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: 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)

BASE METALS AND OTHER MARKETPLACE TRAVELS (c) Leo Haviland May 16, 2016

CONCLUSION

In the commodities constellation, base metals such as aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, and tin usually attract much less attention than the alluring stars of the petroleum complex. Nevertheless, base metals hold an important position in the global economic universe. Not only are they especially important for the economies of many emerging/developing countries (think of China, a huge base metals consumer), but also for several so-called advanced nations.

Of course history is not destiny. However, history reveals that major moves (trend changes) in the base metals complex (use the London Metal Exchange’s base metal index, “LMEX”, as a benchmark) nevertheless can offer important guidance for significant shifts in other marketplaces. Often LMEX major moves precede those in other financial realms.

The bear marketplace trend for base metals “in general” began in early 2011 and accelerated in 2014 and 2015. Base metals established an important bottom in mid-January 2016. This occurred alongside, though shortly before, troughs in commodities in general (and the petroleum complex in particular) and key lows in the S+P 500 and emerging marketplace stocks. The LMEX bottom also preceded the peak in the trade-weighted United States dollar and a significant yield low in the US Treasury 10 year note.

Emerging and developed countries closely interconnect in today’s international economy. So the base metals price rally since its first quarter 2016 low helped to spark optimism about improved global economic growth. However, the upward walk in base metals has been very modest compared to the sharp petroleum climb. In addition, recent LMEX highs roughly coincide with the April 2016 ones in the S+P 500 and emerging marketplace stocks. And US Treasury note yields have slipped lower since mid-March. Suppose noteworthy renewed weakness in base metals appears, with 1Q16 lows challenged or broken. This probably would signal (confirm) further slowing in real GDP expansion rates not only in China, but around the globe.

BASE METALS AND OTHER MARKETPLACES: 2007-09 REVISITED

Admittedly, in a review of several very important marketplace domains during the 2007-09 global economic crisis era, a notable time lag between the achievement of a crucial price point turning level (major high/major low) in a given arena in relation to those of various other arenas sometimes appears. Nevertheless, many significant trend changes in the LMEX base metal index, the broad Goldman Sachs Commodity Index, emerging marketplace stocks “in general”, the S+P 500, the broad real trade-weighted dollar, and the US Treasury 10 year note occurred around roughly the same time. Given the preceding analysis of the 2011-present period, this underscores the importance of watching base metals as a guide to (confirming indicator for) significant trend changes in these financial arenas.

The LMEX’s lofty May 2007 pinnacle preceded major highs in the broad GSCI (7/3/08 at 894), MXEF (11/1/07 at 1345), S+P 500 (10/11/07; 1576), and Shanghai Composite Index (10/16/07 at 6124), as well as the broad real trade-weighted dollar’s April 2008 major bottom. The LMEX’s high in early February 2011 also occurred prior to (although not long before) major peaks in the broad GSCI and MXEF. And quite significantly, the LMEX’s March and July 2008 very important secondary tops occurred close in time to the major low in the TWD, the final highs in the S+P 500 (5/19/08; 1440) and MXEF (5/19/08 at 1253), and the broad GSCI’s peak. In addition, the LMEX’s December 2008 major low occurred relatively near in time to turns in these marketplaces.

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Base Metals and Other Marketplace Travels (5-16-16)

LOOKING BACKWARD, GAZING FORWARD: US CORPORATE PROFITS AND FINANCIAL TRENDS (c) Leo Haviland May 3, 2016

“And I’ll be taking care of business, every day
Taking care of business, every way”. Taking Care of Business”, by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

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CONCLUSION AND OVERVIEW

For a majority of earnest soothsayers, American corporate profitability is an important factor for US stock marketplace levels and travels. Use the S+P 500 as a benchmark for United States equities in general. In second quarter 2015, US after-tax corporate profits peaked (annualized basis). The S+P 500’s record pinnacle occurred alongside this, on 5/20/15 at 2135. It mournfully plummeted about 15.2 percent to its 1812 (1/20/16)/1810 (2/11/16) depth. Despite the S+P 500’s subsequent sharp rally, the current and near-term after-tax corporate profit trend likely will make it challenging for the S+P 500 to ascend much above (or even over) its May 2015 peak during the next several months. History reveals that several noteworthy bear moves in the S+P 500 have intertwined with noteworthy profitability slumps.

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To explain past and current United States stock marketplace levels and trends, and in offering prophecies regarding future heights and patterns, diverse wizards tell competing tales. Their arguments and conclusions reflect their different marketplace perspectives and approaches, including the particular variables they select and arrange.

American and other corporations win or lose given amounts of money for all sorts of reasons. Factors influencing earnings and profitability change, as do the relative importance and interconnections of these variables. Long run inflation increases generally increase nominal values in general. Also, central bank policies, tax regimes, wage trends, and productivity (innovation; efficiency) developments influence sales and profits. The altitudes and paths of the US dollar, interest rate yields, and commodity prices also are relevant in various ways and degrees to particular corporations. Unemployment rates, fiscal situations (budget deficits), debt levels and trends (government, corporate, and consumer), regulatory structures, and population growth matter. America is not an island apart from the rest of the world; globalization has increased in recent decades.

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Admittedly, the ongoing (extraordinary) very lax monetary policy of the Federal Reserve Board and other central bank guardians such as the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, and China’s central bank helps underpin equity prices in America and elsewhere. Stock-owning audiences around the globe (particularly the praiseworthy investment community) as well as Wall Street institutions, public corporations, and the financial media friends generally adore massive money printing (quantitative easing) and sustained yield repression. Low interest rate yields for US Treasury securities (and negative yields for many government debt obligations elsewhere) encourage fervent scrambles for acceptable returns elsewhere. These often-alluring territories include stock realms (hunting for dividends and potential capital gain), corporate debt, and commodities. American inflation has been quite modest in recent years. Yet as nominal prices in general (all else equal) tend to rise alongside (or on a lagged basis) a climb in US nominal GDP, so will a nominally priced index such as the S+P 500.

The S+P 500’s retreat beginning in May 2015 interrelated with the preceding bear trends in emerging marketplace stocks and commodities (notably petroleum) and a further bull charge in the broad real trade-weighted dollar (“TWD”). Significantly, the S+P 500 (and stocks of other key advanced nations), emerging marketplace equities (“MXEF”, MSCI Emerging Stock Markets Index, from Morgan Stanley; 1/21/16 at 687), and commodities in general (broad GSCI at 268 on 1/20/16) all attained significant troughs around the same time in first quarter 2016. The US Treasury 10 year note yield low was 2/11/16 at 1.53 percent. The TWD established its recent high alongside these marketplaces in January 2016. This interconnection across assorted marketplaces assisted the rally in the S+P 500 from its January/February lows.

Thus to some extent, the recent weakness in the broad real trade-weighted dollar encouraged the ascent of the S+P 500. In any case, central banks did not want the TWD to ascend by much, if at all, over its January 2016 high. They likewise wanted to arrest stock marketplace declines.

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However, suppose the TWD declines further from current levels, perhaps ten percent or more from its January 2016 elevation. Although the first stage of dollar decline has managed to spark and assist a S+P 500 rally, additional sustained depreciation eventually may undermine equity prices. Besides, even if the TWD fall from its January plateau does not reach ten percent, the S+P 500 nevertheless may slide lower. Marketplace history reveals that a weaker dollar does not inevitably (or necessarily) push US stocks upward. And also suppose US interest rates or inflation expectations sustain modest climbs. Rising US Treasury yields can help to lead S+P 500 prices lower. Assume commodities in general manage to hold onto much of their recent gains.

In this environment, further suppose US corporate profits (and those in related regions) continue to remain sluggish (or decline further). Then the S+P 500’s fall from its high probably will be significant, even though the Federal Reserve and its trusty allies will intervene with rhetoric and action to prevent dramatic stock marketplace drops (particularly watch the 20 percent bear market definition threshold).

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Looking Backward, Gazing Forward- US Corporate Profits and Financial Trends (5-3-16)