Morning Report: The real reason why markets are selling off

Vital Statistics:

 

Last Change
S&P futures 2355.25 13.5
Eurostoxx index 335.24 -1.43
Oil (WTI) 53.35 0.82
10 year government bond yield 2.74%
30 year fixed rate mortgage 4.60%

 

Stocks are higher this morning on no real news. Bonds and MBS are flat.

 

Not a lot of news to work with, but most of the business press is fixated on the stock market sell-off and trying to craft a narrative that Trump (or the government shutdown) is behind it. This is nonsense. There is a sea change in the market’s perception that the Fed has overshot, and you can see it the chart below, which shows the expected Fed Funds rate for a year from now.

 

Fed fund futures dec 2019

 

Right now, the central tendency is that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. But take a close look at the implied probabilities today and compare them to where they were a month ago. At the end of November, the markets figured there was a 23% chance that there would be no further changes, a 37% chance of one more hike, and a 25% chance of two more hikes. Look at the probabilities now: 59% chance the Fed does nothing in 2019, a 17% probability they hike 25 basis points, and a 19% probability the next move is a rate cut. That is a tremendous change in market perception in just under a month, and THAT is what is driving the markets. Not the government shutdown. Not Trump jawboning Powell about interest rates, especially since the markets are saying that Trump is right. Hard for the business press to massage that point.

 

FWIW, the Atlanta Fed is predicting Q4 GDP to come in at 2.7%. If there is a recession coming in 2019, today’s numbers sure are not signalling one.

 

There is concern in the economy that housing is slowing down, but in all honesty, housing never really recovered all that much, at least as far as building is concerned. We still have such a deficit between supply and demand that any fears of another 2008 – style market collapse are misplaced. Bottom line: the US taxpayer has been bearing the credit risk of 90% of all new origination over the past 10 years. The banking system does not have the mortgage credit risk issues it did during the bubble days – the private label mortgage market does not have the footprint it did a decade ago.

 

There is fear of a drop in global demand, and that is what the declines in commodity prices are saying. The Chinese economy is living on borrowed time, as they have a massive real estate bubble that will burst at some point. Europe continues to muddle through, and Japan’s start-stop economy is beginning to hiccup again. Fears of a global economic slowdown are a valid fear, however the punch line from that is ultimately lower global interest rates, which is a plus for the US, not a negative.

Morning Report: Empire State Outlook dims

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P futures 2802 -1
Eurostoxx index 383.92 -1.14
Oil (WTI) 69.81 -1.2
10 Year Government Bond Yield 2.84%
30 Year fixed rate mortgage 4.50%

Markets are flattish as earnings season gets into full swing. Bonds and MBS are flat.

Oil is dropping after US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the US could waive some Iranian oil sanctions.

Bank of America reported decent earnings this morning. This is a big week for earnings, with about 200 major companies reporting. The early part of reporting season is generally dominated by the banks.

Jerome Powell will testify in front of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Generally these events don’t yield much in the way of useful info – they are mainly for the benefit of politicians who want to draw attention to some issue that may or may not relate to monetary policy. Expect a lot of questions regarding how a trade war and income inequality will affect growth from Democrats, and expect a lot of questions regarding regulation from Republicans. The prepared remarks are here.

Retail Sales rose 0.5% in June, which was in line with expectations. Ex-autos and gas they rose 0.3% while the control group was flat. May numbers were revised upward. The control group was below expectations, but with the May revisions offset that. Discretionary items (clothing, sporting goods, department stores) declined, which building materials and furnishings rose.

Business Inventories rose 0.4% in May. The inventory-to-sales ratio is down to 1.34 from 1.39 last year.

Business activity in New York State exhibited continued strength in June, according to the New York Fed’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey. While the current conditions index exhibited strength, the outlook has slipped. The survey doesn’t say whether this is being driven by a potential trade war or something else. Planned capital expenditures (a proxy for expansion plans) decreased.

Empire State

The Atlanta Fed took up their Q2 GDP estimate to 3.9%. Morgan Stanley warns that we are seeing a bit of a sugar rush in the economy courtesy of trade tensions. As companies worry about a potential trade war, they stockpile raw materials and other inputs. This gooses the inventory numbers which makes the current quarter look particularly strong. The problem is that you get a double whammy if the trade war materializes. Activity will drop, and that inventory will be liquidated, both of which will reduce GDP growth. Even if a trade war doesn’t happen, uncertainty could cause companies to pull in their horns. FWIW, I am skeptical of the “uncertainty” argument. Regulatory “uncertainty” out of DC generally causes companies to be cautious. The rest of the clatter is just noise. Certainly investors (judging by the S&P 500) aren’t worried.

One stat to watch: Corporate bond spreads. We are seeing a slight widening in some of the junkier investment grade debt. Baa spreads increased to 200 basis points from 165 in February. While spreads are still tight relative to historic levels, this is something to watch. Years of financial repression have given issuers the upper hand with regards to covenants and some of those chickens will come home to roost in the next recession.