There is a saying that “football fans watch the ball - experts watch the line of scrimmage.”
It may be a good analogy for anyone evaluating the game happening in the stock market these days. Our quarterback, Donald Trump, has been tossing the ball all over the place and the scoreboard has never been more fun to watch. Stocks are at all-time highs. The consumer confidence index is hovering at 125 and sitting at levels not seen since the peak of the dot-com boom in 1999. Fans of the game love it.
No doubt the playbook and the economic policies of the Trump administration have been of huge benefit to the equity markets. The tax cut, repatriation and fiscal stimulus have brought out the “animal spirits.”
These policies have allowed the ball to be thrown deep and fans of the game can only see higher scores in the future. This is an offense that is aggressive, taking chances, and scoring. While Trump may control the ball, Jerome Powell controls the line of scrimmage.
Our line of scrimmage, which has been dominated by the offensive line of ultra-low interest rates and trillions of dollars in monetary stimulus for the last seven years, is about to lose significant ground.
The Jerome Powell-led Federal Reserve will tighten rates once again Wednesday and the fed-funds rate will be raised to a range of 2% -2.25%. As if that move were not big enough news, the Fed will also remove $50 billion from its balance sheet every month beginning on October 1.
This is a one-two punch of defensive tightening. This defense is now going to be putting more and more pressure on the quarterback as inflation and rising costs of borrowing gain momentum. The game is about to look much different.
While fans of the game have never been more excited, the experts have rarely been this foreboding. The lines of scrimmage they are focused on are monetary policy, rising interests rates, rising debt, and the inevitable rising costs to servicing that debt.
"Bond King" Jeffrey Gundlach has called this combination “a fiscal suicide mission” for the United States. Other market experts, like Jim Grant, are focused on the long-term health of King Dollar, which he argues cannot be sustained as debt and costs surge together.
Recent books by Howard Marks ("Mastering the Market Cycle"), Ray Dalio ("Big Debt Crises"), and yours truly ("Gold Is A Better Way") have become national bestsellers and point to the challenges our massive global debt faces in a rising interest rate environment.
What happens next in our equity markets is anyone’s guess. If you are a fan, you are probably focusing your immediate attentions on the trade wars and impacts from the tariffs as the biggest potential risks facing the markets and hoping we keep scoring. The good news for you is this trade war has had not had any negative impact on the United States equity markets runaway train.
While other countries have been pummeled with currency and stock market devaluations, we here in the U.S. have plowed through all potential dangers to hit higher and higher highs. The more we score, the more invincible we feel and the more emboldened our quarterback Trump is to taunt our opponents, “throw deep,” and ramp up the economic pressure.
While fans are watching that ball, the smart money is focused on the more important fundamentals happening at the line and in the trenches. Just this past week interest rates rose dramatically.
The 10-year Treasury, which began the week at 2.92%, ended the week at 3.07% and has continued to climb higher in early trading this week. The 30-year Treasury is holding the line at 3.2%, and is currently offering a mere 13 basis points higher than the 10 year.
We should not forget that just three years ago in 2015, this gap was closer to 75 basis points. As short-term rates go higher, and long-term rates hold steadier, the yield curve flattens, rewarding short-term investors with higher yield while smart money investors in longer-term debt are less rewarded. This divergence occurs when the short-term rate policies of the Fed are misaligned with longer-term bondholder expectations. For now it appears that the long-term smart money is not as bullish as Fed policy and that the yield curve will could continue to compress and is in jeopardy of inverting.
When the yield curve inverts, it’s a sure sign that recession will soon to follow. Every time in history that the yield curve has inverted we have been followed by recession.
Which is why if you are a fan of the game, rather than continuing to focus on the ball, perhaps it’s time to focus on Powell and the Fed and as they continue their shift from an offensive to a defensive line. That is where the real action occurs and what the smart money is focused on.
Adam Baratta is the author of the national best selling book "Gold Is A Better Way." He is one of the leading voices in the field of investments and precious metals today. Adam is the co-owner of Advantage Gold, the highest rated precious metal firms in the country, and the creator of the educational member site, www.goldisabetterway.com.
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