One of the questions most commonly asked by investors is why the economy has been so sluggish in recent years despite the Fed's efforts at stimulating it?
This question was recently asked of former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner by Time magazine. His answer was that Americans are still "still living with the scars" of the credit crisis, implying that the reason for the slow pace of recovery is more psychological than anything. His answer is unsatisfactory, however, since it obscures the deeper reason behind the slow growth era of the last few years.
A more academic attempt at answering this question was also made recently by economist Ed Yardeni. Dr. Yardeni asserts that the ultra-easy money policies of central banks may actually be keeping a lid on inflation by boosting capacity. He cites China's borrowing binge of recent years, which "financed lots of excess capacity, as evidenced by its PPI, which has been falling for the past 26 months."
Yardeni also noted that conditions are especially easy among advanced economies. "Rather than stimulating demand and consumer price inflation," he writes, "easy money has boosted asset prices. It has also facilitated financial engineering, especially stock buybacks."
The answer as to why demand has remain muted while inflation has remained in check these last few years can be easily summarized in terms of the long-term cycle of inflation and deflation. The 60-year cycle, which bottoms in just a few short months, has been in its "hard down" phase for the last several years. The down phase of the cycle acts as a major drag on inflationary pressure; more specifically, it actually creates deflationary undercurrents and sometimes even leads to periodic outbreaks of major deflationary pressure in the economy (as it did in 2008). This cycle explains why, despite record amounts of money creation by the Fed since 2008, inflation hasn't been a problem for the U.S. economy.
The term "financial engineering" is one we've heard a lot lately. It involves companies repurchasing their own shares in order to reduce supply, thus increasing earnings-per-share. This in turn boosts stock prices, thus perpetuating a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Financial engineering has been spectacularly successful since 2009 mainly due to the influence of the deflationary cycle. Because the 60-year cycle is in decline, it suppresses interest rates and thereby makes stock dividends attractive by comparison. When a new long-term inflationary cycle begins in 2015, however, this technique will eventually become less effective. When inflationary pressures become noticeable in the next few years, "financial engineering" will lose most, if not all, of its impact in boosting stock prices.
Another facet of the 60-year cycle is interest rates. Interest rates have remained at or near multi-decade lows since 2009 with the deflationary cycle in its "hard down" phase. This has also made it much easier to facilitate financial engineering. One of the primary motives behind the Fed's Quantitative Easing (QE) policies that began in November 2008 was to keep interest rates artificially low in order to decrease the cost of debt servicing and to help resuscitate the housing market. The Fed has begun tapering the scale of its asset purchases to the tune of $10 billion/month with plans to completely end QE by the end of this year. The Fed then plans to unwind its $4 trillion balance sheet and allow interest rates to steadily increase.
Robert Campbell of The Campbell Real Estate Timing Letter believes this puts the Fed between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" since the Fed may be tempted to keep rates artificially low, yet doing so would create a potential catastrophe for pension plans and insurance companies which need higher rates. "Thus the Fed may have to let interest rates rise to prevent the pension catastrophe from becoming even worse," he writes. Indeed, rising interest rates are part and parcel of the inflationary aspect of the 60-year cycle We should eventually expect to see a gradual rising trend in coming years as the new inflationary cycle becomes established.
While we're on the subject of the 60-year cycle, a reader asks: "How volatile or troublesome for markets do you see this descent into October's Kress cycle low? Also, do you really think equities could kick on further from the heights they've already achieved?"
In answer to the first question, the odds are low that the coming final descent of the 60-year cycle into October will be extremely troublesome for the financial market. The long-term Kress cycle theory promises at least one major crash - the type that occurs maybe once every 60-80 years - during the "hard down" phase of the 60-year cycle. Mr. Kress defined the hard down phase as the final 8-12% of any cycle's duration, which averages out to 10%. Ten percent of 60 years is six years, which if we subtract from 2014 (when the cycle is due to bottom) brings us back to 2008. That's exactly when the credit crisis happened, which I believe was the once-in-a-lifetime crash that Mr. Kress predicted.
History shows that sometimes market crashes occur somewhat ahead of scheduled cycle bottoms due to the influence of investor psychology. If investor sentiment is too frothy and markets are over-extended, a crash can occur earlier than scheduled. The stock market crashed in 1929-30 some five years ahead of the scheduled 40-year cycle bottom, but this was still within the allotted 12% "hard down" phase of the cycle. While it's still possible, indeed likely, that the bottoming of the current 60-year cycle this autumn will bring with it increasing volatility, the odds of a major crash occurring between now and then are extremely low.
As to how much more upside potential the stock market has in 2015 and beyond after the 60-year cycle bottoms this year, it wouldn't surprise if the rally from the 2009 low were only the half-way point of the bull market. Following a major crash like the one we saw in 2008, a secular bull market that lasts around 8-10 years isn't unusual. The 60-year cycle bottom of the mid-1890s, the Axe-Houghton stock market index bottom advanced from a low of around 45 to a high of around 150 some 10 years later before the next major bear market occurred.
Of course there will be periodic setbacks and "corrections" that occur over the course of the bull market and we may still witness such a setback this summer before the 60-year cycle bottoms. But the odds that the 60-year cycle will completely derail the bull market are slim.
Cycle analysis is essential to successful long-term financial planning. While stock selection begins with fundamental analysis and technical analysis is crucial for short-term market timing, cycles provide the context for the market's intermediate- and longer-term trends.
While cycles are important, having the right set of cycles is absolutely critical to an investor's success. They can make all the difference between a winning year and a losing one. One of the best cycle methods for capturing stock market turning points is the set of weekly and yearly rhythms known as the Kress cycles. This series of weekly cycles has been used with excellent long-term results for over 20 years after having been perfected by the late Samuel J. Kress.
In my latest book "Kress Cycles," the third and final installment in the series, I explain the weekly cycles which are paramount to understanding Kress cycle methodology. Never before have the weekly cycles been revealed which Mr. Kress himself used to great effect in trading the SPX and OEX. If you have ever wanted to learn the Kress cycles in their entirety, now is your chance. The book is now available for sale at:
Order today to receive your autographed copy along with a free booklet on the best strategies for momentum trading. Also receive a FREE 1-month trial subscription to the Momentum Strategies Report newsletter.
Clif Droke is a recognized authority on Kress cycles and internal momentum, two valuable tools which have enabled him to call most major stock market turning points from 1997 through the present. He is the editor of the Momentum Strategies Report newsletter, published three times a week since 1997. He has also authored numerous top-selling books, including his most recent one, "Kress Cycles." For more information visit www.clifdroke.com