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    Gavekal Research

    Hot, But Not Too Hot

    It remains unclear if the US is moderating its approach to trade war, but there are other factors to keep equity investors on edge. Friday’s US payroll report showed average hourly earnings rising to a cycle-high of 3.1%, confirming the picture of a tight labor market. Hence, with 10-year treasury yields just below their recent peak of 3.23%, the question is whether the US economy can weather a higher cost of capital. For now, I think the answer...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    US Macro And The Market

    Coming after another bruising week in the market, which saw the S&P 500 flirting with correction territory, down -9% from its late-September high, Friday’s third quarter US GDP report is heartening. Although 3Q’s quarter-on-quarter annualized growth rate of 3.5% was slower than the 4.2% rate recorded in 2Q, it was still strong relative to the expected 3.3% and compared with the US economy’s structural growth rate. While US growth will...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Equities In The Late Cycle (Revisited)

    The stock market volatility of the last week, triggered by fears over rising bond yields, emphasizes how participants now accept that the US economy is in the late phase of its cycle. KX argues this is not a reason to flee US equities, but it does demand a more discerning approach.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Rate Rises And The US Stock Market

    For the first time in the long post-2008 cycle, the US has a positive real interest rate. After Wednesday’s 25bp hike in US rates, at just short of 2.25%, the effective Fed funds rate will now exceed the Federal Reserve’s favored core PCE measure of inflation, which at the end of July stood at 2%. In theory, that could change later Thursday with the release of August PCE data. But with the dot plot suggesting another rate hike this year and...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Signaling From US Autos

    Even as the US economy fires up on tax cuts and government spending, interest rate-sensitive sectors show signs of rolling over. First it was housing, and now auto sales have slid to the lower end of their range after steadily softening this year. Over the next year, the question is less whether autos can boost growth, as how much they will detract from it. The fact that the Trump administration is still considering significant tariffs on...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    A Benign View Of US Inflation

    With US inflation now running above the Federal Reserve’s long term target rate, and the US labor market almost as tight as at any time since the turn of the century, the question for investors is not whether inflation will continue to push higher, but how fast it will rise. The distinction is important. Headline CPI inflation came in at a six-and-a-half-year high of 2.9% in July. And in June the overall and core PCE measures that the Fed...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    More Underperformance Ahead For US Bank Shares

    It’s been a tough few months for investors in US bank shares. Since late February banks have underperformed the broader S&P 500 index, in large part on fears that the flattening trend in the US yield curve will compress bank net interest margins and depress earnings. Yet viewed on a longer time horizon, things look different. From the fourth quarter of 2015 until the first quarter of this year (the latest data point), bank net interest...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Weighing The Forces Driving The US$

    Where is the US dollar going next? After weakening markedly against other developed economy currencies at the beginning of the year, the US dollar staged a vigorous rebound in April and May. Since then, the DXY US dollar index has essentially tracked sideways. Of course, trying to forecast the US dollar’s moves is frequently a thankless task. Nevertheless, it is important to examine both the bullish and bearish forces at work and to weigh their...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    The Yield Curve As A Recession Signal

    Every time since the 1960s that the US yield has inverted, a recession has followed within 18 months to two years. So it is no surprise that the recent flattening of the curve, which has seen the 10-2-year treasury yield spread fall to just 25bp, is attracting attention. Many observers say the flattening reflects market expectations of weaker aggregate demand ahead. Some argue that the flattening of the curve itself may cause a recession, by...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Still Caught In The Cycle

    The June US labor market report released on Friday appears to bear out Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell’s view, set out in a speech last month, that “there is a lot to like about low unemployment”. Although the headline payrolls number grew by an unexpectedly strong 213,000 month-on-month, the unemployment rate actually ticked higher from 3.8% to 4%, as greater numbers entered, or reentered, the labor market.

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    Gavekal Research

    The Trade War And The US Cycle

    How will the US administration’s trade disputes affect the US economic cycle? In the worst case scenario, if Donald Trump follows through on all his threats the disruption to global supply chains could be great enough to push the world economy into recession. At this point, the greatest impact flows from the high degree of uncertainty about future actions.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Hurdles For US Profits

    Corporate America shot the lights out in the first quarter as tax cuts helped S&P 500 earnings soar by 23%, while macro data released this week showed profits rising an aggregate 14% year-on-year, versus 4.8% in 2017. This week also saw good news for banks, as regulatory shackles were loosened. Yet investors who think US firms are headed back to the races must convince themselves that a series of late-cycle hurdles can be overcome.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Does The Dollar's Run-Up Have Legs?

    Being a US dollar bear has been a humbling experience over the last few weeks. The year started well enough for bears, with the DXY dollar index declining -4.2% over the first seven weeks. But since mid-April, the US currency has staged a rebound vigorous enough to leave the DXY up 1.95% year-to-date. This rally confronts investors with a baleful prospect: any further sustained appreciation of the US dollar will have a detrimental effect on...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Playing A Flatter US Yield Curve

    The US yield curve could invert towards the end of this year or early in 2019, the head of the St. Louis Federal Reserve said on Monday. For investors it’s a troubling thought. Over the last 50 years, whenever the US yield curve has inverted, a recession has typically followed within a year or two. Yet although the current flattening of the curve is set to continue, the process will be gradual, which means inversion and an ensuing recession...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Fade The US Dollar Rally

    If a week is a long time in politics, then three months is an eternity in the foreign exchange market. Three months ago, sentiment towards the US dollar reached a nadir after US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin expressed his desire for “a weaker US dollar”. Over the following weeks, the US currency duly weakened. But since mid-April the dollar has staged a rally, with the DXY index gaining 3.5% as the market has noted the increase in US long...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    The American Growth Dynamic

    It is clear from data released on Friday that the US economy remains set on an expansionary and inflationary trajectory. Growth in 1Q18 came in at a stronger-than-expected 2.3%, while the US employment cost index rose 2.8% YoY to a high for this cycle. Even as consumer spending comes off the boil, US firms, in what looks like a classic late-cycle pattern, are responding to bottlenecks by investing more in their capital stock. We continue to see...

    0
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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...

    0
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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...

    0
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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...

    0
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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...

    0
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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.

    0
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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...

    4
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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

    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...

    0
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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...

    2
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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,...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Outlook For US Growth And Prices

    The first estimate for real US GDP growth clocked in at 2.6% for the fourth quarter, bringing full-year 2017 growth to 2.5%. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve forecast the same rate of growth for 2018, together with a moderate pick-up in consumer inflation from 1.7% to 1.9%. At Gavekal we try to avoid making such specific numerical forecasts; as the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr used to say, “It’s very hard to make predictions, especially...

    0
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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...

    0
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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...

    4
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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.

    0
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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

    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 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

    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.

    0
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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

    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

    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

    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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    Gavekal Research

    US Bear Flattening Ahead

    The miniscule change of wording in yesterday’s Federal Reserve statement appears to confirm that the Fed will go ahead and begin to shrink its balance sheet from September. June’s statement said balance sheet normalization would begin “this year”, implying the process would start by December at the latest. Yesterday’s statement altered that to “relatively soon”—and relatively sooner than December suggests September, as the only other meeting...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Watch US-Eurozone Rate Differentials

    Interest rate differentials between the US and eurozone are wide by historical standards. This is no surprise. The US has enjoyed uninterrupted growth (at least in year-on-year terms) since 2010, and today the Federal Reserve stands as the most hawkish big central bank in town. In contrast, the eurozone slumped back into recession in 2012, and the European Central Bank remains in full-blown easing mode. As a result, interest rate differentials...

    2
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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

    Don’t Sweat An Impeachment

    After weeks of ignoring ever wackier White House shenanigans, investors yesterday focused on US political risk. The revelation of memos that seem to offer prima facie evidence of the president obstructing justice means the chance of an impeachment has jumped from improbable to possible. As the government’s investigative machinery cranked up a notch yesterday, US equities experienced their worst day since last September and treasury yields fell...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    The Headwinds To US Housebuilding

    US home prices are on the up, having climbed 6% over the 12 months to February. Yet housebuilding has failed to keep pace with the rise in prices. Although construction has made a positive contribution to GDP growth over the last couple of quarters, activity has built from a very low base. Housing starts in March were an annualized 1.215mn, with a consensus forecast for April of 1.25mn. Both figures are well below the long term pre-crisis US...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Don’t Bet On Another Bond Bubble

    Recent days have not been good for US treasury bears betting on higher yields. First, Donald Trump’s much hyped tax reform plan proved thin on detail and lacking in credibility. Then Friday’s weak US GDP release for 1Q17 showed an economy facing a notable softening in consumption demand. The one factor offering succor to treasury shorts has been reduced political risk in Europe after a centrist made it through to the second round of France’s...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    After The Health Care Reform Failure

    The Republican drive to repeal and replace Obamacare failed ignominiously on Friday. Together, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan were unable to muster enough support to pass the new health care bill through the House of Representatives. Bowing to reality, they pulled the vote. If there is a positive element to this failure, it is that both the administration and Congress will now shift their focus to tax reform. However, the...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    The Risk Picture Diminishes

    Yesterday’s 25bp rate rise from the US Federal Reserve was universally expected. The relative dovishness of Fed officials was not. With headline CPI inflation in the US running at a brisk 2.7% in February, ahead of the meeting at least some market participants had been pricing in four rate hikes this year. But after the latest dot plot signaled that policymakers continue to see only three hikes—including yesterday’s—in 2017, those expectations...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Calling Time On Bank Outperformance

    Tomorrow Donald Trump is scheduled to address a joint session of the US Congress. Although expected to be long on characteristic bombast, the president’s speech is likely to be short on hard details about his core policies. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Drawing up tax reform and infrastructure spending plans and squaring them away with the Republican majority in Congress will take many months. However, without concrete information to sustain...

    0
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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

    US Inflation: The End Of The Affair

    If there is one consensus view about US markets it is that inflation is ticking up, a tightening cycle is underway and the dollar will again rise. As markets are made at the margin, any hit to these beliefs could push investors into a sharp repositioning. Within Gavekal there is disagreement on this score, with Anatole arguing that US inflation and bond yields are on an upward trend, Charles taking the opposite view and Louis stating that US...

    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

    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

    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

    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

    Don’t Count On US Profits Riding To The Rescue

    A funny thing happened to US equities once the dust cleared after the late June sell-off that was sparked by the UK’s Brexit vote. As yields of most income earning assets fell on hopes of yet more central bank easing, equity investors discarded growth concerns and engineered a multiple expansion which drove the market to new vertigo-inducing highs (see Real Yields In The Driving Seat). The big question now is whether a profits boost can keep the...

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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...

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    Gavekal Research

    Real Yields In The Driving Seat

    Notwithstanding yesterday’s bounce, the stock market is a nervous place just now. After riding a post-Brexit rebound that saw both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite scale record highs on minimal volatility, investors are increasingly wondering about the extent of the potential near term downside, not just in the US but around the world

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    Gavekal Research

    The Return Of US Fiscal Policy

    More than three years after the world fretted about the US economy falling off a “fiscal cliff”, there is suddenly much talk of government spending being used to gin up growth. Whatever their many differences, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump favour a fiscal expansion, with a focus on upgrading the US’s aging infrastructure stock. At the same time Federal Reserve officials, led by Janet Yellen and John Williams, are arguing for more fiscal...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Fed’s Hawkish Stance

    For those who thought Janet Yellen a dyed-in-the-wool dove, her Jackson Hole speech on Friday gave pause as she endorsed fellow policymakers’ recent statements that the US economy was strong enough to warrant interest rate rises. Markets quickly adjusted. The implication for global asset markets is not altogether encouraging.

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    Gavekal Research

    The Next EM Yield Play?

    With global growth having stabilized and central banks remaining in super-easy mode, the dash for yield is making emerging markets ever more interesting. In recent months a number of our Hong Kong-based writers have advised investors to play this trend through bonds not equities, with Udith chiming in on Monday (see Indonesia: Bet On Stability Not Growth). The question for those who expect this “not too hot, not too cold” phase to persist is...

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    Gavekal Research

    Cheap For A Reason

    By most measures, US equities are not cheap. Yet many investors remain overweight, believing that in a world of ultra-low interest rates and negative bond yields, equity valuations should be higher because future cash flows are now discounted at a much lower rate than in the past. At first glance, the equity risk premium—the expected return on stocks over and above the risk-free rate—appears to support this belief. At more than one standard...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Caveat In US Payrolls

    Notions of a US growth scare were apparently banished on Friday with a bullish payroll report for July helping drive US equities to a new high and causing the dollar to rally strongly. Some 255,000 jobs were added—far better than the expected 185,000—while a cycle-high average hourly earnings gain of 2.6% YoY points to strong domestic demand. So how to square this data with the far less cheery 2Q16 GDP report, released last week, which showed...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Baleful Influence of Inventories

    The reason US second quarter GDP growth was so disappointing at 1.2% QoQ annualized was a deep contraction in US business inventories, which knocked -1.16pp off the quarterly growth figure. In itself, a fall in inventories need not be such a bad thing for longer term growth. If inventories get run down because companies are unable to keep up with a surge in demand, then a fall in inventories can foreshadow increased investment to expand business...

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    Gavekal Research

    There’s No Need To Fear A Tighter Fed

    While the US Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged yesterday as expected, it did revise its statement to sound marginally more hawkish. Most notably, it added the line, “Near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished,” while tweaking its language to reflect recent relatively solid data releases. The market took the announcement in its stride. The S&P 500 ended the day little changed. Yields on 10-year treasuries fell...

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    Gavekal Research

    US REITs And The Rush For Yield

    One of the side effects of negative interest rates and central bank asset purchases in the eurozone and Japan has been a reach for yield which has seen foreign investors rush into relatively high-yielding US assets, compressing yields and spreads to an extent that appears at odds with the late-cycle stage of the US economy. Earlier this month the 10-year US treasury yield set a new low of 1.36%, while US Baa-rated corporate bond yields fell to...

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    Gavekal Research

    Beyond Brexit, A More Hawkish Fed

    After the Federal Open Market Committee yesterday revised down both its growth forecast and its projection for the future trajectory of US interest rates, market expectations of rate hikes have collapsed. Fed fund futures are now pricing the probability of a July rate hike at just 6%, down from 16% immediately before the FOMC’s meeting. In reaction, the yield on 10-year treasuries has dipped further below the 1.6% mark to 1.56%, the lowest since...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Dissonance In Jobs

    This week has seen Gavekal senior partners reach a rare consensus of sorts, with Anatole acknowledging that May’s “pig ugly” US payrolls report upped the chances of Charles’s US recession scenario playing out (see Thinking Dark Thoughts). For me, the report offers a classic mixed signal: on the one hand the slowdown in US employment growth could stem from firms dialing back hiring in anticipation of trouble ahead, or alternatively it could be...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Next Move In US High-Yield

    At the nadir of the market sell-off in February, the Federal Reserve offered more dovish than expected guidance on its monetary policy intentions and so backstopped the crumbling US high-yield bond market. Since then, high-yield bond prices have rallied back to their early-2015 level with the last month seeing a consolidation. Yet with the chances of a Fed rate hike in June on the up and the fundamentals of the US economy looking less than...

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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...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Slowdown In Services

    Both the main leading indicators of activity in the US services sector—the ISM services PMI and the Markit services PMI—staged modest rebounds in March. But on the face of it, the pick-up in the headline numbers offers little encouragement for investors. At 54.5 for the ISM and 51.3 for Markit, both measures remain substantially below their 2015 averages of 57.2 and 55.9 respectively. Considering that services make up 70% to 80% of the US...

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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...

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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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    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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    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 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

    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

    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 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 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

    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...

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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

    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

    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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    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...

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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.

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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...

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    Gavekal Research

    The Sources Of US Purchasing Power

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