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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FANTASTIC VOYAGES: THE US DOLLAR AND COMMODITY CURRENCIES © Leo Haviland April 3, 2016

In the 1966 movie “Fantastic Voyage”, the character Cora declares: “We’re going to see things no one has ever seen before. Just think about it.” (Richard Fleischer, director)

In “On the Road” (original scroll version), Jack Kerouac writes: “But no matter, the road is life.”

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CONCLUSION AND OVERVIEW

The substantial rally in the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (“TWD”) that embarked in mid-2011 played a key part in encouraging (confirming) and accelerating bear movements in emerging marketplace stocks and commodities “in general”. The S+P 500’s majestic rally over its spring 2011 interim high diverged for about four years from the trends in emerging equity realms and commodities. However, the TWD’s 2015 ascent above its March 2009 peak was a crucial event; this dollar climb helped propel the S+P 500 downhill following its 5/20/15 pinnacle at 2135 in conjunction with the emerging stock marketplace and commodity trends.

In January/February2016, these linked price patterns partly reversed. The TWD has depreciated and stocks (emerging marketplaces as well as those of America and other advanced nations) have rallied. Commodities (particularly oil) jumped. The benchmark United States Treasury 10 year note yield ascended from its low. This relatively unified reversal across marketplace sectors paralleled the entwined moves since mid-to-late 2015. Highly accommodative central bank rhetoric and action by the Federal Reserve Board and its allies aimed at achieving their targeted two percent inflation destination will continue for an extended period. For example, note the Fed’s 3/16/16 meeting and its Chairman’s very dovish speech, “The Outlook, Uncertainty, and Monetary Policy” (3/29/16). Underline the expansion of the European Central Bank’s easing scheme (most recently 3/10/16) and the lax policies of the Bank of Japan. Consequently, the current marketplace interrelationships (“roughly trading together”) probably will persist for the near term, regardless of whether the pattern of mid-2015 to first quarter 2016 resumes or that since mid-first quarter 2016 continues. Marketplace history of course need not entirely or even substantially repeat itself.

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Concentrating on and comparing exchange rates of “commodity currencies” alongside the broad real trade-weighted dollar trend offers additional notable insight into the assorted interconnected marketplace relationships. Commodity currencies, associated with countries with large amounts of commodity exports, are not confined to developing/emerging nations. Because commodity exports are significant to the economies of advanced countries such as Australia, Canada, and Norway, the currencies of these lands likewise can be labeled as commodity currencies.

The bearish currency paths (effective exchange rate basis) of important emerging and advanced nation commodity exporters up to first quarter 2016 resembled the similar trends among them during the 2007-09 worldwide economic disaster era. However, these commodity currencies depreciated notably more in their recent dive than during the 2007-09 turmoil. In addition, the lows attained by most of them decisively pierced the floors achieved about seven years previously. Moreover, the TWD rallied more sharply in its bull move to its January 2016 elevation than it did during the past crisis.

The feebleness in recent times for the commodity currency group, as it involved both advanced and emerging marketplace domains (as it did in 2007-09), reflected an ongoing global (not merely emerging marketplace) crisis. Substantial debt and leverage troubles still confront today’s intertwined worldwide economy. The bear trip of many commodity currencies into early first quarter 2016, especially as it occurred alongside big bear moves in emerging marketplace stocks (and in the S+P 500 and other advanced stock battlefields) and despite long-running extremely lax monetary policies, underlines the fragility of the relatively feeble global GDP recovery.

Thus noteworthy rallies in these commodity (exporter) currencies from their recent depths will tend to confirm (inspire) climbs in commodities in general and emerging (and advanced) nation stock marketplaces. Renewed deterioration of the effective exchange rates of the commodity currency fraternity “in general” likely will coincide with renewed firming of the US dollar. Such depreciation in the commodity currency camp probably will signal worsening of the current dangerous global economic situation and warn that another round of declines in global stock marketplaces looms on the horizon.

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Therefore key central bank captains, concerned about slowing real GDP and terrified by “too low” inflation (deflation) risks, have fought to stop the TWD from appreciating beyond its January 2016 top and struggled to encourage rallies in the S+P 500 and related stock marketplaces. Yield repression (very low and even negative interest rates) promotes eager hunts for yields (return) elsewhere. Indeed, rallies in the S+P 500 (and real estate) may help inflation expectations (and inflation signposts monitored by central banks such as consumer prices) to motor upward. Given their desperate quest to achieve inflation goals, central banks probably approve of at least modest increases in commodity prices in general.

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Fantastic Voyages- the US Dollar and Commodity Currencies (4-3-16)

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: THE FEDERAL RESERVE, INFLATION, AND POLITICS © Leo Haviland March 20, 2016

“I went home, with new matter for my thoughts, though with no relief from the old.” Charles Dickens’s novel, “Great Expectations” (Chapter 48)

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OVERVIEW

A deluge of money printing and ardent yield repression by leading central banks of course are not the only important potential sources of inflation. Assorted marketplace guides proclaim a variety of opinions regarding relevant inflationary factors and their relationships and consequences. And everyone knows that economic, political, and social conditions, programs, and challenges differ, often significantly, between countries.

Central banking mandates and interpretations regarding them are not precisely the same. Central banks do not have an easy job. In his story “A Christmas Carol” (Stave 3), Charles Dickens states: “it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it too”.

However, all the bankers preach devotion to their mandate. The Federal Reserve Board, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, Bank of Canada, and the Swedish central bank for the past several years have shared a faith and proclaimed a gospel that achieving and sustaining about two percent inflation is a “good” goal. Thus many leading global central banks believe “too low” inflation (and of course deflation) is “not good” or is “bad”.

Central banking decisions, actions, and rhetoric around the globe have become increasingly interdependent since the eruption of the international economic disaster of 2007-09. Banking captains nobly stress their willingness to do whatever it takes and whatever they must, frequently pointing to their beloved toolkit of monetary measures. Thus they embarked on highly accommodative monetary policies such as yield repression and gigantic money printing and generously provided forward guidance. Yet despite their long-running and devoted odyssey aimed at achieving and sustaining the praiseworthy target of two percent inflation, the armada of central banks thus far has failed in its inflationary quest. Their great expectations have not generated great results.

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Since inflation (including too low inflation and deflation) concerns and wordplay are so significant for current marketplace analysis and trends, it pays to select and assess variables indicating whether a sufficient and sustained quantity of inflation is appearing or may soon do so. Observers can differ in their choices and viewpoints.

“Inflation”, however defined and measured, may appear earlier in one nation or region than another. Moreover, just because some or sufficient inflation (or deflation) emerges in one territory, they need not do so elsewhere. In any case, let’s focus on America. Not only does the United States play a crucial role on the world economic and political stage, but so does the Federal Reserve Board. Stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces avidly monitor Fed statements, signals, and behavior. Finally, America nowadays apparently is (however slowly) showing signs of being a key leader in international GDP growth.

 

US POLITICS: BLEAK HOUSE

In Dickens’s “Great Expectations”, a character says: “’Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.’” (Chapter 2)

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Most Americans have high (or at least moderate) confidence in and trust the US Federal Reserve Board. In contrast, many Americans nowadays have rather low expectations regarding US politicians “in general”. They distrust and have rather little confidence in most US political leaders. They question the willingness and ability of such representatives to work together to achieve desirable goals.

Focusing on central banks and their monetary measures aimed at achieving sufficient inflation should not cause observers to overlook political causes, including fiscal ones, of inflation and higher interest rates. And interest rates can rise for reasons other than, or in conjunction with, inflation pressures.

In any case, weak national political leadership and substantial political divisions do not guarantee rising interest rates, but they can encourage that development. They also can help to generate a weaker dollar.

The United States currently is a house divided. Income and asset inequality, immigration debates, views on health care, opinions on the appropriate size and role of government, international trade topics, climate change, and other issues inflame America’s political theater. In election year 2016, as in the prior few years, there has been greater than normal partisan strife.

These ongoing significant US political divisions risk further weakness in the US dollar. Underscore the current conflict between the Republican Congress and the Democratic President. Though the American political process has a long way to go until election season 2016 concludes, partisan warfare likely will persist. The House likely will remain Republican; the President probably will be a Democrat (Hillary Clinton). Control of the Senate is a close call.

The battles within the Republican camp look likely to persist for at least a few more months. Will there be a convention fight? “Trump warns Republican elders of ‘riots’ if they fail to back his candidacy”, headlines the Financial Times (3/17/16, p3). Although Trump has great confidence in his own talents, at present the majority of Americans apparently do not share that confidence. Suppose Donald Trump captures the Republican Presidential nomination. Imagine that he wins the Presidency. Comments from overseas leaders suggest lack of faith in Trump’s abilities and policies. Such foreign attitudes are a bearish factor for the dollar.

An ability to transcend partisan divisions only via big spending (fiscal irresponsibility) does not eliminate substantial underlying political factionalism. The massive addition to future US budget deficits agreed upon by Congress and the President in late December 2015 probably will tend to push up interest rates and is a bearish factor for the dollar. (See the Congressional Budget Office’s “Summary of The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026; 1/25/16. See also the NY Times, 12/17/15, pA29; NY Times, 12/19/15, ppA1, 13). In any event, America has a looming long run debt problem. And don’t debtors tend to like inflation?

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Great Expectations- the Federal Reserve, Inflation, and Politics (3-20-16)

HELLISH FALLS, DIVINE RALLIES: COMMODITIES IN CONTEXT © Leo Haviland March 6, 2016

In the “Hell” section of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, the poets arrive at the gate of Hell. They read an inscription: “’All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’” (Canto III, line 9)

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CONCLUSION AND OVERVIEW

The monstrous price crash in commodities “in general” from their spring 2011 and mid-year 2014 peaks caused many bloodied commodity marketplace dwellers to abandon hope for an escape from the bear move. Commodities nevertheless probably are emerging from that hellish major bear trend and creating a sideways pattern which will persist for the next several months.

Use the S&P broad Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (“GSCI”) as a benchmark. In this perspective on the GSCI, much depends not only on world economic growth, inflation trends, and central bank and political rhetoric and actions. Given the very large share of petroleum within the GSCI, oil price trends and OPEC policy are particularly important for GSCI levels and trends.

The eventual top of the developing sideways trend for the broad GSCI admittedly is uncertain. However, it likely will be far below 6/23/14’s 673 summit. Also, around 460 (the 5/6/15 top was 459) probably will not be attained for quite some time unless OPEC surprisingly and significantly curtails crude oil production. However, around 380/400 currently is an arguably reasonable target for the range’s ceiling, particularly if prospects significantly improve for a decline in the substantial worldwide global oil oversupply. A fifty percent rally from the low achieved on 1/20/16 at 268 is 402. The January 2016 GSCI trough could be challenged over the next several months, but it is unlikely to be broken by much if at all.

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Petroleum of course is not the whole world of commodities. Price adventures of the petroleum complex, particularly in crude oil, nevertheless often influence perspectives on, opinions regarding, and trends in other parts of the commodity universe. Petroleum inventories in the OECD realm are massive. Given current OPEC (especially Saudi Arabian) production policy and estimates regarding calendar 2016 global oil consumption and production, this oversupply situation probably will continue, or even worsen for at least several more months. Although the world is not in recession, economic growth (including Chinese) is relatively sluggish and probably will remain modest.

So what supports and encourages rallies in the commodities domain nowadays?

The highly accommodative central bank policies of the Federal Reserve Board, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, and China play a key role in creating a commodities floor and offer hope for a sustained rally from the January 2016 lows. Many conjecture these long-running easing efforts (notably yield repression and money printing) will remain in place for quite some time, and may even expand (as in the Eurozone or Japan). About two weeks ago, note “OECD calls for action to boost growth” (Financial Times, 2/19/16, p2). At end February 2016, “China central bank unleashes $106bn to boost growth despite G20 warning” (Financial Times, 3/1/16, p1). The European Central Bank meets 3/10/16, the Bank of Japan 3/14-15/16, and the Fed 3/15-16/16. In today’s highly-indebted world, easy money policies aim to assist (favor) debtors and encourage spending.

That these widely-worshipped high priests of financial stability, true believers in their mandates, failed to arrest the commodities price decline well before early 2016 does not bar them from playing a role in creating near term support for the commodity complex.

Recent rhetoric and action by the dovish Fed and its brethren underline not merely their devotion to evading deflation and generating “sufficient” inflation These wizards also have embarked on a quest to arrest further declines in key global stock benchmarks in the United States and overseas, as well as to stop the broad real trade-weighted dollar (“TWD”) from ascending much (if at all) beyond its January 2016 highs.

A somewhat weaker dollar and stronger stocks (and very low interest rates, including negative yields on government debt in several key nations) encourage hope for commodity marketplace bulls. Highlight the similar first quarter 2016 timing of the high in the TWD, important lows in the S+P 500 and many other key stock marketplaces, the low yield in the US 10 year note, and recent bottoms in the broad GSCI (and the petroleum complex). For weary yield-famished “investors” (and speculators), at some point depressed commodity prices apparently may offer satisfactory potential for a good (decent, reasonable) return.

In addition, the central banking fraternity despite its rapt attention to notions of core inflation, nowadays finally confess that “too low” (collapsing) oil prices can endanger their devoted efforts to achieve their adored overall inflation targets and significantly influence the so-called “real economy”. In the Fed, ECB, and other central bank gospels, two percent inflation is good, “too low” inflation is bad, and deflation generally is very bad (or evil). These luminaries probably also admit that major commodity trends (especially in oil) often can closely intertwine not only with yield levels of debt securities, but also with foreign exchange patterns as well as emerging marketplace and advanced nation stock marketplace trends.

Central bankers consequently will tolerate, and arguably welcome, a sustained modest bull move in petroleum prices. A mild rebound in oil (commodity) prices probably will not inspire them to depart from their ongoing highly accommodative monetary schemes.

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Hellish Falls, Divine Rallies- Commodities in Context (3-6-16)

AS THE WORLD BURNS: MARKETPLACES AND CENTRAL BANKS © Leo Haviland February 8, 2016

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verse 1 (King James Version)

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

To spark and sustain the worldwide economic recovery that began around first half 2009, the Federal Reserve Board and other major central banks warmly embraced highly accommodative monetary policies such as yield repression and money printing (quantitative easing). Who would want to repeat the horrors of the hellish worldwide economic disaster that erupted in 2007 and worsened dramatically after mid-year 2008? Therefore, often in recent years, after significant hints of feeble growth (or recession) or insufficient inflation (or signs of that evil, deflation) appeared, these high priests of the economic system offered further rhetoric or additional (or new) action to accomplish their aims and restore confidence. Such central banking efforts often succeeded. In any case, financial congregations (especially in American and other stock marketplaces) generally loudly hoped for, fervently encouraged, and joyfully praised such central bank rescue efforts.

However, around mid-2015, advanced nation stock benchmarks such as the S+P 500 peaked. Moreover, despite central bank wordplay and vigorous policy action, bear moves in these stock domains have persisted alongside renewed signs of economic weakness and “too low” inflation. Ongoing collapses in emerging marketplace stocks “in general”, the major bear move in commodities in general, and falling yields in the 10 year United States Treasury note accompanied tumbles in the S+P 500 and other advanced nation equities. The major bull move in the broad, real trade-weighted US dollar, which began in July 2011, has played a key role in these intertwined trends.

In the past few weeks, key global central banks once again preached sermons or engaged in actions aimed not only at creating sufficient inflation (defeating deflation) and ensuring sustained economic recovery. Stock marketplaces initially ascended higher after these recent efforts (recall their lows around January 20, 2016), and the US dollar weakened somewhat. The Federal Reserve Board and other guardian angels probably did not want the S+P 500 and related stock marketplaces to crash under their January 2016 lows. In addition, they probably did not want the United States dollar bull move to extend much (if at all) beyond its January 2016 high.

However, and although not much time has passed since these recent ardent central bank efforts, the S+P 500 and other stock landmarks have resumed their slumps. Ominously, many stock marketplaces have fallen under their August/September 2015 lows. In addition, the dollar still remains strong, commodities weak (despite talk about and hopes for OPEC petroleum production cuts), and US government yields (in a flight to quality) depressed. This vista warns that the Fed and other revered central banks are finding it more and more difficult to accomplish their various policy aims. It suggests that people (including devoted investors in US stocks) increasingly are losing faith in the ability of central banks to produce desirable outcomes.

Although it is a difficult marketplace call, these ongoing and interwoven marketplace trends probably will continue for a while longer. Admittedly, if these marketplace patterns persist and especially if they extend, watchers should beware of even more dramatic (and perhaps coordinated) central bank rescue action.

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For additional currency, stock, interest rate, and commodity marketplace analysis, see essays such as “The Curtain Rises: 2016 Marketplace Theaters” (1/4/16), “Japanese Yen: Currency Adventures (2007-09 Revisited)” (1/14/16), “US Natural Gas” Caught in the Middle” (especially pp2-3), “America: A House Divided” (12/7/15), “Two-Stepping: US Government Securities” (12/1/16), “Commodities: Captivating Audiences” (10/12/15), and “Déjà Vu (Encore): US Marketplace History” (10/4/15).

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As the World Burns- Marketplaces and Central Banks (2-8-16)