The United States: The overall consumer debt (as % of disposable income) has declined in recent years even as the total household net worth rose. This divergence suggests that, on average, US household balance sheets remain relatively healthy. Of course, these trends have been highly uneven across income categories.
China: China’s manufacturing wage increases have been substantially larger than pay gains elsewhere in Asia.
Apart from a 2-week period around the middle of the year, my Gold True Fundamentals Model (GTFM) has been bearish since mid-January 2018. There have been fluctuations along the way, but at no time since mid-January have the true fundamentals* been sustainably-supportive of the gold price. However, significant shifts occurred over the past fortnight and for the first time in quite a while the fundamental backdrop is now very close to turning gold-bullish. In fact, an argument could be made that it has already turned bullish.
Below is a chart comparing the GTFM (in blue) with the US$ gold price (in red).
The above chart understates the significance of the recent fundamental shift, because it appears that the GTFM has done no more than rise to the top of its recent range while remaining in bearish territory (which, of course, it has). However, a look beneath the surface at what’s happening to the GTFM’s seven individual components reveals some additional information.
The Baby Boom generation may be the first generation to leave less to their children than they inherited. Or to leave nothing at all. We hear lots—often from Baby Boomers—about the propensities of their children’s generation. The millennials don’t have good jobs, don’t save, don’t buy houses in the same proportions as their parents, etc.
We have no doubt that attitudes have changed. That the millennials’ financial decision-making process is different. And that millennials don’t see things like their parents (if you’ve ever seen pictures of Woodstock, you may think that’s not a bad thing). However, we believe that the monetary system plays a role in savings and employment. And the elephant that is trumpeting in the monetary room is: the falling interest rate. Interest has been falling since 1981. That’s when the first millennial was born.
By the time the oldest millennial cohort was ready to enter the work force, the dot-com boom was blowing up. What a time to look for a job, eh? Seven years later—when more than half of millennials were still not old enough to work full-time—was an even bigger bust. And what have we had since then? Seven years of interest rates pinned at zero (on the short end of the curve). And then a tepid rise since then.
Total Non-Financial Debt (NFD) expanded at a 4.4% annual rate during Q3 to a record $51.324 TN. Since the end of 2008, NFD has increased $16.3 TN, or 46%. Q3’s NFD growth rate was down from Q2’s 5.2% and Q1’s 6.3% – and lower as well than Q3 2017’s 4.9%. Total Household borrowings accelerated to 3.4% growth from Q2’s 2.9%, led by a jump in Consumer Credit growth (5.4% from 3.7%). Household Mortgages expanded at a 3.1% pace, up from Q2’s 2.7% and the year ago 2.9%.
Evidence of tighter financial conditions, Total Business borrowings slowed markedly. After Q2’s 6.9% rate (strongest since Q1 ’16), Total Business debt growth slowed to 3.9%. The expansion of Corporate (a component of Business) borrowings slowed markedly, from 7.2% to 4.1%. State & Local government debt contracted at a 1.4% pace (Q2 -0.38%). Winning the Piggy Borrower contest, perennially, was our federal government. Federal borrowings expanded at a 6.8% pace, down slightly from Q2.
Over the past few days there’s been lots of chatter about the recent flattening of the yield curve. The rising of short term yields with the opposite move at the longer-end has caused the 2 and 5-year portion of the curve to invert. With any inversion, suddenly everyone is a bond trader and has an opinion about what it means for risk assets and the world in general. Of course, the MacroTourist is no exception, but before I throw my opinion into the sea of sound bites, let’s examine how we got here.
The macro has moved through a time of moderately rising inflationary concerns when economies were cycling up, many commodities were firm and risk was ‘on’. Contrary to the views of inflation-oriented gold bugs, that was not the time to buy gold stocks.
As I have belabored again and again, the right time is when the inflation view is on the outs, gold is rising vs. stock markets, the economy is in question, risks of a steepening yield curve take center stage (the flattening is so mature now that steepening will be a clear and present risk moving forward) and by extension of all of those conditions, confidence declines.
In short, the improving sector and macro fundamentals I’ve been writing about for a few months now continue to slam home as the cyclical world pivots counter-cyclical. And what do you know? Gold stocks are reacting as they should. Well, it’s about time, guys!
Housing sector stocks have been among the worst performers in 2018, and analysts are pointing to lots of different reasons including the newly imposed U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber. But an easier explanation arises when we look at interest rates.
Mortgage rates are not yet empirically “high”. I bought my first house with a 13% mortgage, so rates that start with the number 4 still seem pretty low, at least to me and my ge-ge-generation. The key insight contained in this week’s chart is that mortgage rates are high compared to 30-year T-Bond rates. Both rates have been rising in 2018, and the 30-year mortgage rate has been more than a full percentage point above the 30-year T-Bond yield for most of 2018.
The SPX could complete a “Death Cross” formation today or tomorrow, in which the 50-day moving average crosses below the 200-day moving average. In the past I have looked back to 1960 when examining Death Crosses. This time I decided to use Amibroker with my Norgate database, which goes back to 1928, and examine Death Crosses back as far as I can. This made for an interesting starting point, because the 1st instance, in 1929, came shortly after the 1929 market crash that was followed by the Great Depression. It was also followed by the most substantial decline – by far. Let’s first look at a list of all the Death Cross formations and how the SPX performed while they were in effect.
Here’s some of the standout economic and markets charts on my radar. I aim to pick a good mix of charts covering key global macro trends, and ones which highlight risks and opportunities across asset classes. Hope you enjoy!
1. Manufacturing PMI – China vs USA: T he November PMI data showed the US economy chugging along at a solid pace, and China’s economy continuing to lose momentum. Perhaps a salient chart given the weekend’s “news” of the trade war ceasefire (my take = constructive skepticism… i.e. we’ll see).
“The Harbinger of Doom”? Of course we (well, the media) are talking about the yield curve AKA Amigo #3 of our 3 happy-go-lucky riders of the macro. I have annoyed you repeatedly with this imagery in order to show that three important macro factors needed to finish riding before situation turns decidedly negative.
Amigo 1: SPX (or stocks in general)/Gold Ratio
Amigo 2: 30 Year Treasury Yield
Amigo 3: Yield Curve
In honor of Amigo 3’s arrival to prime time let’s have a good old fashioned Amigos update (going in reverse order) and see if we can annoy a few more people along the way. :-)
Clicking the headline yields a Bloomberg article all about various yield curves and all the doomed news you can use, including a hyperactive interview with an expert bringing us all up to speed on the situation.