Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Thursday's News Links

[Reuters] Friendly Fed fires world stocks to best January on record

[Reuters] Dollar weaker on Fed's dovish outlook; Aussie dollar, euro gain

[Reuters] U.S. weekly jobless claims jump to near one-and-a-half year high

[Reuters] Trump upbeat on China trade talks but wants to meet Xi to cinch deal

[CNBC] China says its manufacturing activity contracted for the second-straight month in January

[AP] Italy slides into recession, darkening outlook for Europe

[NYT] The Hot Topic in Markets Right Now: ‘Quantitative Tightening’

[WSJ] Central Banks Signal End to Short-Lived Era of Restraint

[WSJ] The Fed’s Mysterious Pause

[FT] Federal Reserve’s ‘momentous’ U-turn prompts puzzlement

[FT] Central bank gold-buying reaches half-century high

[FT] China official manufacturing PMI details ‘not so reassuring’

[FT] US companies turn to junk bonds over loans to fund deals

[FT] Italy’s faltering economy will put populists’ plans to the test

[FT] Liquidity tops list of FX concerns for 2019, says JPM survey

[Bloomberg] India’s Still-Reeling Shadow Banks Face Fresh Cash Shortage Risk

Wednesday Evening Links

[Reuters] Stocks surge on Fed pledge to pause, dollar slips

[CNBC] Gold rises after Fed points to slower pace of rate hikes

[Reuters] In a shift, Fed will be 'patient' on future U.S. rate hikes

[AP] Fed sees low rates well into future and excites Wall Street

[AP] For US-China trade talks, hopes are high, expectations low

[CNBC] Private companies add 213,000 jobs in January, easily topping expectations: ADP/Moody’s Analytics

[CNBC] Pending home sales drop in December despite much lower interest rates

[Reuters] Investors flood U.S. bond funds with cash for 3rd straight week -ICI

[NYT] Fed Signals End of Interest Rate Increases

[WSJ] Fed Leaves Rates Unchanged, Signals Possible End to String of Rate Increases

[WSJ] Powell Now Owns the Fed’s Balance-Sheet Problem

[FT] Fed puts rate rises on hold as global economy slows

[Bloomberg] Europe Stays in Gloomy Mood as Germany Slashes Its 2019 Outlook

[Bloomberg] ECB Stimulus Looks Endless Now. Here's What It Means for Markets

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Wednesday's News Links

[Reuters] Stocks steady before Fed as Apple relief offsets Brexit complications

[Reuters] Fed likely to hold rates steady as it navigates data blind spots

[Reuters] U.S., China launch high level trade talks amid deep differences

[WSJ] Federal Reserve Likely to Hold Rates Steady

[WSJ] As China Trade Talks Begin, Trump Faces Pressure to Make a Deal

[WSJ] Trump Won’t Act Alone to Get Fannie, Freddie Out of Government Control

[FT] China’s slowdown is of its own doing

[FT] S&P route into China’s $12tn bond market faces perils

[Bloomberg] Powell to Stress Fed Patience on Rate Hikes: Decision Day Guide

[Bloomberg] U.S. and China Are Talking Some More, But Deal Prospects Are Still Slim

[Bloomberg] Fed's Big Balance Sheet Wind-Down May Be Halfway Complete

[Bloomberg] At Least 20 Companies in China Issued Profit Warnings in One Day

Tuesday Evening Links

[Reuters] Wall Street wavers as tech gives ground and industrials rebound

[Reuters] U.S. consumer morale at one-and-a-half year-low; house price gains slow

[AP] 3 things to watch for from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday

[AP] China-US row over tech giant Huawei overshadows trade talks

[Reuters] Another shutdown spells deeper pain for U.S. economy: Moody's

[CNBC] More cracks are appearing in the market for loans that helped cause the financial crisis

[Reuters] U.S. warns of 'serious consequences' after Venezuela moves against Guaido

[WSJ] What Could Go Wrong With the Fed on Hold

[WSJ] China and Russia, Aligned More Closely, Seen as Chief Security Threat to U.S.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Tuesday's News Links

[Reuters] Wall Street higher after latest batch of earnings

[Reuters] Gold reaches seven-month high as stocks, dollar struggle

[Reuters] Powell faces early reckoning on Fed's $4-trillion question

[Reuters] PG&E, owner of biggest US power utility, files for bankruptcy

[CNBC] Home prices rise at a slower pace: S&P Case-Shiller

[Reuters] Mnuchin says Huawei case 'separate' from U.S.-China trade talks

[AP] China tells US to stop ‘unreasonable crackdown’ on Huawei

[Reuters] Exclusive: PG&E to tap restructuring chief in final bankruptcy preparations - sources

[NYT] Trump’s Shutdown Surrender Adds Pressure to Secure China Trade Win

[WSJ] Big Divides Remain as U.S.-China Trade Talks Resume

[WSJ] Plain-Spoken Fed Chairman Sometimes Leaves Markets Confused

[WSJ] Cooling Housing Market Prompts Closer Scrutiny of Some Lenders

[WSJ] Chinese Exiting U.S. Real Estate as Beijing Directs Money Back to Shore Up Economy

[WSJ] Emerging-Markets Rally Leaves Asian Bonds Behind

[FT] Federal Reserve seeks to be steadier guide after market squalls

[FT] China ‘rebalances’ overseas lending on debt burden concerns

[FT] US-China trade talks to resume as tariff deadline looms

[FT] Worrying signals from the US housing market

[FT] How online platforms shook small-business lending in America

[Bloomberg] Trump to Wade Into China Trade Talks as U.S. Targets Huawei

[Bloomberg] The Dark Case for Both QE, QT Being Bad. And Treasuries as Haven

[Bloomberg] Australia Firms See Worst Slump in Conditions Since Financial Crisis

Monday Evening Links

[Reuters] Asia shares slip as China's Huawei in legal hot water; focus on Sino-U.S. talks

[Reuters] Wall Street rattled by Caterpillar, Nvidia warnings

[Reuters] U.S.' Mnuchin says expects progress in China trade talks

[Reuters] U.S. unseals indictments against China's Huawei and CFO Wanzhou

[Reuters] U.S. sanctions Venezuelan state oil firm, escalating pressure on Maduro

[CNBC] China accuses US of a ‘blatant breach’ of trade policy in WTO meeting

[Reuters] U.S. officials to announce China-related enforcement on Monday

[Reuters] Caterpillar, Nvidia sound alarm on China impact

[Reuters] China brings U.S. tariff dispute to WTO, berates Washington for blocking judges

[Bloomberg] China Weakness Spreads Far and Wide, From Caterpillar to Nvidia

[Bloomberg] U.S. Treasury Set to Borrow $1 Trillion for a Second Year to Finance the Deficit

[Bloomberg] Draghi Doesn't See Need for More Stimulus to Combat Growth Woes

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Monday's News Links

[Reuters] Wall Street drops more than 1 percent on Caterpillar, Nvidia warnings

[CNBC] Caterpillar stock skids after the company’s earnings, forecast fall short of expectations

[Reuters] Gold hovers near $1,300 as investors await Fed meet, trade talks

[Reuters] Explainer: Key Issues, implications of U.S.-China trade talks

[CNBC] Trump tells WSJ another government shutdown is ‘certainly an option’

[CNBC] US-China trade war: A stable deal with a strategic adversary is an elusive quest

[CNBC] JP Morgan’s co-president says more market meltdowns like December’s rout are coming

[Reuters] Iranian commander threatens Israel's destruction if it attacks: state TV

[WSJ] Trump Skeptical He Would Accept Any Congressional Border Deal

[WSJ] A $4 Trillion Scapegoat for Market Volatility: the Fed’s Shrinking Portfolio

[WSJ] Manufacturers Take a Sales Hit in China

[FT] Specialist loan vehicles lure yield-hungry investors

[Bloomberg] China’s Banks Are Desperate for Capital

Sunday Evening Links

[Reuters] Stocks rise after U.S. government reopens for now

[Reuters] Gold prices hold above $1,300 on U.S. rate pause hopes

[Reuters] Oil prices fall on rising U.S. rig count, economic slowdown

[Reuters] As nations turn against Maduro, Venezuela leader parades with military

[Bloomberg] Here Are Three Scenarios for U.S.-China Trade Talks This Week

[Bloomberg] Fitch Warns More Emerging Markets Face Downgrades This Year

Sunday's News Links

[Reuters] Wall St Week Ahead-Consumer confidence in focus as shutdown fears fade

[AP] UK PM May faces bruising week with Brexit challenges

[BBC] Trudeau fires Canada's ambassador to China amid Huawei controversy

[Reuters] French 'yellow vests' defy Macron again in tense protests

[NYT] America Pushes Allies to Fight Huawei in New Arms Race With China

[WSJ] Manufacturers Take a Sales Hit in China

[FT] Will the Fed stick to its new script?

[FT] Another tech bubble could be about to burst

[FT] US regional banks show robust business lending

Friday, January 25, 2019

Weekly Commentary: Just the Facts - January 25, 2019

For the Week:

The S&P500 slipped 0.2% (up 6.3% y-t-d), while the Dow added 0.1% (up 6.0%). The Utilities increased 0.7% (up 0.6%). The Banks added 0.7% (up 14.5%), while the Broker/Dealers declined 1.5% (up 9.4%). The Transports slipped 0.9% (up 8.2%). The S&P 400 Midcaps (up 9.4%) and the small cap Russell 2000 (up 10.0%) were little changed for the week. The Nasdaq100 was about unchanged (up 7.2%). The Semiconductors surged 4.3% (up 10.9%). The Biotechs declined 0.6% (up 15.4%). With bullion jumping $21, the HUI gold index surged 5.2% (down 1.2%).

Three-month Treasury bill rates ended the week at 2.33%. Two-year government yields slipped a basis point to 2.61% (up 12bps y-t-d). Five-year T-note yields declined two bps to 2.60% (up 9bps). Ten-year Treasury yields fell three bps to 2.76% (up 7bps). Long bond yields declined three bps to 3.07% (up 5bps). Benchmark Fannie Mae MBS yields dipped one basis point to 3.56% (up 5bps).

Greek 10-year yields fell 11 bps to 4.06% (down 29bps y-t-d). Ten-year Portuguese yields declined eight bps to 1.65% (down 6bps). Italian 10-year yields fell eight bps to 2.65% (down 9bps). Spain's 10-year yields dropped 12 bps to 1.23% (down 19bps). German bund yields fell seven bps to 0.19% (down 5bps). French yields declined six bps to 0.60% (down 11bps). The French to German 10-year bond spread widened one to 41 bps. U.K. 10-year gilt yields declined five bps to 1.31% (up 3bps). U.K.'s FTSE equities index dropped 2.3% (up 1.2% y-t-d).

Japan's Nikkei 225 equities index increased 0.5% (up 3.8% y-t-d). Japanese 10-year "JGB" yields declined two bps to 0.00% (down 1bp y-t-d). France's CAC40 gained 1.0% (up 4.1% y-t-d). The German DAX equities index increased 0.7% (up 6.8%). Spain's IBEX 35 equities index rose 1.3% (up 7.6%). Italy's FTSE MIB index added 0.5% (up 8.1%). EM equities were mixed. Brazil's Bovespa index gained 1.6% (up 11.1%), while Mexico's Bolsa fell 1.4% (up 4.8%). South Korea's Kospi index jumped 2.5% (up 6.7%). India's Sensex equities index declined 1.0% (down 0.1%). China's Shanghai Exchange added 0.2% (up 4.3%). Turkey's Borsa Istanbul National 100 index surged 3.4% (up 11.5%). Russia's MICEX equities index gained 1.0% (up 5.9%).

Investment-grade bond funds saw outflows of $158 million, and junk bond funds posted outflows of $264 million (from Lipper).

Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rates were unchanged at 4.45% (up 30bps y-o-y). Fifteen-year rates were unchanged at 3.88% (up 26bps). Five-year hybrid ARM rates increased three bps to 3.90% (up 38bps). Bankrate's survey of jumbo mortgage borrowing costs had 30-yr fixed rates up six bps to a six-week high 4.48% (up 19bps).

Federal Reserve Credit last week declined $5.2bn to $4.011 TN. Over the past year, Fed Credit contracted $389bn, or 8.9%. Fed Credit inflated $1.200 TN, or 43%, over the past 324 weeks. Elsewhere, Fed holdings for foreign owners of Treasury, Agency Debt gained $5.2bn last week to $3.408 TN. "Custody holdings" rose $56.6bn y-o-y, or 1.7%.

M2 (narrow) "money" supply rose $15.2bn last week to $14.521 TN. "Narrow money" gained $684bn, or 4.9%, over the past year. For the week, Currency increased $2.2bn. Total Checkable Deposits jumped $30.0bn, while Savings Deposits dropped $25.5bn. Small Time Deposits gained $4.6bn. Retail Money Funds rose $4.0bn.

Total money market fund assets added $2.4bn to $3.052 TN. Money Funds gained $227bn y-o-y, or 8.0%.

Total Commercial Paper increased $3.0bn to $1.069 TN. CP declined $60bn y-o-y, or 5.3%.

Currency Watch:

The U.S. dollar index declined 0.6% to 95.794 (down 0.4% y-t-d). For the week on the upside, the British pound increased 2.5%, the South African rand 1.7%, the New Zealand dollar 1.4%, the Mexican peso 0.6%, the Norwegian krone 0.6%, the Singapore dollar 0.4%, the euro 0.4%, the Canadian dollar 0.3%, the Japanese yen 0.2%, the Australian dollar 0.2%, the Swiss franc 0.2% and the South Korean won 0.1%. For the week on the downside, the Swedish krona declined 0.2% and the Swedish krona slipped 0.2%. The Chinese renminbi increased 0.44% versus the dollar this week (up 1.93% y-t-d).

Commodities Watch:

January 25 – Bloomberg (Aibing Guo, Dan Murtaugh and Javier Blas): “China’s largest oil refiner said its trading unit lost almost $700 million last year after being wrong-footed by zigzagging markets, revealing one of the biggest losses by a commodity trader in the last decade. Sinopec blamed the losses at its Unipec unit in part on ‘inappropriate hedging techniques’ and said it closed its positions after discovering the problem. Oil plunged sharply in late November and December, prompting traders to speculate that Unipec may have contributed to the price drop… It marks a sharp reversal of fortunes for Unipec, which has grown over the last 25 years to become one of the largest and most aggressive oil traders.”

The Goldman Sachs Commodities Index declined 0.8% (up 9.4% y-t-d). Spot Gold rose 1.7% to $1,303 (up 1.6%). Silver jumped 1.9% to $15.699 (up 1.0%). Crude slipped 11 cents to $53.69 (up 18%). Gasoline dropped 4.4% (up 7%), and Natural Gas sank 8.7% (up 8%). Copper added 0.4% (up 4%). Wheat increased 0.4% (up 3%). Corn declined 0.4% (up 1%).

Market Dislocation Watch:

January 23 – Wall Street Journal (Ira Iosebashvili and Amrith Ramkumar): “Stocks, bond yields, commodities and other risky assets have continued moving in lockstep lately, raising hopes that this year’s nascent rebound will continue but also fueling worries momentum could once again reverse. Correlations across assets have hit their highest level in almost a year, with the S&P 500, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield and U.S. crude oil moving in tandem in nine of the previous 12 sessions through Tuesday. A six-day run of declines for the asset classes earlier this month was the longest streak since June, according to Dow Jones Market Data.”

January 25 – Bloomberg (Gowri Gurumurthy): “This month’s new junk-bond deals are all trading up in the secondary, even after most of them were upsized and priced at the tight end of guidance. High-yield issuers returned this month, the busiest for bond sales since September 2018, following a slump in issuance during December…”

January 22 – Bloomberg (Christopher Maloney): “Mortgage returns are lagging those of investment-grade corporates to start 2019, and that gap may persist thanks to an OAS spread differential that’s near its widest in two years. The option-adjusted spread of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Corporate index offered 106 bps more than seen in the U.S. MBS index as of Friday’s close. While this is down from the 121 bps seen at the beginning of the year, it’s still near the widest since the beginning of 2017.”

Trump Administration Watch:

January 25 – Reuters (Steve Holland and Richard Cowan): “President Donald Trump agreed under mounting pressure on Friday to end a 35-day-old partial U.S. government shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress for a border wall, handing a political victory to Democrats. The three-week spending deal reached with congressional leaders, quickly passed by the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives without opposition and signed by Trump, paves the way for tough talks with lawmakers about how to address security along the U.S.-Mexican border.”

January 22 – Reuters (Jeff Mason): “As much as U.S. President Donald Trump wants to boost markets through a trade pact with China, he will not soften his position that Beijing must make real structural reforms, including how it handles intellectual property, to reach a deal, advisers say. Offering to buy more American goods is unlikely by itself to overcome an issue that has bedeviled talks between the two countries. Those talks are set to continue when Chinese Vice Premier Liu He visits Washington at the end of January. The United States accuses China of stealing intellectual property and forcing American companies to share technology when they do business in China. Beijing denies the accusations.”

January 24 – CNBC (Berkeley Lovelace Jr.): “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday the U.S. is still ‘miles and miles’ from a trade deal with China. ‘Frankly, that shouldn’t be too surprising,’ Ross said… The U.S. and China have ‘lots and lots of issues,’ he continued, and the Trump administration will need to create ‘structural reforms’ and ‘penalties’ in order to resume normal trade relations with Beijing. ‘We would like to make a deal but it has to be a deal that will work for both parties,’ he said. ‘We’re miles and miles from getting a resolution.’ Ross listed the sticking points, starting with what he calls America’s ‘intolerably big trade deficit’ with China. That deficit ballooned to $323.3 billion in 2018… It’s the worst imbalance on record dating to 2006.”

January 24 – Bloomberg (Andrew Mayeda and Jenny Leonard): “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the U.S. and China are eager to end their trade war, but the outcome will hinge on whether Beijing will deepen economic reforms and further open up its markets. Ross said he expects that negotiators will release a statement on their progress after Chinese Vice Premier Liu He meets with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington from Jan. 30-31. ‘The harder issues are the ones that deal with structural reforms, particularly intellectual property rights,’ said Ross…, adding that China is moving up the technology value chain and also has an interest in protecting its own IP. ‘The equal market access is another very big issue. The idea of forced technology transfers is a huge issue.’”

January 23 – CNBC (Tucker Higgins): “President Donald Trump’s outside advisor on China said… that he didn’t expect a breakthrough in trade talks in the ‘near term.’ Michael Pillsbury, director of the Center for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute and a noted China hawk with the ear of the president, suggested that he expected a planned meeting between U.S. and Chinese negotiators scheduled for the end of the month to conclude without a trade deal. ‘Over the last 45 years, a lot of American presidents have negotiated with China,’ Pillsbury said… ‘And there are some patterns to what has gone on. One of them is that the Chinese prefer to make a last-minute deal, to get the best deal they can. So I am not among those who think there is going to be a breakthrough in the next few days.’”

January 24 – Bloomberg (Victoria Guida and Katy O’Donnell): “The White House will announce a plan by next month to end government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in a bid to resolve a long debate over the fate of the two companies that dominate the mortgage market, a top regulator said. Joseph Otting, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, told employees last week that the administration would not wait on Congress, where attempts to overhaul the housing finance system have repeatedly faltered in the years since Fannie and Freddie were rescued during the financial crisis, according to a recording of his remarks obtained by Politico. ‘In the next two to four weeks you’re going to be able to see some communication that comes out of the White House and Treasury that really sets a direction for what the future of housing will be in the U.S. and what the FHFA’s part of that will be,’ Otting said…”

January 21 – Reuters (Sijia Jiang, Michael Martina, Christian Shepherd and Rishika Chatterjee): “The United States will proceed with the formal extradition from Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Canada’s ambassador to the United States told the Globe and Mail, as Beijing vowed to respond to Washington’s actions.”

Federal Reserve Watch:

January 25 – Wall Street Journal (Nick Timiraos): “Federal Reserve officials are close to deciding they will maintain a larger portfolio of Treasury securities than they’d expected when they began shrinking those holdings two years ago, putting an end to the central bank’s portfolio wind-down closer into sight. Officials are still resolving details of their strategy and how to communicate it to the public… With interest rate increases on hold for now, planning for the bond portfolio could take center stage at a two-day policy meeting of the central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee next week.”

January 24 – Wall Street Journal (Paul Kiernan and Vivian Salama): “A top White House economic adviser said… President Trump will seek to fill two Federal Reserve Board vacancies with nominees who don’t believe a rapidly expanding economy has to fuel faster inflation. ‘The White House wants highly capable, competent people who understand that you can have strong economic growth without higher inflation,’ White House National Economic Council head Lawrence Kudlow told reporters. He said surges in the economy’s productive capacity mean that more people can work at higher wages without causing inflation to pick up. Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Fed in recent months for raising interest rates.”

U.S. Bubble Watch:

January 23 – CNBC (Annie Nova): “Hundreds of thousands of people are living without a paycheck amid the longest government shutdown in history. As a result, federal employees and contractors are digging into their retirement savings, filing for unemployment, picking up other jobs and unable to meet their rent or mortgage payments. Most people would be in the same bind if they missed even one pay period. Just 40% of Americans are able to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense, such as an emergency room visit or car repair, with their savings, according to a survey from… Bankrate.”

January 24 – Reuters (Richard Leong): “J.P. Morgan economists reduced their outlook for U.S. economic growth in the first quarter to 1.75% from 2.00% as the partial U.S. government shutdown has stretched to a second month for the longest one ever, they said… ‘That estimate solely accounts for the reduction in government sector output and does not incorporate any potential spillover effects into private economic activity. Fortunately, so far those spillovers look contained,’ the banks’ economists wrote…”

January 22 – CNBC (Diana Olick): “Real estate brokers are trying to figure out why sales of existing homes plunged in December. The 6.4% monthly move was unusually large, regardless of direction. The tally from the National Association of Realtors generally moves in the very low single digits month to month. In fact, the shift was one of the largest that didn’t involve some sort of change in government policy, like the homebuyer tax credit. ‘The latest decline is harder to explain. Perhaps it is the decline in consumer confidence that’s been occurring in the latter half of 2018,’ said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. ‘The latest numbers do not reflect the lower, current mortgage rates compared to the November figures, so it’s really harder to explain.’”

January 23 – Bloomberg (Prashant Gopal): “After years of soaring U.S. home prices, cash-out refinancing is coming back in fashion, primarily among homeowners with government-backed loans who tend to have weaker credit and fewer other options. About 76% of refinancing deals last year for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, the departments of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs were used to tap equity, the highest share in 20 years of data, according to CoreLogic...”

January 25 – Bloomberg (Jesse Hamilton): “High-risk leveraged lending is still standing out as a danger in the financial system, though the overall risk has lessened in the wider $4.4 trillion portfolio of big loans tied to multiple lenders, according to an examination… by U.S. banking regulators. While leveraged loans are only a segment of the Shared National Credit Program review by the Federal Reserve and other agencies, that lending -- often backing mergers and acquisitions of highly indebted companies -- represent the bulk of loans rated at the lowest levels. ‘Risks associated with leveraged lending activities are building in contrast to the portfolio overall,’ the Fed, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said… ‘A material downturn in the economy could result in a significant increase in classified exposures and higher losses.’”

January 24 – Bloomberg (Emily Barrett and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou): “The U.S. government shutdown risks putting a dent in both the dollar and Treasuries if it drags on. A quick resolution could do the same. A drawn-out spending battle may collide with the looming debate over America’s borrowing limit, potentially raising the odds of a U.S. credit rating downgrade, as occurred in 2011. But some observers reckon the market reaction this time around would be different: Instead of driving a haven trade into Treasuries, concerns about the U.S.’s growing debt burden could reverse that flow, pushing sovereign yields higher and the dollar lower.”

January 22 – Wall Street Journal (Rob Copeland): “Messaging startup Hustle projected the picture of Silicon Valley largess. The company spent millions of dollars raised from investors such as Alphabet Inc. on expensive new hires, on-tap kombucha, arcade games and a six-figure salary for its pedigreed chief executive. So it came as a shock to many employees earlier this month when co-founder and CEO Roddy Lindsay sent them an early-morning email announcing mass layoffs. Before the week was done, even the espresso machine was ripped out of the kitchen at Hustle’s San Francisco headquarters. Hustle is hardly the first startup to spend lavishly in an era of technology riches. What is new these days: The bill is coming due.”

January 22 – CNBC (Diana Olick): “After falling to record lows, the supply of homes on the market is finally rising. But a growing share of those homes are still out of reach to most buyers. In hot markets like Seattle, San Jose, California, Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon, the number of homes for sale rose last year. Even so, the share of affordable homes fell, thanks to rising home values and increasing mortgage interest rates. In Seattle, 58% of homes were considered affordable in 2017, but that share dropped to 46% last year, according to a survey from Redfin…”

January 25 – Wall Street Journal (Sam Goldfarb): “More companies with low credit ratings are limiting their borrowing to loans that would be repaid first in a bankruptcy, a trend that stands to undermine loans’ reputation as a safe investment. At the end of last year, roughly 27% of first-lien loans—the most senior type of debt that is typically held by investors—were backed by companies that didn’t have junior debt outstanding, according to LCD, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence. That was the largest share in records going back to 2007, up from 26% in 2017 and 18% in 2007… The presence of more junior debt is often referred to as a ‘debt cushion’ for investors in first-lien loans. Junior bonds and loans typically absorb losses first in a bankruptcy, while senior lenders typically get most or all of their money back.”

China Watch:

January 20 – CNBC (Huileng Tan): “China… announced that its official economic growth came in at 6.6% in 2018 — the slowest pace since 1990. That announcement was highly anticipated by many around the world amid Beijing’s ongoing trade dispute with the U.S., its largest trading partner. Economists polled by Reuters had predicted full-year GDP to come in at that pace, which was down from a revised 6.8% in 2017. Fourth quarter GDP growth was 6.4%, matching expectations.”

January 21 – Reuters (Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo): “Weakness in the service and farm sectors slowed China’s economic growth in the fourth quarter, despite a strong pickup in construction activity… Services grew 7.4% from a year earlier, slowing from 7.9% in the third quarter, while growth in agriculture slowed to 3.5% from 3.6%, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.”

January 20 – Reuters (Yawen Chen, Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo): “Growth in property investment in China cooled to the second slowest pace in 2018 in December, adding to signs of a further slackening in the real estate market in a blow to a key driver of economic growth. Real estate investment, which mainly focuses on the residential sector but includes commercial and office space, rose 8.2% in December from a year earlier, down from 9.3% in November…”

January 25 – Reuters (Kevin Yao): “China will take steps to spur growth amid a trade war with the United States, but there is limited room for aggressive stimulus in an economy already laden with massive debts and a property market prone to credit-driven spikes, policy insiders said. China’s deepening economic slowdown has fanned market expectations of a big spending binge, especially if the bruising tariff war with Washington escalates, intensifying pressure on Chinese jobs and threatening social stability. Such a move, plans for which have repeatedly been denied by China’s top leaders, would come at a price, however - similar moves in the past have quickly juiced growth rates but also buried the world’s No.2 economy under a mountain of debt. ‘The room for a strong stimulus is not big, and there are very big risks, because that will rely on a flood of cash and increased leverage in the economy,’ said a policy insider…”

January 20 – Reuters (Andrew Galbraith): “Encouraging China’s banks to actively increase support for the real economy, rather than relying on authorities’ orders to boost lending, is the key to improving the supply of credit in the economy, a central bank official said...”

January 21 – Bloomberg: “President Xi Jinping stressed the need to maintain political stability in an unusual meeting of China’s top leaders -- a fresh sign the ruling party is growing concerned about the social implications of the slowing economy. Xi told a ‘seminar’ of top provincial leaders and ministers in Beijing… that the Communist Party needed greater efforts ‘to prevent and resolve major risks,’… He said areas of concern facing the leadership ranged from politics and ideology to the economy, environment and external situation. ‘The party is facing long-term and complex tests in terms of maintaining long-term rule, reform and opening-up, a market-driven economy, and within the external environment,’ Xi said… ‘The party is facing sharp and serious dangers of a slackness in spirit, lack of ability, distance from the people, and being passive and corrupt. This is an overall judgment based on the actual situation.’”

January 20 – CNBC (Edward White): “Defaults on Chinese corporate bonds rose to a record high last year, in a fresh sign of wobbles hitting the country’s financial markets as economic growth slows. Forty five Chinese corporates defaulted on 117 bonds with a principal amount of Rmb110.5bn ($16.3bn), according to Fitch… Both the number of issuers and principal value were all-time peaks. ‘The vast majority of onshore defaults were by non-[state-owned enterprises], which accounted for 86.7% of defaults by issuer count and 90% by principal amount,’ said Jenny Huang and Shuncheng Zhang, analysts at Fitch, also noting signs that ‘investor risk appetite has deteriorated on the surge in onshore defaults’.”

January 24 – Bloomberg: “Several Chinese provinces have unveiled sharply lower shantytown redevelopment targets for 2019, suggesting one key driver of home sales may be on the wane. From Sichuan to Shanxi, targets to replace older, rundown dwellings with new, affordable housing have fallen as much as 74% from 2018… UBS Group AG property analyst John Lam estimates the national target may this year be pared back by 14% to 5 million units. Beijing’s shantytown redevelopment drive, part of China’s fight to alleviate poverty, had been fueling robust demand for new residential properties over the past three years. People were often given cash handouts to buy new apartments on the private market, and such transactions may have contributed to more than one-fifth of home sales in 2017, China International Capital Corp. wrote…”

January 25 – CNBC (Evelyn Cheng): “Chinese authorities face an ever-growing list of challenges — be it an ongoing trade fight with the U.S. or headwinds in domestic demand — and it appears they don’t have many tools left to spur the economy amid a slowdown. The real estate market in China has traditionally played a major role in its economic development, household wealth and public sentiment and was used by Beijing to stimulate growth during previous downturns… But along with a Chinese penchant for investing in houses, persistent expectations of government support sent prices and the household debt burden soaring… Junheng Li, founder of China-focused equity research firm JL Warren Capital, estimates 61% of Chinese urban households live in homes less than 10 years old… ‘(Some) simple math shows that continuously building new homes to stimulate investments and meanwhile create the false impression of wealth effect coming with home price appreciation is about to hit the wall,’ she said… ‘Chinese policy makers are fully aware and highly alert not to send the wrong signal to the home buyers that home prices will continue to hike.’”

January 23 – Bloomberg: “Chinese companies challenged by policy makers’ determination to tamp down leverage in the country’s financial system have found some creative ways to secure funding. One of the least transparent mechanisms to emerge so far is a tactic where bond issuers are indirectly buying their own bond offerings, according to investors and credit analysts. The idea is to inflate issuance sizes, creating the image of greater access to capital than might otherwise be true -- and leading to lower coupons in subsequent sales.”

Central Bank Watch:

January 24 – Financial Times (Claire Jones and Ben Hall): “The European Central Bank has sounded the alarm over the eurozone economy, warning a slowdown it thought would be temporary was showing signs of becoming long-lasting because of global trade tensions, Brexit and financial market volatility. The shift in outlook, which policymakers said had clearly ‘moved to the downside’, comes just six weeks after the ECB removed the most important element of its crisis-era stimulus, halting new purchases of bonds as part of its €2.6tn quantitative easing programme. ‘We were unanimous about acknowledging the weaker momentum and changing the balance of risk for growth,’ said Mario Draghi… The new guidance, which the ECB said had not yet trigger a change in monetary policy, came amid mounting signs of economic trouble across the eurozone. A monthly poll of purchasing managers, a key gauge of business activity, fell to its lowest levels since the eurozone debt crisis…”

January 22 – Reuters (Tetsushi Kajimoto and Daniel Leussink): “The Bank of Japan cut its inflation forecasts… but maintained its massive stimulus programme, with Governor Haruhiko Kuroda warning of growing risks to the economy from trade protectionism and faltering global demand.”

EM Watch:

January 22 – Wall Street Journal (Rob Copeland): “Reports of the death of the emerging market bond market appear to have been greatly exaggerated. A currency crisis in Turkey and Argentina and worries about rising US sanctions risk for Russia kept a lid on EM sovereign debt sales in 2018. But a spate of issuance since the start of the year is offering proof that all problems can be forgiven if the price is right. After dropping by a fifth in value last year, US dollar issuance from the developing world has bounced back to hit $14.1bn for the year to January 17, according to Dealogic. That makes it the third-best start on record after 2018 and 2014 as countries rush to take advantage of the window of opportunity opened up by diminishing expectations for further US interest rate rises this year.”

January 21 – Bloomberg (Aline Oyamada and Yakob Peterseil): “The longest weekly rally in emerging-market stocks in a year encouraged record inflows into at least one exchange-traded fund in the past two weeks. Investors piled more than $2 billion into the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF, the second largest emerging-market ETF, in the two weeks through Jan. 18.”

Global Bubble Watch:

January 23 – Financial Times (Gideon Rachman): “Two questions come up repeatedly in the corridors of the World Economic Forum in Davos. First, what is going to happen in the US-China trade war? Second, what is going to happen with Brexit? There are considerable similarities between these two questions. In both cases, the only sensible answer is some variant of: ‘I don’t know’. In both cases, there is a strong possibility of a bad ‘no deal’ outcome that could create turmoil in the world economy. And, in both cases, the answer will be revealed in March. The Trump administration has set a deadline of March 2 for the US to reach a new trade deal with China. Without an agreement, the US has pledged to raise its import tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods to 25%, from the current 10% level. The deadline for Britain to leave the EU is March 29. Without a deal, the default position is that there will be a ‘no deal Brexit’ — in which Britain will crash out of the EU, leading to the immediate imposition of tariffs, the lapse of existing legal agreements and a surge in red-tape and regulations.”

January 21 – Reuters (Leika Kihara and Silvia Aloisi): “The International Monetary Fund trimmed its global growth forecasts… and a survey showed increasing pessimism among business chiefs as trade tensions and uncertainty loomed over the world’s biggest annual gathering of the rich and powerful.”

January 22 – CNBC (Jeff Cox): “Governments are continuing to run up huge debt levels, with emerging countries helping push the total global IOU to 80% of gross domestic product. The worldwide tab through 2018 is now up to $66 trillion as measured in U.S. currency terms, about double where it was in 2007, just as the financial crisis was beginning to unfold, according to Fitch Ratings’ new Global Government Debt Chart Book… ‘Government debt levels are high, leaving many countries poorly positioned for financial tightening as global interest rates begin to move higher,’ James McCormack, Fitch’s global head of sovereign ratings, said…”

January 21 – Reuters (Marc Jones): “Credit ratings in the developing world look set to grind lower again this year as the world economy slows, with Latin America likely to be the center of the action… The year is already off to a gloomy start, with S&P Global warning last week that nearly a third of big bond issuers in emerging markets now have an unsustainable amount of debt. Ratings matter for sovereign borrowers because the more highly rated they are, the lower their funding costs tend to be. Fitch Ratings thinks there will be more downgrades than upgrades again this year and Moody’s… still has close to twice as many countries on downgrade warnings, at 19, than the 11 it sees as candidates for an upgrade.”

January 20 – Reuters (Tom Miles): “Global foreign direct investment (FDI) fell 19% last year to an estimated $1.2 trillion, largely caused by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax reforms, the United Nations trade and development agency UNCTAD said…”

January 24 – Bloomberg (Chanyaporn Chanjaroen and Pooja Thakur Mahrotri): “Rising interest rates and the latest round of property curbs have put the brakes on mortgage demand at Singapore’s banks, potentially further dragging down the city’s housing market. Home-loan growth slowed to 1.9% in the first 11 months of 2018, less than half the 4.2% increase posted in 2017… Mortgage growth will stay stuck below 2% this year, according to Diksha Gera, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.”

January 23 – Bloomberg (Cathy Chan and Crystal Tse): “First came a sweeping government crackdown and a surge in defaults and failures at thousands of China’s peer-to-peer lenders. Now, in another troubling sign for the industry, some of the biggest investment banks have stopped taking them public. Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs… and Citigroup Inc. walked away from U.S. initial public offerings of Chinese P2P lenders in recent months, people with knowledge of the matter said.”

Europe Watch:

January 23 – Wall Street Journal (Stephen Fidler): “Europe seems stuck, its economic recovery running out of steam and its politics shaken by the growing strength of nationalist politicians in many European countries. The continent is still in shock from the effects of the financial crisis that started more than a decade ago. In its wake, it has left ‘polarization, reactionary populism and inequality,’ Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro S├ínchez told the World Economic Forum… As a result, politics is in a funk in many countries. Brexit, France’s street protests, and a reaction in Italy and countries of Eastern Europe against the policy prescriptions of the European Union and increased immigration have clouded the path forward, while also threatening to undermine the recovery. Many business and financial leaders prefer to seek action elsewhere.”

January 24 – Bloomberg (Fergal O’Brien): “Germany’s industrial slump worsened at the start of 2019, dragging the euro-area economy into its worst performance in more than five years. IHS Markit’s monthly index showed manufacturing in Germany shrank for the first time in four years. In the euro area it barely grew, and a broader measure of activity dropped to the weakest since 2013.”

January 22 – Financial Times (Valentina Romei): “Italian banks became more cautious about lending in the last quarter of 2018, tightening credit standards as well as terms and conditions on their loans, according to the European Central Bank’s latest bank lending survey. This is the second successive quarter of tightening in the Italian banking sector, ‘partly because they are charging higher interest margins on riskier loans’, said Jack Allen, an economist at Capital Economics.”

Brexit Watch:

January 22 – Reuters (Guy Faulconbridge and William James): “An attempt by British lawmakers to prevent a no-deal Brexit was gaining momentum on Wednesday after the opposition Labour Party said it was likely to throw its parliamentary weight behind that. The United Kingdom, facing the deepest political crisis since World War Two, is due to leave the European Union at 2300 GMT on March 29 but has no approved deal on how the divorce will take place.”

Japan Watch:

January 20 – Reuters (Tetsushi Kajimoto): “Confidence among Japanese manufacturers dropped for a third straight month in January to a two-year low, a Reuters monthly poll showed, as worries over the health of the global economy and trade tensions take a toll on the corporate sector.”

January 22 – Associated Press (Yuri Kageyama): “Japan’s exports fell 3.8% in December from a year earlier, hit by slowing demand in China, as the trade balance shifted back into deficit for the year… For the year, imports outpaced the rise in exports, leaving a trade deficit for the first time in three years…”

Fixed-Income Bubble Watch:

January 23 – CNBC (Jim Christie): “California power company PG&E Corp, which expects to soon file for bankruptcy, said… it would cost between $75 billion and $150 billion to fully comply with a judge’s order to inspect its power grid and remove or trim trees that could fall into power lines and trigger wildfires.”

Leveraged Speculation Watch:

January 23 – CNBC (Robert Frank): “Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin closed a deal to buy the most expensive home ever sold in the U.S., paying around $238 million for a New York penthouse… The deal is the largest in Griffin’s recent $700 million global real estate shopping spree, believed to be the largest ever for a U.S. billionaire. Over the past few years, the founder and CEO of Citadel has purchased the most expensive homes in Chicago, Miami and New York. He has spent more than $200 million to buy land in Palm Beach, Florida, for a home he plans to build there. And this week, news broke that he purchased a $122 million property in London, which was the most expensive sale in that city in a decade.”

Geopolitical Watch:

January 25 – CNBC (Sam Meredith): “Liberal billionaire George Soros… warned that the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, are locked in a ‘cold war that could soon turn into a hot one.’ His comments come at a time when investors are increasingly concerned about a serious economic downturn, with a long-running U.S.-China trade war souring business and consumer sentiment. Referencing Trump’s decision to label China as a ‘strategic’ competitor in late 2017, Soros said this approach was ‘too simplistic.’ ‘An effective policy towards China can’t be reduced to a slogan. It needs to be far more sophisticated, detailed and practical; and it must include an American economic response to the Belt and Road Initiative,’ he said.”

January 23 – Reuters (Andrew Osborn and Robin Emmott): “Russia accused the United States on Thursday of trying to usurp power in Venezuela and warned against military intervention, putting it at odds with Washington and the EU which backed protests against one of Moscow’s closest allies. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim leader on Wednesday, winning the support of Washington and parts of Latin America. That prompted socialist President Nicolas Maduro… to sever diplomatic ties with the United States. The prospect of Maduro being ousted is a geopolitical and economic headache for Moscow which, alongside China, has become a creditor of last resort for Caracas”

January 25 – Reuters (Robin Emmott and Vladimir Soldatkin): “NATO and Russia failed on Friday to resolve a dispute over a new Russian missile that Western allies say is a threat to Europe, bringing closer Washington’s withdrawal from a landmark arms control treaty… Without a breakthrough, the United States is set to start the six-month process of pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), having notified it would do so in early December and accusing Moscow of breaching it.”

January 24 – Financial Times (Edward White and Nian Liu): “Taiwan’s foreign minister has called for international support after a Chinese publication sought to name and shame foreign companies that do not acknowledge Taiwan as part of China. A Chinese academic study of hundreds of the world’s largest companies operating in China named 66 companies that it said ‘misidentified’ Taiwan, in a move that threatens to reignite international tension over how global corporates refer to Taiwan. The publication’s list of companies — which included US tech giants Apple and Amazon as well as German industrial Siemens — has been reported by China’s state media and has prompted calls by a Communist party-linked news outlet for stronger oversight by Chinese authorities.”

January 24 – Bloomberg (Saijel Kishan, Katherine Burton and Melissa Karsh): “Billionaire George Soros warned of the ‘mortal danger’ of China’s use of artificial intelligence to repress its citizens under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who he called the most dangerous opponent of democracies. ‘The instruments of control developed by artificial intelligence give an inherent advantage of totalitarian regimes over open societies,’ the 88-year-old said… ‘China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it’s undoubtedly the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.’”

January 21 – Reuters (Angus McDowall and Dan Williams): “Israel struck in Syria early on Monday, the latest salvo in its increasingly open assault on Iran’s presence there, shaking the night sky over Damascus with an hour of loud explosions in a second consecutive night of military action.”

Friday Evening Links

[CNBC] Dow gains for fifth straight week after deal reached to temporarily reopen government

[Reuters] U.S. Congress votes to end gov't shutdown; no Trump border wall money

[Reuters] U.S. intensifies anti-Maduro push as Russia backs Venezuelan ally

[WSJ] Pension Losses Could Hit Companies Like AT&T and Verizon Hard

[FT] Central banks do their best to mop investors’ brows

[FT] Diminishing returns: hedge funds look to keep it in the family

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Friday's News Links

[Reuters] Global stocks gain on earnings, euro rebounds after dovish ECB

[CNBC] Gold up as dollar eases; global growth concerns lend support

[SCMP] China, US ‘less belligerent, more cordial’ as delegation heads to Washington before Liu He

[CNBC] The Fed may be moving closer to ending its rally-killing balance sheet reduction

[Reuters] China to step up economic stimulus in slowdown fight

[CNBC] China can no longer rely on real estate for growth. It’s now turning to railways and more debt

[CNBC] George Soros says the US and China are in a cold war that ‘threatens to turn into a hot one’

[Reuters] NATO, Russia fail to agree over missile breach, U.S. to quit treaty

[WSJ] Fed Officials Weigh Earlier-Than-Expected End to Bond Portfolio Runoff

[WSJ] Kudlow: White House Seeks Fed Nominees Who Understand Shift on Growth, Inflation

[WSJ] Dwindling ‘Debt Cushions’ Threaten Safety of Leveraged Loans

[FT] ECB warns eurozone at risk of further slowdown

[Bloomberg] A Key Driver of Home Sales in China Just Hit the Brakes

[Bloomberg] Singapore Is Seeing an Unprecedented Mortgage Slowdown

Thursday Evening Links

[Reuters] Nasdaq boosted by chip rally, Dow, S&P 500 stall

[CNBC] White House demands ‘large down payment on the wall’ as Senate tries to reach shutdown deal

[CNBC] Shutdown continues: Senate blocks bills to fund government amid fight over Trump border wall

[Reuters] Fears of tax chaos loom as IRS readies for filing season

[Reuters] U.S. Treasury's Mnuchin sees China trade progress, currency talks

[Politico] White House plans to overhaul housing finance system, top regulator says

[Reuters] J.P. Morgan pares U.S. first quarter GDP view to 1.75 percent

[FT] Taiwan calls for international support in face of China pressure

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Thursday's News Links

[Reuters] S&P, Dow lower after Commerce Secretary Ross's trade comment

[CNBC] Commerce Sec Wilbur Ross: The US is ‘miles and miles’ from a trade deal with China

[Reuters] U.S. weekly jobless claims lowest since 1969

[Reuters] ECB to acknowledge weak growth but keep policy unchanged

[Reuters] Highlights: Draghi comments at ECB press conference

[Reuters] Maduro rival Guaido claims Venezuela presidency with U.S. backing

[CNET] Microsoft's Bing search engine blocked in China

[NBC] Russia warns U.S. against military intervention in Venezuela

[WSJ] Europe’s Political Funk Sets Back Its Economy

[WSJ] China, After Years of Market Meddling, Tries a Lighter Touch

[FT] US and China trade officials set to hold critical negotiations

[FT] Fear of March madness looms over Davos

[Bloomberg] German Manufacturing Slump Casts Cloud Over Europe's Economy

[Bloomberg] Prolonged Shutdown Risks Fading Appeal of Dollar, Treasuries

[Bloomberg] U.S. Stocks Can't Shake Fears That Spurred December's Bloodbath

Wednesday Evening Links

[Reuters] Wall Street edges higher as upbeat earnings dampened by trade, shutdown woes

[CNBC] Trump’s outside China advisor says there will not be a breakthrough in trade talks soon

[Reuters] Momentum gathers behind British lawmakers' bid to stop no-deal Brexit

[CNBC] Government debt hits record $66 trillion, 80% of global GDP, Fitch says

[CNBC] More homes are for sale, but fewer are affordable

[Reuters] PG&E sees cost to comply with judge's wildfire plan at $75 bln-$150 bln

[CNBC] A $1,000 emergency would push many Americans into debt

[CNBC] Billionaire Ken Griffin buys New York penthouse for $238 million, the most expensive US home ever sold

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wednesday's News Links

Tuesday Evening Links

[Reuters] Wall Street ends four-day rally as economic outlook, corporate forecasts sour

[Reuters] Treasuries - U.S. yields sag on growth, U.S.-China trade worries

[Reuters] Oil drops nearly 3 percent on rising supplies, China slowdown

[Reuters] U.S. rejects offer from China for preparatory trade talks: FT

[Reuters] U.S. home sales hit three-year low, prices rise slowly

[Reuters] Pompeo voices optimism for good outcome on U.S.-China trade

[NYT] Chilling Davos: A Bleak Warning on Global Division and Debt

[WSJ] Home Sales Dropped in December; Price Increases Slowed

[FT] US turns down China offer of preparatory trade talks

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Monday's News Links

[Reuters] Global stock markets falter after China data, Brexit Plan B awaited

[Reuters] Oil rises to 2019 highs on strong China demand despite economic slowdown

[AP] At 30-day mark, shutdown logjam remains over border funding

[CNBC] China says its economy grew 6.6 percent in 2018. That’s the lowest official pace in 28 years

[Reuters] China's Dec property investment slows in sign of fatigue for key GDP driver

[Reuters] China should boost banks' active support for economy: central bank official

[CNBC] IMF says the global economic expansion is losing momentum as it cuts growth forecasts

[Reuters] Global FDI skids 19 percent on Trump tax reform, may rebound in 2019 - U.N.

[Reuters] Government credit ratings in the developing world face another turbulent year

[Reuters] Erdogan: Turkey is ready to take over Syria's Manbij

[Reuters] Israeli military strikes Iranian targets in Syria

[WSJ] China Annual Economic Growth Rate Is Slowest Since 1990

[FT] Chinese corporate bond defaults hit record high, Fitch says

[FT] Debt machine: are risks piling up in leveraged loans?

Sunday Evening Links

[Reuters] Asia holds breath for China data, Brexit news

[Reuters] Oil dips on weak economic outlook, but OPEC-led cuts support

[Reuters] Japan manufacturers' mood slips to two-year low: Reuters Tankan

[Reuters] Gap between rich and poor growing, fuelling global anger: Oxfam

[NYT] China’s Slowdown Looms Just as the World Looks for Growth

[WSJ] White House, Democrats Float Proposals to End Shutdown, but Wide Gaps Remain

Friday, January 18, 2019

Weekly Commentary: Monetary Disorder 2019

Please join Doug Noland and David McAlvany this Thursday, January 24th, at 4:00PM EST/ 2:00pm MST for the Tactical Short Q4 recap conference call, "The 2019 Secular Shift: Beginning the Long, Difficult Road." Click here to register.

The S&P500 advanced 6.5% in 2019’s first 13 trading sessions. The DJ Transports are up 9.2% y-t-d. The broader market has outperformed. The small cap Russell 2000 sports a 9.9% gain after 13 sessions, with the S&P400 Midcap Index rising 9.3%. The Nasdaq Composite has gained 7.9% y-t-d (Nasdaq100 up 7.2%). The average stock (Value Line Arithmetic) has risen 9.7% to start the year. The Goldman Sachs Most Short index has jumped 13.6%.

Some of the sector gains have been nothing short of spectacular. This week’s 7.7% surge pushed y-t-d gains for the Bank (BKX) index to 13.7%. The Broker/Dealers (XBD) were up 5.3% this week – and 11.0% so far this year. The Nasdaq Bank index has a 2019 gain of 11.3% (up 4.9% this week). The Philadelphia Oil Services index surged 22.3% in 13 sessions. Biotechs (BTK) have jumped 16.1%.

Taking a deeper dive into y-t-d S&P500 sector performance, Energy leads the pack up 11.2%. Financials have gained 9.0%, Industrials 8.9%, Consumer Discretionary 8.4%, and Communications Services 7.9%. Last year’s leaders are badly lagging. The Utilities have gained only 0.4%, followed by Consumer Staples up 3.2% and Health Care gaining 4.2%.

Canadian stocks have gained 6.9% (“Best Start to Year Since 1980”). Mexico’s IPC Index has risen 6.3%. Major equities indices are up 6.1% in Germany, 7.6% in Italy, 6.2% in Spain, 3.6% in the UK and 3.1% in France. European Bank stocks have gained 5.3% (Italy’s banks up 5.1%). Brazil’s Ibovespa index has gained 9.3% and Argentina’s Merval 15.9%. Russian stocks are up 4.9%, lagging the 7.9% gain in Turkey. The Shanghai Composite has recovered 4.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index has rallied 4.8%, with the Hang Seng Financial Index up 5.1% to start the year. With WTI crude surging 19% y-t-d, the Goldman Sachs Commodities Index is up a quick 10.4% to begin 2019.

After trading as high as 3.25% on November 6th, 10-year Treasury yields ended 2018 at 2.69%. Yields quickly sank to as low of 2.54% on January 3rd and have since rallied to 2.79% - up 10 bps y-t-d. German bund yields traded to 0.57% in early-October before reversing course and ending the year at 0.24%. After trading as low as 15 bps on January 3rd, bund yields closed this week at 26 bps (up 2bps y-t-d). Japan’s JGB yields ended the week at about one basis point, up from the negative 5.4 bps on January 3rd. No “all clear” here.

I titled last year’s “Issues 2018” piece “Market Structure.” A decade of central bank policy-induced market Bubbles fostered momentous market distortions and structural maladjustment. At the top of the list is the historic shift into passive ETF “investing.” With the ETF complex approaching $5.0 Trillion – and another $3.0 TN plus in the hedge fund universe – financial history has never seen such a gargantuan pool of trend-following and performance-chasing finance. Add to this the global proliferation of listed and over-the-counter derivatives strategies (especially options) and trading, and we’re talking about a world of unprecedented financial speculation. It’s an aberrant Market Structure, and we’re witnessing repercussions.

After powerful speculative flows and early-2018 blow-off excess, we saw the emerging markets (EM) then succumb to abrupt market reversals, destabilizing outflows, illiquidity and Crisis Dynamics. We witnessed how fragility at the “Periphery” propelled inflows to the “Core,” pushing U.S. securities markets into a destabilizing speculative melt-up (in the face of a rapidly deteriorating fundamental backdrop). This speculative Bubble burst in Q4.

The Powell Fed chose not to come to the market’s defense at the December 19th FOMC meeting. I viewed this as confirmation that Chairman Powell appreciated how previous hurried Fed measures to backstop the markets had bolstered speculation, distorted market functioning and fueled Bubbles. By January 4th, however, the pressure of market illiquidity had become too much to bear.

The Fed, once again, intervened and reversed the markets. Those believing in the indomitable power of the “Fed put” were further emboldened. The resulting short squeeze and reversal of hedges surely played a commanding role in fueling the advance. And in a financial world dominated by trend-following and performance-chasing finance, market rallies can take on a wild life of their own. There is tremendous pressure on investment managers, the speculator community, advisors and investors not to miss out on rallies. All the makings for a wretchedly protracted bear market.

Serious illiquidity issues were unfolding a small number of trading sessions ago, as equities and fixed-income outflows – along with derivatives-related and speculative selling – began to overwhelm the marketplace. Fed assurances reversed trading dynamics. De-risking/deleveraging has, for now, given way to “risk on.” A powerful confluence of short covering and risk embracement (and leveraging) has acutely speculative markets once again perceiving liquidity abundance and unwavering central bank support. Dangerous.

At least at this point, I’m not anticipating a crisis of confidence in an individual institution (i.e. Lehman in October 2008) to dominate Crisis Dynamics. Rather, I see a more general unfolding crisis of confidence in market function and policymaking. A decade of reckless monetary expansion and near-zero rate policies unleashed Intractable Monetary Disorder. Among the myriad consequences are deep structural impairment to financial systems - certainly including global securities and derivatives markets. The world is in the midst of acute financial instability with little possibility of resolution (outside of crisis).

These policy-induced bouts of “risk on” bolster confidence in both the markets and real economies. Importantly, they also feed dysfunctional Market Dynamics. Upside market volatility exacerbates market instability, fueling pernicious speculation, manic-depressive flows, and destabilizing derivative-related trading dynamics. With fundamental deterioration accelerating both globally and domestically, I would argue a speculative run higher in securities prices exacerbates systemic risks – while ensuring a more problematic future dislocation.

The global Bubble has begun to deflate. Chinese data continue to confirm a serious unfolding downturn. Not dissimilar to Washington policymakers, Beijing appears increasingly anxious. In theory, there would be advantages to letting air out of Bubbles gradually. But the bigger the Bubble – and the greater associated risks – the greater the impetus for policymakers to indefinitely postpone the day of reckoning. The upshot is only worsening Monetary Disorder. With still rising quantities of Credit of rapidly deteriorating quality, systemic risk continues to rise exponentially in China (and the world).

January 14 – Reuters (Kevin Yao): “China… signaled more stimulus measures in the near term as a tariff war with the United States took a heavy toll on its trade sector and raised the risk of a sharper economic slowdown. The world’s second-largest economy will aim to achieve ‘a good start’ in the first quarter, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said… Central bank and finance ministry officials gave similar assurances. Surprising contractions in China’s December trade and factory activity have stirred speculation over whether Beijing needs to switch to more forceful stimulus measures…”

January 15 – Reuters: “Chinese banks extended 1.08 trillion yuan ($159.95bn) in net new yuan loans in December, far more than analysts had expected but down from the previous month. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted new yuan loans of 800 billion yuan last month, down from 1.25 trillion yuan in November…”

January 15 – Bloomberg: “China’s credit growth exceeded expectations in December, with the second acceleration in a row indicating the government and central bank’s efforts to spur lending are having an effect. Aggregate financing was 1.59 trillion ($235 billion) in December, the People’s Bank of China said on Tuesday. That compares with an estimated 1.3 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey.”

January 15 – South China Morning Post (Amanda Lee): “China’s banks extended a record 16.17 trillion yuan (US$2.4 trillion) in net new loans last year…, as policymakers pushed lenders to fund cash-strapped firms to prop up the slowing economy. The new figure, well above the previous record of 13.53 trillion yuan in 2017, is an indication that the bank has been moderately aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy, which slowed sharply as a result of the trade war with the US. Outstanding yuan loans were up 13.5% at the end of 2018 from a year earlier… In addition, debt issued by private enterprises increased by 70% year-on-year from November to December last year, indicating that the central bank’s efforts to support the private sector are working.”

There’s a strong consensus view that Beijing has things under control. Reality: China in 2019 faces a ticking Credit time bomb. Bank loans were up 13.5% over the past year and were 28% higher over two years, a precarious late-cycle inflation of Bank Credit. Ominously paralleling late-cycle U.S. mortgage finance Bubble excess, China’s Consumer Loans expanded 18.2% over the past year, 44% in two years, 77% in three years and 141% in five years. China’s industrial sector has slowed, while inflated consumer spending is indicating initial signs of an overdue pullback. Calamitous woes commence with the bursting of China’s historic housing/apartment Bubble.

Typically – and as experienced in the U.S. with problems erupting in subprime - nervous lenders and a tightening of mortgage Credit mark an inflection point followed by self-reinforcing downturns in housing prices, transactions and mortgage Credit. Yet there is nothing remotely typical when it comes to China’s Bubble. Instead of caution, lenders have looked to residential lending as a preferred (versus business) means of achieving government-dictated lending targets. Failing to learn from the dreadful U.S. experience, Beijing has used an inflating housing Bubble to compensate for structural economic shortcomings (i.e. manufacturing over-capacity). This is precariously prolonging “Terminal Phase” excess.

The Institute for International Finance is out with updated global debt data. In the public interest, they should make this data and their report available to the general public.

January 16 – Financial Times (Jonathan Wheatley): “Emerging-market companies have gorged on debt. Slower global growth and higher funding costs will make servicing that debt harder, just as the amount coming due this year reaches a record high. The result? Less investment for growth and yet more borrowing. These are some of the concerns raised by the Institute of International Finance… as it published its quarterly Global Debt Monitor… The world is ‘pushing at the boundaries of comfortably sustainable debt,’ says Sonja Gibbs, managing director at the IIF. ‘Higher debt levels [in emerging markets] really divert resources from more productive areas. This increasingly worries us.’ The IIF’s data show total global debt — owed by households, governments, non-financial corporates and the financial sector — at $244tn, or 318% of gross domestic product at the end of September, down from a peak of 320% two years earlier. In some areas, though, borrowing is rising. Of particular concern is the non-financial corporate sector in emerging markets (EMs), where debts are equal to 93.6% of GDP. That is more than among the same group in developed markets, at 91.1% of GDP.”

January 16 – Washington Post (Robert J. Samuelson): “Government debt has tripled from $20 trillion in 2000 to $65 trillion in 2018, rising as a share of GDP from 55% to 87%. Household debt has increased over the same years, from $17 trillion to $46 trillion (from 44% to 60% of GDP). Finally, nonfinancial corporate debt rose from $24 trillion to $73 trillion (71% of GDP to 92%)… According to the data from the IIF, emerging-market borrowers face $2 trillion of maturing debt in 2019, with about a quarter of those loans made in dollars (most of the rest are in local currency). To avoid default, borrowers must somehow raise those dollars, either from a new loan or from other sources.”

January 16 – Barron’s (Reshma Kapadia): “A record $3.9 trillion of emerging market bonds and syndicated loans comes due through the end of 2020. Most of the redemptions in 2019 will be outside of the financial sector, mainly from large corporate borrowers in China, Turkey, and South Africa. The question will be if they can refinance the debt…”

Considering the unprecedented global debt backdrop, it’s difficult for me to believe last year’s corrections went far in resolving deep structural issues throughout the emerging markets - and for the global economy more generally. “A record $3.9 trillion of emerging market bonds and syndicated loans comes due through the end of 2020…” “…Borrowers face $2 trillion of maturing debt in 2019, with about a quarter of those loans made in dollars.”

Positive headlines from Washington and Beijing engender optimism that a U.S./China trade deal is coming together. One can assume President Trump yearns for those morning Tweets lauding record stock prices. President Xi certainly has ample motivation for a deal to goose Chinese markets and the increasingly vulnerable Chinese economy.

A deal would be expected to boost U.S., Chinese and global equities. It will be curious to see how long Treasury bonds can observe rallying risk markets before turning nervous. So far, Treasuries, bunds and JGBs have been curiously tolerant. If the risk markets rally gains momentum, I would expect flows to be drawn out of the safe havens. A jump in global yields – perhaps accompanied by a resurgent dollar – could prove challenging for the fragile emerging markets.

Pondering the massive pool of unstable global speculative finance, I wonder how both EM and global corporate Credit will trade in the event of a more sustained recovery in global equities and sovereign yields. Bear market rallies feed optimism and perceptions of abundant liquidity. But I believe the global liquidity backdrop has fundamentally deteriorated. This predicament, however, is completely concealed during rallies – only to reemerge when the buyers’ panic runs its course and selling resumes. It would not be surprising to see liquidity issues resurface in EM currencies and debt markets. In general, the more intense the counter-trend rallies the greater the vulnerability to sharp market reversals and a return of illiquidity.

Fed officials have fallen in line with the Chairman’s cautious language. But I would not totally dismiss “data dependent.” With labor markets unusually tight, a scenario of a trade deal, speculative markets and economic resilience could possibly see the Fed contemplating a shift back to “normalization.” Market pundits were quick to highlight “hawkish” Kansas City Fed President Esther George’s newfound dovishness. Comments from “dovish” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans were as notable: “I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the year we have a funds rate that’s a little bit higher than where we are now. That would be associated with a better economy and inflation moving up.” It’s going to be a fascinating year.

For the Week:

The S&P500 jumped 2.9% (up 6.5% y-t-d), and the Dow rose 3.0% (up 5.9%). The Utilities slipped 0.4% (down 0.1%). The Banks surged 7.7% (up 13.7%), and the Broker/Dealers jumped 5.3% (up 11.0%). The Transports rose 4.0% (up 9.2%). The S&P 400 Midcaps gained 3.0% (up 9.3%), and the small cap Russell 2000 increased 2.4% (up 9.9%). The Nasdaq100 advanced 2.8% (up 7.2%). The Semiconductors increased 1.3% (up 6.3%). The Biotechs jumped 2.9% (up 16.1%). With bullion down $6, the HUI gold index sank 5.4% (down 6.1%).

Three-month Treasury bill rates ended the week at 2.35%. Two-year government yields jumped seven bps to 2.62% (up 13bps y-t-d). Five-year T-note yields rose nine bps to 2.62% (up 11bps). Ten-year Treasury yields gained eight bps to 2.79% (up 10bps). Long bond yields rose six bps to 3.10% (up 8bps). Benchmark Fannie Mae MBS yields jumped nine bps to 3.57% (up 7bps).

Greek 10-year yields fell 11 bps to 4.17% (down 18bps y-t-d). Ten-year Portuguese yields added two bps to 1.73% (up 1bp). Italian 10-year yields dropped 12 bps to 2.73% (down 1bp). Spain's 10-year yields fell 10 bps to 1.35% (down 7bps). German bund yields rose two bps to 0.26% (up 2bps). French yields were unchanged at 0.66% (down 8bps). The French to German 10-year bond spread narrowed two to 40 bps. U.K. 10-year gilt yields gained six bps to 1.35% (up 8bps). U.K.'s FTSE equities index increased 0.7% (up 3.6% y-t-d).

Japan's Nikkei 225 equities index gained 1.5% (up 3.3% y-t-d). Japanese 10-year "JGB" yields were little changed at 0.02% (up 1bp y-t-d). France's CAC40 rose 2.0% (up 3.1% y-t-d). The German DAX equities index jumped 2.9% (up 6.1%). Spain's IBEX 35 equities index gained 2.2% (up 6.2%). Italy's FTSE MIB index rose 2.2% (up 7.6%). EM equities were higher. Brazil's Bovespa index jumped 2.6% (up 9.3%), and Mexico's Bolsa gained 1.6% (up 6.2%). South Korea's Kospi index advanced 2.3% (up 4.1%). India's Sensex equities index gained 1.0% (up 0.9%). China's Shanghai Exchange rose 1.7% (up 4.1%). Turkey's Borsa Istanbul National 100 index surged 7.4% (up 7.9%). Russia's MICEX equities index gained 1.2% (up 4.9%).

Investment-grade bond funds saw inflows of $913 million, and junk bond funds posted inflows of $3.284 billion (from Lipper).

Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rates were unchanged near a nine-month low 4.45% (up 41bps y-o-y). Fifteen-year rates slipped a basis point to 3.88% (up 39bps). Five-year hybrid ARM rates rose four bps to 3.87% (up 41bps). Bankrate's survey of jumbo mortgage borrowing costs had 30-yr fixed rates up one basis point to 4.42% (up 14bps).

Federal Reserve Credit last week was little changed at $4.016 TN. Over the past year, Fed Credit contracted $388bn, or 8.8%. Fed Credit inflated $1.205 TN, or 43%, over the past 323 weeks. Elsewhere, Fed holdings for foreign owners of Treasury, Agency Debt jumped $7.6bn last week to $3.403 TN. "Custody holdings" rose $48bn y-o-y, or 1.4%.

M2 (narrow) "money" supply declined $18.7bn last week to $14.505 TN. "Narrow money" gained $684bn, or 4.9%, over the past year. For the week, Currency increased $4.5bn. Total Checkable Deposits fell $14.3bn, and Savings Deposits dropped $20.8bn. Small Time Deposits gained $4.3bn. Retail Money Funds rose $9.0bn.

Total money market fund assets fell $17.4bn to $3.049 TN. Money Funds gained $233bn y-o-y, or 8.3%.

Total Commercial Paper dropped $7.5bn to $1.066 TN. CP declined $53bn y-o-y, or 4.7%.

Currency Watch:

The U.S. dollar index recovered 0.7% to 96.364 (up 0.2% y-t-d). For the week on the upside, the Mexican peso increased 0.2%, the British pound 0.2% and the Canadian dollar 0.1%. For the week on the downside, the New Zealand dollar declined 1.3%, the Swiss franc 1.2%, the Japanese yen 1.2%, the Brazilian real 1.1%, the Swedish krona 1.1%, the euro 0.9%, the Australian dollar 0.7%, the South Korean won 0.5%, the Singapore dollar 0.4%, the Norwegian krone 0.3% and the South African rand 0.1%. The Chinese renminbi declined 0.22% versus the dollar this week (up 1.49% y-t-d).

Commodities Watch:

The Goldman Sachs Commodities Index gained 2.6% (up 10.4% y-t-d). Spot Gold slipped $5 to $1,282 (down 0.1%). Silver fell 1.6% to $15.399 (down 0.9%). Crude jumped $2.21 to $53.80 (up 19%). Gasoline rose 3.7% (up 12%), and Natural Gas surged 12.4% (up 18%). Copper gained 2.1% (up 3%). Wheat slipped 0.3% (up 3%). Corn increased 0.9% (up 2%).

Market Dislocation Watch:

January 18 – Bloomberg (James Crombie and Gowri Gurumurthy): “HCA Healthcare Inc. swooped into the red-hot U.S. junk bond market Thursday to find booming demand for its debt, allowing it to increase the offering by 50% and lower its yield. Yet the hospital chain is finding little company. Through Thursday, total speculative-grade U.S. bond issuance was just shy of $4 billion. That’s less than half of the $11.2 billion that had been sold by this time last year and the $8.4 billion during the same period in 2017. January is typically a good time for junk-rated companies to tap the bond market.”

January 15 – Reuters (Elizabeth Dilts and Siddharth Cavale): “JPMorgan… missed profit estimates for the fourth quarter as a slump in bond trading revenue overpowered strong consumer loan growth and record revenues. It was the first time JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank by assets, has underperformed earnings-per-share expectations in 16 quarters, according to Barclays equity analyst Jason Goldberg.”

January 14 – Reuters (Saqib Iqbal Ahmed): “An anonymous trader caused a stir in the U.S. equity options market on Monday with a massive bet that recalled Warren Buffett’s famous wager on global stocks more than a decade ago. The trader sold 19,000 put options on the S&P 500 Index obligating him or her to buy the market benchmark at 2,100 on Dec. 18, 2020, data from… options analytics firm Trade alert showed. As long as the index doesn’t drop more than 22% from its current level of 2,582 by that date, the bet will earn the trader roughly $175 million in premiums.”

January 16 – Bloomberg (Lu Wang and Melissa Karsh): “If December was a crisis of confidence rivaling 2008 for professionals in the stock market, January has been a season of faith restored. Hedge funds, initially leery of the equity bounce that has lifted the S&P 500 by 11%, are showing signs of buying in as the rally endures. Their gross leverage, a measure of industry risk appetite, last week jumped the most since May 2017, client data compiled by Goldman Sachs… showed. The spike in demand for borrowed money is the latest indication of improving sentiment after stocks suffered the worst December since the Great Depression.”

Trump Administration Watch:

January 17 – Wall Street Journal (Ruth Simon): “The longest government shutdown in modern U.S. history is choking the economic lifeblood of many entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration has stopped approving routine small-business loans that the agency backs to ensure entrepreneurs have access to funds, halting their plans for expansion and repairs and forcing some owners to consider costlier sources of cash.”

January 17 – Reuters (Makini Brice and Jeff Mason): “U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed lifting some or all tariffs imposed on Chinese imports and suggested offering a tariff rollback during trade discussions scheduled for Jan. 30, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the internal deliberations.”

January 17 – Reuters (David Shepardson): “U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to move ahead with tariffs on imported vehicles, a move that could prompt the European Union to agree a new trade deal, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley…”

January 18 – Reuters (David Shepardson and Alexandra Alper): “U.S. President Donald Trump is reviving efforts to win approval for a significant infrastructure plan lasting up to 13 years, two people briefed on the matter said, as the administration seeks to bring a long-stalled campaign promise back to life.”

January 16 – CNBC (Kate Fazzini): “The U.S. Justice Department will pursue a criminal case against Chinese tech giant Huawei for alleged trade secrets theft, according to The Wall Street Journal. The charges revolve around theft of trade secrets related to a robotic device called ‘Tappy’ made by T-Mobile, which was used in testing smartphones, according to the report.”

January 13 – Reuters (Daren Butler and Lesley Wroughton): “The United States and Turkey sparred… over the fate of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria, with Washington insisting they not be harmed and Ankara rejecting a perceived U.S. threat to punish Turkey economically if it attacked them. The disagreement, played out in rival tweets, is the latest consequence of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 19 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, potentially leaving the Kurdish militia under threat as Turkey weighs a new offensive there… On Sunday, Trump said the United States was starting the pull-out of U.S. forces that were deployed to Syria to help drive Islamic State fighters out of the country… ‘Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone ... Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey,’ Trump tweeted.”

Federal Reserve Watch:

January 17 – Reuters (Jonathan Spicer and Suzanne Barlyn): “The U.S. economy and labor market are strong with inflation contained, even while financial markets have recently been focused on the risk that global economic growth will slow further, a Federal Reserve governor said… ‘Clearly markets are more attuned currently to downside risks but the core, base case remains very strong’ for the U.S. economy, Randal Quarles, the central bank’s vice chair for supervision, said…”

January 13 – Reuters (Jonathan Spicer): “The Federal Reserve is set to take a ‘patient’ approach to policy decisions this year given there is good U.S. economic momentum but also a slowdown overseas, Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said… ‘We can afford to be patient in 2019, there is good momentum,’ he said on Fox Business Network, adding U.S. central bankers will decide interest rates on a ‘meeting by meeting’ basis in the months ahead.”

U.S. Bubble Watch:

January 14 – CNBC (Jeff Cox): “After years of U.S. companies taking advantage of low interest rates to pile up cheap debt, Wall Street is beginning to take notice of a problem forming. Corporate debt outstanding ended 2018 at just over $9 trillion, a 64% increase over a decade’s time… However, credit quality is showing signs of weakening, with heavily indebted companies already feeling the pinch as the Fed raises rates gradually and global economic conditions start to weaken. The result has been a trickle of warnings from financial experts that the price tag for all that debt is coming due. The latest admonition comes from Jeffrey Gundlach, founder of DoubleLine Capital, who said in a warning… that the debt load is about to become a bigger problem. ‘We are talking about the creation of an ocean of debt,’ Gundlach told Barron’s…, during which he noted that the Fed is engaging in ‘quantitative tightening’ that will create ‘a problem for the stock market.’”

January 16 – Reuters (Pete Schroeder): “Labor markets tightened across the United States as businesses struggled to find workers at any skill level and wages generally grew moderately, the Federal Reserve said… The U.S. central bank’s ‘Beige Book’ report, a snapshot of the economy gleaned from discussions with business contacts, found tight labor markets across all 12 Fed districts, with a majority reporting moderate wage gains. A majority of districts also reported modest-to-moderate price increases, with a number saying higher tariffs had driven up costs.”

January 15 – Reuters (Lucia Mutikani): “U.S. producer prices dropped by the most in more than two years in December as the cost of energy products and trade services fell, adding to signs of tame inflation that may allow the Federal Reserve to be patient about raising interest rates this year… The Labor Department said its producer price index for final demand dropped 0.2% last month after edging up 0.1% in November. That was the first decline since February 2017 and largest decrease since August 2016. In the 12 months through December, the PPI increased 2.5%...”

January 13 – Wall Street Journal (Akane Otani): “The U.S.’s biggest public companies are warning that their earnings may not be as strong as they hoped this year, intensifying pressure on a bull market that has struggled to regain its footing. Firms in the S&P 500 were projected back in September to report fourth-quarter earnings growth of 17% from the year earlier. But dimmer expectations for global growth and disappointing holiday sales have forced many companies to slash their forecasts, pushing the estimated earnings-growth rate for the quarter closer to 11%, according to FactSet. The drop-off in estimates—the steepest since 2017—is the latest sign that U.S. corporations, from retailers and airlines to phone makers, are losing momentum after several quarters of standout growth.”

January 18 – Wall Street Journal (Peter Loftus): “Drugmakers have sharply boosted prices of some older, low-cost prescription medicines amid supply shortages and recalls—in some cases, by threefold and more. At least three sellers of a widely used blood-pressure medication, valsartan, have raised prices since a series of safety-related recalls of the drug by other manufacturers began in the summer of 2018.”

January 17 – Reuters (Richard Leong): “The Philadelphia Federal Reserve said… its barometer on U.S. Mid-Atlantic business activity increased more than forecast in January, suggesting resilience in the region’s manufacturing sector amid trade tensions between China and the United States.”

January 11 – CNBC (Diana Olick): “The government shutdown hasn't completely stopped the flow of stunningly bad housing data. Sales of newly built homes fell 18% in December compared with December of 2017, according to… John Burns Real Estate Consulting… Sales were also down a steep 19% annually in November, according to JBRC's analysts. The firm counts 373 market ratings by local builders overseeing more than 3,500 new home communities, estimated to be 16% of U.S. new home sales. JBRC's figures correlate closely with government readings.”

January 16 – CNBC (Jeff Cox): “Student loan debt is putting a dent in young people’s pockets that is contributing to a much lower level of home ownership over the past decade. Federal Reserve economists studied the impact that the $1.5 trillion in educated-related loans is having on those aged 24 to 32. They found that while it is not the principal contributor to the decline in housing purchases, it is playing a significant role. ‘In surveys, young adults commonly report that their student loan debts are preventing them from buying a home,’ Fed researchers Alvaro Mezza, Daniel Ringo, and Kamila Sommer said in a paper…”

January 17 – CNBC (Jeff Daniels): “California’s housing affordability crisis has made it more difficult for school districts to attract and retain teachers, a large reflection of a problem affecting education systems across the country. The challenge of luring and keeping teachers is notoriously a problem for the San Francisco Bay Area, where housing prices are among the highest in the nation. But it’s become a difficult issue in other areas of the state, as well… ‘The main impacts have been in the Bay Area first and now we’re seeing it more and more in Los Angeles with rising rents,’ said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association… ‘If you think that a one-bedroom apartment is $2,000 to $3,000, that’s pretty much a teachers’ take-home pay for the month…”

January 13 – Reuters (Douglas Busvine): “Chinese foreign direct investment into North America and Europe fell by 73% to a six-year low last year as the United States tightened scrutiny of deals and Chinese restrictions on outbound investment bit, law firm Baker & McKenzie said. The figures reflected the impact of escalating trade and political friction between Washington and Beijing. After taking divestitures into account, net Chinese FDI flows into the United States actually turned negative. Investment into the United States fell by 83% but, by contrast, grew by 80% into Canada.”

January 17 – Reuters (Aishwarya Venugopal): “Sears Holdings Corp Chairman Eddie Lampert won a bankruptcy auction to buy the once iconic U.S. retailer after presenting an improved offer of $5.2 billion, Sears said on Thursday, allowing it to keep its more than 400 stores running.”

China Watch:

January 13 – Reuters (Yawen Chen and Martin Quin Pollard): “China’s exports unexpectedly fell the most in two years in December, while imports also contracted, pointing to further weakness in the world’s second-largest economy in 2019 and deteriorating global demand. Adding to policymakers’ worries, data on Monday also showed China posted its biggest trade surplus with the United States on record in 2018… China’s December exports unexpectedly fell 4.4% from a year earlier, with demand in most of its major markets weakening. Imports also saw a shock drop, falling 7.6% in their biggest decline since July 2016… China’s politically-sensitive surplus with the U.S. widened by 17.2% to $323.32 billion last year, the highest on record going back to 2006…”

January 14 – Bloomberg: “China’s government is turning increasingly to tax cuts as the first line of defense against a slowing economy, as credit data… showed some vindication of its gradual stimulus strategy. Further evidence of the dominance of fiscal measures emerged, as senior policy officials pledged that tax reductions on a ‘larger scale’ are in the pipeline, amid worsening… data. JPMorgan… economists estimate the total impact will be around 2 trillion yuan ($300bn), or 1.2% of gross domestic product. That’s a departure from the infrastructure binges coupled with massive monetary stimulus that were deployed in the aftermath of global financial crisis. Beijing is trying to put a floor under the economic slowdown without another debt blowout…”

January 13 – Reuters (Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh): “Car makers in China will face more fierce competition this year, after a tough 2018 when the world’s biggest auto market contracted for the first time in more than two decades, the country’s top auto industry association said… China car sales fell 13% in December, the sixth straight month of declines, bringing annual sales to 28.1 million, down 2.8% from a year earlier… This was against a 3% annual growth forecast set at the start of 2018…”

January 17 – Financial Times (He Wei): “Chinese private companies may face an even more difficult ride in the domestic bond market in 2019 as billions of renminbi in maturing issuance conspire with reduced risk appetite, threatening an even bigger wave of defaults. Last year’s Rmb151bn ($22.3bn) in defaults made it a banner year for credit events in the domestic corporate bond market. Ordinarily, this would be welcomed: the first renminbi corporate bond default was as recent as 2014 and was a watershed moment for regulators… However, nearly 90% of the defaulted paper in 2018 was issued by private sector companies… The difference in the yields between bonds rated AA+ and the highest triple A rating has narrowed since the beginning of 2018, while the spread of bonds rated AA and below over AA+ bonds has more than doubled… Bond ratings issued by Chinese credit rating agencies are not comparable to those of international peers; nearly 60% of corporate issuers in China have a triple A rating, compared with just two in the US.”

January 14 – Bloomberg: “China asked some state-run enterprises to avoid business trips to the U.S. and its allies and to take extra precautions to protect their devices if they need to travel, according to people familiar… In recent weeks, the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission -- a regulatory body that oversees about 100 government-run companies -- has told some firms to only take secure, company-issued laptops meant for overseas use if traveling is necessary, the people said. They said the warning extended to the other countries in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing pact: the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”

January 15 – Bloomberg (Venus Feng and Blake Schmidt): “Four Chinese tycoons transferred more than $17 billion of their wealth into family trusts late last year, underscoring how the rich are scrambling to protect their fortunes from the nation’s newly toughened tax regime… All of the four Hong Kong-listed companies but Sunac cited succession planning as the purpose of the transfers. The ownership structures of all four tycoons involve entities in the British Virgin Islands.

Central Bank Watch:

January 16 – Reuters (Leika Kihara): “Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said… central banks must carefully evaluate the effects of unconventional monetary policy steps, as their benefits and side-effects could differ from those brought about by conventional policy. Kuroda also said demographic changes in major economies could affect how financial institutions behave, thereby affecting central banks’ policy decisions. ‘As a low interest rate environment persists and credit demands become stagnant amid a declining population, banks might accelerate their search-for-yield activities such as expanding their exposure to overseas assets and increasing loans and investments to firms with higher credit risks,’ he said.”

EM Watch:

January 16 – Financial Times (Jonathan Wheatley): “Emerging-market companies have gorged on debt. Slower global growth and higher funding costs will make servicing that debt harder, just as the amount coming due this year reaches a record high. The result? Less investment for growth and yet more borrowing. These are some of the concerns raised by the Institute of International Finance… as it published its quarterly Global Debt Monitor… The world is ‘pushing at the boundaries of comfortably sustainable debt,’ says Sonja Gibbs, managing director at the IIF. ‘Higher debt levels [in emerging markets] really divert resources from more productive areas. This increasingly worries us.’ The IIF’s data show total global debt — owed by households, governments, non-financial corporates and the financial sector — at $244tn, or 318% of gross domestic product at the end of September, down from a peak of 320% two years earlier. In some areas, though, borrowing is rising. Of particular concern is the non-financial corporate sector in emerging markets (EMs), where debts are equal to 93.6% of GDP. That is more than among the same group in developed markets, at 91.1% of GDP.”

Global Bubble Watch:

January 14 – Bloomberg (William Horobin): “Momentum is easing across the world’s major economies, according to a gauge that the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development uses to predict turning points. The Composite Leading Indicator is the latest sign of a synchronized slowdown in global growth, adding to recession warnings sparked by industrial figures in Germany last week and slumping trade figures for China… The indicator, which is designed to anticipate turning points six-to-nine months ahead, has been ticking down since the start of 2018 and fell again in November. The OECD singled out the U.S. and Germany, where it said ‘tentative signs’ of easing momentum are now confirmed.”

January 14 – Financial Times (Kate Beioley): “Last year was a rocky one for stock markets and new investment trusts but a record year for passive funds, with more exchange traded funds (ETFs) listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2018 than in any previous year… Globally, the volume of money held in ETFs in particular has soared. Some $4.6tn was held in ETF assets globally at the end of 2018, according to… consultancy ETFGI, up from less than $100bn at the turn of the century. In the US, that has resulted in passive fund groups such as Vanguard owning a significant volume of the country’s stock markets. Vanguard alone owns at least 5% of 491 stocks out of 500 in the S&P 500… — a fourfold increase since 2010.”

January 16 – Bloomberg (Carrie Hong): “China will likely end Japan’s reign as the world’s second-largest bond market this year, according to Standard Chartered Plc. The mainland’s debt pile will grow 15% to 98 trillion yuan ($14.5 trillion) in 2019… As of the second quarter, the size stood at $12.3 trillion versus Japan’s $13 trillion and only 31% of the U.S. market, it said… The central bank on Wednesday pumped in a net 560 billion yuan into the financial system via open-market operations, the biggest one-day addition on record, to meet seasonal demand… ‘Bond demand is supported by flush interbank liquidity and expectations of more easing,’ Standard Chartered said. ‘The size of China’s bond market may overtake that of Japan by year-end.’ Gross issuance of Chinese onshore bonds is forecast to rise 13% to 49.4 trillion yuan this year.”

January 15 – Financial Times (Mamta Badkar): “A gauge of global policy uncertainty is ‘flashing red’ amid anxiety on Brexit, the US government shutdown and the Sino-American trade war, according to Deutsche Bank. The global economic policy uncertainty index is at record high levels at a time of deepening unrest in British politics ahead of the country’s scheduled exit from the EU on March 29, the trade war between the US and China and a government shutdown in the US that has entered its fourth week.”

January 13 – Financial Times (Lucy Hornby and Chris Giles): “Emma Liu has a good job in Beijing, but she has decided to forgo her normal Giorgio Armani face cream and started buying cheaper sweaters online. Her choices are reverberating in boardrooms around the world. A slowdown in the Chinese economy — and flagging consumer expectations — are clouding the outlook for foreign brands. From VW to Apple, the Chinese economy is now the world’s business. No international brand can safely ignore China’s economic prospects. On a market exchange-rate basis, China accounted for 16% of the global economy in 2018.”

January 17 – Bloomberg (Alexandra Harris): “The benchmark being eyed as a potential replacement for dollar Libor is facing renewed scrutiny after a year-end surge in the market underpinning the new rate. With more volatility possible, Wall Street is increasingly wondering if the nascent Secured Overnight Financing Rate will be up to the task. Last month’s jump in rates on overnight Treasury repurchase agreements -- the market that supports SOFR -- pushed the benchmark higher by almost 70 bps over a two-day span. It has since retreated and was set at 2.43% for Wednesday. But given that both repo and SOFR are also susceptible to swings in Treasury-bill supply, which itself could become more erratic as the U.S. grapples with the reintroduction of the debt ceiling, some market veterans are forecasting further fluctuations ahead. Concerns about SOFR range from a lack of term structure to tepid volumes in derivatives that are tied to it.”

Europe Watch:

January 18 – Financial Times (Valentina Romei): “Growth in eurozone house prices slowed in the third quarter as Italy’s property market worsened while others, such as Portugal, cooled from a double-digit pace at the beginning of the year. Eurozone house prices rose at an annual rate of 4.3% in the three months to September, slower than the 4.5% recorded from the start of the year. The slowdown reflected a deterioration in Italy’s house prices that contracted at an annual rate of 0.8%...”

Brexit Watch:

January 14 – Financial Times (Philip Stafford): “As investors wait for the UK’s vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, banks and brokers have already accepted that, from March 29, Europe will be split into two distinct capital markets. For most of them, the priority has been to ensure that EU-based clients have access to crucial market plumbing in London. One example: JPMorgan’s German subsidiary last week became a member of ICE Futures Europe’s clearing house in London, so it can clear credit derivatives for EU customers. EU institutions have been anxious to preserve access to the UK’s clearing houses, which act as go-betweens for buyers and sellers in financial markets. Brussels has said it will issue temporary licences, recognising UK laws as ‘equivalent’ to EU standards, to ensure that Europe’s €660tn derivatives market will function with minimal disruption.”

Fixed-Income Bubble Watch:

January 14 – Wall Street Journal (Juliet Chung and Nicole Friedman): “Utilities have long been considered ultrasafe bets. But PG&E Corp.’s announcement Monday that it will file for bankruptcy is teaching investors that isn’t always true. The Baupost Group LLC, Viking Global Investors LP and BlueMountain Capital Management LLC were among the hedge funds that snapped up shares of PG&E… during the third quarter of 2018, just before the deadliest wildfire in California history triggered an existential crisis for the state’s largest utility. That crisis entered a new phase Monday when PG&E said that it intends to seek chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by the end of the month due to more than $30 billion it faces related to its role in sparking deadly California wildfires in 2017 and 2018.”

January 13 – Wall Street Journal (Russell Gold, Katherine Blunt and Rebecca Smith): “PG&E Corp. equipment started more than one fire a day in California on average in recent years as a historic drought turned the region into a tinderbox. The utility’s unsuccessful efforts to prevent such blazes have put it in a state of crisis. The fires included one on Oct. 8, 2017, when nearly 50-mile-an-hour winds snapped an alder tree in California’s Sonoma County wine country. The tree’s top hit a half-century-old PG&E power line and knocked it into a dry grass field… The line set the grass ablaze, sparking what became known as the Nuns Fire. It was among at least 17 major wildfires that year that California investigators have tied to PG&E. Data from the state firefighting agency, Cal Fire, show the fires together scorched 193,743 acres in eight counties, destroyed 3,256 structures and killed 22 people.”

January 12 – Bloomberg (Hailey Waller and James Ludden): “Jeffrey Gundlach said yet again that the U.S. economy is gorging on debt. …Gundlach took part in a round-table of 10 of Wall Street’s smartest investors for Barron’s. He highlighted the dangers especially posed by the U.S. corporate bond market. Prolific sales of junk bonds and significant growth in investment grade corporate debt, coupled with the Federal Reserve weaning the market off quantitative easing, have resulted in what the DoubleLine Capital LP boss called ‘an ocean of debt.’ The investment manager countered President Donald Trump’s claim that he’s presiding over the strongest economy ever. The growth is debt-based, he said… ‘I’m not looking for a terrible economy, but an artificially strong one, due to stimulus spending,’ Gundlach told the panel. ‘We have floated incremental debt when we should be doing the opposite if the economy is so strong.’”

Leveraged Speculation Watch:

January 18 – Bloomberg (Vincent Bielski): “Investors fled hedge funds as markets plunged in the fourth quarter, pulling $22.5 billion, the most in more than two years. The exodus added to the total withdrawals of $34 billion in 2018, or about 1% of industry assets, according to… Hedge Fund Research.”

January 12 – Financial Times (Chris Flood): “Hedge funds run by GAM, Schroders and BlackRock delivered significant losses in 2018 as declines for stock markets globally and rising US interest rates led to widespread difficulties for alternative managers. Many large hedge funds failed to protect their clients from substantial losses, raising more questions about the performance claims made by some of the investment industry’s best-paid managers. Only 16 hedge funds had reported positive full-year 2018 returns after fees in the latest update from HSBC's alternative investment group for the week to January 4. The HSBC research, which monitors around 450 hedge funds, found a further 169 funds were in positive territory in 2018 but they were yet to report numbers for the full year.”

January 16 – Bloomberg (Yakob Peterseil): “Some of the nimblest hedge-funds that trade volatility are hoping history doesn’t repeat after suffering their worst year in over a decade. Managers famed for posting steady profits from relative-value strategies, which shuffle between long- and short-volatility bets, lost a record 2.5% in 2018… You’d think funds that profit from swings would thrive from crazed markets. But these rarefied players were sunk instead by erratic moves in implied volatility and an outsized spike in U.S. equity angst versus the rest of the world. The question now is whether these obstacles will continue to confound market-neutral trades. ‘Higher volatility is positive, but erratic spikes can prove difficult to navigate for volatility-sensitive strategies,’ strategists Karim Cherif and Georg Weidlich at UBS Global Wealth Management wrote…”

Geopolitical Watch:

January 17 – Reuters (Tim Kelly): “The U.S. Navy has not ruled out sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, despite military technology advances by China that pose a greater threat to U.S. warships than ever before, the chief of U.S. naval operations said…”

January 13 – Reuters (Phil Stewart, Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu): “The White House’s national security team last fall asked the Pentagon to provide it with options for striking Iran after a group of militants aligned with Tehran fired mortars into an area in Baghdad that is home to the U.S. Embassy, a source familiar with the matter said… The source said that the Pentagon drew up options in response to the request, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and which originated from the White House National Security Council led by John Bolton.”

January 17 – Wall Street Journal (Benoit Faucon): “China’s state-run energy giant is making a new approach to strike a $3 billion Iranian oil field, seeking to take advantage of waivers allowed under U.S. sanctions even as two European nations have ended crude purchases... The moves highlight the divergent ways nations are reacting to temporary exemptions from U.S. sanctions on Iran. China’s decision to pursue lucrative deals with Tehran and deepen its presence there contrasts with a retreat by Italy and Greece stemming from fear that financial transactions and physical trade with Iran have become too difficult.”

January 16 – CNBC (Kate Fazzini): “Iranian hackers have congregated since at least 2002 in online forums to share tips on the best ways to create successful cyberattacks. Those conversations have given birth to some of the most significant global cybersecurity incidents, including devastating attacks on Saudi Aramco, attacks against the public-facing websites of large banks and espionage campaigns on a wide range of Western targets, according to new research by cybersecurity intelligence firm Recorded Future.”