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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MARKETPLACE MANEUVERS: SEARCHING FOR YIELD, RUNNING FOR COVER © Leo Haviland September 7, 2020

In the novel “The Gilded Age” (chapter 7), by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, Colonel Sellers exclaims: “Si Hawkins has been a good friend to me, and I believe I can say that whenever I’ve had a chance to put him into a good thing I’ve done it, and done it pretty cheerfully too. I put him into that sugar speculation—what a grand thing that was, if we hadn’t held on too long.”

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

Diverse, changing, and interrelated marketplace variables of course encourage price rallies and declines in assorted financial domains. Central bank monetary policies, national deficit spending and debt levels, currency trends, and the recent coronavirus pandemic of course are on the list.

Yet focus on United States Treasury rates only slightly above or beneath benchmark inflation indicators such as consumer price or personal consumption expenditure indices. In other leading government rate realms, such as German ones, note negative nominal interest rates. During the era of global central bank policy yield repression by America’s beloved Federal Reserve Board and the friendly central banks of other major advanced nations, “investors” and other traders generally have engaged in ravenous searches for adequate return (“yield”) in assorted financial marketplaces. These playgrounds include United States and other stocks, lower-grade foreign dollar-denominated sovereign debt, corporate notes and bonds, and commodities.

During this repressive policy yield environment, and often encouraged by massive money printing (quantitative easing) and other accommodative monetary programs, price trends in the S+P 500 and these other marketplaces frequently have been similar. They have risen in bull markets (and fallen in bear markets) “together”. Convergence and divergence (lead/lag) relationships between fields such as the S+P 500, US corporate bonds, and crude oil are a matter of subjective perspective. The connections and patterns are complex and not necessarily precise; they can modify or even transform. But in recent years, prices in these benchmark stock indices, lower-grade interest rate instruments, and commodities often have risen (or fallen) at roughly the same time. For example, prices for US stocks and other financial domains enjoyed glorious rallies which peaked in early to mid-first quarter 2020. Their murderous bear crashes commence at around the same time; numerous investors and other buyers (owners) frantically ran for cover and pleaded for help. The ensuing price rallies in these assorted key generally embarked around late March 2020, and their subsequent bullish patterns thereafter have intertwined.

However, various phenomena indicate that these marketplaces are at or near important price highs and probably have started to or soon will decline together. These bearish factors include the probability of a feeble global recovery (the recovery will not be V-shaped), the persistence of the coronavirus problem for at least the next several months, and lofty American stock marketplace valuations (and the substantial risk of disappointing late 2020 and calendar 2021 corporate earnings). Also, the Democrats probably will triumph in the 11/3/20 American national election, which portends a reversal of the corporate tax “reform” legislation as well as the enactment of increased taxes on high-earning individuals and the passage of capital gains taxes. Also on the US national political scene, fears are growing of a political crisis if President Trump disputes the November voting outcome.

Other warning signs of notable price falls in the S+P 500 and various related marketplaces include vulnerable US (and other) households (reduced consumer spending) and endangered small businesses, massive and rising government debt, a greater risk of rising US interest rates (at least in the corporate and low-quality sovereign landscapes, and even with ongoing Fed yield repression) than many believe, and the recent weakness in the US dollar. The likelihood of a substantial new US Congressional stimulus package has ebbed.

The S+P 500 (and especially “technology” stocks; see the Nasdaq Composite Index) probably has been the bull leader for the various asset classes “as a whole” since its 3/23/20 bottom at 2192. For US equities, laments of “where do I put my money?” enthusiastic comments that “there’s a lot of cash around looking for a home”, and venerable rhetoric regarding the reasonableness of buying and holding United States stocks for the “long run” persist. Gurus as well as media cheerleaders still say: “buy the dip” and “don’t miss the train.” Yet such aphorisms and even massive money printing do not inevitably keep asset prices rising.

Despite the Federal Reserve’s late August 2020 promulgation of a revised and even more accommodative policy doctrine, it essentially codified rather than changed the practice of its easing policy of the preceding months. See the Fed’s 8/27/20 “Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Strategy” and the Fed Chairman’s speech, “New Economic Challenges and the Fed’s Monetary Policy Review” (8/27/20). In any case, the Fed guardian is unlikely to race to the rescue of the US stock marketplace with the S+P 500 hovering around its all-time high.

For detailed further discussion of stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces and the political scene, see other essays such as “Dollar Depreciation and the American Dream” (8/11/20); “Divergence and Convergence: US Stocks and American Politics (7/11/20); “US Election 2020: Politics, Pandemic, and Marketplaces” (6/3/20); “American Consumers: the Shape We’re In” (5/4/20); “Crawling from the Wreckage: US Stocks” (4/13/20); “Global Economic Troubles and Marketplace Turns: Being There” (3/2/20); “Critical Conditions and Economic Turning Points” (2/5/20); “Ringing in the New Year: US and Other Government Note Trends” (1/6/20).

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Marketplace Maneuvers- Searching for Yield, Running for Cover (9-7-20)

DOLLAR DEPRECIATION AND THE AMERICAN DREAM © Leo Haviland August 11, 2020

In the film “Wall Street” (Oliver Stone, director), Gordon Gekko claims: “It’s all about bucks, the rest is conversation.”

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DOLLAR DEPRECIATION DANGERS

For many decades, the United States dollar has led the foreign exchange field as the key currency for global trade as well as financial reserves. Over that time span, the greenback’s predominance to a significant extent encouraged, sustained, and reflected widespread (although not unlimited) American and global faith in the wisdom and goodness of American cultural values and the persuasive and practical ability of the nation to be a (and sometimes the) critical guiding force in international affairs. Although the dollar obviously has had numerous extended periods of appreciation and depreciation since the free market currency dealing regime began in the early 1970s, the dollar’s crucial role in the increasingly intertwined global economic system has seldom been significantly questioned or challenged for over an extended period of time. For almost ten years, from its major bottom in July 2011 until April 2020, the overall trend of the dollar in general was bullish.

Therefore few gurus fear a significant depreciation in the US dollar from its relatively lofty April 2020 high. However, the probability of a noteworthy dollar slump is much greater than most believe.

An underlying factor promoting a dollar tumble is the gradually declining share of America as a percentage of world GDP. Also, both political parties, not just the current US Administration, and especially in the coronavirus era, probably want the dollar to weaken from its recent summit. The great majority of the country’s politicians preach their allegiance to a strong dollar, but they also endorse economic growth.

Two additional phenomena make the dollar particularly vulnerable nowadays. First, although many leading nations have increased their government debt burdens in recent years, America’s situation probably has worsened significantly more than most others in recent months. Moreover, America already faced widening federal budget deficits encouraged by the tax “reform” enacted at end 2017. Plus don’t overlook the ongoing ominous long run debt burden, looming from factors such as an aging population. How easily will America service its debt situation? And America’s corporate and individual indebtedness also is substantial.

Second, the intensity and breadth of America’s cultural divisions has increased in recent times, especially during the Trump era. American confidence in the nation’s overall direction has slumped in recent months. As US citizen faith in the country’s situation declines, so probably likewise will (or has) that of foreigners in regard to America.

Declining faith in American assets (and its cultural institutions and leadership) can inspire shifts away from such assets. American marketplaces will not be completely avoided given their importance, but players can diversify away from them to some extent. Not only Americans but also foreigners own massive sums of dollar-denominated assets (debt instruments, stock in public and private companies, real estate; dollar deposits). Such portfolio changes (especially given America’s slowly declining importance in the global economy) will tend to make the dollar feeble.

Suppose nations and corporations increasingly elect, whether for commercial or political reasons, to avoid using the dollar as the currency via which they transact business. That will injure the dollar.

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A five percent fall in the “overall” dollar level from its April 2020 high may not make much difference in the near term for US stocks and debt securities. However, a roughly five percent dollar drop is a warning sign for them, and especially for stocks. All else equal, a weaker dollar tends to boost the nominal price of dollar-denominated assets such as stocks and commodities. But history shows that this relationship is not inevitable. Phenomena other than dollar depreciation influence US securities trends. Keep in view the considerations described above undermining the dollar, and thus the desire to hold dollar-denominated instruments.

Admittedly, strong American corporate earnings encourage buying (and holding) of US stocks. But the coronavirus situation and responses to it have devastated calendar 2020 earnings. Suppose that contrary to widespread hopes and predictions, calendar 2021 corporate earnings do not rebound significantly (sufficiently) from dismal 2020 depths. What if the prayed-for V-shaped economic recovery does not emerge? If corporate earnings remain relatively modest (or slide) going forward, and if the dollar continues to weaken from its April 2020 height, dollar depreciation probably will intertwine with an equity slump.

A sustained dollar tumble approaching ten percent (and especially a fall greater than ten percent) probably will help to push the S+P 500 and related stock prices quite a bit lower. Many equate strong (high; rising) United States stocks over the long run as a signal or proof of the triumphant progress of the American Dream’s economic, political, and social principles. Therefore a linked and sustained decline in both the dollar and American stocks probably would damage to some extent the persuasive rhetoric of the current version American Dream itself.

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Even if US government debt yields in this scenario initially slump from around current low levels due to a renewed “flight to quality”, and even if the Federal Reserve and its central banking teammates maintain their quantitative easing and yield repression schemes, inflationary forces (encouraged by money printing; see the huge increase in America’s money supply) and heated demand for credit eventually can push government (and corporate) interest rates upward. On the US interest rate front, suppose foreigners become smaller buyers, or even net sellers, of US Treasury securities. Such overseas action would not be an endorsement of America. Due to yield repression, UST real returns currently are negative.

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Dollar Depreciation and the American Dream (8-11-20)

DIVERGENCE AND CONVERGENCE: US STOCKS AND AMERICAN POLITICS © Leo Haviland July 11, 2020

William Butler Yeats said in his poem “The Second Coming”:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

Numerous United States stock marketplace and economic wizards share a common faith that levels and trends in broad-based equity benchmarks such as the S+P 500 adequately represent the nation’s overall current economic “reality”, signal (forecast) the country’s future economic conditions, or both. Conversely, the present-day or prospective economic situation (or both) allegedly are built into or forecast S+P 500 and related stock signposts elevations and trends. Leading promoters of this creed frequently also are apostles of stock investment (buying), especially over the misty long run. Thus strong (bullish) US stocks supposedly equal, reflect, or confirm (at least to a substantial extent and at some point in time) a robust economy.

Assorted economic (commercial; business) variables around the globe of course influence patterns in American (and other international) stock marketplaces. So do political and other cultural factors. The perspectives on, analytical methods regarding, and arguments and conclusions relating to such cultural phenomena nevertheless are entirely subjective (matters of opinion; not scientific). Thus reasonable gurus can and do vary in their enlightened views regarding issues such as how to organize “the” past, present, and future, as well as in their causation and probability assessments regarding one or more marketplaces. This contrasts with the objective (Natural; true for all) sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mechanical engineering.

A given financial marketplace such as the S+P 500 and data (variables, facts, factors, evidence, statistics) related to it converge and diverge (lead/lag) in a variety of fashions. Existing relationships can change, sometimes dramatically. Marketplace history is not marketplace destiny.

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The S+P 500 rapidly crashed about 35.4 percent in only one month from its 2/19/20 pinnacle at 3394 to its dismal 3/23/20 trough at 2192. However, it thereafter skyrocketed nearly 47.5 percent to 6/8/20’s 3233, only about five percent beneath 2/19/20’s height. The S+P 500’s current level around 3185 neighbors the early June 2020 high. Generous money printing (quantitative easing) and yield repression (and other assistance) from the beloved Federal Reserve and its central banking allies substantially contributed to the spike from March 2020’s depth. So did massive deficit spending. Substantial bull moves in various important “technology” stocks within the S+P 500, and the related climb in the technologically-composed Nasdaq Composite Index, greatly assisted the upward march and sustained strength in the S+P 500.

Although the Nasdaq Composite Index and many leading (popular; large-capitalization) technology stocks achieved new highs very recently, several actual or probable divergences (and some convergences) within or linked to the S+P 500 stock playground warn that it will be difficult for the S+P 500 to surpass its lofty February 2020 peak by much, if at all, over the next several months. These factors not only probably will undermine the S+P 500 and induce it to start declining, but also will inspire a related fall in the Nasdaq Composite Index.

DIVERGENCE: AMERICAN STOCKS

The poet Wallace Stevens declared: “Nothing is itself taken alone. Things are because of interrelations or interactions.”

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Various forms of divergence (and convergence) relevant to stock marketplaces exist.

These include how a given marketplace recently has moved, or is travelling, relative to its past (or “overall”) history. It can include relationships between “the” stock marketplace (such as the S+P 500 benchmark) and other stock indices (both domestic and foreign), marketplace sectors (such as technology, energy, or finance; emerging marketplace stocks) or particular stocks. An apparent existing relationship between United States stocks and other financial territories such as interest rates (picture the US Treasury marketplace or high-yield corporate debt), the US dollar, and key commodities such as petroleum and base metals can change, sometimes dramatically. For the S+P 500, a stock sector, or an individual equity, its level, trend, and valuation can seem to converge or diverge with its earnings (or other variables).

To what extent has or will America’s coronavirus history, current trends, and future probabilities intersect with the S+P 500? Recall the vicious economic decline and sharp stock slumps during first quarter 2020 as the coronavirus spread worldwide and in America. Yet the significant increase in recent weeks in the America’s coronavirus infection rate contrasts with the persistent strength in the S+P 500, and with the Nasdaq Composite Index’s stellar ascent to all-time highs.

Significant divisions (divergence) and heated conflicts nowadays exist in America’s political and other cultural theaters. Political phenomena of course intertwine with economic ones, including financial marketplaces such as stocks. To some extent, the rally (“high” prices) in American stock benchmarks such as the S+P 500 diverges from the likely enactment (reality) of corporate and capital gain tax increases. In America’s upcoming November 2020 national election, Biden very likely will defeat Trump. The Democrats should retain control of the House of Representatives. The Democrats probably will gain Senate seats, and they have a very good chance of capturing the Senate. This unification of Democratic power on the national level not only will be a dramatic change in government. Tax policies embraced by Biden and the Democrats likely will be bearish factors for the S+P 500.

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Divergence and Convergence- US Stocks and American Politics (7-11-20)

US ELECTION 2020: POLITICS, PANDEMIC, AND MARKETPLACES © Leo Haviland June 3, 2020

CULTURAL OVERVIEW: A HOUSE DIVIDED

Competing aphorisms and advice abound regarding the uncertainties, unpredictability, probabilities, risks, opportunities, and appropriate viewpoints and methods in marketplaces such as stocks, interest rates, currencies, commodities, and real estate. Political stages also fill with diverse adages, slogans, perspectives, approaches, insights, foresights, predictions, and explanations.

The American cultural scenes (economic, political, and social) and opinions regarding them interrelate, and these entangle relatively closely with numerous foreign ones in a globalized world. This reflects and encourages wide ranges in outlook and recommendations for behavior.

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American history reflects and describes a generally-shared culture, which the American Dream concept significantly reflects. However, over the span of about four centuries (and even in recent decades) that culture and interpretations of it have not been unchanging. The degree of consensus has varied. Moreover, not all groups have been equally able to participate in the economic, political, and social benefits (promises; valued “good” aspects) of the American Dream.

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Thus America, even when united, always has had some internal differences in viewpoint (including opinions on the proper applications of a generally shared cultural theory) and thus assorted episodes and varying degrees of conflict. Let’s concentrate on today’s political panorama, which reflects (is permeated by) economic phenomena and interests. Admittedly, we’re not dwelling in the Civil War era of the mid-19th century. And the present-day United States political landscape (its ideological and structural parameters) is not anarchic. Nevertheless, the nation’s current political situation displays extensive divisions across numerous fields. The number and sharpness of these splits arguably have been increasing over the past few decades, as well as increasing (or at least becoming more evident) since President Trump’s 2016 election campaign and triumph.

A rapid survey of the United States unveils a country significantly divided across belief (doctrinal) dimensions as well as group membership categories. Subjective views occur on a continuum. For example, not all so-called “conservative” opinions are identical. Or, a given “liberal” (or progressive or globalist) may support some “nationalist” policies. Of course not all members of a given racial (ethnic), sex, or age category embrace the same opinion on a given policy or set of them. Consequently, beliefs, groups, and individuals do not necessarily or inevitably all end up on the same side of a ledger. Moreover, definitions and applications of political and other cultural labels can and do change. How should we define and measure liberty, freedom, and equality?

Anyway, numerous divisions apparently exist. These reflect values, visions for what is “good”, “bad”, and “neutral”. Cultural values inescapably involve emotions, not just reasoning; and emotions permeate the reasoning.

Look not only at (and within) the leading political parties, the Democrats (blue) and Republicans (red). The political spectrum reveals a range of opinions from left-wing to right-wing. Populists (which include left and right sides in orientation) battle against the “establishment” and associated elites (“the Man”; an entrenched political/economic/social power structure). Nationalists (“Make America Great Again!” is one mantra) fight against globalists (and multiculturalists); conservatives (or alleged reactionaries) combat liberals (perhaps some of these are progressives) and socialists (radicals; anarchists). Assorted political and economic “haves” fight in assorted ways with “have-nots”. Ardent debates rage about economic inequality and opportunity as well as social mobility. Allegiance to “capitalism” and the “free market” (however defined) varies in scope and intensity. Other contentious issues include abortion, the environment (including climate change), health care, immigration, race relations, gun control, and international trade. Such viewpoints incorporate values and result in propaganda battles to advance aims and defeat foes.

Within American political life and its communities, note the language (metaphors) of war, battle, and violence. Also examine wordplay of love and friendship. For example, people may love (or hate) a political candidate or party and its policies.

Rather lofty US government deficit spending has become entrenched. And sometimes, like nowadays in the coronavirus era (which involves a war against the disease), most Americans appreciate a generous helping hand and support a large (expensive) economic rescue package. However, significant disagreement remains regarding the role and extent of the federal government in our lives. Fervent quarrels burst into the open as to the appropriateness of, relative importance of, and actual expenditure on specific programs.

What generic cultural classifications to which individuals belong nowadays reflect (and offer opportunities for and encourage) partisanship and rhetorical conflict? These are numerous. The body politic is fractured. Noteworthy divides exist on the basis of race/ethnic, sex/gender and sexuality, age/generation, geographical location (region of the country; urban/suburban/rural), religion/faith, and level of wealth/income.

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In politics, economics, and elsewhere in culture, although a subjective consensus sometimes develops and persists, participants also can and do disagree on what information (facts, evidence, factors, data, statistics) is relevant and on the relative importance of such variables, as well as on the proper means of organizing and evaluating such phenomena. Where widespread cultural divisions exist, as in America nowadays, such diverse debates (dissonance) relating to “the facts” at times can severely challenge the abilities of even knowledgeable and experienced forecasters to predict a particular outcome, such as the 2020 American Presidential election battle between Trump and Biden, with a high degree of confidence.

Moreover, to the extent that citizens have diminished faith in political institutions and leaders, this increases (encourages) the potential for cultural splits and wars. Arguments from authority may become less compelling to the “average citizen”; many disagreements tend to become harder to resolve. It’s often difficult for enemies to make peace. This situation can boost the amount and loudness of divisive rhetoric and thus make it significantly harder to predict some outcomes.

History shows that a willingness to compromise, listen closely to and respect opposing views and values, and practice substantial civility ebbs and flows on political stages, even when differences between rivals are substantial. However, the American political scene during the Trump regime generally manifests a weakening inclination to do so by many participants. This increases the rhetorical racket.

The information revolution obviously is a complex topic. Nevertheless, the voices unleashed nowadays in cultural domains via mass communication media create and sustain Towers of Babel. And the internet in particular enables a “democratic” explosion of voices seeking to achieve some form of power, to become or remain relevant and influential. The massive amount of allegedly relevant information potentially important to “appropriate” cultural decision-making and the proliferation of supposedly satisfactory gurus and guides (opinion-makers) thereby at times can exacerbate the difficulty of predicting political and economic outcomes.

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US Election 2020- Politics, Pandemic, and Marketplaces (6-3-20)