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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TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES: RISING AMERICAN INTEREST RATES © Leo Haviland March 9, 2021

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” “Requiem for a Nun” (Act 1, Scene 3), by William Faulkner

CONCLUSION

Faith in the appealing proverb “don’t underestimate or fight the Federal Reserve Board” has become increasingly deep and widespread in recent years, and especially within stock investment congregations. This dogma underlines that mighty guardian’s powers and its willingness to employ them, not only to assist and even rescue the economy, but also to eventually halt substantial stock declines in the S+P 500. The Fed’s past successes have built and reinforced reliance by economic players as well as political leaders on it.

The Fed has other central banking allies in its noble efforts. Also, at times efforts by national political leaders in the United States and elsewhere, when dangerous and terrifying situations threaten, enact major assistance packages (such as avalanches of deficit spending).

If underestimation of the Fed is possible, then so is overestimation of it. The Fed of course is not the only performer on the economic and political stage, and marketplace and other cultural conditions can evolve, change significantly, or become extreme. Therefore, the great confidence in the Fed nowadays has an implicit corollary. Fed devotees and marketplace watchers “should not overestimate the Fed and its powers.” For example, the revered Fed probably does not have unlimited power to keep Federal Funds rates and United States Treasury yields repressed.

Not only may inflation propel interest rates higher than currently expected or desired. So can massive deficit spending and huge debt, especially if created by the US federal government.

The major yield increase trend in the United States Treasury marketplace (enlist the UST 10 year note as a benchmark) which commenced with 3/9/20’s .31 percent low probably will continue. A notable target for the UST 10 year is around the 3.26 percent top attained on 10/19/18. Even if over the so-called long run the UST 10 year yield does not eventually ascend to 2007’s seemingly ancient high (5.32pc; 6/13/07), attaining such an elevation is considerably more probable than most marketplace preachers proclaim.

Marketplace history of course is not marketplace destiny. Assorted variables in addition to interest rate levels and trends influence stock prices. However, many times over the past century, significantly increasing United States interest rate yields have preceded a noteworthy pinnacle in and the start of bear trends for key stock marketplace signposts such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S+P 500. The yield rise in the UST 10 year note since its March 2020 bottom probably signals that the S+P 500 has established a significant top or soon will do so.

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Truth and Consequences- Rising American Interest Rates (3-9-21)

GAMESTOP AND GAME SPOTS: MARKETPLACE AND OTHER CULTURAL PLAYGROUNDS © Leo Haviland February 13, 2021

In “The Biggest Game in Town”, A. Alvarez writes: “Mickey Appleman remarked to me that a lot of people don’t fit in where they are, but Las Vegas takes anybody.”

James McManus declares in “Positively Fifth Street”: “Las Vegas…attracts more annual pilgrims than any destination but Mecca.”

OVERVIEW

Wall Street inhabitants and other observers often label Wall Street as a game. Stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces likewise are games with assorted players.

GameStop Corporation’s stock trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange, a respected venue. GameStop’s website, advertisements, and Annual Report include a catchy slogan, “power to the players”. The firm says: “we are a family of preferred destinations for gaming, collectibles and consumer electronics”.

Though GameStop is a significant business enterprise, over the years it generally has not won substantial Main Street attention beyond those following the industry sector to which it belongs. However, GameStop’s recent explosive flight and bloody fall in recent weeks captured front page headlines around the globe. Recall its spring 2020 bottom at less than five dollars per share (2.57 on 4/3/20). From a much higher interim trough at 20.03 on 1/13/21, GameStop marched quickly upward in its bull campaign, more than doubling by its close at 43.03 on 1/21/21. The stock thereafter skyrocketed to 1/28/21’s 483 pinnacle (about 24 times 1/13/21’s depth). On this wild upward ride, a couple of big hedge funds with short positions in GameStop (betting that the GameStop price would slump) apparently got squeezed by a wave of (primarily) Main Street buyers (longs) and had to pay stratospheric prices to escape their short position. Despite the enthusiastic buying spearheaded by the retail (Main Street) crew, not long thereafter GameStop cratered over ninety percent to its subsequent low, at 46.52 on 2/9/21. The pattern of trading in the S+P 500, which reached a new high at 3937 on 2/12/21 in its massive bull charge since 3/23/20’s major bottom at 2192 (though that depressing key trough was close in time to GameStop’s 4/3/20 one), has not closely resembled that of GameStop.

Remarkable (unusual) moves in relatively unknown stocks often attract a modest amount of Wall Street and Main Street (retail) attention. However, the excitement around GameStop’s recent dramatic price action, and especially the related widespread blizzard of wordplay involving GameStop from numerous leading Wall Street stock marketplace wizards, investment and other trading gurus, venerable financial regulators, and sage financial and mainstream media commentators, indicate the relevance of the GameStop phenomenon to other more important cultural matters in economic, finance, and elsewhere.

The extensive passionate interest around GameStop points out that variable’s importance as a factor to consider in connection with overall American (and global) stock marketplace trends and the growing democratization of financial playgrounds. Taking a look at GameStop also offers insight into America’s economic and other cultural divisions and conflicts, the American Dream, and financial rhetoric (including metaphors).

CONCLUSION

Many orations about GameStop’s meteoric stock price rise and its subsequent collapse have involved talk of Main Street (retail; “the little guys”) “versus” Wall Street (typically including institutional “professionals”, “big guns” such as banks, investment banks, and larger money managers and financial (wealth management) advisors.

However, although the large GameStop shorts who got killed were Wall Street pros (insiders), the majority of Wall Street money in stocks (including hedge funds and other money managers) is on the buy (ownership) side. Most institutions (regardless of whether one labels them as an “investor” or some breed of investor, speculator or trader) are net owners of stock who, all else equal and as a guideline, want prices in the S+P 500 (and other stock signposts and individual equities around the world) to rise. So do their banking, investment banking, and financial media allies. Likewise, most of the various communities of Main Street stock owners (typically Wall Street and the media honors these financial pilgrims as “investors”) want stock prices to climb.

Consequently, from the standpoint of stock price action, assuming the existence of a Wall Street versus Main Street battle is erroneous, or at least highly misleading. If retail (investors, traders, speculators) sticks a knife into a few hedge funds (or other institutions) short a stock (or stock sector; index) via encouraging a stock price rise in the given supply/demand situation, that almost surely is not damaging Wall Street institutions as a whole. Despite retail enthusiasm and pride in such a victory, neither Wall Street, capitalism, nor “The Man” suffer much if at all.

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In the stock game, Wall Street loves retail players. Why? Main Street buys and holds stocks. Even when it does not own them for a long time, the majority of Main Street initiates its marketplace position by buying, not selling. Sometimes Main Street is a net seller, but as a rule of thumb it owns equities. It is a truism that all else equal, incremental net buying of equities by Main Street inhabitants will tend to move stock prices upward. That helps Wall Street institutional stock owners to make money from such rising prices. Plus significant retail participation in equity playgrounds provides Wall Street and the corporations they serve with an audience to whom it can sell new issues of stock.

Consider most Wall Street stock recommendations. Doesn’t Wall Street usually advise both professional and Main Street audiences to buy, or at least to hold? How many stock research analysts and advisers (brokers) advise their clients to go short? Of all recommendations, in the array of buy, hold, or sell, what percentage are sell ones? Generally speaking, most Wall Street and Main Street participants in the cultural world of marketplaces, in regard to stocks, applaud upward (bullish) stock price moves and “high” prices as “good”. Conversely, all else equal, most assert that it is “bad” if stocks fall (enter a bear trend) or are “low”.

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In marketplaces, notions of probability and causation reflect opinions. But nevertheless ask a question about Main Street’s role in Wall Street during the past several years, especially since the coronavirus pandemic emerged about a year ago. To what extent has the growing ability of Main Street fortune (financial security, wealth)-seekers to readily access stock marketplaces tended to elevate equity prices? Probably by a great deal. Overall US corporate earnings realities in recent months were feeble; their probable future prospects have not rocketed up to the extent of the S+P 500’s leap. So by propelling stock prices higher, Main Street thereby probably has played a critical role in stretching valuation measures upward significantly relative to what they otherwise would be.

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Wall Street has sold itself to America and the rest of the world as a good (reasonable) place for institutional and Main Street players seeking to make money (receive an acceptable/adequate/good financial return) to put and keep their money. Investment wordplay is a critical aspect of Wall Street sales pitches. Especially in the securities landscape, in stocks and interest rate instruments, Wall Street seeks owners (buyers), and especially it hunts for, honors, and praises “investors” and “investment”. The basic definition of the investment label in Wall Street (and on Main Street) means buying (owning) something. In general Many on Main Street (and Wall Street) have devoted faith that prices for US stocks (“in general”; at least those of investment grade) will continue to rise over the misty long run.

What is one of Wall Street’s greatest fears in regard to Main Street? It is the departure of retail owners of securities (especially stock investors, and particularly stock investors buying and holding for the so-called long run. Hence Wall Street gospels diligently and cleverly promote and solicit stock buying. From Wall Street’s view (not only banks, investment banks and big money managers and financial advisors, but also publicly-held corporations in general), a dramatic reduction of net buying by Main Street of stocks in general (particularly American ones) would be ominous, but an actual sustained substantial run for the exits by retail sects (Main Street becoming a net stock seller) would be dreadful (bad).

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GameStop and Game Spots- Marketplace and Other Cultural Playgrounds (2-13-21)

THE FEAR FACTOR: FINANCIAL BATTLEFIELDS © Leo Haviland January 5, 2021

“But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions such as they have in Japan over the past decade?” Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Board, Speech to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, “The Challenge of Central Banking in a Democratic Society” (12/5/96)

Voltaire’s 18th century novel, “Candide, or Optimism”, depicts a character who believes that all is for the best in the allegedly best of all possible worlds.

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

In recent times, prices in the S+P 500 and other benchmark United States and global stock indices, lower-grade interest rate instruments within corporate fields (and low-quality foreign dollar-denominated sovereign debt), and commodities “in general” often have risen (or fallen) at roughly the same time. They generally have climbed in significant bull ascents (and fallen in noteworthy bear retreats) “together”. These entangled domains therefore have alternatively reflected joyous bullish enthusiasm as “investors” and other traders avidly hunted for adequate return (“yield”), and terrifying bearish scenes as they raced fearfully for safety. Whether the existing bull trend for American stocks in general (use the S+P 500 as a benchmark) persists is especially important for realms connected with the S+P 500.

Actions by and rhetoric from the Federal Reserve Board and its central banking allies around the globe since the calamitous price crashes during first quarter 2020 restored investor (buying) confidence and generated price rallies in the S+P 500 and related marketplace playgrounds. In response to the economic (and political) challenges of the ravaging coronavirus era, gargantuan deficit spending by the United States and its foreign comrades also assisted these bullish price moves. Based on this as well as past experience (especially in regard to the merciful Fed), marketplace captains and their troops dealing in the S+P 500 and intertwined provinces once again have great faith that these marketplaces will not fall “too far”, or for “very long”. Bullish financial media fight especially hard to promote, justify, and sustain stock marketplace investment and price rallies in particular. In regard to equities in particular, propaganda speaking of “buy and hold for the long run” and “buy the dip” inspired entrenched investors and often sparked new buying. Thus, and despite occasional worries, significant complacency gradually has developed over the past several months in assorted stock marketplaces and “asset classes” tied to them.

Complacency regarding US Treasury yield trends has bolstered the relative calm and bullish optimism in the S+P 500. Strenuous yield repression (and money printing/quantitative easing) by the Federal Reserve Board and its central bank teammates not only assisted the S+P 500 rally, but also boosted belief that US Treasury yields will not shift much higher (and definitely will not rise “too high”) over the next couple of years.

Moreover, (for many months) easygoing stock bulls have had happy visions of recovering corporate earnings for calendar 2021 and rather robust ones thereafter. Numerous S+P 500 bull advocates do not worry much about or downplay risks of historically “high” valuations. “This time is different”, right? Most of these sunny forecasters generally see possibilities for further significant economic stimulus plans (deficit spending) during the upcoming Biden Administration. Encouraged by the development of coronavirus vaccines, they are optimistic regarding the eventual emergence of a V-shaped recovery, or at least an adequate one.

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This relative complacency through end-year 2020 in the S+P 500 and many other Wall Street marketplace territories (as the upward price trends evidence) contrasts with the ongoing economic agitation in the wider (“real”; Main Street) arena. Picture, for example, issues of economic inequality and the sharp divide between the “haves” and “have-nots”. Also, underline in America and elsewhere assorted and widespread political splits and heated wordplay. This rhetoric is not merely in regard to establishment/elites versus an array of left (liberal; progressive; keep in mind accusatory weapons such as the labels “socialist”, “communist”, and “Marxist”) and right wing (conservative; reactionary) populist (or “radical” or “fringe”) movements. In the United States, concepts of “identity politics” link to cultural wars involving assorted factors such as race/ethnicity, sex/gender/sexuality, age, religion, and geographic region/urban/suburban/rural. Diverse patriots brawl over the relative merits of nationalism and globalization, capitalism and socialism, and so forth. Though in stock and other fields bulls and bears always battle to some extent, the relative peace and tranquility in many Wall Street marketplaces contrasts with the turmoil and hostility permeating the wider cultural vista.

The dangers of weaker than forecast corporate earnings and lofty valuations for American stocks “in general” probably are significantly greater than the “consensus” wisdom promulgated by stock marketplace bulls. Figuratively speaking, US stock prices around current levels probably have “built in” a substantial amount of predicted earnings growth for calendar 2021 and 2022. Many corporations and small businesses remain under pressure. Year-end 2020 buying of stocks to have further equities on the books by definition is finished. The relatively slow implementation of the coronavirus vaccine is one consideration weighing on the recovery, corporate earnings, and valuation. It likely will take at least several months to vaccinate a substantial share of the global population, including within the United States and other advance nations. Besides, the coronavirus problem is bad and may be worsening. So its burden on economic output and employment levels probably will continue for the next several months

Moreover, despite the complacency regarding United States Treasury yield levels and trends, using the UST 10 year note as a signpost, UST yields probably have commenced a long run increase. Despite widespread global desires for a sufficiently feeble home currency to promote economic recovery and growth, and the related willingness to engage in competitive depreciation to accomplish this, spring 2020 unveiled the onset of substantial US dollar weakness. Although the US dollar (using the Fed’s “Broad Dollar Index” as the yardstick) has withered about ten percent from its peak, its long run pattern probably will remain down.

As “Games People Play: Financial Arenas” (12/1/20) emphasized, these interest rate and currency considerations also warn of a notable decline in the S+P 500. The probable eventual notable climb in US interest rate yields likely will connect with a weaker US dollar. The Fed and the incoming Democratic Administration (and debtors in general) probably want higher American inflation (including higher wages). Massive and rising US (and global) government debt is an important warning sign in this context. American household debt is huge in arithmetic terms, and this will put pressure on much of the nation if the economic recovery is not robust.

Marketplaces, marketplace relationships, and the relative importance (and interrelations) of their variables obviously can and do change over time. However, cultural history can influence “current” marketplace perceptions and decisions, especially when cultural (economic, political, social) conditions are at least significantly similar. Though numerous phenomena were involved in the stock marketplace crashes of 1929 and 2007-09, both occurred in an era of significant debt and leverage. That debt and leverage situation arguably fits the global situation nowadays as well.

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Significant fear likely soon will return to the S+P 500, other stock signposts (including those in emerging marketplaces), US corporate bonds, lower-grade foreign dollar-denominated sovereign debt, and many commodities.

What’s the bottom line for the S+P 500’s future trend? Although it is a difficult call, the S+P 500 probably will start a significant correction, and perhaps even a bear trend, in the near future. A five percent move in the S+P 500 over 3588, the important 9/2/20 interim high at 3588, gives 3767, and it probably will be difficult to breach that level by much on a sustained basis. The S+P 500’s high to date, 1/4/21’s 3770, exceeded the 9/2/20 top by 5.1 percent.

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The Fear Factor- Financial Battlefields (1-5-21)

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: FINANCIAL ARENAS © Leo Haviland December 1, 2020

“The Great Game: the Story of Wall Street….An original two-hour documentary event that spans the 200-year history of American capitalism.” NYTimes (over 20 years ago; 5/28/00; p13) regarding a CNBC television program broadcast 5/29/00

CONCLUSION

Financial marketplace investors, speculators, traders, hedgers, analysts, risk managers, and media have enjoyed, endured, or suffered an adventurous 2020! Substantial ongoing political and other cultural divisions and associated conflicts in the United States and elsewhere intertwined with and often enhanced the marketplace circuses. The coronavirus pandemic and the feverish economic (political) responses to its actual and potential ravages of course magnified agitation within marketplace playgrounds.

What are several key existing marketplace patterns worth watching by marketplace players as 2020’s finish line nears and calendar 2021’s competitions beckon?

First, prices in the S+P 500 and other benchmark US and global stock indices, lower-grade interest rate instruments within corporate fields ( and low-quality foreign dollar-denominated sovereign debt), and commodities “in general” often have risen (or fallen) at roughly the same time. They generally have climbed in significant bull ascents (and fallen in noteworthy bear retreats) “together”. These entangled domains thus have alternatively reflected joyous bullish enthusiasm as “investors” and other traders hunted for adequate return (“yield”), and scary bearish scenes as they scrambled frantically for safety. Whether the existing bull trend for American stocks in general (use the S+P 500 as a benchmark) persists is especially important for these connected landscapes.

Despite strenuous yield repression by the Federal Reserve Board and its central bank teammates, United States Treasury yields, using the UST 10 year note as a signpost, probably have commenced a long run increase. Despite widespread global desires for a sufficiently feeble home currency to promote economic recovery and growth, and the related willingness to engage in competitive depreciation to accomplish this, spring 2020 unveiled the onset of substantial US dollar weakness. Although the US dollar (using the Fed’s “Broad Dollar Index” as the yardstick) already has dived about ten percent from its peak, its long run pattern probably will remain down.

FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW to download this article as a PDF file.
Games People Play- Financial Arenas (12-1-20)