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Category: 1 – Liquidity Trader

Reports on the Fed and Treasury, Primary Dealers, real time Federal tax collections, foreign central banks, US banking system, European banking system, and other factors that affect market liquidity. Resulting market strategy recommendations. 7-8 reports each month. Click here to subscribe. 90 day risk free trial!

Disjointed Economy Points To Bad Things

Last week I was surprised when the US Government’s retail sales data hit a new high. No way, I said.

Well, Way!

Yes, some retailers are seeing booming sales, particularly online, and … wait for it…

Grocery stores. Even after pulling back from the lockdown spike, they’re still up more than 7% year to year.

Now there’s a basis for a thriving, growing US economy.

Not.

And of course, there’s the surging growth in e-commerce. I’ve put it on a chart along with grocery sales going back 5 years for perspective. The average growth rate, which was already a sizzling 10-15% per year, has roughly doubled in e-commerce. The average growth rate for groceries has tripled. Apparently pandemics are good for some businesses.

Something struck me about this chart, apart from the COVID driven surge. Over the past few months, the annual growth rates in both series have been plummeting. “Growth” ain’t what it used to be. This drop implies contraction since July.

But my purpose here is not to pretend to be an eConomist. I just wanted to point out the government statistics, particularly those that the financial news headline writers feature, don’t tell the whole story.

Furthermore, we know that these sales are just coming out of the hides of other businesses. Lodging, travel, recreation, and transportation sales have collapsed. Gross tax collections show us the truth. The US economy is dead in the water, not growing at all, while remaining at a level a few percent below what it was last year at this time. It’s hard to gauge just how much in real terms, because we really have no clue how high inflation really is. But the nominal actual totals are lower and flat.

That’s what this report focuses on.

The issues then facing us are whether this will be the basis for more stimulus. That would mean more spending, more debt issuance, more pressure on the financial markets, and a need for more Fed support to prevent a market meltdown.

Here’s what the current Federal tax collections data tells us about what the real condition of the economy is, and what to expect as a result.

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Intervention Attention

The market has the benefit of $115 billion in Fed mid-month QE MBS purchase settlements this week. That would normally be very bullish.

It’s notable that the market has not done more with it. And why not? Still massive Treasury supply along with surging corporate debt and equity issuance is absorbing most QE. There’s not enough left to power an endless bull trend in stocks.

That has been our thesis for the past month or few, and the market seems to be bearing that out. Stocks are stuck in a broad trading range and bonds are weakening.

$83 billion of the MBS settled last Thursday. That helped put $82 billion in Treasury coupon issuance to bed the next day. Whodathunk that the Fed would pump into dealer accounts almost the exact amount that the market needed to absorb the Treasury issuance!

Amazing how that works.

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Normally this much QE every month would be wildly bullish. But the supply of financial assets has risen to meet the demand driven by QE. We’ve reached stasis – equilibrium, so to speak.

But it is fragile. Bonds are teetering on the brink of an abyss. If they go over, and bond prices fall (yields rise), the system would collapse without another round of massive Fed intervention.

So we need to pay attention. Do bonds go over the cliff? How long would it take the Fed to react if they do? And will it be enough, yet again?

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“Slow” Fed Balance Sheet Growth Hides The Truth

The Fed’s balance sheet has now grown by over $2.8 trillion since March. That’s when the pandemic panic was at its extreme and the Fed went into high gear.  Lately that growth has slowed drastically, to around $51 billion per month on average since July. But that is decidedly not the whole story.

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Federal Tax Collections Now Say Damned If They Do, or if They Don’t

Tax collections have leveled off at a negative year to year rate. The Fed has gone to Congress begging for fiscal support for the US economy, as a result.  Without a deal to raise spending, the economy will continue to languish, and the Fed will continue to print money to support the markets.

Ironically, if and when a new pandemic relief spending program is enacted, that would be bearish.

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If Bonds Sell Off, Dealers are in Trouble and So Is the System

Primary dealers have maintained huge and heavily leveraged long bond positions. They are only lightly hedged. Just today, the bond market is threatening to reverse the long term downtrend in yields/uptrend in prices. It’s bad news for the bond market, and for the system as a whole. And that includes stocks.

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Mr. Minuschin’s Erection To Boost The Election

We have known for a couple of months that there would be a mountain of Treasury supply hitting the market at the end of September. We also knew that Fed QE would be far from adequate to absorb this supply. So I have expected something bearish for stocks at the end of September. This could spill over into the first week of October.

But then things get hairy for bears, with potentially happy days for bulls. Unfortunately, we have a little problem this week. There’s no visibility. We don’t know what they have planned for the next couple weeks. That’s different from usual, where we can usually see ahead for a week or two because we know the Fed’s QE schedule, and also pretty much know how much Treasury supply to expect.

Now, thanks to the exigencies of the past pandemiconomic US Treasury fund raising back in March and April, we don’t have that luxury on Treasury supply, which forces us to surmise some things.

Here they are.

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Macro Liquidity Rising But Other Issues Intrude

Composite liquidity continues to rise, but at a slower pace than in the second quarter as the Fed has slowed QE. That reduces the cash flowing into Primary Dealer accounts, which in turn contributes to a slowing in secondary liquidity drivers.

“Slowing” is a relative word, however. Historically, the numbers remain gargantuan.

No, something else is holding the market back. Here’s what that something is, and what we’re going to do about it.

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Market Dough Gets Punched Down

Surprise, surprise! They pumped the money in but the market didn’t rise.

The Fed has been in the process of pumping $88 billion into Primary Dealer accounts this week in the form of its regular monthly MBS purchase settlements. Most of it is done. $22.7 billion of it will settle on Monday September 21. That will be the last MBS settlement until October 14-21.

Meanwhile, the Fed continues to purchase and settle Treasuries virtually every day. Over the past week that’s amounted to a total of about $37 billion. That means that a total of $103 billion in QE settled this week. That’s how much cash the Fed pumped into Primary Dealer accounts.

It didn’t matter. The stock market sucked gas. Bonds treaded water. It sure looks as though the Fed has somehow managed to magically peg bond yields just below 0.80% on the 10 year. The Treasury issued $104 billion in new coupon paper over the past week and that didn’t depress the market? It’s a miracle.

But isn’t it strange that the amount of QE and the amount of Treasury coupon issuance was virtually the same.

Uh… No.

But some other stuff sure as heck is, and you need to know about it.

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Why No More Pandemic Spending Is Bullish

The economic rebound from the depths of the pandemic panic in April and May has ended. The economy may be rolling over again. Bad news for workers and consumers, but not necessarily for investors.

The US Government did no pandemic relief spending in August, and none is on the immediate horizon. Despite that, the monthly budget deficits are freaking enormous and frightening.

Tax receipts are weak and they will provide no relief from those deficits. The US Treasury will continue to borrow massive amounts of money in the markets.

Sounds like bad news for the stock market, right?

Eh, not quite.  Here’s why.

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