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    Gavekal Research

    Still Bond Bears

    Matching its 2013 peak, the world’s most-watched interest rate—the US 10-year treasury yield—yesterday touched 3%. Concerns are now high that it will soon move higher, perhaps much higher. For perspective, the US 10-year hit 3.75% in 2011, 4% in 2010 and 5% in 2007. In this cycle, we think yields will break above 3% and then march upwards. In short, we remain bond bears and continue to recommend keeping duration short. Today, we want to...

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    Gavekal Research

    Policy And Productivity In The USA

    If President Trump is to accomplish his stated goal of renewing American economic greatness then an absolute requirement is for productivity growth to be pushed above its current miserable level of 1%. To an extent, the economic cycle is helping him, as a tightening jobs market is pushing up wages and creating incentives for firms to add labor-saving capital investments. I would also point to three structural developments, which, although not...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    The Message From Credit Markets

    Over the last three weeks US high yield credit spreads have collapsed by 100bp—a tightening that far exceeds the 10bp narrowing in investment grade spreads over the same period. Coming after a marked widening in the Libor-OIS and Ted spreads over February and March, this fall in credit spreads is clearly encouraging. It supports our contention that the widening of Libor spreads was an idiosyncratic anomaly, and nothing investors should be overly...

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    Gavekal Research

    US Budget Deficits And Long Term Interest Rates

    On Monday the Congressional Budget Office published its latest projections for the US economy and government finances, incorporating for the first time the effects of December’s tax cuts. With government revenues set to fall from 17.3% of GDP last year to less than 17% over the next five years, and spending expected to grow from 20.8% to more than 22%, the CBO projects that the US budget deficit will expand from 3.5% of GDP last year to more...

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    Gavekal Research

    US Auto Sales: No Longer A Growth Driver

    Strong US auto sales in March mask a stagnating longer term trend and rising auto loan delinquencies. Happily, as KX explains, neither has broader implications for overall US consumer demand. Although auto sales may no longer be contributing to US growth, rising bad loans in the sector do not prefigure a wider consumer credit crisis.

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    Gavekal Research

    Don’t Fret About Libor

    A disproportionate increase in Libor relative to other benchmark short term rates over recent months has got many observers flustered. In this concise paper, Will and KX dig down to the cause of the increase, and explain what it does and doesn’t mean for portfolio investors.

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    Gavekal Research

    Focus On Corporate Yields, Not Policy Rates

    There were no big surprises at yesterday’s Federal Reserve meeting, but in offering a slightly more hawkish tone, policymakers have amped up market anxiety. I must admit to not being in this crowd, for the perhaps heretical observation that the future of this bull market may not be decided at the Fed.

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    Gavekal Research

    Don’t Wade Into Treasuries

    Leading up to today’s Federal Reserve meeting, long-dated treasuries have slipped back into their trading range. There are two reasons to think this offers a good opportunity to “buy the dip”. First, global growth has eased off as shown by our diffusion index of OECD leading indicators, which tends to lead year-on-year changes in 10-year treasury yields by about four months. Second, investors overreacted to January’s spike in US wage growth data...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Corporate Bond Play

    With high-yield and investment grade spreads having shrunk to historically low levels, US corporate bonds are hardly cheap. Yet the combination of favorable tax policy and fiscal incontinence recommends them to any US bond portfolio. As the US economy is likely in the dog days of this cycle, the tricky question is what duration investors should focus on.

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    Gavekal Research

    Video: Fixing The Model

    Earlier this week Will issued a mea culpa report that explained why he was revising his Wicksellian asset allocation model and substantially changing his recommendations for the US market. In this video interview he explains the story behind this revision.

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    Gavekal Research

    Turning 90% Bullish

    Over the last three years, Will has developed his own version of Charles's Wicksellian framework to analyze the US economic cycle. His approach has been to gauge the difference between the private sector’s return on invested capital and its cost. In this candid report, he explains why he is overhauling his model and how this has substantially changed his recommendations.

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    Gavekal Research

    The Curiously Weak Dollar

    Since early February, global markets have had a volatile ride. The big exception has been the US dollar, which has stayed stoically range-bound. This is odd considering the Federal Reserve’s fairly hawkish outlook for monetary policy and the fact that imposing tariffs on metal imports should lessen the US trade deficit. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but the general Gavekal view on the US dollar has in recent times been fairly bearish (see...

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    Gavekal Research

    Housing And The US Economy

    The last economic cycle in the US was marked by excesses in residential investment and a dearth of business investment, which proved negative for productivity growth. As the current cycle gets a pro-cyclical boost in its mature phase from last year’s tax reforms, that imbalance will be at least partially reversed.

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    The US Current Account, Trump’s Trade War And Equities

    US president Donald Trump’s announcement last week of tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum are just the first salvo of a trade war aimed at reducing the US$566bn annual US trade deficit. Yet even far more extensive tariffs than those announced on Thursday will do nothing to narrow the US trade gap. As KX argues in this report, more powerful economic forces are working to widen the US trade and current account deficits over the coming...

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    Gavekal Research

    Deficits And Bondholders

    Economics 101 says that when there is more of something, then other things being equal its price should go down. That is worrying for US bond investors as US lawmakers last week passed a budget deal that may raise deficits by US$320bn over the next 10 years (any new infrastructure spending will be extra). Interestingly, and perhaps not entirely coincidentally, just as debt-fueled big-government becomes the new normal in Washington, November’s...

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    Gavekal Research

    Good News Is Bad News?

    The US posted a solid employment report on Friday, and the markets didn’t like it one bit. Some 200,000 jobs were added in January, better than the expected 180,000 and prior month gain of 160,000. But what really spooked investors was the faster than expected pickup in wage growth to 2.9% YoY. On the face of it, this is good for economic growth (certainly in nominal terms) and top-line corporate revenues. The worry is that without productivity...

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    Gavekal Research

    Video: Playing The US Growth Picture

    Will outlines his view that real growth in the US will remain stable this year and that inflation will pick up, and discusses what this means for asset prices and portfolio construction.

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    Gavekal Research

    Take Profits On US Homebuilders

    Our view that real growth in the US will remain supported this year at a similar level to 2017’s 2.5% rate is based on three main elements: rising business investment following December’s tax cuts; a moderation in consumption growth as labor market tightness slows job ceation, and a neutral to mildly positive view on residential investment (see The Outlook For US Growth And Prices). The third element—our neutral view on homebuilding—merits...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Sustainable Rise In US Inflation

    In her valedictory meeting yesterday, Janet Yellen presided over a slight tightening of language to indicate that the Federal Reserve’s official inflation target of 2% should be hit some time this year. Investors were not surprised as break-even inflation rates have risen to 2% from about 1.8% late last year, while the chance of four rate hikes materializing in 2018 is now priced at 22%. The fly in the ointment is still sluggish wage growth,...

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    Gavekal Research

    Keep Duration Short

    Washington may have temporarily sorted out its spending plans, but the bigger news for investors is the apparent breakout in 10-year treasury yields. The benchmark-of-benchmarks has risen to 2.65%, exceeding highs recorded in the months right after the Republicans’ election wins in November 2016. This can be ascribed to strong global growth, higher commodity prices, US tax cuts and tighter monetary policy. Hence, with US long-rates now offering...

    13
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    Gavekal Research

    Taxes And Yields

    US equity markets have started 2018 committed to the idea that Goldilocks is alive and well. Although no clear picture has emerged of its impact, the passage of the most significant tax reform since the 1980s has had S&P 500 firms opining publicly that they hope to invest more and treat staff better. The corollary is that this cycle might be getting a second wind. The fear is inflation, as shown by yesterday’s move in treasury yields to...

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    Gavekal Research

    Stick With Dollar Depreciation Plays

    The last year has seen a rare outbreak of consensus at Gavekal. Since last January partners and analysts have been almost universally bearish on the US dollar. In that time, the DXY dollar index has slumped some -12% from its heavily overvalued level at the beginning of 2017. Now the first 12 trading days of 2018 have seen the DXY slide -1.9%, breaching September’s support level to sink to its lowest since the end of 2014. This latest...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Yield Curve As A Duration Guide

    With US stock markets scaling new heights, there are multiple reasons why nervous equity investors might want to reduce portfolio risk. The usual way to do this would be by increasing allocations to long-duration treasury debt. But with long-dated yields now rising, what duration of treasuries should investors hold? And when and how should they adjust duration?

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    US Inflation Expectations: Further To Run To Catch-Up

    Over the last six weeks, market inflation expectations have undergone a signal shift to the upside. The US five-year break-even inflation rate has climbed from below 1.7% in early December to 1.95% this week. In other words, market expectations for US inflation, which had long remained markedly subdued, have now played catch-up with the Federal Reserve’s own projections, which see core PCE inflation rising to 1.9% this year and 2% in 2019....

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    Dare To Dabble In US High Yield

    Last week US high yield spreads narrowed to within a whisker of their cycle low, bringing them within striking distance of their 2007 low. When things cannot get much better, they seldom do. However, this may be one of those rare historical occasions when things do indeed go from good to even better. The US tax changes that went into effect last week have the potential to drive credit spreads to record depths.

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    Gavekal Research

    US Tax; Not What You Expect

    With the Senate having voted its approval, Republicans are set to tomorrow finalize the biggest shake up in the US tax code since the 1980s. A common refrain among analysts is that the bill should propel equity prices higher, but do precious little for economic growth. We wonder if the reverse may unfold.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    There Is Now An Alternative

    There were no surprises yesterday, either in the Federal Reserve’s rate hike, or in its forecasts for next year. With the labor market set to “remain strong”, the unemployment rate likely to inch down to 3.9%—full employment—and growth forecast to get a modest boost from tax cuts to 2.5%, the dot plot projects three 25bp hikes in 2018.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Avoiding Equity Duration Risk

    Last week, Louis argued persuasively that investors should shorten portfolio duration in response to the prospect of further central bank monetary tightening, the potential threat of rising inflation in 2018, and the stretched valuations of long-dated assets (see Have We Just Glimpsed Growth Stocks’ Achilles’ Heel?). This goes not just for fixed income investors, but equity investors too.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Positioning For US Tax Reform

    What’s not to like about tax cuts? Quite a lot as it turns out. Although the final shape of US tax reform has yet to be settled, there are enough common points between the House and Senate bills to allow Will and KX to conclude that the likely tax cuts will prove inflationary, and could prompt a more aggressive stance from the Fed. Despite some undoubtedly positive macro outcomes, the implications for investors are not exactly bullish.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Dodging Late-Cycle Refinancing Risk

    By most generally accepted metrics, the US economy is in the late stages of its cycle and any further overheating raises the chances of a recession. The issue is really one of timing. Will Denyer’s Wicksellian model and my US business cycle indicator are both flashing orange rather than red, suggesting that the US is edging towards the recession frontier, but not yet at it. We have both advised investors to dial back on US risk, but are not much...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Contradictory Signals On US Corporate Credit Risk

    US high-yield spreads have widened by 39bp over the last three weeks. Nevertheless, by long term historical standards, they remain exceptionally tight, indicating that the bond market is pricing in remarkably little US corporate credit risk. That message is at odds with the tale being told by the US equity market, which is signaling that corporate credit risk is on the rise. Only one of them can be correct. There are good reasons to think it may...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    The US Investment Environment

    House Republicans put forward their tax reform bill and Jerome Powell was put up to replace Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve. On the face of it, this all seems like good news for markets. US firms may soon get a permanent tax cut on domestic earnings and mostly keep Uncle Sam away from their foreign earnings, while the prospect of a Taylor-rule adjustment to interest rates has been dodged as Powell seems set to maintain a path of gradual...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Strategy Monthly: How Much Longer For Low Rates?

    For decades fixed income and equity markets have enjoyed a secular bull market, propelled higher by low real long term interest rates, depressed by a glut of global savings. In this Strategy Monthly, Will Denyer updates his Capital Provider Ratio, a powerful demographic tool which indicates that the growth of global excess savings has peaked, and that the glut will soon begin to dry up, with far-reaching consequences for global asset markets.

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    Gavekal Research

    The Unconvincing Pick-Up In US GDP

    US third quarter GDP growth came in on Friday at 3% QoQ annualized, much higher than the expected 2.6% rate. The strength of the headline number sparked optimism that the US economy had successfully shrugged off any negative impact from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and certainly did nothing to discourage equity investors, as both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite rode buoyant earnings to new highs.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    US Equity Exposure For The Late Cycle

    The US equity bull run continues even as the US economy issues an increasing number of late cycle indicators. For investors who want to maintain exposure to the stock market but are getting nervous that the economy may soon turn down, KX examines the characteristics that allow stocks to outperform in the late stages of the cycle.

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Back Away From Buyback Plays

    From a cyclical peak of US$161bn in 1Q16, US corporate share buybacks fell to US$120bn in 2Q17. But although buyback activity is down, it is not out. In the past few weeks companies including Walmart, HP and Allergan have announced new share repurchase programs. The question for investors is whether they should chase these buyback plays.

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  • Gavekal Research

    The Savings Glut’s Long Life And Slow Death

    Slow-moving demographic trends have a big impact on asset prices. For the last 35 years, the age structure of the world’s population has created a global savings glut which has propelled secular bull markets in both equities and bonds. Now that demographic tailwind is fading. In a few years it is likely to reverse. In this paper Will introduces a new measure, the Capital Providers Ratio, which relates the impending demographic shifts to the...

    24
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    Gavekal Research

    Don’t Count On A Miracle

    Do animal spirits in the US live after all? As profits have picked up, firms’ capital spending has rebounded from contraction territory in 2015-16 to a perky 6.7% QoQ rise in 2Q17. A range of business surveys suggest the trend was sustained through the third quarter. Much is at stake, for if capital spending can break out of its post-2008 range, it is just possible that a productivity surge can follow, lifting underlying economic growth. KX...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    A Portfolio For The Monetary Cycle

    Every US recession since the 1960s has been preceded by the combination of a fall in true money supply growth relative to real GDP growth, and a fall in the unemployment rate below NAIRU. In this paper, KX constructs a model portfolio which reduces exposure to risky assets in response to these signals, and finds that it offers investors superior risk-adjusted returns.

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    No Closer To Effective Tax Reform

    The much-anticipated US tax reform plan from “the big six” (officials from the administration, House and Senate) has landed. What a disappointment it is. The ball has barely been pushed forward at all. It thus seems unlikely the US will get major tax reform. And if it does, it is likely to be much less effective than the plans previously proposed by the House Republicans.

    9
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    Gavekal Research

    The Real Story With US Inflation

    While hardly ranking as a hawk, Janet Yellen yesterday restated her view that inflation remains a worry. The Federal Open Market Committee as a whole may have last week nudged its 2017/18 inflation forecasts lower, but Yellen continues to argue that weak pricing pressures are transitory. The corollary is that the Fed should stick with its gradual monetary tightening plan. This places her slightly at odds with policymakers like Charles Evans, who...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    QT And The Treasury Quandary

    The Federal Reserve has confirmed that quantitative tightening will begin next month as it gradually lowers its holding of treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. For investors, the question is whether they should “fight the Fed” by owning assets that are now out of favor with the central bank. I would argue that such a formulation is wrong and these are good times to be mitigating risk by picking up treasuries, probably of shorter duration.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Any US Profits Rebound Lacks Legs

    US equities have rallied to new highs on a favorable liquidity tide, buoyed by hopes for coordinated global growth. But they have also been given a leg-up by an apparently improved US profits outlook, as shown in the second quarter national accounts data. There are, however, compelling reasons to think that an uptick in profit margins cannot last. As 59% of value added by US non-financial corporates went to their workers in 2Q17, these center on...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    What Next From Washington?

    Despite all the bickering in Washington, kicking cans is still a bipartisan sport. Yesterday, President Donald Trump sided with the Democrats in a deal to temporarily raise the debt limit and fund the government for three more months. Republican leaders wanted to kick the can further down the road, but will accept the president’s lead. With the issue temporarily parked, Trump jumped on Air Force One and in North Dakota today he is expected to...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Good News At The NIPA Coal Face

    The so-called NIPA data (national income and product accounts) offers a cleansed account of US profitability as the effects of inflation and currency moves are stripped out. Thus, while nominal profits reported by S&P 500 companies have rebounded since early 2016, no such signal has emerged from the NIPA numbers—until now. This matters as in late-cycle situations it is common for my preferred inflation-adjusted version of NIPA profits to...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Not That Canadian

    The US and Canadian economies share many similarities due to their geographical proximity, similar level of development and Anglo-Saxon traditions of common law and open political dialogue. So it is curious that each economy’s labor market dynamics are strikingly different. This observation has more than hypothetical significance as workers become hard to find at the right price in late-cycle America.

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    Bank Deregulation Is Not The Answer

    Janet Yellen nailed her regulatory colors to the mast on Friday. In her speech on financial stability at Jackson Hole, the Federal Reserve chair made plain her opposition to any wholesale roll-back of financial regulations introduced in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. She didn’t mention by name the Financial Choice Act, the attempt currently before Congress to scrap key provisions of the post-crisis Dodd-Frank regulations. But she did address...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    It Is Not Slack Weighing On Wages

    How can a labor market be very tight, yet have barely any wage growth? In today’s daily Nick tackled this for the UK and found a mix of universal and idiosyncratic causes. For the US and Japan a frequent refrain is that official data hugely understates the potential size of the workforce and so a ready source of “slack”. Will and Udith beg to differ.

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Can The US Property Engine Fire Up?

    Two years ago banks started to make it harder for US construction firms to borrow and soon after activity began to fizzle. While blame has been pinned on skilled worker shortages and rising costs of both land and materials, KX and Will think financing was the key issue. The good news is that banks seem to be again loosening their purse strings.

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    The Misleading Signal In US Auto Sales

    Trying to tease economic trends out of recent US data releases is a frustrating business. Take yesterday’s figures. Although the ISM manufacturing PMI ticked down a shade in July to come in a fraction below expectations, at 56.3 the number remained firmly in expansionary territory. On the other hand, two classic cyclical indicators of US economic health—construction spending and automobile sales—both came in weak.

    0
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