GLOBAL ECONOMICS AND POLITICS

Leo Haviland provides clients with original, provocative, cutting-edge fundamental supply/demand and technical research on major financial marketplaces and trends. He also offers independent consulting and risk management advice.

Haviland’s expertise is macro. He focuses on the intertwining of equity, debt, currency, and commodity arenas, including the political players, regulatory approaches, social factors, and rhetoric that affect them. In a changing and dynamic global economy, Haviland’s mission remains constant – to give timely, value-added marketplace insights and foresights.

Leo Haviland has three decades of experience in the Wall Street trading environment. He has worked for Goldman Sachs, Sempra Energy Trading, and other institutions. In his research and sales career in stock, interest rate, foreign exchange, and commodity battlefields, he has dealt with numerous and diverse financial institutions and individuals. Haviland is a graduate of the University of Chicago (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Cornell Law School.


 

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US NATURAL GAS: WAITING FOR FIREWORKS © Leo Haviland July 3, 2018

“(All down the line.) We’ll be watching out for trouble, yeah.”
The Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line”

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CONCLUSION

NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures continuation) probably will remain in a sideways trend between 2.40/2.50 and 3.20/3.45 over the next few months. However, United States natural gas inventories from the days coverage perspective (stocks relative to consumption) are much lower than the historical average. Suppose economic growth remains moderate and that commodity prices in general (and those in the petroleum complex in particular) do not collapse. This natural gas inventory situation, assuming it persists, makes it probable that the marketplace eventually will ascend over 3.20/3.45 toward major resistance around 4.00/4.10. The most likely achievement of a flight to 4.00/4.10 is around winter, whether that of winter 2018-19 or thereafter. A colder than normal winter (or even belief such will occur) boosts the chances of such a spike. If widespread expectations of upcoming massive US natural gas production increases are disappointed, that also likely will rally prices above 3.20/3.45 and toward 4.00/4.10.

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Over the past year or two, the natural gas industry probably has shifted toward a lower level of desired (“appropriate”, “reasonable”, “normal”, “prudent”, “sufficient”) stock holding relative to historical averages. Why? One factor probably is faith that calendar 2018 (and subsequent) gas production will remain far over that of calendar 2017. So many players probably believe there “always (or almost always) will be enough gas around”. Another variable likely encouraging lower inventory in days coverage terms is the substantial expansion of America’s pipeline infrastructure. Thus it has (will) become easier to move sufficient gas to many locations where it is needed. Moreover, the growing share of renewables in total US electricity generation arguably to some extent reduces the amount of necessary natural gas inventories.

These structural changes in the US natural gas marketplace apparently have shifted the natural gas inventory management approach to more of a “just in time” (lower inventories) relative to a “just in case” (higher stockpiles) method.

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However, the natural gas inventory situation nevertheless appears somewhat bullish. Even if the “reasonable” level of industry holdings of natural gas inventories has tumbled relative to historical benchmarks in days coverage by a few days, prospective levels for October 2018 and October 2019 nevertheless appear “low” relative to “normal” totals, particularly from the perspective of the winter stock draw period.

Arguably many natural gas marketplace participants are overly complacent regarding the availability of supplies, particularly in periods of high demand. Imagine a colder than normal winter. Emerging worries that available supply (whether in days coverage or arithmetical terms) is or may be tight can inspire heated scrambles to procure it.

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Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) statistics indicate that calendar 2019 US liquefied natural gas (LNG) net exports will be substantial (notably higher than net LNG exports in 2017 and 2018). This net foreign demand for LNG will tend to tighten the US inventory situation. Also note that in calendar 2017 and 2018, America was a net importer of natural gas via pipeline; in calendar 2019, the US becomes a net exporter via pipeline.

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US Natural Gas- Waiting for Fireworks (7-3-18)

SHAKIN’ ALL OVER: MARKETPLACE CONVERGENCE AND DIVERGENCE © Leo Haviland June 18, 2018

OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

Financial wizards not only offer competing opinions regarding past, current, and future trends for stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces. Their rhetoric displays diverse viewpoints regarding alleged relationships within and between those categories. For example, within the global stock constellation, various apostles elect to compare the travels of the S+P 500 with those of the Nasdaq Composite or with an emerging marketplace stock benchmark. Alternatively, some visionaries herald their subjective insights and foresights about connections between stocks (such as the S+P 500) and interest rates (such as the United States 10 year government note), perhaps also including the US dollar and the commodities galaxy in their investigations.

Luminaries tell stories offering their cultural perspective regarding apparent convergence and divergence (lead/lag) relationships within and between marketplace domains. Viewpoints regarding convergence and divergence encompass not only price direction (trend), but also the timing (start and end date; duration) of a given move as well as the distance it travelled. In any case, these links (associations; patterns) can alter, sometimes substantially and occasionally permanently. Marketplace history, including that related to convergence and divergence, is not marketplace destiny, whether entirely or even partly.

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History reveals that the S+P 500 and emerging marketplace stocks “in general” (MSCI Emerging Stock Markets Index, from Morgan Stanley; “MXEF”) often have had very important trend changes in the same direction “around” the same time.

After establishing important bottoms together in first quarter 2016, the key American stock indices and those of other important advanced nations and the “overall” emerging stock marketplace traded closely together from the directional and marketplace timing perspective. Though the bull moves since first quarter 2016 in these assorted domains did not all voyage the same distance, all were very substantial. Their rallies since around the time of the November 2016 United States Presidential election were impressive. Both emerging marketplace equities and the S+P 500 established important peaks in first quarter 2018 (MXEF 1279 on 1/29/18; S+P 500 2873 on 1/26/18).

Yet whereas since its first quarter 2018 summit prices for the emerging stock marketplace arena have eroded significantly and currently rest at their calendar 2018 lows, the S+P 500 has retraced much of its dive and now (6/15/18 close 2780; stock price data in this essay is through 6/15/18) stands only slightly over three percent from its 1Q18 top. This divergence, though not massive, is noteworthy. A similar but more extreme divergence between these stock benchmarks existed from spring 2011 (and note particularly since around second half 2014) through about May 2015. The S+P 500 kept going up and achieved new highs over its spring 2011 one, but the MXEF failed to do so.

After spring 2015, convergence developed, with a bear trend in the S+P 500 accompanying the existing downhill one in the emerging marketplace stock group. An important factor assisting this was the decisive climb in the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (“TWD”) above its critical resistance around 96.6. A similar convergence is likely to occur in the present MXEF and S+P 500 marketplace relationship, with the significant divergence disappearing and both equity realms falling “together”.

US corporate earnings indeed have been quite strong, with share buybacks and mergers and acquisitions robust. Nevertheless, one bearish factor for stocks in the current landscape is the broad real trade-weighted dollar’s recent advance over the 96.2/96.6 barrier (compare 2015); also recall the TWD rally beginning in spring 2008 during the 2007-09 global economic disaster). The ascending US yield trend (which began in July 2016, accelerating in 1Q18) has encouraged the TWD’s modest rally in the past few months. Trade war talk and potential tariffs probably have assisted the TWD’s appreciation. The US is a net importer nation; some exporters (which include many developing nations) may depreciate their currency to maintain market share within the US.

Another bearish sign for both advanced nation and emerging marketplace stocks is the persistent climb in US Treasury yields. Rising global yields alongside a strengthening dollar is especially painful to emerging marketplace countries and thus their stock marketplaces. Many developing nations, including their corporations, have dollar-denominated debt. And underscore in this context another point: for America over the past century, sustained rising yields generally have led to American stock marketplace declines. Given the Federal Reserve Board’s ongoing tightening policy (and its normalizing balance sheet, as well as probable willingness to allow some overshooting of its two percent inflation target), growing substantial US federal deficits (aided by tax “reform” legislation enacted in December 2017), substantial US household credit demand, a low unemployment rate, and other factors, US government yields probably will tend to keep rising over the long run. The growing mountain of US public debt, including as a percentage of GDP, also tends to push up interest rates.

A confirming sign for equity feebleness in both the S+P 500 and the MXEF likely will be weakness in commodities prices. Commodities often have peaked (bottomed) around the same time as a crucial top (bottom) in important advanced nation or emerging marketplace stocks. However, there have sometimes been lags. Recall that in during the worldwide financial crisis following the glorious Goldilocks Era, commodities “in general” peaked after the S+P 500 and emerging marketplace stocks. The broad Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (“GSCI”) has declined since 5/22/18’s 498 high.

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Shakin' All Over- Marketplace Convergence and Divergence (6-18-18)

COMMODITY CURRENCIES IN CONTEXT: A FINANCIAL WARNING SIGN © Leo Haviland May 1, 2018

“All poker is a form of social Darwinism: the fit survive, the weak go broke.” A. Alvarez, “The Biggest Game in Town”

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

The Bank for International Settlements provides broad real effective exchange rates (“EER”) for numerous currencies around the globe. Within the BIS statistics are several nations who are important exporters of widely-traded commodities such as petroleum, base and precious metals, and agricultural products such as soybeans. Concentrating on and comparing the broad real effective exchange rates of eight freely-traded currencies widely labeled as “commodity currencies” offers insight into assorted interrelated financial marketplace relationships. The overall patterns of this array of assorted export-related commodity currencies often has intertwined in various ways with very significant trends in broad commodity indices such as the S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (“GSCI”) and the Bloomberg Commodity Index (“BCI”), the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (“TWD”), emerging marketplace stocks in general (as well as the S+P 500), and key interest rate benchmarks such as the 10 year US Treasury note.

In assessing and interpreting the role of and implications indicated by the commodity currency platoon in financial battlefields, marketplace guides should highlight several preliminary considerations. The various commodity currencies (“CC”) do not all move at precisely the same time or travel the same percentage distance in a given direction. Although they generally move roughly together within an overall major trend for the group, an individual member may venture in a different direction for quite some time. Although the path in recent months of the various CCs “together” generally has been sideways, their individual movements have not been identical.

Of course the various commodity currency countries are not all alike. So a given guru can tell somewhat different stories about each of them and their currency. Not all CC nations are equally important within the international trade arena. The various domains do not rely to the same extent on commodities within their export packages. And not all are reliant on a given commodity sector (such as petroleum) as part of their commodity output. Some CC nations produce notable amounts of manufactured goods. In addition, some countries probably are more vulnerable to currency and trade wars than others.

Moreover, the intertwined relationships between currencies (whether the CC EERs or others such as the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar), commodities “in general”, stock marketplaces (advanced nation signposts such as the S+P 500; the emerging marketplace field in general), and interest rates can and do change. Relationships between CC EERs and the broad real trade-weighted dollar (“TWD”) can shift. The TWD’s intertwining and relationship to interest rate, equity, and commodities in general is complex. In addition, although subjective perspectives identify apparent convergence and divergence (lead/lag) relationships between financial territories, these connections (links, associations) can alter, sometimes substantially. Marketplace history is not marketplace destiny, whether entirely or even partly.

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Commodities “in general” surpassed their first quarter 2017 peaks in first quarter 2018 (and April 2018), rapidly climbing from a notable mid-year 2017 trough. The majority of commodity currencies established an EER top in (or around) 1Q17. In contrast to commodities in general, the effective exchange rates of the various commodity currency club members either have not exceeded that top established in (around) 1Q17, or have not done so by much. In addition, the CC group’s EERs generally did not climb much, if at all, from around mid-year 2017. This CC EER pattern (some divergence from commodities in general) warns that a significant top in commodities  probably is near. In the past, highs for the commodity currency EERs linked to highs for commodities in general.

Relevant to this marketplace viewpoint regarding the commodity currency EERs and commodities “in general” is the upward trend in US Treasury note yields. Recall not only the major bottom in the UST 10 year note around 1.32 percent on 7/6/16, but especially underline for the CC (and global stock marketplaces) the yield climb from its 9/8/17 interim trough at just over two percent. The Federal Reserve Board has been raising the Federal Funds rate and gradually reducing the size of its bloated balance sheet. The UST 10 year note broke out in first quarter 2018 above critical resistance at 2.65pc; the UST 10 year  recently bordered 1/2/14’s 3.05pc barrier (3.03pc on 4/25/18; the two year UST note also has climbed, reaching 2.50pc on 4/25/18). Also supporting this outlook for commodities is the 1Q18 peak in the S+P 500 (1/26/18 at 2873) and the MSCI Emerging Stock Markets Index (from Morgan Stanley; “MXEF”; 1/29/18 at 1279).

Yield repression (very low and even negative interest rates) promotes eager hunts for yields (return) elsewhere. These include buying commodities as an “asset class”. What happens to commodities when key central banks begin to end their beloved yield repression schemes, or hint that they will do so?

Marketplace history indeed shows that sometimes there has been divergence between commodities “in general” and stock benchmarks such as the S+P 500 for a while. Recall the 2007-09 global economic disaster era. The S+P 500 peaked 10/11/07 at 1576 (MXEF summit 11/1/07 at 1345), prior to the broad GSCI’s pinnacle in July 2008 (7/3/08 at 894). Yet recall that the July 2008 GSCI peak occurred close in time to the noteworthy S+P 500 interim high on 5/19/08 at 1440, as well as the lower S+P 500 tops of 8/11/08 (1313) and 9/19/08 (1265). And note the timing linkage between the broad GSCI and S+P 500 in the past couple of years. Not only did they make major lows around the same time in first quarter 2016 (broad GSCI at 268 on 1/20/16; S+P 500 on 1/20/16 at 1812 and 2/11/16 at 1810). They both accelerated upward in their bull moves around the same time in mid-year 2017; the GSCI low was 351 on 6/21/17, with that in the S+P 500 6/29/17’s 2406 (8/21/17 at 2417). The broad GSCI slumped from its initial high at 466 on 1/25/18, which linked to the S+P 500’s high on 1/26/18; although the GSCI since has hopped over its 1Q18 interim top, it thus far has not done so by much (480 on 4/19/18).

Thus the failure of the EERs for the CC group as a whole to advance much over the past year and especially since mid-year 2017 (with no decisive overall new highs for the group in general in 1Q18) probably has implications for both commodity and equity trends.

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Commodity Currencies in Context- a Financial Warning Sign (5-1-18)

AS THE FINANCIAL WORLD TURNS: COMMODITY AND OTHER MARKETPLACE DOMAINS © Leo Haviland April 2, 2018

Chuck Berry sings in “’Round and ’Round”:
“Well, the joint started rockin’
Goin’ round and round,
Yeah, reelin’ and a rockin’,
What a crazy sound,
Well, they never stopped rockin’,
’Till the moon went down”.

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

Many marketplace high priests enthusiastically proclaim proverbs on price relationships. For some heralds, these adages are only guidelines; however, for others, they represent high (or very high) probabilities. Such aphorisms include the links between the United States dollar and commodities “in general”, or between the US dollar and the S+P 500 or other stock indices. For example, one widely popular chant: “weak dollar equals strong commodities”, “strong dollar equals weak commodities”. For some, the word “equals” in this formula implies “is connected to”, or “associated with”.

Observers differ, often substantially, in their choice between as well as the assessment of the supposedly relevant variables (data, evidence) and analytical time horizons. Perspectives on past, current, and future convergence and divergence (lead/lag) relationships between financial marketplaces (and factors influencing them) likewise can vary significantly.

In practice, viewpoints regarding the role of the dollar in determining commodity price levels, trends, and turning points nevertheless differ, and often a great deal. After all, other financial marketplace realms (such as interest rates and stocks), diverse economic and political theaters, and a wide range of other phenomena interrelate with both the dollar (and other currencies) and assorted members of the commodities world. So a variety of competing stories and predictions about the dollar, commodities (whether in general or in regard to individual sectors such as petroleum or base metals), and other marketplaces exist and change.

Moreover, historical review indicates that trends for commodities “in general” can intertwine in various fashions with currencies (such as the United States dollar), as well as with interest rate benchmarks (picture the US 10 year government note), and stock playgrounds (the S+P 500 and related indices of advanced nations; emerging marketplace signposts). Moreover, marketplace history, whether for a given arena or the relationship between two or more fields, is not marketplace destiny.

For further related marketplace analysis of stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity fields, see other essays such as: “Global Stock Marketplaces: Winter of Discontent” (3/5/18); “There Will Be Blood: Financial Battlefields” (2/9/18); “Busload of Faith: Financial Marketplaces” (1/15/18); “Marketplace Vehicles: Going Mobile” (12/13/17); “History on Stage: Marketplace Scenes” (8/9/17).

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In any case, let’s now focus on the historical relationship between the broad real trade-weighted US dollar (“TWD”) and commodities in general over the past several years. The table below underlines that players should be on the watch for a fairly close coincidence in timing of major or other important turning points in those two wide realms. However, in the current context, they also should monitor TWD moves in relation to the critical height around 96.0. The broad real trade-weighted US dollar (“TWD”) recently fell decisively beneath crucial support around 96.2 to 96.6. The broad real TWD high during the global financial disaster was March 2009’s 96.6.

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What does an investigation of the petroleum, base metals, and agricultural commodity groups since their first quarter 2016 major lows unveil? Many marketplace turns have occurred around the same time. All these commodity battlefields made important highs in first quarter 2018; so did the S+P 500 and other important advanced nation and emerging marketplace stock indices.

Yet not all commodity sectors (or members within a group) necessarily dance (make turns) together. In principle and practice, potential divergence can develop and persist within the commodity universe.

However, whereas petroleum arguably very recently threatened to exceed its 1Q18 barriers, base metals and agriculture apparently did not. Determined and sustained crude oil output restraint by OPEC and its non-OPEC allies such as Russia has helped to draw down OECD petroleum industry inventories. Fears of supply interruption (Middle East tension, including the Iran nuclear issue; Libya; Nigeria; Venezuela) exist. Numerous prophets assert the world economy will remain robust. The further weakening of the dollar since around mid-year 2017 has inspired some petroleum bulls.

The net noncommercial long position of petroleum players (see the CFTC Commitments of Traders) expanded massively since mid-2017, and this net noncommercial buying probably played an important role in rallying oil prices. It remains very large and is vulnerable to liquidation.

Prices for the oil group probably will not break above their first quarter 2018 highs by much if at all. Neither will broad commodity indices such as the broad S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index or the Bloomberg Commodity Index. The 1Q18 peaks in the S+P 500 and MXEF stock indices are two year diagonal bull time moves from their 1Q16 major troughs. The GSCI and BCI’s first quarter 2018 highs likewise are two year diagonal ascents from their major bottoms of 1Q16.

Yet suppose the petroleum complex does attain new highs relative to those of 1Q18. As petroleum is an important part of many widely-watched commodity signposts (especially the broad S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index), that may boost such broad indices to levels above first quarter resistance.

It is important whether or not the base metals crew (copper, aluminum, zinc, and others) also achieves new highs, for both base metals and oil link closely to international economic growth trends (and arguably more “immediately” than agriculture does).

Many major highs (lows) for commodities “in general” have roughly coincided with major peaks (bottoms) in the S+P 500. But not all have. The 2007-2009 global economic disaster era displayed an exception. The major high in the S+P 500 (10/11/07 at 1576) preceded the GSCI’s pinnacle (7/3/08 at 894). However, the S+P 500’s final top, 5/19/08’s 1440, bordered the July 2018 commodities summit.

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Regardless of whether or not key commodity indices achieve highs above their first quarter 2018 plateau, the first quarter 2018 resistance for the S+P 500 and other advanced and emerging marketplace equity benchmarks probably will remain in place. As “There Will Be Blood: Financial Battlefields” (2/9/18) stated: “The S+P 500’s recent high, 1/26/18’s 2873, probably was a major top.”

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As the Financial World Turns- Commodity and Other Marketplace Domains (4-2-18)