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    Gavekal Research

    The Fed Is Falling Behind The Curve

    The Federal Reserve surprised no one yesterday when it decided to remain on hold. But the downward shift in its projection of year-end inflation from 1.6% to 1.2%—and the consequent revision of its dot plot to show two, rather than four, rate hikes in 2016—should have raised a few eyebrows. By adopting such a dovish stance, the Fed is in increasing danger of falling behind the curve on inflation, which in turn implies that the risk of sharper...

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    The State Of US Profits

    With the US earnings season for 4Q15 done and dusted it is clear that the glory days of this cycle are long gone: aggregate sales for S&P 500 firms fell -4.0% YoY, profits tumbled -7.5% and margins for the period (not the trailing measure) compressed by -2.2pp to 6.5%. The big drivers of profits were (i) the oil price collapse, (ii) the strong US dollar and its crimping of exporters, and (iii) the tendency for rising wages to erode margins....

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    Gavekal Research

    Back To Climbing The Wall Of Worry

    Just three weeks ago markets were in full-blown panic mode. The S&P 500 was down -10% YTD, 10-year treasury yields were down to just 1.6%, and credit spreads were close to their cyclical highs. Dark clouds seemed to be rolling in on every front—from China, Brazil, Europe, banks, and the energy sector, all compounded by fears the Federal Reserve had made a grievous policy error. Since then, the skies haven’t exactly cleared, yet the S&P...

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    The Gavekal Monthly: Enter Ursus Magnus?

    January was a hair raising month for investors with a deeply worrying combination of falling oil prices, plunging equities and soaring yields for sub investment grade debt. In this edition of the Gavekal Monthly we seek some answers to the “what next” question, kicking off with Charles and Anatole who take very different views on whether a bear market is upon us.

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    Gavekal Research

    High Yield Worries

    Attention may have focused yesterday on the oil price collapse and its knock-on to US equities, but there was also grim price action in the sub-investment grade debt markets—the high yield master index fell back towards its December low, while the CCC-rated index breached that threshold. This pain can be attributed to worsening conditions in the energy sector, where the chance of large scale defaults increases with each lurch lower in the crude...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Gavekal Monthly: The Balance Of Risks

    The new year has been a wild ride so far, with sharp drops in the renminbi, Chinese stock markets, and oil prices leading global markets down. In our first Gavekal Monthly of 2016 we try to make sense of the risks facing investors today. As usual there are some strong differences of opinion: Anatole argues that developed economies are in decent shape, the dollar's rise will soon be over, and equities should post a better performance than...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Shudder In US Credit

    As oil prices tumble and the first US interest rate hike for eight years comes into view, bond investors in the high-yield segment are taking flight. The market was given a foretaste of what a disorderly unwinding of an over-bought US corporate bond market may look like late last week, when two high-yield bond funds suspended redemptions. The worry is that these tremors become an earthquake, making it more costly for all companies to refinance...

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    Gavekal Research

    What To Make Of Wider Credit Spreads

    US credit spreads are ticking up again, driving the Merrill Lynch US high yield index below its early October low yesterday and bringing total returns for the year to date to -3.4%. This renewed widening of spreads raises some important questions for asset allocators and economy watchers. Has the bond market got itself into an unwarranted flap, providing investors with a good opportunity to lock in some elevated yields? Or has the corporate debt...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Gavekal Monthly: A Cloudy Currency Outlook

    The Gavekal Monthly outlines our highest conviction ideas and summarizes the key economic, market and thematic views held by the firm’s partners and analysts. This report is an attempt to answer a question that we are often asked, but find it hard to answer: "What does Gavekal think?".

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    Gavekal Research

    Brace For Lower US Margins

    As the end of the 3Q15 US earnings season comes into view, what stands out is how little things have changed from the last quarter. Alas, corporate America’s financial performance is stabilizing at the weakest level seen since the 2008 crisis—with more than 90% of S&P 500 firms having reported, both revenue and profits came in about -4.5% lower compared with a year ago. This grim performance is partly explained by the ongoing bloodbath in...

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    Gavekal Research

    The US Inventory Problem

    The US business inventory-to-sales ratio (in real terms) is one of our key recession indicators. We have been uneasy ever since it broke to a new cyclical high in May. Since then it has continued to inch higher, and in September, the latest data-point available for the total business sector, it reached a level typically seen only in recessions. Even more worrying, the rise in the inventory-to-sales ratio cannot be blamed on the travails of the...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Gavekal Monthly: A Possible Return Of US Inflation

    The Gavekal Monthly outlines our highest conviction ideas and summarizes the key economic, market and thematic views held by the firm’s partners and analysts. This report is an attempt to answer a question that we are often asked, but find it hard to answer: "What does Gavekal think?".

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    Gavekal Research

    Positioning For A Hawkish Fed

    What have we learned from the world’s largest economy in recent days? It would seem that a fairly hawkish Federal Reserve is ready to raise interest rates in December, while for all its dysfunction Washington has done a deal to keep the US government running for the next two years without threats of a debt default. Considering that two months ago the concern was that the global economy was about to tip into a China-induced death spiral, this...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Ominous Signal In Inventories

    One of the characteristics of a recession is an overhang in inventories, which must then be sold off or written down before growth can recover. The overhang results from overproduction during the final stages of the preceding boom, an unexpected collapse in demand, or both.

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    Gavekal Research

    Position For A Pick-Up In US Inflation

    Everyone agrees that US inflation, if not actually dead, is unlikely to gain a new lease on life any time soon. With oil prices down -48% over the last 12 months and the US dollar up 11%, inflation as measured by personal consumption expenditure is just 0.3%, while core inflation (ex-food and energy) is down to 1.3% year-on-year. What’s more, investors expect no acceleration in price rises over the medium term. The implied breakeven inflation...

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    Gavekal Research

    Does Slower Job Growth Signal A Coming US Recession?

    There’s no getting away from it: last week’s US employment report was unequivocally weak. According to the latest estimates, the US added only around 140,000 jobs in each of August and September—a marked slowdown from the average growth rate of 260,000 in 2014. So what is going on? There are three possibilities:

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    Gavekal Research

    The Wrong End Of The Fed’s Stick

    Friday’s market action spoke volumes about the jitteriness of investors. After the Federal Reserve decided on Thursday not to raise US interest rates, at least for the time being, the S&P 500 sold off -1.6% in the following day’s trade. The reaction in Europe was even more extreme, with the Euro Stoxx 50 falling -3%. Rather than taking the Fed’s dovishness as a positive sign, it seemed that equity investors instead asked what bad news...

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    Gavekal Research

    Has The Fed Missed The Boat?

    It is decision week at the Federal Reserve. At its meeting this Wednesday and Thursday, the Federal Open Market Committee must decide whether the US labor market has now tightened enough to warrant the first interest rate increase since mid-2006, even though inflation is subdued and financial market sentiment remains fragile following the summer’s bout of heightened volatility. It is an unenviable decision—all the more so since the recent...

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    Gavekal Research

    The US Current Account Deficit And World Markets

    Spotting turning points in the US current account is central to Gavekal’s research method, as such shifts impact all other economic relationships. When the US dollar is strong the US tends to run a big current account deficit, providing the world with lots of “earned dollars.” Conversely, a weak dollar eventually leads to a shrunken US current account deficit and more incentive to borrow in dollars. Big moves in the dollar exchange rate create...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Bright Spot In The US Market

    Even though US home prices have risen by more than a third in the last three years, the residential construction sector has been a persistent disappointment, showing little meaningful recovery. That is finally changing. On Monday the National Association of Homebuilders’ Housing Market Index hit its highest level since 2006, while July data released yesterday showed housing starts closing in on an eight-year high at an annualized 1.2mn rate....

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    Gavekal Research

    More Cautious Than Ever On US Stocks

    Exactly six months ago, we declared we were Turning Cautious On US Equities. At the time we noted that while US domestic demand was healthy, US stocks no longer looked cheap, the US dollar was no longer competitively valued, and the Federal Reserve was moving unambiguously towards tightening monetary policy. Half a year later, the S&P 500 has risen 4.3% and the Nasdaq Composite 9.2%. On the face of it those look like respectable returns; not...

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    Gavekal Research

    Three Risk Factors For US Growth

    In the run-up to the meeting this week of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee and the release on Thursday of second quarter gross domestic product data, confidence in the strength of US economic activity is deteriorating. It is not just that most market participants now expect 2Q growth to be modest relative to last year, with the consensus looking for an annualized QoQ figure of 2.7% compared with 4.6% for 2Q14 (see Not Déjà Vu Again...

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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: Who Gains From The Widening US Trade Deficit?

    After four years of US dollar real effective exchange rate appreciation, the US trade deficit is finally showing signs of widening. Both exports and imports have slumped heavily in value terms, largely because of a combination of weak oil prices and US dollar strength. Trade volumes paint a clearer picture, with exports down -0.5% year-on-year in May, while imports rose by 3.5%. As a result, the US trade deficit has expanded from 2.5% of GDP in...

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    Gavekal Research

    What Price US Growth Stocks?

    Ever since US equities bottomed in March 2009, glamour stocks such as Google, Amazon and Netflix have been at the forefront of the rebound, leading the Nasdaq composite to an all time high this week. While we continue to prefer other markets over the US (see Turning Cautious On US Equities), recent moves in mega-cap US growth stocks have set us wondering how long the outperformance of growth stocks over value stocks can last. After all, even...

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: The Divergence In Inflation Rates

    Following last year’s collapse in oil prices, US inflation declined from 2.1% in May 2014 to zero in May this year. Close followers of the US economy will know, however, that this zero rate masks a sharp bifurcation in prices. The slowdown in headline inflation has been propelled entirely by goods prices, which slumped -9.6% YoY in May thanks to modest international price pressures and the strong US dollar. In contrast, services prices, which...

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    Gavekal Research

    US Payrolls Are Running Out Of Juice

    Later today we will publish our Growth & Markets Monthly, updating Gavekal’s dashboard of essential economic and risk indicators. The markets side of the equation is relatively straightforward this month: although investors have not switched into full risk-off mode, with the outlook for Greece’s eurozone membership as uncertain as ever ahead of this weekend’s referendum, there has been a clear diminution in their appetite for risk. What of...

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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: Will Weak Manufacturing Derail Growth?

    Marching into the second half of 2015, the US economy is gradually recovering after another weak start to the year. The majority of forecasters are now expecting a rebound in the US second quarter gross domestic product growth. This makes sense as domestic demand remains strong, supported by lower oil prices, a strong job market and deleveraged household balance sheets. However, while we have seen a robust rebound in most economic data series,...

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    Gavekal Research

    Don’t Fret (Yet) About US Housing

    In the summer of 2013, a sharp rise in US bond yields driven by the taper tantrum derailed the US housing market. Will the upward spike in 10-year treasury yields from 1.7% in February to 2.4% today do the same? So far, the market is showing no signs of fear. Despite a 40bp increase in mortgage rates, monthly housing sales and prices remain highly encouraging, as do the weekly numbers for mortgage applications. Meanwhile, US homebuilder stocks...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Fed And Dollar Depreciation

    So no surprises. A slightly more dovish Federal Open Market Committee stuck to the script of future monetary policy moves being data dependent. Since the US central bank yesterday scaled back its 2015 GDP growth forecast to 1.8%-2%, the implication is that rate increases, even if they start in September, will be a gradual affair. Investors liked what they heard as this suggests that Goldilocks lives, and a “not-too-hot, not-too-cold” scenario...

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    Gavekal Research

    Switch In Favor Of US Multinationals

    In recent weeks the US dollar has grown increasingly sensitive to changes in expectations for US interest rate hikes, with the currency’s DXY index fluctuating daily in response to every shift in sentiment about the precise timing of the US Federal Reserve’s first upward move. But while the exact date of the lift-off is crucial to the short term trajectory of the foreign exchange market, over the longer run the US dollar’s upside looks limited.

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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: Treasury Yield Normalization

    The trigger for the recent jump in 10-year treasury yields from 1.9% to 2.4% was leveraged investors unwinding long positions on European government bonds. This is not surprising as a “deflating” eurozone was a key reason for last year’s decline in global bond yields. Today, the outlook has improved as the single currency area looks to be enjoying a modest recovery. Absent a Greek-inspired contagion, Europe is likely to be less of a factor...

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    Gavekal Research

    To Cheer Or Fear US Wage Growth?

    Is the US equity market merely taking a breather before the next upward leg of the bull run? Or has it reached a worrying plateau, marking US stocks out for a protracted period of underperformance? With domestic profit margins facing a squeeze between the strong US dollar on one hand, and stirrings of wage growth on the other, we are worried it is the latter. As we argued on Tuesday, the US dollar’s strength means that any rewards US firms...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Will The Buyback Craze Ever End?

    Scientists tell us one of the things that sets us humans apart from other mammals is our relatively large prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that allows us to resist the lure of instant gratification and instead sacrifice ephemeral pleasures for solid long term gains.

    6
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    Gavekal Research

    Not Déjà Vu Again For The US

    With the mid-point of 2015 approaching it looks to be a case of “déjà vu again” for a US economy suffering early year blues. As with other “soft patch” periods, there are plausible explanations for this stodginess that don’t just involve beating up on statisticians for their seasonal adjustment techniques. The US indeed had a cold winter and the West Coast port strike disrupted trade flows. But the real question for investors is whether the US...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: The Rising Supply Of 'Earned' US Dollars

    The US dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which means the US can settle its current account deficit by issuing more US dollars. As Charles says, this means any contraction in the US current account deficit means fewer US dollars flowing abroad (see The US Current Account And Vanishing Global Liquidity). Naturally the reverse is also true. Following the strengthening of the trade-weighted US dollar index over the past four years, the...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: Why So Calm After The Oil Price Collapse?

    After oil prices halved, profits in the sector look to have followed suit—S&P 500 energy firms in 1Q15 saw an eye watering -55% YoY plunge in earnings. Given this backdrop, it was to be expected that gory tales would emerge from the oil fields of Texas and North Dakota of bankruptcies, mass layoffs, forced sales and shotgun marriages. To be sure the oilfield services space has seen a bit of this, but generally an eerie calm prevails.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    New York Seminar May 2015 - Anatole, Louis, Joyce & Will

    We held our US spring seminar in New York on May 11, with Anatole, Louis, Joyce & Will offering their views on the most important developments in the global economy.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Embrace The Asian Deflation

    The specter of deflation continues to threaten big chunks of the global economy and the alarm has even spread to China after the GDP deflator was revealed to have slipped into negative territory in 1Q14. Our starting point is that deflation does not have to be some grizzly beast that must end with soup kitchens, for as Charles has forcefully argued, periods of falling prices have in the past been associated with rapid capital formation and...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Whither US Manufacturing

    US economic data has started to surprise on the downside, and much of this can be attributed to the manufacturing sector. This is worrying since the sector often leads the general economy. Hence, the $64,000 question is whether we should be bracing for an unscripted recession? Our answer is no, but investors should underweight the US manufacturing sector. In the near term, price adjustments, largely stemming from the energy and commodity price...

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: Competitiveness Lost

    We must be in a global recession! At least that is the conclusion an investor might draw if looking only at US trade data. US import and export volumes both collapsed by an annualized –25% in the first two months of the year, something not seen since the 2008 recession, and 2001 before that. An assessment of trade values would result in an even worse conclusion being drawn—a deflationary depression is underway. The truth is that the situation...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    A Turning Point For Eurozone Bank Lending

    Is it too early to celebrate the green shoots of a eurozone recovery? Most recent data has been positive with retail sales expanding at the fastest rate since the early 2000s, PMIs signaling a broadening of growth to the struggling periphery and unemployment in most economies continuing to decline. Green shoots can easily wither in response to shocks or bad policy choices, but there is one good reason to think this recovery may have legs: bank...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Who Gains When The Fed Hikes?

    The Fed has lost patience in words only, not in deeds. In its statement yesterday the Federal Open Market Committee dropped its linguistic backstop—the word “patient”—indicating that the first rate rise since 2006 could come as early as June (remember, Fed chair Janet Yellen defined “patience” as meaning there would be no rate hike for at least two meetings after the word’s use). But the underlying message the market took away yesterday is that...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The US Corporate Profit Paradox

    The US equity market is richly valued and faces a buffeting headwind in the shape of the soaring dollar. Our recommendation in recent months has been to dial back exposure, but committed investors should stay concentrated in domestic plays rather than firms with a big reliance on international earnings (see Turning Cautious On US Equities). Such a portfolio orientation was borne out by generally weak 4Q14 corporate earnings. But a key part of...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Sense Of An Ending

    In yesterday’s congressional testimony, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen did not indicate that she is backing away from her tentative plan to hike interest rates later this year. Sorry markets. But investors may take comfort in the fact that she has made it crystal clear that rate hikes will not come as a surprise. There will be ample warning.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: The Stars Have Aligned

    The 2013 “taper tantrum” sent mortgage rates up and so put the housing market recovery on hold for a few quarters. But then rates came back down, and the US housing recovery resumed—albeit modestly. We must admit that this “recovery of the recovery” has been weaker and narrower than we expected. And now, a key housing market indicator has rolled over; existing home sales in January fell –4.9% MoM, the biggest decline in more than a year....

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Resolute US Motors On

    January saw the oil and gas industry fire more workers than in any period since the 2008 recession. Viewed in this context the overall pace of job growth in the US is remarkably robust. The January jobs report saw non-farm payrolls grow by 257,000, far ahead of the expected 228,000 and confirming 11 straight months of job gains above 200,000. It also reinforces the point that the energy sector is a fairly small part of the US economy, and the...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: An Earnings Season Divided

    Having passed the halfway stage of the 4Q14 earnings season there is a hint of disappointment in the air. On a median basis, sales and earnings grew 4.0% YoY and 6.0% respectively, down from 5% and 10% in 3Q. Unsurprisingly, the misses have mostly come from energy firms and those players which rely on overseas markets, and so suffer from a strong US dollar.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    US Housing Gets Interesting Again

    You’d think the US housing market should be humming along nicely. Economic growth is decent even as worries of deflation in overseas markets help push long-dated bond yields to record lows, so cutting the cost of home finance. The collapse in oil prices has given households money to spend and pushed consumer confidence readings for January to a post-crisis high. Last week’s GDP report for 4Q14 showed personal consumption growing at an impressive...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Turning Cautious on US Equities

    Given their remarkable performance over the last four years, can US equities really continue to outperform global peers? Recent developments give cause for concern as market technicals look weak and earnings announcements for bellwether stocks have come in lackluster. Earlier this week Louis asked some basic questions about US equity market leadership (see Does It Still Make Sense To Overweight US Equities?). We share his concern not because we...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    5C United States: The Economic Ripple Of Cheaper Oil

    Some worry that while US consumers are today benefitting from lower fuel costs, this will be trumped by mass layoffs as the shale energy boom goes bust. We don’t buy it. The shale boom is certainly going to bust, but the size of the US energy sector should not be over-estimated and nor should the positive effects that tend to follow oil price declines be underestimated.

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