Commodities

     

 

 

Copper vs. Oil

The Q1 2018 meeting of the Incrementum Fund’s Advisory Board took place on January 24, about one week before the recent market turmoil began. In a way it is funny that this group of contrarians who are well known for their skeptical stance on the risk asset bubble, didn’t really discuss the stock market much on this occasion. Of course there was little to add to what was already talked about extensively at previous meetings. Moreover, the main focus was on the topic presented by this meeting’s special guest, Gianni Kovacevic.

 

Copperbank chairman Gianni Kovacevic

 

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Correlation vs. Causation

A very good visual correlation between the yearly percentage change in the consumer price index (CPI) and the yearly percentage change in the price of oil seems to provide support to the popular thinking that future changes in price inflation in the US are likely to be set by the yearly growth rate in the price of oil (see first chart below).

 

Gushing forth… a Union Oil Co. oil well sometime early in the 20th century

 

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Endangered Recovery

As we noted in a recent corporate debt update on occasion of the troubles Neiman-Marcus finds itself in (see “Cracks in Ponzi Finance Land”), problems are set to emerge among high-yield borrowers in the US retail sector this year. This happens just as similar problems among low-rated borrowers in the oil sector were mitigated by the rally in oil prices since early 2016. The recovery in the oil sector seems increasingly endangered though.

 

Too many oil barrels are filling up again.

Photo credit: Kay Nietfeld / DPA / Corbis

 

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Is Seasonality in Individual Stocks Based on Sound Evidence?

People often wonder whether it is actually possible to make profitable trades by taking advantage of seasonal trends in individual stocks. Most investors accept the idea that seasonal trends in commodities exist and are also quite open-minded with respect to recurring phenomena such as the year-end rally in stock indexes.

 

S&P 500 Index, 30-year seasonal chart – the year-end rally is highlighted. It has been observed in 24 of the past 30 years and its average gain far exceeded the average loss of the six losing years. Moreover, its average gain represents more than a quarter of the average annual return of the index. The existence of this pattern is widely acknowledged and there are reasonable explanations for it.  Source: Seasonax

 

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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.

 

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Is Stagflation a Potential Threat?

The Incrementum Fund held its quarterly advisory board meeting on October 3 (the transcript can be downloaded below). Our regular participants – the two fund managers Ronald Stoeferle and Mark Valek, advisory board members Jim Rickards, Frank Shostak and yours truly –  were joined by special guest Grant Williams this time. Many of our readers probably know Grant; he is the author of the bi-monthly newsletter “Things That Make You Go Hmmm…”, as well as one of the founders of Real Vision TV.

 

1-stagflationCharacteristics of stagflation: economic growth goes into reverse, but price inflation rises  anyway. This scenario was completely unexpected by the Keynesian consensus when it hit the economy in the 1970s. Keynesian theory ended up discredited for a while as a result. Not surprisingly though, as a theory that provides a “scientific” fig leaf for statism and interventionism, it has been resurrected since then. Today it once again is an important part of mainstream economic orthodoxy; the monetarist school has retained a certain degree of influence as well, but its policy prescriptions are just as misguided in our opinion.

 

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Erroneous Expectations

Many market observers are probably expecting crude oil prices to enter a seasonal uptrend due the beginning heating season. After all, the heating season in the Northern hemisphere means that energy consumption will rise.

 

barrels-of-oil-1200x900Crude oil – is the price of crude actually strengthening during the heating season? This is what most people would surely expect – but it turns out it isn’t true.

 

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Mining Stocks, Gold Prices and Commodity Price Trends

Gold has gone up >400% over the last 16 years. Ironically, it is hard to find a gold mining equity exhibiting similar performance. In retrospect, if one invested in gold, one not only made much better returns, one also took a relatively insignificant risk in comparison to owning equities—equities can go to zero while it is hard for a commodity to fall much below its cost of production. Moreover, depending on the jurisdiction, owning gold might have resulted in lower (or no) tax liabilities.

 

South DeepSouth Deep gold mine in South Africa

Photo via mining.com

 

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Do or Die

I think I speak for everyone involved if I say that it’s way past high time for this market to either breach the wall ahead of SPX 2150 or finally accept defeat and relieve itself to the downside. It’s become a war of attrition at this point as we have been suffering through this deadlock of a market for more than a year. And may I say – it’s getting not just boring but increasingly annoying.

 

the_wall_must_fall-1000x593The Wall…

Image credit: Home Box Office (HBO)

 

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Victims of the Boom-Bust Cycle

The world is drowning in steel – there is huge overcapacity in steel production worldwide. This is a direct result of the massive global credit expansion that has taken place over the past 15 years. Much of this capacity is located in China, but while the times were good, iron ore and steel production (and associated lines of production) was expanded everywhere else in the world as well.

 

steel-1Steel factory

Photo credit: Laurentiu Iordache

 

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Yellen Looms

We’ve got a bit of a double whammy going on today in that it’s the last session before the long weekend plus Yellen is scheduled to speak late in the day. So it’s probably fair to say that few of us are going to be doing much on the trading front and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you are already on the way out.

 

hitting_the_roadOff we go…

 

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Pros and Cons

The recent rally in commodity prices has surprised many market participants and has greatly supported the stock market’s rebound. It has also made bulls out of a number of former stock market bears, as one of its side effects was to cause an improvement in market internals. But does the rally actually make sense?

 

bethlehem steelThe original Bethlehem Steel Works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Photo via leggendaurbana.it

 

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