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 TRAVELS: POTENTIAL BUMPS IN THE ROAD ©Leo Haviland April 2, 2024

The Federal Reserve Chairman (Jerome Powell) recently stated that the path to the Fed’s two percent inflation target was “sometimes bumpy”. (Remarks at the 3/29/24 “Macroeconomics and Monetary Policy Conference”, San Francisco Fed; see Financial Times, 3/30/24, p1)

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STARTING POINTS

Since around end December 2023, global inflationary forces probably have become stronger (or at least more firmly entrenched). Note the increase in the United States Treasury 10 year note yield and prices for commodities “in general” since then. Recent consumer price index measures, despite having fallen from their peaks, remain fairly distant from the Federal Reserve Board’s targets. The Fed therefore will find it difficult to reduce its Federal Funds policy rate nearly as much as many marketplace participants hope. The US dollar has remained strong, appreciating slightly since year end 2023; this suggests that American interest rate yields probably will remain rather high. America’s substantial national debt problems remain unsolved (as does China’s), with little prospect of progress anytime soon. Ongoing large federal government budget deficits and high and growing debt as a percentage of GDP tend to boost interest rate yields higher. 

Many times over the past century, significantly increasing United States interest rate yields 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. Marketplace opinions regarding substantial growth in US corporate earnings prospects for calendar years 2024 and 2025 look very optimistic. Whereas the S+P 500’s towering bull move carried into March 2024, US existing single-family home prices remain beneath their June 2023 peak. 

The US national political scene in general and election season 2024 in particular add to financial marketplace risks. 

Bitcoin and gold trends offer insight into patterns and prospects for other marketplaces, including the S+P 500. 

US INFLATION AND INTEREST RATES: RISKY BUSINESS

In the classic American film, “All About Eve” (Joseph Mankiewicz, director), the actress Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis) declares: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” 

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The Wall Street securities investment communities and their political and media allies have applauded lower United States inflation rates. Widespread faith exists that the trusty Federal Reserve will achieve its two percent inflation target fairly soon. Stock owners have been especially enthusiastic as the S+P 500 has flown to new highs in the hopes of further drops in key inflation measures and notable cuts by the Federal Reserve in the Fed Funds rate. 

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Marketplace Travels- Potential Bumps in the Road (4-2-24)

ON THE ROAD: MARKETPLACE TRAFFIC © Leo Haviland May 1, 2023

“The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense

Take what you have gathered from coincidence”. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, Bob Dylan

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CONCLUSION AND OVERVIEW

Given an array of intersecting considerations, critical benchmark financial battlegrounds such as the United States Treasury 10 year note, US dollar, and the S+P 500 probably will continue to travel sideways for the near term. Price trends for commodities “in general” probably will converge with those of the S+P 500 and other key global stock marketplaces, although occasionally this relationship may display divergence. 

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In America and many other key countries around the globe, uncertainties and risks regarding numerous entangled economic and political variables and marketplaces appear especially substantial nowadays. In particular, inflationary and recessionary (deflationary) forces currently grapple in an intense and shifting fight for supremacy. 

Monetary tightening by the Federal Reserve Board and its central banking comrades has helped to slash lofty consumer price inflation levels. However, despite some deceleration, significant inflation persists. Both headline and core (excluding food and energy) inflation motor well above targets  aimed at by these monetary police officers. Yet in comparison with ongoing substantial actual consumer price inflation, inflationary expectations for longer run time spans generally have remained moderate. But monumental public debt challenges confronting America and many other leading nations nevertheless arguably signal the eventual advent of even higher interest rates. And given the Russian/Ukraine conflict and an effort by OPEC+ to support prices, how probable is it that petroleum and other commodity prices will ascend again? 

Higher interest rates have diminished worldwide GDP growth prospects and raised recessionary fears. But central bankers, Wall Street, Main Street, and politicians do not want a severe recession and will strive to avoid that eventuality. 

The United States dollar, though it has depreciated from its major high milepost reached in autumn 2022, arguably remains “too strong”. However, history shows that a variety of nations elect to engage in competitive depreciation and trade wars to bolster their country’s GDP. 

Unemployment in the United States remains low, which helps consumer confidence. Sunny Wall Street rhetoric regarding allegedly favorable long run nominal earnings prospects for American stocks sparks enthusiastic “search for yield” activity by investors and other fortune-seekers. Yet Fed and other central bank tightening and economic sluggishness may reverse this healthy unemployment situation and dim corporate earnings prospects. Consumer net worth levels and patterns are important in this context. A strong and growing household balance sheet encourages consumer spending and thereby economic growth. Consumers, the major component of American GDP, unfortunately have endured damage to their balance sheet from the fall in the stocks (S+P 500 peak in January 2022) as well as the decline in home prices since mid-2022. The recent shocking banking collapses in America and Europe warn of fragilities and uncertainties facing diverse economic arenas and the value of their assets. 

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Bruce Springsteen’s song “Born to Run” proclaims: “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream”.

Persistent fierce partisan conflicts range across numerous economic, political, and other cultural dimensions. This makes it difficult for politicians to compromise (witness America’s federal legislative circus), and thus significantly to alter ongoing marketplace trends and relationships via resolute substantive action. 

However, the current US legislative traffic jam regarding raising the country’s debt ceiling, if it results in default, probably will cause the S+P 500 and related “search for yield” playgrounds to veer off their current sideways paths and tumble downhill. The risk of a default, even if brief and rapidly resolved, probably is greater than what most of Wall Street, Main Street, and the political scene believes. 

In this “game of chicken” between Republicans and Democrats (and between sects within each of these parties), each of the raging sides claims to espouse high (“reasonable”; “sensible”, “good”) principles. This brinkmanship endangers the economy. The wreck of a sizeable stock marketplace plunge and spiking recessionary fears probably will terrify politicians (and scare and infuriate their constituents), thus inspiring the nation’s leaders to overcome the legislative gridlock and enact a debt ceiling increase. 

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On the Road- Marketplace Traffic (5-1-23)

GIMME SHELTER (AND FOOD AND FUEL) © Leo Haviland June 5, 2022

In “Gimme Shelter”, The Rolling Stones sing:
“Ooh, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Ooh yeah I’m gonna fade away”

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CONCLUSION AND OVERVIEW

Not long after the end of the 2007-09 global economic disaster, American home prices embarked upon a sustained and substantial bull move. Economic growth, population increases, the American Dream’s ideology praising home ownership, widespread faith that a home represents a long run store of value, and tax incentives for home acquisition encouraged that rally. In recent years, the Federal Reserve’s sustained interest rate yield repression and extravagant money printing policies also boosted the consumer’s ability (reduced the cost) and inclination to buy homes. Homes, like stocks and corporate bonds and even many commodities, became part of the “search for yield” universe. The dramatic home price rally has not been confined to America.

The international coronavirus epidemic which emerged around first quarter 2020, made working in the office (or learning at school) appear dangerous. This inspired a ravenous appetite to acquire homes (or more space or quality at home) to escape health risks, encouraging the latest stages of the bullish house trend. Both central bankers and governments acted frantically to restore and ensure economic recovery and growth. Thus housing prices, benefited not only by the beloved Fed’s easy money policies, but also from monumental federal deficit spending.

Moreover, given the acceleration and substantial levels of American and international consumer price inflation over the past year or so, the general public increasingly has seen home ownership as an “inflation hedge”, not just as an indication of American Dream success and “the good life”.

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Over the next several months, the intersection of the current major trend of increasing American and other interest rates alongside a gradually weakening United States (and worldwide) economy probably will significantly reduce the rate of American home price increases. Fears that a notable slowdown (or stagflation), and maybe even a recession, have developed. Even the ivory-towered Federal Reserve finally espied widespread and sustained inflation. So central bankers nowadays are engaging in monetary tightening. Further rounds of mammoth government deficit spending currently are unlikely. Public debt in the US and elsewhere rose immensely due to the huge government expenditures related to the coronavirus pandemic and the related quest to create and sustain economic recovery. As the US November 2022 election approaches, that country is unlikely to agree anytime soon on another similar deficit spending spree to spark economic growth. Some signs of moderation in housing statistics hint that home price increases probably will slow and that prices will level off. Thus the peak in American home prices will lag that in the S+P 500.

In regard to the present robust bull price pattern for US homes, there is a greater probability than most audiences believe that US home price increases will slow substantially. Nominal house prices eventually may even fall some. It surely is unpopular (and arguably heretical) nowadays to suggest that American and other national house prices eventually may decline. Yet history, including the passage from the Goldilocks Era to the global economic crisis period, demonstrates that home values, like other asset prices, can fall significantly.

“Runs for cover” increasingly are replacing “searches for yield” in the global securities playground by “investors” and other owners. Price declines in American and other stock marketplaces have interrelated with higher yields for (price slumps in) corporate debt securities and emerging marketplace US dollar-denominated sovereign notes and bonds.

Further declines in US consumer confidence probably will take place. Sustained lofty consumer price inflation (encouraged not only by core CPI components such as shelter, but also by high levels in food and fuel prices) distress consumers. At some point, generalized inflation accompanied by higher US Treasury and mortgage yields can slash home buying enthusiasm, especially if home-owning affordability tumbles. Although history shows that price and time relationships for the S+P 500 and US home prices are not precise, and though equities and houses have different supply/demand situations, stocks and home prices roughly “trade together” over the misty long run. In addition, substantial declines (and increases) in American consumer confidence intertwine with (confirm) major trends in the S+P 500. Consumer confidence has been slipping for several months; the S+P 500 probably established a major peak in early January 2022, and its decline of around twenty percent fits the conventional definition of a bear market.

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Gimme Shelter (and Food and Fuel) (6-5-22)

AMERICAN HOUSING: A MARKETPLACE WEATHERVANE © Leo Haviland December 4, 2018

“What You Own”, a song from the musical “Rent” (by Jonathan Larson), declares: “You’re living in America at the end of the millennium- you’re living in America, where it’s like the twilight zone.”

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OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION

American home prices have enjoyed a joyous climb since their dismal lows following the global economic disaster of 2007-09. However, United States home prices “in general” (“overall”) now probably are establishing an important peak. At least a modest reversal of the magnificent long-run bullish United States home price trend probably is near.

What is a high (too high), low (too low), expensive, cheap, average, good, bad, neutral, normal, typical, reasonable, commonsense, appropriate, fair value, overvalued, undervalued, natural, equilibrium, rational, irrational, or bubble level for prices or any other marketplace variable is a matter of opinion. Subjective perspectives differ. In any case, current US home price levels nevertheless appear quite high, particularly in comparison to the lofty heights of the amazing Goldilocks Era. As current American home price levels (even if only in nominal terms) hover around or float significantly above those of the Goldilocks Era, this hints that such prices probably are vulnerable to a noteworthy bearish move. Moreover, measures of global home prices and US commercial real estate also have surpassed their highs from about a decade ago and thus arguably likewise may suffer declines.

Many United States housing indicators in general currently appear fairly strong, particularly in relation to their weakness during or in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. Nevertheless, assorted American housing variables as well as other phenomena related to actual home price levels probably warn of upcoming declines in American home (and arguably other real estate) prices. A couple of US home price surveys have reported price declines for very recent months. US housing affordability has declined. New single-family home sales display signs of weakness, as do new privately-owned housing starts. American government interest rate yields, as well as US mortgage rates, have edged up. The Federal Reserve Board as of now likely will continue to tighten and raise rates for a while longer. Overall household debt, though not yet burdensome (at least for many), now exceeds the pinnacle reached ten years ago in 3Q08. The economic stimulus from America’s December 2017 tax “reform” probably is fading. US consumer confidence dipped in November 2018.

Marketplace history of course does not necessarily repeat itself, either entirely or even partly. Convergence and divergence (lead/lag) relationships between marketplace trends and other variables can shift or transform, sometimes dramatically. Price and time trends for the American stock marketplace and US housing prices do not move precisely together. However, the international 2007-09 crisis experience (which in part strongly linked to US real estate issues) indicates that prices for US stocks and housing probably will peak around the same time, or at least “more or less together” (a lag of several months between the stock high and the home price pinnacle). The S+P 500 probably established a major high in autumn 2018 (9/21/18 at 2941, 10/3/18 at 2940; the broad S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index peaked 10/3/18 at 504). That autumn equity summit in the S+P 500 bordered 1/26/18’s interim top at 2873. Ongoing weakness in US (and international) stock marketplaces will help to undermine American home prices.

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American Housing- a Marketplace Weathervane (12-4-18)