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What Falling RV Sales Mean for the Economy

What’s in Today’s Report:

  • What Falling RV Sales Mean for the Economy (Not Necessarily What You Think)
  • Oil/Energy Market Update

Futures are flat following a busy night of earnings as investors look ahead to the ECB decision later this morning.

Economic data again disappointed as the German IFO Business Expectations missed estimates (92.2 vs. (E) 94.0).

There was an earnings deluge overnight and results, on balance, were slightly negative although the Q2 earnings season remains better than feared.

Today the most important event is the ECB Decision and we get the announcement at 7:45 a.m. and the press conference at 8:30 a.m.  The key for this meeting is how definitive the ECB will be on more rate cuts and QE.

If they cut rates and announce the start of a new QE plan, that’ll be a dovish surprise (good for stocks), if they effectively promise a rate cut and more QE at the September meeting, that will meet expectations (not a big market reaction) and if they merely state both moves are possibilities if growth slows further, that will be a hawkish disappointment (stocks likely will fall).

Outside of the ECB we get two notable economic reports via Durable Goods Orders (E: 0.7%) and Jobless Claims (E: 210K).

Tom Essaye Quoted in Bloomberg on July 12, 2019

“There are a lot more risks underlying this market than the tape would imply. If global economic data does not stabilize, or…” wrote Tom Essaye, a former Merrill Lynch trader who founded “The Sevens Report” newsletter. Click here to read the full article on Bloomberg.

Jerome Powell

Tom Essaye Quoted in CNBC on June 11, 2019

Tom Essaye was quoted in CNBC on June 11, 2019. “You had a market that became very pessimistic and then all of a sudden we had the Fed’s dovish rhetoric and no Mexican tariffs, and that’s basically causing a squeeze…” Click here to read the full article.

Trader on the NY Stock Exchange Floor

Weekly Market Preview, October 16, 2017

Last Week in Review

The major takeaway from last week was that inflation remained stubbornly low in September and that took some of the momentum out of the recent reflation rebound. A decent retail sales number helped salvage the week’s economic data in aggregate, so the fallout for stocks was contained.

From a longer-term view, the fact that inflation remains stubbornly low does undermine the economic reflation that is needed to carry stocks materially higher, given valuations and the economic outlook.

Bottom line, last week wasn’t a particularly good one for the macro bulls, but given retail sales, it didn’t warrant a reversal of the September rally, either.

Looking at the important economic data from last week, there are really only two numbers of consequence: CPI and Retail Sales. The former was a disappointment, as the headline rose 0.5% vs. (E) 0.6% thanks to a hurricane-related surge in energy prices. Core CPI rose just 0.1% vs. (E) 0.2%, and the year-over-year Core CPI declined to 1.7% from 1.8%.

That’s well below the Fed’s 2% stated goal (and given how CPI is constructed, the real CPI goal for the Fed is probably more than 2.5%). So, the Fed still is not creating the type of statistical inflation it wants to.

While the inflation data was disappointing, the growth data on Friday was good. September retail sales were light on the headline at 1.6% vs. (E) 1.8%, but that was because of a dip in auto sales. The more important “control” group, which is retail sales less autos, gas and building supplies (it gives us the best
look at truly discretionary consumer spending), rose 0.4% vs. (E) 0.2%. Importantly, the August core Retail Sales reading was revised to 0.2% from flat.

Looking elsewhere economically last week, there were other reports (NFIB, Chinese Trade Balance, European IP), but none provided any big surprises and none will influence the next direction for stocks or bonds. Bottom line, taken in aggregate (and thanks to retail sales) the economic data last week was close enough to “Goldilocks” to prevent a reversal of the September rally.

From a Fed standpoint, the data this week coupled with some dovish Fed comments turned a December rate hike from a “sure thing” to a “probably,” unless we get more soft inflation or growth readings. That helped push stocks slightly higher on Friday initially, but a Fed that can’t hike rates to 1.5% from 1.25% for fear of low inflation or economic growth isn’t the prescription to materially higher stock prices.

This Week’s Preview

There are a lot of anecdotal economic reports this week that, when taken in aggregate, should give us decent insight into the current state of the US economy, and whether we’re seeing growth accelerate.

The most important numbers this week are the Empire Manufacturing and Philly Fed Indices, which offer the first look at October economic activity. Since the creation of the national flash PMIs, Empire and Philly have lost some of their significance, but this week they are the only October data points, so they’ll be watched to see if economic momentum in September carried over into October.

Away from Empire and Philly, the next more important releases come from China. On Thursday, we get Chinese Fixed Asset Investment, Retail Sales, Industrial Production and GDP. None of these should offer any surprises, but if they are weaker than expected that could cause a mild headwind on stocks.

Finally, this week we get September Industrial Production. Remember, “hard” economic data has, until very recently, badly lagged “soft” survey-based data. In September, retail sales helped close that gap some, but industrial production has remained well below levels you would think given the PMIs. If industrial production can accelerate in September (and remember the key is the manufacturing sub-component), then that will be a good signal that actual economic activity is finally accelerating to meet survey data (a positive for stocks).

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CPI Preview, October 13, 2017

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Looking to today’s CPI report, the preference here is for a slightly “Too Hot” number in headline and core CPI while a worst case scenario for stocks is a soft number, but keep in mind there will be impacts from the Hurricanes so the details in the report will be important.

Bottom line, I’ve said consistently for months that the only way I can see stocks moving materially higher is if they are driven by a reflationary rally. We got a glimpse of that in September, but for the reflation rally to continue, we need more Goldilocks data starting with today’s CPI.

Disconcertingly, if we don’t get that Goldilocks data, then the onus is going to be totally on earnings season to support stocks, and ensure this September rally doesn’t reverse. In that scenario, it’s an awful lot of pressure to put on continued growth in corporate earnings this late in an economic cycle.

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Reflation Pause, October 20, 2017

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Why Is the Reflation Rebound Pausing? Because It Should. Here’s Why…

After surging basically from Sept. 11 through Friday’s jobs report, the reflation rebound has taken a pause for the last few days, and I wanted to provide a comprehensive update of:

1) Where we are in the reflation process and specifically the key catalysts that are looming in the near future and that are causing this pause, and

2) Explain why this reflation trade is different from others, and requires A) A more tactical allocation to get the outperformance we all want, and B) Greater patience on the part of longer-term investors before abandoning what’s worked so well in 2017 and allocating to more reflation-oriented sectors.

Due to space constraints, I’m going to break this up into two parts covered today and tomorrow.

Reflation Update Part 1: Where Are We, and What Will Decide Whether It’s Going to Continue?

We’ve been saying since the July Fed meeting that inflation was now the most important economic statistic, and that markets needed inflation to start to rise to help fuel a “reflation rebound.”

Well, during the week between Sept. 11 and Sept. 15, Chinese, British and US CPIs beat expectations, and combined with an uptick in global economic activity, caused tactical investors to rotate into tactical sectors (banks, energy, industrials, small caps, inverse bond funds).

And, we were early on identifying that switch, and our “Reflation Basket” has outperformed the markets since we re-iterated it for short- and medium-term investors in the Sept. 21 Report.

However, also in that Report we cautioned longer-term and less-agile investors to wait for clear confirmation that the reflation rebound had started, and we identified two keys. The first was the KBW Bank Index closing above 100. This occurred both Monday and Tuesday. The second was the 10-year yield breaking above 2.40%.This has yet to happened.

So, while much of the mainstream financial press is now pumping the reflation trade (a month after it started) we’re acknowledging that it’s paused. Practically, that means we’re holding (not adding to) our “Reflation Basket” of KRE/KBE/IWM/EUFN/XLI/TBT/TBF, and think shorter-term/tactical investors should too.

I say that because I believe the first stage of this reflation trade is now complete, and in the next three weeks we will see two key events that will decide whether this reflation extends into November, pauses longer or potentially back tracks.

Near-Term Reflation Catalyst #1: ECB Meeting. Thursday, Oct. 26. Why it’s Important: As we’ve covered, markets have enjoyed a “virtuous” reflation recently because 1) Economic data has been good, but 2) Not so good that it’s causing global central banks to hike rates faster than expected.

Markets have a general expectation of what ECB tapering of QE will look like (somewhere around 20B per month) but we’ll get the details at this October ECB meeting.

If the ECB is more hawkish than expected, that could potentially send yields too high, too fast, and kill the
“virtuous” reflation. If that happened, banks and inverse bond ETFs would rally, but everything else would fall.

Conversely, if the ECB is too dovish, then markets might lose confidence in the reflation itself, and that would become a headwind.

Bottom line, the ECB needs to release a taper schedule that implies confidence in the economy and inflation, but that also isn’t so aggressive it kills the “virtuous” reflation rally.

Near-Term Reflation Catalyst #2: Fed Chair Decision.
The fact that President Trump will name a potentially new Fed chair in the next two weeks has been somewhat lost amidst the never-ending (and seemingly everescalating) Washington drama.

Right now, it’s widely believed there are three front runners: Kevin Warsh, Jerome Powell and Janet Yellen.

If Yellen is reappointed (and that’s seeming increasingly unlikely) then clearly that won’t cause any ripples in the reflation trade, and we can go back to watching inflation and yields. However, if one of the other two are appointed, things get interesting.

Warsh is considered the biggest “hawk” of the group,and if he becomes Fed chair we may see yields rise sharply, potentially endangering the “virtuous” reflation.

Powell is viewed as in the middle of the other two—not as dovish as Yellen, but not as hawkish as Warsh. But, it’s reasonable to assume that a Powell appointment would put at least some mild upward pressure on Treasury yields. It likely wouldn’t be enough to spur a killing of the “virtuous” reflation, but it would be cause for a pause in the move.

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Macro Drama Playbook, October 10, 2017

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Macroeconomic Drama Rundown (It’s Not That Bad, Yet)

Over the past week, the macro environment has suddenly become populated with multiple headline grabbing (and seemingly dire) macroeconomic dramas, and I imagine you might be getting calls about these dramas from clients.

So I want to: 1) Cover each drama, 2) Explain why it’s not materially important to the market yet (despite the headlines) and 3) Identify what has to happen for these events to cause a pullback. I’ve covered each event in order of their respective potential importance to the markets.

Drama 1: North Korea
What’s Happened? More communication, some official, some not. Secretary of State Tillerson is apparently in direct talks with the North Koreans on some sort of deescalation. However, that comes as President Trump tweets vague threats implying the only option is military. It’s unclear if this is some geopolitical game of “Good Cop/Bad Cop,” or just an administration that’s not on the same page (the answer likely depends on which papers you prefer reading), but the point is that on the surface, rhetoric remains unnerving (at least the public rhetoric).

What’s Next? North Korea is expected to test another long-range missile sometime between Oct. 10 and Oct. 22.

Bearish Game Changer If: This has remained consistent: Talk is just talk and it won’t cause anything other than a brief pullback. But, this geopolitical drama becomes a reason to de-risk if North Korea shoots the missile at anything US, including planes, ships and Guam. At that point, the potential for a US military strike on North Korea goes up considerably, and we would advise getting more defensive in nature (i.e. buying Treasuries or going to cash).

Drama 2: Iran Nuclear Deal

What’s Happened? President Trump is expected to decertify the Iran deal on Oct. 12 (Thursday). This is important, because once President Trump announces that he believes Iran is not in compliance with the deal, a 60-day clock starts ticking. Over those 60 days, Congress must decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran (it’s not President Trump’s decision).

What’s Next? Thursday’s official announcement on the Iran deal (it’s not a sure thing that Trump will decertify the deal, so there’s some drama here).

Bearish Headwind If: Congress decides to reimpose sanctions on Iran, causing a total collapse of the
international agreement. This outcome would not, by itself, constitute a reason to materially de-risk (i.e. sell stocks). I say that because stocks rallied for years while there was no agreement in place. However, taken in the context of the North Korea nuclear program, Iran/Russia ties, etc., this entire situation would get potentially much more complicated and dangerous, as markets will take notice and it would be a headwind (but not enough to cause a material pullback).

Drama 3: Catalan Independence

What’s Happened? On Oct. 1, Catalonia (a region of Spain where Barcelona is located) held a referendum on independence from Spain. That referendum passed with 90% of the vote choosing independence. However, less than 50% of the population voted, so that’s more impressive than it seems (meaning the majority of Catalans didn’t vote for independence). The proper analogy to understand this situation is to think of this like a US state having a vote to try and se- cede from the nation. States can’t just vote to leave the US, and neither can Catalonia vote to leave Spain. The vote was illegal and meaningless, outside of the fact that it has stirred up a Spanish political hornet’s nest.

What’s Next? The President of Catalonia will speak on the matter tomorrow night, and will either declare independence (legally it will mean nothing) or will vow to negotiate with the Spanish government on enacting some changes to make the Catalan people happy.

Bearish Headwind If: This one has been a bit exacerbated by the press. First of all, Catalonia has wanted to secede from Spain pretty much since it was conquered by Spain in the 1700s. Catalan culture is different from Spain (they speak Catalan, which is different than Spanish) and the people always have considered themselves different from the rest of Spain. So, it’s not shocking they held the vote.

Second, this is as much a money issue as a cultural one (surprise!). Catalonia is wealthy compared to the rest of Spain. And, the Catalan people perceive (somewhat correctly) that they subsidize the rest of Spain, and they are tired of it (years of recession will do that).

At this point, there are three ways it can go:

The “Good” scenario is that the Catalan government and Spanish government negotiate this out (this is the likely outcome). The “Bad” scenario is the Catalan government declares independence and the Spanish government fires the entire Catalan government and assumes control of municipal services and holds a new election. The “Ugly” scenario is the Spanish government declares martial law and occupies Catalonia (this is very unlikely).

But, even if the “Ugly” scenario come to pass, this is still mostly a local problem. For it to become a bearish game-changer for European ETFs and US stocks, we’d need to see Catalonia achieve independence, and spur an independence movement across Europe. ZeroHedge is warning of this, but in reality, it’s very, very unlikely.

This drama is not something keeping me up at night.

Drama 4: Turkish Diplomatic Drama

What’s Happened? The US has stopped issuing all non-immigrant visas in Turkey, and the Turkish government retaliated and is doing the same. This conflict is just the latest drama surrounding Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Over the weekend, the Turkish government arrested a Turkish US embassy worker the government believes is linked to Gulen. The Turkish government blames Gulen for the failed 2016 coup, and this is a problem, because Gulen currently lives in Pennsylvania and the US won’t hand him over.

What’s Next? Diplomats are working through it, and it’s unlikely to metastasize into a bigger problem.

Bearish Headwind If: The US and Turkey suspend all diplomatic ties (which is very, very unlikely).

Bottom Line
Absent the North Korea flare up that began in August, 2017 has been largely devoid of any international dramas, which is a departure from most of the current decade. Yet clearly there has been an uptick in geopolitical uncertainty over the past few weeks.

However, while the financial media is quick to cover the worst-case scenarios from these events, the facts tell us that none of them, at this point, represent a reason to alter positioning or to de-risk. More importantly, tax cuts remain the key political and geopolitical event to focus on during Q4. That can obvi-ously change, but so far none of these dramas are nearly as important to stocks as whether we get tax cuts. And, if that changes, we will tell you first thing.

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Weekly Market Preview, October 9, 2017

Last Week in Review

For the most part economic data was solid last week, and suggested the recent reflation rally can continue further. But almost all the data released last week was at least in some way affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In most cases, the data was skewed for the better, and until Friday that was supporting hawkish money flows.

Starting with the ISM data, the Manufacturing release on Monday surged to 60.8 vs. (E) 58.0 which was, I believe, the strongest print in decades. However, there was a distinct outlier in this report that meaningfully skewed the headline. Supplier Deliveries (one of the five subcomponents of the headline) spiked to 64.4 vs. 57.1. Rising supplier deliveries means longer deliveries of ordered parts, which is a sign of increased demand and economic activity. But this data point was directly affected by the hurricanes and not a real uptick in demand.

Then, the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index jumped to 59.8 vs. (E) 55.5. Like the Manufacturing data, delayed deliveries had spiked 7.5 points to 58.0, which was a major supporting factor for the headline (but again, the data was skewed by the hurricanes).

As far as the two ISM reports are concerned, they both need to be taken with a grain of salt as the hurricanes played a major role in boosting the headlines. Additionally, “survey style” data continues to come in much better than “hard data” like Industrial production. Until we start to see some more upbeat “real data,” the reflation trade will only be able to accelerate so much.

Continuing with the theme of skewed data, Friday’s September jobs report was the big release of the week and the data was “off the charts” on several subcomponents while the headline job adds actually declined. Unemployment fell to 4.2% vs. (E) 4.4%, which was the lowest since 2001 while the participation rate rose to 63.1% vs. (E) 62.8%, well above the highest estimates.

While the ISM reports earlier in the week were seen as hawkish and supportive of the reflation trade, the jobs report on Friday was not as well received, as investors were skeptical of such robust data. The immediate reaction was inflationary, with the 10-year yield punching through 2.40% (the tipping point) for the first time since early May. Then with the help of some adverse headlines regarding North Korea, the morning moves unwound and bonds rebounded while gold rallied and stocks sold off. The market has started to take the September data with a grain of salt, as it is clearly skewed in favor of the hawks. This is likely to result in the reflation trade stalling, as investors await more data to see what the real trend in the economy is doing.

This Week’s Preview

As banks observe the Columbus Day holiday today, economic data doesn’t kick off until tomorrow. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index for September will be more important than normal as investors will be looking to see how small businesses fared through the hurricanes. The previous read was 105.3, so any significant divergence from that level could likely cause some movement, especially if it misses, which could see a further unwind of the recent reflationary money flows.

On Wednesday, the Fed minutes from the September meeting will be in focus as investors look for further clues about future Fed policy. But as is normally the case, it is more likely than not that the release will essentially be a non-event.

Later this week focus will be on inflation data for September, as PPI and CPI are out Thursday and Friday, respectively. Also on Friday, Retail Sales data will be watched closely to see if the effects of the hurricanes were felt in the retail space. Again, any softness in the data could spur an extended pullback from recent reflation moves. Finally, Consumer Sentiment will be worth watching to see if optimism about the economy is actually taking hold, or if consumers remain mostly cautious on the forward outlook.

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ECB Minutes Analysis, October 6, 2017

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There were no real surprises in the minutes of the September ECB meeting, but nonetheless the minutes caused a modestly decline in the euro, which fell 0.4% following their release.

The reason for the decline was the discussion of euro strength, and the risk it poses to the EU economy. Remember, one of the reasons the euro accelerated so much in August was because ECB President Draghi refused to take multiple opportunities to comment on euro strength, and the market took those omissions as tacit endorsements of the stronger euro.

But, yesterday’s minutes told us the ECB has indeed noticed the 12% rise in the euro vs. the dollar, and if the euro stays strong it may impact its upcoming tapering decision, due on Oct. 26.

To be clear, the stronger euro won’t delay that tapering decision, but it could make the reduction in QE more gradual. And that matters, because with the euro at 1.17 vs. the dollar, a very gradual tapering is not priced in, and that represents downside risk in the euro—perhaps into the low 1.10- 1.15 range depending on taper details.

That also matters for US stocks, because if the euro falls, the dollar will rise, and a stronger dollar will, at some point, become a headwind on stocks if we don’t see continued acceleration in inflation or economic data.

Bottom line, the ECB meeting is a real risk to our “Virtuous Reflation,” because if they are dovish and cause a dollar rally, that may indeed hit stocks. That’s not necessarily a problem until later in the month, but I do want everyone to be aware of it.

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Jobs Report Preview, October 5, 2017

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Hurricanes Irma and Harvey have sapped some of the importance from tomorrow’s jobs report because it’s likely going to be temporarily distorted lower than it should otherwise be. Case in point, the expectation is for 100k job adds when it should normally be about double that. So, it’s likely we’ll get a soft number and it’ll be dismissed by the markets.

But, it’s not clear what impact the storms will have on the wage component (theoretically it shouldn’t be much). Regardless, the practical effect is that is we see a soft number tomorrow (jobs and wages) it will be handed a relative pass given the storms.

That said, the jobs report still remains very important from a “reflation rally” standpoint. This week, the Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing PMIs and auto sales have all helped to push stocks slightly higher, despite the market’s clear preference to see some profit taking in the reflation sectors. If tomorrow’s jobs report is “Just Right” and the wage number is firm, that will add fuel to the “reflation rally.”

From a practical standpoint, I’ll be adding about 75k jobs to whatever the number is on Friday to account for one-time, Hurricane Harvey/Irma-related declines.

“Too Hot” Scenario (A December Rate Hike Becomes 100% Certain, Risk Increases for More than Three Hikes in 2018)

>200k Job Adds, < 4.1% Unemployment, > 2.8% YOY wage increase. A number this hot will reinforce that an economic reflation is in deed underway, and it’ll likely make the Fed marginally more hawkish. Likely Market Reaction: This would not result in a “Virtuous Reflation.”…withheld for subscribers only—unlock specifics and ETFs by signing up for a free two-week trial).

“Just Right” Scenario (Leaves a December Rate Hike Likely But Not Certain)

• 50k–200k Job Adds, > 4.2% Unemployment Rate, 2.5%-2.8% YOY wage increase. This gap is really wide because of the hurricanes, but the best scenario for stocks would be a print at the upper end of this range. Likely Market Reaction: A continued “Virtuous” reflation…withheld for subscribers only—unlock specifics and ETFs by signing up for a free two-week trial).

“Too Cold” Scenario (Economic Growth Potentially Stalling)
< 50k Job Adds, < 2.5% YOY Wage Gains. Again, this number is artificially low because of the hurricanes, but if we see a big disappointment in the jobs number and a further softening of wage inflation that will send bond yields lower, but it would also likely weigh on stocks as it will raise concerns about economic growth. Likely Market Reaction: Bonds and gold should…withheld for subscribers only—unlock specifics and ETFs by signing up for a free two-week trial).

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