Demographics may be a long term theme but I believe it very much has relevance in trying to work out what’s next for the markets.
US demographics turned around 2000. Here we see US GDP changed trend around the same time, and with US demographics negative for this decade, that trend should continue. To be clear there are large oscillations within that but the overall pressure is down.
Here is my demographic (weighted) composite again for the main 5 economies of the world.
And here is real global GDP, which again matches the trends in global demographics (represented by the line overlaid):
In short, the demographic trend is recessionary, and I believe the global economy will at some point get the trigger or catalyst to tip into negative growth again, either through excessive bond yield rising tightening or through excessive commodity price rises, which would be a temporary inflationary shock. I say temporary as I previously also showed the relation between demographics and inflation/deflation which show the trend in place now is price deflationary:
“A swell of people aged 15-20 entering the workforce works up price inflation through spending, whereas more people entering old age relative to the work force is disinflationary through saving and disinvestment.”
The Fed is targeting 2.5% inflation, but the demographics say this is unlikely to be achieved. Also, GDP is going to remain weak and central banks are going to need to maintain intervention.
The latest US inflation rate came in at 1.5% annually. This is lower than most current treasury yields. The Fed wants inflation to be higher than yields in order to reduce its ballooning debt (by inflating away). Bond yields may still be historically low, but the demographic trends in place mean that inflation is low and growth is low. It wants to stop yields rising to 3% for fear that this level would be enough to tip a weak economy and to prevent it entering a deflationary trap where bond yields exceed inflation. Indeed the Fed’s Bullard has said that if inflation dropped to 1% annual he would want QE to be increased.
Which brings us to commodities. Can they rally? The demographics are largely against, as demand should erode and hard assets perform best in inflationary trends. On the flip side, the easy money conditions mean a loss of appetite for stocks could see money flows into commodities in a speculative momentum rally. History would suggest they probably can as late cyclicals, but history has not seen this collective demographic downtrend before between most of the major economies.
If I was to advise on a buy-and-hold portfolio for the next few years (I am not an advisor, don’t follow me etc) it would look something like this: long japan equities (positive demographics for stock market), short usa/europe/china equities (negative demographics), long gold (go-to asset as anti-demographic), short energy, short real estate, long cash with bias to asia currencies (all deflationary).
Russell Napier believes that there is trend-following in place in equities currently, but that eventually perception will turn to how QE and ZIRP have failed over 4 years to return the US to normal growth and stocks will turn bearish. I agree that this will happen and see developments ahead that can force it. If the US pulls back on government spending (debt ceiling 30 Sept) or stimulus then earnings should decrease (as per recent post) and yields should rise further, respectively. If commodities make a speculative rally they are likely to tip the weak economy over, and if they continue to decline in a deflationary trend then US inflation is likely to fall yet further beneath bond yields. In short, the Fed is in a trap, and it is a demographic trap, and a particularly potent trap because of the collective demographic downtrends amongst most developed countries, making for a downward global pressure. I don’t believe it can create sustained inflation or normal growth UNTIL demographic trends change. Collective demographics do start to improve once we get to the end of this decade, but over the next couple of years I believe there is really no way to avoid a global recession and harsh nominal stocks bear. Either yields, commodities, reduced goverment intervention or increased government intervention should tip a fragile economy over.
What does that mean for trading? Well, for me personally, I like to play an asset one way, siding with the longer term trend. If it goes against me nearer term, then I can use money management and averaging, with the conviction the longer term trend will ultimately drive it. So my anchoring would look something like that imaginary buy-and-hold portfolio I posted just above. Right now I am long energy (oil and gas commodities) which is a concern if deflationary trends dominate. However, solar cycles / historic topping order / easy money speculative conditions may yet deliver the decisive rally that I seek, so I’m going to carry on holding for now. With equities I am looking to build on the short side from the current position but am looking for more evidence of stocks topping. The technical action of the last few days has added weight to this, but we still don’t have ‘enough’ all round evidence. But this is trying to be as accurate as possible with timing, for the yearly trading P&L. I have sold my other longer term equity-related investments over the last couple of months and moved them to cash.