Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 279

Trump’s fiscal stimulus threatens stocks

We are at an inflection point when it comes to the outlook for US monetary policy because three macroeconomic realities are colliding that could lead to a sudden tightening by the Federal Reserve over the next 12 to 18 months. The risks for investors are skewed to the downside.

The first macro reality is that asset prices around the world are elevated. Asset prices are not at ‘bubble’ levels but they are expensive. Global stocks and investment-grade and non-investment-grade bonds are at, or near, their most expensive in 20 years. This view shouldn’t take anyone by surprise.

The second is that the world’s major central banks are reducing the support they have provided to markets since 2008. Even if we go back just 12 months, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank were conducting asset purchases of US$1.5 trillion a year, which helped keep down long-term interest rates. Nowadays the European Central Bank is winding back its quantitative easing while the Federal Reserve is implementing quantitative tightening. From October 2018, the Federal Reserve will be shrinking its balance sheet by US$50 billion a month or US$600 billion a year. In January 2018, the European Central Bank halved its monthly asset purchases from 60 billion euros to 30 billion euros and it plans to stop purchases by year-end. We will be in a world of no net central bank support for markets. That is a different environment compared with what markets have enjoyed over the past decade. We would expect bond yields to drift higher still.

The third important fact is that the US is injecting fiscal stimulus into a growing economy at full employment. The US budget deficit is rising mainly because of the tax cuts initiated by President Trump that Congress approved last December. The US budget deficit is about 4% of GDP now and is expected to rise to about 4.25% of GDP in 2019 and 2020.

Fiscal stimulus despite full employment

The chart below shows that over the past 50 years, the US federal budget has usually gone into deficit only when the unemployment rate was climbing. For the first time since 1970, the US budget deficit is rising when unemployment is falling. The US jobless rate fell to 3.7% in September 2018, the lowest level since 1969. Other broader measures of US unemployment are dropping too, even if they are not approaching 49-year lows. All the evidence points to a humming US economy, yet policymakers are injecting fiscal stimulus.

US fiscal stimulus arrives when the economy is reaching full employment

(US budget deficit % of GDP (LHS) and US unemployment rate % (RHS) since 1970)

Click to enlarge. Source: Congressional Budget Office, Bureau of Labor Statistics

What does the intersection of these three realities mean for monetary policy?

Two main scenarios could play out

We call the first the Goldilocks scenario. This outcome describes the largely benign situation where no material increase in US inflation occurs over the next 12 months or so. It assumes that average weekly wages growth goes no higher than that annual pace of just below 3% it’s recording today.

But since 1950, there have been only four periods when the US unemployment rate has fallen below 4% and the first three led to higher inflation. We have never seen a multi-year period where the jobless rate remained below 4% and inflation stayed at 2% or below. Yet this is what the Federal Reserve is forecasting for the US economy over the next two years. Under this Goldilocks scenario, the Federal Reserve has indicated that it will increase the US cash rate to 3-3.25% by the end of 2019. If inflation stays low and the Federal Reserve were to implement such a gradual increase in the US cash rate, we would expect the yield on 10-year US government bonds to rise from about 3.2% now to about 4%.

If these events were to happen, it’s straightforward to predict what might happen to global markets. Moderately higher interest rates would be a minor headwind to economies and stocks. The US dollar would probably rise. Investors would probably want to stay away from emerging markets and yield-sensitive stocks. But we don’t see any great disruption for markets. Long-term forces are putting downward pressure on inflation and wages and the Goldilocks scenarios could well play out, something that market prices tell us that investors are expecting to happen. But this is a bet against history.

We don’t have a name for the second scenario. It’s when inflation emerges after average weekly wages growth accelerates beyond a 3% annual pace. If Trump’s tax cuts fan the economy and the labour market tightens we would expect meaningful wages growth to occur in the US. Evidence is already emerging that companies are struggling to contain labour costs so this outcome is possible.

What would this mean for US monetary policy? It would mean that the Federal Reserve is wrong to flag just four more quarter-point increases in the US cash rate over the coming 12 months or so. If inflation were to accelerate beyond the Federal Reserve’s target of 2%, we would expect the central bank to act forcibly to counteract inflationary pressures – Chairman Jerome Powell has said it would. Under the non-Goldilocks scenario, the US cash rate could climb to between 4% and 4.25% and the yield on 10-year Treasuries could rise above 5%. This could happen quickly too. By the second month of reports showing US average weekly earnings growing at an annual rate above 3%, a major reassessment of the tightening of US monetary policy could take place. If this were to happen, a 20% to 30% drop in global stocks is foreseeable.

The probabilities of these market impacts

We put the odds of scenario two taking place at about 50%, the same probability that we put on the Goldilocks scenario. In other words, we don’t know which of these two scenarios is more likely but we are not talking about a 5% probability of market ructions.

Due to these heightened risks, we have maintained a defensive stance in the Global Equity portfolio over this year. We are holding about 18% cash, which should enhance the defensive characteristics of our portfolio and act as a partial hedge against a potential market correction and higher interest rates in general.

 

Hamish Douglass is Co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Magellan Asset Management, a sponsor of Cuffelinks. This article is for general information only and does not consider the circumstances of any investor.

For more Cuffelinks articles and papers from Magellan, please click here. You might also like to receive Magellan's Insights direct to your inbox - make sense of the global investment landscape with timely updates, articles and videos from Magellan's investment experts.

 

3 Comments
Frank Casarotti
November 14, 2018

Thanks for the question, Vinay - here are a few points:
- It doesn’t change our probabilities as this view had taken into account the likelihood that the Democrats would take the House.
- As Trump will find it more challenging to pass laws, we think there is a good chance that his actions become more unpredictable, which would raise uncertainty and weigh on market risk premiums (and asset prices).
- Alternatively, Trump’s actions could also become less unpredictable – but this looks to be a less likely scenario.
- The US jobs market remains very tight by historical standards and economic growth and indicators remain strong. But we are monitoring developments closely.

Graham Hand
November 09, 2018

Not speaking for Hamish, but here's Morningstar's election reaction relevant to the points in this article:

The market’s enthusiastic response to the US midterm elections does not alter the fact macros are either peaking or deteriorating. The bounce in equity markets provides another, possibly the last opportunity, to reduce exposure to stretched equities before a traditional end-of-bull market correction of 15–20% proportions occurs.

These macros include peaking US GDP and corporate earnings growth; a US deficit surging toward US$1 trillion and record corporate debt; disequilibrium in the bond market, where supply exceeds demand pushing yields higher; tightening monetary policy pushing interest rates higher; and an overcrowded US$ trade. President Donald Trump, the self-professed king of debt, is almost single-handedly on track to push the US deficit to over US$1 trillion by 2020. Meanwhile, the government deficit continues to grow, up from US$666bn in the year ended September 2017 to US$833bn for 2018 and is projected to rise to US$985bn in the year to September 2019, and a trillion plus likely in 2020.

At this late stage of the economic cycle, governments are normally tightening fiscal policy, reining in expenditure and collecting increasing tax revenue, and moving closer to or achieving a surplus. This buffer provides room to stimulate when economic activity eventually contracts, and contract it will. With most commentators anticipating an economic slowdown in the US over the next year or two, the US Treasury will have little ammunition to ease fiscal policy when required, other than to increase the deficit further. This is not the preferred option, but one the Trump administration seems prepared to entertain.

Vinay Kolhatkar
November 08, 2018

Does the GOP's loss of the House in yesterday's election impact the probabilities of the two scenarios for Magellan?

 

Leave a Comment:

     

RELATED ARTICLES

Are concerns about inflation inflated?

How did you go? Australian and global stockmarket winners and losers

Quantum computing would be a world-changing technological leap

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Three steps to planning your spending in retirement

What happens when a superannuation expert sets up his own retirement portfolio using decades of knowledge? He finds he can afford much more investment risk in his portfolio than conventional thinking suggests.

Finding sustainable dividend stocks on the ASX

There is a small universe of companies on the ASX which are reliable dividend payers over five years, are fairly valued and are classified as ‘negligible’ or ‘low’ on both ESG risk and carbon risk.

Among key trends in Australian banks, one factor stands out

The Big Four banks look similar but they are at fundamentally different stages as they move to simpler business models. Amid challenges from operating systems, loan growth and neobank threats, one factor stands tall.

Why mega-tech growth are the best ‘value’ stocks in the market

They are six of the greatest businesses ever and should form part of the global portfolios of all investors. The market sees risk in inflation and valuations but the companies are positioned for outstanding growth.

How inflation impacts different types of investments

A comprehensive study of the impact of inflation on returns from different assets over the past 120 years. The high returns in recent years are due to low inflation and falling rates but this ‘sweet spot’ is ending.

How to manage the run down in your income in retirement

The first of five articles on modern retirement income products that aim for an increasing pension that lasts for life and on average should not decline in real terms. They are not silver bullets but worth a look.

Latest Updates

Superannuation

Retirement income promise relies on spending capital

The Government has taken the next step towards encouraging retirees to live off their capital, and from 1 July 2022 will require super funds - even SMSFs - to address retirement income and protect longevity risk.

Superannuation

How retirees might find a retirement solution in future

Superannuation funds need to establish a framework that offers retirees a retirement income solution that lasts a lifetime. It will challenge trustees to find a way to engage that their members understand and trust.

Investment strategies

Dividend investors, your turn is coming

Dividend payments from listed companies, depended on by many in retirement, have lagged the rebound in share prices over the past year. Better times are ahead but sources of dividends will differ from previous years.

Investment strategies

Four tips to catch the next 10-bagger in early-stage growth

Small cap investors face less mature companies with zero profit that need significant capital for growth. Without years of financial data to rely on, investors must employ creative ways to value companies.

Investment strategies

Investing in Japan: ready for an Olympic revival?

All eyes are on Japan and the opportunity to win for competing athletes. After disappointing investors for many years, Japan is also in focus for its value, diversification and the safe haven status of its currency.

Fixed interest

Five lessons for bond investors from the Virgin collapse

The collapse of Virgin Australia not only hit shareholders, but their bond investors received between 9 and 13 cents in the $1. A widely-diversified portfolio can tolerate losses better than a concentrated one.

Investment strategies

The 60:40 portfolio ... if no longer appropriate, then what is?

The traditional 60/40 portfolio might deliver only 1.5% above inflation in future without diversification benefits. Knowing an asset’s attributes rather than arbitrary definitions is better for investors.

Retirement

Two factors that can transform retirement investing

Retirees want better returns but they have limited appetite to dial up their risk exposure in order to achieve it. Financial advice and protection strategies in portfolios can enhance investment outcomes.

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2021 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.