Pioneering work on yield-curve inversions and risk of economic recession

There is no doubt that global economic growth has slowed over the last six months. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) highlighted rising global economic risks in its recent Policy statement. The RBNZ noted that economic growth has slowed in our major trading partners of Australia, China, and Europe.

Economic growth has also slowed in the US. Although US financial conditions have eased in recent months, they did tightened over the course of 2018.

The risk of a US recession has risen in recent months. Albeit calls of a US recession have been around for some time.

A recent article by Gary Shilling in Think Advisor captures the type of the analysis undertaken on the US economy over the last 18 months.

Leading economic indicators for the US have weakened. Nevertheless, they are not consistent with forecasting a looming recession, except perhaps one, an inverted yield curve which is discussed below.

Overall the US economy is in good health, with record low unemployment, growing incomes, high saving rates, strong household balance sheets, business investment is set to increase, as is Government spending.

 

As Shilling notes in his article, the US economy could go several ways e.g. economic growth rebounds over 2019, the US experiences a period of prolonged moderate economic growth without a recession, or the US experiences a classic economic cycle and tips into a recession at a later date due to the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates.

By Shilling’s count, there have been 12 occasions since World War 2 that the Fed raising interest rates has resulted in a recession. Presently, this would appear some time away  given the Fed has indicated it is unlikely to undertake further interest rate increases in 2019.

The later scenario is most consistent with the consensus view – it is a little early to call a US recession, yet the risks of a recession within the next 2-3 years are growing. For the time being the US continues to expand and will enter its longest period of economic expansion in modern history in July 2019. Recession will eventually be triggered by the Fed increasing interest rates resulting in a more “garden variety” recession.

 

And this leads to a key point in Shilling’s article, the word recession invokes images of a Global Financial Crisis (GFC) type outcome – not surprising given this was our last experience.

His expectations are that the next US recession will not be as severe as the GFC.

He has a similar view with respect to the next US “Bear” market (i.e. fall in value of greater than 20%).

I’ll leave it to him to explain:

“Recession” conjures up specters of 2007-2009, the most severe business downturn since the 1930s in which the S&P 500 Index plunged 57 percent from its peak to its trough. The Fed raised its target rate from 1 percent in June 2004 to 5.25 percent in June 2006, but the main event was the financial crisis spawned by the collapse in the vastly-inflated subprime mortgage market.

 Similarly, the central bank increased its policy rate from 4.75 percent in June 1999 to 6.5 percent in May 2000.  Still, the mild 2001 recession that followed was principally driven by the collapse in the late 1990s dot-com bubble that pushed the tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index down by a whopping 78 percent.

The 1973-1975 recession, the second deepest since the 1930s, resulted from the collapse in the early 1970s inflation hedge buying of excess inventories. That deflated the S&P 500 by 48.2 percent. The federal funds rate hike from 9 percent in February 1974 to 13 percent in July of that year was a minor contributor.

The remaining eight post-World War II recessions were not the result of major financial or economic excesses, but just the normal late economic cycle business and investor overconfidence. The average drop in the S&P 500 was 21.2 percent.

 

In short, history shows that US sharemarkets drop by about 21% when the economy falls into recession, remembering the S&P 500 fell almost 20% during the last three months of 2018.

 

Inverted Yield Curve

As you will know, the slower economic growth has resulted in several Central Banks, with the RBNZ the latest, to turn more cautious on the outlook for economic growth and inflation. This list includes the US Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, and Reserve Bank of Australia.

This sudden change in direction of interest rate policy (Monetary Policy) has witnessed a flattening of yield curves (when longer-dated interest rates are at similar level to shorter-term interest rates).

In the US, the yield curve has become inverted, where longer-term interest rates are lower than shorter-term interest rates.

The inversion has primarily been due to the significant reduction in longer-term interest rates rather than the increase in shorter-term interest rates (inversions normally occur when short term interest rates are increased rapidly by Central Banks).

The significance of this is that prior to the last 7 US recessions the yield curve has inverted each time.

Nevertheless, not every time the yield curve inverts does a recession follow and on average the inversion of the yield curve occurs 12 months prior to a recession.

 

As you can imagine a lot has been written in recent weeks on the implications of a negative yield curve, I would like to highlight the following three articles, which pretty much sums up the current debate:

  1. A very recent interview with the person who undertook in 1986 the pioneering work on yield-curve inversions and their foreshadowing of economic downturns (RA-Conversations)
  2. Mohamed A. El Erain’s article of “Beware of Misreading Inverting Yield Curve “
  3. BCA LinkedIn Post, Yield Curve Inversions and S&P 500 Peaks, don’t get bogged down in the noise.

 

It would appear, that when it comes to the current inversion of the US yield curve, we have “Nothing to fear but fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt). This is certainly the view of Mohamed A. El Erain.

 

I have blogged previously on the history of inverted yield curves and their predictive ability. Similar there is also a previous post on the anatomy of equity Bear markets.

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

It has been a tough Year to make Money

2018 has been a tough year in which to make money.

2018 is “The worst time to make money in the markets since 1972” according to a recent Bloomberg article.

“Things have not been this bad since Richard Nixon’s presidency”.

Research undertake by Ned Davis Research, who places markets into eight big asset classes, everything from bonds (Fixed Interest) to US and international stocks and commodities, not one of them is “on track to post a return this year of more than 5%, a phenomenon last observed in 1972”….

As they note, in terms of absolute loses, think Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns in 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, “2018 is starting to look historic.”

Nothing has worked this year.  Year to date: global equities are down, as are emerging markets, hedge fund indices, global commodities (even oil), International Credit, Global High Yield, US Fixed Interest, US Inflation Protected Bonds, while Global Aggregate Fixed Interest have eked out a small gain.  Investments into unlisted assets have been more rewarding.

 

“That’s all but unique in history. Normally when something falls, something else gains. Amid the financial catastrophe of 2008, Treasuries rallied (increased in value). In 1974, commodities were a bright spot. In 2002, it was REITs. In 2018, there’s nowhere to run.”

 

Outcomes are a little better if you are a New Zealand (NZ) based investor, Cash is on track to return around 2%, 6 month Term Deposits 3.5%, NZ Fixed Interest is up around 4%, and the NZ Sharemarket is currently up 3%.  Still they are all short of 5%.  Meanwhile the recent strength in the NZ dollar has detracted from offshore returns.

 

It has been a tough year, global equities reached all-time highs in January, fell heavily in February and March, only to recover up to October, with the US Sharemarket reaching a new historical high.

Since October yearly gains have been erased due to a number of factors, some, but not all, of these factors are briefly outlined below.

 

In short, as highlighted by a recent Barron’s article markets appear to be panicking over everything.

Recent market drivers in brief:

  • Primarily concern for Sharemarkets has been a reduction in global economic growth expectations. Global investor sentiment toward the pace of global economic growth in 2019 has become more cautious over recent months. Global sharemarkets have adjusted accordingly. Albeit, the sharmarket adjustment does appear to be overdone relative to the likely moderating in global growth in 2019, which has also  largely been anticipated.
  • Global Trade concerns continue to negatively impact global markets e.g. Australia and commodities, primarily the ongoing negotiations between the US and China are a source of market volatility and uncertainty.
  • Brexit more recently. The UK are going to have to pay a price for leaving the EU, why? too stop other countries ever considering leaving the EU as a viable option. Unfortunately, while Brexit is an important issue and will be a source of volatility, the negative consequences will largely sit with the UK rather than the rest of the world.
  • There has been considerable oil price volatility, the price of oil fell by over 20% in November.
  • There has also been uncertainty as to likely pace of increases in the Federal Funds Rate by the US Federal Reserve (US Central Bank).

 

Inverted Yield Curve

Lastly, markets have also latched onto the inversion of the US Yield curve.

Inversion is when the yield (rate of interest) is lower on longer dated fixed interest securities compared to shorter dated securities. Under normal circumstance longer dated securities have a higher yield than shorter dated securities.

An “inverted” yield curve has been useful, though not perfect, in predicting economic recession and equity bear markets (when sharemarkets fall in value of over 20%),

 

On this occasion the market has focused on the three year security versus the five year security.

Normally, the market focuses on the three month versus the 10 year security as the best predictor of economic recession.  For a further discussion see Risk of Economic Recession and Inverted Yield Curve and US Recession warning. An inverted yield curve is a necessary but not sufficient condition in predicting a recession, and there is often a lag.

 

As the Barron article highlights: “Since 1965, the three-year yield has been higher than the five-year on seven different occasions. In 1973, the stock market had already sunk into a recession. In the other six instances, the median distance to a recession was 25 months—or more than two years. The S&P 500 went on to gain a median 20% over the 24 months following such an inversion. “Historically, not only have returns tended to be very strong, but the bear market has generally been years away,”

 

Happy investing.

 

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Balanced Bear Market

A “Balanced Bear” is when both equities and bonds sell off together.

As a result, a Balanced Fund, 60% invested in the stockmarket (equities) and 40% invested in fixed income (bonds), has a larger than normally expected period of underperformance – a Balanced Fund Bear Market.

During these periods the diversification benefits of bonds relative to equities disappears.

As you will know, historically if the stock market is selling off sharply, money is moving into fixed income. This drives up the price of fixed income securities helping to partially offset the negative returns from the stock market.  A Balance Fund can come through these periods of equity market uncertainty relatively unscathed.

In a Balance Bear, equities are falling in value and fixed income is also falling in value given interest rates are rising (noting as interest rates rise the price, and therefore value, of a fixed income security falls).

This type of market environment was evident in early 2018 and was a prominent feature of the market volatility in early October 2018.

 

The thesis of the Balanced Bear has been promoted by Goldman Sachs and their equity analyst Christian Mueller-Glissmann raised the idea on CNBC in February of this year.

Goldman Sachs have written extensively on the Balance bear using historical US financial market data.

Importantly, a Balanced Fund is now into its longest period of outperformance, reflecting the very strong record run in US equities since 2009 and that interest rates, albeit they have risen from their June 2016 lows, are still at historical lows and have provided solid returns over the longer time frames.  The same can be said about New Zealand “Balanced Funds”.

 

The Anatomy of equity bear markets is well documented, not so for a Balanced Fund bear market.

In this regards Goldman Sachs (GS) has undertaken a wealth of analysis.

 

Requirements for a Balanced Bear – usually a Balance Bear requires a material economic growth or inflation shock.

In this regard, the largest Balance Fund declines over the last 100 years have been in or around US recessions (economic growth shock).

Nevertheless, Goldman Sachs also found that the Balance Fund can have long periods of low real returns (i.e. after inflation) without a recession e.g. mid 40s and late 70s. These periods are associated with accelerating inflation.

 

Naturally, equities dominate the risk within a Balanced Fund, therefore large equity market declines e.g. Black Monday 1987 are associated with periods of underperformance of Balanced Funds.

Not surprisingly, most of the largest Balanced Fund falls in value have been during US recessions, but not all e.g. 1994 Bond market bubble collapsing, stagflation of 1970 (low economic growth and high inflation), 1970’s oil shock.  It is worth noting that the 1987 sharemarket crash was not associated with a US recession.

 

Also of note, the stagflation periods of the 1970’’s and 80’s are periods in which there were large falls in both equities and bonds.

 

Bond market bears – are usually triggered by Central Banks, such as the US Federal Reserve, raising short term interest rates in response to strong growth and an overheating of the economy.  Bond market bears have been less common in modern history given the introduction of inflation targets anchoring inflation expectations.

 

Equity markets can absorb rising interest rates up to the point that higher interest rates are beginning to restrict economic activity. An unanticipated increase in interest rates is negative for sharemarkets and will lead to higher levels of volatility e.g. 1994 or recent tapper tantrum of May 2013.

 

As noted in previous blogs, most equity bear markets have been during recessions…but not all.

Goldman Sachs makes this point as well, noting the majority of 60/40 drawdowns of more than 10% have been due to equity bear markets, often around recessions. They note it is very seldom the case that equities deliver positive returns during a 60/40 drawdown (they estimate only in c.5% of cases).

With regards to recessions, Goldman Sachs note that there have been 22 recessions since 1900 and 22 S&P 500 bear markets. However, not every bear market automatically coincided with a recession in the last 100 years – out of the 22 since 1900, 15 were around a recession – 7 due to other factors.

 

Also, high equity valuations don’t signal a bear market. Nevertheless, they do signal below average returns over the medium to longer term. Albeit, sharemarket bear markets are not associated with low valuations!

 

Therefore, assessing the risk of a US recession is critical at this juncture.  As covered in a recent Post the “warning signs” of recession are not present currently based on a number of US Recession warning indicators.

 

Lastly, as also noted in a previous Post it is very difficult to predict bear markets and the costs of trying to time markets is very expensive.  The maintenance of a truly diversified portfolio and portfolio tilting will likely deliver superior return outcomes over the longer term.

A more robust and truly diversified portfolio reduces portfolio volatility increasing the likelihood of investors reaching their investment goals.

 

It is a good time to reflect on the diversification of your portfolio at this time in the market cycle. As Goldman Sachs note, both equities and bonds appear expensive relative to the last 100 years.

In a Balanced Bear scenario there are very few places to hide.

  

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

US Recession Warning Indicators

As you will know the US economy is into its second longest period of economic expansion which commenced in June 2009.

Should the US economy continue to perform until July 2019, which appears likely, the US will enter its longest period of economic expansion. The longest expansion was 10 years, occurring during the tech expansion of the 1990s, the current expansion is nine years.

Similarly, the US sharemarket is into its longest bull market run, having not experienced a drop-in value of greater than 20% (bear market) since March 2009.

As a rule, sharemarkets generally enter bear markets in the event of a recession.

 

Nevertheless, while a recession is necessary, it is not sufficient for a sharemarket to enter a bear market.

Since 1957, the S&P 500, a measure of the US sharemarket:

  • three bear markets where “not” associated with a recession; and
  • three recessions happened without a bear market.

 

Statistically:

  • The average Bull Market period has lasted 8.8 years with an average cumulated total return of 461%.
  • The average Bear Market period lasted 1.3 years with an average loss of -41
  • Historically, and on average, equity markets tend not to peak until six – twelve months before the start of a recession.

 

Therefore, let’s look at some of the Recession indicators.

In a recent article by Brandywine, they ran through some of the key indicators for a US recession.

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDP Nowcast.

This measure is forecasting annualised economic growth of 4.4% in the third quarter of 2018. This follows actual annualised growth of 4.2% in the second quarter of 2018.

Actual US economic data is strong currently. Based on the following list:

  • US unemployment is 3.7%, its lowest since 1969
  • Consumer Confidence is at an 18 year high
  • US wages are growing at around 3%, the savings rate is close to 6%, leaving plenty of room for consumers to increase spending
  • Small business confidence is at all-time highs
  • Manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys are at their best levels for some time (cycle highs)

 

Leading Indicators

The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Indicators, an index of 10 components that includes the likes of the ISM New Order Index, building permits, stock prices, and the Treasury yield curve.

The Conference Board’s Index is supportive of ongoing economic activity in the US.

 

Yield Curve

The shape of the yield curve, which is normally upward sloping, meaning longer term interest rates are higher than short term interest rates, has come in for close attention over the last six months. I wrote a about the prospect of a negative yield curve earlier in the year.

An inverted yield curve, where shorter term interest rates (e.g. 2 years) are higher than longer term interest rates (e.g. 10 years) has a pretty good record in predicting a recession, in 18 months’ time on average.

With the recent rise of longer dated interest rates the prospect of an inverted yield curve now looks less likely.

Albeit, with the US Federal Reserve is likely to raise short term interest rates again this year and another 3-4 times next year the shape of the yield curve requires on going monitoring.

Having said that, an inverted yield curve alone is not sufficient as a predictor of economic recession and needs to be considered in conjunction with a number of other factors.

 

Brandywine conclude, “what does a review of some well-known recession indicators tell us about the current—and future—state of the U.S. expansion? The information provided by the indicators is mixed, but favors the continuation of the current expansion. The leading indicators are telling us the economy should continue to expand well into next year—at least.”

In favour of ongoing economic expansion is low unemployment, rising wages, simulative financial conditions (e.g. low interest rates are supportive of ongoing growth, as are high equity prices), high savings rate of consumer and their low levels of debt. Lastly government spending and solid corporate profitability is supportive of economic activity over the medium term.

As a word of caution, ongoing US – China trade dispute could derail global growth. Other factors to consider are higher interest rates in combination with a higher oil price.

Noting, Equity markets generally don’t contract until interest rates have gone into restrictive territory. This also appears some time away but is a key factor to monitor.

Lastly, a combination of higher oil prices and higher interest rates is negative for economic growth.

 

I have used on average a lot in this Post, just remember: “A stream may have an average depth of five feet, but a traveler wading through it will not make it to the other side if its mid-point is 10 feet deep. Similarly, an overly volatile investing strategy may sink an investor before she gets to reap its anticipated rewards.”

 Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

How long will the record US equities bull market run continue for?

An interesting view from JP Morgan.

The US Equity market is within a month of recording its longest ever bull market.  Many are expecting it to continue well into 2019.  The US economy will reaches its longest period of economic expansion in modern history July 2019.

History of Sharemarket corrections – An Anatomy of equity market corrections

 

JP Morgan view.

www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-19/jpmorgan-says-record-breaking-bull-market-could-run-until-2020

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Risk of Economic Recession and an Inverted Yield Curve

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the prospect of an inverted US yield curve.  (An inverted yield curve is when longer-term interest rates (e.g. 10 years) are lower than shorter-term interest rates (e.g. 2 years or 3 months).  A normal yield curve is when longer-term-interest rates are higher than shorter-term-interest rates.

Historically an inverted yield curve is a powerful recession sign.  John Williams, who will take over the helm of the New York Federal Reserve Bank of New York in June, said earlier in the year a truly inverted yield curve “is a powerful signal of recessions” that has historically occurred (italics is mine).

The US yield curve spread (difference in yield) between the 2 year and 10 year US Treasury interest rates has recently reached its narrowest in over a decade.  Thus the heightened discussion.

As can be seen in the graph below the US Treasury yield curve inverted before the recessions of 2008, 2000, 1991, and 1981.

It should be noted that the US yield curve has not yet inverted and there is a lag between inversion and recession, on average of 1 to 2 years.  See graph below.  I am not sure I’d call the Yield Curve still “Bullish” all the same.

At the same time, the risk of recession does not currently appear to be a clear and present danger.

Much of the flattening of the current yield curve (i.e. shorter-term interest rates are close to longer-term interest rates) reflects that the US Federal Reserve has increased shorter-term interest rates by over 150 bpts over the last 2 years and longer-term interest rates remain depressed largely due to technical factors.  Albeit, the US 10 year Treasury bond recently trade above 3%, the first time since the start of 2014.  Therefore, the current shape of the US yield curve does make some sense.

Inverted yield curve.png

 

The picking of recession is obviously critical in determining the likely future performance of the sharemarket.

As a rule, sharemarkets generally enter bear markets, falls of greater than 20%, in the event of a recession.

Nevertheless, while a recession is necessary, it is not sufficient for a sharemarket to enter a bear market.

See the graph below, as it notes, since 1957, the S&P 500, a measure of the US sharemarket:

  • three bear markets where “not” associated with a recession; and
  • three recessions happened without a bear market.

bear market recessions.jpg

 

Statistically:

  1. The average Bull Market period has lasted 8.8 years with an average cumulated total return of 461%.
  2. The average Bear Market period lasted 1.3 years with an average loss of -41%
  3. Historically, and on average, equity markets tend not to peak until six months before the start of a recession.

The current US sharemarket bull market passed its 9 year anniversary in March 2018.  The accumulated return is over 300%.

 

Mind you, we have to be careful with averages, I like this quote:

“A stream may have an average depth of five feet, but a traveler wading through it will not make it to the other side if its mid-point is 10 feet deep. Similarly, an overly volatile investing strategy may sink an investor before she gets to reap its anticipated rewards.”

 

Assessing Recession Risk

Importantly, investors should not use the shape of the yield curve as a sole guide as to the likelihood of a recession.

The key forward looking indicators to monitor include an inverted yield curve, but also a significant widening of high yield credit spreads, rising unemployment, and falling future manufacturing orders.

Tightening of financial conditions is also a key indicator, particularly central banks raising interest rates (or reducing the size of their balance sheet as in the current environment) e.g. US Federal Reserve, but also tightening of lending conditions by the large lenders such as the commercial banks to consumers and more particularly businesses.

Lastly, equity market valuation is important.

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

US Equity Market 9 Years of Advancement

The US equity market recently celebrated 9 years of advancement without a bear market (a Bear market is defined as an equity market decline of greater than 20% from its peak).

This 9 year Bull market is closing in on the historical record of 9 years and five and half months.  The longest post-war Bull market stretched from 11 October 1990 to 24 March 2000.  To break that record the current Bull market will have to continue until the last week of August 2018.

The US equity market experienced a “correction” in February 2018 (a correction is defined as a fall in market value of between 10 and 20%) on inflation and higher interest rate concerns.  I wrote about this in this blog and also put into historical perspective here and here.  

 

Bull markets end with a Bear market.  Bear markets usually coincide with recession.  Very rarely has there been a Bear Equity Market without recession.  Nevertheless, there have been bear markets without a recession.

Fortunately the global economy has good momentum and recession does not look imminent. Most economic forecasts are for economic growth throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Albeit, the current Bull market does face some risks.  Key amongst those risks are:

  • Earnings disappointment in 2019. Earnings momentum is vulnerable this late in the economic cycle
  • Economic data disappoints – global equity markets are priced for continuation of the current “Goldilocks” economic environment, not too hot and not too cold.
  • Inflation data surprises on the upside
  • Policy mistake by a Central Bank given the extraordinary policy positions over the last 10 years of very low interest rates and Quantitative Easing, e.g. US Reserve Bank needs to raise short term interest rates more quickly than currently anticipated
  • Longer term interest rates rise much higher than currently expected

 

Therefore, lots to consider as the year progresses.

 

I enjoyed this quote from Howard Marks “there are two things I would never say (since they require far more certainty than I consider attainable): “get out” and “it’s time.”  It’s rare for the market pendulum to reach such an extreme that views can properly be black-or-white.  Most markets are far too uncertain and nuanced to permit such unequivocal, sweeping statements.”

Well worth thinking about when making portfolio investment decisions.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement