FAST FACTS ABOUT TODAY’S ECONOMIC DATA:
- NAHB Housing Market Index at highest level in 18 years in December.
- TIC Data show that China continues to buy U.S. Treasuries.
- Japan Trade Surplus improved due to increased exports to the U.S.
NAHB/WELLS FARGO U.S. HOUSING MARKET INDEX AT HIGHEST LEVEL IN 18 YEARS:
The NAHB Housing Market Index increased +5 points to 74 in the month of December. Thus, this is the highest level since July 1999 and it marks the 42nd consecutive month above 50! In the month, Current sales increased +4 points to 81, Future Sales increased +3 points to 79, and Traffic flows increased +8 points to 58. Geographically, there were increases in the Midwest (+11 points to 76), the South (+3 points to 75), and the West (+8 points to 85); however, the Northeast fell -8 points to 53.
CHINA CONTINUES TO BUY U.S. TREASURIES IN OCTOBER:
Late Friday, the US Treasury Department reported that net long-term securities transactions were +$23.2 billion in the month of October. This is the 10th consecutive monthly increase (+$80.9 billion prior). In the month, there were foreign net purchases of US Corporate Stocks (+$12.3 billion), US Agency debt (+$10.0 billion), and US Corporate bonds (+$7.4 billion); however, there were net sales of US Treasury Bonds (-$22.1 billion).
In October, there were significant increases in U.S. Treasury holdings in China (+$8.4 billion M/M and +$130.8 billion YTD), Belgium (+$7.9 billion M/M), Belgium (+$11.2 billion M/M), and Luxembourg (+$4.0 billion M/M). Conversely, there were notable declines in holdings in the U.K. (-$11.5 billion M/M), India (-$3.7 billion M/M), and Japan (-$2.1 billion M/M).
JAPAN TRADE BALANCE IMPROVED THANKS TO U.S. EXPORTS IN NOVEMBER:
According to Japan’s Ministry of Finance, Japan’s trade balance increased +¥14.8 billion to +¥364.1 billion in the month of November. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, exports increased +1.6% M/M, whereas imports increased +1.4% M/M. Moreover, on a Y/Y basis, Japan exports accelerated to +16.2% Y/Y (+14.0% Y/Y prior), while imports slowed to +17.2% Y/Y (+18.9% Y/Y prior). However, the trade balance on a not seasonally adjusted basis fell -¥171.2 billion to +¥113.4 billion (versus +¥284.6 billion prior).
It should be noted that Japan’s exports to China slowed to +25.1% Y/Y (+26.0% Y/Y prior) and exports to the EU slowed to +13.3% Y/Y (+15.8% Y/Y prior); however, exports to the U.S. accelerated to +13.0% Y/Y (+7.1% Y/Y prior). Lastly, it should be noted that Petroleum imports increased +10.8% M/M and +28.3% Y/Y to ¥634.0 billion (+43.0% Y/Y previously). Japan imports roughly 90% of its energy, making Japan one of the world’s largest beneficiaries of low energy prices over the past few years.
U.S. GDP: Our GDP model points toward stronger growth in the quarters ahead (+2.7% Real GDP growth through Q4 2018); however, our model has ticked down somewhat recently given higher energy prices, somewhat higher interest rates, and due to some less favorable recent demographic / employment trends. Despite the downtick in our model, we are still highly optimistic on stimulative economic effects for 2018 due to tax reform. As such, we still believe a good base case estimate for 2018 Real GDP is for +3% growth.
U.S. Inflation: U.S. inflation is rising slightly again as energy prices are back in positive territory and wages are showing early signs of picking up. Additionally, recent data show that shelter costs have been turning up again. However, the Fed’s preferred inflation metric, the Core PCE Deflator was up just +1.33% Y/Y in September (below the Fed’s 2% inflation target).
U.S. Federal Reserve: With another rate hike behind us, we believe three more rate hikes will happen in 2018, with the potential for more hikes if tax reform brings short term stimulus.
U.S. Treasuries: With headline CPI having hit a near-term peak of 2.7% Y/Y, we believe the 10-year U.S. Treasury is now range-bound through the end of the year. We would be inclined to be buyers of Treasuries if the 10-year yield were to approach its recent high of 2.63%.
U.S. Equities and Earnings: S&P 500 operating earnings will rise materially in 2017, but our yearend S&P 500 target of 2400 has already been attained. In fact, the S&P is trading at our 2018 target too! Despite these mathematical targets, we still see U.S. equities in an up-trend as the economy improves and as interest rate products remain unattractive. We continue to favor the homebuilders, given the demographic tailwind and lack of inventory. We also prefer financials given expectations for economic growth.
Argentina: Argentine economic data continues to improve. Consumer Confidence has improved, industrial production has turned up, GDP accelerated to +2.7% y/y in Q2, but inflation remains a problem at +24.5% Y/Y (far better than 45% from a year ago though). However, Industrial Production has slowed for three consecutive months.
Brazil: The macro data in Brazil continue to improve. Retail sales are now up +6.4% Y/Y, unemployment has fallen for six straight months to 12.4%, Industrial Production is up +2.6% Y/Y, Manufacturing PMI continues to trend higher, tax receipts are growing, inflation is still in a falling trend – which allows the central bank to cut rates further, and GDP finally turned positive on a Y/Y basis (+0.3% Y/Y). Of all the major global bond markets, Brazilian 10-year bond yields are the richest in the world at 10%. As the economy improves, and inflation cools, we would expect to see investors reach for yield in Brazil. As such, we recently initiated a Long Brazil 10-Year Sovereign Bond view.
Canada: Despite worries about Canada’s housing market, so far Canada’s economic data remain healthy. Consumer Confidence remains at high levels, manufacturing PMI’s remain strong, unemployment has been in a declining trend, retail sales are elevated, and Canada’s monthly GDP remains at a healthy 3.3% Y/Y.
Mexico: Recent economic data in Mexico suggest that the Mexican economy has been mixed in Q3. Manufacturing PMI’s were stronger in Q3 (but slowed in October) and exports accelerated to +13.2% Y/Y; however, Unemployment has increased to 3.6%, Consumer Confidence has trended slightly lower, industrial production is down -1.2% Y/Y, and retail sales have yet to turn higher.
Venezuela: We will leave this as a placeholder in the event that Venezuela ever becomes an investible market again. We are hopeful …
United Kingdom: The U.K. economy has been reasonably resilient throughout the BREXIT process. Industrial Production accelerated in October (+3.6% Y/Y), unemployment continues to decline, and PMI’s have improved. However, Retail Sales fell -0.3% Y/Y in October, Consumer Confidence has remained negative, home prices have begun to turn lower in London, while inflation has turned higher. In fact, the Bank of England raised rates due to higher inflation (CPI now at 3%), despite recent weakness in economic data.
European Union: Economic data has recently improved in Europe. Unemployment continues to decline, PMIs indicate strong growth, and Retail Sales accelerated to +3.7% Y/Y in September. We remain bullish on the Euro STOXX 50 Index.
European Central Banks: The ECB is doing exactly what we thought they would do by favoring asset purchases over furthering lowering rates into negative territory and now the ECB is facing rising inflation. Also, next year the ECB will begin to taper its asset purchases and certainly a discussion will begin on the process of how/when to raise rates. We will watch to see if ECB tapering has any meaningful impact on zero (or near-zero) interest rates throughout the continent.
Eastern Europe: We continue to believe risks remain for Eastern Europe given high Debt/GDP levels, most notably Cyprus (104%), Croatia (88%, up from 66% at the end of 2013), and Slovenia (81%). Yet, economic data have been robust this year across most of Eastern Europe.
South Africa: Political chaos and debt downgrade risk aside, South African data improved in Q2 and the start of Q3 (higher PMI’s, higher retail sales, low inflation, and improving business confidence). However, Unemployment remains persistently high at 27.7%.
Turkey: The Lira seems to have stabilized (relatively speaking) after having fallen roughly 10% versus the U.S. Dollar over the past three months. It remains to be seen if the decline in the Lira leads to CPI materially higher in Turkey (CPI already had accelerated to 11.9% Y/Y). Despite the chaotic political situation, the macro backdrop had been strong, as business confidence increased throughout Q3, industrial production accelerated to +10.4% Y/Y, and Unemployment has been steady. However, Consumer Confidence has ticked lower for four consecutive months and exports slowed to +8.7% Y/Y in September.
ASIA / PACIFIC:
Australia: The RBA has cut rates twice in the past year and Australian data is holding up. So far, business and consumer confidence have been strong, the job market has improved, and PMI’s have held up. That being said, we are starting to see weakness in the housing market (private sales down -6.1% M/M and building approvals are up just +0.2% Y/Y) and Auto Sales turned negative in September. We remain neutral on Australia at this time, on concerns about China exposure but so far China is still posting strong data.
China: China data remain mixed but positive. Recent data suggest improvement in China’s manufacturing sector and also in Credit (see above), while Retail Sales, Fixed Investment, CPI, Industrial Production, and Exports have slowed on Y/Y basis. We continue to believe China has the levers to stimulate its economy, but we are watching for further signs of stress within China’s credit and housing markets, particularly now that China is likely to be more focused on cutting overcapacity.
India: Indian economic activity appears to have recovered nicely since the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) was implemented as Industrial Production, Commercial Credit, and Retail Sales ended Q3 on an improving note. Note that since the Indian central bank cut rates in August, inflation appears to have turned slightly higher.
Indonesia: Indonesia’s GDP and Private Consumption Expenditures have been stable at 5% Y/Y, inflation moderated in Q3, Consumer Confidence has been stable, but industrial production and PMI’s weakened in Q3. Our best guess is that the central bank’s dovish policy stance may revert to a more neutral stance going forward (they declined to cut rates again in October).
Japan: With Abe winning his snap elections by a long shot, we are emboldened in our bullish view on Japan’s Nikkei 225. Overall, Japan’s economic activity remains in an improving trend, although weakness in PMI’s over the past two months raises concern. Bank lending is improving on a Y/Y basis in Japan, unemployment continues to improve, industrial production remains elevated, and consumer confidence remains in a slow up-trend.
Russia: Russian economic data continue to suggest economic growth as PMI’s have improved recently. Furthermore, Retail Sales are in an improving trend, Wages have turned up, the Unemployment rate remains low (although ticked up in October), and exports are up over +20% Y/Y. Meanwhile, inflation has slowed, which allowed the Bank of Russia to cut rates once again. Russian equities remain the cheapest in the industrialized world and we remain bullish.
GLOBAL CENTRAL BANK SCORECARD:
MACRO TRADING IDEAS:
WEEK IN REVIEW – BEST & WORST PERFORMERS:
S&P 500 SECTOR PERFORMANCE:
BEST/WORST PERFORMING GLOBAL STOCK MARKETS:
BEST/WORST PERFORMING WORLD BOND MARKETS:
COMMODITIES MARKET PERFORMANCE:
MAJOR GLOBAL STOCK MARKETS:
MAJOR GLOBAL BOND MARKETS:
This publication is for Institutional Investor use only and not for distribution to the general public. The comments herein are based on the author’s opinion at a particular point in time and may change at any time without notice. Merion Capital Group does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained herein. Merion Capital Group is a FINRA-registered broker-dealer. Merion Capital Group shares in the commissions for trades that are executed through Tourmaline Partners, LLC, a FINRA-registered broker-dealer. This report is distributed for informational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation to sell or buy any security or other investment, or undertake any investment strategy. It does not constitute a general or personal recommendation or take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situations, or needs of individual investors. Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. All investments involve risk, including the loss of all of the original capital invested.