As the ten-year anniversary of the last crisis has arrived this month, it is a fitting time to be thinking about what might cause the next one. In fact, many investors, professional and retail alike, are fairly obsessed with calling the next big blow up. But what might cause it? While trade war and political strife grab a lot of headlines, the real driver of the next crisis will be the Fed. The two big worries on that front are rising rates, but perhaps even more worryingly, its shrinking balance sheet. Crises have historically happened when money supply grew tighter, and that is what is occurring right now.
FINSUM: The markets have never been through the winding down of a major QE program, so it is hard to foresee how this may playout. Logic says that the next big blowout will probably be tied to the end of easing.
The whole market (and the media) seems to be worried about a looming recession. Driving that fear are many factors: a surging economy, very high market valuations, and a nearly inverted yield curve. Several big banks and research houses have put out warnings of a looming recession and bear market. However, one of the most prominent, Goldman Sachs, has just gone on the record doing the opposite. The bank says there is only a 36% chance of recession in the next three years, a figure below the historical average. “There has been increasing investor interest in the chance of a recession in the U.S. over the next few years … Our model paints a more benign picture”, said GS economist Jan Hatzius. The bank did note that if a US recession does occur, it will likely drag many developed economies down with it.
FINSUM: Recessions are famously hard to call, so we won’t go one way or the other. That said, there are some signs that a recession is looming. We certainly think the odds are higher than 36% for the next three years.
The market has periodically started to worry about the regulation of the tech industry. For a while that felt a bit premature, but given recent events, it is starting to feel more real. For instance, the FTC has just begun a marathon of hearings, which will run through November, into the state of competition and consumer protection in the digital economy. The hearings are about more than tech though, as they are fundamentally about inequality and worker’s rights across the whole of the economy. The head of the FTC said “In my view, basing antitrust policy and enforcement decisions on an ideological viewpoint (from either the left or the right) is a mistake”.
FINSUM: These hearings seem like the first stage of what might prove to be big changes for anti-trust policy in the US. If changes do happen, we believe they will be much more far-reaching than just for tech.
President Trump has just ordered $200 bn of further tariffs to be applied to Chinese goods. The Chinese have responded strongly, vowing to retaliate to the measures. The Chinese government said “We have been stressing that talks need to happen on the basis of parity, equality and good faith … What the US has done shows no sincerity and good faith at all”. The Chinese says they will impose tariffs on $110 bn of US goods, or about 85% of all US imports to the country.
FINSUM: These tariffs come just before the US and China were set to hold another round of trade talks. We have no idea how those are progressing, but this is really going to anger the Chinese.
The big recovery after the huge losses in Italy might finally be underway. While downward pressure on Italian assets had subsided, there is now a big rally happening. The catalyst is that the country’s finance minster has just pledged that Italy will stay in the Euro, helping ease the market’s largest worry about the political crisis in Rome. The minister also pledged to avoid financial instability.
FINSUM: Italy’s two-year bond has already seen its yield fall 100 bp! That is quite a response. To be honest we doubt this pledge amounts to much, but it is good signaling for the market.
The pain rippling through emerging markets has spread from Turkey and Argentina to Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Africa. Some are calling the major selloffs a full blown crisis. Now, a big threat looms as the trouble may spread to the big one: China. The major worry is that the pressure on EMs, coupled with rising US sanctions on China, could conspire to drive the Yuan down as much as 15%. Other EMs would be forced to weaken their currencies, and the pandemonium could hit the global economy and markets in a way it hasn’t so far.
FINSUM: China’s weight looms large not just in an economic sense, but in the market’s psychology. If real trouble started to flare up there, it would quickly spread to western markets.
Rising rates are definitively upon us. The Fed is poised to hike very soon and is likely to do so again before the end of the year. Some popular sectors, especially those with good dividends—REITs, utilities, telecoms—can suffer badly in rising rate periods. Luckily there are several ETFs that can help advisors hedge their exposure. The most common rate hedged ETFs are bond-based and use a strategy of buying higher-yielding corporate bonds and hedging their rate risk by short-selling Treasuries. The strategy seems to work well. For instance, the iShares Interest Rate Hedged Corporate Bond ETF (LQDH) gained about 11% between the 10-year Treasury’s low in July 2016 to now, while its unhedged cousin, the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD) lost 0.45%.
FINSUM: That is quite a margin between the two funds, which is a testament to how well the strategy performs in rising rate periods. There are several similar funds out there, and they seem like a good idea right now.
High dividend yields are almost always a welcome feature for investors. For retirees, they are often an economic lifeline as they help cover everyday expenses. But rising rates pose a risk for such stocks as their value tends to suffer as fixed income becomes more attractive. One way to combat that is with stocks with quick dividend growth. Two such examples are pipeline giants Williams Company (4.8%) and ONEOK (5%). Both have dividend rates double that of the average S&P 500 stock, but they are also expected to grow those dividends (and their cash flow) at double digit annual rates. The two companies expect to grow their dividends by 12.5% and 10% respectively (from already high levels).
FINSUM: Given how high these dividends are already, the growth rate on them should be enough to offset any rate rise-related losses.
Advisors, don’t hold your breath. Despite widespread criticism from basically every side of the equation, it appears unlikely the SEC is going to do much to correct the major flaws in its current Best Interest Rule. Barbara Roper of the CFA, says that she is “not at all confident” the SEC will make any meaningful changes to the rule “to better protect investors”, pointing out that the SEC had every chance to improve on the DOL rule, but didn’t. “It’s hard to believe that they are going to have a sudden conversion and fix the problems now”, she says.
FINSUM: Brokers, consumer protection groups, and clients all hate this rule (and don’t understand it), and it doesn’t make sense to anybody. Hopefully Roper is wrong and they will change the rule, but we worry they may not.
All precious metals have been in a tough bear market for several years. Rising rates and a strengthening Dollar have effectively blocked any recovery. The question then is when do they get cheap enough that it is a no-brainer buy? Perhaps right now. Gold’s ratio to silver just hit its highest point since 2008, making silver a buy. Silver has fallen 16% this year, almost double gold’s fall, making it the cheapest in a decade. Gold currently trades at over 80x silver, compared to a ratio of just above 30x in 2011.
FINSUM: The big question here is a catalyst. What would spark a rally? We are not specialists in precious metals, so we won’t comment, but we are sure it will take something significant to break a 6-year slump like this one.
Sometimes we just have to run a story for fun that has no relevance to markets or investing. This is one of them. Evidently, last week a plane flowing over Siberia (Yakutia to be exact) had its cargo hatch break open. When it did, $368m worth of gold bars, silver, and diamonds fell from the sky down onto the frozen landscape. The “drop” happened right near the airport and the company who owned the goods had to get trusted staff to recover the bounty, but not before going through metal detectors before they went home. Now locals think that not all the gold has been recovered and flights to the area are sold out all over Russia as treasure seekers come to the frozen region.
FINSUM: Sorry for the irrelevance of the story, but treasure falling from the sky and oversold flights full of treasure hunters was too much not to share.
The new Apple iPhone X has gotten a lot of hype in media. Aside from all its new features, which are admittedly extensive, its ~50% price hike to $1,000 has received a great deal of attention. That price hike is testing a long-held economic principle which says that as prices for a good rise, demand falls. However, for the last 100 years there has been a view that rising prices could raise demand for certain goods because they amounted to “conspicuous consumption”, or saw their demand rise as prices did because owning them signaled wealth and status.
FINSUM: Apple’s new iPhone X, with a lofty $1,000 price tag, may just prove conspicuous consumption true.