Complete Intelligence


Trapped With Upside Capped For US Markets

This podcast is originally published by BFM: The Business Station for their Market Watch show. Here’s the link to the original content:

Can the Federal Reserve engineer a soft landing for the US economy? Are the odds stacked against them especially if consumer spending stops suddenly. Tony Nash, CEO, Complete Intelligence gives us his views.


BFM: The business station BFM 89 Nine is seven. 6th Thursday, the 1 September, and we are in the final quarter of the year. But nonetheless, we don’t need to look so far ahead because in the next half an hour, I’ll be speaking to Hannah Pearson of the travel consultancy Pet Anderson on Asian tourism recovery.

But in the meantime, let’s recap how global markets closed yesterday. So the Dow was down 0.9%, S&P 500 down 0.8%, while the Nasdaq was down 0.6%. Meanwhile, in Asia, Nikkei was down 0.4%, Hang Seng was up very marginally by 0.3%, Shanghai was down 0.8%, Singapore Street Times was up 0.6%, and our very own FBM KLCI was of course close due to the medical holiday.

But for more in terms of where global markets are heading, we have on the line with us Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence. Good morning, Tony. Now, the S&P 500, in fact, the US markets continue to slide, but the S&P 500 we know, is down by 4.2% on a monthly basis, even though US jobs and consumer numbers released this week were largely positive. So why is this bearish sentiment in the equity markets persisting?

TN: It’s pretty easy. Equity investors weren’t prepared for Powell to have the conviction to fighting inflation that he showed in last week’s speech. So everyone else, bond vestors, commodity investors and so on, understood Powell’s conviction.

But equity investors had expected the Fed to pivot. And by pivot, maybe coming close to loosening and maybe coming close to ending rate rises. But the Fed was never going to pivot. If anything, the pace of rate rises may slow, but the Fed’s ultimate destination is 4%. And they’ve said that for months.

So there really shouldn’t have been any surprise with that. But equity investors just didn’t want to believe it. And so they’re in price discovery, continuing lower now. So once they hit the valuation that will reflect getting to 4%, I think we’ll be back in decent territory. But until then, we’re in a downward price discovery mode.

BFM: Okay, Tony, the other thing that’s going to happen in next few weeks is of course, the Fed going to reduce their $9 trillion balance sheet. What kind of impact do you think this will have on markets?

TN: Well, it’s tighter. So it’s going to be more difficult. So in September, the Fed will double quantitative tightening. So they’ve been tightening at about 47.5 billion dollars per month. They’re going to more than double that to 95 billion in September. So it will definitely add upward pressure on interest rates.

And when there is upward pressure on interest rates, that means the cost of money is higher and the cost of buying a house is higher, and so on and so forth. And with respect to buying a house, the Fed is about $50 billion behind on shrinking their mortgage-backed securities portfolio. So they do have some catching up to do, but they’ve got time on their side. They can do it at whatever pace they want.

BFM: Okay. In the meantime, right, let’s look at the US consumer. Super important in the US. Economy, but at least 60% of GDP. Do you have a sense of what’s happening there? Are they still very confident? Are they still buying, especially discretionary spending? Has it been robust?

TN: I don’t necessarily think. You have a separation. You have luxury buyers who are very confident. But I think your average buyer, I don’t necessarily think there’s a lot of confidence behind their buying. I think they’re just trying to maintain their pace of spending.

So spending continues to grow, but consumer credit has also expanded. Visa, I think, two days ago said that their payments volume grew by 11%. So that’s not the value. I mean, you could say with inflation, of course, the value is going to go up, but they saw their payments volume go up by 11%. Part of that is due to things like back to school here in the US. The school year starts in late August, early September.

But until consumers stop growing their spending, the Fed will keep raising because the Fed, part of what they’ve been trying to do is what’s called demand destruction. And until consumers and businesses stop raising the pace of their spending, the Fed will continue raising interest rates in tightening conditions.

BFM: But doesn’t this then just mean that the US is officially in a recession? Because you’re basically sending out signals to the market that the economy needs to slow down. And if we continue to do so, we’ve already seen two-quarters of it, right, which means it’s a technical recession. How bad will this recession really be? I mean, it will be official at some point.

TN: Yeah, I really honestly don’t care if we’re in a recession or not. If two quarters is the rule of thumb, then we’re in a recession. And we’ve been in a recession since Q1. So it’s really just a matter of labeling.

I think the difficulty is, as you say, what’s the impact on, say, business growth, job growth, spending growth? And we’re seeing that the job market has remained pretty strong, spending growth has remained pretty strong. And the concern is, will that stop? When will that stop? And I think we have seen things slow down, at least in terms of economic growth, but a lot of that has been around government spending as well.

So things will likely become dramatically slower in 2023 if the Republicans take over the US. House of Representatives, which controls the budget. So if Republicans take over the House, they will put a stop on a lot of the spending bills that the Biden administration continues to want to pass, and they’ll be more budget conscious. So government spending may not necessarily decline, but the pace of the rise will stop. And so government spending has been what’s been keeping, say, GDP and other things moving, but that will likely stop if Republicans take over Congress.

BFM: Okay, but what about the Fed, the actions of the Fed? Because so far it seems like markets are looking to them for engineering a soft landing in the US. Do you think they’ll succeed, though, or are we going to look at the politicians for doing so?

TN: It all depends. Well, not all. A lot of it depends on the Fed’s actions this month, in September. So if the Fed slows the pace of rate rises, let’s say to 50 basis points instead of 75, they’re signaling that they’re willing to slow down a bit with the destination remaining 4%.

So if the Fed were to come and say, a 25 basis point rise, then that would be a real signal that, yes, they’re definitely committed to getting to four, but they’re willing to slow down to get us to four by, say, Q1, maybe late Q1 of ’23. And I think that would be a signal to equity investors that the Fed understands and they’re okay if some of these valuations continue to be stretched.

If we see a 25 basis point rise, which I don’t think anybody is really calling for in September, then that would be a real kind of green light from the Fed. I think we’re likely to see 50. 75 is also likely, but I think 50 is slightly more likely. So we’ll likely see 50 and then a few 25s. And that’ll get us to four in, I think, December or January. And at that point, the Fed is just going to reassess and figure out kind of which strategy to pick after that.

BFM: So is it too optimistic to say that maybe we might have a year-end rally for US. Markets? What do you think?

TN: It’s possible. I wouldn’t necessarily count on it. Again, I think the upside is capped for a period because of the uncertainty of the Fed, at least until we have clarity on the September signaling. So if they do raise 75 in September, then that likely means we have a couple of 25 rises in October, November, something like that. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to stop. All it means is that they’re going to reassess and the beatings will continue effectively.

BFM: What about oil, though? It’s now $89 a barrel for WTI. Why have prices come under pressure so much?

TN: Well, the Saudis came out with a statement last week around the gap between the paper value of oil and the physical market. And they have been talking about cutting their output because of the difference, the broad difference between the physical market and the paper market. And so I think when we see falls like this, it just convicts the Saudis more. Unless there’s political pressure put on them, it just convicts them more to cut their output.

The Saudis, the Emiratis and others have come together and said we’re likely going to slower output. Part of this is also putting pressure on the Iran deal, assuming that there’s more capacity from Iran. So if exports from Iran are normalized, then that could put downside pressure on the price. So the Saudis are just trying to keep the price up.

Within that context, we also have to look at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve releases in the US. So that will end in October unless they slow down the pace of the SPR release, but that effectively cuts off supply to the market. And so when the SPR release ends and if the Saudis cut their output, we could have a spike in crude prices, say in Q4.

That’s kind of what we’re expecting is for crude prices to rise into the end of the year. The US midterm elections will be passed as Saudis will likely cut their output. Other OPEC countries will likely cut their output. And the US SPR release will be done. Unless the Russia-Ukraine war ends, which would put crude in the open market, we do expect to see crude price rises towards the end of the year.

BFM: All right, thank you for your time. That was Tony Nash, CEO of Complete Intelligence, telling us that we can expect Brent crude prices to actually perhaps go up for the last quarter of the year as there are more output cuts despite some of the demand destruction we are seeing because of the global economic slowdown.