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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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”.

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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.

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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)

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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.
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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).

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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US Natural Gas- a View of the Past, a Vision of a Future (1-21-17)

GOLD AND GOLDILOCKS: 2017 MARKETPLACES © Leo Haviland, January 10, 2017

“I think I’ll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold getting bigger and bigger and bigger.” Fred C. Dobbs, in the 1948 movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (John Huston, director)

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CONCLUSION

The extent to which important financial playgrounds intertwine and their alleged trends converge or diverge (or, lead or lag) are matters of opinion, as are perspectives on and reasons for such relationships and movements. Apparent convergence/divergence and lead/lag patterns between currency, interest rate, stock, and commodity marketplaces nevertheless offer guidance to players seeking to explain, predict, or profit from financial price movements. Marketplace history need not repeat itself, either entirely or even in part. Thus these relationships can change, sometimes dramatically. Fundamental supply/demand factors and trends are not written in stone. And competing historians and clairvoyants do not necessarily share the same perspectives or tell the same stories regarding either a given financial playground or its relationships to other arenas.

The relationships between gold and the US dollar, as well as those between gold and other commodities and stock and interest rate marketplaces, are complex. Often, gold prices travel in roughly similar fashion to those of base metals in general and the overall petroleum complex. Yet sometimes substantial fears regarding financial meltdown (asset value destruction) or striking worries about political evolution or disruption also can influence gold’s supply/demand and price profile, and thereby gold’s interrelations with commodities as well as currency and securities marketplaces. In any case, significant gold price trend changes often precede or roughly coincide (or “confirm”) those elsewhere.

Gold probably established an important low not long ago, at $1124 on 12/15/16. Suppose this gold rally continues for at least the near term. The gold ascent probably warns of peaks in the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (“TWD”) and the S+P 500. The current divergence between the S+P 500 and emerging marketplace nation stocks in recent months likewise warns of these trend shifts. Relevant to this viewpoint, the 10 year United States Treasury note yield established a major low at 1.32 percent on 7/6/16. In addition, suppose gold’s recent climb eventually coincides with a renewed slump in the LMEX base metals index (London Metal Exchange) from its 11/28/16 top at 2857, and at least a modest tumble in benchmark petroleum prices. That probably will interrelate with this scenario of US dollar weakness and erosion of S+P 500 and emerging marketplace stock prices.

The American political theater is relevant to this outlook for gold price and its relationship to the US dollar and other marketplaces. Trump’s remarkable Presidential victory and his likely policies probably have increased fears in both American and international domains regarding the quality of America’s political leadership and the consequences of its economic (political) philosophy. Moreover, the nation’s various sharp cultural divisions and related partisan political conflicts will not disappear anytime soon.

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Gold and Goldilocks- 2017 Marketplaces (1-10-17)