The stock market has been rising relentlessly since Christmas, riding on a crest of increasingly bearish economic reports. Maybe the hedge fund algos are anticipating that the Fed will soon start cutting rates. Data indicates foreigners and retail investors are pulling cash from U.S. stocks. This for me implies that the market is being pushed higher by hedge fund computer algos reacting to any bullish words that appear in news headlines. For example, this week Trump and Kudlow have opportunistically dropped “optimistic” reports connected to trade war negotiations which trigger an instantaneous spike up in stock futures.
“U.S. economy continues to weaken more sharply and quickly than widely acknowledged” – John Williams, Shadowstats.com, Bulletin Endition #5
The real economy continues to deteriorate, both globally and in the U.S. At some point the stock market is going to “catch down” to this reality.
The graphic above shows Citigroup’s Economic Data Change index. It measures data releases relative to their 1-yr history. A positive reading means data releases have been stronger than their year average. A negative reading means data releases have been worse than their 1-yr average. The index has been negative since the spring of 2018 and is currently well south of -200, its worst level since 2009.
The Treasury yield curve inversion continued to steepen last week. It blows my mind that mainstream media and Wall Street analysts continue to advise that it’s different this time. I would advise heeding the message in this chart:
I’m not sure how any analyst who expects to be taken seriously can look at the graphic above and try to explain that an inverted yield curve this time around is irrelevant. As you can see, the last two times the Treasury curve inverted to an extreme degree, the stock bubbles began to collapse shortly thereafter.
The data in the chart above is two weeks old. The current inversion is now nearly as extreme as the previous two extreme inversions. This is not to suggest that the stock market will go off the cliff next week. There’s typically a time-lag between when the yield curve inverts and when the stock market reacts to the reality reflected in an inverted curve. Prior to the great financial crisis, the yield curve began to invert in the summer of 2006. However, before the tech bubble popped, the yield curve inversion coincided with the crash in the Nasdaq.
Another chart that I believe reflects some of the information conveyed by the inverted yield curve is this graphic from the Fed showing personal interest payments. Just like in 2000 and 2008, households once again have taken on an unmanageable level of debt service expense:
Obviously the chart above is highly correlated with stock market tops…
The Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence dropped in March, with the Present Situation index plunging to an 11-month low. It was the biggest monthly drop in the Present Situation index since April 2008. What’s interesting about this drop in confidence is that, historically, there’s been an extraordinarily high correlation between the directional movement in the S&P 500 and consumer confidence. The move in the stock market over the last three months would have suggested that consumer confidence should be soaring.
The Cass Freight Index for February declined for the third straight month. Even the perma-bullish publishers of the Cass newsletter expressed that the index “is beginning to give us cause for concern.” The chart of the index has literally fallen off a cliff. Meanwhile, the cost of shipping continues to rise. So much for the “no inflation” narrative. The Cass Index is, in general, considered a useful economic indicator. Perhaps this is why Kudlow wants an immediate cut in the Fed Funds rate?