Eq: Total Market
On paper, the odds of a recession have never looked very high. It is only human instinct that makes many believe that is where we may be headed. However, that is starting to change. Since the Financial Crisis, the odds of a recession in the next 12 months held very low, around 5%. However, they have just jumped to 16% according to a popular recession calculator from BBVA. The last time the figure was higher was during the last recession. The two big factors boosting the odds are the US’ flattening yield curve as well as the threat of a trade war, which is hard for anyone to gauge. According to an economist at BAML, “Our calculations suggest that a major trade war would lead to a significant reduction in growth … A decline in confidence and supply chain disruptions could amplify the trade shock, leading to an outright recession”.
FINSUM: The models seem to be starting to catch up to what many innately know—that the economy and markets have been running hot and storm clouds are on the horizon.
All our readers will be aware of the intensifying trade war between the US and China. And while the US seems to have a strong position on trade (with less to lose than its partners), that is not the whole picture. The reality is that the US makes up much of what it loses on trade through massive overseas investment Dollars that flow into US assets. While much of the public’s awareness of this centers on Treasury bonds, one other big area of foreign participation is in MBS, or mortgage bonds. What is much less known is that more recently, foreign buyers, including China, have been much bigger consumers of US mortgage agency bonds (e.g. Fannie and Freddie).
FINSUM: China has the power to simply turn off the spigot on the mortgage market, which could lead to a surge in interest rates and a resulting collapse in prices. That would put US politicians in more hot water than tariffs ever could.
Don’t be fooled by the “prophets of boom”, or the many Wall Street and economic leaders who are saying that the US economy is in great shape and will deliver strong growth for years to come. One well known strategist, David Rosenberg, who called the Great Recession before the Crisis, says that a recession is imminent and will arrive within the next 12 months. Rosenberg believes the January 26th high for the S&P 500 will be the peak of this bull market, and that it will ultimately be the Fed that sparks the recession. “Cycles die, and you know how they die? … Because the Fed puts a bullet in its forehead”.
FINSUM: There are a lot of late cycle indicators flashing in the US economy right now. A recession in the next year does seem plausible, if not overly likely.
One of the world’s most famous fund managers has just gone on the record warning investors that the next recession is likely to lead to a brutal reckoning for markets. Paul Tudor Jones, famed for making a killing in the stock market crash of 1987, said that “highly dubious” asset prices are going to be hit as monetary policy exhausts quickly. He is worried that the US does not have any fiscal stabilizers to help ease a recession. Jones believes that interest rates will normalize and that asset prices will fall in the very long run.
FINSUM: This is a lot of doom and gloom, but it is hard to imagine it really being this bad. A bear market, maybe, but a total collapse seems unlikely.
A new study out of Harvard makes a very interesting point about US home prices. While real estate prices have seen a strong and steady rise since the bottoms of the Crisis, and prices in many markets seem very lofty, the truth is that the cost of owning a home actually hasn’t risen for the last thirty years. How is that possible? The answer is that while home prices have risen compared to income, interest rates have also fallen strongly, meaning the monthly mortgage payment it costs to actually own a home has remained pretty much flat sine 1987 (on an inflation-adjusted basis).
FINSUM: So this is a good point, but the reality is that the monthly payment does not account for the huge down payment that families now need to come up with (which they did not back when interest rates were at 12%).
Bloomberg has come out with a very interesting piece about how climate change has been affecting the US real estate market. A new study looked at over 3,000 US cities and mapped them by risk to different types of climate change-drive natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods, and wild fires. What the study concluded was quite striking—in all of those categories, the riskiest locations had seen values drop considerably, while the safest locations had seen major gains. For hurricane surge risk, for instance, the “very low risk” locations had seen annual gains of 8.1% between 2007 and 2017, while the “very high risk” locations saw annual losses of 9.1%.
FINSUM: It is interesting to see that Americans have been taking account of these risks for some time even as the national debate over climate change rages on. This could be a major new differentiating factor in real estate.