Economic data this year has mostly surprised to the upside. However, recently, things have started to disappoint. For instance, Citigroup’s basket of economic indicators has fallen to its lowest level since the Financial Crisis. Even the Atlanta Fed is bearish, recently forecasting GDP at 1.6%. Bond King Jeffrey Gundlach agrees, saying he believes the odds of a recession in the next 24 months are “very high”. He believes the chances of a recession within 12 months are 50-50.
FINSUM: We think Citi’s indicator is definitely overstating the situation. However, there are legitimate concerns about the economy, especially if you start to consider the possible implications of a trade war.
The markets are gleeful right now. Stocks are up 25% since their bottom in December, and things on the economic and Fed fronts look rosy. However, Citi says investors need to get out of some assets before “rain spoils the picnic”. The bank is worried about the difference between asset prices and underlying economic conditions (when looking globally). Its biggest area of worry is in corporate bonds, which have seen spreads to investment grade narrow sharply, especially in high yields, which look overvalued. Investment grade debt is troubling too, as debt levels jumped by their biggest amount in 18 years over the last 4 months. Citi thinks companies are burning through way too much cash for the growth levels they are achieving.
FINSUM: So Citi thinks this is going to be a bond market reckoning (which would surely impact stocks too). That is different than the consensus, but perhaps a good way to view the situation.
One of the largest banks on Wall Street has just gone on the record calling for a major equity market firestorm. In an unusual move, Citi questions the recent rise in stocks and contends that things may unravel quickly. “It may be that easing trade tensions and China’s policy response are comforting investors, but the move has the hallmarks of herd instincts at work”. Citi continued, “riding the tailwinds of easy policy and fiscal stimulus, but these drivers are failing. Meanwhile storm clouds are gathering and risks look biased to the downside”. Goldman Sachs seconded the views, saying that market gains had been too narrow and would lead to “large drawdowns”.
FINSUM: It has been quite puzzling that stock prices have moved higher and higher even as the trade war was looking worse and worse and the Fed continued to be committed to its tightening path. Sharp reversal coming?
Ten-year Treasuries are currently hovering around the 3% yield mark. This has alarmed some investors, but the market seems to be more bullish following yesterday’s moves. Now, with the move higher in yields stalling, Citigroup is calling for a huge rally in the notes, saying they will return to 2.65% yields. According to the bank’s strategists, “Equity markets are reacting negatively to increases in Treasury yields … A further sell off in rates will be held in check by the feedback loop from equity markets”.
FINSUM: A rally is possible, but Citi is saying this will occur because of a sell-off in stocks sparked by fears over inflation and rates. Not as bullish as it sounds.
Oil has been in a bear market for about three years. While it has not been consistent and there have been ups and downs, oil prices have been mostly stuck, plagued by oversupply. However, Citi thinks that paradigm is about to disappear, with prices rising to $80 per barrel. Citi says a host of geopolitical risks, including sanctions on Iran, broader Middle East tensions, and North Korea are three issues which will send prices higher.
FINSUM: We aren’t big fans of this prediction. Not so much because we don’t think oil could move higher, but because forecasting political risks is a hopeless exercise. Here is a different view: the OPEC agreement falls apart because the only producer it is helping is the US (which is not in OPEC), sending prices much lower.