The greatest tap dance in economic history is unfolding right before our eyes. On the one hand, the central banks have to talk positively about their efforts in drowning the world in cash. The idea being that they know exactly what they are doing, or they wouldn’t be in charge. On the other hand, there is the reality of whether or not it’s working. While assumptions can be a good thing, it’s the data that tells the story.
The Fed has been looking at sustained, strong hiring as the major sign that the economic recovery is well under way, that its efforts at fighting deflation are working, and it is, therefore, time to start raising interest rates. While other data has conflicted with the hiring spree, at the end of the day there is no good argument against a strong jobs market. If an economy were in trouble at the grassroots level, so the saying goes, firms wouldn’t be hiring. There is nothing else to consider. The payroll numbers, after all, tell the real story. Alas, Friday’s numbers brought an unexpected twist.
Non-farm payrolls came in at 38,000 against an expected 170,000 jobs being added to the economy, the weakest jobs growth in six years. Like Uber’s efforts to fight the Austin city council (my home town), this is a big miss, throwing all of the Fed’s logic out the window. It is also sending a clear signal with a bullhorn, that raising rates is not a possibility in this environment. The bond market read this message loud and clear, exploding higher after the report.
The data is telling us there is no major recovery barreling at us down the highway. There is no magic bullet. The plan is not working. We are now in a lower-growth economy, where it will be normal to get little or no growth from quarter to quarter. This doesn’t mean the economy is falling apart. It just means it is sluggish and is going to stay that way, potentially for a long time. This also opens up the possibility of a recession, with the current jobs data sending the message that it could happen over the next 12 months. In this type of environment, any plans to raise interest rates further get pushed back, if not abandoned. There is too much at stake to risk driving the economy into the toilet, and it is very easy to continue kicking the proverbial can down the road. Plus, politicians like to keep their jobs. Right now there is no one to blame.
With a U.S. economy performing weaker than expected, there are a couple of things that will happen with various asset classes around the world. First, this will put pressure on the U.S. dollar. Today the dollar is getting crushed, and further weakness in the dollar is a trend we can expect to continue. One way to take advantage of this move is by buying things that move up when the dollar moves down. Namely, gold, silver and other currencies that trade against the dollar.
For currencies, I like the Currency Shares Canadian Dollar Trust (FXC), which will continue to climb higher against a weaker US dollar. The easiest ways to play gold and silver is through the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) and the iShares Silver Trust (SLV). All three of these instruments can be purchased directly or traded via longer-term call options. None of these are leveraged, so the volatility in most cases will be manageable.
Another way to play a weaker dollar is to look to U.S. companies that generate most of their sales overseas. They can sell their products in the stronger currencies, which can then be used to buy more of the cheaper dollars and increase earnings. One major U.S. company that derives 80% of its revenue overseas is The Coca-Cola Company (KO). For those willing to take on additional volatility, one stock I like here is The Priceline Group Inc. (PCLN). This stock came under pressure in 2015 due to a strong dollar and the company’s high international exposure. Even while under this pressure, however, it has maintained superior margins and better operational efficiency than other online travel companies. This stock has been consolidating for the past two years and is ready from a technical perspective to make its move. The weaker dollar can be the catalyst that gets the ball rolling.
At the end of the day, all of the talk from the Fed is just that. Talk. Their hands are tied and the one indicator they used to point to their success, jobs growth, is now in trouble. Any talk of raising rates would be economic suicide, and without a rise in interest rates, the U.S. dollar has nowhere to go but down.
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