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.


 

Subscribe to Leo Haviland’s BLOG to receive updates and new marketplace essays.

RSS View Leo Haviland's LinkedIn profile View Leo Haviland’s profile





EUROZONE UNDER SIEGE: CURRENCY TRENDS AND POLITICS © Leo Haviland, March 20, 2017

“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.
War, children, it’s just a shot away”. “Gimme Shelter”, The Rolling Stones

****

OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

 

“America First!” and “Make America Great Again!” anthems inspire President Trump and many of his populist supporters. Many Americans of course have slogans, doctrines, and plans dramatically different from those of the President and his populist allies (and his establishment comrades). Despite America’s sharp and wide-ranging partisan divisions, most Americans believe that America should be great (whatever that may mean in practice). They also agree that America’s President and Congress (and other federal institutions), all else equal, should consider the country’s needs first. Perhaps a majority of “We the People of the United States” retain faith that America in some fashion should be first (the leading nation) around the globe as well.

 

Nowadays Europe, like America, has a so-called establishment (various elites) battling fiercely against an array of populist adversaries. Yet the European establishment includes not only most leaders (and the bureaucracy) of the European Union and the Eurozone (and the European Central Bank), but also the political (economic) establishments of most of Europe’s individual countries. So even though the European Union and Eurozone comprise various independent countries, and even though these nations contain diverse sets of right and left wing (and radical) political parties and economic ideologies, the overall European “establishment” ardently will promote “Europe First!” and “Eurozone First!” doctrines, particularly when the risks of European Union and (especially) Eurozone breakup appear rather high. Thus Europe/Eurozone preservation goals can trump narrower nationalist aims. Populist threats obviously are one source of such grave risks, which the United Kingdom’s June 2016 Brexit “Leave” vote underscored. However, Europe’s sovereign debt (banking; recall Greece and the European “periphery”) crisis a few years ago reveals that other issues may motivate the European establishment to rally fiercely around a banner and fervently embrace policies to keep Europe unified.

****

Napoleon: “In forming the plan of a campaign, it is requisite to foresee everything the enemy may do, and to be prepared with the necessary means to counteract it.”

****

The European establishments do not necessarily or always plan and act together. Yet despite their diversity, they are closing ranks, making statements and endorsing programs to ensure substantial European unity and their own places in power structures. On the national political front in several individual countries, this has included a shift to the right (particularly on the immigration issue). This mitigates some of the appeal of right wing (pro-nationalist; anti-globalist) populist candidates.

In the Eurozone context, a too frail Euro FX can reflect dangers to the Eurozone’s integrity. America is a key European trading partner. The Trump camp forcefully proclaims its hostility to excessive weakness of the Euro FX and other currencies (such as the Chinese renminbi) relative to the dollar. The Trump regime (and many other Americans) probably would be pleased with a somewhat weaker dollar relative to its recent lofty high. So on the trade and currency landscape, some European mainstream leaders in response have suggested they want neither trade wars nor further Euro FX currency depreciation. Related to this, what does the ECB’s March 2017 hint that it eventually will modify its current highly accommodative monetary policy indicate? It likewise probably signals a willingness to bolster the Euro FX.

****

The Bank for International Settlements provides broad real effective exchange rates (“EER”) for the Eurozone (Euro FX area) and numerous other nations. The current sideways pattern in the Euro FX broad real effective exchange rate (“EER”) probably will persist for the short term. But as the 2017 European election calendar marches forward, the Euro FX EER probably will embark on a moderate bull trend. Major Euro FX EER support is well-entrenched and will not be broken by much, if at all. This Euro FX appreciation will occur not only on an EER basis, but also in the Euro FX cross rate relationship versus the US dollar. In general, determined efforts by the European establishment to retain power (defeat populists; avoid further European breakup) and bolster the Euro FX probably will succeed (at least for the next several months, and perhaps quite a bit longer).

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this article as a PDF file.
Eurozone Under Siege- Currency Trends and Politics (3-20-17)

EASING COMES, EASING GOES: US GOVERNMENT INTEREST RATES © Leo Haviland, March 13, 2017

In “Uncle John’s Band”, the Grateful Dead sing: “‘Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door”.

****

OVERVIEW

Many marketplace generals nowadays have faith that rising United States government interest rates reflects both sustained adequate American economic growth and the likely development of inflation sufficient to satisfy the Federal Reserve Board’s two percent yardstick. In addition to GDP growth and rising inflation and inflation expectations, observers also should focus on other issues and their consequence for assorted marketplace trends and relationships.

Viewpoints of natural (equilibrium, fair or true value, normal, average, appropriate) prices and price overshooting or undershooting (expensive, cheap; too high, too low) reflect subjective opinions, not science. In any case, relatively few observers ask whether the Federal Reserve guardian will permit inflation benchmarks to exceed for a relatively long time (and somewhat decisively) its adored two percent signpost. Such overshooting by notable inflation variables will tend to propel government yields higher than many expect. The US Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) jumped 2.5 percent year-on-year in January 2017. Will personal consumption expenditure (PCE) inflation also overshoot the Fed’s two percent target?

The Fed likely will tolerate inflation target overshooting for some time because it wants to be confident that the achievement of its inflation goal will be durable. Such an indulgent policy regarding overshooting still permits the Fed to engage in gradual increases in policy rates (Federal Funds), especially as asset prices (such as American stocks and real estate) have soared since their dismal global economic crisis lows and as the prospective US fiscal outlook appears rather expansionary (and even overly stimulative).

Also, trust in the ability of the Fed and its allies such as the European Central Bank to manage inflation is widespread. How many audiences worry whether the years of devoted yield repression have created a reservoir of pent-up inflation, which the Fed’s gradual rollback of accommodation (permitting higher Federal Funds and government rates) will unveil and reflect?

America has a substantial public debt. Not much attention focuses on the likelihood and implications of growing American federal budget deficits, even without any legislative changes, over the next decade and beyond. See the US Congressional Budget Office’s “The Budget and Economic Outlook; 2017 to 2027” (1/24/17), as well as “Federal Debt and the Statutory Limit” (3/7/17). According to the NY Times (3/10/17, pA21), on 3/13/17 the CBO is expected to release its judgment on the proposed House Republican legislation, the American Health Care Act, aiming to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Moreover, the media, politicians, and Wall Street have spent much attention on President’s Trump’s potential tax “reform” and express hope regarding his misty infrastructure plans. But not many pundits stress that Trump’s tax scheme (even without reference to Obamacare), if enacted, likely will cause massive rises in budget deficits. The Fed may elect to raise rates more quickly (aggressively) than some predict if Congress adopts much or all of the fiscal scheme of Trump and his comrades. In any case, most people do not ask how enthusiastic foreigners (who own a huge slice of Treasury debt) will be to keep financing growing budget shortfalls. The Fed sheriff, unlike the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan, is no longer wedded to quantitative easing (securities purchasing tied into money printing), so it will not rush to add many UST obligations to its balance sheet.

Also, all else equal, substantial questions regarding national leadership quality can undermine both political and economic confidence in that nation. This situation can encourage higher interest rates, a weaker currency, or both. Donald Trump lacks government insider experience. Domestic and international faith in his political leadership ability (and in the US Congress as a whole) is not high. In the film “Easy Rider” (director Dennis Hopper) a character underlines that “it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.”

Fierce, widespread, and substantial ongoing partisan political (economic) divisions likewise risk weakening America’s currency and promoting increased government interest rates. Trump’s victory did not unite an already significantly divided America. In America, there are liberals (progressives) and conservatives (traditionalists). Populists (both left and right wing) confront the establishment (elites). Globalists contend with nationalists.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” and “America First” slogans and many of his policy pronouncements obviously appeal to large numbers of Americans. However, they do not attract or inspire many (and arguably a majority of) citizens. Though both the House and Senate are Republican-controlled, not all Republicans warmly support Trump and his policies. Although Trump triumphed in the Electoral College, he decisively lost the popular vote tally. The popular vote outcome obviously reflects America’s sharp political divisions. Also, the Russian President “directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report” (NYTimes, 1/7/17, ppA1, 11). Trump’s popular vote defeat and the report on Russian political interference undermine Trump’s political “legitimacy” (faith in it) and thus his ability to lead effectively.

America has other substantial splits and fractures. It has rich versus poor, haves versus have-nots. Look at the nation’s substantial economic inequality. Consider divisions relating to race (ethnicity), gender, religion, age, geographic region, and urban/rural. Fiery quarrels rage over tax and spending policies and priorities, health care (Obamacare), trade policies, the appropriate degree of economic regulation, abortion rights, gun ownership, and environmental issues such as climate change.

With such ongoing, wide-ranging, and seemingly intractable American divisions and related passionate debates and accusations, worries increase regarding “how anything (good; productive; necessary) can get done”. Escalating doubts relating to leadership and concerns regarding the consequences of persistent divisiveness can encourage growing fears at home and abroad regarding the nation’s current and potential political and economic outlook. This horizon consequently may not necessarily encourage a “flight to quality” by buyers into the government debt securities of that country. Instead, particularly when inflation also is increasing and budget deficits likely will rise, low (deteriorating) confidence can spur interest rate rises.

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this article as a PDF file.
Easing Comes, Easing Goes- US Government Interest Rates (3-13-17)

RHETORIC AND GLOBAL CURRENCY TRENDS © Leo Haviland, February 13, 2017

In the movie “Casablanca”, Signor Ferrari asks the proprietor of Rick’s Café Americain: “My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today isolationism is no longer a practical policy?” (Michael Curtiz, director)

****

DIVIDING LINES

On America’s 2016 election campaign trail and thereafter, President Donald Trump’s impassioned populist rhetoric has encompassed striking slogans such as “Make America Great Again!” and “America First!” All United States patriots of course want their country to be great. Such wordplay, however, especially appeals to citizens wary of or hostile to phenomena such as “the establishment” (elites), globalization, and (overly) free trade.

Many of America’s current and proposed domestic programs and their consequences are not divorced from international ones. Lines between (and definitions of) “domestic” and “international” are not necessarily clear. Many so-called “economic” issues interrelate with political, military, and social arenas. Prior to America’s recent national election season, many observers across the political spectrum lamented the country’s (and world’s) substantial income and wealth inequality. In any case, let’s concentrate primarily on the international trade and currency front, even though other assorted US domestic as well as a range of global issues significantly entangle with it.

Most Americans praise “free markets” and “capitalism” as “good”, but they also want them to be “fair”. A currency level and trend can symbolize relative power and its changes. Thus a “strong” dollar may be praiseworthy (and excite national pride), and the country should not permit the greenback to become “too weak” or “feeble”. But why should Americans tolerate evils such as “unfair trade” and a “too strong” dollar? As in competitive sports, isn’t it right to have a “level playing field”? Surely massive persistent trade (or current account) deficits between two nations suggest something inappropriate in policies and practices may be going on! Can’t some protectionism for American industries be good, at least in the right circumstances?

Thus America’s President and many of his supporters loudly warn of changes in tariffs and taxes. They squawk about walking away from, tearing up, or renegotiating trade agreements. They hint America will respond to the currency manipulation or excessive depreciation engaged in by its trading partners.

However, all economic (political) language, policies, and behavior related to notions of goodness, fairness, and reasonableness (rationality) merely represent personal perspectives. So whether a given trade agreement such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal treats the US fairly or appropriately, whether it is good or bad for America, is a matter of opinion. Whether a given US dollar cross rate (such as that between the dollar and the Chinese renminbi) or broad real trade-weighted US dollar level are “good”, “bad”, “too high” (“expensive”; “overshooting”), “too low” (“cheap”; “undershooting”), or “fairly (reasonably, appropriately) valued” (or near some allegedly natural, rational, logical, or equilibrium price) likewise express opinions.

Moreover, in the deeply interconnected and complex global economy and multipolar political world, even the mighty and zealous United States cannot institute many of its key programs on others without expecting a notable response (push-back) from others threatened or infuriated by them. After all, other countries around the globe, whether implicitly or explicitly, also generally place their nation first and foremost in their political and economic calculations. Most foreign countries (their leaders) do not want to seem too timid in their dealings with America. And not all Americans, or even all Republicans, applaud or even support the President’s policies, which themselves may change as time passes and negotiations proceed.
****

A nation and its internal political groupings often manifest significant partisan quarrels, which sometimes become ferocious. Everyone knows that history likewise displays a continuum, from relative peace and harmony to various expressions of war, battle, and violence. America’s notable current divisions are wide-ranging. Divides exist within economics and politics, but also involve topics such as age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and geography.

Widespread talk on the international stage of competitive depreciation, currency wars, and trade battles reflects the increasing strains on and within an increasingly fractured “global economic order”. The significant and wide-ranging internal economic divisions within America (and many other leading nations) to some extent mirrors and encourages such international economic (and political) tensions and changes.

Multilateral diplomatic discussions do not necessarily result in better (or worse) outcomes than bilateral ones. The current American Administration apparently prefers in the international economic (and political) realm to conclude one-on-one deals between countries (their strong leaders).

Some guides declare “life is a game.” Regardless of the faith of some luminaries, not all economic (or political or other cultural) arenas and interactions (including negotiations) are zero-sum games, or necessarily have clear winners and losers. Both (or most; or all) sides in a financial contest (whether commerce/business in general or international trade and currency in particular) may turn out to be winners (or losers) to varying extents. In any event, it is conceivable that particular sets of economic policies and responses to them can result (whether sooner or later) in unhappy (costly) outcomes for the nation promoting them, or even for numerous or a majority of countries (including those not directly participating in the fascinating discussions and artful deals on the main table).

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this article as a PDF file.
Rhetoric and Global Currency Trends (2-13-17)

US NATURAL GAS: A VIEW OF THE PAST, A VISION OF A FUTURE © Leo Haviland, January 21, 2017

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”.

 ****

CONCLUSION AND OVERVIEW

Is the major bull trend for NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures continuation) that began in early March 2016 finished? Probably not, though it is a difficult call. In any event, assuming normal weather and moderate United States economic growth, it nevertheless will be very hard for the NYMEX front month price to exceed 12/28/16’s high bordering 4.00 by much (if at all) anytime soon.

 ****

The probable longer run bullish US natural gas inventory situation suggests the likelihood of eventual further moderate rises in NYMEX natural gas prices (nearest futures continuation). The days coverage perspective underlines this, particularly in light of anticipated stockpiles at end October 2017 and thereafter. A comparison of the recent bull move that started in March 2016 to the prior major bull move inaugurated on 4/19/12 at 1.902 offers insight into past and potential trends.

Marketplace history does not necessarily repeat itself, whether entirely, partly, or at all. But all else equal, since 2016’s natural gas rally was less than average in time and (percentage) distance terms, this also indicates the move that commenced in March 2016 probably has more time and price to run. NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures continuation) rallied about 148 percent in about ten months from its 3/4/16 bottom at 1.611 to its 12/28/16 high at 3.994. The distance and duration for eleven major bull moves in NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures continuation) since trading began in 1990 is about 246 percent and twelve months and three weeks.

Some bull voyages took a very long time to complete. For example, the April 2012 to February 2014 advance lasted about twenty-two months and a week. September 2003-December 2005’s flight took 26 months and three weeks; the August 1998 to December 2000 adventure was 28 months.

****

However, the move above December 2016’s height may not be substantial and could take at least a few months to occur. Why?

First, US natural gas inventories in days coverage terms at end March 2017, though they likely will slip slightly below those at end March 2013, nevertheless will hover around end March long run averages.

A few major (over 120 percent) bull charges were shorter in extent or briefer in time than 2016’s leap, so an assertion that the 2016 rally ended in December 2016 is not “unreasonable”. Besides, the NYMEX natural gas 26 year trading history is relatively short; compare wheat or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In any case, one big bull move voyaged up around 123.5 percent, another 129.2pc. For the time horizon parameter, three major bull moves from 1990 to the present were completed quickly. One finished in about two months, another in about three and a half months, and a third in four months. In this context, and although marketplace history is not marketplace destiny, several major peaks in NYMEX natural gas occurred in calendar December, with another one in early January. NYMEX natural gas often attains its major peaks and valleys around the day of the actual nearest futures contract expiration.

The CFTC’s Commitments of Traders reveals a massive net noncommercial long position in the natural gas complex. An elevated net noncommercial position in natural gas has often (but not always) been associated with key marketplace trend changes. The current net noncommercial long position in the petroleum complex likewise is extremely large from the historical standpoint. Both natural gas and petroleum currently are vulnerable to liquidation by the net noncommercial long fraternity, which would tend to pressure prices.

For predicting NYMEX natural gas price trends, monitor those in the petroleum complex. NYMEX crude oil’s 2/11/16 trough at $26.05 (nearest futures continuation) occurred shortly before the NYMEX natural gas bottom on 3/4/16 (and alongside the S+P 500’s 2/11/16 trough at 1810). NYMEX crude oil made important interim lows in its rally, $39.19 on 8/3/16 and $42.20 on 11/14/16; critical interim lows in NYMEX natural gas occurred near in time to these. Remember 8/12/16’s 2.523 and 11/9/16’s 2.546. NYMEX crude oil’s recent high occurred 1/3/17 at $55.24, adjacent in time to 12/28/16’s 3.994 natural gas elevation.

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this article as a PDF file.
US Natural Gas- a View of the Past, a Vision of a Future (1-21-17)