Sunday, April 8, 2018

Watch the Fed, not the trade war noise

Preface: Explaining our market timing models
We maintain several market timing models, each with differing time horizons. The "Ultimate Market Timing Model" is a long-term market timing model based on the research outlined in our post, Building the ultimate market timing model. This model tends to generate only a handful of signals each decade.

The Trend Model is an asset allocation model which applies trend following principles based on the inputs of global stock and commodity price. This model has a shorter time horizon and tends to turn over about 4-6 times a year. In essence, it seeks to answer the question, "Is the trend in the global economy expansion (bullish) or contraction (bearish)?"

My inner trader uses the trading component of the Trend Model to look for changes in the direction of the main Trend Model signal. A bullish Trend Model signal that gets less bullish is a trading "sell" signal. Conversely, a bearish Trend Model signal that gets less bearish is a trading "buy" signal. The history of actual out-of-sample (not backtested) signals of the trading model are shown by the arrows in the chart below. The turnover rate of the trading model is high, and it has varied between 150% to 200% per month.

Subscribers receive real-time alerts of model changes, and a hypothetical trading record of the those email alerts are updated weekly here.

The latest signals of each model are as follows:
  • Ultimate market timing model: Buy equities*
  • Trend Model signal: Bullish*
  • Trading model: Bullish*
* The performance chart and model readings have been delayed by a week out of respect to our paying subscribers.

Update schedule: I generally update model readings on my site on weekends and tweet mid-week observations at @humblestudent. Subscribers receive real-time alerts of trading model changes, and a hypothetical trading record of the those email alerts is shown here.

Fade the trade war jitters
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." We've seen this movie before on trade. The White House begins the process with tough and inflammatory rhetoric, only to see the threats walked back or watered down later.

Consider the case of the steel and aluminum tariffs, which were levied for national security reasons. The initial announcement shocked the market, but the Trump administration eventually walked back most of their effects by providing exemptions for Canada, Mexico, the EU, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and South Korea. Um, those exemptions account for over half of American steel imports. What "national security" considerations are we referring to?

The KORUS deal is another example. The agreement was hailed as a great victory by the Trump administration, but the tweaks were only cosmetic in nature. The South Koreans agreed to two concessions. In return for an indefinite exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs, Seoul agreed to a steel export quota to the US, but the quotas are toothless because they are contrary to WTO rules and could be challenged at anytime. In addition, South Korea doubled the ceiling on American cars that don't conform to Korean standards which could imported into that country. The ceiling increase was meaningless because US automakers were not selling enough cars under the old ceiling. In other words, the KORUS free trade deal was a smoke and mirrors exercise and a face saving out of a potential trade war.

The NAFTA negotiations followed a similar pattern of using bluffs as a tactic, and reacting afterwards. Trump began the process by declaring the free trade agreement "unfair" and "terrible". He then threatened to tear up the treaty. The latest news from Bloomberg indicates that American negotiators are pushing very hard to have an agreement in principle in place by the Peru Summit of the Americas that begin April 13 next week. How much leverage will the American side have if the other negotiators know that Trump wants a deal by next week? Much work needs to be done before an agreement in principle can be made, but watch for more climbdowns and a declaration of "victory" by the White House.

So why worry about a possible trade war with China? Investors worried about equity downside risk should instead focus on the likely direction of monetary policy. New Deal democrat recently outlined a simple recession model which states that whenever the YoY change in the Fed Funds rate rose above the annual change to employment, a recession has followed within a year.

As the Fed normalizes monetary policy, it is on the verge of making a policy error where it tightens into a weakening expansion and crashes the economy. Recessions have invariably translated into equity bear markets in the past. That's why investors should look past the trade war noise and focus on monetary policy.

The full post can be found at our new site here.

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