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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FINANCIAL BATTLEGROUNDS: AN AGE OF ANXIETY (CONTINUED) © Leo Haviland November 1, 2023

W.H. Auden’s poem “The Age of Anxiety” asserts: “When the historical process breaks down and armies organize with their embossed debates the ensuing void which they can never consecrate, when necessity is associated with horror and freedom with boredom, then it looks good to the bar business.” (Part One, Prologue). And the character Rosetta states (Part One): “Numbers and nightmares have news value.”

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FINANCIAL AGITATION

Financial marketplaces and other cultural battlegrounds always include and reflect diverse and contending perspectives and actions. They also inescapably involve values and emotions. In culture, values and emotions permeate viewpoints, thought processes, and behavior. 

Within and regarding the competitive interest rate, stock, foreign exchange, and commodity arenas (and other economic fields), marketplace perspectives (outlooks; orientations), arguments, and conclusions are always subjective, matters of opinion. So are the selection and assessment of variables (facts, factors, evidence, information). Although agreement often is widespread, so is disagreement. Views compete. After all, marketplaces have bulls and bears, long and medium and short term traders, various advocates of fundamental and technical methods, and so forth. Opinions regarding history, probability, and causation differ. Hence prices and price relationships fluctuate, sometimes dramatically. In addition, rhetoric aims to persuade audiences (including oneself) that a given goal, view, or action is good (or “reasonable”, “rational”, prudent, wise; or better than alternatives), less good, neutral, or bad. In cultural fields, this uncertainty of viewpoint and the differences in behavior create agitation, though levels of excitement/emotion (relative calmness) differ. Anxiety can vary in intensity for a given individual or an “overall” community over time, or between a person and group at any given time. 

For some marketplace participants, apparent cascades of diverse and often changing information can increase agitation (anxiety). “How does one keep up with it all? Information sure travels fast these days.” Perceptions (faith) that “the world” (or some part of it) has become more complex can boost anxiety (tension). 

Trading risks and uncertainty of outcome generate agitation and anxiety; enthusiasm, greed, fear, and hope abound. Investors and other courageous trading warriors fervently battle to win the valued (good) American Dream cultural goals of wealth and financial security. Making money and achieving wealth (financial security) makes many people happy and feel successful. Making and having sufficient money is a means to the “good life” and a “better life”. Marketplace playgrounds can be exciting and entertaining too! In quests to make money and avoid losing it, many devoted fortune seekers compare their performance with that of others, which enhances ongoing inevitable passions. 

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In general, large armies of securities “investors” and other owners in stock and interest rate realms (especially in stocks) love high and rising prices and hate low and falling ones. After all, those security assets represent big money (trillions of dollars and other currencies). Wall Street’s key role in capital formation and investment (wealth management) encourages it to promote bullish outlooks in securities marketplaces (particularly in stocks). Consequently, a significant price decline (and of course especially a sustained one) in both equity and interest rate arenas is especially agitating (in the sense of being upsetting, a source of unhappiness) to securities owners in America (and around the globe) and their Wall Street, financial media, and political comrades. Substantial wealth destruction due to bloody securities price declines also can damage economic growth, perhaps helping to produce a recession. What if house prices also slump? 

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Rising United States interest rates have helped to propel (lead) the S+P 500 lower. The S+P 500 currently is attempting to hold support at around a ten percent decline from its late July 2023 peak. However, long run American stock marketplace history indicates that large and scary falls occur; the average percentage retreat from the peak to the trough is roughly 33.9 percent. The average duration of the descent from the summit to the bottom runs approximately 14.2 months. Marketplace history of course does not have to repeat itself. However, as a bear marketplace trend for the S+P 500 probably commenced in late July 2023, and as the decline thus far only has been 10.9 percent over three months, its bear campaign has quite a bit more distance and time to travel downhill. 

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Some would argue that the financial (economic), political, and social worlds, both in America and around the globe, are especially agitated (anxious) nowadays. In any case, “the cultural situation” does not appear peaceful in many respects. 

Since “economic”, “political”, and “social” fields are entirely cultural (subjective), they are not objectively (scientifically) different territories. In any case, culture wars across economic, political, and social dimensions in America arguably are diverse and intense at present and likely to remain so for quite some time. All else equal, this suggests that the resulting agitation and anxiety make it challenging for American politicians to adequately resolve their differences and solve important problems (such as those relating to government spending). This is particularly true as the nation’s 2024 election approaches. Cultural wars thereby significantly influence interest rate, stock, and other financial marketplaces. 

Cultural feuds also exist in other leading nations. Moreover, especially in today’s globalized and multipolar world, cultural hostilities can and do cross national boundaries, which in turn can directly affect financial marketplaces, which increase anxiety (agitation) regarding and within them. Picture the rich versus poor divide, democracy versus authoritarianism, capitalism (free markets) against socialism, and religious differences. Those wars of course can be military, as the violent Russia/Ukraine and Hamas/Israel situations demonstrate.

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Financial Battlegrounds- an Age of Anxiety (Continued) (11-1-23)

FINANCIAL AGITATION ©Leo Haviland October 3, 2023

RISING AMERICAN INTEREST RATES, FALLING US STOCKS

Listen to “Agitation”, jazz music from Miles Davis.

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Let’s focus on the American horizon and the exciting US Treasury and S+P 500 marketplaces. 

Since around spring 2020, and particularly since August 2022, and especially in recent months, the UST marketplace has suffered noteworthy capital destruction due to falling prices. A glorious bull move in the  S+P 500 followed 3/23/20’s dismal bottom at 2192. The S+P 500 thereafter exploded upward, more than doubling, to establish a thrilling record high on 1/4/22 at 4819. After an agonizing bear slump to October 2022’s bottom, a significant joyful stock rally ensued. The S+P 500 approached January 2022’s peak, reaching a summit on 7/27/23 at 4607. The S+P 500 probably has commenced a bear trend, though its slump from its July 2023 peak has been moderate thus far. 

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“Long Run Historical Entanglement: US Interest Rate and Stock Trends” (7/6/23) concluded: “Many times over the past century, significantly increasing United States interest rates have preceded a major peak, or at least a noteworthy top, in key stock marketplace benchmarks such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S+P 500. The yield climb sometimes has occurred over a rather extended time span. The arithmetical (basis point) change has not always been large. Sometimes the yield advance has extended past the time of the stock pinnacle.”

“Given the historic pattern in which UST [US Treasury; focus on the UST 10 year note] yield increases “lead” to peaks in key American stock benchmarks such as the S+P 500, do signs of a noteworthy rising yield trend exist on the interest rate front? Yes.” And “the pattern of rising UST 10 year note yields likely is leading to another peak in the S+P 500. This stock marketplace peak will probably occur relatively soon, probably within the next few weeks or months. However, even if the S+P 500 continues to climb, it probably will not exceed its January 2022 peak by much if at all.” 

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The UST 10 year note yield increased since 3/9/20’s major bottom at .31 percent, accelerating upward from 8/4/21’s 1.13pc to 6/14/22’s 3.50 pc. The S+P 500 peaked during this rising yield trend on 1/4/22 at 4819. The UST 10 year note yield, after sliding down to 8/2/22’s 2.51 percent resumed its yield ascent. It made another important interim yield low with 4/6/23’s 3.25pc. With 8/22/23’s 4.37 percent, the UST 10 year pierced 10/21/22’s 4.34 percent high, achieved around the time of the S+P 500’s crucial trough on 10/13/22 at 3492. The UST 10 year note price kept falling, and the UST yield reached 4.81 percent on 10/3/23. A dramatic UST 10 year yield climb over five percent and toward 6/13/07’s 5.32 percent Goldilocks Era summit would further unnerve many UST (and stock) holders. 

In some circumstances, rising interest rates can indicate or portend adequate (good) real GDP growth, and thus from some perspectives (up to some point), increasing UST yields (falling debt prices) are designated as “good”. And investors in interest rate instruments of course want a decent (and real) return relative to inflation, so rising yields have been a blessing for many of them, at least to some extent. 

However, many institutions and individuals bought low-yielding UST during the Fed’s yield repression era. Their interest income during the past couple of years likely fell beneath inflation heights represented by the consumer price index. Many of these interest rate instrument owners probably have suffered some noteworthy mark-to-market damage to their principal; so have numerous other recent buyers given the rising rate trend of recent months. Nowadays, the average maturity of total outstanding marketable UST debt is about six years. 

From the price perspective, review the CME’s UST 10 year note (nearest futures continuation contract) as a rough guide to the capital consequences of recent trends. (In practice, this contract sometimes prices relative to deliverable grade instruments with a maturity somewhat different from ten years.) The UST 10 year peaked at about 140-22 on 3/9/20. Its recent low is 10/3/23’s 106-20 (as of 300pm EST), an eviscerating 24.2 percent tumble (and beneath 10/21/22’s 108-26). From 8/2/22’s interim price high of 122-02, 10/3/23’s level drops 12.6 percent. Excitement (emotions) will increase if the price heads closer to 104-00 (6/13/07 price bottom 104-04; 6/28/06 low 104-01). 

The CME UST five year note’s price peak (nearest futures continuation) occurred at about 126-08 on 8/7/20 (126-07 on 1/8/21). It nosedived 17.2 percent to 10/3/23’s 104-18 (under 10/21/22’s roughly 105-15). An attack on price support around 103-00 (7/5/06; 103-02 on 6/13/07) will boost anxiety. 

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In America, a substantial amount of household net worth resides in debt securities (not only in US Treasuries) and equity shares (not just the S+P 500 playground). Read the fine print of the Federal Reserve’s Z.1, “Financial Accounts of the United States” (9/8/23; see Tables B.101, B.101.e, and B.101.h). As of end 2Q23, total assets for households and nonprofit organizations combined were about $174.4 trillion (net worth was $154.3 trillion), the great majority of which resided in the household domain. As of end 2Q23, for households and nonprofit organizations combined, debt securities at market value were about $10.9 trillion, or around 6.2 percent of total assets (9.3pc of total financial assets). Equity shares in 2Q23 had a value of about 44.7 trillion dollars, or 25.6 percent of total assets (almost 38.3pc of total financial assets). 

Consumers represent about two-thirds of United States GDP. If they suffer substantial wounds to their net worth, to what extent will they slash their spending? 

Many Wall Street and Main Street stock investment communities preach the wisdom of buying good (or high) quality American stocks for some version of the misty long run. To what extent are such stock bulls married to their positions? 

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For the twenty-two US stock marketplace “bear” trends summarized in “US Stocks Over the Long Run: Bear Marketplace History” (8/4/23), the average percentage decline from the peak to the trough is about 33.9 percent. The average duration of the descent from the summit to the bottom is approximately 14.2 months. 

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Financial Agitation (10-3-23)

MARKETPLACE CROSSROADS © Leo Haviland September 4, 2023

“I have been passing my life in guessing what I might meet with beyond the next hill, or around the next corner.” Wellington, the British military commander who defeated Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo (“Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations”, ed. Robert Heinl, Jr.)

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OVERVIEW

Cultural observers differ in their subjective perspectives, arguments, and conclusions regarding economic phenomena, including the prices of and variables relating to interest rate, stock, foreign exchange, commodity, real estate, and other marketplaces. They consequently develop and express a variety of personal views as to whether a given financial price or price relationship level (or trend), or an economic (commercial; business) or political situation substantially relevant to them, has reached or soon will attain a very important point or stage. Thus figuratively speaking, a marketplace (its level and trend) or an economic (or political scene) is or shortly will be at a crossroads. For example, the S+P 500, inflation, Federal Reserve policy, or the American federal fiscal situation can arrive at a crossroads. 

Looking forward, people ask “what will happen from here?” People devotedly select, review, and weigh information to ascertain (develop personal opinions regarding) probabilities for a range of potential outcomes in the aftermath of this key situation. They differ in their views of “the” past and “the” present. In their forecasting (risk evaluation) process, some sentinels analyze the distance and duration a given price move has traveled or eventually (potentially) may move. In various fashions, prophets assess perceived interrelationships between interest rate, stock, foreign exchange, and other marketplaces. 

Hence competitive financial arenas fill with diverse and enthusiastic bulls and bears (and neutral players) talking and acting in a variety of ways. Arrays of investors and speculators and traders and hedgers and risk managers ardently promote and behave according to competing viewpoints and probability assessments. Typically, each player views its own subjective analysis and outlook as “reasonable”, and probably at least as reasonable (intelligent, rational) as that of others. Consequently, we hear fervent rhetoric and see artful pictures relating not only to probabilities, but also patterns and trends, support and resistance, critical levels and turning points, breakout and breakdown, continuation and reversal, convergence and divergence, and lead and lags. 

Many believe that some cultural situations are more difficult to predict than others. In any case, imagine future hypothetical (potential) events regarding a given marketplace (such as the S+P 500 or the United States Treasury 10 year note) or a particular economic or political battlefield (such as “the” US or global economy; American political wars). For some particular potential outcomes (including a related process creating it), many marketplace warriors will label the result as unlikely or very unlikely or unusual (against the odds; having little chance), or even unreasonable, irrational, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable, astounding, surprising, crazy, impossible, and so forth. 

Nevertheless, cultural history, including that of marketplaces, of course evidences that what many (or even the great majority of) clairvoyants viewed as very unlikely to occur indeed has happened. So in practice, many scouts look out for and consider so-called “tail risks” (subjectively highly unlikely outcomes) to some degree. A trader once said: “In commodities, the impossible happens at least once a year.” Besides, what will be highly unlikely or surprising to one cultural observer may not be so to another. 

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Let’s review several financial marketplaces which appear to be at or near a crossroads. 

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Marketplace Crossroads (9-4-23)

AMERICA DIVIDED AND DOLLAR DEPRECIATION © Leo Haviland September 7, 2021

Pogo, created by the cartoonist Walt Kelly, is a possum living in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp. About 50 years ago, Pogo proclaimed: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

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.

Using the Federal Reserve’s real “Broad Dollar Index” (which is a monthly average) as a signpost, the US dollar “in general”, for almost ten years, from its major bottom in July 2011 until April 2020, the overall trend of the dollar in general was bullish. The US dollar “in general” depreciated until “around” January 2021. It rallied for several months thereafter, with August 2021 being the high since then. From a long run historical perspective, August 2021’s real Broad Dollar Index level is rather strong.

However, when interpreted alongside phenomena such as America’s government debt level and trend, ascending United States inflation, and the nation’s ongoing cultural divisions and the recent increase in net dissatisfaction among the US public regarding the country’s direction, a review of various important currency cross rate trends against the dollar suggest that “overall” weakness in the US dollar has resumed (beginning around late August 2021) or will do so in the near future.

Take a related vantage point. Given the Federal Reserve’s determined effort to repress (pin at a very low level) the Federal Funds rate and US Treasury yields despite numerous inflationary signs, a probable outcome (consequence; outlet) for that central bank scheme in the context of these assorted variables is a depreciating dollar.

In this context, if the real Broad Dollar Index (“BDI”) moved toward or underneath its March 2009 international economic disaster peak at 101.5, that probably will help to precipitate a “weak United States dollar equals weak US stocks” scenario.

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An underlying factor promoting a dollar tumble is the gradually declining share of America as a percentage of worldwide GDP. Also, both political parties, not just the current US Administration, and especially in the coronavirus era, likely want the real Broad Dollar Index to stay beneath its April 2020 summit at 113.6. They also probably prefer a renewed fall in the BDI from August 2021’s 107.3 elevation. The great majority of the country’s politicians preach their allegiance to a strong dollar, but they also endorse economic growth.

Several additional phenomena make the dollar particularly vulnerable nowadays. First, although many major nations have increased their government debt burdens in recent years, America’s public debt situation has worsened significantly more than most others since 2019. 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? In addition, the current Administration’s infrastructure proposals, if a significant proportion of them become law, probably will boost America’s debt as a percentage of GDP. Will there be a political fight over raising the nation’s debt ceiling? And America’s corporate and individual indebtedness also is substantial.

Second, using the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U, all items) as a benchmark, American “inflation” in recent months has exceeded that of other leading nations. The Fed continues to maintain a highly accommodative monetary policy. This beloved guardian has merely murmured about tapering its massive quantitative easing (money printing) scheme, and it remains reluctant to raise policy rates significantly anytime soon. Due to the Fed’s yield repression, nowadays US Treasury yields across the yield curve relative to the current US CPI level offer a negative real return. This negative return situation of course (all else equal) tends to make UST ownership rather unattractive for many marketplace participants.

Whether because of ascending US interest rates, a descending dollar or both, suppose foreigners become smaller buyers, or even net sellers, of US Treasury securities. Such overseas action would not be an endorsement of America.

Another bearish indicator for the US dollar exists: the intensity and breadth of America’s cultural divisions has increased in recent times. Though the Trump era reflected and enhanced these splits, they remain very significant across various fields. America’s ongoing substantial cultural battles in economic, political, and social arenas reflect reduced national unity and tend to undermine domestic confidence. 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. To some extent, faith in America and its institutions is reflected by a willingness to own substantial amounts of dollar-denominated assets.

An additional feature can intertwine with these variables to undermine the dollar, especially over the long run. In recent years, the strong international belief in the reliability (and leading role) of America as a trading and military partner probably has eroded somewhat. Some of this may reflect the declining US share of worldwide GDP. Former President Trump’s often erratic behavior, bold wordplay, and frequent disregard for the truth assisted this fall in confidence process. Also, ongoing America First (Make America Great Again) movements and an apparently diminished American enthusiasm for multilateralism and globalization probably reduce confidence in other players that America will be “as committed” a partner. For example, trade conflicts, even if they now are less strident than during the Trump presidency, have not evaporated. The dismal American withdrawal process from Afghanistan troubles many overseas observers. In addition, the persistence of America’s fervent and substantial cultural divides to some extent risk injuring foreign faith in the reliability and effectiveness of America on the international scene.

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Declining faith in American assets (and its cultural institutions and its economic and political 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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America Divided and Dollar Depreciation (9-7-21)