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The Charts to Watch in 2018 [UPDATED]

At the start of the year I posted an article on The Charts to Watch in 2018. It covered some of the key charts and indicators from my 2017 End of Year Special Edition and at the time attracted a lot of interest. So I thought it would be a good idea to do an almost halfway point update as an eventful 2018 has so far seemingly rushed by.

The format of this article is the same as the original, but I will leave in the exact comments on the charts (in italics and quote marks) for the sake of transparency. Aside from updating the charts, I have added my updated views and what has changed or become more apparent since then.

But before we get into the charts, here's a quote from the introduction of original post:

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: 2018 is going to be harder and more complex for investors than 2017. The cross currents of rising valuations across asset classes, maturing of the business cycle at a global level, and the turning of the tides in monetary policy could make 2018 a watershed year."

Yep. Sure looks that way!

1. "No more spare capacity in DM. (Next step = Inflation)" Nothing to add to this. If anything investors should be paying even more attention to this chart.

developed economies capacity utilization

2. "A secular bottom in 10-year bond yields looks to be on the cards."

It did then, and it certainly does now. The only question now is how far bond yields will go.

us bond yields vs GDP growth

3. "The monetary tides are going out. (be careful!)"

Gold seems to be defying monetary gravity, I can create a narrative as to why gold isn't a lot weaker e.g. geopolitical risk hedging demand, greater equity market volatility, but my view remains that investors are underestimating the risks in this "hedge".

gold price vs quantitative tightening QT

4. "Emerging Markets cross-asset risk pricing is complacent/confident, and for now is engaged in a virtuous cycle as improving economics reinforce the relaxed risk perceptions."

The complacency has been shaken a bit. This is something I am focusing a lot of my work on right now.

emerging market risk pricing vs growth outlook

5. "Likewise, US HY credit spreads are anchored by solid macroeconomic cycle dynamics… in other words, 'expensive' can stay expensive for the time being."

US high yield credit spreads were remarkably well behaved during the global equity market correction - just goes to my original point that the cycle isn't over yet.

US high yield credit graph

6. "US cyclical stocks are closely keeping pace with the very strong ISM manufacturing PMI but the relative performance ratio looks very stretched, likewise absolute and relative valuations. This is a key area to keep on top of as the new bull market in America (and globally) has been driven by solid outperformance by the cyclical stock sectors."

Interestingly cyclicals vs defensives were also relatively unshaken during the correction, but again this is something I am continuing to dedicate work to as it seems like an obvious market-risk fault-line.

cyclicals vs defensives vs the economic cycle chart

7. "An open question for 2018: will the second great moderation continue? Or will global equity volatility reach a turning point?"

The ominous grey arrow proved (so far) right. I wonder if this is a similar kind of shot-across-the-bow like in June 2006... a late cycle clue of things to come in about a year or so's time.

global equity volatility chart

8. "One issue (along side the themes of a maturing business cycle and a turning of the tides in global monetary policy) is a rising incidence of overvaluation across markets (and assets). It’s not at previous extremes yet, and valuation is not by itself a reason for markets to fall, but it is an important fact to incorporate and reflects increasingly optimistic expectations on the growth outlook."

The global equity market correction has driven at least a partial reset here. I almost feel like what we are seeing in the chart below is a slight winding back of the clock.

global equities valuation breadth graph

9. "Global death-cross watch: a nice & novel chart which tracks the proportion of markets which have a “death cross” (i.e. the 50-day moving average passing below the 200 day) across 70 countries. This is probably the most comprehensive breadth view of global equities and a key early warning chart (i.e. this indicator usually turns up leading into a correction - like it is now)."

This one did actually provide an early warning to the correction, and now that it is rolling over it's looking like the global equity market correction has run its course.

global equities death cross watch

10. "Last but certainly not least is China. A number of the big tailwinds (property, exports, stimulus) that helped China avoid a recession in 2015/16 are starting to turn. The fiscal/monetary policy stimulus indicators in this chart helped us pick the upturn in China before most others caught on, and I think this will be a key one to monitor when thinking about the outlook for China in 2018 and beyond."

The stimulus indicators remain towards the tightening vs easing side for China, so for me the real question is when that ultimately flows through to slower activity, where's the pain point for policymakers?

China monetary and fiscal policy stimulus

These charts were featured in the 2017 End of Year Special Edition - click through for a one-off free download of the full report.

For more and deeper insights on global economics and asset allocation, and some more good charts you may want to subscribe to the Weekly Macro Themes. Click through for free look or a trial.

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