A good friend of mine, who is the one I bounce ideas the most with, asked if it was possible to do a guest post. Without this guest, my discussions and investment ideas over these years would not have been the same. So I’m very happy to present some Macro thoughts from my friend – the first guest poster!
Has the US debt cycle come to an end?
Until this week, the equity market has been holding up fairly well despite the trade war, slowing demand in China and Brexit. But there is something on the horizon that suggests we should sell
equities and wait for a better entry point – the debt cycle in the US seems to have come to an end. A rate cut from the FED during the second half of 2019 would confirm that theory and should be a negative catalyst for equities.
I’m sure many of you have read and heard about Ray Dalio, founder and co-CIO of Bridgewater, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. He describes how the “economic machine works” through the debt cycle. Simply described; both companies and households spending consist of two factors; Income and Credit. Income tends to be fairly stable, growing a few percentage points per year, and is the base of a households´ and companies spending. Credit on the other hand tends to vary over time, perhaps you use credit to buy a new, larger house, or a new car while a company might use it to expand manufacturing capacity. Thus spending can increase faster than income by using credit.
A person’s spending is another person’s income – an important aspect in a debt cycle. This means if you are using credit to consume, another person’s income will increase. With increased income the second person can increase their credit thereby expanding their spending power. This chain of events can continue for years, until the debt cycle stops i.e. when households and companies stop expanding their borrowing. As the cycle turns and less is being spent due to lower credit growth, it means another person’s income is falling. That person will therefore not be able not borrow as much since their income is falling thus decreasing their spending power. The chain of events goes both ways creating the debt cycle. You will find a great summary of Ray Dalio’s theory of How the Economic Machine works here:
I’ve thought a lot about this and tried to quantify the debt cycle with the help of the 3m US treasury yield. We start with the simple assumption that if the demand for credit is high, the price of credit i.e. the interest rate, will rise. When demand for credit slows the interest rate goes down. The reason I’m looking at the 3 month yield is that it says a lot more about the credit demand right now compared to for instance the 10 year yield which factors in a lot of expectations about future inflation and economic growth.
By looking at the y-o-y change in the 3m UST yields we can see how the demand for credit has changed over the last year. This is what we typically do when looking at a company`s specific data, we compare the order book, revenue and EBIT with the same quarter last year to see if it’s gotten better or worse. The chart below tells us that the 3m UST yields are about 50bps higher than a year ago, meaning demand for credit has gone up.
S&P500 vs 3m UST y-o-y (bps)
US Corporate Debt growth y-o-y (%) vs 3m UST y-o-y (bps)
A general thinking when looking at Capital Goods companies is that when the second derivative in organic order growth turns negative it’s usually a good time to sell the stock. It tells us demand is about to stabilize i.e. order growth will go towards 0%. In the same way a positive second derivative, when organic order intake is negative, would be seen as a sign that order growth is about to
Applying the same methodology on the 3m UST yields a negative second derivative would tell us that the demand for credit is slowing, a strong indicator the debt cycle is coming to an end. The y-o-y change in the 3m UST started to stabilize by mid 2018 and has recently started to go down as a result of the lack of rate hikes from the FED. The Fed Funds futures market indicates we will have at least one cut from the FED during the second half of 2019 and another one in 2020. A cut in interest rates from the FED in the second half of 2019 would confirm the end of the debt cycle which would mean the start of a bear market.