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    Gavekal Research

    The Payrolls Paradox: Tight Labor But Weak Wage Growth

    As usual the market focused closely on the headline number in last Friday’s employment report, which saw non-farm payrolls come in at a stronger than expected 220,000 in June. As usual, we caution against reading too much into any one month’s figures, for the reasons Anatole has explained so elegantly (see Beyond The March Payrolls Soft Patch). Instead we prefer to take a step back and to attempt to answer the two big questions currently hanging...

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    What Could Turn Around The US Business Cycle? Hint: Not Much

    As often happens, US data is sending mixed messages. Yesterday’s ADP report showed weak job growth in June, despite the latest ISM service sector PMI being decidedly perky. Investing according to the latest high-frequency growth data is a good way to get whiplash. Instead, let’s take a step back and review the US economy’s overall positioning.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Not Getting Paid To Take Credit Risk

    When things cannot get any better, they rarely do. Credit spreads for both high-yield and investment-grade corporate bonds are back near lows last seen just before the onset of previous financial busts. Will the calm soon give way to another perfect storm? Worryingly, corporate fundamentals are already deteriorating.

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    The Fed's Balance Sheet Contraction

    As universally expected, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by another 25bp yesterday. It also published details about its plan to start shrinking its balance sheet before the end of this year. While this too was widely expected, there remain plenty of questions about how the markets will respond. With no precedents for the Fed’s impending move to contract its bloated balance sheet, no one can be entirely confident how the market will...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Policy & Productivity: How To Make America Great Again

    A critical and much-debated question about the US economy is whether it is permanently stuck in a “new normal” of 2-2.5% annual growth—about a point below the 3.2% average growth rate in 1970-2000—or if it can regain its previous luster. Will assesses arguments from both the upbeat techno-optimists and the grizzled growth skeptics and updates his own view based on US policymaking in the age of Trump.

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    Still No Real Recovery In US Profits

    After a very strong corporate earnings season, Friday delivered the first estimate of profits as tallied by the US national income and product accounts, or NIPA. Unfortunately, the NIPA data pours cold water over the notion that the US is seeing a real, widespread recovery in profitability. The nonfinancial corporate sector of the US economy (not exactly a niche segment) is experiencing nothing of the sort. Instead, real profitability continues...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    What The Fed Really, Really Means

    The Federal Open Market Committee has fired the starting gun on its plan to start shrinking the US central bank’s balance sheet before the year is out. The language was coy, but indicated a consensus that outright contraction will start so long as the trajectory of growth and the key policy interest rate matches the committee’s expectations.

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Strategy Monthly: Global Goldilocks And The Two Bears

    Markets seem convinced that a Global Goldilocks scenario of “just right” growth and rising corporate earnings is unfolding. This is plausible, but a careful review of the US economy suggests that two far more bearish outcomes are also possible. Will Denyer reviews the case for all three scenarios and recommends reducing risk exposure, especially in the US.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Taxing Times In The US

    The big news this week is the lack of news. Tectonic changes—that inspired both hope and fear—now look less likely to materialize. The first round result in France’s presidential election suggests that the centrist, pro-euro Emmanuel Macron will be the next head of state, rather than the disruptive Marine Le Pen—no révolution in Europe. Then yesterday Donald Trump revealed his much anticipated tax plan. It only served to show how little progress...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Threats To The US Bull Market

    I have spent the last few weeks traveling around Europe telling clients to reduce risk exposure—at least to US equities, if not globally. I see four potential threats to the US bull market, and while none is certain, the odds are high that at least one of them spoils the party. Let’s review:

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    London Seminar — March 2017

    In Gavekal’s seminar in London last week Will Denyer, Charles Gave, Tom Miller and Anatole Kaletsky presented their macroeconomic outlooks and offered investors asset allocation advice.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Will Washington Disappoint?

    Equity markets have pretty much straight lined higher since the US election on hopes for market-friendly tax cuts, health care reform, and broad deregulation. Worries about high import tariffs and other potential growth-sapping measures have been set to one side. In short, investors have been counting on “Trump without the bad stuff”. With the S&P 500 yesterday sliding -1.2%—the first fall of more than -1% since November’s election—they now...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    The Profit Illusion

    Inflation has a way of making things look better than they really are. This is especially true of corporate profits. After a dismal first half last year, S&P 500 companies reported an earnings recovery in 2H16. In the final quarter, they posted profit growth of 6% YoY (with or without financials). Alas, this recovery appears to be a mirage, caused by accelerating inflation. Using official flow of funds data for the domestic non-financial...

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Are Border Adjustments Protectionist?

    The introduction of border adjustments into the US tax code is by far the most controversial part of the House Republicans’ “blueprint” for tax reform—with good reason. This reform alone would be a game-changer, with many winners and losers. This is why, like all major tax reforms, it faces an uphill battle to become law, and why it may never happen. But the same was said of a Donald Trump presidency, and of Brexit. So, investors still need to...

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    Hong Kong Seminar — February 2017

    Gavekal’s global macroeconomic seminar in Hong Kong in February featured Anatole Kaletsky, Will Denyer and Louis-Vincent Gave. They presented on the global investment outlook under a Trump presidency, the decline in US productivity, and the sustainability of the "Trumpflation" rally.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Border Tax Adjustments In Context

    US president Donald Trump moved a step closer to realizing his “America first” trade policy yesterday, promising a 20% tax on imports from Mexico. However, rather than an outright tariff on imports, it is looking increasingly likely that the new levy will come in the form of a border tax adjustment, as envisaged by the House Republican majority as part of a wider US tax reform program. In theory, border tax adjustments should be trade-neutral,...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Trump May Yet Learn To Like Border Adjustments

    Last week, Donald Trump dismissed border tax adjustments as “too complicated”. He may yet reconsider. If the newly-installed president has one dominant policy objective, it is to make the US more attractive as a destination for investment and as a location for manufacturing. Alongside deregulation and cutting the US corporate tax rate, imposing border tax adjustments along the lines proposed by the House Republicans is one of the simplest and...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Audio & Transcript — Gavekal Research January Call

    Charles Gave argued that Donald Trump’s protectionist policy could lead to a breakdown of the post-1971 fiat money system that is based on a US dollar standard. Will Denyer deconstructed the likely workings of a new trade taxation regime in the US and explained what that means for currencies. Arthur Kroeber outlined the likely Chinese response to a US trade broadside and argued that Beijing was decently well placed to weather the attack.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Tax Reform And The Dollar: It’s Not So Straightforward

    Tax reform is high on the agenda both for US president-elect Donald Trump and for the new session of Congress that began earlier this month. Among the reform proposals that could most affect investors are those advanced by the House Republicans, which many commentators have argued could cause a substantial exchange rate appreciation of the US dollar. In theory—all else being equal—this would be true. But our examination of current exchange rate...

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    The US Equity Dilemma

    On the first trading day of the year, we learnt that the Trump trade remains very much alive. The S&P 500 rose 0.8%, 10-year treasury yields inched up 1.3bp and the DXY US dollar index climbed 0.4%. While investors seem focused on the positive ramifications of a Donald Trump presidency, the year ahead is full of uncertainty—with changes in store for fiscal, monetary, regulatory and trade policies, all of which will occur in the context of a...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Post-Fed Risk Of Sector Rotation

    As expected, the US Federal Reserve went ahead and raised its benchmark interest rate by 25bp yesterday. Less widely expected was the positive tone of the Fed’s comments on the economic outlook, and its slightly more hawkish view on the trajectory of rates, with policymakers now projecting three rate increases next year rather than two. Fed chair Janet Yellen described the changes as “tiny”. But the market reaction—10-year treasury yields rose...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Cash Repatriation Won’t Trigger A New Buyback Boom

    With the incoming US administration promising big tax breaks on the repatriation of corporate cash piles held overseas, Wall Street is confidently predicting a renewed equity market buyback boom in 2017. On first hearing, this sounds like a reasonable expectation. For one thing, in recent years US companies have consistently chosen to plough their retained earnings—and a sizable amount of debt—into share buybacks, rather than into investment in...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    A Wicksellian Spread Update

    US economic growth and corporate profits both rebounded in the third quarter. Yesterday the Bureau of Economic Analysis revised its number for 3Q16 growth in gross domestic product up from 2.9% to 3.2% year-on-year. At the same time the BEA also released its first estimate of 3Q corporate profits, which at first glance also looked positive. For example, profits in the domestic non-financial sector jumped by an annualized 24% in 3Q, after falling...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    A Cautionary Note On US Housing

    After months of anemic activity, US homebuilding picked up in October. This is a welcome development, given that residential construction is a key leading indicator for the overall economy, and that lately it has been close to sending a recession signal (see On The Brink Of Recession). However, the magnitude of the improvement should not be overstated. While housing starts did post the biggest monthly increase since 1982, this is a volatile...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Trump’s Tax Plans And The Dollar

    Following last week’s US election result, the US dollar—as represented by the DXY index—has risen to test the upper bound of the range that has prevailed since the first quarter of 2015. At these levels the US currency looks overvalued, both in real effective exchange rate terms against other major currencies, and on a purchasing power parity basis. Yet it would be premature to bet against a break-out to the upside. Although the dollar’s REER is...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Trump’s Bond Market Correction

    The new US leadership was always likely to inherit a bond market correction. Now, the Republicans’ clean sweep in winning control of the White House and both houses of Congress significantly increases the odds of a deep bond market sell-off. Which in turn will be likely to knock equities down a few notches.

    6
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    Gavekal Research

    Will Denyer: Assessing US Recession Risk

    Despite recent headline data releases being mildly encouraging, Will is worried that the US economy is limping toward recession territory. In this video interview he discusses his framework for assessing the US economy and proposes investment strategies to deal with what he sees as the two most likely scenarios; namely, an outright contraction or a mild growth pick-up associated with rising inflation.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    On The Brink Of Recession

    Full steam ahead, then? Friday’s release of the first GDP estimate for 3Q16 headline showed US growth rising to an annualized 2.9%, up from 1.4% in 2Q and 0.8% in 1Q. On the face of it, this reading points to the US economy emerging from yet another soft patch, and so backing away from the recession frontier. Not so fast. A close look at the underlying components of the GDP report reveals the US as being perilously close to that threshold.

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    The End Of The Goldilocks Scenario?

    Over the last seven years global investors have benefited greatly from a combination of moderate growth and non-threatening inflation, allowing for constantly loose monetary policy. Yet for the US, we are increasingly concerned that, one way or another, this “Goldilocks scenario” is about to come to an end. Here’s why:

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    What Next For Libor Rates?

    The Federal Reserve has not hiked rates this year, but that has not stopped funding cost for US companies and foreign banks from rising. While risk-free rates have barely budged, 3-month LIBOR is up 30bp YTD from 0.6% to 0.9%. This widening of short-term credit spread stems from (i) stress in Europe’s banking sector, and (ii) fund flows ahead of a regulatory overhaul of US “prime” money market funds, which took effect on Friday (see Ripples In...

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    The Rising Odds Of A US Recession

    We are on recession watch after yesterday’s release of September’s NFIB small business optimism survey. It was not the headline number which got us worried—that ticked down from 94.4 to 94.1. Rather, it was the significant drop in the job openings component—from 30 to 24, or from a cyclical high to the lowest level in 15 months. This suggests that demand for US labor may be rolling over, which is concerning indeed.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Emerging From The Soft Patch

    Three weeks ago we asked whether the uniform weakness in US data—across manufacturing, services and home construction—signaled the start of a recession or merely a summer soft patch. At the time we concluded that what we were seeing was yet another soft patch. Thankfully, the latest round of data releases appears to confirm that conclusion, with the US economy now emerging from its summer doldrums.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Wicksell's Guide To A Better Portfolio

    With the recent US economic data worryingly soft, and with no convincing drivers of earnings growth to be seen, how should investors position their portfolios? Will and KX set out their methodology for structuring a dynamic Wicksellian portfolio to generate superior returns at reduced levels of volatility, and determine the optimum allocation mix for the current troubled environment.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Will & KX: Soft Growth And Volatile Markets

    Will and KX present the quick view on the US economy and financial markets

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Knowing Whether To Buy The Dip

    With all the current focus on the Federal Reserve and markets, it’s easy to overlook the increasingly ugly state of the underlying US economy. Throughout the long post-2009 recovery, when any one driver of US growth showed signs of stalling, the others continued ticking over nicely, which meant overall growth averaged out around 2%. Recent data releases signal that has now changed. Although none of our key indicators has shown a dramatic...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Wicksell’s Portfolio

    Will has spent much of the last year developing a return-on-capital theory of US economic cycles with a particular focus on recession turning points. The logical extension of this work is to apply it to the task of portfolio construction and more particularly to the current US market situation.

    8
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    Gavekal Research

    Risk On? Maybe Not

    Equity and oil prices have rallied in true risk-on fashion since the February 11 market trough, and are now back near their highs of late last year. Given this apparent rebound in risk appetite, one might have expected US government bonds to sell off in equally dramatic fashion, with yields climbing back to the 2.2-2.3% levels seen at the end of last year. Instead, there has been no rebound at all. Today, 10-year treasuries yield 1.75%, much the...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    US Homebuilders Hit A Speed Bump

    Homebuilding has been a reliable contributor to US growth over recent years. Now tighter lending standards for new construction projects and commercial real estate loans are threatening a slowdown. But, as KX and Will argue, as long as mortgage rates remain low and demand robust, the sector should only hit a speed bump, not a wall.

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    Rebalance Away From US Equities

    Yesterday the S&P 500 closed at a year-to-date high of 2,094, up 14.5% from its February 11 low. Now comes the real test of investor confidence. At its current level the index is just 1.7% below its all-time high, set on May 21 last year. Since then the market has tried and failed on four occasions to surpass that level, in June and July, and then following the summer’s sell-off, in November and December. With the market apparently poised...

    0
  • Gavekal Research

    Is US Manufacturing A Leading Indicator?

    There is a commonly held belief that US manufacturing leads the rest of the economy, so it is surely a worry that factory output has been flat since late 2014. And yet the broad economy kept growing—with GDP up 2% YoY in 4Q15, consumption up 2.7% YoY, and home construction by almost 10%. One explanation for this apparent decoupling is the US’s shift to a more service-intensive “knowledge economy” which has rendered metal bashing and more...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Why US Imports Are Disappointing

    Given the strength of the dollar, it is not surprising that 2015 generally saw US exports contracting, US imports growing, and the trade balance widening. What is more perplexing is that import growth has started to look shaky in the first part of this year. What gives?

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Returns On Capital Are Deteriorating

    The rate of return on capital invested in the US has taken another step down. While not terribly surprising, this does bring the world’s largest economy one step closer to the next recession and a full-scale bear market. Nevertheless, the day of reckoning remains some way off; the current cycle is not about to reach the end of its road just yet.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    US Housing: From Great To Good

    The US housing recovery properly kickedoff in 2011 as a confluence of benign factors converged to favor the sector. Yet while housing continues to provide a much-needed positive contribution to US economic growth, recent data points to reduced momentum. After a weak January, homes sales for February, released yesterday, ticked a little higher. Yet over the last year, sales have been choppy and generally flat. The NAHB index also shows...

    2
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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...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    No More Curve To Roll Down

    Since the Bank of Japan introduced a negative deposit rate on January 30, Japanese bank shares have collapsed, falling -21% in yen terms and -15% in US dollars. The first question to ask is this: why were Japanese bank shares derated so dramatically after the policy change? Here are a few explanations, which are not mutually exclusive:

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Deflation Deferred

    In the context of weak earnings, weak growth and weak inflation numbers, Beijing delivers another blow to confidence by devaluing its currency. Markets swiftly drive down the prices of equities, commodities and high-risk bonds. Anyone still expecting the US Federal Reserve to follow through with rate hikes must be completely out-of-touch with reality...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Keep Calm And Rebalance Into Equities

    The investment environment has not fundamentally changed since December. Then as now, the situation neither justifies being “all in” nor “all out”. Since the economic situation is worsening, a balanced portfolio of some type makes sense—unless there's evidence of a looming US recession. In my view, that time has not yet come.

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    US Risks

    While China grabs the headlines (Trading halted before 10am after a quick -7% drop, renminbi devaluation fears at fever pitch!...), we will leave those issues for a later report and focus on a question that looms larger for most investors: what is happening in the US economy, and what are the key risks facing the world’s biggest market in 2016?

    0
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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...

    4
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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...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Video: On The US Economy

    For a deeper dive, read the Quarterly Strategy Chartbook: The State Of The US Economy here.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    QSCB: The State Of The US Economy

    The US economy displays some worrying signs. Corporate profits have contracted, credit spreads have jumped and inventories are piling up. By the same token, the consumer looks in decent shape as wages rise, oil prices continue to fall and moderate household leverage provides a clear tail wind. So what gives?

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Inside The Fed’s Black Box

    Regular readers will know that we at Gavekal have spent a considerable amount of time over the last few years exploring Knut Wicksell’s concept of the “natural rate of interest”. We are not the only ones. The Federal Reserve too has recently been mulling over the great 19th century Swedish economist’s theories. According to the minutes of October’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, policymakers were given “several briefings on the concept...

    4
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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?".

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Squeeze On US Profits

    Forget yesterday’s upward revision in US third quarter GDP growth from 1.5% to 2.1%. The real news was the release of top-down domestic corporate profit data—and it was much less encouraging. Here is what we learned:

    4
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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...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    A New Look At Capital: Reassessing Cost And Return

    US profits are contracting, corporate bond rates are rising, and the Federal Reserve is inching towards rate hikes. It is no wonder the US equity rally faltered this summer. As the dust settles, the question confronting investors is: Where does the US stand now in the economic cycle?

    9
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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.

    0
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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...

    0
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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:

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Fed’s Opportunity For Lift Off

    There are many problems in the world today, but too-high a cost of capital is not among them. This is not going to change if the Federal Reserve hikes short rates by a quarter of a percent this week, or in December. We have no particular insight as to when the Fed will make its move, but there are good reasons for it pull back on the “lift off” lever before the end of the year. Recent ructions in global markets are not likely to deter Janet...

    6
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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...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Portfolio Construction Towards The End Of The Cycle

    Buy into the rebound or position for the real sell-off still to come? It is a tough question at this point. Most investors are confident we are considerably more than half way through the cycle, but they are far from certain the end is nigh (especially after yesterday’s big upward revision of US GDP). For the bamboozled, the summer sell-off of 1998 offers some interesting parallels.

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Strong US Data Confirm Underweight

    Data released on Friday reaffirmed the robust health of the US domestic sector. Paradoxically, this only strengthened our conviction that investors should underweight US equities in favor of other markets.

    0
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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...

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    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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    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.

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    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.

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    5C United States: Forget Payrolls, Watch Out For Wage Growth

    Not so long ago most of what the savvy investor needed to know about the US economic cycle could be gleaned from a casual perusal of the labor market. Sadly for those seeking a simple life, those days have passed. For example, key measures of labor market slack offer mixed messages; the participation rate is stuck below the trough of the last two cycles which points to the working age population being under-utilized. Yet, a greatly reduced...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Beware Of Crowds, And False Prices

    The world’s largest economy is on the cusp of a deflationary depression—at least according to yesterday’s US GDP report. Real growth was up a mere 0.2% annualized in the first quarter, while nominal growth was even lower, at just 0.1%, due to a -0.1% drop in prices. Yet the markets largely looked past this “shocking” report. There were some notable moves yesterday, but not because the market was pricing in economic disaster—far from it.

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    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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    Drop The Dollar Hedge

    The United States represents more than half of global equity benchmarks (58% of the developed-market world MSCI and 52% of the all-country version). So the key question every global equity investor must answer is whether to be overweight or underweight the US?

    5
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    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...

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    The US Market’s Silver Lining

    We are no bulls on the US market. Even if growth remains solid, our view is that US equities will struggle to post yet another year of outperformance given that valuations are already stretched, the Federal Reserve is no longer the easiest central bank in town, and the US dollar is no longer super-competitive (see Does It Still Make Sense to Overweight the US? and Turning Cautious On US Equities). Even worse, decent growth is not a given. While...

    0
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    5C US: Doing More With A Flatter Yield Curve

    Banks borrow short and lend long. Hence profits are a function of a) the steepness of the yield curve, and b) how much risk (and return) banks are willing and able to reach for at the long end of the curve—taking either duration risk or credit risk, or both. With this in mind, we consider earnings potential in the three key areas:

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    The Fed’s New Policy: Zero Real Rates

    The Federal Reserve is convinced that the US is not turning Japanese—even though the US consumer price index was flat in February compared with a year ago, having fallen -0.1% in January. Once the effects of lower oil prices abate, the Fed expects inflation to head back toward its 2% target. Whether policymakers are right about this inflation outlook means everything for the trajectory of future policy rate hikes, for two reasons:

    2
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    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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    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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    Strong Economy, Weak Markets

    The US has been dishing out report after report showing an improving labor market. And the equity market doesn’t like it one bit.

    0
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    5C United States: A Crowded Trade, With Good Reason

    The dollar has had quite a run—with the DXY up 22% since July. This crowded trade is obviously vulnerable to pullbacks. But volatility aside, is there potential for the dollar to rally further in the medium term? The short answer is yes, especially against the euro. But if you want to be contrarian, we suggest going long yen. These calls are based on three factors: (i) relative monetary policy trajectories, (ii) the likely direction of fund...

    0
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    In The ECB We Trust (Well, For Now)

    Ever since the European Central Bank announced its €60bn-a-month QE program in January the market has craved answers to some elementary questions. Specifically:

    1
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    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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    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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    The Signal In US Market Cap

    The ratio of US stock market capitalization to US gross domestic product has long been a favorite indicator for many investors. The great Warren Buffet himself endorsed it in 2001 as “probably the best single measure of where valuations stand.” But we think we can improve on it. Recent history has shown that it is more appropriate, and more useful, to value US stocks against global GDP. Looking at this measure today we find one more reason to...

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    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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    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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    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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    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...

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    5C United States: What If The Fed Really Did Hike This Year?

    Since making its first rate cut in September 2007, the Federal Reserve has delivered seven years of the most intense monetary easing that modern economies have experienced. Now, the world must grapple with the exit strategy. To be sure, that moment of reckoning could be delayed by factors that include lower oil prices, a higher dollar and renewed risk of a Grexit. But, unlike a certain central bank from a country noted for its chocolate and...

    0
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    Australia, The Next Shoe To Drop

    Central bankers are ditching managerial gradualism in their monetary policy communication and are getting serious. Switzerland, Denmark, India and now Canada have all made surprise interest rate moves in recent days—okay, the European Central Bank continues to drip-feed its every thought to friendly journalists, but the sheer scale of the adjustment taking place in relative global prices means that policymakers must respond swiftly to events....

    0
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    Positioning Prior To The ECB Decision

    With the European Central Bank set to make its big announcement on quantitative easing tomorrow, the market is already pricing in a game changer. This makes portfolio positioning today a difficult task. Lofty expectations have increased the odds of disappointment, and yet investors can be excused for not wanting to position themselves for a fight with the ECB—after all, it could actually decide to fire up its printing presses in earnest. We have...

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    Who Will Profit From Eurozone QE?

    Finally, the European Central Bank is expected to launch its first program of full-blown quantitative easing, buying sovereign bonds outright with freshly-printed euros. The announcement could come as soon as this Thursday’s policy meeting. But there are big questions still unanswered over how exactly to conduct QE in a currency union made up of supposedly independent countries and autonomous governments.

    0
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    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.

    0
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    Oil And US Contagion Risks

    Oil prices are 50% lower than last summer and it is not clear that the rout is over. Such a dramatic price adjustment in what is arguably the most essential commodity to modern life will inevitably shape the economic and investment landscape in 2015. In the case of the world’s largest oil consumer, our view has been that lower oil prices reinforce the case for a sustained US recovery. Our proviso to this fairly cheery prognosis is that the...

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    Our Holiday Reading List

    For the third year we are publishing a year-end books round-up. The topics covered by the 17 books in our compendium include hardy Gavekal perennials such as economics, politics and the effect of technological transformation on modern life. In addition Charles considers ancient Rome’s decline due to its apparent embrace of socialism over liberalism. Louis kicks us off with a look at the roots of our most basic human urges.

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    The Sources Of US Purchasing Power

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    New York Seminar December 2014 - Charles, Francois, Tom & Will

    We held our winter seminar in New York on December 5 with Charles, Francois, Tom and Will offering their views of the global economic pulse and recent market developments.

    0
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    5C United States: US Capex Will Grow Despite Energy Sector Cuts

    The relentless decline of oil prices promises to be a key variable impacting economic activity in 2015. The positive implication for consumers is clear. The implication for capital spending growth is less obvious. Our view is that the outlook for overall US capital spending is bright, despite the likely collapse of oil-related capex. In fact, it may be brighter because of the collapse in oil prices.

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