If there is one thing apparently no-one believes to be possible, it is a resurgence of consumer price inflation. Actually, we are not expecting it to happen either. If one compares various “inflation” data published by the government, it seems clear that the recent surge in headline inflation was largely an effect of the rally in oil prices from their early 2016 low. Since the rally in oil prices has stalled and may well be about to reverse, there seems to be no obvious reason to expect the increase in CPI to continue, or heaven forbid, to accelerate.
Buying an egg in Berlin, circa early 1923.
Photo credit: DPA
Blow-Off Pattern Recognition
As noted in Part 1, historically, blow-patterns in stock markets share many characteristics. One of them is a shifting monetary backdrop, which becomes more hostile just as prices begin to rise at an accelerated pace, the other is the psychological backdrop to the move, which entails growing pressure on the remaining skeptics and helps investors to rationalize their exposure to overvalued markets. In addition to this, the chart patterns of stock indexes before and after blow-off moves are displaying noteworthy similarities as well.
“On Margin” – a late 1929 cartoon illustrating the widespread obsession with the stock market at the time. There was just a 10% margin requirement, i.e., investors could leverage their capital at a ratio of 10:1. The demand for margin credit was so strong, that it pushed call money lending rates in New York up quite noticeably. This in turn made it increasingly difficult to maintain extremely leveraged positions.
Why is the stock market seemingly so utterly oblivious to the potential dangers and in some respects quite obvious fundamental problems the global economy faces? Why in particular does this happen at a time when valuations are already extremely stretched? Questions along these lines are raised increasingly often by our correspondents lately. One could be smug about it and say “it’s all technical”, but there is more to it than that. It may not be rocket science, but there are a few issues that are probably not getting the attention they deserve.
The stock market has blown widespread expectations out of the water by embarking on a seemingly unstoppable rally since Donald Trump was elected POTUS.
Cartoon by Frank Hanley
As you can see below, we have marked “Brexit day” on the chart as well, which was another noteworthy juncture. Not only was the success of the “Leave” campaign just as big a surprise as Trump’s election victory, but it was yet another occasion on which the market ended up fooling most observers by dramatically reversing course after a mere two days of relatively mild panic selling.
Looming Currency and Liquidity Problems
The quarterly meeting of the Incrementum Advisory Board was held on January 11, approximately one month ago. A download link to a PDF document containing the full transcript including charts an be found at the end of this post. As always, a broad range of topics was discussed; although some time has passed since the meeting, all these issues remain relevant. Our comments below are taking developments that have taken place since then into account.
USD-CNY, the onshore exchange rate of the yuan vs. the USD. After years of relentless appreciation, the yuan topped in early 2014 and has weakened just as relentlessly ever since. The yuan’s top coincided with the beginning of the “tapering” of the Fed’s QE3 debt monetization program and the peak in China’s foreign exchange reserves at just below $4 trillion. There was practically no lead time involved, which is rare. Although the yuan is not convertible and therefore by definition a “manipulated currency” (is there a fiat currency that isn’t manipulated?), the assertion that China’s authorities are deliberately weakening the yuan is erroneous. The opposite is true: they are trying to keep it from falling or are at least trying to slow down its descent with every trick in the book (every intermittent phase of yuan strength since the beginning of the decline was triggered by intervention). Understandably so: due to the close correlation between the level of forex reserves and credit and money supply growth in China, a rapid depletion of reserves is likely to impact the country’s giant credit bubble. One of the moving parts in this equation are bank reserve requirements, which the PBoC essentially uses to control the extent of credit growth triggered by the accumulation of reserves (a.k.a. “sterilization”). These peaked at 21.5% in June 2011 and were since then lowered to 17% to keep domestic credit expansion going – click to enlarge.
A Shift in Expectations
When discussing the outlook for so-called “risk assets”, i.e., mainly stocks and corporate bonds (particularly low-grade bonds) and their counterparts on the “safe haven” end of the spectrum (such as gold and government bonds with strong ratings), one has to consider different time frames and the indicators applicable to these time frames. Since Donald Trump’s election victory, there have been sizable moves in stocks, gold and treasury bonds, as the election result has strongly boosted certain market expectations.
A Quick Chart Overview
Below is an overview of charts we picked to illustrate the current market situation. The selection is a bit random, but not entirely so. The first set of charts concerns positioning and sentiment. As one would expect, these look fairly stretched at the moment, but there are always ways in which they could become even more stretched. First a look at the NAAIM exposure index:
Surface Temperatures Plunge – the Great Pause Continues
Last year’s El Nino phenomenon temporarily provided succor to climate alarmists, who were increasingly bothered by the “Great Pause” – the fact that the tiny amount of warming experienced since the last cooling cycle ended in the late 1970s had apparently stopped. Despite trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere continuing to climb, mother nature decided to disobey alarmist models and temperatures went sideways for about 20 years (or even longer, depending on the data set).
Too bad penguins actually don’t live at the North Pole! One probably should refrain from obtaining climate information from rabidly leftist blogs. Incidentally, the same very same ice-floe has carried lost polar bears in the past, in particular the species “ursus bogus”. If one looks around a bit, there’s also a version with three penguins…
A Very Odd Growth Spurt in the True Money Supply
The growth rates of various “Austrian” measures of the US money supply (such as TMS-2 and money AMS) have accelerated significantly in recent months. That is quite surprising, as the Fed hasn’t been engaged in QE for quite some time and year-on-year growth in commercial bank credit has actually slowed down rather than accelerating of late. The only exception to this is mortgage lending growth – at least until recently. Growth in mortgage loans is still very slow though, especially compared to historical growth rates. It cannot really account for the recent surge in money supply growth either.
Year-on-year growth rates of TMS-2 (11.19%, black line) and total loans and leases at commercial banks (7.7%, red line) as of October. In absolute terms money TMS-2 has soared by a staggering $840 billion since the beginning of the year – click to enlarge.
Most read in the last 20 days:
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