welcome to the Trump Trade Wars, where 'winning bigly' is really about 'losing globally':

As the chart above, via FactSet, indicates, companies in the S&P500 with global trading exposures are carrying the hefty cost of the Trump wars. In 2Q 2019, expected earnings for those S&P500 firms with more than 50% revenues exposure to global (ex-US markets) are expected to fall a massive 13.6 percent. Revenue declines for these companies are forecast at 2.4%.

This is hardly surprising. U.S. companies trading abroad are facing the following headwinds:

  1. Trump tariffs on inputs into production are resulting in slower deflation in imports costs by the U.S. producers than for other economies (as indicated by this evidence:
  2. At the same time, countries' retaliatory measures against the U.S. exporters are hurting U.S. exports (U.S. exports are down 2.7 percent in June).
  3. U.S. dollar is up against major currencies, further reducing exporters' room for price adjustments.
Three sectors are driving S&P500 earnings and revenues divergence for globally-trading companies:
  • Industrials,
  • Information Technology,
  • Materials, and 
  • Energy.
What is harder to price in, yet is probably material to these trends, is the adverse reputational / demand effects of the Trump Administration policies on the ability of American companies to market their goods and services abroad. The Fed rate cut today is a bit of plaster on the gaping wound inflicted onto U.S. internationally exporting companies by the Trump Trade Wars. If the likes of ECB, BoJ and PBOC counter this move with their own easing of monetary conditions, the trend toward continued concentration of the U.S. corporate earnings and revenues in the U.S. domestic markets will persist. 

31/7/19: Canary in the Treasuries mine

Judging by U.S. Treasuries, things are getting pretty ugly in the economy:

The gap between long-dated bond yields and short-dated paper yields has accurately predicted/led the last three recessions (the latter are marked by red averages in the chart).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

27/7/19: A Cautionary Tale of Irish-UK Trade Numbers

Per recent discussion on Twitter, I decided to post some summary stats on changes in Irish total trade with the UK in recent years.

Here is the summary of period-averages for 2003-2017 data (note: pre-2003 data does not provide the same quality of coverage for Services trade and is harder to compare to more modern data vintage).

So, overall, across three periods (pre-Great Recession, 2003-2008), during the Great Recession (2009-2013) and in the current recovery period (2014-2017, with a caveat that annual data is only available through 2017 for all series), we have:

  • UK share of total exports and imports by Ireland in merchandise trade has fallen from an average annual share of 23.31 percent in pre-Great Recession period, to 18.06 percent in the post-crisis recovery period.
  • However, this decline in merchandise trade importance of the UK has been less than matched by a shallower drop in Services trade: UK share of total services exports and imports by Ireland has fallen from 64.86 percent in pre-crisis period to 62.97 percent in the recovery period.
  • Overall, taking in both exports and imports across both goods and services trade flows, UK share of Irish external trade has risen from 41.43 percent in the pre-crisis period to 45.4 percent in the current period.
  • Statistically, neither period is distinct from the overall historical average (based on 95% confidence intervals around the historical mean), which really means that all trends (in decline in the UK share in Goods & Services and in increase across all trade) are not statistically different from being... err... flat. 
  • Taken over shorter time periods, there has been a statistically significant decline in UK share of Merchandise trade in 2014-2017 relative to 2003-2005, but not in Services trade, and the increase in the UK share of Irish overall trade was also statistically significant over these period ranges. 
  • Overall, therefore, Total trade and Services trade trends are relatively weak, subject to volatility, while Merchandise trend is somewhat (marginally) more pronounced.
Here are annual stats plotted:

Using (for accuracy and consistency) CSO data on Irish trade (Services and Merchandise) by the size of enterprise (available only for 2017), the UK share of Irish trade is disproportionately more significant for SMEs:

In 2017, SMEs (predominantly Irish indigenous exporters and importers who are the largest contributors to employment in Ireland, and thus supporters of the total tax take - inclusive of payroll taxes, income taxes, corporate taxes, business rates etc) exposure to trade with the UK was 51.2 percent of total Irish exports and imports. For large enterprises, the corresponding importance of the UK as Ireland's trading partner was 13.62 percent. 

In reality, of course, Irish trade flows with the UK are changing. They are changing in composition and volumes, and they are reflecting general trends in the Irish economy's evolution and the strengthening of Irish trade links to other countries. These changes are good, when not driven by politics, nationalism, Brexit or false sense of 'political security' in coy Dublin analysts' brigades. Alas, with more than half of our SMEs trade flows being still linked to the UK, it is simply implausible to argue that somehow Ireland has been insulated from the UK trade shocks that may arise from Brexit. Apple's IP, Facebook's ad revenues, and Google's clients lists royalties, alongside aircraft leasing revenues and assets might be insulated just fine. Real jobs and real incomes associated with the SMEs trading across the UK/NI-Ireland border are not.

Whilst a few billion of declines in the FDI activity won't change our employment rosters much, 1/10th of that drop in the SMEs' exports or imports will cost some serious jobs pains, unless substituted by other sources for trade. And anyone who has ever been involved in exporting and/or importing knows: substitution is a hard game in the world of non-commodities trade.

Friday, July 26, 2019

26/7/19: Stop Equating Low Unemployment Rate to High Employment Rate

There is always a lot of excitement around the unemployment stats these days. Why, with near-historical lows, and the talk about 'full employment', there is much to be celebrated and traded on in the non-farm payrolls stats and Labor Department press releases. But the problem with all the hoopla around these numbers is that it too often mixes together things that should not be mixed together. Like, say, mangos and frogs, or apples and moths.

Take a look at the following data:

Yes, unemployment is low. Civilian unemployment rate is currently at seasonally-adjusted 3.7% (June 2019), and Unemployment rate for: 20 years and over, at 3.3%, seasonally adjusted. On 3mo average basis, last time we have seen comparable levels of Civilian unemployment was in 1969, and 20+ Unemployment rate was in 2000. Kinda cool, but also revealing: historical lows in unemployment require  Civilian unemployment metric to confirm. Which means that factoring in Government employment, things are bit less impressive today. But let us not split hairs.

Here is the problem, however: record lows in unemployment are not the same as record levels in employment. Low unemployment, in fact, does not mean high employment.

To see this, look at the solid red line, plotting Employment rate for 20 years and older population. The measure currently sits at 71.2 percent and the last three months average is at 71.1 percent.  Neither is historically impressive. In fact, both are below all months (ex-recessions) for 1990-2008. Actually, not shown in the graph, you would have to go back to 1987 to see the same levels of employment rate as today. Oops...

But why is unemployment being low does not equate to employment being high? Well, because of a range of factors, the dominant one being labor force participation. It turns out (as the chart above also shows), we are near historical (for the modern economy's period) lows in terms of people willing to work or search for jobs. Or put differently, we are at historical highs in terms of people being disillusioned with the prospect of searching for a job. Darn! The 'best unemployment stats, ever' and the worst 'willingness to look for a job, ever'.

U.S. Labor Force Participation rate is at 62.9 percent (62.8 percent for the last three months average). And it has been steadily falling from the peak in 1Q 2000 (at 67.3 percent).

When we estimate the relationship between the Employment rate and the two potential factors: the Unemployment rate and the Participation rate, historically (since 1970s) and within the modern economy period (since 1990) as well as in more current times (since 2000), and since the end of the Great Recession (since 2010) several things stand out:

  1. Unemployment rate is weakly negatively correlated with Employment rate, or put differently, decreases in unemployment rate are associated with small increases in employment; across all periods;
  2. Labor force participation rate is strongly positively correlated with Employment rate. In other words, small increases in labor force participation rate are associated with larger increases in employment; across all periods;
  3. Labor force participation rate, in magnitude of its effect on Employment rate, is roughly 14-15 times larger, than the effect of Unemployment rate on Employment rate; across all periods; and
  4. The relatively more important impact of Labor force participation rate on Employment, compared to the impact of Unemployment rate on Employment has actually increased (albeit not statistically significantly) in the last 9 years.
These points combined mean that one should really start paying more attention to actual jobs additions and employment rate, as well as participation rate, than to the unemployment rate; and this suggestion is more salient for today's economy than it ever was in any other period on record.

But above all, please, stop arguing that low unemployment rate means high employment. Bats are not cactuses, mangos are not moths and CNN & Fox kommentariate are not really analysts.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

22/7/19: What Import Price Indices Do Not Say About Trump's Trade War

A few days ago, I saw on Twitter some economics commentators, not quite analysts, presenting the following 'evidence' that Trump tariffs are being paid for by China: the U.S Import Price index has declined in recent months, to below 100. In the view of some commentators, this signifies the fact that the U.S. is now paying less for imports from the ret of the world because Chinese producers are taking a hit on tariffs imposed onto their goods by the Trump Administration and do not pass through these tariffs onto the U.S. consumers.

The argument is a total hogwash. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes (see, import price indices do not incorporate tariffs and duties charged at the border. They actually explicitly exclude these. The indices do not include any taxes, by design.

The indices are quality-balanced, so they are rebalanced to reflect relative quality of goods and commodities supplied. If the U.S. importer gets a better quality (new model, improved model etc) of a good from the exporting country for the same price as the older model, this registers as a decrease in the import price index.

Worse, as BLS notes: "Import/Export Price Indexes cannot be used to measure differences in price levels among different products and services or among different localities of origin. A higher index number for locality A (or product X) does not necessarily mean that prices are higher than for locality B (or product Y) with a lower index number. It only means that prices have risen faster for locality A (or product X) since the reference period."

Note the words: "reference period". Which leads to yet another major problem with the argument that BLS index shows that 'China is absorbing tariffs costs' from the Trump Trade War: it is based on a spot (one point) observation. So let's take a look at the time series. Remember, Trump Trade War started at the very end of 1Q 2018 (March 2018). So here are 'reference period' consistent comparatives for import price indices for a range of regions and countries:

What the chart above tells us is that over the period of the trade war so far, U.S. imports price index indicates some deflation of imports costs, somewhere in the region of 1.13 percentage points. But over the same period of time, China index experienced a decline of 1.36 percentage points. If China is 'paying for U.S. tariffs', the U.S. is paying more than China does, which is of course, entirely possible, but immaterial to the data at hand.

Worse, if declining import price indices are an indicator of a country 'paying for tariffs', well, Canada seems to be paying for most of the Trump Trade War globally, while Japan is paying a little-tiny-bit. Tremendous! Art of the Deal! And all the rest applies.

Of course, what the declines in the vast majority of import price indices suggests is the opposite of the 'China is paying for the U.S. tariffs' story. Instead, they tell us about the inherent weakening in the global demand, the deflationary pressures in key commodities markets (yes, oil, but also soy beans, etc), the deflationary pressures from new technologies and, finally, the changes in currencies valuations.

No, folks, there are no winners in the trade wars, but there are smaller losers and bigger losers. When you impose tariffs on final and intermediate goods, consumers and producers loose. When you impose trade restrictions on imports of basic commodities, without altering global markets supply and demand, you are simply substituting suppliers (see  The latter change might involve some costs, but these costs are much lower than restricting trade in higher value added goods.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

21/7/19: The Budgets of Wars: An Updated Study of U.S. Military Stocks Performance

A new and much-improved version of our paper "The Budgets of Wars: Analysis of the U.S. Defense Stocks in the Post-Cold War Era" is now available at SSRN:


Thursday, July 18, 2019

17/9/19: Flight from Fundamentals is Flight from Quality: Corporate Risk

Great chart via @jessefelder highlighting the extent to which the bond markets are getting seriously divorced from the normal 'fundamentals' of corporate finance:

Corporate debt has expanded at roughly x2 the rate of growth of corporate earnings since the start of this decade. And corporate bond yields are persistently heading South (see: and investment for growth is falling (see: Which continues to put more and more pressure on corporate valuations. As a friend recently remarked, at 2% interest rates, the game will be over. It might be over at 2% or 3% or 1.5%... take your number pick with a pinch of sarcasm... but one thing is certain, earnings no longer sustain markets valuations, real corporate investment no longer sustains financialized investment models, and economy no longer sustain real, broadly-based growth. Something must give.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

16/7/19: Corporate Yields are Heading South in the Euro Land

Some of the euro area's junk-rated corporate debt is now trading at negative yields, and over 15% of near-junk debt is also charging the lenders to provide cash to financially weaker companies:

Source: WSJ

While the overall stock of negative yielding debt (sovereign and corporate) is now nearing $13.5 trillion worldwide:
Source: Bloomberg

All in 51 percent of all European Government bonds are trading at negative yields, and just over 30 percent of all investment grade corporate bond issued in Euro.

The percentage of negative yielding debt amongst junk-rated corporates is small. Bank of America ML estimated that the percentage of BB-rated European corporate bonds with negative yield rose from 0.225% at the end of May to 1.5% at the end of June. Back then, 14 companies had junk-rated bonds rated BB or lower with negative yields, with total market value of $3 billion.

The chart below plots corporate junk-rated bond yields index for the euro issuers:

Meanwhile, Greek Government bonds auction this week went into a massive demand overdrive. Greece sold more than EUR13 billion worth of 7-year bonds, almost EUR11 billion more than it planned originally, at the yields of 1.9 percent, or 2.4 percentage points above the Eurozone benchmark average. The spread to Eurozone benchmark has now fallen from 3.73 percent in March sale. In fact, U.S. 7 year bonds are selling at a yield of 1.97 percent, implying lower yields for Greek debt than the U.S. debt.

Here is the chart plotting Euro area sovereign yield curves for AAA-rated and for all bonds:

The yields on AAA-rated debt are negative out to 13 years maturity, and for all bonds to 8 years maturity. 

16/7/19: Monetary Policy Paradigm: To Cut or To Cut, and Not to Not Cut

QE is back... almost. After a decade plus of failing to deliver on its core objectives, and having primed the massive bubble in risky assets, while pumping sky high wealth inequality through massive monetary transfers to the established Wall Street elites... all while denying that we are in an ongoing secular stagnation. So, courtesy of the unpredictable, erratic and highly uneven economic parameters performance of the last 12 months, we now have this:

Because, for all the obvious reasons, doing more of the same and expecting a different result is the wisdom of the policymaking in the 21st century.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

13/7/19: A New Era of Entrepreneurship? Not in Data so Far...

We are living in the Great New Era of Entrepreneurship that started in 2013 (according to someone at Forbes) and the academia is pumping high entrepreneurship training and education (the Golden Era, according to some don from Stanford). Living in all of this 'game changing' stuff around you can be daunting, inducing FOMO and other behavioural nudges toward dropping everything and launching that new unicorn doing something disruptive and raking in the miracle dollars that everyone around you seems to be minting out of thin air. Right?

Well, not so fast. Here's the data from the U.S. - that 'super-charged engine of enterprising folks':

Hmm... anyone can spot the 'New Era' in entrepreneurship out there, other than the one with historically low rates of business creation?

13/7/19: Mapping the declines in jobs creation

Increasing market power concentration, falling entrepreneurship, rising concentration amongst the start ups, unicorns and billions in investment, the markets have been rewarding larger companies at the expense of the smaller and medium enterprises for years. And this has had a problematic impact on human capital and jobs creation.

Here is the data on the levels of employment in medium-large companies over the years, based on the U.S. markets data:

In simple terms, per each dollar of investors' money, today's companies are creating fewer jobs - a trend that was present since at least 2000, and consistent with the onset of the Goldilocks Economy. But the most pronounced collapse in jobs creation from investment has been since 2017. Excluding recessionary periods, in 2002-2006 average annual decline in the number of employees per $1 billion in market valuation was 3.45%. Over 2009-2013 this number rose to 4.73% and in 2014-2019 the rate of decrease averaged 8.05% per annum.

13/7/19: BRICS and G7

As a side note: the BRICS now have a bigger share of the world economy than the Euro area and the U.S. combined:

In 2019, BRICS combined GDP will surpass (using PPP-adjusted GDP) that of G7 economies, and in 2020, based on IMF forecasts, it will exceed the combined share of the world GDP for the US + EU27 economies.

Not a single BRICS economy is currently represented in G7. Dire...

13/7/19: BRICS Current Account Surpluses: Its Russia and China Story

China and Russia dominate BRICS' current account dynamics and this is not about to change.

Both China and Russia have been posting strong current account figures in recent years, and this is not changing with the onset of the Russia sanctions in 2014 and the Trump Trade Wars in 2018. The two economies clearly dominate the emerging markets' current account dynamics in terms of both the sign of the balances (surpluses) and their magnitudes.

The caveat for Russia is that its current account gains are coming in at the time of relative weakness in its exports and net capital outflows:

Meanwhile, per latest data, U.S. trade deficit with China has widened once again as Chinese exports to the U.S. contracted by ca 7.8 percent y/y, while U.S. exports to China fell 31.4 percent. Which means the U.S. trade deficit with china is up 3 percent compared to June 2018.

It is a classic textbook example on how to lose 'bigly' from a trade war.

13/7/19: Russian v European Dependency Ratios: 1950-2100

Doing some numbers crunching on a different project, I just came across this interesting database from the UN showing population projections through 2100. One interesting aspect of this data is the forecasts/projections for the dependency ratio - basically, a number of working age population per 100 people of non-working age.

There are caveats attached to the analysis of this data, including the changes in the duration of the working age (over the years, younger age dependency has moved toward 24 years from 19 years due to extended period spent in education, while for older age dependency, the mark has been moving from 64 years to 69 years as the last year in working age group). These caveats aside, here is a really eye-opening chart:

We consistently hear about the demographic catastrophe that has visited Russia since 1990-1991 collapse of the USSR. We are also constantly hearing the claim that the Russian society is demographically so challenged, it is running out of people. The chart above shows that, actually, that is not exactly true. Russia has been showing pretty decent readings on population dependency ratio compared to its peers ever since the mid-1970s. More so, through 2020, the estimates from the UN suggest that Russia is performing better than its peers in Europe in terms of overall dependency. This is expected to change - to the detriment of the Russian society and economy - in 2030-2040, but thereafter, Russia is expected to once again perform better than overall Europe.

Similar picture arises when one looks at more modern definition of dependency age ranges:

This data suggests that the popular narrative about the relative decline of Russian population dynamics compared to other European states is at least highly imperfect.

13/7/19: Great Recession in Europe and the U.S. Great Depression

In a one-chart summary, why Euro has been a painfully failing experiment in monetary policy:

The above chart shows the comparative in real GDP levels between the Great Depression in the U.S. (1929-1936) and the Great Recession in Greece (starting from 2008 with data through 2018, and then using IMF estimate for 2019 published in April 2019 WEO, and IMF WEO forecasts from 2020 through 2024, data from 2025 on is taken at a linear trend using 2024 growth forecast). In simple terms, the U.S. real GDP reached its pre-Great Depression levels in the 7th year following the onset of the crisis, although some estimates put this to year 10, depending on the base used.  Greek Great Recession is now in year 11, and counting. By the end of 2019, the IMF estimates that the Greek economy will be 22.1 percent below the 2007 levels, and by 2024 (the furthest IMF forecast we have), it is expected to be 16.2 percent below the 2007 levels.

While one can make the point on Greece's 'unique status' as an economy that should never have been in the Euro in the first place, three arguments stand out against this point:

  1.  Greece is a member of the Eurozone, and if this membership was attained over all rational arguments against it, this very fact shows that the Euro is a poorly structured monetary arrangement; 
  2. As a member of the Eurozone, Greece should have been provided with monetary and fiscal tools for addressing the massive crisis the country experienced. Per chart above, it clearly was not accorded such: and
  3. Greece is hardly the only economy in this situation. Italy is patently in the same boat, and as shown in the chart below, nine out of the EA19 states have experienced longer duration of recovery from the Great Recession than the U.S. from the Great Depression.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

10/7/19: Financialising Stagnant Growth: From Japanified Economy to Christine Lagarde

Monetary policy since the GFC of 2008 has been characterised by the near-zero (and even negative) policy rates, negative bank rates, negative Government debt yields and rampant asset price inflation. The result has been zombification of the advanced economies.

Here is the latest advanced estimate of the Eurozone real GDP growth based on the CEPR/Banca d'Italia Eurocoin indicator:
Current forecast for 2Q 2019 growth in the Eurozone, based on Eurocoin indicator is for 0.17% q/q expansion. June Eurocoin sits at 0.14%, the lowest since September 2013. The growth rate forecast has now been sub-0.25% (below 1% annual) in five months (through June 2019) and counting. Meanwhile, the link between growth and inflation has been weakening, as shown in the chart below:

Both, from the point of view of view of the current data relative to 1Q 2019 and to 2Q 2018 and to Q1 2018, growth rates are shrinking, per above. The ECB, however, remains stuck in the proverbial hard corner (chart next):

 Five years into zero policy rates, inflation is gradually creeping up (chart above), but growth is nowhere to be seen (chart next):

Worse, tangible fundamentals (captured by the models, like Eurocoin) of economic growth are becoming less and less consistent with actual growth outruns - a feature of the economy that is becoming dependent on things other than real investment and real demand for generating expansion in GDP. Both, the chart above and the chart below, highlight this troubling fact.
All of this suggests that we are in the period in economic development that is fully consistent with the secular stagnation thesis: traditional tools of monetary and fiscal policies are no longer sufficient in generating real economic growth. Instead, these tools help sustain economies overloaded with debt. It is an extend-and-pretend model of economic development: as long as corporates and households can be supported in carrying existent debt loads through monetary accommodation, the economy remains afloat (no recession, nor crisis blowout), but the levels of debt are so prohibitively high that no new debt can be accumulated to generate economic expansion.

The markets know as much. Investors know that zombie loans (loans with no capacity of servicing them should interest rates rise) mean zombie banks. Zombie banks mean zombie new borrowing markets. Zombie new borrowing markets mean zombie real investment by households and companies. Zombie investment means zombie demand. Zombie demand means deflationary supply. Rinse and repeat.

This knowledge in the markets is tangible. It takes a change in investors expectations (as in recent changes in outlook toward the reversal of the monetary tightening in the U.S. and Europe) to reprice assets. No actual value added growth enters the equation. Assets are no longer being priced on their productive capacity. And the markets are now fully finacialised. Which is to say, they are now fully monetary policy-driven.

Enter Christine Lagarde, the new head of the ECB. Lagarde's appointment is hardly an accident or a politically correct nod to women in leadership. It is the only logical choice of the financialised zombie economics of the monetary policy. To re-start borrowing or debt cycle, the EU is hoping for mutualisation of the sovereign debt markets. In other words, it is hoping to leverage the only unencumbered asset the EU still has: surplus countries' bonds. Lagarde's job at the ECB will be to run the creation of the eurobonds, bonds that will proportionally link euro area members' bonds into a single product to be monetised by the ECB as a support for market pricing. There is probably EUR 2-3 trillion worth of the international and monetary demand for these, opening up the room for more borrowing and more fiscal spending.

Monday, July 8, 2019

7/7/19: Employment to Population Rate in the U.S.: General Labor Force vs African Americans

With 'booming' and 'tight' labor markets, the White House is only happy to argue these days that we are in a Golden Era of employment/unemployment for all, including the African Americans. Is this, in fact, the case?

Firstly, I am not too keen on the arguments that any President in office should get the credit for jobs creation. At the very best, Presidential decisions simply support jobs creation by the private sector, and can be instrumental in creating jobs (albeit less in sustaining them) in the public sector. Secondly, jobs are just numbers, unless they are distinguished by their quality - something that is hard to do.

But the White House claims are usually about the aggregate jobs numbers / statistics, as opposed to the more granular analysis. So it might be worth taking them to the test.

One comparable - across different cohorts and time periods, as well as business cycles - metric is that of employment to population ratio. It takes total number in employment and divides it into the total population of working age for a specific group. Here is the chart (data from FRED database with calculations performed by myself):

Across the entire workforce, E-to-P ratio is sitting at 60.6%, statistically indistinguishable from the historical average of 60.64%, and 4.1 percentage points below all time high of 64.7%. For the category 'Black or African American', the E-to-P ratio is currently at 58.2%, which is above 55.13% historical average and is 3.2 percentage points below all time high of 61.4%.

Which means that current reading for African Americans population in terms of employment-to-population ratio is better, relative to their own historical trends than for the overall population. But, the ratio is still lower for African Americans than for the overall population in level terms.

What about the historical positioning of the gap between the overall population E-to-P ratios and that for the African Americans?

The gap between the employment-to-population ratio for the African Americans and that for the overall population is around the lowest levels it has ever been and is well below the historical average.

So, yes, the claims that employment has been relatively strong for both the general population and for the African Americans pans out to be true in at least this metric, which is - as noted above - by far not the only metric that matters.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

7/7/19: 2Q 2019 BRIC PMIs: The Bad, The Ugly, and The Uglier Still

BRIC PMIs for June are out and with them we have 2Q 2019 figures. And the story they tell is two-fold:

  • Fold 1: There is an ongoing Global-scale slowdown in the economy that is broad, sharp and testing the waters of a mild recession approaching
  • Fold 2: The BRICs are barely providing any upside support to the Global momentum.
Take Manufacturing:

This is simply the 'Uglier' side of the ugly. Global Manufacturing PMI hit 49.8 in 2Q 2019 - statistically, zero growth level, nominally - a manufacturing recession ward, albeit a very shallow one. More ominously, we now 6 consecutive quarters into declining growth reading. Now, per BRICS: Brazil at 50.9 (holding somewhat just above the water line, but down from 53.0 in 1Q 2019); Russia is at 50.1 - basically zero growth and down from 51.3 in 1Q 2019; India is at 52.2, down from 53.6 in 1Q 2019, and China is at 49.9, having delivered four quarters of statistically zero growth readings. So BRIC GDP shares-weighted Manufacturing PMI is at 50.6, which means the overall Manufacturing sector is barely staying afloat on the choppy growth seas. In 1Q 2019 the same was 51.0 and the 2q 2019 reading is at the lowest level since 3Q 2016.

Services sector posted Global PMI at 52.1. Which sounds like 'growth, but is hardly impressive. 2Q 2019 was the weakest since 4Q 2016, and marks the fourth quarter of shrinking PMI readings.

BRICs: Why, they are barely staying above the Global trend. Brazil is in a statistical Services recession at 48.6 in 2Q 2019, the worst reading in 3 consecutive quarters; Russia posted Services PMI of 51.4 in 2Q 2019 - seemingly respectable, but the lowest reading since 4Q 2015; China Services PMI is at 53.1, basically unchanged on 53.0 in 1Q 2019 (about the only 'british' spot); and India is at 50.3, the lowest for any quarter since 1Q 2018.

All of which means that the Composite activity index reading is a bit of debacle:

Overall, Global Composite PMI fell to 51.5 in 1Q 2019, the lowest reading since 2Q 2016. Dynamics are also bad: Global Composite PMI has now declined every quarter since its local peak of 54.2 in 1Q 2018. And the BRICs are in the same boat: Brazil Composite is at 49.3, the lowest reading in 3 quarters; Russia Composite at 51.2, the lowest in 13 quarters; India Composite at 51.4 is the slowest growth signal in seven quarters; and China is at 51.4 for the lowest reading in 8 quarters.

Not a pretty sight... 

7/7/19: Investment for growth is at record lows for S&P500

Interesting chart via @DavidSchawel showing changes over time in corporate (S&P500 companies) distribution of earnings:

In simple terms:

  1. Much discussed shares buybacks are still the rage: running at 31% of all cash distributions, second highest level after 34% in 2007. On a cumulated basis, and taking into the account already reduced free float in S&P 500 over the years, this is a massive level of buybacks.
  2. 'Investment for growth' - as defined - is at 51% - the lowest on record.
  3. Meaningful investment for growth (often opportunistic M&As) is at 38%, tied for the lowest with 2007 figure.
S&P 500 firms are clearly not in investment mode. Despite 'Trump incentives' - under the TCJA 2017 tax cuts act - actual capex is running tied to the second lowest levels for 2018 and 2019, at 26% of all cash distributions.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

6/7/19: American Pride: Another Divide

A great nation, divided and wanting for change as it may be... But just how divided are Americans? Bloomberg chart on a recent Gallup Poll data is quite telling:

The first thing to note is the demographic divide by age. Less than 50 percent of 18-29 year olds in the survey are 'extremely' or 'very' proud of being American. Less than 2/3rds of those of age 30-49 do as well. For older generations, the same number is 80 percent and higher.

The second is the partisan divide by party affiliation: only 50 percent of those identifying with the Democratic Party are 'extremely' or 'very' proud, against ca 95 percent of the Republicans. The Independents clock in under 65 percent.

Overall, Liberals, Democrats and the young are the flash points of relative disenchantment with the American identity, although the proportions of those who do not identify themselves as proud whatsoever and those identifying as proud 'only a little' is below 1/3rd for all three categories.

The numbers suggest less of a disillusionment problem than the weakening of the sentiment. Which does offer a glimpse of hope: repairing American's perceptions of their identity is not an insurmountable task. The good news, American people do appear to be longing for change and hope. The tougher-to-deal-with news is that we seem to lack leadership candidates to take us there...

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

3/7/19: Record Recovery: Duration and Perceptions

While last month the ongoing 'recovery' has clocked the longest duration of all recoveries in the U.S. history (see chart 1 below), there is a continued and sustained perception of this recovery as being somehow weak.

And, in fairness, based on real GDP growth during the modern business cycles (next chart), current expansion is hardly impressive:

However, public perceptions should really be more closely following personal disposal income dynamics than the aggregate economic output growth. So here is a chart plotting evolution of the real disposable income per capita through business cycles:

By disposable income metrics, here is what matters:

  1. The Great Recession was horrific in terms of duration and depth of declines in personal disposable income.
  2. The recovery has been extremely volatile over the first 7 years.
  3. It took 22 quarters for personal disposable income to recover to the levels seen in the third quarter of the recovery.
So what matters to the public perception of the recovery in the current cycle is the long-lasting memory of the collapse, laced with the negative perceptions lingering from the early years of the recovery.

To confirm this, look at the average rate of recovery in the real disposable income per quarter of the recovery cycle. The next two charts plot this metric, relative to the (a) full business cycle - from the start of the recession to the end of the recovery (next chart) and (b) recovery cycle alone - from the trough of the recession to the end of the recovery (second chart below):

So looking at the trough-to-peak part of the cycle (the expansion part of the cycle) alone implies we are experiencing the best recovery on modern record. But looking at the start-of-recession-to-end-of-recovery cycle, the current recovery period has been less than spectacular, ranking fourth in strength overall.

Which is, of course, to say that our negative perceptions of the recovery are anchored to our experience of the crisis. We are, after all, behavioral animals, rather than rational agents.

2/7/19: Inverted Yield Curve

Inverting U.S. yield curve is one of the best early indicators of recessions. Or at least it used to be... before all the monetary policy shenanigans of the last 11 years. Regardless, the latest U.S. Treasury yields dynamics are quite disquieting:

2/7/19: Factset: Negative EPS guidance hits the highest 2Q level since 2Q 2006

Bad news for the 'fundamentals are sound' crowd when it comes to justifying stock markets exuberance: based on data from Factset, to-date, the number of companies reporting negative earnings per share (EPS) guidance in 2Q 2019 has reached 87 - the highest number after 1Q 2016, and the highest number for any 2Q period since 2006. Total number of reporting companies to-date is 113, which means that so far in the reporting season, a whooping 77% of reporting companies are guiding negative EPS.

Technology sector leads negative EPS guidance issuance. Per Factset: "Information Technology sector, 26 companies have issued negative EPS guidance for the second quarter, which is above the five-year average for the sector of 20.4. If 26 is the final number for the quarter, it will tie the mark (with multiple quarters) for the second highest number of companies issuing negative EPS guidance in this sector since FactSet began tracking this data in 2006, trailing only Q4 2012 (27). At the industry level, the Semiconductor & Semiconductor Equipment (9) and Software (6) industries have the highest number of companies issuing negative EPS guidance in the sector." Which means the tech sector is singing the blues. Consumer discretionaries and Healthcare are the other two sectors showing underperformance relative to 5 year average.

Which is ugly. Uglier, yet, as we are not seeing any correction in the markets to reflect the deteriorating fundamentals. And uglier still when one considers the fact that the 'S' part of EPS has been gamed dramatically in recent years through rampant shares buybacks, while the 'E' bit has been gamed via opportunistic M&As.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

2/7/19: Earnings and Market Valuations: Equity PEs

While P/E ratios are gamable and informationally highly restrictive, the metric is still a useful one when considering as to how expensive/cheap equity can be. Here is the latest chart via @topdowncharts showing P/E ratios based on 10 year average earnings (smoother series, but the long average is even less informationally rich than pure P/Es):

Which makes:

  1. U.S. markets overvalued in excess of 2006-2007 peaks, but less than in the blowout bubble of the era;
  2. Developed markets (ex-US) and Emerging markets relatively moderately priced.
Given the fact that U.S. equities earnings are probably the most susceptible to strategic manipulation, e,.g. shares buybacks, M&As and earnings/cash management, the U.S. markets are in heading for trouble.