US Economy

Chinese Deflation Cancer Spreads

OK here I go. This blog has been building in my head for a long while. It will tie in with my record of forecast since I started a few years ago. The economic world is close to a catastrophic collapse. Yes, I know, I have been concerned about the world since I started. I am firmly of the belief that QE has not only just delayed the inevitable collapse of the global economy, it has made the impending scenario much worse. In fact, it has taken it from a situation that was manageable, with old fashioned crash, burn and re-build, to a situation where the fallout will make the 1930`s look like a walk in the park. The central pillar of my argument is the significant positive impact QE has had on asset prices is mirrored by the equally significant negative impact on inequality in the developed world. This is mainly due to the tsunami of cheap finance which has swept the developing world and spawned huge production potential.

Yes, bond and equity prices have risen significantly. And why shouldn’t they. With QE pumping so much money into the hands of the people who created the 2007 crash, what else would they do with it. As I have written before, lower bond yields have helped governments continue priming economies through direct state spending (debt) or policies which have encouraged significant new consumer debt. The problem is, whilst the central banks of the G7 were sleeping, China changed. It is no longer the worlds growth engine due to internal demand. It is a cancer on the supply demand curve.

Let me expand on my theory of why China will be the catalyst that sparks this almighty upheaval. BRICs have been a constant theme in the history of this blog. Iron Ore is the prime reason. They all have it. The growth in China over the last 20 years was centred around Housing, Railways and Heavy Industry. The problem is, as I explained in China and its Export Claim, the supply curve within all these aspects of growth had become overstretched. In normal developed economies, this would have sparked a flight to quality as earnings concerns came to the fore. Of course, as I have pointed out many times, return on capital is not a primary concern of state industry dominated China. Employment of the masses is the ONLY concern. I have a back of the fag packet calculation. For every 20 million Chinese workers employed, 5 million employed people in the developed world become superfluous in the current demand cycle. Now, I am not saying these people will be unemployed, just that there well paid manufacturing jobs will be replaced by low paid service jobs. That is why, over the last thirty years, inequality has been taking a hold. I explained this in Profound Inequality in America.

So how is China accelerating this process in the current environment? An example is Steel (So many blogs on the subject I cant note them all). This one vital element has been the growth engine which has sustained this process of converting rural peasant into semi-skilled townies. To produce steel, you need two primary elements, Iron Ore and Energy. In Chinas case, energy has been via Coal. Together, these three elements are all required in huge bulk, so we must include transportation into the mix

As inventory of housing has built to an unsustainable level, prices are starting to drop. Sales in the first half of 2014 are down sharply on last year. This still does not explain my theory. If China cannot consume all it produces, what can it do? Export. To this end it has done several things outside its recent state induced currency weakness. Firstly, export the raw material. Globally, these are running 30% higher than 2013.  South American countries have seen (China imports) rises of around 90%. Of course, the ire of western producers have raised the spectre of further import duties. So, this leads to the second point. Cheap exports to fellow Asian economies eg Sth. Korea, forces them to export themselves. Couple this with import restrictions on Taiwan’s exports to China and it becomes evident this is a way round tariffs from Europe and America. Thirdly, and a little more opportunistic. Export of ships, Rigs etc. Since the financial crash, shipbuilding finance from dominant European banks became scarce. This lead China to flex its mussels. It has lent, via state banks, billions of dollars to mainly Greek ship owners (I have many blogs on the subject) in exchange for the orders to be placed with Chinese yards. This has allowed China to wrestle the mantle of dominant player from Sth. Korea and Japan. The problem is, this cheap finance is creating a bubble in supply of vessels. All this at a time when the Baltic Freight Index is once aging flagging concern. Of course, the Bulk Carriers which are supplying the low cost Iron Ore from the likes of Australia and Brazil are benefiting.

Many economic forecasters are pinning their hope on China becoming a consumer society in order to create growth globally. This is a faint hope at best. For now they are flooding the world with low cost products which is leading to one main import from the developed world, Jobs. This leads me to the main crux of my argument. Demand.

I have written about a demand shortfall verses the supply boom and its resulting Deflation before. I have stated that wage growth will decline and turn negative. I am writing now as this is all becoming a reality. Wages in the UK and Australia have already registered there first ever declines. Elsewhere the downward pressure is building. Since 2008, American wages for the bottom 20% of earners has declined. The web site below gives a good view of how growth has  been distorted towards shale gas and not industrial important manufacturing:

The Geography of Employment: Mapping the Recovery [INFOGRAPHIC]

With employment in poorly paid service jobs being the illusion that has driven low unemployment in the USA and UK, income tax receipts are not dampening the budget deficits. Yes, the USA has a smaller perceived deficit but strip out income from the Federal Reserve (QE gains) and things are not so rosy. Both have adopted policies which have driven property prices to pre-recession peaks. The problem is, the China affect on wages has just made the valuation to income ratio stretched beyond affordability. Now that the boom in speculative demand is turning to net sellers, the future is not so promising.

Outcomes of my theory:

CHINA…Will try and maintain the illusion of 7.5% economic growth via internal demand acceleration. This is an illusion. Just yesterday they announced significant cuts to pay of higher paid state employees. With Iron Ore production costs double of Australia, they will probably reduce the tax disadvantage to protect this mass employer. The coal industry is losing demand and will have to make big cuts. Housing will continue to slow and eventually lead to huge bond default. Steel production will collapse and with it Iron Ore demand. Hence Coal and Oil price decline. Recent trade figures confirmed export growth and import contraction

Australia (BRICs)…The significant decline in Iron Ore price in 2014 has slowed investment but a second leg down in price (around $50-60) will put a big downer on the economy. The currency will retreat still further. Once again, housing demand will implode. High paid jobs in mining will be a big loser. Wage deflation will halt demand.

Japan…Sadly, they are likely to be the hardest hit from this China export drive. The economy will continue to struggle until eventually the currency has to give. They will have to return to nuclear power to reduce the huge energy import costs. This will slam the builders and operators of natural gas ships. Demand is going to contract still further as the Yen has its second currency decline to around Y125, the 2007 low. This will spread the deflation spores even more aggressively. I know most people take flight to the Yen during periods of uncertainty so my prediction seems odd to most. Over the last 5 years, significant moves, up and down, have been followed by stable periods of between 6-8 months before going again. Given the last significant decline bottomed in January, the next big move is just round the corner. First stop Y110 then on to 125. If you have to own equities, currency hedged Japanese are the ones.

UK…The chancellor has completely ruined the UK. I thought no one could have topped the incompetence of Gordon Braffoon. But George Osborne has done just that. Many recent posts will explain my reasoning, but put simply, he has borrowed and wasted more money than people who should know better are prepared to acknowledge. Its a bit like the Kings Clothes…George is parading naked as a Jaybird but no one has the balls to state the obvious. Let me give you a microcosm of a looming disaster. The Local Authority I have the honour to represent, has a pension shortfall of four times the income from rates. Every 0.5% move in bond yields makes a shift of around £70m. If I am right, and deflation takes hold, government bond yields could go to zero. Couple this with a decline in the underlying portfolio, which currently stands at £500m, and the shortfall could double. If you take this a fairly typical local authority, the time bomb is ticking loud and clear. Sadly, I am the only one who can hear it. I still think Sterling will test its all time dollar low of $1.08.

Sweden (Finland)…As I have stated in previous blogs, I love the Sweeds, sadly however, the writing is firmly on the wall. The primary reason is the importance of the mining sector on its industrial heritage. My scenario would see exports implode as mining companies cut still further the budget for new investment. The usual housing boom appears here and will come to an abrupt end. The currency will decline still further and the globally important companies will be snapped up by American players. Or, as I have stated in the past, a Swedish solution is forthcoming and many internal mergers take place.

USA…Here, more than any country, inequality abounds. As per my post of December last year. This will lead to significant social unrest.

EQUITIES…..I have said in the past that they cannot go down significantly at the moment as demand from Central Banks and Company buy backs is reducing supply. I have explained the role QE plays in this before. Considering the global unrest, markets during my city career of 28 years, would be significantly lower than they are now. This just highlights the influence these QE induced buyers have on prices. But what about the future? Quite frankly, I am unsure. What is clear, if prices continue to defy gravity, volume will continue to decline. Not wanting to short markets during these difficult times, because bears have been massacred since 2008, means individual stock prices will only move when poor results are released. Then the declines will be eye watering. Shrinking capital bases (due to buybacks) will make these moves more aggressive. For now, equities are an unknown beast for those of us who were brought up in a world of boom, bust, re-build economics. Not the QE induced ether they are fuelled by currently.

Bonds…I do not want to bore you all too much so that’s the end for now. Plus, my wife is giving me grief as I have chores to do. Mainly, putting a new Cedar shingle roof on our summer house…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Profound Inequality in America…Time to Act!

I have been spurred to write today following yesterdays speech by President Obama in which he called for action to alleviate the `Profound Inequality in America`…I make no apology in re-publishing my blog AMERICA: THE HOME OF THE FREE?…NO,THE HOME OF THE FOOL!  repeated at the end of blog.

 

HORAY…At last the problem is starting to get recognised as significant for the majority of the population. Whilst Wall Street grows ever richer on the generosity of the wider populace (Bank bailouts and QE) the majority are facing a bleak future. I believe the end is nigh for the Dollar as the Global Reserve Currency. If not, it will end up like the British Pound at the end of its dominant period. The adjustment after that was very painful. China, as I have stated in the past, is an economic cancer on the rest of the world. I have said on many occasions that the level of productive investment in China is driven by need to employ (people) not the need to employ capital for profit. Regular readers will know that this has been one of my reasons to expect Global Deflation and just out of interest, todays article in the Daily Telegraph highlights some of my concerns.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/10495902/Europe-repeating-all-the-errors-of-Japan-as-deflation-draws-closer.html

Unemployment figures are being heralded by Wall Street as signs of growing prosperity. As I have pointed out on several occasions, poor quality jobs with low pay will not cure Americas ills (nor the UK for that matter) The recent data on spending (to date) in the festive season highlights that employment growth is not the focus. The real focus should be on the Participation Rate (which stands at a the lowest percentage of population since before Ronald Regan)  and the GINI COEFFICIENT.

The participation rate, or the percentage of people actively in employment, peaked at the beginning of the millennium and then began its fall. The decline accelerated following the financial crash and has not stopped. Several factors are at play here. The most important being the loss of manufacturing jobs. Then Demographics, with the baby boomers coming of age (retirement that is) and lets not forget Disability. This group of people now stands at 8.8 million which has curiously doubled since 1995.

I will not go on about Gini Coefficient suffice to say it is a globally recognised barometer of the distribution of wealth…America sucks! All Americans (the poorer majority that is) should go to their elected official (who will be wearing a great suit and probably an expensive watch) and demand to know what he doing about the GINI! He will be too busy counting his money to give a damn about you.

It is clear that QE has done nothing other than put more money in the hands of the wealthy. The real problem for America is having the Chinese currency loosely pegged to the Dollar. How can a mature economic country with massive financial and trade imbalances expect to keep pace with a dynamic (and second biggest in the world) economy growing at around 8%. The answer is it cant.

If this nose dive is to be reversed it is not via a hike in minimum wage, that will make it worse, it needs to be fed by America making more of what it uses eg shrinking its trade deficit. This way jobs will become more abundant and wages will rise accordingly. YES!…That means upsetting the Chineseand maybe the Germans for that matter but see my next blog which will expand on Kurzarbeit achieved where Blitzkrieg Failed and The Elephant in the Room (2 earlier blogs)

WHY!!! Should ordinary Americans see their living standards fall back to the 1970`s just to let China move 20 million people (a year) out of the paddy fields into new apartments. It seems crazy to me. The simple truth is that China is growing far faster than its restricted currency is implying. A realignment is required where by the Yuan would appreciate rapidly. Whilst the implications in the financial markets might be adverse in the initial stages (slower Chinese growth) longer term it would help to balance prosperity. The world has too much cheap capital as a result of QE. This has lead to far too much output capacity investment which will eventually lead to Global Deflation. We need to bite the bullet now and re-balance the worlds economy at a lower level that today but one that is fair to all. Otherwise, the simple truth is that history will repeat itself and the disaffected will take matters into their own hands…

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

BELOW IS REPEAT OF EARLIER BLOG…………………………………………

I am very sorry if this headline has upset my American friends and relatives. Having worked for many US companies (Conti-Commodities, Refco, Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan and Lehman Bros.) I can safely say I have had the pleasure of working with and meeting many wonderful people. That will not, however, stop me from saying:

YOU STUPID AMERICANS!……..At least 80% of you.

Of course the headline is a bit sensational but I feel the majority of Americans really do need to wake up and smell the coffee.

I will start with the visuals, then explain. Firstly, a chart of US Govt. debt build from 1942 used in blog Economic Seismic Shift, November 2012. Secondly, a link which has some revealing information on the US economic data. Third, inflation adjusted version of the first chart, and finally, the wonderfully visual and informative US Debt Clock.

Item 1)

Item 2)

http://xkcd.com/980/huge/#x=-6416&y=-8544&z=2

Item 3)

 

 

Item 4)  http://www.usdebtclock.org/index.html

So, why such a downer on Americans. I have been involved in American Economics (not professionally) since the 1970`s.  I first travelled (on business) to New York and Chicago in  1982 when poverty was evident.  I cant help but feel “That the actions taken in the name of the American people by the American people on behalf of the American people, have only benefitted a few American people”

So this report of Lincolns Gettysburg Address (yes, sorry but its from Wickedpedia) is at the heart of my argument.

Abraham Lincoln’s carefully crafted address, secondary to other presentations that day, came to be regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In just over two minutes, Lincoln reiterated the principles of human equality espoused by the  Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the Civil War as a struggle for the preservation of the Union sundered by the secession crisis with a new birth of freedom that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Lincoln also redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for the union, but also for the principle of human equality.

 

If you look at Item 1, you will see that since the mid-late 1970`s government spending has grown dramatically. Yes, inflation at that time was an influence (Oil crisis) but the seed was set for ever grater peaks. More Importantly Item 3 shows how debt has risen dramatically inflation adjusted. Between 1947 and 1979 the top 1% earners accounted for 7.3% of total national income. From 1979 to 2006 the rate rose to 13.6% (of total national income).Today, it is believed that figure is closer to 25%. I am making a direct link between earnings growth of the top people in America and the acceleration of nation debt. When you bear in mind that the people making the decisions,  both politically and economically, to raise debt aggressively, are (most probably) in that top 1% then it starts to look wrong. Consider these facts:

  • 1% of Americans own 40% of overall wealth and 50% of all Equity, Bond and Mutual Fund Assets.
  • 400 Richest people have more than the combined wealth of the poorest 50% see Quantitative Easing
  • The poorest 40% have no discernible wealth.
  • 80% of the population only accounts for 7% of total wealth.
  • In 1965 the average hourly earnings (inflation adjusted) of a production worker was $19.61 and today the  rate is only $19.71.
  • In 1965 the average hourly earnings (inflation adjusted) of a CEO was $490.31 and today the rate is $ 5,419.97

The last two points are taken from Item 2. If you click on the link and zoom you can navigate around finding these facts in the dark green section. I have no reason to doubt the author as it has a comprehensive reference.

In the name of the population, America has now borrowed $17.1 Trillion. That is now $53,000 per citizen. Of course both those numbers are increasing rapidly, see Item 4. To highlight significant growth in debt per citizen, in 2000 it was only $20,000. So the top 1% hit the credit card of all Americans to the tune of $53,000. The trouble is, the bottom 40% have never really benefitted from that spending. 125 million people have no wealth but are on the hook for $7.2 Trillion. The next 40% up the wealth league are not much better off and collectively they owe $14.4 Trillion.

What has all this debt bought the American citizens as a whole. That is forgetting massive wealth for the few.

Amongst its Economic peers the USA (x China)

  • has the lowest life expectancy
  • highest infant mortality
  • spends highest % of GDP on healthcare
  • is the only country not to have Universal Health Care (pre Obamacare??)

Amongst OECD members

  • highest income inequality
  • highest poverty
  • child poverty twice the average

also

  • 17th in Education table of 40 most developed countries
  • down 10 places in 30 years
  • only 6% performed at advanced level placing it 31st out of 56 nations
  • annual investment differential (per pupil) between most and least selective colleges in 1967 $13,500 (adjusted) and today it is $80,000
  • wealthy students outperformance over poorest is the highest in the developed world
  • Food stamps are now used by 48,000,000 vs 28,000,000 in 2008.
  • Since 1965, employer benefits most notably in Health and Pension have been significantly eroded.
  • for a brief moment in 1928 inequality was higher…hhhmmmnnn

I know it sounds offensive and it is not meant that way but…if the wealthy put chains around the ankles of the poorest 40% and taught them the words to old man river. They could sing it whilst they were contemplating just what Abraham Lincoln meant when he claimed victory brought a new birth of freedom that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Maybe the real losers in the Civil War were the slaves. At least they could dream one day that rightful freedom would be granted. What dreams have the poor Americans got today. Not only have they poor education and health but they are also being used to borrow money to benefit the rich. The Federal reserve should all be taken out and put against a wall. They above all in the financial world have been responsible for allowing this unfair system to go on. QE as I have highlighted before, is passing more wealth to the few. These people are likely to bid up Art and other assets which help show off the individuals ranking in the top tier. It does not transfer directly to consumption for all. Politicians of all sides of the spectrum should hang their collective heads in shame. Whilst they have grown fat on the corn of increased spending, they have allowed jobs of the working class to be shipped to China (etc) so that the owners and senior employees can share in the bottom line profit improvements it allowed. The big mistake (yes, with hindsight) was to not invest heavily in the wider nations education, allowing people who would normally have aspired to a full time blue collar job, be more in tune with the modern world. Instead, politicians, influenced heavily by industry, kept the consumer stuffed with borrowed dollars so he could keep the profits rolling. If this borrowing was kept in check (the world over) people would not have become so throw away, growth would have been much slower and more importantly, balanced.

I can only refer to this shift in wealth as theft. Probably the greatest Sting of all time. How will it all end?

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be  because we destroyed ourselves” Abraham Lincoln

http://www.upworthy.com/9-out-of-10-americans-are-completely-wrong-about-this-mind-blowing-fact-2?g=6

 

 

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Shanghai to Europe Rate Drop Questions Chinese Export Claim.

Shanghai Containerised Freight Index (SCFI)…(An indication of the shipping cost of a 20ft Container)

It appears all is not what it seems in trade. Over the past six weeks, the SCFI (Shanghai to Northern Europe component) has fallen 36% (10%last week) and is now 21% below the corresponding period in 2012. The Mediterranean Ports have not faired any better with a 33% six week and 19% year on year, decline.

 

The same applies to the USA. Shanghai to the West Coast is 30% below 2012 with the East Coast down 16%.

 

Now of course this is a complex issue. The glut of vessels is nothing new and something I have written about on many occasions. It cannot only be an oversupply of transport, volume must come into the equation somewhere. I get a sneaky feeling that the forth quarter may be an interesting one when it comes to earnings. For now, this decline in demand for transportation has to ring some alarm bells. China is using its financial mussel in order to secure new shipbuilding orders for its vastly oversized industry. Whilst they mutter about merging some yards and maybe shutting others, the plain fact is (just as in the other heavy industries in China. Aluminium, Steel etc) the overwhelming urge to keep the people in work has drowned out any commercial economic considerations.

China raised its capital spending dramatically in June and July with house building and railway lines seeing significant investment. For now, it has reduced the huge industrial material inventory which was building beyond sustainable levels. Steel production was maintained or even increased by some allowing Iron Ore to rally. These investments are reducing the raw material inventory but  increasing the stock of un-sold real estate (most of which is priced at 20 times annual earnings…very rough guide) and in totally under used rail infrastructure. Eventually something will have to give. Wage growth of 20% per annum has underpinned the valuation of real estate. Wages going forward, in my opinion, will start to reflect the weakening profit picture in China. Tens of millions of un-sold overpriced property could spell disaster if they fail to keep all the balls in the air. I cannot help but think this is just another piece in my Global Deflation theory that I started in June.

If the oversupply builds to a point where finally common sense is applied, the consequences would be catastrophic for some industries and countries. Over the last two years I have berated Lucky Jim O`Niell and the BRIC economies. Given the huge decline in their fortunes over that period you might begin to think that the recent emerging markets rally has legs. One of the major consequences of any pullback would be a collapse in the Iron Ore price to around $40…yes $40, below even the cheapest of suppliers production cost. Previous blogs have given the price charts going back many years together with the countries and companies who have gained the most. Briefly though, Austarlia and Brazil would implode. Shipping companies (Maersk is the biggest but Greeks big in Iron Ore) would collapse wholesale and a few Scandi, German and British Banks would need major help not to mention problems for the largest shipping builders China, Sth Korea and Japan. Steel companies are already priced at 20 year lows so some may survive. Global Deflation would follow with Oil at $30-40. The suppliers to the Mining/Drilling Industry, mentioned all too frequently in my blogs, would have to be rescued. Sweden, which has a massive exposure to this field would be in a mess. As for Green Industries, made to look very expensive. British Government, well they have ben making fools of them and us for so long it would probably go un-noticed (Green Policy).

The problems some companies would face will be greatly exaggerated because the Investment Bonkers have encouraged them to shrink their balance sheet (capital) via share buy backs. Great for the Bankers income but when losses for companies start to accrue, the loss per share from such a big business with a shrunken capital base, will be startling. Share prices for all will collapse but more so for the biggest buy back companies. Deflation will be the result…hey ho…Its being so happy that keeps me going.

Below, me and the `Old Duchess` all dressed up to celebrate our 29th Wedding Anniversary

 

 

Tomorrow morning, off to the Olympic White Water course with my old pal Barry…who is not as good as me…he he he he

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday, September 14th, 2013 BRICs, China, Japan, Oil, Predictions, Shipping, Steel, UK, US Economy 1 Comment

Is Stephen King a plagiarist?

No! not that Stephen King… although the book he claims inspired him to write has a very apt title for this blog. It was The Lurker in the Shadows.

I refer to the author of When the Money Runs Out  Stephen King (HSBC Global Economist). Having read an interview with him in last sundays Daily Telegraph, it became clear that many of his fears and ideas have been the central thread running through my blog for a long time. I will not bore you with the content just highlight two comments. Firstly, QE has acted like a regressive tax, punishing the poor and enriching the wealthy see Quantitative Easing and secondly, Stimulus policies have allowed politicians to live in a fantasy world which is financed by excessively high debt.

Recent volatility in the markets has spawned a great deal of commentary questioning the whole concept of such huge monetary intervention. The short term benefits for a specific element of society are without question a nightmare waiting to happen. Bernanke, King and Abe consider themselves the John Coffey (Green Mile) of the worlds fiscal ills. Instead I believe they will more likely resemble Jack Torrance (The Shining). I just prey that one day that politicians will govern with the following proverb in mind

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”

We must look to the future whilst reflecting on the past, this leads us to remember that the best time to plant a tree (cut debt) was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.

I must at this point issue a warning to Goldman Sachs and all the other investment banks around the world. If you continue to encourage the Central Banks, by not shouting STOP, to printing more money. Then equity holdings (as I mentioned in the last blog) will be raised further. This will continue to impair, or even decline further, equity trading from the current lows. The likelihood is that when purchased, the stock will not see the light of day till hell freezes over.

Two of my big calls in early 2012 were regarding Japan. I said that the Nikkei would be higher than the Dow in 2013…so shoot me for being 5 months late on a seismic shift. I cant remember anybody making that call. What’s more I highlighted almost to the day, the right time to put the trade on see Be Prepared for a Wedgefest! The Dow was at a premium of 4,660 to the Nikkei on the day of publication. The Nikkei did close above the Dow earlier this week. In the same article I said the Dollar/Yen would go above 100, again an out on its own forecast. Yes last week that happened. I have to admit that my 2012 forecasts were all expecting the economic reality to create lower equity markets but I did not foresee open ended QE.

Global Economy Update 

Regular readers will have watched my series of data on the Suez Canal (shipping) and BNSF (USA rail) volumes with interest (or not). I have not published either recently due to irregularities. For BNSF it is just the case that significant changes to the transport of Oil (products) and Coal have rendered the barometer useless for the moment. If I had the time to strip energy out, may be, but I do not. As for the Suez Canal, I believe something very sinister is at work. Ever since time began they have produced monthly stats. This year things have changed and I believe it is a ploy to delay knowledge on the significant slowdown in trade between Europe and Asia, being highlighted. Over the last two months freight rates have collapsed on some important trade routes. This is completely overlooked by the markets. My focus on the importance of shipping activity (Finance, Trade, Building etc) has become boring to most but it will prove to be a correct focus, I am sure.

UK

Recent data on the economy has proved to be a small fillip for Mr Osborne the chancellor. All is not as it seems. Q1 2013 GDP was not revised down as I thought they would be but boy was the component breakdown very negative. Substantial Inventory growth and services (lions share of the economy) held it together. I have written extensively about why I feel services have grown recently and the short term nature of that growth. The April monthly budget numbers saw higher tax paid, what a surprise given the changes to the way companies have to pay income tax at the point of salary payment. The deficit is still out of control and will eventually leads us into full blown depression. Unless of course…Below is an extract from my blog in November 2012 entitled RIP George Osborne

The only way forward is to put our hands up and say we fluffed it. The Gilts held by the BofE (approx 30% of debt) should be cancelled. As this would quite rightly horrify the markets, a few provisos need to be applied with the intention of shrinking government significantly. So much discretionary spending exists that radical changes be forced on government to cut all but essential spending. This will make the first few years of adjustment very painful. It is imperative to point out that during the massive build up of government debt, the only group of society to have made gains are the wealthy who have seen a massive increase in net worth. The poor have by and large remained poor. The middle class have just been saddled with an almighty level of debt. A degree of balance is required in the fortunes of the UK population.

1)  Government debt must never go above the new lower Debt to GDP ratio (following the 30% write off)

2) Budget deficits are never to be above 2% of GDP  whilst ensuring the above is adhered to (excluding War of course)

Several aggressive changes need to be made to fiscal policy. I have a complete array of ideas but below are just a few.

1) Public sector wages to be cut 30%. No bonuses ever to be paid in Public Sector.

2 )Tax free earnings threshold doubled to £16,000

3) A 90% Tax on earnings/compensation above 30x the average employee earnings in a company. This tax is waived if 51% of shareholders vote in favour of an employee receiving such a pay-out. Owners of private companies should have no problems being majority shareholders.

4) No benefits of any kind paid to families with £40,000 income (combined or otherwise)

5) Corporation tax cut to 12%.

Yes, I have some very difficult to swallow ideas but as the proverb in the beginning quite clearly points out. It is our children who really matter. For it is their future that is important. If all generations work on the principal that the actions they take will only enhance the next generation in our society, then we can look forward to a forest of trees to give us shade from the unknown difficulties that may come our way. Borrowing ever larger amounts builds not a sustainable future but a divided one with even greater inequalities.

ps

China and Sweden… I have said in many blogs that China is lying about its economic output and performance. It appears many economists now share that opinion. The build up of productive capacity will end up being a cancer on the world (see my many blogs under China)…I have stated several times how I thought Sweden was one of the best places I had the pleasure in visiting and doing business in. However, I have warned on several occasions recently that they face a grim future. The narrow focus of the very important export segment of the economy will suffer from two very painful headwinds. The mining and energy exploration industries scaling down of investment coupled with the huge devaluation of the Yen, will cause a very chilly wind. The slowdown they have experienced to date is only the beginning. The strength of the Swedish Krona will have to be reversed dramatically.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gold and Equities

I have been asked to explain two elements of the previous blog.

  1. Why did I take a negative view of Gold last year and warn in January this year that it will test $1,000 before it sees $2,000
  2. Why did I state that QE includes buying Equities.

Gold (chart in Sterling). Firstly, lets not forget that it is just a lump of metal, shiny I grant you but never the less nothing more. Three main features stand out in the above chart. Central Banks are now net buyers, Investors have raised participation greatly and last but by no means least, Jewelry demand has fallen. In January I highlighted a visit to a local jeweler who informed me that he now takes in more gold for smelting and pawn than he sells new. This finally made me take a more negative stance. I reasoned that supply is no longer mine production but also the selling of old gold was supplying to no small extent a large proportion of jewelry demand. The higher the Gold price went jewelry demand waned. Clearly, in these austere times Gold above $1800 was having a very negative impact. Investors in a metal which unlike a company, pay no dividend, will not invent a new technology nor be subject to a hostile takeover bid, need to have positive momentum to maintain optimism. Clearly, as was seen in the recent collapse, the bubble has burst. I am beginning to think this move in Gold may be replicated in other commodities. My guess is Oil is ripe for a major downward shift. Perhaps to $60. This would have some huge implications for stocks and Governments. More of that in a later blog.

Equities. I included Equities in the classification of assets being purchased under the umbrella of QE. A recent study highlighted that many Central Banks have started buying equities because bond yields have been driven so low by QE that they can no longer find sufficient return. Out of the three big QE countries USA, UK and Japan, only the latter is buying equities. However, the huge scale of QE by the three has indirectly driven others to the equity table. That worries me. If you look at the Gold chart again, can you see something about Central Banks investment timing? At the lower levels of Gold they were net sellers and at its peak they were net buyers. What worries me more is that Jim O`Neill (or lucky Jim as I first referred to him in BRICs and Steel) has given the go ahead by stating

“Frankly, it makes a huge amount of sense in a world of floating exchange rates and such incredible opportunity, why should central banks keep so much money in very short term, liquid things when they’re not going to ever need it?”  “To help their future returns for their citizens, why would they not invest in equity?”

Well Jim, the main reason that the Bank of England was known as the lender of last resort was because it had reserves in the most liquid format. To suggest otherwise just turns them into state investment trusts. Remember, in equities,  we are talking about a finite investment. If Central Banks invest on mass, equities will be driven (higher)  to levels where the yield will be not much more than that of bonds. QE is clearly giving supposedly sound individuals some absurd ideas.

 

 

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Confusing!

China New Year Calender Change or Just Lies?

China became the worlds biggest trading nation in 2012 taking over from the postwar dominance of the USA. That being said, the USA is still the biggest importer. The markets were given a lift last week when this Goliath of a trader released January Import/Export data. Year on Year Exports were up 25% and Imports were up 28.8%. Wow! That is impressive. Of course, if that were the case, its trading partners would be reflecting this surge in their own trade figures. Lets look at the biggest economies in the world as it is only they who could have enough capacity in production and demand to facilitate this huge surge. The USA December, Year on Year, trade data showed a 1.18%% decline in imports (Oil a factor) and a 4% gain in Exports. January has not shown signs of exploding into activity with Inter modal Freight costs weaker and only a 1.97% increase in BNSF freight traffic. Japan has released data for the first 20 days of January showing a 0.57% decline in Year on Year trade. South Korea did eventually report a stronger January trade picture (contrary to the first 20 days decline) but this was only around 10%. February will see a big contraction as the extra working days in January will be lost in the February holiday this year.

Whilst the USA is still by far the biggest nation economy at nearly twice that of its nearest rival China, the European Union in its entirety is the bigger still. If trade with the worlds biggest nations is at best +1-2% in January, then to reconcile China’s huge surge in activity, Europe must be off to a fly-er in 2013! Well, to confirm my expectations for  Suez Canal trade in China is Ly`ing blog, total cargo (x energy) through the canal was down 10.64% vs January 2012. That’s a very large decline in historic terms as can be seen in Chart 2. Whats more, the fall in Southbound (Mainly to Asia) cargo was more pronounced at 15.7%. How on earth can China have such a huge surge in international economic activity when the largest trading nations say otherwise. One must not forget that the Canal data is volume not value of goods, nether the less I am sure even in value terms trade is weaker.

Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

Shows the volume growth/Decline in Container traffic. The January decline (Southbound) is the fourth in a row, the first time this has happened since the trade collapse of 2008/9. Whats more staggering is the extent of the decline at 12.3%. As I have stated in previous blogs, Containers tend to more indicative of finished good and therefore consumer activity.

Given all this evidence, how on earth can the official Chinese data be correct. Lets not forget the implications on the Transportation sector. Both by Sea and Land, this fall in volume has a significant affect capacity utilisation. Bigger ships are exacerbating the overcapacity of ships with total shipping volume through the canal falling quicker than cargo volume. As for land transportation, I did roughly calculate the decline in truck loads hauled but I have lost the fag packet. I know it was 100,000`s. Regular readers will know I have been negative on the truck industry for all 2012. Given the recent warnings from the two big players Daimler/Man/Scania and Volvo my concerns are bearing fruit. I believe that the industry still has far too much production capacity and further painful cuts will come.

Volvo needs to split itself into two or three global business groups. With Caterpillar (Construction machinery)  diversifying into mining machinery with fresh acquisitions, Volvo`s own construction machinery business looks under resourced and uncompetitive. Volvo needs to merge its construction machinery business with Atlas Copco and perhaps its Marine business with Wartsila of Finland.

Chart 4

I guess its about time I updated the story on AP Moeller-Maersk and the shipping industry as a whole. The Baltic Freight Index is continuing to wallow at historic lows leaving the shipping industry with a revenue shortfall which cannot last much longer. With new build prices being quoted significantly lower it is possible second hand values may themselves plumb new depths. Any further decline in the pricing structure would significantly reduce the valuations of the big fleet owners, unless of course, you believe that the world economy is on the verge of a significant upswing. Almost to a man the big investment banks have recently upgraded APM-Maersk so I guess I am a fool.

 

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Monday, February 11th, 2013 BNSF, BRICs, China, Japan, Predictions, Shipping, US Economy 1 Comment

China is Ly`ing

First of all…Can you trust a country that restricts its citizens to one child per couple. Openly supports oppressive regimes against the wishes of the UN. Suppresses political opposition. Controls the media both web and hard copy. Restricts access to the the World Wide Web. Allows political leaders to amass great wealth whilst claiming no such wealth exists…OK That’s cleared that up.

Having come to the conclusion that it is a corrupt institution, it is right to question anything they say. Hence, I am questioning the December trade figures which they released on the 10th January. The Year on Year growth of 14.1% was substantially above forecast of 4.6%. Such a disparity is very rare. So, why do I think they have cooked the books in order to meet export targets.

Regular readers will know that 90% of goods are transported (or have components) by sea at some stage in their life. Hence I take a big interest in the flow of goods around the world. As I explained in a previous blog, the continents are the worlds organs which require the life blood of trade to survive. The specific maritime trade routes are the arteries which carry that life blood. Just as in a animals, certain pinch point exist which allow us to take a reading of that flow rate (pulse). 

I have  been writing about the Suez Canal for a long time so regular readers will be familiar with the charts below. If we are to believe the Chines data we must look into the data. They claimed that strong exports to the USA (+10.3%) and a rebound into the EU (2.3%) were behind the out performance. I will deal with the EU first. Below are the regular charts showing flow through the Suez Canal. Chart 1 just gives an overview of total trade. As you can see net tonnage flowing through the canal is 5% below December 2011.

More importantly, the trend in trade is negative. Chart two gives the percentage year on year change in volume broken down into the two trade routes, North and South. As you can see the total volume of goods (x energy) going North in December was down 2.8% vs 2011. It was also down 2.13% vs November. Given that the vast majority of the Northbound traffic ends up in Europe (10% to the USA) it  appears that something is afoot.

If you think that a good percentage of that trade from China is finished goods, then you would expect it to be transported by Container. Chart three shows the pure Container element of flow through the canal. As you can see, Northbound flow has been negative for the past six months. December was 4.3% lower vs 2011 and down 2.57% on November. Yet more cause for concern.

Just as a point of interest to my various blogs on the shipping industry and its further downfall. Chart four shows the growth/decline rate of ships transiting on a monthly basis. We are now in a double digit percentage decline (November and December) with 1399 ships in December vs 1574 in December. I will blog about the implications next week, but with so many modern, bigger ships being delivered, the decline in voyages is far outstripping the decline in tonnage. Currently, preliminary data for January is also running 10% below Jan 2012. Volume ahead of the Chinese new year normally expand. So far this year that is not happening!

So lets look at the USA element of these figures. Up 10.3%. I have looked at several factors to help illuminate the situation. Firstly, my weekly BNSF data that was last published in `Am I Right to be Bearish` Chart two breaks down the two primary forms of traffic.  Both of these were on a weakening path at the end of November and that trend was indeed continued through out December  (Update in next blog). The impact of the weak weekly numbers forced the year on year growth rate (black dotted line in chart one) down below 2% for the first time since July. If we look further afield, economies that you would expect to have shared in this bonanza, do not show the same excessive pattern. Yes Taiwan had good December export numbers but Singapore saw an 8% decline and Shanghai throughput was down 0.44%. Chinese order books in the autumn were weak which flies in the face of the December outcome. The USA west coast port strike between the end of November and December 5th will have backed up and delayed imports.

What is abundantly clear is that China, as I stated in  `A Quickie for Christmas` is not investing for profit, it is investing to keep the migrating peasants in jobs. 21 million people moved to cities in 2011 and 2012. If China is to keep all the plates spinning, they need to export. The trade surplus in 2012 grew by 48% to $231bn. Sadly, the global consumption position is not one of growth. The significantly weaker Yen will help Japan compete more aggressively in the export market. Europe is implementing deeper austerity measures and the USA will have to bite the bullet on spending cuts sooner rather than later. If you are making investment decisions based upon China and its fantastic economic growth potential, caution should be your watchword.

Future blogs:

Iron Ore rally is built on sand. How can a steel glut (in China) suddenly disappear, especially during the worst winter in 30 years…more smoke and mirrors

How the world is copying Germany and not making people redundant…the KURZURBEIT system.

Today’s UK Government debt figures reviewed.

 

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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 BNSF, BRICs, China, Debt, Japan, Predictions, QE, Shipping, US Economy 2 Comments

Am I Right to Be Bearish

I have been Bearish since 1999. How do I know that. It was then that I was the only employee of Lehman Brothers to opt out of the generous Direct Benefit Pension into a Direct Contribution pot of money under my control. I still have that pot which has had a positive return every year since. All those who remained were trampled on by the companies collapse. I had taken a negative stance on the management style but more importantly on the global economy which was being increasingly driven by government spending and loose monetary policy. None of that has changed. The four big Economies of the world (USA/Europe/China/Japan) are being held up by massive government spending. The level of spending above tax receipts is shocking and cannot continue. Three of those economies (x China) have existing Debt to GDP ratios which are unsustainable. So, to continue to stimulate consumption by spending more is not an option.

It is becoming clear that the global economy cannot consume at a rate which would help drive tax revenues for those governments to meet their future commitments. Central Banks have been using every trick in the book to help those politicians keep the debt illusion alive. They are all complicit in treating the electorate of those countries like fools. For it is they and their offspring who will have to meet the ever growing burden of this debt. The politicians  have ingratitude themselves with vast riches and on the whole do not live in the real world. This vast state sponsored global economy has to be drastically changed, sadly to do that, great pain will have to be felt by all.

Every time the central banks add to previous QE it is further vindication that being bearish on the economy has been correct. Being bearish on equities is another matter. Each bout of QE adds fresh impetus to the camp that says you must be invested because the bankers and politicians will win, eventually. The  charts below are updates of a regular series of data which I have published. My reasoning is well documented in previous blogs. The first chart is the now familiar BNSF traffic flow of various elements of economic activity. As this is the yearly comparison it is difficult to pick up recent trends. Hence chart two which shows the weekly change in volume growth since July for Containers and Freight Wagons. I think the direction speaks volumes. If you are in the camp that the fiscal cliff will be resolved quickly, what shape do you expect it to take. The $1trillion annual budget deficit that existed throughout the first Obama term must be cut. If it is not cut substantially the Debt to GDP and its growing servicing cost will just be kicked down the road until the next time. Whether it is spending cuts or tax increases, it matters not. The net affect will be to reduce economic activity. That would not be a problem if the other big economic powers were in good financial shape, but they are not. It is only a matter of  time before  Japan implodes in a sea of debt whilst Europe is adjusting to a new norm of significantly lower consumer activity.

 

 

To highlight this shift to lower consumption I have regularly updated my Suez Canal data. The first chart is the simple total volume flowing through the canal.

 

Secondly, the traffic growth in either direction.

Finally, the growth in Container traffic. As I explained in previous blogs on the subject, containers tend to reflect the consumer sentiment as it reflects more on finished goods and blocks out the noise from the vast and volatile commodity sector. As you can see, the flow in the direction of China went negative for the first time since the big fiscal stimulus which created the 2009 updraft.

 

2013 will introduce many new austerity programmes apart from the fiscal cliff. In Europe these are just as negative. France will be pushing the boundaries of reality in its attempts to cut its budget deficit back to 3%. The scale of the spending cuts and tax increases will likely cause significant union and social unrest. The French are in a league of their own when it comes to protesting. Greece and Spain are amateurs when pitched against the cake eating peasants. Heavy industrial companies are coming under strong political pressure to protect jobs but in the end reality will prevail. The UK, SUBJECT OF MY NEXT BLOG, will be plunged into chaos as the budget deficit continues to deteriorate.

In this environment, company profits cannot increase. Despite strong balance sheets, the corporate sector has a chilling few years ahead. Most equity fund managers are overweight strong cash flow companies. Pricing power is about to become far weaker as consumers recoil from yet more austerity. Overcapacity is and will continue to be a major problem.

Shipping and Trucking, my two most frequently blogged subjects, will bear the brunt of this slowdown in global trade volume.

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Economic Seismic Shift.

I am becoming more concerned that economic activity throughout the world is slowing so rapidly that a global meltdown could be around the corner. My worry for equity markets is that the last seismic shift that occurred between 1958 and 1960 is about to be reversed. In 1958, equity dividend yields were around 7.1% and the Price Earnings Ratio (PE) was 5.6. During the next two years the market rose 122% and the first reverse yield gap appeared (Aug 1959 when equity yields @ 4.76%  dropped below gilts,2 1/2% Consols @4.77%) and it stayed with us until 2008 when central banks initiated QE. The inspiration for this seismic shift was a reassessment of the belief that equities were not safe investments for pension funds and should not make up a large part of any portfolio. A speech by George Ross Goobey in 1956 put the cat amongst the pigeons but it was not until the Manchester Corporation lead the charge (into Equities) did the earthquake really hit. It is interesting to note that for the first time since that shift, UK Pension funds have raised the Bond holdings in their porfolios (43%) above that of Equities (38%).

Why has this obsession with Equities been so compelling for the last 60+ years? My answer is very simple. Governments have become increasingly short term in their outlook. Politicians, along with Central Bank Governors, have been increasingly happy to borrow out of trouble, a policy which up until a few tears ago worked remarkably well for them. The problem is at some point the music has to stop. If you take a look at Charts 5 and 6, you will see the rise of the US and UK debt pile. Whilst these charts do not take into account inflation, they do illustrate very graphically, how the stakes have got ever bigger. Chart 7 just shows how each of the most recent US Presidents have raised borrowing. Mr Obama made many pledges when he first came to office. If he had said that he was going to spend $4 Trillion more than tax receipts trying to implement them, he would have been hounded out of town. Chart 8 shows just how sad this whole process has become. It is the simple cost of servicing (interest) the near 230% of Debt to GDP that Japan has accumulated. It indicates that the lion share of tax revenue is being spent on paying for all that previous spending. I have written several blogs on the imminent demise of that country.

If the global planned austerity measures for 2013/14 are implemented, tax take by governments will rise dramatically. Disposable income will be the main looser,NO! Sorry, the main loser will be company profits. One of the most commonly used reasons to buy Equities is that they are cheap according to the current multiple or PE vs the average of the past twenty years or so. What if the economic conditions that lead to the market being cheap in 1958 are no longer applicable to the future. Governments must reduce the level of debt or the cost of servicing will engulf tax revenues and disaster will ensue. Indeed, we may already be close to that point. It is not a fiscal cliff the world faces but a fiscal earthquake. As disposable incomes decline, company earnings will become far more unpredictable. This should demand a far lower PE (higher yield) than the previous 20 or 30 years. Whilst a return to 1958 levels is a bit outrageous, a rebasing to around 8 or 9 appears more apt. This would imply equities 30% lower. Commodity markets will feel the full force of this consumption decline thus putting the BRICs squarely back into lesser developed catergory. Gold will not be the place to put your money but more of that in my next blog

 

Economics in pictures.

I have updated some data which will be familiar to regular readers. First up, the Suez Canal transit data. This shows monthly cargo volumes passing through the canal. I have written about why I feel this is an important gauge on several occasions. Primarily, it is the fact that 90% of goods that you purchase have, or have components that have, travelled by sea. Pinch points like the canal act as a pulse reading. As you can see from the first chart, growth is going nowhere. In fact the total number of ships passing through has fallen each month since March vs 2011 (yes, new ships are bigger). Another note of interest, is the explosive growth  of  Crude transiting southbound. I guess the Arab Spring and the Iranian embargo will have some distorting affect but I am more inclined to believe it is the build up of Chinese strategic reserve. This volume is likely to slow dramatically in 2013 as storage facilities are at capacity. LNG has slowed significantly which is why the gap between the two sets of data has not grown more.

Click on charts to expand

Next up is the direction of traffic through the canal. No prizes for this one. As you can see, Northbound (90% Europe and 8% USA) is contracting. The January 2012 spike (southbound) was caused by an enormous inventory build ahead of the Chinese new year. Products such as Cereal and Coal jumped significantly but it was Iron Ore which had a big impact. I wrote several times in the spring regarding inventory levels and predicted correctly a large fall in the Ore price. The seasonal build will occur as usual prior to the next new year but I fear it will be more reserved than 2012. This will have a distorting negative impact on the year on year data.

Within the traffic data is a breakdown of particular ship cargoes. Containers are always interesting as they drown out the noise of the volatile commodities which transit in huge volume. More finished goods and components travel this way so it can be a good handle on consumer demand or at least confidence in the inventory level of consumer products. The chart starts just after the Chinese injected $586bn to reflate the economy alongside the first US QE (see above chart for full impact of these two measures). As expected, it balloooooned. Of course, this year the authorities have been more concerned with inflation and a housing bubble. Thus, the rate of growth has slowed and in fact turned negative last month. When the new leaders are announced this week, it will be interesting to see if they start with a big bang of reflationary policies. The outgoing regime have recently raised road, rail, sewer and port infrastructure spending, so little scope exists for a big whammy.

USA. I have updated this regular feature. It shows the traffic flows on Warren Buffet`s BNSF railroad. The Total Freight annual growth rate peaked eight weeks ago and has declined each week since. This somewhat confirms the recent picture being painted by corporate America during the current earnings season. As you can see the Housing materials appear to be in fine shape but the rest are starting to slow. In fact the star of the year has been containers which have been up around 7% all year, last week however, the weekly number was negative for the first time in 2012. The lower diesel price may have had an influence as it helps trucking with competitiveness. I will eat my hat if housing continues its uplift in 2013.

Chart 5

Chart 6 

 

 

Borrowing by governments is the drug that fuels Equity performance.

 

Chart 7

Chart 8

My next blog will be an attack on George Osbourne`s inability to make a real difference. The UK is damned by his torpor!

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Ben III or Smoot-Hawley II

Is the outcome of Ben III the same as doing Smoot-Hawley II?

I wonder if the weakness in the dollar following QE3 (plus the widely predicted further weakness) will indirectly have the same affect as the  1930 protectionist legislation Smoot-Hawley. As the US economy is still the largest in the world and overseas economies are struggling (with the effects of austerity/debt), any barrier to exporting to it (USA), be it legislative or economic, would have a significant negative global affect.

As Christmas is round the corner, I have put a new twist on one of Dickens most famous stories about a man who was a miser but was shown the errors of his way. My twist is to reverse the tale. Did you know Ebernezer Scrooge was  a real life vintner in Edinburgh c 1841. He was not a mean man but Dickens misread his headstone.

Ben-ezer Scrooge…

Cast in order of appearance:

Economy Past…` Big conn` Sue Merism,  Economy Present…Anee Mick,  Economy Future…Fiscalle Cliffe

Ben was tired, his children QE1 and 2 were not doing as they were told. His long arduous work trying to inflate the worlds biggest economy was not going well. After all, he had given his children so much money to spend, you think they would have made him proud by now. Parenthood!  Ben decided to take a little nap. He had only intended to close his eyes for a little while but his fatigue lead him to a deep slumber. “Hello Ben!” A loud voice boomed round his vast well lit office. Stirring slowly and through half opened eyes, he made out the figure of a bedraggled man. Unshaven and dirty with a gaunt look. His clothes were from another era. They were torn and hanging from what must have once been a strong frame. Startled, Ben quickly jumped to his feet. “Sit down,” the eerie figure demanded. Ben hesitantly obeyed thinking security will be here soon. “Who are you and what do you want?” Ben asked.

“Jacob Marley, think of me as your conscience.”

“What do you want?”

“I am going to take you on a journey in which you will be visited by three figures representing the economy of the past, present and future.” At that point he vanished. Ben slumped in his chair but before he had a chance to make any sense of what just happened.  Whoooossshhhh! A flash of light and a plume of smoke filled the room which, when cleared, revealed a Bold, Brash, Arrogant figure. Ben once again enquired as to his identity. “Sue Merism but my friends call me Big Conn, I am here to review the economy past.” The review centred around how central bankers and governments had such great times with much acclaim for the wonderfully successful work they had done as purveyors of debt.  Their policies had allowed and encouraged both governments and individuals to accumulate ever greater levels of debt. This spend, borrow, spend, borrow attitude has lead to a debt mountain. A mountain so big that from the top you can see all the way back to the asset bubbles of 1928. “I will leave you with one thought. When you give alcohol to an alcoholic he is extremely grateful, that is until the affects ware off. If you give him the help to reform, it will be a long and painful journey but one that will lead to stability and happiness.” With this he too disappeared.

Once again Ben slumped back. Whooossshhh! Yes you guessed it, the ghost of economy present. “Who are you?”

“Aaahhh to be sure, I am Anee Mick and I will tell you why throwing large sums of money at the economy is not working any longer.” Ben was furious.

“I have reduced the unemployment rate, restored growth and rescued the Banking Industry,” he exclaimed.

“Oh really, you have done all that. Well if I had spent a few trillion dollars I would like to see something for it. ” Anee went on to explain how Ben, the government and senior bankers have been blind to the reality of the wider economy. Creating a mass of poor quality jobs whilst piling ever greater debt levels on future generations is not the answer. They must stop kicking important decisions down the road in the hope they will resolve themselves. “I will leave you with one thought,” he said  “The gulf between the haves and the have nots, is not in-elastic”… with this he disappeared.

I think you guessed whats next. Whhhoooossshh! This time the ghost of economic future. “Who are you?”

“I am Fiscalle Cliffe. I am here to tell you…” *cue sombre music*

“Tell me, tell me, how does it end?” Ben shouted.

“But surely you know Ben, after all you were a scholar at MIT and studied the Great Depression.”

“But that does not mean that my unheralded approach to loose money is going to work.”

“Quite, and to date you have only achieved asset inflation (which plays into the hands of the Austrian movement re the Great Depression) you have not helped the man on the street. You have made the rich richer and the poor poorer. ” Ben was then shown a scene from the future. It was set in his office. The phone rang, it was the president, he explains to Ben that having spent $5trillion more than he received in tax during his term he had little to show for it. Ben told him not to worry and that he would launch his latest brainchild QE3 which will raise asset prices further. “Yeeeeehhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaa!” exclaimed the president, “You da man Ben! If only we had one I would give you a knighthood, arise Sir Ben.” Sadly, QE3 did not work. The world eventually collapsed into anarchy with the masses turning to revolution. Ben saw himself ridiculed as the orchestrator of the worlds downfall along with his counterpart at the European central bank.

Ben finally woke. Oh my God, what have I done? He thought. I am supposed to be the bastion of fiscal prudence It is not my job to create jobs in the US economy, after all I am an unelected official of the US Government. If the politicians can’t create a long term positive economic environment, should I mortgage the country up to the hilt? without their prior approval. The best approach would be to recognise the mistakes of the past excesses and be honest with the electorate. The only way out is cold turkey. It is going to hurt but it will be worth it. Commodity prices will fall dramatically so deflation will need too be managed. Eventually, values and morals will be restored but not before much blood and tears are shed.

Nothing like a cheerful blog whilts listening to ‘Sounds of the 1970s’ on Radio 2. Its being so cheerful that keeps me going.

Sunday, September 16th, 2012 Predictions, US Economy No Comments

John `Bernanke` Wayne Rides to the Rescue. Too Late??

Hazard Warning Lights for Volvo, Scania and MAN (April 2012)… I wrote (back then and since) about my serious concern for the heavy truck industry at a time when the industry was talking of great things ahead in terms of sales. Just this week Paccar announced it expects third quarter (3Q) production to be 15-20% lower than the 2Q which is double the decline previously expected. August heavy truck sales in North America continued to indicate demand below total production. This leads me to a concern I raised back in March that at some point US inventory build would become a problem. The most recent data on Wholesale inventories confirms just that. The Inventory to Sales ratio is beginning to increase and of course with the fiscal cliff approaching this is not an ideal situation to be in. Overall industrial inventory data for last month is due soon. I believe this is becoming a global problem as consumption continues to struggle. Car dealers in China now have over 2 months of inventory on the forecourts vs half that last year. Hitachi Construction Machinery (Worlds 3rd biggest) announced that it will idle production at its China plant due to excessive inventory. This follows production cuts by  Caterpillar and Komatsu in the region. Everywhere you look in the heavy industry world, production is above demand. This is leading to the cancelling of upstream investment programmes as seen by the mining companies. Inventory of finished steel products at Chinese manufacturers is up to 12 days or +35% on 2011. This is on top of wholesale and final sale inventory outlets. The use of pre-registration cars to shift production is leading to a build up of nearly new cars in Europe too. With sales falling dramatically in the region as a whole, further production cuts will be forthcoming on top of Opel in Germany and the French manufacturers. The tonnage of ships being laid up is growing by the day and the Baltic Freight Index is now lower than the depths of 2008 and getting close to the all time low set in 1986.

In May I wrote Is Global Trade Growing? with the now familiar chart of trade flow via the Suez Canal. Below is an update which although on the face of it looks slightly more positive for Southbound (China) traffic, it is worth bearing in mind that total volume has fallen in the last quarter vs the corresponding year for the first time since late 2009.  The port of Shanghai handled 8% fewer Containers month on month in August which was down 7% year on year. Total cargo handled was down 15%. The southbound traffic data were influenced by a 100% uptick in fuel/energy products which masked a 50% month on month decline in the growth rate of containers, to only 2% (lowest growth rate since April)

 click on charts to expand

UK Commercial Property. I have been negative on this sector for the whole year. It was interesting to read the recent sector update by Savills highlighting the sector weakness in August. This is the forth month in a row of contracting activity and was the biggest monthly decline (-14.8%) since December 2011.

Japan. I am still short the Yen but my resolve was surely tested last night when it traded at 77.13 after the FED QE3 announcement. If it trades below 77.00 I am out and feeling considerably poorer and mighty stupid. I am still strongly of the opinion that it will suffer a fiscal cliff of its own. See my many previous blogs on the subject. The chart below gives the short term prospective but for a 40 year chart showing the Yen at 360 to the dollar in the 1970s, see my blog  January 25th  this year. I believe this could be the start of a 25% decline in the Yens fortune. Today the Finace Minister warned of headwinds for the economy and that the strong Yen was doing harm. You are not kidding!

Sterling. I still believe it is only a matter of time before the markets realise that the UK is a busted flush. Once the Olympic dust has settled, unemployment will rise once again putting yet more upward pressure on the budget deficit. The UK Government must realise this softly softly approach to deficit reduction will not work in an environment of global austerity. Urgent action is needed to cut government spending circa 30% and reduce the corporate tax and red tape burden. If the narrowing band, which has been in place since 2009, should break 1.64. I will have egg on my face. Should it break 1.54 on the downside, I will be on the right path.

 

 US Car Sales. I have been sceptical about the significant growth of sales which has been somewhat at odds with the lacklustre employment data. Having read a blog by James Quinn (senior Director of planning at a major University, he claims) some light has been shed on the matter. Sadly, his explanation is all rather familiar, sub-prime lending is now accountable for 45% of all car loans. As 77% of all new cars are financed it shows the quality of the customer. Loan duration is being extended ( beyond 5 years) and loan to value is rising reaching 110% on new cars and 127% on used. Not only that but 10% of all loans are categorized as `Deep Sub-Prime` eg a credit score requirement akin to that of Yogi Bear..OK BOO BOO faster than the average bear! Worryingly, consumer credit is back (net of the banking write offs) to an all time high. Has the FED really learnt no lessons. Pumping cheap money into banks who lend with no real concern. All this on top of the US Governments deficit which yesterday showed an $191bn August shortfall taking the 11 months of 2012 to $1.16 Trillion not far short of last year and around 7.2% of GDP. Some social spending was brought forward from next month so September should not be such a big surprise. Of course, when the government brings forward social spending it is just helping the retail data for that month to the detriment of the next. The cliff is getting nearer. Can you hear the waves yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Consumption vs Transportation.

Where is the global economy going?

I refer to previous blogs which were negative on Truck Makers, Shipping and Commercial Property

Today’s release by Markit Economics on August Eurozone retail activity helps paint a picture of global activity. A statement from the research company sums up Europe ` The current ten months of declines in Eurozone sales (to August) is the second longest in the surveys history behind that of the 2008/9 crisis`. I urge you to think of the world as a whole and gauge where total demand is heading. Lets start with Europe, retail activity is falling for now but where is it heading? Well, it is not difficult to understand that the austerity measures having and due to be implemented, will drain demand still further. Sadly, inflation is not helping anyone. It is constantly just above the anemic wage growth leading to a contraction in disposable income. Interest rates are at rock bottom so no matter how they try, central bankers cant get money into consumers pockets. Banks are all but defunct with untold losses in real estate and shipping, to name but a few areas. Now the second biggest global economy, China. Who knows where consumption is heading but yesterdays article in the Telegraph of business collapse and bad debts really only starts to open the can of worms of bad debts. With real estate (and other asset) profits having driven a tsunami of consumer growth over the last ten years, it is difficult to see how they can repeat the massive boost to the world economy they achieved in 2009. With house price to wages (ratio) the highest in the world can they really afford to re-ignite that inflationary spiral. They will continue to ease monetary policy at a pace which suits them not the rest of the world as in 2009. Now the third biggest economy Japan. Having written several blogs on their impending doom, today’s weak retail sales data were no surprise to me and  I feel herald a consumption contraction which will last for many years. The 230% of debt to GDP the government carries will make it very difficult to stimulate growth. The shift in the workforce over the last ten years tells me thay have the western disease. Manufacturing jobs have declined by around 1,500,000 to the lowest percentage of the workforce since 1953 whilst their has been an explosion of around 2,000,000 people in social services and healthcare. This is not a recipe for long term growth as these new jobs carry a greater likely hood of lower earning potential. Now the big daddy, USA. Ask yourself a question `Do you trust politicians?`OK thats was a resounding answer. In which case the fiscal cliff is a real danger. With an annual budget deficit of over $1 Trillion for the whole of the  Obama presidency, it is little wonder that the economy has managed some growth. Of course it needed extra help from the Federal Reserve. All that has to stop and at the end of 2012 the Bush/Obama tax cuts are due to expire. Where do you think consumption will be when they finally bite the bullet?

So that’s the biggest economies of the world taken care of. I think we should look at the BRICs. I have written many blogs on the subject mainly due to my concerns (dating back to January) for Iron Ore. The dynamic growth of these countries was centred around the explosive growth in commodity prices and hence the unbelievable investment that followed. Just bear in mind, Iron Ore, started the millenium below $20 per tonne and reached $200 two years ago. I believe they have a chill wind of reality blowing there way which will see a dramatic reversal in inward investment resulting in lower consumption.

Can you imagine what it is like living with me? A bundle of fun for Mrs H!

ps The landscaping business is very poor so would love to hear from anyone who wants to employ a crazy bear with 28 years experience in the City.

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Thursday, August 30th, 2012 BRICs, China, Debt, GDP, Japan, Shipping, UK, US Economy No Comments

The Medicine is Not Working.

Finance-Reaper returns..with a warning!

It has been a couple of months since my last blog (holidays and a large landscaping project to occupy me) so I think a refresher as to where we are in the global economy. During my absence the equity market has rallied strongly on the perceived wisdom that the Central Banks of USA, Europe (inc UK), China and Japan will breath new life into a flagging world with yet more monetary stimulus. The problem is, they have done this so many times over the past 30 years that it reminds me of Brazil 20 years ago. They took anti-biotics as a cure for all ills so became immune and many people died when a common illness struck. The repeated intervention of the primary banking authorities has given governments and investors alike, a laisse faire attitude to debt and risk. I believe the time has come, just as it did for the Brazilians, when the world needs to take a different medicine and it wont taste very nice.

Since my last postings several important developments have occurred in the areas I have had great concern about.

Steel and Iron Ore are of particular interest. Both have fallen around 25% in the last month and are now at 2 and 2 1/2 year lows respectively. Over production of Steel in China is becoming a real problem which will have repercussions around the world. Inventory of finished material is getting to a point where serious cuts in production will be required. As the main raw material (Iron Ore) is also stockpiled to the roof, it will not take long for further setbacks in the Shipping industry that supplies China (see my numerous blogs on the subject for more info). The main barometer of how this is affecting the shipping industry is the Baltic Freight Index. This has fallen 9% in the last week, 30% since early July and more importantly, is 40% below this time last year. Shipbuilding orders have fallen off a cliff, shipping companies are going broke and mining companies are cutting back on capital expenditure. All things I have warned about. China is now relaxing some high quality steel export duties in order to help the vast production machine from backing up. This, together with encouragement for a weaker Yuan, makes the outlook for the other global players very grim.

As you can see from the chart below, a regular feature, global trade is not growing. If anything it has started to decline. Last months tonnage was down on 2011 and lower than the corresponding period in 2008!

Of course, the primary driver of this weaker picture is Europe as the chart below highlights perfectly. What you have to worry about though, is when will the first and third biggest economies of the world grow up and realise they cannot continue growing the debt pile and calling it economic growth. IT IS NOT!!! USA will register its forth in a row $1 trillion annual budget deficit this year. It has to stop and the fiscal cliff of 2013 is rapidly approaching.   Japan has agreed this week to double VAT to 10% but in two stages and not starting till 2014. I believe Japan is only months away from economic disaster (see previous blogs).

 Europe.

Finished! The recent cuts (to the public sector and spending ) announced by the Italian government were shocking but necessary. They reflect the bloated system of the easy money life encouraged within the Euro arena by the non elected bureaucrats in Brussels. It applies to all the lying, cheating Mediterranean countries. I still believe Germany should be out of the Euro The Elephant in the Room.

UK

Finished! How on earth can the markets not see what is right under their nose. The UK budget deficit is not shrinking! It is getting bigger. Just like the USA and Japan, we are borrowing growth from a future generation with our continual debt build up. You can see from my numerous blogs on the UK that I have warned about Sterling strong vs the Euro and Weak vs the Dollar. As I predicted our trade deficit posted a record deficit in the second quarter. STERLING is doomed. I have predicted a fall vs the $ to the all time low of $1.08 and stand by that. The chart formation from the last blog is still in tact. Should Sterling fall as I have predicted, interest rates will go higher and the stupid banks who are rushing headlong into lending on Buy-to-Let (BTL) mortgages will come a cropper yet again. Just last week saw the release of data showing an alarming growth in repossessions of BTL properties. Property prices are still 10-20% too high.

 

Another issue that worries me is the estimate of UK car sales that are pre-registered. In fact I wrote about this issue in a recent China blog. According to reports, 30% of recent UK car sales are not actually ordered by an end buyer (the same as Germany). They are pre-reg by a dealer in order to secure large volume bonuses. This practice is not new but the scale of this practice is now alarming me. Why? Residual Value. Do any of you remember one of the largest and best known corporate collapses of the 1980`s. British and Commonwealth Holdings was the birth place of such companies as Gartmore and Oppenheimer fund management, Furness Withy and P& O shipping…plus many other big names. It was the biggest financial institution in the UK outside the four banks and was in the FTSE 100. It made one fatal error in the acquisition of Atlantic Computers. The problem of residual value was to be the undoing of B & C. I wont go into the story but if dealers are buying far too many vehicles than they have customers for, they have to sell at a whopping discount in other ways. This tends to be via a lease. Normally, to price a lease you have to make an assumption of residual value. The creation of demand via this process normally creates a wave of second hand cars which will depress prices further. If demand slows as I believe it will, second hand values and therefore residual values will not meet the estimated level when these cars come to an end. A worrying future bill bill for someone.

 USA

Below is my regular chart showing the growth/decline of transported goods on Warren Buffett`s railway BNSF. The Total Freight picture is running at around 2% the highest since the first quarter. Still very anemic and not strong enough to indicate employment growth. The various sectors of interest are Motor Vehicles which have started to decline and the four week moving average (not shown) indicates a rapid fall from current levels. Lumber/Sand/Gravel are positive and reflect optimism in the real estate sector. Coal has rebounded from its winter blues and helped move Freight Wagons into a slight positive. Overall not much to conclude. Steady as she goes for now but wait till we get to the Fiscal Cliff.  I have written about the US sales to inventory ratio and recently it started to rise. This is not a good sign, as I have talked about in March. I have to admit to being wrong about the growth in US car sales. It has turned out to be much stronger that I anticipated. I feel very strongly that this growth is temporary and is driven (excuse the pun) by a desperate urge to cut motoring costs via fuel consumption and is therefore not going to last beyond this year. Last month saw an 89% rise in alternative fuel vehicles. The big US car companies may well be heading back to the doldrums in the second half.

One of my other pet subjects has been in the news lately. The US Postal Service. Its ever growing problems and huge loss profile show just how inept the government are about dealing with real problems. Anyone can spend public money and be triumphant at its impact but no one seems to be able to grasp a nettle. The longer the authorities go on kicking the can the deeper the eventual depression will be.

Stay happy and start making plans for the new world. Hopefully, when we get to the other side of all this we will remember the mistakes of the past. There again why did they repeal the Glass-Steagall Act. Fear and Greed will always rule the world. And we mere mortals will always allow Greedy and Corrupt people to rule us, Why?

BNSF Weekly railway data.

Blogs to follow.

UK Money Supply is still falling, I have reviewed this problem in depth before. UK and US Govt. debt growth. Chart updates of BHP, AP Moeller-Maersk, £/$ rate. Maybe a look at the safest haven for savings in the world, Norway. It has Oil, Fresh Water, Fish and a sensible government policy of saving a portion of its oil wealth for future generations. It may become the lender of last resort should the world go belly up. I have championed this safe haven for a couple of years and I cannot see any reason why that should change. They do have a problem however, of where to put their money. I would offer this once customer of mine some timely advice. In times of trouble IT IS NOT THE RETURN ON YOUR MONEY THAT COUNTS, IT IS THE RETURN OF YOUR MONEY! So do not worry about interest income in this environment. Keep it under your mattress and cuddle up to the nearest blonde. It may be lumpy but it will give you a warm feeling, the mattress that is.

 

 

 

 

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US Economic update

BNSF Weekly rail shipments.

Regular readers will know that I have relied on this data to give a view of the economy. Transportation is the most important bellweather for economic activity. New readers might want to view an earlier blog The Perfect Storm for an overview. The updated chart (click to enlarge) does not really add much to last update in early May. Motor vehicles continue the trend but  metals growth is weaken as imported vehicles improve market share. Lumber confirms the stronger demand from the housing sector. Total freight shows no sighs of altering its lacklustre, low growth position. The significant year on year decline in coal movement is coming to an end as this was driven by both lower gas prices and warm winter weather. The rest of the year should stabilise at lower levels but not adversely affect Total Freight as in Q1 and 2. I have talked about my Jim Thorpe concerns for the coal industry and its suppliers on several occasions so it was interesting to see Caterpillar mention (this week) the slowdown in demand from that segment of their business. Sadly things will get far worse. If you look at the inventory build up in the worlds biggest coal user (China) you will understand why I am so negative. It is not only coal that is piling up, the products that need huge energy imput to produce are also building. Steel production will have to be cut drastically in the Q3 if a price implosion is to be avoided. This may support steel prices but the knock on affects to Coal, Iron Ore and many other commodities (not to mention Shipping) will be significant. Interestingly, new car inventory at Chinese dealerships is building rapidly. Sales data are registered when delivered to the dealer, so, with inventory as high as 60 days sales on the forecourt, the only response will be heavy discounting. Going forward this will weaken demand.

Shipping is never far from my blogs so I will not disappoint. Europe/Asia container route pricing by the World Container Index has fallen for each of the last five weeks and is eroding the rate increases forced through by the big carriers. The weakening Baltic Index is confirming the growing level of inventory of dry bulk commodities. I hope to have an update on the regular Suez Canal data next week, that is if I can get a good Internet signal in Tenerife. Happy days!

 

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Friday, June 8th, 2012 BNSF, China, GDP, Predictions, Shipping, Steel, US Economy No Comments

US Economy

BNSF Rail freight update.

Regular readers will be familiar with this chart. Updated to end April. Points of interest. Vehicles are still going gangbuster! However, as you can see, Metals and Metallic Ores have started a downward trend in the last few weeks. Housing materials have seen an uptick over the same period. Food, having been growing at an annual rate of 4% earlier in the year, has turned negative year on year. The total volume (black dotted line) year on year rate has declined from its spring peak every week since March 10th. Interestingly, Food has a good correlation with total volume. All in all, to my mind, this chart confirms my continued belief that the record warm winter America breaks records…Swinter in USA drew demand forward. If economic expansion is to be resumed, car sales will have to be maintained at the current strong pace and housing starts will need to grow further. I have mentioned on many occasions that with the US budget deficit growing at an unsustainable pace the tailwind of government debt growth will turn to be a significant headwind. If you want to see what that turnaround looks like, you need look no further than Europe.

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Friday, May 4th, 2012 BNSF, US Economy No Comments

US Economic health check

Lie on your side…breath in…this wont hurt…Not the words you want to hear from a burly, rugby playing Australian doctor wearing extra large sterile gloves.

Sorry, I was thinking of the time I had my Appendix out. All in all not a great experience.

It is that time again. An update of the BNSF rail freight data. Only this time it is much more exciting! I have added two addition components of the Freight Wagon (Carload) segment. They are Sand/Gravel and Lumber/Wood. Given the importance of the construction industry and its widely forecast recovery (from what is presumed to be the bottom of the cycle) these two new sub-components should pick up any trends. If you click on the first box, you will see the updated and improved data. The second box will reveal a chart showing the 2012 growth or contraction rate (%) versus 2011.  I am unsure how much of an effect the earlier Easter has had on the figures but it is interesting how weak the two construction components have been over the last two weeks. Still too early to call. Given the tail wind of the warm winter it is only now that the true picture of the economy is emerging. The next update will be very interesting (to me at least). It is clear that without the light vehicle demand, Uncle Sam would be in a pretty dire shape. It could be very interesting if the explosion at the main resin supplier (to the auto industry) leads to production halts. Inventory for Cars has fallen to 44 days in April versus 48 in March. This is below normal levels. Production is up 17% this year with an additional 570,000 vehicles in Q1. Truck inventory, another regular theme, is stable at 66 days

 

 

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Friday, April 20th, 2012 BNSF, GDP, US Economy No Comments

Look beyond the noise.

US Economic expansion.

Last week was all about the US employment report for March. The focus was so sharp that little else seemed to get much scrutiny. Given the frequency of revisions, one month is never enough to base sound long term opinions on, so I wont. There is a school of thought in the cynical blogosphere that weaker numbers were engineered lower thus giving the Fed justification for Q3. Given the proximity of the election when the decision is due, they will need all the help they can for justification without attracting Republican ire.

With the aid of a wider angle lens, I was not distracted by the unemployment numbers. I chose instead to focus on the nuts and bolts of the economy. Early last month I wrote about Class 8 truck demand Quiet in Class!..[ This continues a theme of mine centered on transportation of goods. Most recently that has been with reviews of BNSF rail freight volumes but earlier postings have been on the shipping industry The Perfect Storm and The Plimsoll line is clearly visible! ]… Last week saw the release of preliminary sales data for March Class 8 truck sales for North America. With the benefit of 3 months data for 2012, my earlier concerns for the economy can have some justification.  January 24,000 February 22,366 and March 19,682 against the 4Q 2011 average of 26,000. The preliminary number for March is 32% below March 2011. Why is that important? At the beginning of the year, the two main bodies for the truck industry were upgrading their forecasts for 2012. They centered around an annual expectation of 295,000 sales, well ahead of 200,000 needed to replace retiring vehicles and up 10%ish on 2011. March and April are normally the two most important months for sales as they herald the start of the haulage season fan-fared with the new year models, which normally carry a higher price tag. If April does not spring into life with renewed vigour, the order backlog (currently strong due to the ordering peak around December) will falter and the inventory level ( 62 days versus 52 in 2011) will rise. This, in the worst case scenario, could lead to awkward production gluts. In the third of my blogs on rail freight USA Freight Volumes I did suggest that the rise in container volumes (via rail) could be attributed to the sharp rise in diesel costs. This may have some correlation with the first decline in trucking jobs (0.1%) since July 2011 as seen in last weeks employment data.

US Government Debt

On Thursday we will see the release of the Monthly Budget Statement. I have seen one estimate so far ($203bn). If this is confirmed, it will be the first back to back $200bn plus months that I can remember. It would lead to a Q1 deficit slightly up on last year and close to the record set in 2009.  Since the depths of the recession in Q1 2009 the economy has recorded positive GDP and unemployment has (headline rate) dropped significantly. Why then is the deficit still growing at such an alarming and unsustainable rate? Easy, the government are buying growth. As I highlighted in America breaks records…Swiner in USA the end of 2012 brings about some major problems for the newly elected government. It is impossible to think that by then the economy will have garnered enough momentum to overcome the fiscal drag which will inevitably follow.

CHINA.

The latest inflation data will not rest easy on the authorities who made much of last months significant decline. They have blamed the unexpectedly sharp increase (3.6%) on poor weather in the fresh food producing areas. This has lead to overall food costs rising 7.5% year on year. This, however, masks far more important moves in two important staples. Vegetables are up 20% year on year with Meat/Eggs 11%. The recent significant fuel price hike had little influence on the rate as it has a small weighting within the index. Presumably it will show up in later months as products are priced to contain additional transport costs. It is clear that inflation will continue to be a drag on any monetary easing the authorities have planned. To continue my transportation theme (and remember 90% of goods travel at some point by sea) Chinese shipbuilding orders are down 40% on the first two months of 2011.

Last week also saw the release of the Purchasing Managers reports for March. Whilst the state version showed continued strength at 53.1, the independent HSBC report fell to 48.2. Why? Well the state report by the Federal Logistics and Purchasing department is heavily influenced by state and large companies in its sample of 800, whilst the HSBC has 400 mainly small and medium sized companies. These smaller companies are much more focused on the world economy. Weaker overseas demand has been a drag on growth but finance, or lack of it, has also played a part in the current weakness. The authorities started a pilot scheme in Wenzhou last week aimed at relieving some of the well documented problems of underground financing.

 

 

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Monday, April 9th, 2012 BNSF, China, Debt, National Debt, PMI, QE, Shipping, US Economy, USD 1 Comment
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