Monday 25 September 2023

Will JPow take credit for Yellen delivering an immaculate soft landing?

In my last post I posited that the liquidity reduction could cause a market sell off and USD rally. 

Well a fairly mild one has happened; bonds and equities sold off and the USD rallied, while credit spreads remained fairly stable and VIX is still in the teens.

So is there more to come? What's next? 

Many think the Fed is finished hiking so that, in itself, is an inflection point. Heading into Q4 headline inflation will likely fall heavily due to YoY factors and the economy should continue to slow. So the market will start looking more seriously at rate cuts next year, which should be positive for duration. As of right now with the 10yr at 4.53% I think it is a buy for real money investors with a 1-2 year time horizon, not sure if it will sell off more this week but technically it is oversold I think and fundamentally is high yielding vs where inflation and growth is likely to average vs growth over the next few years. 

On the economy and equities, we could get a soft landing in the US, i.e. the US economy slows but does not go into a real recession. That is because the US consumer remains fairly strong (strong employment, two/ three years of strong wage growth versus many fixed costs like mortgages and car leases leading to strong growth in effectively disposable income for people who have skilled jobs  and the US fiscal deficit is around 6% of GDP. So the consumer which is around 70% of the economy is likely to remain fairly strong.

In terms of the more cyclical parts of the economy, housing is likely to drag, autos will likely see falling average prices and some volume reductions, so a drag but no implosion. Energy is still strong and if the consumer is strong there is no obvious reason for a big inventory liquidation. 

So that argues towards a period of rebalancing and slower growth similar to 2000-2003.

So the economy, particularly when the Federal deficit is so big, is not that immediately sensitive to the Fed hikes and in a slowdown by definition some industry sectors will shrink while the others and total overall economy still grows.

As the economy slows, manufacturing PMIs are likely to remain slightly negative and service PMIs should also slow, may even be negative for a few months. This slowing is part of the soft landing and is not in itself a warning of an imminent crash.

As headline inflation falls and core slows, but core is underpinned by a robust service sector and service sector wages, with government employment and spending directly and indirectly being a large part of the service sector wage bill, the Fed might cut rates next year but not go to zero. So it might cut to say 3% or something in time. 

So at that point without a large recession/ any real GDP recession and inflation down and the Fed cutting, JPow will be hailed by the media as the Maestro II. 

Even though the Powell Fed was late to tighten policy pre-Covid and has had almost no effect on the reversion of inflation back to long term trend levels, which has mostly been due to the global commodity price/ PPI wash out plus the large fiscal deficit blunting a lot of the pro-cyclical effects of his hiking cycle.

Overall this should be a reasonably positive environment for duration and for solvent/ cash generating risky assets, but probably not for loss making/ concept risky assets (sorry Cathie).

I guess the downside risk is that companies panic and cut investment/ inventories quickly, then cut jobs and that weaker jobs market leads to a rise in the savings rate and a more rapid slowdown, which then self-reinforces into a typical hard landing. That would still be positive for duration but not for risky assets.

So that is a 3-6 month US outlook. 

The EU I am more negative on (could even see an EU deflationary recession), UK cautiously optimistic and EM selectively positive on.

Longer term I guess the US question is how big is the trade off between credit growth, corporate margins, inflation, rates, credit demand/ deleveraging and Federal fiscal deficits. If we are in for an extended 2000-2003 type deleveraging environment, corporate margins should steadily fall, the CA deficit shrink and USD fall as investors look for growth and returns elsewhere. But that is probably a 2024 consideration.