The ongoing budget and debt ceiling issues have arguably become as contentious as the Trayvon Martin case in social media. This is as vocally divided as I’ve seen my social media feeds. The left claims that the Republicans are solely to blame for our issues while the right insists we cannot spend forever what we haven’t got. Personally, I think both sides have their heads shoved very deeply up a warm and dark bodily cavity. While Congress argues about how to spend our money and money we haven’t got, they receive a lifetime’s salary plus benefits for 4-6 years of work yet have the nerve to use the term, “welfare state,” in public.
Whether you agree with the left, right or somewhere in the middle is irrelevant in the world of managing finances and trading. What matters is empirical data, not conjecture. A quick survey clearly shows that the economy is starting to slow due to the government shutdown. Consumer confidence is plummeting along with Congress’ approval rating. Government loans are being stalled for small businesses. Mortgages are stalling because government guarantees can’t be secured. Customs is turning into a choke point for global trade as inspections can’t be done and clearances can’t be granted. These are all quantifiable drags on our economy and will be reflected in lower GDP numbers.
The previous points are all uselessly valid. We don’t trade US Customs volume and our assets aren’t invested in Brazilian oranges left rotting at a dock. Our assets are directly placed in the US financial markets. I’ve spent the last week compiling a spreadsheet of debt ceiling negotiations and raises (there haven’t been any decreases) from the last twenty years and compared it to the most likely assets to be affected: interest rates, the US Dollar, gold and the S&P 500. Professors always say that economic choices are made, “at the margin.” Our philosophy has always been to stay ahead of the margin calls in the first place.
The debt ceiling has been raised 18 times since 1993. I chose this start date because it gives us 20 years worth of data during the most politicized portion of our history. Furthermore, the past twenty years have participated in the boom of the information age where the average person on the street has had more and more access to more and more information than ever. This allows all of us to make investment decisions based on fully formed opinions on events as they unfold. Therefore, the data set should be representative of the current investment climate.
Based on what has happened in the past, how can we best position ourselves for the future? Unfortunately, the data is mixed, at best. Because I’m old school and still do charting and modeling by hand, I chose a simple premise. “Where did the markets close the day before the debt ceiling was raised and where were they trading ten days later?” The range of results varied little by direction. The most predictable asset class is the interest rate sector by using the 10-year Treasury Note as a proxy. Ten year Treasury Notes traded lower (higher yields) 11 out of 18 times. This seems logical as raising the debt ceiling should force us to pay more in future obligations. It is worth noting that the declines in the 10-year Note came against the backdrop of a 25-year bull run in the interest rate sector.
The S&P 500 was the second most bearish market as it was lower ten days after the announcement in 10 out of 18 instances by an average of 1.6%. The S&P also retained its typical character of panic sell-offs. The largest gain was only 4.82% in May of 2003 while there were four occurrences of losses greater than 5%. Two were greater than 10%. The largest 10-day loss was a whopping 22.7%. Therefore, raising the debt ceiling and conducting government business as usual is not always a positive for the stock market.
The lone bull in the markets examined was the US Dollar. The slight bullishness in the US Dollar surprised me. The Dollar was higher in 10 out of 18 instances by an average of 1.3%. This is where multiple types of analysis really work together. Last week, we suggested that the Dollar is setting up for a downward trending run. I stand by that analysis. Monday, October 7th, Trader Planet published a piece I wrote on the counter trend bounce typically found in the US dollar after multiple moves to new 30-day lows. The Dollar situation as a whole confirms this theory. I expect the Dollar to rally short-term but fall over the course of time.
Gold was the final market we went into. I didn’t expect to find much here and I didn’t. Perhaps, the biggest point to be made here is that anyone trying to talk you into buying gold because the government is failing, inflation is coming, the Dollar is dying, etc must have a hidden agenda. The data simply doesn’t support the sales pitch. In fact, the biggest moves in the post debt ceiling adjustments in gold were to the downside. The general direction however remains a coin toss as the gold market moved up and down with equal frequency over the last 18 instances.
Finally, there’s one last point to be made of historical proportion and I have to credit my brilliant nephew, Erik VanDootingh for tipping me off to it ahead of the news curve. The markets are scared. Big, BIG money is scared. This can best be measured by the difference between the interest rates that the US government is paying for loans versus what international banks are charging to borrow from each other. Technically, this is the spread between Treasury Bill rates and LIBOR (London Interbank Overnight Lending Rate). For the first time in history, including the 2008-2009 implosion, our government is being charged a higher interest rate to borrow money than banks are charging each other. Interest rates are based on risk. The higher the risk, the higher the rate charged. Let that sink in awhile as you ponder, “too big to fail.”