At present, our working hypothesis for 2019 is that, following a potentially quite bright start to the year as the US approaches its ‘peak fiscal stimulus’ and the Administration runs down some of its savings deposit holdings at the Federal Reserve (for reasons connected with the Debt Ceiling), global liquidity conditions and in particular dollar liquidity conditions are likely to tighten quite significantly – and possibly severely – during the second quarter.
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.
Despite the country’s apparent export prowess and its persistent trade surpluses over the last twenty years, we estimate that the Chinese corporate sector is currently running a financial deficit (i.e. the financing gap between in current expenses plus CAPEX and its current revenues) of between US$1.5 and US$2 trillion per annum.
We joined the ‘financial world’ in 1987 when inflation had in theory at least been conquered and the Asian Tigers had emerged to become significant parts of the global trading system.
President Trump apparently opted for a more measured tone in his first address to Congress but we are beginning to wonder if his economic policy can be summarised as being an intention to launch a large fiscal expansion behind not just a physical wall but a tariff one as well.
Faced with jetlag and having reached saturation with CNBC and CNN in the hotel room, I found myself watching an out-of-sorts Andy Murray playing in a match that on paper he would have been expected to win. Even though the commentary was in Mandarin (my knowledge of which is limited to around 4 phrases), it was clear that Murray was struggling to gain the initiative and he was being bounced around the court by his opponent but it seems to us that China’s economic policymaking has entered a similar phase vis-à-vis the management of its economy.
Whether by luck or design, when I first entered the world of applied economics during the mid-1980s, I decided that I would like to specialize in covering central banks and in studying the flows that these institutions could create within financial systems and the real economies of the world..
Of course, we have nothing resembling an ‘inside track’ on whom Trump will appoint to his Administration over the next few weeks and precisely what new policies Trump will in fact be able to introduce from a practical perspective – or over what time frame these might occur.
Over recent weeks, many analysts around the world have become more optimistic over the outlook for world trade and this view has apparently been helped by some – although by no means all – of the most recent Asian trade data and by a partial rebound in PMI (Purchasing Managers’ Index) data in Europe and the USA.
Despite having recently spent an interesting week on the East Coast of the USA, we can safely say that we still have no idea who will win the Presidential Election.
Having conducted a significant number of client meetings over recent weeks, one feature that has struck is that amongst this, albeit probably rather biased, sample group, there would seem to be a distinct desire to sell risks – although few people have actually done so yet.
At -3% in year on year terms, China’s published rate of reserve money growth appears exceptionally weak and certainly far at odds with the ECB’s 40% rate of base money growth or even the Bank of Japan’s 26% YoY rate.
We very much doubt that the financial markets remotely expected the BREXIT vote to deliver a ‘leave outcome’ (and we also very much doubt that many people that voted for it actually expected it to occur).
Although this month’s vote by the UK population on whether they should choose to remain in the EU or depart is being billed as being of immense significance to the UK, we suspect that it is the world that should fear any consequences of a possible BREXIT as much as the UK should fear the event.
It may surprise some readers to know that we recently compiled an overtly positive review of the Irish economy. In the course of this review, we noted that despite the severe problems that the country had encountered a few years ago, the Irish economy was now facing what we described as a chronic balance of payments surplus.
Despite seemingly a multitude of worries over the potential for a slowdown in US growth, the growing signs of weakness in Japan, the arrival of an industrial recession in Europe and the uncertainty over BREXIT, financial markets have arguably performed remarkably well over recent months.
We suspect that many market participants have viewed the major central banks’ various “extraordinary measures” that have been adopted since the financial crisis of 2007-8 as having been a good thing. Therefore they have perhaps – or most probably – been wrong-footed by the markets’ rather negative reaction to the promises of yet more QE / negative rates / more monetary experiments.
There is apparently a saying in the UK’s Parachute Regiment that after you have jumped out of the plane you simply have to accept whatever landing you get. While we might hesitate to liken China’s great credit boom of 2009-2014 as being akin to jumping out of a plane – although there certainly was an element of there being a leap into the unknown – it is clear that China’s economy is landing at present.
It has of course become something of a tradition to do a ‘year ahead’ piece covering themes that could potentially shape the investment landscape and, with this in mind, we have decided to offer our thoughts on just what may lie ahead over the course of what we suspect is going to be a particularly interesting year.
It must be remembered that 2015, like 2014 and 2013 before it, was supposed to be the year in which the US and indeed other consumers finally threw off the shackles of the Post GFC era and raised their level of spending on the back of falling energy prices and rising housing and property wealth.
“Monetary Policy can only take growth from other countries or borrow it from the future” – Masaaki Shirakawa, during a private conversation, September 2015
In our opinion, rather than embarking on credit boom "ping pong" with the EM, the Western world should have invested in raising productivity
Despite this evidence of a new global malaise, there are still those that continue to expect the US economy to “ride to the rescue” over the next few months.
Without a doubt, we find the current state of the global economy more complex than perhaps at any other time in our 25 years of experience.
One of the key features of the global economy – and particularly of the “Pacific Rim economies” – that has most concerned us over recent months has been the immensely weak investment spending trends that are starting to appear across Asia. We firmly believe that this weakness in capital spending ...
One of the reasons that we tend to eschew “black box” forecasting models of any economy is that we suspect that there are simply too many variables and discontinuities for even mathematicians with the skill of the late John Nash to ever really encompass effectively. In this context, One of the least understood or modelling-friendly “variables” within a macroeconomic system is the household savings rate...
Over the last 20 or so years, global interest rates and bond yields have collapsed to levels that few would have thought possible even in the late 1980s. The process started in Japan in the mid-1990s following the bursting of that country’s credit-driven Bubble Economy, but from 2003 – and certainly from 2008 onwards – the UK, US and much of the “dollar bloc” have followed suit...
There is a well-known dilemma that exists for the country that “owns” or operates the global reserve currency. Since global trade and many capital account transactions are settled in the reserve currency, it is incumbent on the economy that provides the reserve currency to ensure that it is a net exporter of its currency so as to accommodate global growth and hence the growing need for reserves and international settlement funds ...
World trade prices are currently falling at probably their fastest pace since the dark days of the Global Financial Crisis and, in doing so, they are imparting a deflationary bias to the world economy. We find that even in some of the world's strongest economies ...
The all-important question as to whether the ECB's actions last month will have been sufficient to reflate Eurozone inflation expectations boils down to the simple question of whether the EUR1 trillion headline number is a big enough statement on its own...