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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“POPULISM” AND CENTRAL BANKS © Leo Haviland, July 12, 2016

“Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?” “Big Boss Man” (Al Smith and Luther Dixon), performed by Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, and others

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

The United Kingdom’s recent shocking referendum vote to leave the European Union not only sparked ferocious marketplace fluctuations. It did not merely underscore ongoing and widespread unease regarding mediocre economic growth and insufficient inflation in many nations inside and outside of Europe.

Brexit also highlighted previously existing and growing fears among many global economic and political elites (“the establishment”) and their disciples about increasing “populism” and its potential consequences. These worries extend beyond the troubles of the European Union and the Eurozone and nervousness regarding their fracturing or break-up. The British departure outcome probably inflamed populist ambitions in other countries. In any case, substantial divisiveness and partisan fervor are not confined to Europe or the United States. See “America: a House Divided” (12/7/15).

The “establishment”, like “populism”, is diverse rather than monolithic. Even among the advanced OECD nations such as the United States and those seeking to emulate them, it is not the same everywhere. Mainstream political parties and their economic agendas are not precisely identical, even though such different groups (such as Democrats and Republicans) can belong to the same establishment. What is an establishment (or populist or other anti-establishment) view can change over time.

Different cultures of course will have leaders, but their particular “establishment” ideologies may be significantly and perhaps dramatically different. The current Chinese establishment’s guiding faith in part overlaps with (resembles) but nevertheless is not identical to the creed prevailing in the United States establishment. Or, compare a primitive rural culture and that of a modern Western industrial nation.

However, as a rough and admittedly simplified guideline, one can summarize the ruling Western economic ideology of the post-World War Two period. It is a “capitalism” that in principle generally adores free (open) markets for goods and services, free trade, and free movement of capital, as well as (subject to immigration concerns) fairly free movement of people. Such economic goals (and political and social gospels related to them) are labeled and valued as good and desirable by the so-called establishment. Often they are honored as being rational, reasonable, intelligent, sensible, and prudent. In the post-World War Two span, these good outcomes have intertwined with globalization, which the elites (power structure), likewise generally (on balance) bless. Therefore these authorities view populism, at least to the extent it endangers such good capitalism and the related “structure (arrangement) of things”, as generally bad (or less good; inferior).

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The establishment responded to the British outcome with passionate rhetoric. The dangers of supposedly overly left-wing or right-wing movements, or excessively nationalistic or protectionist ones, or fringe or radical groups must be handled somehow, right? Or so such currently empowered elites advise audiences.

Leading central banks and regulators such as the European Central Bank, Federal Reserve Board, Bank of England, and International Monetary Fund of course stress their devotion to their assorted mandates. Indeed their noble quest to secure praiseworthy aims such as stable prices (sufficient inflation), maximum employment, and economic growth are on behalf of “all of us”. Yet such loosely-defined legislative directives in practice provide these economic high priests wide scope for their interpretation.

In practice, central bankers, even if widely-revered, generally reflect the key economic and political doctrines and ambitions of traditional (current establishment) leaders. And “populism”, though one cannot define it scientifically, though its historical and current international appearance is not everywhere the same, still can “shake the existing economic and political situation and its institutional structures up a lot”. And such resulting uncertainty and disruption (and especially big changes) on balance would be bad (or at least not very good), right? So the Brexit vote was a bad (undesirable and unfortunate) outcome. Populist pressure, especially if it involved challenging the independence of central banks, might even make it more difficult for central bankers to achieve their beloved mandates. Leading central banks nowadays consequently want to preserve the basic structure and trends of the post-World War Two world “order”, to preclude revolutionary or even mildly substantial changes in it.

Therefore, the British “Leave” vote and its aftermath probably will encourage various leading central banks such as the Fed, ECB, Bank of England, and their allies to battle even more fiercely than before against populist menaces. Continued sluggish growth (or a recession), rising unemployment, or a renewed sovereign or private sector debt crisis (whether in Europe or around the globe), would inflame populist ardor, particularly given anger over widespread economic inequality. The central banks therefore likely will sustain existing highly accommodative policies such as yield repression and money printing for longer than previously anticipated, perhaps expanding them “if necessary”.

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Populism and Central Banks (7-12-16)

PARALLELS IN US NATURAL GAS: 2012 AND 2016 BUILD SEASONS © Leo Haviland, July 4, 2016

OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

Cultural viewpoints (including variables selected, organized, and assessed) regarding the past and present or focused on an anticipated future reflect opinions, not science. Moreover, marketplaces “themselves” are not unchanging or Natural phenomena. In any case, marketplace history does not necessarily repeat itself, whether entirely, partly, or at all.

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The United States natural gas build season spans roughly from the end of calendar March to the end of calendar October. America’s natural gas 2016 inventory build season, including its price trends, although it has several more months to run, nevertheless presents several parallels with 2012’s build season. Assuming inventory forecasts for the balance of the 2016 build season come true, one crucial similarity between 2012 and 2016 will be substantially diminishing US natural gas oversupply over the course of build season.

The winters of 2011-12 and 2015-16 not only ended with massive supplies, but also completed long-running major bear trends. In commodity arenas, all else equal, and absent some revolutionary developments on the supply or demand side, there is some tendency for gigantic oversupply (mammoth inventories) accompanied by sustained depressed prices eventually to be reversed by falling production, increasing demand, or both. In natural gas, if prolonged bullish weather patterns appear (such as a torrid summer or frigid winter), they obviously can help to minimize the bearish oversupply situation or transform it to a bullish one.

Also, although natural gas price trends do not always closely intertwine with those of the petroleum marketplace (or commodities “in general”), or with other financial playgrounds such as stocks, currencies (especially the US dollar), and American government and other benchmark interest rates, they can entangle with them. In second half 2012, important stock and commodity marketplaces rallied and the dollar paused in its appreciation. In mid-first quarter 2016, a similar “overall” phenomenon occurred. In both time periods, ongoing or anticipated (eventual) monetary easing by key central banks likely assisted the bull moves in stocks and commodities, including natural gas.

Finally, at times the CFTC’s Commitments of Traders reveals patterns for noncommercial participants (investors, speculators) in natural gas relevant for assessing price trends. The net noncommercial positions in the later stages of the bear trends which ended in 2012 and 2016 present roughly similar patterns.

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From the historical distance (price move) perspective, ten major NYMEX natural gas bear moves prior to 2014-16’s tumble traveled an average of 65.9 percent. For the seven collapses beginning with the December 1996 one, the average downturn is 70.4pc. From the time parameter, the average decline for the 10 big bear moves was about nine and three-quarter months. For the most recent seven major bear moves preceding the one that began in February 2014, the duration averages about eleven and one-quarter.

The collapse from 2/24/14’s 6.493 major high to 3/4/16’s 1.611 low was 75.2 percent and just over 24 months. Thus the price move traveled moderately farther than average. Significantly, the two year decline since February 2014’s summit was more than twice as long as average major bear trends, surpassed only by the January 2010 to April 2012 crash (during which the price fell 68.9pc). Thus from the interrelated price and time variables (nearest futures continuation basis), and though history is not destiny, a major change from the long-running bear trend that commenced in February 2014 probably occurred following 3/4/16’s low.

Also note that March 2016’s 1.611 level stands within a range of other important support. Recall not only 4/19/12’s major low at 1.902, but also the double bottom of 1.85 (1/28/02)/1.76 (9/26/01), a trough at 1.735 on 9/5/96 alongside a low at 2/24/97 at 1.68, and 1998-99’s bottom (8/27/98 at 1.61/2/26/99 at 1.625). Also, the March 2016 trough did not break 12/18/15’s interim low at 1.684 by much.

Moreover, from a calendar day viewpoint, March 4 is within several days of the February dates for the important late February bottoms of 1997 (2/24/97 at 1.68) and 1999 (2/26/99 at 1.625). In addition, the March 2016 low is a two year diagonal time move relative to the late February 2014’s pinnacle.

“US Natural Gas: Traveling Forward” (6/13/16) emphasized: “The United States natural gas (NYMEX nearest futures continuation basis) major bear trend that followed 2/24/14’s major peak at 6.493 ended with 3/4/16’s 1.611 bottom. What if a torrid summer 2016 dramatically reduces the stock build total and thus helps containment fears for end build season 2016 to disappear? Then prices likely will not revisit the 1.60/1.90 range, but instead will maintain their ascent toward [the significant resistance range of] 3.10/3.45… The US natural gas supply/demand perspective over the so-called long run is moderately bullish. Assuming normal winter 2016-17 weather, moderate US economic growth, and no renewed collapse in the overall commodities complex (particularly petroleum), gas prices probably will march higher.”

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Parallels in US Natural Gas- 2012 and 2016 Build Seasons (7-4-16)

US NATURAL GAS: TRAVELING FORWARD © Leo Haviland June 13, 2016

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Bob Dylan’s song “All Along the Watchtower” states:
“’There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief
“’There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief’”.

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CONCLUSION

The United States natural gas (NYMEX nearest futures continuation basis) major bear trend that followed 2/24/14’s major peak at 6.493 ended with 3/4/16’s 1.611 bottom. For the next several months, however, natural gas likely will remain in a sideways pattern. The probable range for the United States natural gas marketplace remains a relatively broad avenue between major support at 1.60/1.90 and significant resistance at 3.10/3.45. This sideways outlook partly results from two currently contending marketplace stories.

For the near term, substantial natural gas oversupply exists, weighing on prices. Containment risks still loom for end of build season 2016. If noteworthy containment problems erupt, March 2016’s bottom may be attacked, even though current prices hover significantly above 1.60/1.90 and even if an assault on that support does not last for much time. What if a torrid summer 2016 dramatically reduces the stock build total and thus helps containment fears for end build season 2016 to disappear? Then prices likely will not revisit the 1.60/1.90 range, but instead will maintain their ascent toward 3.10/3.45.

The US natural gas supply/demand perspective over the so-called long run is moderately bullish. Assuming normal winter 2016-17 weather, moderate US economic growth, and no renewed collapse in the overall commodities complex (particularly petroleum), gas prices probably will march higher.

 

NATURAL GAS: (PARTLY) DANCING IN STEP WITH OTHER MARKETPLACES

Natural gas prices often travel substantially independently of both petroleum (and commodities “in general”) and so-called “international” or “financial” marketplaces and variables. Trend changes in NYMEX natural gas need not roughly coincide with one in the petroleum complex or commodities in general, or currency, stock, or interest rate playgrounds.

However, especially since mid-to-late June 2014 (NYMEX natural gas nearest futures interim high 6/16/14 at 4.886) and into calendar 2015 (gas interim top 5/19/15 at 3.105), bearish natural gas price movements intertwined with those in the petroleum complex (and commodities in general) and the bull move in the broad real trade-weighted US dollar. Such natural gas retreats to some extent paralleled slumps in emerging marketplace stocks. Note also the timing coincidence between May 2015’s natural gas top and the S+P 500’s 5/20/15 peak at 2135. In regard to the timing of the S+P 500’s May 2015 high, the nominal broad trade-weighted dollar (Federal Reserve, H.10, which has daily data) made an interim low at 112.8 on 5/15/15 before appreciating further.

The recent low in NYMEX natural gas nearest futures, 3/4/16’s 1.611, occurred fairly close in time to the first quarter 2016 peak in US dollar and an assortment of notable intertwined 1Q16 lows in other important marketplaces. The trend shifts (price reversals) in first quarter 2016 in various marketplaces assisted the upward move in natural gas that emerged in early March 2016.

**The broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (monthly average) peaked at 101.2 in January 2016; the nominal TWD (which has daily data) established a top 1/20/16 at 126.2 (Federal Reserve, H.10).

**NYMEX crude oil (nearest futures continuation): bottoms $26.19 on 1/20/16 and $26.05 on 2/11/16.

**Broad Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI): 268 on 1/20/16. January 2016’s GSCI low occurred midway between the calendar month times of its 2008-09 bottom (12/24/08 at 308 and 2/19/09 at 306).

**S+P 500: Note the sharp rally from lows of 1812 on 1/20/16 and 1810 on 2/11/16.

**MXEF (MSCI emerging stock markets index; Morgan Stanley): 687 on 1/21/16, 708 on 2/12/16.

**Ten year US Treasury note: 1.53 percent yield low 2/11/16.

 

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US Natural Gas- Traveling Forward (6-13-16)

CHINA: BEHIND THE GREAT WALL (c) Leo Haviland June 7, 2016

“Seek truth from facts.” Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping

CONCLUSION

China’s era of miraculous economic growth has marched into history. Yet China’s real GDP output in the past few years, and even 2015, has been robust in comparison to that of most other nations. The majority of international financial wizards faithfully proclaim that Chinese GDP likely will remain strong, at over six percent for the next several years.

China’s GDP strength over the past three or four years nevertheless derived significantly from its widespread national willingness to boost debt (leverage) levels substantially. This significant debt expansion coincides with the current unwillingness or inability of the nation’s political and economic leadership to do much to subdue the debt issue. China’s continued debt building (perhaps assisted by other factors) perhaps will achieve its praiseworthy growth levels, at least for a while.

And trend shifts during first quarter 2016 in various stock (both advanced and emerging), interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces (particularly dramatic rallies in the S+P 500 and the petroleum complex) inspire optimism regarding global growth prospects. Despite potential for small rate increases by the widely-admired Federal Reserve, monetary policy in America and elsewhere likely will remain highly accommodative, thereby assisting expansion in developed nations and China.

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However, review the patterns in China’s stock, central government 10 year note, and currency marketplaces. Those domains, when interpreted together and alongside a broad array of other key global financial marketplaces, not just the S+P 500 and oil, on balance nowadays suggest Chinese growth over the next few years probably will be less than most gurus expect. In today’s interconnected economic world, slower than anticipated Chinese economic expansion probably will be reflected by more sluggish growth elsewhere than generally forecast.

Politics and economics entangle in both advanced and emerging/developing nations. China’s political elite (notably its Communist party chiefs) seeks to ensure its own power and overall national political, economic, and social stability. Insufficient GDP growth and related widespread popular fears regarding income levels and economic inequality probably endangers these goals.

What do the political rhetoric and actions over the past few years (including recently) by China’s leaders reflect? Quite significantly, they portray increasing concern about their nation’s current and prospective economic situation, particularly its growth level and outlook.

To deflect and dilute growing popular concern about a weakening economic situation (slowdown; feebler growth than desired), and to maintain their political power and influence, China’s political leaders have acted vigorously on both the external and internal fronts. In the foreign sphere, they increasingly quarrel with other nations; on the internal landscape, efforts to control political and other social activities and dialogue have increased. These policies from China’s authorities tend to confirm the trends of slowing Chinese (and global) growth.

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China- Behind the Great Wall (6-7-16)