Here’s Why There Will Be More Bad Days Like Monday

Monday was a terrible day in the stock market. The S&P 500 had a new closing low for the year. It briefly touched a new intraday low. In my book, this is a bear market, despite the media nonsense that it’s only a bear market if it’s down 20%. By the time the market averages are down that much, many mutual funds and individual stocks will be down more. Would you want to sit through that?

I hope that you followed my advice earlier in the year, and took your money home and let it hug you while everyone else was feeling the pain. If you have, great!

If you haven’t, the months ahead will not be easy. But it’s not too late to get out. If you have been in the market for the better part of the past 9 years, you still have enormous gains, courtesy of the Fed QE bubble. Now, I see the rallies that will surely come as gifts to you. Santa may yet be coming to town.  

I’d accept these gifts gratefully and take advantage to lighten up big time. Bear markets typically last 18 to 30 months and this one is just starting. I see no reason why it might be more benign than is typical. 

Along with my suggestions on what to do about it, here are some of the reasons why I think the markets are still headed lower for a long time.

They relate not just to the Fed taking money out of the banking system every month, which we have talked about a lot over the past year. They also have to do with a yawning, and still widening Federal Budget deficit.

The US Treasury is kind enough to keep us up to date on that every day with its Daily Treasury Statement (DTS), released one day after the fact. That’s real time data on the state of the US economy. Then once a month, usually on the 12th or 13th, it reports the Monthly Treasury Statement. The MTS ties up a few loose ends from the DTS and breaks down a few categories of tax collections into more granular data that is highly revealing. This includes details on Social Security taxes and Excise taxes that are not available in the DTS. I give you a peak at that data here, and I report on it in depth in my Wall Street Examiner Federal Revenues reports.

Back in October, I wrote, “Business people take their cues from the stock market. When stocks collapse, both real investment and the broader economy will follow. Part of the reason that the stock market will collapse (OK, I need to amend that to “is collapsing”) is that the tax cut has sharply cut revenues. That money must be borrowed via increased Treasury issuance. With the Fed pulling money out of the market, that new supply of Treasury debt can’t digested by the market without something being liquidated. That something is stocks and bonds.”

You can see the impact of the tax cuts and increased Federal spending in these charts.   

The deficit has been gradually widening since January 2016. The tax cut and 2018 budget agreement spending have exacerbated the trend.

This was entirely predictable and predicted. Even a couple of government agencies predicted it. Back in April I reported that the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) forecast that the tax cut would at $280 billion to the deficit in 2018. Then in September I reported that the JCT and Congressional Budget office were projection average $100 billion per month deficit as far as the eye could see. Even  the White House Budget Office agreed.

I wrote back in  April, “This increase in the deficit will cause an increase in an already heavy Treasury supply forecast, which will pressure all markets.”

In addition, I reported back then, “Particularly shocking is that the CBO projects that revenue losses due to the tax cut will continue until 2026. Here are the CBO’s projected deficits for the next 10 years. It projects increasing deficits and thus increases in Treasury supply for the next 8 years.

The news is worse than that. The deficit for 2019 is already on track to be a couple hundred billion higher than the  CBO projected. The government must fund that by borrowing money in  the market in the form of long term bonds, medium term notes, and short term bills.

Remember, in the bad old days of QE, the Fed printed and pumped enough money into Primary Dealer accounts to fund every dollar of new Treasury supply. Today, they’re not only funding zero new supply, they’re actually taking money out of the system and forcing the Treasury to borrow even more, to raise the cash to pay off the paper that the Fed is redeeming.

With the tax cut, the year over year change in Federal tax receipts is now averaging only zero, as shown by the 12 month moving average (red line) on the rate of change indicator.

The idea that cutting taxes increases revenues is false, so this is no surprise. There’s no sign of improving momentum either. There’s no sign that the tax cuts will stimulate enough growth to generate an increase in revenues. 

In February, I warned that, “With the tax cut acting as economic stimulus economic data will probably strengthen over the next several months at least. That should make the Fed even more determined to stay the course of tightening.” That has happened.

The economic data has continued showing moderate growth. There’s nothing in  the current tax data to suggest a meaningful change in that. The Fed is under pressure to slow its rate increases. We’ll know Wednesday afternoon whether it responds to that pressure.  

I don’t know how the market will respond to the Fed’s announcement on  Wednesday, whether it delays a rate increase or not. What I do know is that, in the big picture, it does not matter. This is what matters.   

Tax receipts as a percentage of outlays reached their lowest November level since 2012. There’s no sign that all this stimulus will boost growth any more than it has.

This will assure that the flow of new Treasury debt to the market will remain gargantuan. That will pressure all markets for a long time.  It will last until the Fed reverses policy, restarts QE, and helps the market to absorb the endless flood of Treasury supply coming its way.

The 10 year note has fallen from 3.25% in yield to around 2.83% over the past 2 months. The 2 year note has come down from 2.97 to 2.67.  But short term T-bill rates have been sticky near the highs. The 13 week bill is at 2.41%, which is only 3 basis points off the high it reached only a week ago. Rates and yields should head higher under the pressure of new supply in the coming weeks. 

The Treasury will need to continue to issue immense amounts of debt that will pressure the markets. All signs point toward liquidity continuing to tighten. Under the circumstances, I would continue to avoid being long stocks and bonds. That applies to US Treasury notes and bonds of 2 years duration and longer. I would hold and roll over Treasury bills of less than one year duration. The rates on short term bills should continue to rise.

The time will come to lock in longer term yields. We’re not there yet.

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3 Responses to “Here’s Why There Will Be More Bad Days Like Monday”

  1. Hi Lee. I have been following your column religiously since it first appeared. Everything you were saying made perfect sense but the market was responding differently. In fact and as you pointed out your calls were a bit early but spot on nonetheless. I have been following your Put plays on the SPY and have had some really good success. after Monday and today what would be the S&P level to buy more Puts?

  2. Fed may actually stop their normalization or drop it way down or will if market continues dropping which when and if they do should create a monster rally…Trump even surprised me with at tweet about it yesterday as stop the “50 B’s”

  3. Lee, is this true or is Fed action scheduled for later this month?
    Nomi Prins Posted December 14, 2018: The Fed knows it is currently in a catch-22. That’s why over the last two weeks, it has barely sold any of its assets as volatility in the markets picked up.

    Here’s something else you might not know: Two weeks ago, it even quietly increased its book of assets. That’s the opposite of the policy of unwinding, or selling its assets through quantitative tightening (QT), which is what Chairman Powell promised he would be doing.

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