High and Dry

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February 14, 2020
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On the 4th September last year, the Baltic Dry Index that measures the cost of shipping – and by extension is a good proxy for the demand supply imbalance in global trade – stood at 2518. As of Friday, it stood at 415, not quite as low as it hit briefly in early 2016 in the midst of a glut of shipping and a commodity bear market, but below the crash level after the financial crisis in 2008/9. The Baltic Dirty Index, which is essentially tanker rates has also dropped sharply, but has ‘only’ halved since the start of the year. Undoutedly this is down to the Crona Virus threat and historically, the Baltic dry has appeared to have a correlation, with something of a lead, with the Chinese Purchasing managers’ index – something we previously acknowledged will be relatively meaningless for a while now but will undoubtedly look very bad on the next print.  As previously noted, the market response following the corona virus scare is to sell cyclical and trading related business based on the economic reality that by halting activity, heavily operationally geared businesses with high fixed costs run into trouble, even if the halt is only temporary.

The Baltic Dry is telling us how bad trade is

As a help to understand when things are actually moving again therefore, the Baltic dry may be a helpful leading economic indicator, not least because it takes out speculation – it is the price of actual ships contracted to move ‘stuff’.  As of today however, the index remains in ‘stay on the sidelines’ territory.

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Political Cicadas - no change in the product, just the sales team

The habit of spending long periods underground before re-emerging is not limited to the Cicada, for while this year sees the coincidence of the 13 year year Cicada cycle and the 17 year one, something that last happened 221 years ago, it is also 17 years sine Tony Blair was last in power and 13 since Francois Holland (likely PM in the French Hung Parliament) was. Both now look to be re-emerging to ensure continuity of policies that never really went away. The key sources of protest across Europe - crippling expensive wars against Russia and Climate change as well as uncontrolled immigration have only been addressed in the doubling down - the first thing UK PM Starmer did was fly to Washington to offer more money to NATO, while his Chancellor promised more money for Net Zero. Meanwhile, the left alliance put together to thwart Le Pen is even more pro immigrant than Macron. For markets, there is no prospect of lower spending and every prospect of higher taxes - the only 'Change' visible but not the one promised. The Technocrats and Globalists expecting this 'democracy' means that the populous will go quietly will be disappointed, especially with the arrival in the Autumn (once the Cicadas have gone) of the great populist, anti open border, anti net zero and anti war populist Donald Trump.

Market Thinking July 2024

The scorecard for the first half puts Equities, commodities and Gold in the top half of the table, with cash and fixed income in the lower half. This is consistent with the steady but uninspiring macro backdrop and positioning ahead of a tricky H2 from a political perspective. The anomaly of the Market Cap weighted SPX out-performing the equal weighted SPW by over 10% points tells us both that the SPX is no longer telling us anything about the US economy and that this excess return is for taking (considerable) concentration risk. Meanwhile, with Bond analysts 'pivoting from the Pivot' the fixed income markets have calmed down a little and leaving The Donald' rather thna 'The Fed' as likely the biggest policy influence on Markets over the next 12 months. In particular, we would look out for a 'Trump Plaza Acord" early next year, 40 years after the last one- something the FX markets aren't talking about, but the asset allocators seem to be (at least subconsciously) pricing in.

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