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  • Gavekal Research

    Updating The US Recession Indicator

    In January last year I penned a piece whose simple thesis was clear from the title (see Towards An OECD Recession In 2015). The idea was that each time the rentier owner of capital made more money than the entrepreneur (on a worldwide basis) in the previous 12 months, a recession in the OECD materialized some time in the next 12 months. Returns for the rentier were computed using the 12-month total return of 10-year treasuries and those for...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    Marginal Analysis In Capital Markets

    At the end of the 19th century, a revolution hit economics with the arrival of what is called “marginal analysis”. The idea was simple: prices were not determined by average demand meeting average supply, but by the marginal demand meeting the marginal supply; and the resulting price was used to determine the value of all the products or assets concerned. As long as nobody interfered with this price, it guaranteed a proper allocation of scarce...

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    The Fed’s Price Keeping Operation

    The US equity market is a constant source of surprise, but what really amazes Charles is any suggestion that it is “trying to tell us something”. Between algorithms, indexation, regulations, exchange traded funds, structured products, trackers, negative interest rates and of course massive central bank intervention, “Mr. Market” probably has little to say, save that he is hopelessly lost.

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    We Are Killing The Wrong Pig

    Lord Keynes, who was a lot smarter than most Keynesians, argued strongly in favor of the euthanasia of the rentier. I see the logic. The rentier has almost by definition a huge preference for liquidity (to use the Keynesian terminology), which leads automatically to a very low velocity of money, and from there to recession. So the idea is to force the rentier into a lower preference for liquidity, which should lead to a higher velocity of money....

    6
  • Gavekal Research

    The Bloodhound And The Swedish Economist

    After more than 10 years of researching the theories of 19th century radical bourgeois economist Knut Wicksell, Charles concludes that Keynesian monetary policy, which holds market interests down relative to the “natural rate”, leads to slower growth, a more volatile economy, less reliable price signals, and falling P/E ratios. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the US is facing today.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    A Diagnostic Tool For Bear Markets

    One of the most vexing moments in a money manager’s career comes when one of the team—usually the young intern—asks the question: “So, are we in a bear market or not?” Immediately, everybody on the investment committee jumps into the discussion, and without fail everyone has a strong opinion on the matter. A vigorous debate ensues, and when everything is said and done, a lot more has been said than done—and neither the intern nor anyone else on...

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Dissolving The People

    Populist movements are being greeted with horror by political elites across the Western world. For Charles this is not surprising for such movements threaten the self-perpetuating and self-interested economic structures which our elites have constructed.

    9
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    Gavekal Research

    Video: On Wicksellian Theory

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Seeing The Chinese Forest, Not The Trees

    I do not know as much as I should about China, but I would beg readers’ indulgence as I have some general knowledge of how economies work, and some particular insights into economic history. My fairly unoriginal starting point is that the first phase of China’s development, starting in about 1990, required a focus on building infrastructure and this caused particular rules to be adopted. Since the essential roads, bridges, power plants and...

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Housing And Deflation

    As regular readers will know, I have been warning for some months that the US economy is on the verge of a deflationary bust, which is by far the most dangerous part of any economic cycle (see Four Quadrants: The Growth Question or The Typology Of A Deflationary Bust). So the question readers are probably asking now is this: did the January data released last Friday, which showed US consumer price index inflation accelerating to 1.4% with core...

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    Elijah And The Prophets Of Baal

    As central banks in Europe and Japan push interest rates more deeply negative in an attempt to reflate their struggling economies, it is astonishing that no central bankers seem to have considered that far from staving off deflation as intended, their low rate policies have achieved the exact opposite, bringing the world to the brink of the very deflationary bust they have been trying to avert. For economists steeped in the academic orthodoxies...

    8
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    Gavekal Research

    The Gavekal Monthly: Enter Ursus Magnus?

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

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Anatomy Of The Bear

    I wish I shared Anatole’s degree of conviction. In yesterday’s Daily he set out his belief that the current sell-off in financial markets is not the start of “a structural ‘bear market’, still less a structural Ursus Magnus likely to last for many years” (see Is Wall Street In A ‘Bear Market’). I am not so sure. I suspect that what we are witnessing may indeed be the emergence of an Ursus Magnus, the sort of bear market so deep and prolonged...

    2
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    Gavekal Research

    Here Comes Daddy Bear

    For the last few months I have been concerned that a bear market was likely to unfold. It is my considered opinion that we are now on such a trajectory. Of course the next question has to be what kind of bear market, for history suggests that such episodes come in two distinct extremes.

    2
  • Gavekal Research

    Four Quadrants: The Growth Question

    Charles has been on a near 40 year quest to find a rules-based solution to the most basic of economic questions “what is the current situation?”. He has long used his Four Quadrants methodology which categorizes an economy as being in either an inflationary boom or bust, or alternatively a disinflationary boom or bust. In the first part of this series he proposed a framework to show whether the US was in the inflationary or disinflationary part...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    It’s About The Dollar, Not The Renminbi

    In my 50 year career working in financial markets, I have never seen the money supply of one country move across the border to another country. Hence I must confess to being perplexed when reading recent commentary fretting about “capital flight” from China. Never mind that China’s highest denomination bill is RMB100, meaning that a fleet of trucks would be needed to move any meaningful sums into Hong Kong, but the country still has foreign...

    1
  • Gavekal Research

    Four Quadrants: A Wicksellian Analysis

    In 1978, when still young and creative, I produced my first four quadrants chart. The idea was that there are four basic investment environments depending if economic activity is expanding or contracting, and whether prices are rising or falling. It was usually obvious which state we had just left—for example the UK having suffered an inflationary bust in 1977—but far harder to judge what state we had entered. Being able to make such a call in...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    The Gavekal Monthly: The Balance Of Risks

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

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Last Holdout Of US Value

    Some readers have expressed surprise at my contention that the US stock market is “not that expensive” as their direct experience suggests otherwise. The objection is reasonable, so I have conducted a review of my US equity valuation model. I like to compare equities to a long-dated US zero coupon bond because it has the same annual volatility as the US stock market. Hence, the chart below compares the S&P 500 with the price index of a zero...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Apex Of Market Stupidity

    In some 40 years of watching financial markets, my dominant emotion has been a mixture of curiosity, amusement and despair. It seems the stock market must have been invented to make the maximum number of people miserable for the greatest possible amount of time. The bond market, meanwhile, has just one goal in life: to make economists’ forecasts for interest rates look even more silly than their other predictions.

    8
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    Gavekal Research

    Why Not To Trust In Central Bankers

    More than ever investors are fixated with central bankers, whether it be the latest utterance of Janet Yellen or what Mario Draghi may announce later today. To my mind, there are bigger issues on the horizon.

    6
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    Gavekal Research

    When To Reduce The Volatility Of An Equity Portfolio

    Having worked as a money manager with mandates that allowed me the freedom to move at will between cash, bonds and equities, while still being measured against the world equity index, my key asset allocation decision was always when to reduce the portfolio’s volatility below that of the benchmark—and which tool to use in pursuit of this goal.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Lament For A Vanished Middle East

    It is desperately saddening to see the terrified population of the Middle East fleeing for refuge towards a Europe that has utterly forgotten what the region looked like just a few decades ago. Yet nobody can hope to understand the disaster that is unfolding if he knows nothing of the events that shaped the modern Middle East.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Poverty Still Matters For Capitalists

    Since 2000 the median US household income has fallen by -7% in real terms as living standards have declined for the poorest members of American society. As Charles explains in this follow-up to his July 2014 paper, Poverty Matters For Capitalists, this worsening impoverishment has been inflicted largely by monetary policy mistakes, and threatens to drag the entire US economy into recession.

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    A Britisher At Heart

    On Monday, Anatole argued that a British exit from the European Union would rank as a foreign policy disaster of historic proportions (see Brexit: A Blunder To Rank With The Boston Tea Party). This is not the first time I have disagreed with my partner on UK matters, and it will likely not be the last. In recent years Anatole worried about the impact of public spending cuts being pushed through by the Conservative-led coalition government; I...

    4
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    Gavekal Research

    Wicksell And Capital Misallocation

    Accepted opinion among investors is that, when it eventually comes, the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate increase in almost nine and a half years will have been signaled so well in advance and will be so small—effectively from zero to 25bps—that it will have little or no effect on either the financial markets or the real economy. Unfortunately, given the monetary policy settings that have prevailed since 2010, I am not convinced the...

    12
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    Gavekal Research

    The Catastrophe Of Negative Rates

    Yesterday both Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan and Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann broke ranks, daring to suggest that ultra-low interest rates may not be such a good thing after all. If rates were held too low for too long, warned Rajan, the risk of financial instability would be greatly heightened, a concern Weidmann shares. Unfortunately, that’s not the half of it.

    13
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    Gavekal Research

    The Gavekal Ethos

    In recent days a number of our readers have expressed surprise—even bewilderment—at the difference of opinions within Gavekal on some important topics. “What,” they ask, “is the Gavekal house view?” This is a perfectly legitimate question, and as chairman of the firm, it is my duty to explain our position.

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    Middle-East Machinations

    Russia and Turkey are increasingly at loggerheads as Moscow escalates its military engagement in Syria. Earlier this month Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to find another gas supplier after Russian jets breached its air space, and in recent days Ankara initiated legal action against Gazprom over the price it is charged for piped gas.

    2
  • Gavekal Research

    The Myth Of Secular Stagnation

    When the European Central Bank meets today, discussion will center on whether it should expand quantitative easing in an attempt to stave off deflation and support the eurozone’s painfully slow growth. In Japan too, talk is about whether the Bank of Japan needs to step up its stimulus efforts. And in the US, the Federal Reserve last month decided to delay calling an end to its own zero interest rate policy amid evidence that US growth is in...

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    The Dollar, Deflation And US Equities

    Is the threat of US deflation really receding? Far from it—for a large segment of the US stock market deflationary pressure is set to intensify, rather than abate, over the coming months. Sure, data for September released yesterday showed an uptick in core inflation (ex-energy and food) to 1.9% from 1.8%, raising expectations that that overall US consumer prices are poised for a moderate uptrend driven largely by housing and healthcare costs....

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    The Financing Gap, Creative Accounting And US Recessions

    The pithy aphorism that there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. Having spent the better part of my adult life torturing data to prove points, I would certainly agree. But in my view, the British Prime Minister missed a beat, for surely the most predictable form of officially sanctioned lying is the type overseen by accountants.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    Positioning For A US Recession

    Since the end of last year I have been worried about an “unexpected” slow-down, or even recession, in the world’s developed economies. In order to monitor the situation on a daily basis, I built a new indicator of US economic activity which contains 17 components ranging from lumber prices and high-yield bond spreads to the inventory-to-sales ratio.

    0
  • Gavekal Research

    Philosophical Dominance, Profits And Stocks

    Let us start with a simple idea, which also happens to be validated by the data: stock market returns and corporate profits over the long term have the same growth rate.

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    I Know, I Know...

    ...the US economy is doing fine and after the longest run up in history, may be on the verge of achieving take-off velocity. So why am I so worried? The problem is that my US recession indicator has entered negative territory, after literally collapsing in the last 6 months. Today I will try and explain my concerns about the US, when all others seem fixated by China. It should be acknowledged that since about 2002 the US economy has been managed...

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    Termaillage And The Renminbi

    For years I have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, monitoring central bank reserves as an important determining factor of what I loosely call “international liquidity”. Suddenly I’ve got company. In the last few weeks everyone has been focusing on the topic, and “experts” by the dozen have penned reports about it. Naturally, I’ve read everything that has passed across my screen, and—sad to say—I’m appalled by the results: an egregious...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    What To Do With US Bonds

    Given the recent turmoil in financial markets and an intensifying focus on the Federal Reserve’s forthcoming policy decision, it seems a good time to update readers on our thinking about the proper positioning of a US fixed income portfolio. As a starting point, it is worth restating the two main determining factors that influence the yields on longer-dated treasuries.

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse

    Markets are entering bear market territory and what vexes Charles and Louis is whether the root cause is a liquidity crunch, a solvency crisis or a deflationary bust. In this wide ranging chart book they explore the problem through the revelatory prophecy of four riders whose presence marked the coming of judgement day. We don’t mean to pile on the misery in what is shaping up as a tough week and the moderately good news is that the-end-of-times...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The World Monetary Base And The Dollar

    If the supply of US dollars is declining then, all else being equal, the value of the dollar should rise, and vice versa. This truism can be checked by comparing the annual growth rate of the “world monetary base” with changes in the JP Morgan trade weighted dollar. Regular readers will recall that the WMB is simply the sum of the US monetary base and foreign exchange reserves deposited at the Federal Reserve for the account of foreign central...

    12
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    Gavekal Research

    Surviving The Bear Market

    Never mind whether investors in US equities should buy the dip. The question now is whether a six year bull market is yielding to a bear market. Bears are stealthy animals that tend to creep up unannounced. I have had the nagging suspicion for a while that we were approaching grizzly territory and have been recommending an increasingly conservative portfolio positioning (see Protect And Survive). However, the core of my investment philosophy...

    13
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    Gavekal Research

    How To Build A Reserve Currency

    A store of value, a unit of account and a medium of exchange—these are the three essential characteristics of any proper currency. Needless to say a reserve currency must possess all three. But they are far from enough. A reserve currency must have at least six other attributes too, as Jacques Rueff and Robert Triffin did so much to establish.

    1
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    Gavekal Research

    Cutting The Tail Of The Dog

    When docking the tail of a dog there are (in theory at least) two ways by which the offending appendage can be removed: it can be amputated with a single incision, or instead sliced incrementally so that the poor creature barely notices its loss. The same logic applies to economic policymakers when a “tough” decision has to be made. The Thatchers of this world go for a single chop, while the likes of Hollande or Chirac will always plump for...

    3
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    Gavekal Research

    Who Killed US Productivity Growth?

    Four and a half years ago, in February 2011, I published one of my first pieces of Wicksellian research, entitled The High Cost Of Free Money. In it I wrote that negative real interest rates were going to cause a sustained decline in the productivity growth of US labor, which in turn would lead to a deterioration in the structural growth rate of the economy. In making these observations, I was merely following the logic of 19th century Swedish...

    7
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    Gavekal Research

    Three Ugly Charts

    I would never claim to be an accomplished technical analyst, but I do know how to use a ruler when looking at charts of prices in the markets.

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    5C Overview: Why The Surprise At Slowing Trade?

    I am afraid I am rapidly turning into Gavekal’s resident bear—asleep half the time, grumpy the rest. In particular, I am amazed how some people have suddenly discovered that world trade is going nowhere, and that they are so bamboozled by this strange pattern. Where exactly have they been for the last 15 years?

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Signal In Silver (Part II)

    Last year I came up with a chart (shown below) that I found rather intriguing. It showed that on every occasion in the last 100 years when the price of silver dropped more than 25% year-on-year, consumer price inflation in the US took a nose-dive soon afterwards.

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    The Typology Of A Deflationary Bust

    In the summer of 1998 I wrote the first report for a new venture that was eventually to become Gavekal Research. It was called The Typology Of A Deflationary Boom. My contention at the time was that the US was in a deflationary boom and in the report I tried to explain to the tiny handful of readers we then had how to manage money in such a period. Booms and busts tend to be byproducts of the interest rate policies followed by central banks. The...

    18
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    Gavekal Research

    5C Overview: Value, Prices And The Coming Deflation

    Economics started out as an effort to understand why goods and services have a “value” and why this value changes over time. After a few dead ends, such as the labor theory of value, a consensus emerged that the value of any good is the result of individual transactions conducted when both parties gain from the transaction. But the “value” I put on a ring my mother wore may have nothing to do with the price that it might fetch. Price is...

    0
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    Gavekal Research

    The Purpose Of The Stock Market

    When you’ve been around for as long as I have, you can’t help but come to a few conclusions—most of them unhappy. My first conclusion is that the stock market was invented to make as many people as possible as miserable as possible for as much of the time as possible. In this sense the stock market is a roaring success.

    5
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    Gavekal Research

    Go Ugly Early

    I fully recognize that most readers face huge regulatory and commercial constraints in the way they manage their portfolios. Nevertheless I have always believed that, as far as possible, the best starting point for effective portfolio construction is to imagine oneself marooned on a Pacific island, free from the constraints of legacy and the expectations of others.

    0
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