So many developments have occurred since we last met in September, but the major ones were the surprising collapse in oil prices mostly due to geopolitical factors, the U.S.-China trade and BREXIT conflicts becoming increasingly intractable, and that aspects of the global economy showed occasional signs of moderation.
The late 1990s and mid 2000s were periods that appeared characterised by above trend growth in much of the OECD and ‘unexpectedly’ low rates of inflation, a combination that was blithely described as the ‘Goldilocks Economy’.
In 1986, the governors of the G5 ‘arguably most important’ central banks were P Volcker (USA, life-time central banker / Treasury Official); K-O Pohl (Germany, Journalist / Central Banker); S Sumita (Japan, life-time MoF / BoJ); R Leigh-Pemberton (UK, ex Commercial Banker); and M Camdessus (France, bureaucrat).
While it is difficult to believe that it is ten years since the GFC, the world has changed significantly since then. Although the US financial system remains the dominant force within global capital markets & flows, the way in which banks and financial institutions operate has evolved in the QE / low rate regime.
In many respects, we tend to view the price of a conventional bond and the price earnings ratio of an equity as being broadly equivalent concepts, in that the bond price in effect is the market price for the payment of a known (fixed) income amount over a usually finite number of years, while a PER is the market’s current valuation of a largely unknown income stream over an unknown time span. In effect, both are the markets’ valuation of different types of income stream and we can of course imagine that at times the markets may prefer the ‘certainty’ of a bond, while at other times they may need the flexibility or upside of the income that can be gained from owning equities.
“If in doubt, add more credit” seems to have become the global mantra or ‘solve all’ policy recommendation for the last 10 – 20 years.
There is currently much talk within the financial markets of the ‘new PIGS’, a group of countries which are widely viewed as having inflated property markets and notably elevated levels of debt that are therefore likely to prove vulnerable to the tightening in global (banking system) liquidity trends.
Although Italy possesses a useful and not insignificant visible trade surplus, the country is nevertheless continuing to suffer from persistent and we might suggest remarkably large capital account deficits as its domestic savers by and large continue to shun the local asset markets
In a somewhat unscientific way, we could suggest that risk markets have lost their ability to shrug off bad news and even economic disappointment (despite all of the hoopla, 2017 did not in fact live up to consensus expectations) and instead seem now to view any adverse news as a reason to sell.
Our starting point for this year was that global growth would be ‘satisfactory’ and that it would once again be led primarily by China’s continuing import boom.
Financial markets have of course endured something of a roller-coaster ride over the last four or five weeks and quite naturally this has led some to re-consider their perceived outlook for the global economy, interest rates and of course inflation.
As the author has travelled the world over the last 10 days, three things have become all too apparent to us
We suspect that the most popular ‘questions’ that people have with regard to the outlook for 2018 revolve around the extent to which the global real economic recovery will continue and just how many rate hikes the ‘new’ Federal Open Market Committee will need to enact in the USA over the course of 2018.
With earnest intent on the part of their organizers, many conferences were held in the immediate aftermath of the GFC in an attempt to marry the analysis offered by both academic and (albeit only a few) practical economists in the hope of producing a new approach to economics that might be better able to explain the perceived new world order.
The economics profession has always struggled to define the notion of value – and not only within the narrow context of the financial markets!
Perhaps the biggest surprise that emanated from this week’s trip to North America has been the extent to which the topic of secular stagnation has come back onto the agenda, despite all the excitement over the prospect for as yet unfortunately still undefined tax cuts by the Trump Administration.
We suspect there is a sense in financial markets that China has escaped the banking crisis / credit crunch / balance of payments crisis / economic slowdown that the Cassandras have long been predicting. Moreover, we suspect that it is further assumed that this escape was facilitated through the use of direct controls, state planning and of course the heavy-handed imposition of capital controls. It is of course somewhat ironic that the notionally ‘free markets’ of the global financial system have found themselves applauding China’s decidedly state-controlled economy quite so enthusiastically but markets were ever-fickle…...
Over the last two months or so, we have travelled quite widely and one factor that has stood out during our travels has been the on-going and seemingly widespread relative weakness in household income trends.
It has been our firm contention that financial market liquidity has been booming over the nine months or so, albeit for what might be described as technical rather than strictly official policy reasons. Furthermore, we would fully attribute the recent gravity-defying – and bad news-defying – behaviour of financial markets to these strong liquidity trends. In fact, we would go so far as to suggest that global financial market liquidity conditions have been as lax as at any time since the mid-2000s over recent months.
Given the background noise that is always present within financial markets, and which can from time to time confuse even the most seasoned of investors, every so often it can be useful to consider longer term – and relatively simple - charts in order to regain some form of perspective.