There has been a lot of speculation lately about the extent to which the current growing trade war may affect the economy and markets. Some expect a benign effect on both. Well, Bloomberg has run a piece arguing that the trade war may lead to a Chinese debt crisis, which could in turn lead to a global financial crisis. The impact of the tariffs on the Chinese economy could be serious. China is already seeing a very high level of defaults, and with the extra burden of tariffs coupled with a weaker Yuan, it could create credit chaos for Beijing. Bloomberg put it this way, saying “That the massive burden of debt will drag the economy into recession is as obvious as the empty towers that rise on every landscape … But on any metric, the amount of new lending each year grows faster than the economy, and the interest newly owed exceeds the incremental rise in GDP. In other words, the whole economy is a Ponzi scheme”.
FINSUM: It is hard to imagine a more forceful comment than that last one from Bloomberg. We don’t know if we would go so far, but given how indebted the Chinese economy is, and their reliance on exports, tariffs could spark a meltdown that then spreads overseas.
Right now everyone seems to be focusing on the possibility of an inverted yield curve occurring between the 2 and 10-year Treasury. However, that might not be the best recession predictor after all. If you are strictly focusing on yields, then the 1 and 10-year is better, as it gives less false positives. But speaking more broadly, the M1 money supply and housing starts are other great places to look as both tend to peak well before a recession; M1 is usually about a year, and housing starts two years.
FINSUM: The reality is that if you take a broader view, things don’t look too bad. M1 is still growing, as are housing starts, so those indicators look healthy.
One of the market’s favorite prognosticators has just called for a big financial crisis. Mark Mobius, 81, veteran investor, thinks that EMs are going to plunge, and that the normalization of interest rates and monetary policy will cause a crisis. “There’s no question we’ll see a financial crisis sooner or later because we must remember we’re coming off from a period of cheap money … There’s going to be a real squeeze for many of these companies that depended upon cheap money to keep on going”, says Mobius.
FINSUM: Emerging markets are currently having a rough time and the rise in rates is going to be turbulent, but calling for a Crisis seems a bit premature.
Are you worried about an inverted yield curve and the arrival of a recession? Morgan Stanley thinks you should be, as the bank has just called for a big bust coming to markets and the economy. MS thinks the Fed will end its contraction of its balance sheet soon, which will be supportive for long-dated Treasuries. Accordingly, with short-term rates still rising, the yield curve will invert soon; by mid-2019 says the bank. Morgan Stanley recommends investors to be overweight US Treasuries and underweight corporate credit.
FINSUM: The spread between two-years and ten-years is only 27 bp right now. We think it will much less than a year before an inversion, especially given the hawkishness of the Fed coupled with the threat of a trade war.
Whether investors like it or not, a lot of signs are currently pointing to a pending recession. The yield curve has flattened dramatically, and the trade war and hawkish Fed loom large. With that in mind, JP Morgan has put out a piece telling investors which currencies to own when a recession hits. According to Paul Meggyesi of JP Morgan, it will be best to own the US Dollar, Swiss France, Japanese Yen, and Singapore Dollar, and to get rid of any emerging market currencies. The Yen and Dollar look best, as in a deleveraging scenario, the whole world needs to buy back Dollars as it is the default funding currency.
FINSUM: No surprises here, but given how long it has been since a recession, it is always useful to revisit the logics and strategies to use during one.
The flattening yield curve is an indicator of a recession and bear market to come. The last six US recessions have all been preceded by an inverted yield curve. Now it is happening again. The gap between two- and ten-year Treasuries was just 34 basis points last week, the lowest since 2007, or the eve of the worst American recession in almost 80 years. A few factors seem to be guiding the flattening. The first is the Fed’s bullish outlook on the economy and hawkishness on rates. The others are very weak inflation expectations over the long term as well as large demand for even modest long end yields, both of which have combined to keep ten-years pinned for some time now.
FINSUM: Yes a flattening yield curve is a bad sign, but remember that it takes, on average, several months (i.e. ~18 months) from when the yield curve inverts to when the economy actually goes into recession, with stocks historically continuing to rise along the way.