FAST FACTS ABOUT TODAY’S ECONOMIC DATA:
* Suddenly, Homebuilder Confidence slips to lowest level since 2016.
* Foreign Ownership of U.S. Treasuries fell slightly in September.
* Japan’s trade balance worsened.
NAHB/WELLS FARGO U.S. HOUSING MARKET INDEX AT LOWEST LEVEL SINCE 2016:
The NAHB Housing Market Index plunged -8 points to 60 in the month of November. This is the lowest level since August 2016. Nonetheless, the index has now been above 50 for 53 consecutive months! In the month, Current sales fell -7 points to 67, Future Sales fell -10 points to 65, and Traffic flows fell -8 points to 45. Geographically, there were declines across the U.S.: Northeast fell -9 points to 52, the Midwest fell -6 points to 54, the South fell -5 points to 65, and the West fell -9 points to 65.
CHINA & IRELAND SELL U.S. TREASURIES IN SEPTEMBER:
On Friday, the US Treasury Department reported that net long-term securities transactions were +$30.8 billion in the month of September. In the month, there were foreign net purchases of US Agency debt (+$29.8 billion) and US Corporate Bonds (+$6.1 billion); however, there were net sales of US Corporate Stocks for the fourth consecutive month (-$16.9 billion) and US Treasury Bonds (-$11.5 billion).
In September, there were notable increases in holdings in Belgium (+$10.4 billion M/M), the U.K. (+$3.7 billion M/M), India (+$3.4 billion M/M), Taiwan (+$3.2 billion M/M), and Luxembourg (+$3.1 billion M/M). Conversely, there were significant declines in U.S. Treasury holdings in China (-$13.7 billion M/M), Ireland (-$25.4 billion M/M), France (-$20.7 billion M/M), and Switzerland (-$5.1 billion M/M).
JAPAN TRADE BALANCE WORSENED AS IMPORTS SURGED:
According to Japan’s Ministry of Finance, Japan’s trade balance was negative for the fourth consecutive month, down -¥161.2 billion to -¥302.7 billion in the month of October. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, exports rebounded +4.3% M/M whereas imports surged +6.6% M/M. On a Y/Y basis, Japan exports rebounded +8.2% Y/Y (-1.3% Y/Y prior), while imports surged +19.9% Y/Y (+7.0% Y/Y prior). Thus, the trade balance on a not seasonally adjusted basis declined -¥580.6 billion to -¥449.3 billion.
It should be noted that exports to the U.S. increased +11.6% Y/Y (-0.5% Y/Y prior), exports to the EU increased +7.7% Y/Y (-4.4% Y/Y prior), and exports to China increased +9.0% Y/Y (-1.7% Y/Y prior). Furthermore, Petroleum imports increased +6.1% M/M and +34.0% Y/Y to ¥767.0 billion (+38.0% Y/Y previously). The higher cost of oil is certainly making it more costly for Japan (albeit less so in October), as Japan imports roughly 90% of its energy.
U.S. GDP: Our GDP model sees 3%+ Real GDP growth through Q1 2019, but as higher oil and interest rates flow through the system, our model sees slower growth thereafter (Note that the Atlanta Fed’s estimate for Q4 GDP is now 2.8%). Our model doesn’t factor in the stimulus from the recent tax cut, so the reversal in 2019 could be more pronounced than our model appreciates (it is presumed that 2018 will be better than our model due to the tax cut, whereas the delta for 2019 would be worse than our model predicts).
U.S. Inflation: U.S. inflation appears to have hit a peak two months ago and with oil prices down and the dollar index up, we believe inflation has peaked (for now).
U.S. Federal Reserve: The Fed is signaling that rates will be 100 bps higher by the end of 2019, and with inflation peaking, we believe that they’re wrong. We don’t even think they should hike in December at this point (but they will). We believe the U.S. Dollar will continue to strengthen given interest rate parity and overall relative economic strength in the U.S., and this has now become a headwind for inflation (and potentially growth). We think a Fed pause is coming faster than the market currently appreciates (but a December hike is still on the table for now).
U.S. Treasuries: Although recent inflation data has been cooling, the job market remains tight and Real GDP trending is still trending well above +3.0%. With that in mind, we still believe the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury will trend higher. We expect to see yields approach 3.50% by year end 2018, particularly if the market sniffs out a coming Fed pause (as that’s ultimately reflationary).
U.S. Equities and Earnings: S&P 500 operating earnings are rising materially, but the question remains, will the market put a 20 P/E multiple on forward earnings? We think a 20 forward multiple is aggressive, but 18.5 may not be. Our SPX target is for an 18.5x P/E on 2019 forward earnings of $165, bringing our 2018 SPX target to 3,050. We prefer financials given expectations for economic growth and an improving (steepening) yield curve.
Argentina: The macro looks abysmal in Argentina, and they have IMF involvement, but there is a silver lining here in that Q2 GDP was so bad that it might be hard for Q3 to be negative! Overall, Argentina’s economic condition appears to have weakened in 2018. Inflation is at a lofty 39.5%, Industrial Production is down -11.5% Y/Y, Exports are down -4.8% Y/Y, Consumer Confidence has deteriorated since January, the Economic Activity Index collapsed in May, and Unemployment jumped to 9.6% in Q2 (7.2% in Q4 2017).
Brazil: Overall, Brazil’s data has weakened in 2018, but the political situation has now moved a step toward economic liberalization, and we are encouraged. Currently, GDP is up just 1% Y/Y, Industrial Production is down -2.0% Y/Y, Retail Sales slowed to +0.1% Y/Y, and Unemployment continues to be elevated (11.9% in September, which is an improvement); however, Consumer Confidence improved once again in October and the Composite PMI rebounded into positive territory in October.
Canada: Canada’s housing market has been weak, as building starts and permits have gone negative, and home prices are slowing (Toronto area is now negative). Also, Retail Sales slipped in August and Canada’s monthly Real GDP has been in a slowing trend since October (3.5% in October, but now down to 2.5%), while monthly Nominal GDP has slowed from +6.5% in June 2017 to +4.1% Y/Y in Q2 … remember, nominal pays the bills.
Mexico: Overall, Mexico’s macro data looks to be improving, but inflation is also turning up. GDP is up 2.6% Y/Y, PMI’s have been steady, Industrial Production increased +1.8% Y/Y, and Consumer Confidence jumped in Q3. However, Unemployment increased to 3.6% in September and Retail Sales slowed to +3.9% Y/Y.
Venezuela: Remains uninvestable.
United Kingdom: BREXIT drama aside, inflation has been in a slowing trend in 2018, unemployment has been declining, wages have been turning up, and PMI’s have been steady. Even the big macro risk, housing, hasn’t shown much weakness. In fact, home prices improved slightly in August on a Y/Y basis.
European Union: Although Unemployment continues to trend lower, Industrial Production is now up +0.9% Y/Y, and Retail Sales are now up +0.8% Y/Y, Economic Sentiment is turning lower, and PMI’s have turned back from recent highs, and the political situation has gotten so bad that Merkel isn’t going to run again. The events in Italy foreshadow possible macro risks for Europe, as monetary accommodation is removed. We still believe Europe is uninvestible.
European Central Banks: The ECB is slowly removing accommodation and has reiterated its claim that bond buying is over in December. But Mario Draghi hasn’t given a timeline for raising rates and the recent decline in CPI will give them even further pause for doing so.
Eastern Europe: As we saw earlier in the year with Italy, nations with high debt levels can rapidly become front-burner macro items. The same can be said 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: We remain highly negative on South Africa, but we have noticed recent efforts by the ANF to walk back some of the rhetoric. The ANF is now trying to reengage with foreign capital and wants to liberalize some of the rules around mining investment. Politics aside, the macro picture is getting bleaker by the day as Business Confidence is rolling over, GDP is negative, Inflation has turned up, Retail Sales are barely positive, and PMI’s are bouncing around the ‘50’ level. None of this will help unemployment (27.2% in Q2). In our view, the mere risk of having assets appropriated will grind foreign capital commitments and new business investment to a screeching halt, and more time is going to need to pass in order for foreign investors to feel any degree of confidence. Our best guess is that more downside exists for South Africa’s economy and we believe the currency and equity market will suffer as a result.
Turkey: Remains uninvestable.
ASIA / PACIFIC:
Australia: The Australian data remain mixed but we have serious concerns about the decline in building approvals and new home loans, as well as China exposures. With that in mind, we have a short view on Australian equities. So far, the macro remains OK as the Unemployment Rate appears to be ticking lower (to +5.0% in September), Real GDP accelerated to +3.8% Y/Y in Q2, Exports are up +15.9% Y/Y, Wages are up +2.1% Y/Y, Retail Sales accelerated to +3.7% Y/Y in September, and Consumer Sentiment has ticked slightly higher recently. However, consumer credit remains elevated and the value and number of home loan approvals and permits have turned negative, which is a bad sign as home prices have turned negative as well.
China: It’s officially a trade war and Jack Ma thinks we’ve got 20 more years to go. We have the under on 20 years, but the over on 1 year as China isn’t even interested in meeting with the Trump Administration at this time (although there is a token Xi/Trump meeting on the calendar). China claims it’s going to pull out all the stops, is going to ‘encourage’ institutions to buy stocks, and there is talk of cutting taxes. We doubt any of this will work to plug the large liability problem in China’s banking system.
We continue to believe that trade talks aren’t going to get better for quite some time and China will use every tool in its arsenal, which includes Renminbi depreciation. It is notable that China is already working to stimulate its banking sector by lowering reserve requirements and encouraging banks to do “debt for equity’ swaps. Note that PMI’s continue to indicate slow growth, Industrial Production is slowing, and now China may have an inflation problem.
India: Indian economic activity appears strong, which runs counter to worries about shadow banking issues. Commercial Credit accelerated to +14.6% Y/Y in October, Industrial production has been strong, M3 money growth has been steady at 10%, and PMI’s still show growth (albeit slower). We are watching to see if any deterioration happens.
Indonesia: Indonesia had gone four years without raising rates, but now rates have been hiked +125bps since Mid-April. Indonesia’s GDP and Private Consumption Expenditures are up over +5% Y/Y, Consumer Confidence has been stable, Manufacturing PMI had been stable in the 49-51 range for a year and slowed to 50.5 in October, Industrial Production rebounded +9.0% Y/Y. However, Retail Sales slowed slightly to +3.9% Y/Y and Exports slowed to +3.6%. If there’s one emerging market that we’d be inclined to be bullish, this would be it, but we’d need to see the free-fall in the currency come to an end first.
Japan: Overall, the economic data have been mixed but we are encouraged by Prime Minister Abe’s promise to fix social security, immigration, and workforce participation. We are slowly becoming positively biased.
Russia: As we stated recently, the sanctions are beginning to have an impact on Russia. And it is never a good thing when officials talk about their ability to cushion “crashes”. We find Russia uninvestible at this time.
South Korea: Overall, the economic data have been mixed. While the world looks forward to peace on the Korean Peninsula, we are keeping an eye on trade data into China, which increased +17.7% Y/Y in October. Also, GDP increased +2.0% Y/Y in Q3, Income is up +4.2% Y/Y, Industrial Production increased +0.9% Y/Y, and the Unemployment Rate improved to 3.9% in October. Conversely, Retail Sales slowed to +3.0% Y/Y.
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