There are currently a lot of fears about corporate credit’s ability to sink the economy and markets. There has been an absolute massive surge in issuance since the Financial Crisis, and a great deal of that issuance happened in credits just on the bottom fringe of investment grade. And while a good amount of that debt may founder and sink into junk, it won’t be enough to hurt the economy much. The reason? It is because US households have not increased their leverage significantly in recent years, which is likely to prove a saving grace for the economy. Growth in household debt has been lower than inflation, a sign of relative health.
FINSUM: While corporate credit can get markets in trouble, so long as the American consumer is not deleveraging, things will probably not get too bad in the wider economy.
Investors may not be thinking about it much, but that does not mean the US deficit is not continuing at massive levels. This year will see another $1 tn shortfall in the US budget, a fact that the US Treasury will have to make up for by issuing lots of debt. This will be the second straight year of $1 tn Treasury issuance. So far the market has been happy to absorb the extra debt, and as such, the Treasury is planning to maintain a similar schedule of issuance this year.
FINSUM: The market seems to be a long way from having its fill of Treasuries, but at some point yields will move higher simply as a force of extra supply.
Those nearing retirement are likely comforted that rates have risen and returns from fixed income are much higher than the near zero coupons of the 2008-2015 era. Pension funds are finding it easier to meet their return goals, and generally speaking, the environment for retirees is on much better footing. However, the risk of a return to zero interest rates in the next recession seems very high, according to independent research. The Fed tends to raise rates slowly and cut them quickly, so the threat of a return to zero rates seems very plausibe the next time the economy goes into reverse (maybe 2020?). Even the Fed staff itself acknowledges this likelihood.
FINSUM: The risk of a protracted return to zero interest rates is not inconsiderable and is likely one of those late night stress points for those nearing retirement (and their advisors!).
Those of you who read our opinions on how the trade war with the US is affecting China will know that one of main concerns is about the relationship between the government and the people in China. This week, Xi has echoed that warning. The Chinese leader stressed the need to maintain political stability in the face of economic challenges. The warning, which came at an unusual meeting of Chinese leaders, shows the ruling party’s anxieties over the social implications of the slowing economy.
FINSUM: Chinese leadership is in a tight jam. On the one hand they have the US squeezing them with tariffs, and on the other, they have the need to maintain the economy’s strong growth to keep people happy. Remember that leaders are unelected, so their grip on control is very tied to keeping everyone satisfied.
Here is potentially good news for investors—the market’s start to this year has been the best since 1987. Both the S&P and Russell have risen considerably in the first 12 sessions of the year, with the former jumping 8.8%. The best start since ’87 sounds good, except that 1987 rivals 2008 as having the worst reputation with investors (shares fell almost 23% in a single day in October 1987). Analysts are urging caution, especially on small caps, as the gains don’t seem sustainable given the huge buildup in leverage that has occurred in small companies over the last few years.
FINSUM: The parallel to 1987 is completely irrelevant, as it is really only based on the percentage gain over 12 sessions.
Markets are taking bad news out of China hard. New data out of Beijing shows that the country’s exports dropped sharply in December. The figures suggest a global slowdown, and a brutal trade war with the US are taking their toll on the Chinese economy. Exports fell a whopping 4.4%. China also held a $323 bn trade surplus with the US, the largest since 2006. Imports fell 7.6%, showing how much the slowdown in China was affecting demand. Car sales in in the country also declined for the first time since 1990.
FINSUM: The tariffs are working, but there is a larger issue at stake—the US and the world’s relationship to China. There is a lot of strain being put on the country, and we are concerned about how the government there will react.