Summary: Financial conditions loosening over the past six weeks were a natural evolution of the US economy improving in July, but the Fed is poised to hike potentially 75 basis points at the September meeting to tighten financial conditions even more as the nominal economy is still running too hot to get inflation meaningfully lower. The most likely scenario is weaker equities as winter approaching as the energy crisis will hurt.
Financial conditions will soon begin tightening again
S&P 500 futures are trading 3.4% lower from their high last week touching the 200-day moving average before rolling over again. Sentiment has shifted as the market is slowly pricing less rate cuts for next year with Fed Funds futures curve on Friday (the blue line) has shifted lower compared to a week ago (the purple line) as inflationary pressures are expected to ease as much as betted on by the market over the past month.
Fed member Bullard recently said that he was leaning towards 75 basis points rate cut at the September FOMC meeting to cool the economy further. If the Fed goes with 75 basis points while the real economy is seeing lower activity it will mean that financial conditions will begin tightening more relative to the economic backdrop. Financial conditions have been loosening since June but expectation is that we will see another leg of tightening to levels eclipsing the prior high and with that US equities will likely roll over.
S&P 500 futures are now well below the 4,200 level and currently in the congestion zone from before the last leg higher. The next gravitational point to the downside is the 4,100 and below that just above 4,000. December put options on the S&P 500 are currently bid around $208 which roughly a 5% premium for getting three-month downside protection at-the-money.
The US is headed for a recession, but when?
US financial conditions eased in July lifting equities and with good reasons we can see. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (the broadest measure of economic activity) rose to 0.27 in July from -0.25 in June suggesting a significant rebound in economic activity. The rebound was broad-based across all the four major sub categories in the index with the production index rising the most.
The three-month average is still -0.09 with -0.7 being the statistical threshold for when this indicator suggests that the US economy is in a recession. The probability is therefore still elevated for a recession but the slowdown in the US economy has eased which is positive factor for US equity markets. Predicting the economy is difficult but our thesis going into the winter months on the Northern hemisphere is that it is very difficult to avoid a recession, at least in real terms, when the economy is facing an energy crisis. The most likely scenario is that the US economy will slide into a nominal recession but continue at a fast clip in nominal terms.
China is facing a 2008-style rescue of its real estate sector
We have written earlier this year about the downfall of Evergrande and the other Chinese real estate developers. The stress in China’s real estate sector was a big theme earlier this year but has since faded, but recently the Chinese central bank has eased rates and today the government is planning a $29bn rescue package of special loans for troubled developers. Tensions in Chinese real estate are weighing down on the economy through lower consumer confidence and investors are increasingly reducing exposure to China has we have highlighted in our daily podcast.
The PBoC (central bank) is urging banks to maintain steady growth of lending, but with the market value of banks relative to assets having declined for many years the market is no longer viewing the credit extension as driven by sound credit analysis, but more as an extended policy tool of the government with unknown but likely less good credit quality.