Jun 27, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here. (Smart Brevity count: 1,188 words / <5 minutes.)

Situational awareness:

  • The U.S. and China have tentatively agreed to a deal that will avert an additional $300 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports. (SCMP)
  • China will insist the U.S. lift its ban of Huawei and remove all punitive tariffs as part of a trade deal. (WSJ)
  • Investors traded $1.381 trillion worth of emerging markets debt in Q1, up 8% from Q1 2018 and 29% from Q4 2018. (EMTA)
1 big thing: Cracks are forming in the rock-solid labor market

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The U.S. jobs market, having long been the bedrock of the nation's economic expansion, is starting to worry economists ahead of next week's payroll data. (ADP's report on Wednesday and the government's on Friday.)

What's happening: After years of remarkably smooth sailing, 2019 has brought market volatility and some concern about whether the economy can keep adding jobs at a fast enough pace to sustain the expansion.

What we're hearing: Job gains don't necessarily have to turn negative to signal trouble, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told Axios at a labor market conference hosted by payroll processor ADP this week.

All that's required is a strong slowdown in job growth. A 0.5% increase from a cyclical low on the unemployment rate has accurately predicted every recession in recent history and has never been a false positive, as Brookings economist Claudia Sahm noted recently.

  • "Once unemployment starts to rise, even from a very low level, it undermines confidence, and the only difference between an expanding economy and a recessionary one is faith," Zandi said.
  • "A recession is a collective loss of faith, and people lose faith when they start seeing unemployment rise."

Why now? A slowdown is not that unlikely, given the state of the labor market. The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low — it was 3.6% in May — and employers are reporting more trouble finding people to hire.

  • In a poll of small business owners conducted in May, 25% said that finding qualified workers was their No. 1 problem, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

The trade war also is adding stress to the economy, but so far the effects have been concentrated in the trade and export sectors, which make up a small piece of overall employment.

What to watch: The all-important services side of the economy has been strong, but is beginning to feel the impact of the tight labor market, said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of ADP Research Institute. The number of job openings exceeded the number of unemployed Americans by the largest margin on record in April.

  • "Let's remember you need approximately 100,000 net new jobs to keep the economy moving. We're still above that level, however there are so many other factors," she said.
  • "If you look at the last couple months, the jobs numbers were really, really volatile."

Yes, but: Another blowout print like January's, which showed 312,000 jobs added, will calm a lot of jitters.

Bonus: Slowing job gains
Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. has averaged 164,000 jobs added per month this year, compared to 223,000 per month in 2018, and recent data could signal a bumpy ride ahead.

  • New orders for durable goods fell 1.3% in May after a 2.8% drop in April, showing declining business spending.
  • Indexes related to manufacturing have been in decline across the U.S., with the sector on the verge of outright contraction.
2. Private prison companies gut punched again

Private prison companies took another dive on Wednesday after Bank of America announced it would no longer finance the facilities.

What's happening: BofA is "joining peers in distancing itself from a sector that has triggered protests over the Trump's policies," Reuters' Imani Moise reported.

  • Shares of major private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic had another major selloff, slumping 4.2% and 4.4% respectively after the BofA news.
  • Moise broke news in March that JPMorgan had made a similar declaration, and Wells Fargo also announced it would stop loans to the industry.

Background: Activists have stepped up pressure against the financing of private prisons amid heightened tension over immigration policies from the Trump administration and concerns about facility conditions. Private prisons account for about two-thirds of people held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to S&P Global Ratings estimates.

Earlier this month, the companies were rocked by an announcement from presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tweeted about about her plan to terminate private prisons entirely.

  • That news sent GEO to its biggest intraday drop since March. CoreCivic fell by as much as 6%, the largest intraday decline of the year.

The big picture: GEO Group's stock is up a little more than 3% year-to-date, but has fallen more than 16% since June 18.

  • CoreCivic's stock is up 14% for the year, but has dropped more than 18% since June 18.
3. AMD shines as Bitcoin prices rise towards $13,000
Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Everything is going right so far this year for Advanced Micro Devices. The company's stock price rose more than 3% on Wednesday, continuing to shake off trade war fears and pushing back towards a 13-year high touched in June.

  • AMD is benefiting from renewed interest in Bitcoin, which has soared to nearly $13,000 per coin. The company doubled down in November when cryptocurrencies were left for dead, launching a spate of new Bitcoin and blockchain tools.
  • The company is also winning on gaming, selected by Microsoft as the chipmaker for its next-generation Xbox console, to be released during the 2020 holiday season. Sony is also expected to use AMD chips in its next PlayStation.

What they're saying: Analysts at Morgan Stanley, long-time bears on the company, said earlier this month they had made the "wrong call" on the stock and raised their price target to $28 a share.

  • Nomura analysts expect "new processor families scheduled for launch by Intel and AMD in 2H19 and 1H20 offer significantly larger steps up in technology and design than products released by the companies in 2018."
4. Everyday Americans have serious worries about the economy

Nearly 4 in 10 "everyday Americans" say the economy is "not so good" or "poor," defying a pool of "experts" and conventional thinking about the current economic environment.

Driving the news: A new survey by Bankrate.com finds that 28% of Americans surveyed have no emergency savings, the highest rate since 2016, and 40% say they feel the next recession has already begun or will begin within the next 12 months.

  • Just 18% have enough to cover 6 months of expenses or more, the lowest in the 9-year history of the poll.
  • 49% of respondents are not comfortable with their current level of emergency savings.

The intrigue: Findings were in stark contrast to the views of 9 identified experts who all agreed the economy was strong and see the next recession as 1 year away or more.

5. Investors bought winning hedge funds, dumped losers in May
Expand chart
Data: eVestment; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global investors pulled $3.78 billion from hedge funds in May, despite overall outperformance against the stock market, a new survey from data firm eVestment shows. However, there was significant difference in redemptions based on size and performance.

Between the lines: Hedge funds with strong performance during the month saw inflows across asset classes, with the lone exception of multi-asset funds, while hedge funds that lost money broadly saw investors pull out their cash.

  • Hedge fund returns overall were negative last month after 4 straight months of gains to start the year, but still posted much slimmer losses than the broader U.S. stock market.

The big picture: Hedge funds have seen $25.43 billion of outflows so far this year, and performance losses have further reduced the industry's total assets under management to $3.24 trillion.

Go deeper: The hedge fund moment is over

Dion Rabouin