Latest on U.S./China Trade (Is a Deal in Place?)

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • Latest on U.S./China Trade (Is a Deal In Place?)
  • Positive Signs from the Bond Market?
  • Weekly Market Preview (Jobs & The ECB)
  • Weekly Economic Cheat Sheet

Futures are modestly higher thanks to reports that the U.S. and China are extremely close to a new trade deal.

The WSJ reported the U.S. and China are aiming to sign a new trade deal on March 27th that will include the removal of all tariffs, although the article cautioned it’s not a done deal at this point.

Economically, data was weak again as British Construction PMI (50.6 vs. (E) 52.5) and EuroZone PPI (3.0% vs. (E) 3.2%) missed estimates.

There are no economic reports today so focus will remain on U.S./China trade and any official confirmation (from the U.S. or Chinese government) of the positive articles that hit overnight.

Import and Export Price Analysis, September 20, 2017

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Import and Export Prices
• Import Prices rose 0.6% vs. (E) 0.4% in August
• Export Prices rose 0.6% vs. (E) 0.2% in August

A normally overlooked price report, Import and Export Prices came out yesterday and the release is worth mentioning. The headlines showed a decent upside beat in both import and export prices, which underscored the uptick in inflation we saw last week in several overseas CPI reports including China, Britain and India.

The reason this is worth pointing out is the bond market. Over the last several weeks, firming inflation overseas has become a recurring theme that has started to influence global fixed income markets, including Treasuries, pushing yields higher despite the fact that US inflation still remains very low.

Bottom line, yesterday’s Import and Export Prices report is showing the effects of both a weaker dollar, but also the fact that global inflation is beginning to edge higher.

From a macroeconomic standpoint that is encouraging for the reflation trade argument.

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When Will the Decline in Bond Yields Matter?, June 27, 2017

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For three months, we and other macro analysts have been warning that the bond market, via falling yields and a flattening yield curve, was sending a worrisome signal about future economic growth and inflation. And, that falling bond yields would act as a headwind on stocks.

Over that three months, the S&P 500 has moved steadily higher.

when will bond market yields matter?

When will this chart matter? The S&P 500 (bar chart) has been diverging from yields (green line chart) for three-plus months. At some point, that gap must close.

Now, given that, it might seem like falling bonds yields don’t matter to stocks. However, decades of experience in this business combined with listening to experienced analysts and traders tells me that bond yields always matter to stocks… it’s just a question of “when” they matter.

Regarding when, most of us are working on a medium/longer-term time frame (i.e. quarters and years), so getting the bigger market signals right is more important than outperforming over a few weeks.

To that point, if bond yields do not reverse in the coming weeks/months, then I am quite sure that over the medium/longer term the stock market is in for a potentially significant pullback. Avoiding that pullback will be the key to multi-year outperformance.

So, the really important question is: “When will low bond yields matter?”

I believe the answer is: When investors realize bond yields are warning about a slowing economy, not lower inflation.

Right now, stock bulls are saying the drop in Treasury yields is just due to declining inflation—not because of potential slower economic growth.

Specifically, they’re pointing to statistical measures of inflation such as the CPI, PCE and the Price Deflator in GDP. Those measures of inflation are falling, which usu-ally means deflation (which is bad for stocks).

But, the bulls aren’t as concerned about falling statistical inflation because, in their view, inflation has changed. Specifically, there is a growing school of thought that in a technology-dominated world, the old inflation statistics (CPI/PCE/Price Deflator) no longer capture true inflation in the economy.

For instance, those inflation statistics are currently being driven down by 1) Lower oil, 2) The Amazon effect, where retail margins are relentless slashed, and 3) General technology making most everyday items cheaper and more efficient.

However, those price declines aren’t bad for the economy, and they don’t reflect the lack of consumer demand that usually accompanies falling prices. Technology and margin compression is making these prices fall, not an unwillingness of consumers to spend.

Meanwhile, asset and other forms of inflation are rising quickly. Over the past few years, home prices are up; rents are up, car prices are up, airfares are up, health insurance is up, tuition is up, the stock market is up and the bond market is up. So, the prices of all the things we “need” are up, but the prices of discretionary items (HD TVs, laptops, tablets, dishwashers, appliances) are down. Since CPI measures consumer goods heavily, inflation statistics are subdued.

Based on this logic, many investors aren’t sweating the decline in bond yields, because they believe, for now, that it’s just reflecting the decline in statistical inflation and not a future slowing of actual economic growth.

The key will be to recognize when investors begin to believe low bond yields reflect slower economic growth. That will be the time to get seriously defensive in asset allocations. Yet as Monday showed, with the market ignoring the soft Durable Goods report, we’re not there yet. But if this data doesn’t turn around, we will get there. Unfortunately, we don’t believe it’s different this time and if bond yields don’t start rising in the near term, then stocks will eventually suffer, like they’ve done virtually every time we’ve seen this type of stock/bond discrepancy.

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Bond Market Problems (That May Become Stock Market Problems), April 5, 2017

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One of the reasons I watch all asset classes so closely is because I’ve learned that other sectors often will confirm (or not confirm) a move in the stock market. Right now we are getting a pretty notable non-confirmation from the bond market.

Bond market problemsSpecifically, when stocks rally I like to see: 1) Bond yields rising, which reflects investors expecting greater economic growth and inflation (two stock positive events). 2) A steepening yield curve, which also reflects rising inflation expectations and increased demand for money via loans (something that has been sorely missing from this recovery). 3) I like to see “riskier” parts of the bond market, specifically junk bonds, rising (or at least holding flat) as investors show confidence in corporate America by lending money to riskier companies in search of greater yield (it’s an anecdotal risk-on signal).

Throughout Q4 2016, that’s exactly what we got. First, the yield on the 10-year Treasury rose from 1.54% in late September, to 2.40% at year end. Second, the yield curve steepened as the 10’s-2’s spread rose from 0.81% on Sept. 29 to 1.25% on Dec. 30. Finally, junk bonds were broadly flat during that period (although with notable volatility).

Since the start of 2017, the opposite has occurred. The 10 year started at 2.44% but now is sitting at 2.35%. The 10’s-2’s spread has decreased from 1.23% on Jan. 1 to 1.11% on Monday (the low for the year). Finally, junk bonds rallied through March with stocks, but have since given back some of those gains. If JNK (the junk bond ETF) breaks $36.19 that will be the first “lower low” of 2017, and a negative technical signal.

Point being, the bond market is reflecting an outlook that is comprised of slower growth, less inflation, and more general concern—which is almost the exact opposite of what we’re seeing in stocks right now.

To be clear, this non-confirmation isn’t a guaranteed death sentence for a stock rally. Bond markets gave non-confirmation signals consistently in 2015 when Europe was on the verge of deflation because of the flood of European money into Treasuries, which sent bonds higher and yields lower despite a stock rally. But, that’s not happening now.

So, the “gaps” in this environment are growing in size and number. The gap between political expectations and likely reality regarding tax cuts is as wide as it’s even been. The gap between hard and soft economic data continues to widen as sentiment indicators continue to surge. Now, the gap between bond market direction and stock market direction is widening.

Bottom line, the trend in stocks remains higher, but there are cracks appearing in the proverbial ledge stocks are standing on, and we better get some positive catalysts soon, otherwise we are in danger of a real pullback.

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