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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“Our million hearts beat as one,
Brave the enemy’s fire, March on!” “March of the Volunteers”, China’s national anthem
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
Although China’s era of miraculous economic growth has marched into history, the nation nevertheless achieved enviable real GDP increases in recent years. Benchmark predictions by numerous economic wizards regarding China’s economy remain rather sunny, especially in comparison with those for most other countries. In fact, most observers are fairly complacent about China’s current situation and future prospects. Faith in adequate global growth intertwines with belief that China’s expansion will continue to be substantial.
As the world has become more globalized and intertwined, China’s substantial economic expansion not only has boosted China’s international economic (financial, commercial, business) and political presence and power. It also has helped to ensure domestic political stability and protected the central role and authority of the Communist Party. The country’s leadership and other elites obviously desire and battle to protect such impressive accomplishments.
However, China has a significant debt problem, and one that probably will worsen. Most China watchers nevertheless ignore or downplay this, with analysis and concerns banished to obscure articles, back pages, and fine print. China’s strong economy in the past five years probably derived substantially from a substantial expansion of its overall national debt. Will China’s government (and other areas of the economy) need to borrow more and more and go greater in debt in order to sustain “appropriate” GDP growth? Probably.
Yet the Chinese debt explosion, with totals at or moving toward high levels relative to GDP (particularly in the government and corporate sectors), endangers prospects for continued robust Chinese economic growth. Creditor (lending) confidence probably is not unlimited, especially in regard to segments of China’s corporate, banking, and local government arenas.
Moreover, very elevated debt is not just a Chinese phenomenon, but a worldwide one. The International Monetary Fund’s “Fiscal Monitor” (April 2018; Chapter 1) stated: “Global debt [public and nonfinancial private debt] is at historic highs, reaching the record peak of US$164trillion in 2016, equivalent to 225 percent of global GDP [current levels probably are higher]. The world is now 12 percent of GDP deeper in debt than the previous peak in 2009, with China as a driving force.” See also the Institute of International Finance’s perspective on the expanding global debt as a percentage of world GDP trend (July 2018). Public debt has played an important part in the leap in global indebtedness. China obviously is not an island isolated from other nations. So if international economic conditions weaken, perhaps partly encouraged by prior or prospective interest rate increases, it probably will become somewhat harder for many entities, both public and private, to raise cash.
China’s glorious economic growth, and the related boom in its exports, has interconnected with increasing openness in international trade. Enthusiastic challenges to the free trade (globalization; multilateral) order and ideology, especially by the current American leadership (President Trump; “Make America Great Again!”), has raised concerns about trade wars and currency conflicts. The American Administration’s noisy criticism of China’s allegedly colossal (and supposedly unfair) trade surplus (at least in relation to the United States) and its willingness to impose tariffs on Chinese products has encouraged a rapid noteworthy depreciation in the Chinese renminbi relative to the US dollar in recent months.
Currency depreciation, not merely the running of large government deficits or tolerating (encouraging) jumps in corporate and household borrowing (and spending), is another strategy aimed at creating or sustaining adequate economic growth. Perhaps China’s currency depreciation relative to the US is to some extent a competitive plan designed to maintain its economic growth rate by ensuring continued substantial entry of its exports into the American marketplace. And the dollar/renminbi cross rate fascinates most marketplace observers in an environment excited by trade and currency war talk.
America of course is an important commercial counterparty for China. But it does not come close to capturing a majority of China’s overseas economic transactions. A review of China’s currency patterns and levels from a broad real effective exchange rate (“EER”) vantage point therefore offers superior enlightenment regarding the overall Chinese currency situation, and thereby its overall economic one.
The high level in China’s EER likely has tended to reduce exports and thus GDP growth to some extent from what they (all else equal) otherwise would have been. This consequently has tended to encourage China’s debt expansion as a means of achieving “sufficient” (official targets for) economic growth. Even allowing for the recent renminbi depreciation versus the US dollar, China’s EER remains rather lofty from the historical perspective. From China’s policy standpoint, its EER probably should depreciate even more than it has since its 2015 pinnacles in order to achieve desired economic growth and to handle its growing debt troubles.
Not only do China’s debt predicament and the renminbi’s feebleness relative to the US dollar (and the need for the renminbi to slump further on an EER basis) warn of underlying weakness in and the probability of slower growth than generally forecast for the Chinese economy. The sharp fall in calendar 2018 in the Shanghai Composite Index (and other emerging stock marketplaces) and declines in key commodity benchmarks also signal subsiding (slowing) Chinese GDP growth. The gradual rise in US interest rates (ongoing Federal Reserve tightening; underline climbs in the Federal Funds rate and the 10 year US Treasury note), given the links across global marketplaces, also probably is starting to curtail economic growth around the globe. In any case, given China’s major role in the international economy, a slowdown in its output relative to levels anticipated (hoped for) by economic pundits and financial pilgrims likely will injure expansion elsewhere.
China’s leadership probably is more fearful of inadequate economic growth than it publicly confesses. Why else has the country in the past few years further centralized political leadership and emphasized Communist Party control, embarked in well-publicized anti-corruption drives, and engaged in assorted territorial squabbles with its Asian neighbors? Such political programs suggest that real economic growth not only has slowed down (and perhaps to lower levels than official statistics indicate), but also probably eventually will ebb further than many high priests predict. A sharp deterioration in China’s GDP levels and prospects probably entails heightened internal political risks.
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China at a Crossroads- Economic and Political Danger Signs (8-5-18)
“All poker is a form of social Darwinism: the fit survive, the weak go broke.” A. Alvarez, “The Biggest Game in Town”
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
The Bank for International Settlements provides broad real effective exchange rates (“EER”) for numerous currencies around the globe. Within the BIS statistics are several nations who are important exporters of widely-traded commodities such as petroleum, base and precious metals, and agricultural products such as soybeans. Concentrating on and comparing the broad real effective exchange rates of eight freely-traded currencies widely labeled as “commodity currencies” offers insight into assorted interrelated financial marketplace relationships. The overall patterns of this array of assorted export-related commodity currencies often has intertwined in various ways with very significant trends in broad commodity indices such as the S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (“GSCI”) and the Bloomberg Commodity Index (“BCI”), the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (“TWD”), emerging marketplace stocks in general (as well as the S+P 500), and key interest rate benchmarks such as the 10 year US Treasury note.
In assessing and interpreting the role of and implications indicated by the commodity currency platoon in financial battlefields, marketplace guides should highlight several preliminary considerations. The various commodity currencies (“CC”) do not all move at precisely the same time or travel the same percentage distance in a given direction. Although they generally move roughly together within an overall major trend for the group, an individual member may venture in a different direction for quite some time. Although the path in recent months of the various CCs “together” generally has been sideways, their individual movements have not been identical.
Of course the various commodity currency countries are not all alike. So a given guru can tell somewhat different stories about each of them and their currency. Not all CC nations are equally important within the international trade arena. The various domains do not rely to the same extent on commodities within their export packages. And not all are reliant on a given commodity sector (such as petroleum) as part of their commodity output. Some CC nations produce notable amounts of manufactured goods. In addition, some countries probably are more vulnerable to currency and trade wars than others.
Moreover, the intertwined relationships between currencies (whether the CC EERs or others such as the broad real trade-weighted United States dollar), commodities “in general”, stock marketplaces (advanced nation signposts such as the S+P 500; the emerging marketplace field in general), and interest rates can and do change. Relationships between CC EERs and the broad real trade-weighted dollar (“TWD”) can shift. The TWD’s intertwining and relationship to interest rate, equity, and commodities in general is complex. In addition, although subjective perspectives identify apparent convergence and divergence (lead/lag) relationships between financial territories, these connections (links, associations) can alter, sometimes substantially. Marketplace history is not marketplace destiny, whether entirely or even partly.
Commodities “in general” surpassed their first quarter 2017 peaks in first quarter 2018 (and April 2018), rapidly climbing from a notable mid-year 2017 trough. The majority of commodity currencies established an EER top in (or around) 1Q17. In contrast to commodities in general, the effective exchange rates of the various commodity currency club members either have not exceeded that top established in (around) 1Q17, or have not done so by much. In addition, the CC group’s EERs generally did not climb much, if at all, from around mid-year 2017. This CC EER pattern (some divergence from commodities in general) warns that a significant top in commodities probably is near. In the past, highs for the commodity currency EERs linked to highs for commodities in general.
Relevant to this marketplace viewpoint regarding the commodity currency EERs and commodities “in general” is the upward trend in US Treasury note yields. Recall not only the major bottom in the UST 10 year note around 1.32 percent on 7/6/16, but especially underline for the CC (and global stock marketplaces) the yield climb from its 9/8/17 interim trough at just over two percent. The Federal Reserve Board has been raising the Federal Funds rate and gradually reducing the size of its bloated balance sheet. The UST 10 year note broke out in first quarter 2018 above critical resistance at 2.65pc; the UST 10 year recently bordered 1/2/14’s 3.05pc barrier (3.03pc on 4/25/18; the two year UST note also has climbed, reaching 2.50pc on 4/25/18). Also supporting this outlook for commodities is the 1Q18 peak in the S+P 500 (1/26/18 at 2873) and the MSCI Emerging Stock Markets Index (from Morgan Stanley; “MXEF”; 1/29/18 at 1279).
Yield repression (very low and even negative interest rates) promotes eager hunts for yields (return) elsewhere. These include buying commodities as an “asset class”. What happens to commodities when key central banks begin to end their beloved yield repression schemes, or hint that they will do so?
Marketplace history indeed shows that sometimes there has been divergence between commodities “in general” and stock benchmarks such as the S+P 500 for a while. Recall the 2007-09 global economic disaster era. The S+P 500 peaked 10/11/07 at 1576 (MXEF summit 11/1/07 at 1345), prior to the broad GSCI’s pinnacle in July 2008 (7/3/08 at 894). Yet recall that the July 2008 GSCI peak occurred close in time to the noteworthy S+P 500 interim high on 5/19/08 at 1440, as well as the lower S+P 500 tops of 8/11/08 (1313) and 9/19/08 (1265). And note the timing linkage between the broad GSCI and S+P 500 in the past couple of years. Not only did they make major lows around the same time in first quarter 2016 (broad GSCI at 268 on 1/20/16; S+P 500 on 1/20/16 at 1812 and 2/11/16 at 1810). They both accelerated upward in their bull moves around the same time in mid-year 2017; the GSCI low was 351 on 6/21/17, with that in the S+P 500 6/29/17’s 2406 (8/21/17 at 2417). The broad GSCI slumped from its initial high at 466 on 1/25/18, which linked to the S+P 500’s high on 1/26/18; although the GSCI since has hopped over its 1Q18 interim top, it thus far has not done so by much (480 on 4/19/18).
Thus the failure of the EERs for the CC group as a whole to advance much over the past year and especially since mid-year 2017 (with no decisive overall new highs for the group in general in 1Q18) probably has implications for both commodity and equity trends.
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Commodity Currencies in Context- a Financial Warning Sign (5-1-18)
“Away from baseball, I had a lot of fun, and much of it came in pitting myself against the odds found in the financial world, which are somewhat longer against success than getting a base hit.” The Hall of Fame star Ty Cobb, “My Life in Baseball”
The price movements and levels of various leading “internet-related” stocks attract the attention of and story-telling by assorted stock marketplace strategists and media guides around the globe.
Attached are several charts.
Charts 1-5 constitute America’s FAANG army (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Netflix). Charts 7-9 cover the large Chinese internet groups labeled BATs (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent). Although these bar charts are weekly, the handwritten price and date noted is for the actual trading day.
During the past two and a half years, a review of the dates and lines noted on the graphs of this array of internet companies manifests a similarity “in general” (for the group) as to noteworthy price trend shifts (or accelerations) “around” several critical marketplace turns. These key time points include: mid-2015 high; late August 2015 low; late year 2015 drop-off; first quarter 2016 bottom; dramatic rally after the 11/8/16 election.
Not every stock necessarily closely fits the given key turning point noted, but the majority did. Of course not all travelled the same percentage distance. Nevertheless, there has been some tendency for the group members to “confirm” each other’s trend.
Sometimes a given stock, stock sector, or broad marketplace may lead (lag) another (the convergence/divergence issue).
This trend and timing linkage for the FAANGs and BATs provides guidance for anticipating and evaluating movements in broad indices such as the S+P 500 and China’s Shanghai Composite. United States and Chinese benchmarks do not always voyage together, but they have frequently done so (see the notes on chart 1).
The internet sector and broad equity stock indices are not necessarily divorced from movements in other stock sector domains (such as “financial” or “retail”) and their members. Many scouts closely monitor noteworthy financial corporations such as Goldman Sachs. The GS chart is at page 6 (unlike the other eight graphs, this one is monthly).
A noteworthy decline in this internet stock group “in general”, whenever this happens, probably will occur around the same time. Given the widespread importance and allure of the internet playground (and the “technology” territory), such an important sectoral shift by the FAANGs and BATs likely will develop around the time of one in the S+P 500 and Shanghai Composite (and perhaps for other related broad stock indices of advanced and emerging/developing nations as well). As always, watch for price leads (lags). For the S+P 500, given its glorious long-running bull move, a decline of about ten percent (or more) would worry many observers.
Keep an eye on rising interest rates for (and other signs of tighter credit in) the United States and China (and in other key nations). What if the United States does not enact tax “reform”? A significant portion of the rally in the overall US stock marketplace since the November 2016 election probably has derived from optimism regarding the passage of a massive tax cut package (particularly for corporations). Yet watch debt trends in America (especially if the so-called reform becomes law) and China. The adventures of the broad real trade-weighted dollar, especially if it breaches important support and resistance levels, also intertwines with and can significantly influence trends in stocks, interest rates, and commodities.
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Trend Relationships- US and Chinese Stocks- the Internet Sector (11-27-17)
Charts- Trend Relationships- US and Chinese Stocks and the Internet Sector (11-24-17)
“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.
War, children, it’s just a shot away”. “Gimme Shelter”, The Rolling Stones
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
“America First!” and “Make America Great Again!” anthems inspire President Trump and many of his populist supporters. Many Americans of course have slogans, doctrines, and plans dramatically different from those of the President and his populist allies (and his establishment comrades). Despite America’s sharp and wide-ranging partisan divisions, most Americans believe that America should be great (whatever that may mean in practice). They also agree that America’s President and Congress (and other federal institutions), all else equal, should consider the country’s needs first. Perhaps a majority of “We the People of the United States” retain faith that America in some fashion should be first (the leading nation) around the globe as well.
Nowadays Europe, like America, has a so-called establishment (various elites) battling fiercely against an array of populist adversaries. Yet the European establishment includes not only most leaders (and the bureaucracy) of the European Union and the Eurozone (and the European Central Bank), but also the political (economic) establishments of most of Europe’s individual countries. So even though the European Union and Eurozone comprise various independent countries, and even though these nations contain diverse sets of right and left wing (and radical) political parties and economic ideologies, the overall European “establishment” ardently will promote “Europe First!” and “Eurozone First!” doctrines, particularly when the risks of European Union and (especially) Eurozone breakup appear rather high. Thus Europe/Eurozone preservation goals can trump narrower nationalist aims. Populist threats obviously are one source of such grave risks, which the United Kingdom’s June 2016 Brexit “Leave” vote underscored. However, Europe’s sovereign debt (banking; recall Greece and the European “periphery”) crisis a few years ago reveals that other issues may motivate the European establishment to rally fiercely around a banner and fervently embrace policies to keep Europe unified.
Napoleon: “In forming the plan of a campaign, it is requisite to foresee everything the enemy may do, and to be prepared with the necessary means to counteract it.”
The European establishments do not necessarily or always plan and act together. Yet despite their diversity, they are closing ranks, making statements and endorsing programs to ensure substantial European unity and their own places in power structures. On the national political front in several individual countries, this has included a shift to the right (particularly on the immigration issue). This mitigates some of the appeal of right wing (pro-nationalist; anti-globalist) populist candidates.
In the Eurozone context, a too frail Euro FX can reflect dangers to the Eurozone’s integrity. America is a key European trading partner. The Trump camp forcefully proclaims its hostility to excessive weakness of the Euro FX and other currencies (such as the Chinese renminbi) relative to the dollar. The Trump regime (and many other Americans) probably would be pleased with a somewhat weaker dollar relative to its recent lofty high. So on the trade and currency landscape, some European mainstream leaders in response have suggested they want neither trade wars nor further Euro FX currency depreciation. Related to this, what does the ECB’s March 2017 hint that it eventually will modify its current highly accommodative monetary policy indicate? It likewise probably signals a willingness to bolster the Euro FX.
The Bank for International Settlements provides broad real effective exchange rates (“EER”) for the Eurozone (Euro FX area) and numerous other nations. The current sideways pattern in the Euro FX broad real effective exchange rate (“EER”) probably will persist for the short term. But as the 2017 European election calendar marches forward, the Euro FX EER probably will embark on a moderate bull trend. Major Euro FX EER support is well-entrenched and will not be broken by much, if at all. This Euro FX appreciation will occur not only on an EER basis, but also in the Euro FX cross rate relationship versus the US dollar. In general, determined efforts by the European establishment to retain power (defeat populists; avoid further European breakup) and bolster the Euro FX probably will succeed (at least for the next several months, and perhaps quite a bit longer).
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Eurozone Under Siege- Currency Trends and Politics (3-20-17)