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Is the U.S. Economy Slowing Down?

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There always seems to be a lot of noise and chatter surrounding the current president Donald Trump. But despite the controversies, here on Moneyball Economics we think the president deserves plenty of credit for the U.S. economy, which is stronger than it has been for a while. The employment rate in the country has held steady at over 60%, and business confidence has been restored as the government made it easier for people to put up their businesses. And although the stock market has remained largely flat, investors remain hopeful on how robust the U.S. economy is. Yet, despite this there are signs that it is slowing down in 2019.

This notion was put forward by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in the Fed’s semi-annual monetary report to Congress. Powell noted that the overall world economy was slowing due to a number of international issues: “Growth has slowed in some major foreign economies, particularly China and Europe. And uncertainty is elevated around several unresolved government policy issues, including Brexit and ongoing trade negotiations.”

His speech on the U.S. economy caused a ripple effect across the globe, with the economic calendar on FXCM showing that his testimony caused a lot of market volatility. This shows how despite growth in the U.S., the global economy is still wary of the economic policies of the Trump administration. However, there was good news as the job market in the U.S. was shown to still be strong, and in 2018 the economy had grown by 3% compared to 2.7% in 2017.

Powell also had a two-hour testimony before the Senate Banking Committee and touched on the conflicting signals that the Fed has been trying to decipher. Reuters reports that this includes disappointing data on retail sales and other aspects that were in contrast with the steady hiring, wage growth, and ongoing low employment rate in the country. Again Powell pointed to international economies as the reason for slowing the U.S. economy down.

Powell remains hopeful though, as the flow of new workers into the labor force has increased, showing “there is more room to grow.” His appearances on Capitol Hill are part of his semi-annual testimony to congress. Questions ranged from the sources of rural poverty to the impact of climate change on banks, and to all of the questions, Powell has promised to give an open and transparent review.

While the slowing economy will worry a lot of businesses, Goldman Sachs believes it will benefit companies with low operating leverage. These companies tend to have higher costs associated with more sales, but lower fixed costs to cover each month. This means low operating leverage companies will be least affected by a drag of sale amidst a slowing economy. David Kostin, Goldman’s chief U.S. equity strategist said, “In the current macro environment, we recommend investors own stocks with low operating leverage and sell companies with high operating leverage.”

At the moment it looks like other business will have to ride out 2019, and see how the global economy and Trump’s economic policies play out.

Are We Just In A Dead Cat Bounce? Or Are We Headed For New Highs?

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The market has been so volatile, we’re now in a “bad news is good news” phase.

The global economy was heading for a recession well before Trump stepped in with his trade wars (mainly with China).

China is at the heart of where the economy and markets go from here.

Or, rather, Chinese credit (aka debt).  The growth of which has been slowing.

As we all know, China has used a mountain of debt to build its economy. It quadrupled its debt to $28 trillion from 2007-2014 alone – according to McKinsey. Who knows how much more they’ve borrowed since.

All this debt has been used to pay for railways, highways and cities. Debt to pay for factories. Debt to pay for homes.

It was a rush to build, build build. Export, export, export. And create millions of jobs.

But the steam ran out a while ago. The big projects are done. To shove money into the system requires more effort.

Turned around, the demand to build factories leads to a demand for money. As growth slows and money (credit) demand slows, money creation slows.

The biggest source of money is Central Banks and their lending – aka M1 money supply.

China’s M1 supply growth peaked in early 2016 (the chart has lagged the M1 supply growth by 13 months).

The above chart shows the correlation between Chinese money (credit) growth and their economic activity as measured by trade.  At current levels of M1 supply growth, trade will continue to contract throughout 2019. That’s recessionary.

Is that a problem?  Well it is for their trading partners.

Germany’s #1 export destination is China (no longer the U.S.).  Notice the relationship between German factory orders and China’s industrial production measurement (the Caixin PMI).

When the PMI falls below 50, that’s recessionary.  And notice that Germany’s factory orders have been contracting.

China has been trying to navigate a soft landing. But Trump pushed them into a hard landing.

The only way out for China is to reverse course and inject stimulus.  Which they will. Especially as the tariffs increase in March. (The U.S. and China don’t seem anywhere close to a trade deal.)

I think the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) will also blink and slow rate hikes and (probably) slow the quantitative easing (QE) normalization.

In other words – a global recession is almost underway unless the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) and the Fed inject liquidity. Which they will.  Which will then push the stock market up.

So get ready for a bull run.



Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

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Market Update – December 13 2018

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There’s a positive inflection point that seems to be coming up in January.

First, the market is oversold. The short sellers’ selling pressure is done. Which means most have closed out their positions for gains. And makes room for more buying.

Second, the Federal Reserve looks likely to pause on rate hikes. The markets reacted favorably when they hinted that rates were just below “neutral” – where rates should be to match inflation… where consumer prices don’t heat up too quickly.

Both of these factors combine to remove additional selling from here.

Meanwhile, fundamentals are about to turn positive.

The China-U.S. trade tiff will abate.

Political pressure will force compromises… On both sides.

China is bleeding and Trump is keeping up the pressure (the latest hit – arresting Huawei’s CFO).

However, this could quickly reverse.

The next wave of tariffs are set to hit in Q1 2019. This new set of tariffs are different from the first wave – which hit goods that were price elastic (the first round of goods had easy substitutes that were not made in China).

This next round hits goods that Chinese manufacturers dominate – which will be inflationary. (Chinese manufacturers need to raise prices in order to maintain their profit margins. U.S. consumers will pay that increase in price on the respective final good.)

Indeed, today’s NFIB Small Business Survey reflected these concerns and slumped to a low level.

Bottomline: pressure to cut a deal is building. The results will make the markets happy. And rally.

Lastly, fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. Any slowdown will be a lot more mild than currently priced in.

One way to approach this would be to buy stocks that are more domestic. Restaurants, for example. Side note: avoid anything oil related.



Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.

It’s Time To Get Bullish

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There are many reasons to get a little bullish today.

Let’s talk first about where we are and then talk about where we are heading.

So, why did the market drop?  The recent market blow-off has been quite breathtaking: the S&P was down -10% in 2 months.  Facebook down -35%!  Amazon down -22%.

I still don’t know what triggered the drop. It seemed more technical based instead of fundamental based.

That is to say, yes, the market was overbought and ripe for a pullback… but a drop of 9%?

You may cite the trade war, tax loss selling come early, some disappointing forecasts… but most of that was already priced in.

One thing I do know: this was a massive margin call.  And it appears to be over.

In a previous report, I walked through the use of margin (aka debt).  Basically investors borrow from investment banks using their current assets as collateral.

This is a good thing in a bullish market: the underlying collateral assets rise in value – enabling more borrowing – and the newly purchased assets also rise in value.

Investors can borrow at 1% per month and watch their portfolios grow 3% or more. (This is simplified, but it’s basically 2% on the underlying asset and 2% on the assets bought on margin, minus the 1% borrowed). This is market beating that makes for big bonuses yearend by Wall Street and hedge funds.

But being over-leveraged is bad when the market turns bearish. It forces fire sales at prices the holder didn’t want to sell at. But their brokers are forcing them to sell to meet the margin calls.

Which then pushes the market down. Causing more margin calls. Rinse and repeat.  Banks are calling in IOUs and the borrowers must cover them immediately.

Evidence of extreme margin calls

When you have to sell, sell your most profitable assets to lock in gains.

Amazon was up 80% for the year before this October-November drop.  Apple was up over 30%.

In other words, the companies that seem to have been most decimated are also the companies that had some of the biggest runs.

Bitcoin (BTC) was another target for slaughter.

Demand for BTC has been steadily falling – if demand is defined as volume purchases.  Worse, anyone who bought and held BTC in the last 16 months is now losing money.  Not a lot of people are buying into it.  And that makes a sell-off more powerful.

But the biggest evidence of margin calls is in the margin debt data itself.

Margin debt is tracked by FINRA and it peaked in July. It pulled back a bit before outright collapsing (-6%) in October.  November was probably more of the same (waiting for the data).

It’s very simple: buyers had turned into net sellers.

Bullishness Ahead

I don’t know if we have bottomed. But I know we’re at or close to a short-term bottom. The markets are up 4% since November 23rd.

There are finally more buyers than sellers.

With the margin calls over, the worst of the selloff is here.  (There could be more as year-end approaches, but that’s more individual than institutional.)

I think you’ll see  pension funds and other big institutional buyers jumping in at this time of year.

Remember, a bull market is simple. There are more buyers than sellers.

Another reason to be thinking bullishness: future prospects look brighter.

China still hasn’t capitulated, which has added risk to the markets. But they will. And when they do, it’s back to business and a serious market surge.


Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.

November 2018 Market Update – Trade War + Bitcoin

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Stay calm.  All is well in the markets.

Remember this time last year Trump unleashed a massive tax cut.

The tax cuts are what sparked the sugar rush of spending to this day.

But things aren’t as powerful anymore on a year-over-year (yr/yr) perspective.

Add in the blowback from tariffs and a whiff of uncertainty enters the picture… and you get the deep, dark red in your portfolio.

As I said last week:

At this point the market will bounce up or down depending on the latest trade war news item.  The market is hostage to the trade war. Trump is playing hard ball. He started the fight and must see it through.

The market clearly wants a deal to get made. News of Trump willing to meet with Chinese President Xi sent stocks up. Then signs of an impasse brought it right back down.

Now the story is fear the Fed will make a policy mistake. One it’s done over and over: raise rates into an economic slowdown.
For example, I was wrong about inflation: CPI was pretty mild.  Although the producer’s inflation rose (PPI).

Nervousness is not something the market handles well. And we’re in the middle of absolute uncertainty today.

I am changing my near-term read of things.

I no longer expect China to blink this month.

I expected some movement post-midterms. I believed China would wait in order to calibrate their response to how Trump emerged.

I rightly predicted that he would emerge unfettered. Nevertheless, China is standing firm.

I can’t tell how much is just playing to the audience and how much is real positioning.

If it’s positioning, then they are making serious policy errors because it means they continue to misread Trump’s willingness to go to the full distance. Which means the trade war gets dragged out into February.

Bitcoin’s fading promise

Cash is not a bad move.  Or gold.  Same thing.

But not Bitcoin (BTC).

BTC fell to a 12 month low – now at just under $4,400. All the other cryptos got crushed too. But what does this all mean?

First, let me repeat my overall take of crypto currency.

I believe that crypto is here to stay for at least 2 reasons.

One is that it enables rapid, low-cost transactions. It is the thing that banks fear the most: a way to bypass them.

But they also recognize a winner when they see one and they are trying to harness the underlying blockchain technology to obsolete their workers.

Second, BTC enables China, Russia, Iran and others to pursue non-dollar transactions.

In fact, the entire starting point for Satoshi’s creation is de-dollarization. Put differently, BTC will always have a home for those who don’t want U.S. dollars.

The real question isn’t Bitcoin – yes-or-no?  The real question has always been – what is Bitcoin really worth?

Last week the market said that BTC was worth 15% less than it was worth the previous week.

Some people will claim that it is tied to a branch in the crypto currency. No. That would not affect all cryptos.

More basically, this has been a trend based selloff.

Bitcoin continued to make new lows since January – when Bitcoin futures became available. And it was able to effectively be “shorted.”

A technical read says that is an indication of further lows ahead. Sure it could bounce back in the near-term. But it looks like the future isn’t as strong as many thought.

And this is BTC specific. The market was relatively unaffected.  Crypto currencies just….collapsed.

It could be connected: maybe a major BTC owner had a margin call somewhere else and decided to close BTC positions to cover.  I leave that to better informed people to figure out.

This leaves two major problems with Bitcoin overall.

BIG PROBLEM #1: Bitcoin has failed it’s first big test. It is clearly not a hedge against market crashes or volatility.  And frankly that is the only reason to own it.

BIG PROBLEM #2: Most owners are underwater. Anyone who bought in the last 15 months and held is now losing money. And over half of buyers bought in the last 12 months.

It’s clearly been a fad over the last 15 or so months (maybe longer?)  Not to everyone. But to many.

It’s evident in the trading volume, which has steadily drooped 50% in just the last 6 months.

Buyer interest is tapped out. As the fad part continues to wane, BTC will be left with more down days ahead.

Avoid Bitcoin for now…



Andrew Zatlin

Editor of Moneyball Economics

P.S. Struggling to make sense of the market? Is the volatility keeping you up at night?

Well, Moneyball Traders have had opportunities to make massive gains... even through the whipsaw of October.

The returns speak for themselves. And they’re CRUSHING the market returns. Check it out here.