U.S. Households And Fiscal Support

BCA Research, U.S. Households And Fiscal Support

Absent net fiscal social benefits, the U.S. household savings rate is even more negative than it was at the peak of the housing boom.

Social spending is deeply entwined with household income and has become part and parcel of consumers’ savings decisions as its share of household income has steadily risen. According to our Bank Credit Analyst service, after adjusting to remove the effect of social benefits, the saving rate as a share of disposable income is negative 7%. This rapid aggregate dissaving is being driven by two fundamental factors. First, higher commodity price pressures have sapped household purchasing power. Second, disposable income growth has been stagnant for the better part of four years. With social benefits already comprising a big part of household income and playing a critical role in forming future expectations, any uncertainty surrounding benefit flows risks driving consumers to ramp up the savings rate in an attempt to protect or rebuild their cushions. Recessions are always associated with rising thrift and politicians must therefore tread very carefully on social benefit reforms, especially at a time when global economic conditions are fragile.

Occupy Wall Street: Just Noise?

BCA Research, Occupy Wall Street

According to a Global Investment Strategy Special Report, the Occupy Wall Street movement symbolizes the fact that political extremism is rapidly becoming mainstream.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is rooted in the secular decline of the American middle class. Judging from the GINI coefficient, the distribution of income is more unequal in the U.S. than OECD countries in general. Moreover, real wage growth in the U.S. has stagnated since 2000, while education and healthcare costs have soared. High education costs have serious social repercussions since they are a strong drag on upward class mobility. While it is currently impossible to boil down the Occupy Wall Street movement to a single issue, it is a symptom of deepening social strife, political polarization and spreading discontent in the U.S. These are ingredients that, if left unchecked, can lead to potentially radical shifts in policy made to score political points with the extremes, rather than to address underlying economic problems. Both the extreme right and left of the political spectrum will be energized by genuine social discontent – which can nonetheless translate into completely opposing policy preferences – leading to further political polarization. If the clash between left and right intensifies, policy making will become even more difficult. This would mean a heightened political and policy risk premium on equity prices among all G7 markets.

Recapitalizing European Banks

BCA Research, Recapitalizing European Banks

The tangible common equity to total assets measure of bank solvency suggests that French and German banking sectors are most in need of capital.

To measure the solvency of a bank in times of stress, it is vital to only count the simplest form of capital that can absorb losses – tangible common equity. In other words, goodwill and complex forms of capital should be excluded from the numerator of any capital adequacy ratio. Also, when Europe is experiencing a sovereign debt crisis it is ludicrous to treat government bonds held by a bank as zero-risk assets (as the Core Tier 1 Capital ratio does). In other words, government bonds should be included at full weight in the denominator of the solvency ratio. On this basis, it is easy to identify which individual banks and national banking sectors need the most capital. In addition to Dexia, which has a tangible common equity to total assets ratio of 1%, French and German banks stand out as the ones most in need of capital injections. Other euro area banking sectors are better capitalized, but have more exposure to their own distressed bond markets. Importantly, irrespective of how banks raise common equity, whether from the private sector, their governments or from the EFSF bailout fund, it is dilutive to existing shareholders and a drag on their share prices. Meanwhile, U.K. banks do not have such a domestic bond problem and are relatively well capitalized. What is more, they started raising capital over two years ago. Therefore, our European Investment Strategy continues to overweight U.K. bank stocks relative to their euro area peers.

U.S. Bank Stocks On Upgrade Watchlist

U.S. Bank Stocks On Upgrade Watch ListThe near-term picture for U.S. banks is especially uncertain.

Their bond spreads are soaring as their European peers are subjected to significant pressure. The majority of outstanding bank loans remain concentrated in commercial and residential real estate, and intensifying deflation pressures will inevitably raise questions about banks’ ability to manage through another economic downturn so soon after the last one. Profits are under pressure as headcount steadily climbs and banks remain under nearly constant political attack. Through it all, though, the TED spread has remained narrow, underscoring that perceived banking sector risk is much less than it was in 2008. Banks are better capitalized than they were before the crisis, as tangible equity and cash holdings have surged as a share of total assets. Bank deposits, the most stable source of funding, have grown sharply in recent months, while indicators of loan demand like the Fed Senior Loan Officer Survey are rising. And with the price/book ratio near its 2008 lows in relative terms, bank stocks have already discounted much of the bad earnings news in the pipeline.

Bottom line: Our U.S. Equity Strategy service is underweight the S&P bank index, partially in deference to the Euro area financial crisis. A resolution, coupled with an increase in economic confidence that would imply a boost in loan demand, would likely trigger an upgrade in our below-benchmark position.

Japan Is On The Mend

Japan Is On The Mend

The Japanese Economy is bouncing back, but rates will stay low.

The Bank Of Japan (BoJ) left rates unchanged last week and will stick with their asset purchase program.  The BoJ also extended support for financial institutions in disaster areas by another six months.  The economy has stabilized since the earthquake: Q2 real GDP growth (-0.5% QoQ) was an improvement on Q1 (-0.9% QoQ) and consumer prices are only mildly deflationary (-0.2% YoY).

Unemployment drifted down progressively this year from 4.9% to 4.3%, industrial production is now positive (0.6% YoY August) and the Tanken Business Conditions Survey rebounded.  Although Japan in on the mend, the economy will soon return to its previous sluggish trajectory.  Given the weak global economic environment we expect Japanese bond yields to remain low.  JGBs tend to outperform the global benchmark during economic expansions when global rates rise.  With developed market policy rates on hold for the foreseeable future, remain at most neutral JGBs within a global hedged bond portfolio.