Why Yesterday’s Decline Wasn’t Just About North Korea, August 11, 2017

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Why yesterday's decline wasn't just about North Korea

Thursday was another risk-off day in the currency and bond markets thanks to North Korea, but there were some underwhelming economic reports that shouldn’t be missed, either. The Dollar Index fell 0.09% and never strayed too far from unchanged, in part due to the looming CPI report out this morning.

Starting with the obvious, North Korean angst again kept a lid on most currencies and pushed the yen higher, in classic risk-off trade (although importantly, the moves were mild and currencies and bonds did not confirm the angst in stocks).

However, beyond North Korea there was important economic data that did also impact currencies, and again I maintain that unless we get a big deterioration in the North Korea situation the data remains more important for the remainder than the geopolitical landscape.

First, US PPI was soft, declining for the first time in months and again reinforcing the idea of slowing inflation. Now, PPI isn’t as important to the Fed or markets as CPI, but the bottom line is that if we are in (or approaching) an economic reflation, we shouldn’t see these types of underwhelming inflation reports.

That soft PPI weighed slightly on the dollar and bond yields, although again it was largely overshadowed from a market standpoint by North Korea and today’s CPI.

Looking internationally, the euro was flat all day vs. the dollar amidst little news, while the pound dipped 0.26%. The reason for the pound weakness wasn’t just risk off in the markets. It also was due to an underwhelming Industrial Production report. While the headline number beat estimates (0.5% vs. (E) 0.2%), the manufacturing sub-component was flat vs. (E) 0.2%. That was why the pound dipped back below 1.30 vs. the dollar.

The big gainer vs. the dollar yesterday was, again, the yen, which rallied 0.55% on a standard risk-off move. Economic data in Japan yesterday was, at best, mixed, but the yen isn’t trading off data right now… it’s trading off sentiment. And, the North Korea news is causing a flight to safety, and that means higher yen, higher Treasuries and, for now, higher gold.

Turning to bonds, Treasuries rallied as the 10 year rose 0.11% and the 10-year yield fell below support at 2.22%, although that drop happened into the close.

Bottom line, this flare up in North Korea has put the 10-year yield at a critical technical crossroads. If CPI is light this morning, the 10-year yield will likely drop below 2.20%. At that point, a test of the 2017 lows certainly isn’t out of the question. And, we’d find that disconcerting for multiple reasons, chief of which because it would imply too low inflation and largely destroy the chances for a reflationary rally in stocks in 2017.

We maintain that an economic reflation (higher growth, higher inflation, higher rates) is the only path to a sustainable medium- and long-term rally. While it may cause more of a decline short term, the medium- and longer-term investor in us is hoping for a strong CPI report later today. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion I will be disappointed. I hope I’m wrong.

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Last Week and This Week in Economics, April 17, 2017

Week of April 17th and April 10th in Economics

Last Week in Economics – 4.10.17

The two important economic numbers came out Friday when markets were closed, so they didn’t receive much attention, although they should have. Both numbers (CPI and Retail Sales) further eroded the reflation trade thesis and will increase worries the economy is losing momentum.

Starting with retail sales, the headline on this number was plain ugly. March retail sales declined 0.2% vs. (E) 0.0%. Almost as importantly, February retail sales were revised down to -0.3% from the previous 0.1%. As longer-term readers know, we generally disregard the headline and instead look at the “control” group retail sales, which is retail sales ex autos, gasoline and building materials. That control group gives us a better read on truly discretionary spending.

Here the numbers are a bit better. Control retail sales rose 0.5% in March vs. (E) 0.3%, but February was revised lower from 0.1% to -0.2%. So, considering revisions, the March number wasn’t a beat.

Bottom line, this number is not good for stocks. Consumer spending was the engine powering the Q3/Q4 2016 economic acceleration, and the sluggishness in consumer spending now is extending beyond what we would consider normal slack following a big acceleration. These are not the kind of numbers we would see if a bigger economic acceleration is looming.

Turning to CPI, it also undermined the “reflation” trade in the near term. Headline CPI dropped -0.3% vs. (E) 0.0% while core CPI declined -0.1% vs. (E) 0.2%. Additionally, the year-over-year core CPI reading dipped from 2.3% in Feb. to 2.0% in March. This soft CPI reading isn’t a damning number, and clearly the trend of inflation is higher. Yet markets need modestly higher inflation and better growth to power stocks higher, and last week’s numbers did not suggest that’s happening.

Bottom line, this week now is very important, as it will go a long way to resolving the now-glaring discrepancy between still sluggish “hard” economic data and surging “soft” economic sentiment surveys.

Finally, to make this a bit more real, Friday’s numbers resulted in the GDP Now for Q1 dropping to just 0.5%. That type of economic growth simply cannot support stocks at these levels, and as such we should expect Friday’s data to further pressure bond yields and the dollar, which will increase stock headwinds.

This Week in Economics – 4.17.17

This week is important for markets because we will get a much more definitive answer to the question of whether the pace of economic growth is losing momentum. How that question is answered will go a long way to determining whether the S&P 500 takes out the March low of 2322, or if stocks can bounce.

To that point, the most important economic releases this week all contain March data, and the most important report will be the flash manufacturing PMIs out Friday, followed (in importance) by Empire Manufacturing (today) and Philly Fed (Thursday). The reason those numbers are so important is because it’s April data, so they will give us the most current view of the pace of economic activity in the US. If they further imply there is a loss of momentum, that will further undermine the reflation trade and hit stocks. Conversely, markets need strong data this week to help reinvigorate the reflation trade thesis.

Looking beyond those March data points, the next most important report this week is March Industrial Production. This number is important because a wide gulf still exists between “soft” sentiment -based data, and “hard” economic numbers. Industrial production is the next opportunity for some of that “hard” economic data to move higher and begin to close that gap.

Bottom line, we’re coming to a head on the debate over soft vs. hard economic data, and whether the recent economic acceleration can last. While there aren’t a lot of numbers this week, what data we do get is important to resolving that debate… and that will move markets.

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Time to Buy Emerging Markets? March 29, 2017

The Case for Emerging Markets, an excerpt from today’s Sevens Report. Everything you need to know about the market in your inbox by 7am, in 7 minutes or less.

Time to invest in emerging markets, tom essayeAs expectations for a pro-growth policy based reflation trade (i.e. the Trump trade) fade here in the US, one potential beneficiary is emerging markets. The sector has underperformed since the election due to a combination of

1) Dollar strength,

2) Rising US bond yields, and

3) Fear of trade wars.

But, if we see an extended pause in the dollar and bond yield rally, and continued poor execution on pro-growth policies, then emerging markets offer value in an otherwise expensive market.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a long-term bull on emerging markets, nor does this analysis mean I’m not a long-term bull on the dollar or bond yields… I think both go higher long term.

However, the fact is this market has already priced in a an acceleration of growth in the US. If that doesn’t materialize, we could see a sideways chop in the dollar and bond yields, and emerging markets will likely outperform near term (i.e. the next few months).

The investment thesis behind EM is comprised of three pillars: Valuation, inverse correlation to the US-based reflation trade, and positive exposure to global growth.

Pillar 1: Attractive Relative Valuation. Emerging markets are much cheaper than most developed markets, as several research pieces we’ve read have emerging markets trading 12X forward P/E, compared to 17X and 15X for the US and Europe, respectively. So, there is value there, especially after the under-performance following the election.

Pillar 2: Hedge Against a Reflation Trade Unwind. If we see the reflation trade continue to unwind (which started in earnest last Tuesday) then emerging markets will benefit. Case in point, since the election, our preferred emerging market ETF (withheld for subscribers) has returned 5.9%. But, almost all of those gains have come over the past few weeks thanks to the Fed’s dovish hike, and the healthcare failure.

If reflation trade enthusiasm wanes in the US, emerging markets will continue to benefit thanks to the weaker dollar and lower yields. To put it simply, emerging market returns are highly inversely correlated to the dollar. If we see the dollar continue to grind sideways or continue to fall, emerging markets should outperform.

Pillar 3: Positive Exposure to Global Growth. Finally, emerging markets should benefit from a rising global economic tide. US rate hikes aside, the rest of the world’s central banks remain very “easy,” and generally speaking global growth is on an upswing… and that should continue to benefit emerging markets. There are, however, risks to the trade. First, if we get border adjustments in a corporate tax cut package, that’s negative EM because it effectively puts a tax on all emerging market exports (i.e. raw materials), which will reduce demand. Second, if the Fed becomes more hawkish near term, then the dollar and bond yields will rise, and EM will lag. Third, if China sees another growth scare that will hurt EM. Finally, if the Trump administration begins to levy import taxes or engages in aggressive trade policies, that will obviously be EM negative. Of these risks, we view the most probable as the Fed getting more hawkish. But, near term that just isn’t very likely. So, the risks to this strategy are real, but we don’t view them as imminent.

Finally, I’m not saying emerging markets are a long-term strategy, but I do think EM is something that can outperform over the coming months, especially if we see a lack of progress on tax cuts. As such, EM offers reasonable upside in a market where not much is cheap, and we think the potential reward is worth the risk.

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