Signs point to a global slowdown

The Fed may be the last to realise that the US economy isn’t in good shape. Here’s what will happen once they finally catch on.

As gold has struggled through 2018, (down over 10% from $1,363/oz. on January 25 to $1,215/oz. today), my forecast for a strong year-end for gold has remained unchanged.

This forecast is based on a better-late-than-never realisation by the Fed that they are overtightening into fundamental economic weakness, followed quickly by a full-reversal flip to easing in the form of pauses on rate hikes in September and December.

Those pauses will be an admission the Fed sees no way out of its multiple rounds of QE and extended zero interest rate policy from 2008 to 2013 without causing a new recession.

Once that occurs, inflation is just a matter of time. Gold will respond accordingly.

Gold above $1,400/oz. by year-end is a distinct probability in my view. Even if gold rallies to the January 2018 high of $1,363/oz. by year-end, that’s an 11.5% gain in just a few months’ time.

Let’s drill down a bit.

Let’s start with the Fed. The reality of Fed tightening is beyond dispute. The Fed is raising interest rates 1% per year in four separate 0.25% hikes each March, June, September and December. (The exception is if the Fed “pauses” based on weak stock markets, employment, or disinflationary data, a subject to which we’ll return.)

The Fed is also slashing its balance sheet about $600 billion per year at its current tempo.

The equivalent rate hike impact of this balance sheet reduction is uncertain because this kind of shrinkage has never been done before in the 105-year history of the Fed. However, the best estimates are that the impact is roughly equivalent to another 1% rate hike per year.

Combining the actual rate hikes with the implied rate hikes of balance sheet reduction means the Fed is raising nominal rates about 2% per year starting from a zero rate level in late 2015.

Actual inflation has risen slightly, but not more than about 0.50% per year over the past six months. The bottom line is that real rates (net of inflation) are going up about 1.5% per year under current policy.

From a zero base line, that’s a huge increase.

Those rate hikes would be fine if the economy were fundamentally strong, but it’s not. Real growth in Q2 2018 was 4.1%, but over 4.7% of that real growth was consumption, fixed investment (mostly commercial) and higher exports (getting ahead of tariffs).

The other components were either small (government consumption was +0.4%) or negative (private inventories were -1.1%). Q2 growth looks temporary and artificially bunched in a single quarter. Lower growth and a levelling out seem likely in the quarters ahead.

The Fed seems oblivious to these in-your-face negatives. The Fed is extending its growth forecasts to yield 2.27% for Q3 and Q4, and expects 2.71% for 2018 as a whole.

That’s a significant boost from the 2.19% average real growth since the end of the last recession in June 2009.

By itself, that forecast offers no opening for a pause in planned Fed rate hikes or balance sheet reduction. The Fed is completely on track for more rate hikes, a reduced balance sheet, and no turning away from its current plans.

The Fed’s plan assumes all goes well with the economy over the rest of this year. That may be wishful thinking. Agricultural exports definitely surged in Q2 in an effort by Asian importers to take delivery of soya beans before tariffs were imposed.

The same can be said of specialised US manufacturing exports. US consumers went on a binge, but much of that was funded with credit cards where losses are already skyrocketing and a return to higher savings and less consumption has resulted.

A lot of the standout components in Q2 have already gone into reverse. Real annualised US GDP growth exceeded 4% four times in the past nine years only to head for near-zero or even negative real growth in the months that followed.

There’s no compelling reason to conclude that Q2 2018 will be any different. Data indicating performance close to recession levels will emerge in the next few months.

With Fed tightening and a weak economy on a collision course, the result might be a recession.

What’s my outlook for Fed policy, the US dollar, and other major currencies including gold? I use the most advanced analytical tools to assess the influence of global economic and political conditions on currency and capital markets.

I created these tools along with colleagues while working in capital markets intelligence at the CIA. My associates and I used information from capital markets as a predictive analytic tool to uncover threats from terrorists and other US adversaries in advance.

I use the same disciplines of complexity theory, applied mathematics, and dynamic systems analysis we used at CIA to spot hidden trends in markets that affect both exchange rates and asset valuations.

The single most important factor in the current analysis is that the US does not exist in a vacuum. The Q2 real growth quarterly rise in Eurozone GDP was a disappointment and further evidence that the ECB is still distant from its ultimate goal of normalising rates and its balance sheet as the Fed started in 2015.

Likewise, China’s PMI and related reports that arrived July 31 revealed a distinct slowdown in China, the world’s second-largest economy. The global impact of these conjoined European and Chinese slowdowns over the year ahead is shown clearly in Chart 1 below:

This mash-up of divergent critical paths among the world’s major economic blocks is best summarised in this downbeat July 31, 2018 synopsis from Capital Economics, a traditionally bullish voice:

“While global economic growth rebounded in Q2, it will probably slow again in the second half of this year and in 2019. The US will not be able to sustain annualised GDP growth of 4%, China’s economy is slowing steadily, and any pick-up in the euro-zone from a lacklustre first half is likely to be modest.”

Meanwhile, policy organs of the US other than the Fed are already joining forces to box-in the Chinese trading threat. A new announcement by the US, Australia, and Japan is clearly meant as a robust source of capital to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BNR).

This counter-BNR investment vehicle is of great geopolitical significance, but it will be financed by more government debt, which is already producing headwinds for indigenous growth in those three leading economies.

The Fed may be the last major body to see this data for what it is, but their realisation won’t take forever.

Toward the end of the third calendar quarter, the full extent of a global slowdown will be apparent even to the US central bank. The Fed’s response will be to pause their rate hike path either in September (if the data becomes clear by then) or certainly December.

The market will see this coming before the Fed. Expectations should include higher bond prices (based on lower expected yields-to-maturity) and higher gold prices (based on the perception that the Fed has thrown in the towel against inflation).

The time to position for this turnaround in gold prices is now.

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