Tag Archives: global economy

US GDP Growth Estimates Plummet

Consensus US GDP


Finally…. consensus capitulates.


From The Wall street Journal morning ledger: “2014 is likely to go down as yet another disappointing year of economic growth for the U.S, according to the latest Wall Street Journal survey of economists. The 48 surveyed economists mainly cited the absence of a big spring bounce after a sharp contraction in the winter as the cause of the predicted slump. As the Wall Street Journal’s Kathleen Madigan reports, the July consensus of GDP growth of just 1.6% this year – adjusted for inflation – is quite a plunge from the 2.2% expected just a month ago. The forecasters estimate real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.1% in the second quarter, down from the 3.5% gain projected in last month’s survey. The consensus view sees growth of about 3% in the second half. “We were flat-lining in the first half,” said Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial. “We are in another difficult year, instead of the ‘lift-off’ year we expected.” Along with the downgraded GDP forecast, respondents were evenly split about an upside or downside risk to their forecasts – something of a sea change from the results of the six previous months. In each of those surveys, about 3 out of 4 economists thought the risk was that the economy would grow faster than their forecasts expected. One problem has been the unexpected sluggishness of consumers.


According to the Census Bureau, New Single-Family Home Sales plunged -8.1% M/M in June to a seasonally-adjusted-annualized-rate of 406k homes.  On a Y/Y basis, new home sales fell -11.5% versus +2.6% previously.  Furthermore, it is important to note that there were significant downward revisions to the prior months.  The month of May was revised lower by a record -12.3% to 442k (504k prior), April was revised lower to 408k (425k prior), and March was revised lower to 403k (410k), representing a downward revision of -86k over the past three months!  There were monthly declines across the U.S., as new home sales fell in the Northeast (-20.0% M/M and -27.3% Y/Y), the South (-9.5% M/M and -17.4% Y/Y), the Midwest (-8.2% M/M), and the West (-1.9% M/M and -9.4% Y/Y).  (acc to Boenning & Scattergood)

Additionally… The expected capex recovery is simply not happening, as Morgan Stanley points out.

dismal capex

And here’s what I said on November 23rd 2013 in “The US Growth Mirage“:


The mirage of our days may be the expectation of 2.9% growth in the United States in 2014. And it also sells a lot.The US is growing. All is well. Unemployment is low. Expansionary policy works. Does it? Not only it is not, but the most important economists of the Federal Reserve are warning about it.Look at yesterday’s GDP by categories: The “headline” +3.6% growth hides a meagre +1.9% ex-inventories. Q3 Consumer Spending +1.4%, was the weakest since December 2009. Business Inventory added 1.7% to +3.6% GDP, the most since 2011. In fact, REAL FINAL SALES (CORE GDP, EX-INVENTORIES) WAS ACTUALLY REVISED DOWN TO JUST 1.9%. 

The perverse incentive to flood markets with easy money generates a massively leveraged economy (check margin debt, at record highs), moves capital to the financial sector and sinks productive investment. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is becoming more like a soufflé , filled with air . Not only companies spend less, but the money is used to buy back stock, pay dividends and exchange capital in mergers and acquisitions, and not for added productive investment.

Between 1996 and 2006 the largest companies in the U.S. (S & P 500) invested about one trillion dollars per year, of which 70% was devoted to capex and R&D while 30% to buyback and dividends. Since 2009 the annual number of total invested capital has soared to over $2.3 trillion, but 45% is used to buy back shares and pay dividends. In fact, neither the figure of productive investment or R&D have increased substantially, inflation-adjusted, since 1998. That is, the ‘free’ money from the expansionary policy is used  for protection, reducing the number of outstanding shares, merge and return cash to shareholders, not to expand organically  (data from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley).

The U.S. has created nearly half of all the money supply of its history in the past five years, and has lived the longest period ever seen without raising interest rates, and yet the labour participation rate (percentage of civil population of the United States with over 16 years of age or more who have a job or are actively looking for one) has fallen to 1978 levels, 62.8%. Some explain this due to “the demographic effect”. However, adjusting for these demographic changes -there are fewer young workers and the older ones are living longer-, the labour force participation and employment has not improved since 2010 while the country engaged in money printing like crazy. Improving unemployment by ‘taking people off the lists’, as in Europe in the early 90s. Meanwhile, almost half of the working population in the U.S. earns less than $40,000 per annum.

Private sector payroll

From Michael Purves: “Payrolls this week report came in with an impressive 203k gain and a 7.0% unemployment print. More importantly the jobs additions drew from a wide variety of sectors, including manufacturing, and not the lower wage and more temporary job additions we have seen in earlier reports.

The underemployment rate (U-6) also fell from 13.8% to 13.2%, representing the sharpest percentage drop  since 2008.   The most significant aspect of this report is not the numbers per se, but that the numbers were achieved in the context of notably higher interest rates.  However, there are still notable signs of  weakness: the participation rate (despite an uptick this morning) is still in a down trend, and we are still not seeing a significant improvement in average hourly earnings, or average weekly hours”.

Additionally, personal income decreased 0.1% and disposable personal income (DPI) decreased 0.2% in October.

personal income decreased

Monetary policy is proving to be a key driver of massive inequality, and benefiting only those that held assets or have access to massive debt.

The greatest swindle since the miracle medicine men of the Wild West is to say that monetary policy is redistributive and social. But do not worry, they say, “next year, it will be better”, “Just wait.” Look at the Hiring Plans Index since 2011 (graphs from MS).

Hiring Plans Index since 2011The balance of the U.S. Federal Reserve is rapidly approaching a staggering $4 trillion dollars, buying about a billion a year in bonds, yet the economy is growing well below its potential … but also that potential is deteriorating .

QE does not create jobs exhibit 1:

QE does not create jobs
Exhibit 2: Federal Reserve Balance Sheet Expansion vs Job Creation
Federal Reserve Balance Sheet Expansion vs Job Creation

In the last two weeks I’ve read two excellent reports from Federal reserve economists William English and David Wilcox warning about the deterioration of the actual and potential growth of the United States. The  graph of one of these reports shows how the correlation between potential and real GDP has broken, well below the trend from 2000 to 2007.

Potential GDP

Companies do not invest in productive activities and job creation because conditions for confidence are simply not there. Artificially low rates and printing money may deceive a few analysts, but not presidents and CEOs of companies that have been able to be leaders and global competitors despite any government interference.

Tax increases and financial repression destroy consumption, money velocity and job creation in the medium term.

Goldman Sachs estimates that in 2014 capex and productive investment will grow by 9%. Analysing estimates and guidance for 2014 of most S&P 500 companies, I doubt it. At best, it will be flat year-on-year.

Government cannot replace private sector capex. Despite the low government bond yields and eternal lift of the debt ceiling, the U.S. continues to generate a massive deficit, projected at around $744 billion for Fiscal Year 2014. To ‘fill’ the loss of productive investment, assuming -which is a lot- that governments would spend wisely- the deficit would have to shoot another half a trillion dollars, and with it comes higher tax increases, more financial repression and… less productive investment.

True, banks are stronger and have less risk and government is borrowing at low rates. Of course they are, with a QE that is an equivalent of 6.7% of US GDP as an annual gift.

Increasing money supply by 6-7% to grow GDP by 2% is not growth, it’s stretching the pizza dough. However, a problem of wrong incentives, creating fake money and artificially low rates not only dilutes the real growth but impairs its potential one. The solution that Keynesian economists offer? … Repeat. “Until investors give in” as Paul Krugman says. More fuel to the fire.

As growth is poor, what they propose is more booze to the alcoholic. Low rates forever. Yes, many members of the U.S. central bank, like Charles Plosser,  expressed doubts about the effectiveness of monetary policy, and begin to propose measures to control the madness limiting the ability of the Fed to buy assets and expand its balance sheet, but these are still voices in the desert. If you really think that forcing the machine will revive investment and job creation because it is decided by a committee, it will not happen. Until the job creators clearly see the opportunities, investment will remain low.

 investment will remain low

Reasons for concern:

  • Credit conditions are deteriorating alarmingly, which leads me to believe that productive investment will stagnate in 2014 . Estimates of increase of 9% do not agree with any of the messages thrown by the companies that published results and guidance.
Credit conditions
  • Deterioration of the leading indicators of job creation, new businesses, corporate margins and capex have accelerated since September and came into contraction long before the government shutdown.
  • Estimates of profits in the industrial and consumer sector have fallen between 8% and 10% for 2014.
  • In March, another drama on account of the debt ceiling and overspending  and no small risk of tax hikes. With the popularity of President Obama at a minimum-37% -, the likelihood of tax increases to ‘the rich’, which is always translated into ‘tax hikes for all’, is high.
  • The so-called Obamacare -mistakenly sold as the panacea of universal public health-, means about 52 billion dollars in new taxes to small businesses in particular, and the lowest estimate of the negative impact on employment that I have read is 800,000 people .

Yes, I know. For the stock market investor most of this is irrelevant. The worse, the better, and $85 billion of monthly asset purchases by the Federal Reserve, even if it is trimmed, makes everyone happy because the ‘helicopter money’ only helps the financial sector and the state, so we will ‘party like it’s 1999′ for a while. Furthermore, investors are protected by many companies who do not fall into the trap of easy money, because they are the first to suffer when the music stops.

I am sure that the innovative spirit of the country will prevail, but to estimate its economic development through the moves of a stock market impacted by share repurchases and ‘laughing gas money’ may be an illusion. Richard Koo warned that the U.S. is engaged in “the QE trap” from which you can not get out easily or comfortably. As Fleetwood Mac … Can’t Go Back.



Important Disclaimer: All of Daniel Lacalle’s views expressed in his books and this blog are strictly personal and should not be taken as buy or sell recommendations.

Russia may remain cheap for a while

The geopolitical landscape created by the Ukraine crisis and the ongoing sanctions against Russian interests from both the EU and US have made the MICEX Index fall 4% YTD.

For investors, the main things to consider:

– Russian stocks are cheap and they have always been. Headline multiples disguise a market where the semi-state owned companies tend to pursue a strategy that is less focused on total-shareholder-return than on maximizing capex. State intervention and value destructing investments have been some of the factors behind the de-rating of Russian stocks.

On the flipside, Russian independent companies have been following a very shareholder oriented policy (think Novatek, for example), reacting inmediately to rumours and creating value by being focused. So the index large weights cloud a market where some companies do shine and develop solid strategies.

Therefore, for investors, the key is stock picking, not index buying… and focusing on clear strategy independent companies, not necessarily on the “headline cheap” multi-megacap conglomerates. These are OK for a short term technical trade driven more by oil price momentum and geopolitical risks easing.

– Ruble strength is likely as oil prices remain high, and with low debt and little financial dependence on foreign entities, Russia can sustain the economic slowdown created by sanctions better than the EU debt-ridden countries with strong commercial ties with Russia. The current oil price-ruble combination prevents any risk of economic collapse in Russia and, to a limited extent, the state can substitute for foreign lenders in strategic sectors. However, without a big pick-up in inward investment and domestic confidence, the economy will not be able to move from near stagnation to the sustainable 3-4% annualized growth it needs, according to Chris Weafer. Russia’s balance sheet and budget are solid and the government can afford to provide domestic funding to banks or to raise public investments.

– Besides the human tragedy, the consequences of the MH17 crash may also be less lending from European banks to Russian companies, which could make the Russian economy even more isolated on markets. The direct impact on European credit is likely to be contained however, as exposure to Russia is already limited (with the exception of Austrian banks), according to RBS. But in a worst-case scenario, Europe remains dependent on Russian gas. Today there is no risk as gas inventories are at five year highs (83%) but any cuts to supply could make several countries vulnerable during the winter.

– The US is imposing sanctions with the EU’s pocket. The US has very limited exposure to Russia, while the EU -and countries such as Italy or France in particular- are heavily exposed.


Additional read: Check Chris Weafer, one of the top experts on Russia, from Macro Advisory.


Important Disclaimer: All of Daniel Lacalle’s views expressed in this blog are strictly personal and should not be taken as buy or sell recommendations.

Sitting in a weak energy commodity environment

As I predicted, Brent lost all the geopolitical premium of the Iraq crisis to trade at $110.46/bbl as Libya exports rise to new highs offsetting the Iraq concerns, and showing how well supplied the market is. WTI moves to $103.77/bbl driven by increased US production, now at 11.7 mbpd.

Fighting between the Iraqi army & ISIS continues but with few developments over the weekend – the conflict remains well away from the main Iraqi oilfields in the south of the country. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is believed to have deployed 30,000 troops to its borders with Iraq. Furthermore, Jihadists of the Islamic State took control on Thursday 3 July of the Al Omar oil field in the east of Syria.Libyan production is currently 325,000 b/d.

Libya’s NOC officials said that they were considering lifting the force majeure on the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf terminals, which has been in place since August 2013. The Es Sider terminal holds between 3.5-5.5Mbbls of oil in storage, meaning new production is not needed to resume oil loadings. Es Sider and Ras Lanuf terminals accounts for 50% of Libya’s export capacity (or 500kbpd).

Coal loses ground at $77.70/mt and is below the key support of $78/mt. Highly unlikely to see it strengthen as summer sees more exports from Australia and South Africa.  Coal weakness shows the oversupply in the market, close to 20%.

Chinese thermal coal imports fell sharply in May, down -19% month-on-month seasonally adjusted and -20% y-o-y. The fall has been driven by declining thermal power generation due to broadly flat overall demand and improved hydro and renewables generation.

CO2 at €5.55/mt… The moment that backloading buying is reduced, it collapses…. Down 6% MTD.

US gas at $4.27/mmbtu as milder weather affects slightly the supply-demand balance. However, inventories are at 666 Bcf below last year’s 2,595 Bcf and 790 Bcf below the 5-year average. Still supportive.

The EIA reported an injection of 100 Bcf, matching forecasts of a 100 Bcf. U.S. working gas in storage is now at 1,929 Bcf, 29% below the five-year average of 2,719 Bcf and 26% below last year’s level of 2,595 Bcf. Weather forecasts for the U.S. over the next six to 10 days call for above-average temperatures on the West Coast and East Coast.

UK gas lost all the premium from the Ukraine crisis and more, down at 35.40p/th (-46% YTD) as inventories rise above 4,250mcm and demand weakens…. The contango is at 26p/th.

The EU levels of gas storage are truly high at this point. UK is at 83.28%, Germany at 76.80%, Netherlands at 98.7%, Spain at 94.5%, Italy at 76.80%… Only France remains oddly low at 54.75%.  These high levels of storage explain the weak gas prices despite Ukraine and the lack of concern from countries about security of supply.

Power prices continue to fall in Europe. German power is down at€34.20/mwh (-7.1% YTD), French power at €41.55/mwh (-6.4% YTD) and Nordpool at €31.20/mwh (-2.7% YTD)

Dr. Fatih Birol, IEA’s Chief Economist just gave some of the key conclusions from IEA’s World Energy Investment Outlook which was published last week.

Main conclusions:

1)            Over $22 trillion forecasted oil and gas capex over the next 20 years. Need for investment in Middle East oil production: Dr. Birol expressed concern over the current lack of appetite to invest in new oil and gas projects across the Middle East, despite oil prices at $110/bbl. If oil prices were to fall, the level of investment from both Middle East NOCs and global IOCs would be even lower. Over the next 20 years, the IEA estimates the Middle East will account for almost a third of global new oil production.

2)            LNG prices likely to remain high: There is now more than $700bn invested in LNG infrastructure, but the cost of shipping LNG around the world remains high. Dr. Birol highlighted that the cost of transporting gas via LNG is 10x that of crude. Despite low US gas prices, the additional liquefaction and transportation costs mean gas price differentials between the US and Europe/Asia are likely to persist for some time.

3)            In Europe, wholesale electricity prices are at least 20% too low: Over the next two decades, Europe needs $2.2 trillion to replace ageing electricity infrastructure and meet carbon targets. However, these investments will not happen under current market conditions, according to Dr. Birol. He highlighted that power prices are about 20% too low to recover costs on new investments. Weak power prices are the result of lacklustre demand and heavily subsidised renewables along with cheap coal imports from the US. Dr. Birol pointed out that total investments in European renewables so far have been three times the size of total investment in US shale gas production. With some overcapacity in the European system, there is some breathing space, but 100GW of thermal capacity is needed over the next decade to safeguard reliability.


Important Disclaimer: All of Daniel Lacalle’s views expressed in this blog are strictly personal and should not be taken as buy or sell recommendations.

China Energy Demand Stalls

China oil demand growth disappointed in May, with apparent demand contracting 1% year-on-year.

Consensus estimates +3-4% year-on-year oil demand growth forecast this year, which now needs to average c6% y/y growth from June onwards to be reached.

Natural gas supply growth recovered in May to +15% y-o-y after a disappointing 3% y-o-y growth in April. Imported gas remains c33% of China’s total supply

Thermal coal imports fell sharply in May, down -19% month-on-month seasonally adjusted and -20% y-o-y. The decline has been driven by declining thermal power generation due to broadly flat overall demand and improved hydro and renewables generation.

Fuel oil net imports (graph attached) fell to the second lowest on record for May and kerosene net exports reached a new high for the year. Apparent demand for fuel oil was extremely weak in May, down -32% y-o-y as industrial demand remains weak.

Agricultural imports fell steeply in May, most notably wheat and sugar – each down nearly 40% month-on-month seasonally adjusted. Better rainfall early in the year may lead to improved domestic harvests for a number of crops, reducing appetite for imports later in the year.

In aluminum I still see accelerating capacity addition.

At the higher end of the cost curve, Chalco Guizhou, Zhunyi, Yulong plan to restart 330kt old capacity after the local government granted a RMB12cent/kwh tariff subsidy. Gansu Hualu will restart 50kt old capacity. Baotou aluminum will start 150kt new capacity with captive power plant. Zhongfu has been granted RMB4cent/kwh on the power grid pass-through fee.

At the lower end of the cost curve, Shenhuo will complete the second 400kt capacity in Xinjiang. East Hope, Tianshan and Xinfa will complete 350kt, 500kt and 550kt additional capacity in 2H14.


Important Disclaimer: All of Daniel Lacalle’s views expressed in his books and this blog are strictly personal and should not be taken as buy or sell recommendations.