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Goldman: “Is The Recession Signal Once Again Hiding In Plain Sight?”

Courtesy of ZeroHedge View original post here.

Two weeks ago, Goldman’s head of hedge funds sales Tony Pasquariello unexpectedly took a contrarian position to the conventionally bullish house view, warning that over the next few weeks, “he called the market lower.” So far he has been spot on, and stocks indeed are now lower than they were at the end of March as the retail driven melt up that started in mid-March has once again collapsed.

So what happens next? Well, it depends on whom one listens to: Goldman or Goldman, because while the bank’s traditionally permabullish chief equity strategist (for common consumption) David Kostin continues to push the bank’s retail clients to buy whatever Goldman has to sell, and as we noted on Friday, Goldman has been selling a lot…

… Pasquariello still refuses to jump on the bullish bandwagon, and instead in his latest Markets and Macro note says that while he is not yet ready to fully subscribe to the recession narrative, he is very close and adds that when all is said and done, “bulls are fighting uphill.”

. Below we excerpt from the note which is traditionally reserved for Goldman’s most lucrative institutional clients, and which presents a far less optimistic view than that one would glean from reading Goldman’s generic (and generally worthless) “house” research.

From Pasquariello’s latest “Markets and Macro: From QE to QT“:

Let me summarize 23 points in just two lines:

  • the tectonic plates underlying the global investing ecosystem are on the move.
  • that is neither “all good” nor “all bad” for market participants, but the game is getting a lot more complicated.

here’s the run of it … as always, a taker of feedback and good ideas:

1. Recent price action in spaces like homebuilders (see S15HOME) and transports (see GSSITRUC) has been dreadful, and cause for some contemplation. If you lived through 2006-08, when you observe these charts today, it’s hard not to wonder if the recession signal is once again hiding in plain sight. What I’m getting at here: there’s a message coming from the underbelly of the market that — rightly or wrongly — points, with increasing force, in the direction of a growth scare.

2. This stress in the deep cyclicals is consistent with a recent poll of our institutional client base, where over half of the respondents expect a US recession between now and the end of next year. alongside the ongoing heaviness of high yield, this also foots with the interest strip, where Eurodollars are seemingly discounting that the Fed will need to reverse course come 2024. Even though I would argue that geopolitical risk premium has been tamping down over recent weeks — look no further than the VIX or EM currencies — other parts of the macro complex are simultaneously dialing up warning signs around the trajectory of growth.

3. To be clear, the GFC was principally a function of the US building far too many homes, while the broader private sector built up far too much leverage. this time around, the setup is fundamentally very different: the US currently has a serious national shortage of housing … and, the private sector financial balance is far healthier. Furthermore, despite how poorly certain parts of the market trade, also note how well some of traditional mega caps have performed: WMT, KO, JNJ, LLY and COST all marked an ATH this week (reflective of a sensible up-in-quality bias).

4. Where this leaves me: respectful of the flickering red lights on the macro dashboard, while not yet ready to fully subscribe to the recession narrative (see point 10 below). That tension supports my ongoing instinct that S&P will remain in a turbulent range trade -- sell rips over 4500, buy dips below 4200 -- with an overall portfolio bias towards commodities and quality. I also continue to believe that gap risk is more likely to be to the downside and not to the upside.

5. The upcoming barrage of Q1 earnings is apt to be fascinating given the macro cross-currents. As mentioned last week, the bar for Q1 isn’t particularly demanding: 0% expected y/y growth ex-energy, which seems low given the nominal GDP world we live in. The challenge, rather, will be H2’22 expectations of double-digit y/y growth … how guidance around that shakes out will be the key part of the story. As GMD colleague Bobby Molavi put it: “in certain cases it will be the starter gun for broad stroke sell side downward revisions.”

6. I’d argue the biggest development of the week — a more forceful discussion of Fed balance sheet runoff — supports a view that the bulls are fighting uphill. I’m inclined to think this is a big deal, and one which will intimidate stock operators on occasion, given what we learned way back in QE2: if you want to adjust financial conditions, the balance sheet is a much more powerful tool than the Fed Funds rate. I had actually pecked out that point before Bill Dudley took off the gloves: “if stocks don’t fall, the Fed needs to force them. In contrast to many other countries, the U.S. economy doesn’t respond directly to the level of short-term interest rates … financial conditions need to tighten. If this doesn’t happen on its own (which seems unlikely), the Fed will have to shock markets to achieve the desired response.”

7. With respect to positioning, the disjunction between professionals and households persists: our Prime Brokerage franchise has seen selling from hedge funds for five of the past six weeks; over that same period, there’s been $46bn of inflows to equity mutual funds / ETF’s (entirely to the US; credit GMD client Scott Rubner). I suspect the collective flow-of-funds picture skews towards the negative side over the next few weeks, given the buyback blackout window and market talk of a > $300bn capital gains tax bill — while also noting that retail is the heavy, and if they don’t back down, underlying sponsorship will remain intact.

8. While it’s a guarantee of nothing on the forward, I suspect a significant part of ongoing retail demand for equities begins and ends with a severe lack of good alternatives. Witness this check-down: the real returns on cash are terrible (consider the compounding of inflation over a five or ten-year period, it’s sobering). The nominal bonds you hold — Treasuries, munis — just keep selling off. the risk/reward profile of corporate bonds is not at all appealing. Crypto continues to hang in there, but it carries a very low weighting for most actors, and as much as you should love commodities, the volatility is not for anyone.

9. A non sequitur: through the end of 2021, the total return of S&P was positive in 17 of the past 19 years, and the average annual return over the prior three years was +26%. This provokes a few big picture reactions:

  • (1) while those stats belie how hugely difficult the path of risk management was along the way, for strategic holders of risky assets, the getting was so exceptionally good;
  • (2) despite an ongoing boom in genuine corporate innovation, I do worry that some of the underlying drivers that supported profit growth — the compounding of immense Chinese GDP growth, structurally lower global inflation, low US corporate taxes and an ever lower cost of capital — could all be in some form of retreat.

10. This is the most interesting point I read all week, credit to Jan Hatzius in GIR: “There has never been an increase in the [US] unemployment rate of more than 0.35pp (on a 3-month average basis) that wasn’t associated with a recession. The broader point is that once the labor market has overshot full employment, the path to a soft landing becomes narrow … nevertheless, we think a recession is far from inevitable. First, the US recession sample underlying our labor market rules of thumb is small — 12 in the entire postwar period and just 4 since 1982 — and there are quite a few instances in other G10 economies in which moderate labor market deterioration did not result in recession. Second, in previous US labor market overheating episodes there was no source of incremental labor supply comparable to the 1-1.5 million prime-age workers that may now be poised to return to the workforce. Third, few of the financial imbalances that made the US economy vulnerable to self-feeding recessionary forces in the run up to the 2001 and 2007-2009 recessions — especially the giant private sector deficits in the household and/or corporate sector — are visible now.”

11. quick points:

  • i. while acknowledging how volatile local price action has been, Jeff Currie’s mark-to-market on the commodities bull market is worth a glance. The punch line is vividly clear: this is a policy-driven volatility trap … oil to $125 by year-end and GSCI +28% NTM … “our conviction in a multi-year super cycle has risen substantially.”
  • ii. speaking of commodities and inflation, next Tuesday brings a biggee: CPI. while this print could well mark the cycle high — consensus on headline is +8.4% y/y — I suspect the move from peak back towards trend will keep macro traders on their feet a good while longer.
  • iii. do you know when globalization peaked? if defined by global trade as a % of GDP, the peak in globalization was not in 2016 … it was not in 2019 … it was actually back in 2008.
  • iv. a reminder: Chinese industrial data peaked in November of 2020. in this spirit, I re-learned something else this week: Chinese debt/GDP is now running around 280%.
  • v. Brazil has enjoyed a remarkable, if surprising trading rally to start the year. For a (cautious) take on where we go from here: link.
  • vi. on the technicals of the all-important US bond market:The past 24 hours have seen some significant developments transpire in the US rates markets. the most notable is the 1yr1yr Libor Swap ending its secular downtrend with the break above its 2018 high at 3.330%. To our knowledge this is the first US rates market to end its long term bull trend”.
  • vii. in the spirit of April Fool’s — and, my unabashed fondness for Taco Bell — this warrants mention: “the Taco Liberty Bell was an April Fool’s Day joke played by fast food restaurant chain Taco Bell. On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in seven leading U.S. newspapers announcing that the company had purchased the Liberty Bell to ‘reduce the country’s debt’ and renamed it the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’”.

12. This plots the real Fed Funds rate, with the inflation adjustment coming from market-based expectations. It levels sets just how crazy easy the starting point is for this tightening cycle — perhaps part of the reason stocks have held up decently of late — while also inviting the question of “how could this possibly get any better from here”:

13. Then there’s this show stopper — also subject to your interpretation — the GS wage tracker. My view: while it’s hard to think the gradient of this slope can be sustained forever, I also don’t see it turning meaningfully lower anytime soon:

14. A chart that (actually) tells you everything you need to know about Q1:

15. Speaking of energy prices … this is what the cost of jet fuel looks like. From Callum Bruce in GIR: “ultimately, it’s a specific locational issue that is not significant to broader balances, but is nevertheless symptomatic of tight market and shows the binding, physical nature of commodity shortages and their large upside convexity at low storage levels. more of these events are in store.”

16. The more I travel around, the more I think the primary destination for capital is the US for now. In a similar vein, the market is very clearly rewarding companies with leverage to the US vs those with leverage to offshore revenues:

17. Scott Feiler, GMD: “at the idea dinners I attended in November/December, shorting the low-income consumer was the most popular idea. that was just due to compares, lack of stimulus, lack of child tax credit etc. that had not even contemplated higher gas prices. here we are though at the end of 1Q and our GS low-income basket outperformed the high-income basket by 500 bps. many of the low-income stocks have heavy consumables exposure and have simply outperformed. Our conversations have shifted dramatically the last 3 weeks, with investors looking to more middle-income type names that are heavily discretionary and have chunky dollar purchases that a consumer might forgo … our baskets team put a basket together last week that they think addresses this theme, with the title being the ‘middle income discretionary basket’ (ticker GSCNSMDI Index).” note the ratio of this basket vs S&P.

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