Dashboard update: bond yields fall with renewed demand for safe assets and lower interest rate expectations

Monitor more than 80 economic indicators with the macro and markets dashboard:

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United States Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard: Updated June 11, 2016

Dashboard weekly update summary:

The latest labor market data show continued overall improvement in wages and low levels of new jobless claims, offering some consolation after the surprisingly weak May jobs report (see last week’s update). Equity market volatility increased, however, as already lackluster global growth forecasts were revised down by the World Bank. Domestic and foreign investors are shifting their portfolio of assets to fixed streams of income. Global bond yields, including on U.S. government and corporate debt, fell considerably during the past week’s rally. Investors are searching for higher returns on safe assets and responding to lower interest rate expectations.

Wages grow faster than productivity

Narrowing a long and persistent gap between productivity and wage growth, recent data suggest wages have been increasing in many industries. For most of the past decade, worker’s productivity (the output for each hour of work) grew more rapidly than their wages. The gap was in part from technology making work more efficient, but it also came from a weak labor market. An economy in which there are many qualified workers for each opening makes workers less likely to quit and more likely to accept no or small increases in wages. Companies simply do not need to rely on pay increases as a motivation when fear of unemployment is very strong.

While wage growth crawled along for a decade, productivity growth remained strong. Recent data suggest, however, that the long upward trend in productivity may be facing at least a hiccup. Meanwhile, overall measures show wages have been growing at a reasonable pace since mid-2014. Revised first quarter 2016 index data on wages and productivity shows the former nearly catching the latter.

wageout_jun112016

When oil prices fall, for example, there is a transfer of wealth from the stakeholders of oil producers (who face a fall in revenue) to households (who spend less on fuel and energy). Likewise, a fall or stagnation in corporate profits can result in an increase in worker’s relative share of output. Wages, unlike commodity or stock prices, tend not to be cut. Where the past year has seen labor markets and workers’ bargaining power improve, it has seen productivity and corporate profits stagnate.

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Additionally, data for the week of June 4 on new claims of joblessness was strong, with only 264,000 such claims. Overall, reasonable wage increases, an increasing labor share of output, and low headline unemployment paint a better picture for households and aggregate demand than the last jobs report’s payroll growth and participation rate data suggest. That said, labor market improvements are traditionally slow and gradual, while deterioration is rapid and steep. The June jobs report should therefore have major implications for the Fed’s rate hike decision.

Equity market volatility climbs

U.S. equity markets gains over the first four trading days of the week were erased on Friday by a large sell off. The CBOE volatility index, VIX, increased to 17 from 13.5 a week earlier. The bond rally described below suggests that there has been a flight to safety. Investors have been adjusting in part to new forecasts of generally lower global growth. Likewise, there are several large events on the horizon (brexit, elections, central bank policy divergence, etc.) suggesting fluctuations and jumps in equity markets (as well as debt and forex markets).

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Bond markets rally as investors seek safe assets and interest rate expectations fall

Over the past week, U.S. treasury bonds, t-bills, and corporate bond yields fell. Elsewhere, ten-year German bund yields are nearly negative and Japanese ten-year government bond yields have fallen to -0.13%. People’s tolerance for extremely low returns is limited, and U.S. government debt offers a relatively higher return. During the past week, ten-year U.S. treasury bonds reached a four year low, partially as a result of strong foreign demand.

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The spread between 10-year and 2-year treasuries sits currently at a nine-year low. Potential causes for the flat yield curve include the following: 1) investor search for return driving driving down long- and medium-duration bond yields, 2) investor fear of a business cycle downturn and a near future need for monetary easing, and 3) lower interest rate expectations as a result of recent data taking June (and potentially July) rate hikes off the table.

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Check out the full dashboard for more than 80 indicators of U.S. economic activity:

U.S. Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard, June 11, 2016

I also updated the dashboard for Japan:

Japan Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard, June 11, 2016

 

 

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Dashboard update: consumer-side improvement and other reasons not to worry

Dashboard PDF file:

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (May 14, 2016)
Dashboard Update Summary

Surprisingly good April retail sales growth and preliminary signs of strong May consumer sentiment suggest a continued strengthening of consumer spending. Higher wages and low but rising inflation expectations boost individuals’ willingness to make discretionary purchases. Recent quarterly earnings data suggest that these purchases are increasingly taking place through Amazon and online retailers rather than department stores. Equities were lower over the past five trading days, partially as a result of poor earnings data from the latter. Jobless claims increased in the first week of May, but remain within a reasonable range. The yield curve flattened during the week as the spread between ten-year treasury bonds and three-month t-notes fell to its lowest level since February. The dollar appreciated against most major currencies.

Consumer sentiment and spending rising

Retail sales excluding food increased year over year by 2.7 percent in April. This is the second largest increase since January 2015 (the largest in the past 15 months was in February). In April, Retails sales overall were up three percent over the previous year and up a surprising 1.3 percent over the previous month. Many online retailers, including Amazon, had their strongest-ever quarter in Q1. Meanwhile, this week’s earnings releases from Nordstrom, Kohl’s, and Macy’s shows a continuation in consumers’ pivot away from U.S. department stores. U.S. equities closed lower on the week, with the S&P down half a percent, the Nasdaq down 0.4 percent, and the Dow down 1.2 percent.

retailsales_may132016

Prices remain low with some hills on the horizon

The uptick in retail sales can be attributed in part to higher wages for consumers, as evidenced in recent labor market data. Additionally, fuel prices remain low, yet there is some sign that movement is towards increasing price levels, which incentivizes spending today, especially given a very low return on savings. The April producer price index (PPI), which measures how prices of the inputs to production change, was released this week. The PPI for all commodities (intermediate demand) increased to a -4 percent year over year change, from -4.8. Energy prices fell less dramatically in the twelve month period ending in April. Oil prices climbed 3.5 percent during the past week, but remain below $50 a barrel, at $46.21.

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Jobless claims rise

The number of new jobless claims during the week of May 7 was higher at 294,000. While the highest level of new jobless claims since February of 2015 may seem startling, the level is still low and the increasing bargaining power of labor makes voluntarily leaving a job less scary.

weeklyjobless_may132016

Yield curve flattens as foreign investors avoid negative yields

Another potentially startling indicator is the flattening of treasury yield curves, but again, there is an explanation to assuage concern. The yield spread between ten-year treasuries their three-month t-bill counterpart fell to 1.43 on Friday, from 1.6 a week earlier, as ten-year yields fell and three-month yields rose. Likewise, the spread between ten- and two-year treasuries fell. While this indicator is a potential bad omen, we must remember that foreign inflows to treasury auctions have been increased by negative interest rates in many EU countries and Japan. For example, as ten-year Japanese Government Bond yields remain negative, Japanese investors increasingly shift portfolios to the U.S. government equivalent.

yieldspread_may132016

Dollar appreciates against trading partners

Lastly, the U.S. dollar was stronger against most major currencies during the past week. The dollar appreciated by 1.4 percent against the Yen, by 3.5 percent against the Rand, by 0.85 percent against the Euro, and by half a percent against the British Pound.

I’ve redesigned the exchange rates table to be quicker to read, and include it below.

fx_may132016
Rates above as of May 13, 2016

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Dashboard update: data marches forward

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (March 5, 2016 — PDF)

This week brought more strong labor market data and more relief for commodity markets. Equity markets were also up on the week, while treasury and high-grade bond yields remain low. Decomposition of broad equity market growth shows that investors are still risk-off. Value stocks have climbed while riskier investments still seem reasonably priced, providing additional evidence that risk aversion persists.

February jobs data showed continued tightening of U.S. labor markets. The unemployment rate remains 4.9 percent while the labor force participation rate increased by two tenths of a percent to 62.9, a one-year high.

CIVPART_mar052016

The S&P 500 closed on Friday at 1999.99, as if priced by a nineties consumer psychologist. The index climbed 2.7 percent during the week. A crude decomposition shows value opportunities favored over growth opportunities so far in 2016. Year-to-date, the S&P 500 Growth ETF is down 3.03 percent, while the S&P 500 Value ETF is down only 0.37 percent.

SP500_mar052016

Meanwhile, treasury bond yields remain very low. The real yield curve rate on a five year U.S. treasury bond was negative on Thursday, at -0.03%, and closed Friday at 0.02%. People are willing to sacrifice returns for the relative safety of government debt. Japan issued new ten year bonds with a negative yield for the first time this week. Investors clearly do expect the markets to adjust so that these safe assets provide some future positive yield, but are willing to pay the government of Japan for short-term security.

FiveYrReal_mar052016

While equity and commodity markets have become gradually less volatile over the past two weeks, foreign exchange markets continue to move in all directions, reflecting both stories–commodities relief and risk aversion. I’ve pasted below the full table from my dashboard. Over the past week, the dollar returned some of the previous week’s gains against the pound, but continued to strengthen against the euro and yen. Notably, the Brazilian real strengthened four percent against the dollar during the past week.

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Dashboard update: adjusting the tools

Macro and Markets Dashboard: Japan (February 20, 2016 — PDF)

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (February 20, 2016 — PDF)

Given a relatively calm week for markets, I’m going to make a more procedural update this week and share two developments with my tools. First, I’m including a draft dashboard for Japan. Second, I’ll be sprinkling in some bar chart plots, which I hope dig a bit deeper into some interesting time series.

The draft dashboard for Japan still needs a lot of work, but provides a few interesting indicators of macro and market conditions in the land of the rising sun. For example, Japanese government bonds (JGBs) were in the news when the BOJ negative interest rate policy pushed yields on ten year bonds negative. While the shorter-duration bond yields are still negative, ten year yields are now virtually flat (see below). JGB_Feb202016

Additionally, I’ve developed some bar plots for looking deeper into changes to prices. Below, I include the decomposition of the Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index into selected categories. I’ve used the 12-month percentage change to individual CPI and PPI series in this example. Hopefully, I can integrate these charts into the main dashboard, over the coming weeks. We can see from this example, that health care costs continue to rise more rapidly than other costs, and that the fall in energy prices slowed during January.

Prices_Feb202016