Japan update: Abenomics 2.0

As a sort of casual week end ‘routine’, I was watching the cross assets chart of the main economies that I usually follow. There are so many things that are happening at the moment, however a little update on Japan is always refreshing and useful.

The chart below shows the evolution of the equity market (Nikkei 225 index, Candles) overlaid with USDJPY (green line). As you can see, since Abe came into power in December 2012, there has been a sort of Pavlovian response to the massive monetary stimulus: currency depreciation has led to higher equities. However, the Nikkei 225 index closed at 17,725 on Friday and is down almost 15% from a high of 21,000 reached on August 11, whereas the currency has stabilized at around 120 and has been trading sideways over the past month with an 1-month ATM implied volatility down from 13.2 to 10.6% over the same period. If we look at the 20-day correlation (that I like to watch quite a bit) between the two asset classes, we are down from a high of 89% reached on August 24th to 38.1% in the last observation with an equity market being much more volatile.

EquityandYenC

(Source: Bloomberg)

In article I wrote back in September 2014 entitled The JPY and some overnight developments, I commented a bit on how Japanese Pension Funds (GPIF in my example) were decreasing their bonds allocation and switching to equities. And the questions I ask myself all the time is ‘Can the BoJ (and the other major CBs) lose against the equity market today?’ Indeed, the GPIF, which manages about $1.15 in assets, suffered a 9.4tr Yen loss between July and September according to Nomura Securities.

Abenomics 1.0 update…

We saw lately that Japan printed a negative GDP of 0.3% QoQ in the second quarter of 2015 and is potentially heading for a Quintuple-Dip recession in 7 years. In addition, the economy returned to deflation (for the first time since 2013) if we look at the CPI Nationwide Ex Fresh Food (-0.1% YoY in August, down from 3.4% in May 2014). We know that deflation and recession were both factors that Abe has been trying to fight and avoid, and the question is now ‘What is the next move?’

In a press conference on September 24th, PM Abe announced a sort-of new ‘arrow’ where the plan is to achieve a GDP target of 600 trillion Yen in the coming years (no specific time horizon mentioned as far as I know), which is 20% more from where the economy stands at the moment (JPY 500tr). In addition, he also target to increase the birth rate to 1.8 children per woman from the current low rate of 1.4 in order to make sure that the Japanese population don’t fall below 100 million in 50 years (from approximately 126 million today).

Clearly, this new announcement shows that the three-arrow plan has failed for the moment, and the BoJ only has been the major player in order to inflate prices over the past few years. I am wondering how this new plan is going to work in the middle of the recent EM economic turmoil. My view goes for additional stimulus, another 10 trillion Yen on the table which will bring the QQME program to a total of 90 trillion Yen. If you think about it, the BoJ is currently running a QE program almost as much as big as the Fed’s one in 2013 (85bn USD a month, 1 trillion USD per year) for an economy three times smaller than the US. Deceptions coming from Kuroda (i.e. no additional printing) could strengthen the Yen a little bit, but this will be seen as a new buying opportunities for traders or investors looking at the 135 medium-term retracement (against the US Dollar).

Here are a few figures and ratios to keep in my mind in the medium-term future…

Bank of Japan Total Assets

According to Bloomberg’s BJACTOTL Index, the BoJ’s balance sheet total assets increased by 210tr Yen since December 2012 and now stands at 368tr Yen. With an economy estimated at roughly 500tr Yen, the BoJ-total-assets-to-GDP ratio stands now at 73.6%.

JAPANassetC

(Source: Bloomberg)

Japan Banks total Assets

As of Q1 2015, the Japanese Banks reported a 1,818 trillion Yen exposure, which represents 363% as a share of the country’s GDP.

BanksJapanC

(Source: Bloomberg)

Based on the figures, you clearly understand that Japan’s government has been trying to push savers into stocks so Mrs Watanabe can take part of this artificial asset price inflation. However, a recent study from the Bank of Japan showed that Japanese households still had 52% of their assets in cash and bank deposits as of March 2015 (vs 13% for the American for instance).

The 15-percent recent drawdown in the equity market clearly shows sign of persistent ‘macro tourists’ investors, who are giving Abe and the BoJ board a hard time.

To conclude, the situation is still complicated in Japan, which is hard to believe based on the figures I just showed you. I strongly believe that Abe cannot fail in his plan, therefore if the new arrow needs more stimulus (which it does), we could see another 10 to 15 trillion on the table in the coming months. The medium term key level on USDJPY stands at 135, which brings us back to the high of March 2002.

Gold: a response to more easing

Following my latest article on the Fed’s situation and a potential QE4 announcement next year if the situation deteriorates, I thought that a little article on gold could complete my overall view. As many other investors, I am trying to figure out where is the final bottom of the commodity. With all this currency debasement happening (and even more to come), I was wondering if agents will start to once again consider it as the ‘real money’ or – such as GS Jeffrey Currie calls it – the currency of the last resort.

The chart below shows the weekly prices of Gold since the late 90s; as you can see it, one ounce of Gold is now trading at 1,132 slightly above its 50% retracement (1,086.56) from a local low of 251.95 reached in August 1999 and a high of 1,921.17 reached in September 2011.

GOldhistory

(Source: Bloomberg) 

Even though many Gold experts are still bearish on the commodity forecasts with a first target at $1,050 per ounce, I am wondering if $1,100 is a good level to start buying as a long term investment. I understand that investors have considerably starting to lose interest as soon as they realized we were entering in a disinflationary-then-deflation area and that it was more interesting to be exposed to US bonds as real interest rates were increasing. As you know, Gold doesn’t distribute dividends or coupons (and also lacks the full faith and credit of most governments) and is only subject to capital appreciation. Hence, a good factor that can explain the majority of changes in gold prices over the past few years is indeed the changes in real rates.

However, if we considered the 2016 scenario of QE4 as a response to the EM meltdown, in addition to an all-in desperate Abe and Europe’s Great Depression, gold could potentially attract more and more buyers in this sophisticated period.

Quick review of Gold inventories figures

According to two main sources – Kitco and World Gold Council – there is 170,000 metric tons of ‘above-ground’ Gold (i.e. Gold that have been mined in all human history), which corresponds to approximately USD 6.8 trillion based on a spot value of 1,130 USD per troy ounce. If we look at the growth of the top central banks’ balance sheets over the past twenty years (see chart below), we can see than we have reached an historical high of more or less USD 16 trillion. Therefore, based on that information, we can easily do the math and conclude that the gold-to-monetary-base ratio stands now close to zero.

CBs

(Source: Bloomberg)

As you can notice on the chart above, we have now entered in a Central-Bank-money-printing area since the Great Financial Crisis and we are struggling to get out of it. As I described in my latest article, I believe that the Fed’s response to the EM crisis will be a QE4. Based on a statistical analysis, it is clear that this one will be less efficient that the previous ones; efficiency of QEs has a sort of logarithmic function until a point where there is no effect to the economy or even a negative effect to it. Therefore, new money into the system could trigger Gold prices to the upside as investors’ faith on central banks will be clearly reviewed on the downside.

Even though global annual gold mine production has risen to 3,000 tonnes in recent years (reported by the World Gold Council) compared to a 10-year production average of 2,700 tonnes, I don’t think it will add further pressure on the commodity price in the medium/long term. Especially now that we have reached a sort of unlimited-printing strategy. In addition, geopolitical pressures and macro conditions in some of the main producers (Australia, South Africa, Russia. see gold main producers in the map below) will slow and perhaps revert that trend in the coming quarters.

GoldProducers

(Source: World Gold Council)

To conclude, my view is that we could see a market’s response to gold as a sort of alternative currency to hold while we try to get out of this monetary debasement. The five-year chart clearly shows a negative trend, but I will try to add some gold in my portfolio at around 1,100 USD as a long term investment (and hedge).

GOldNow2

(Source: Bloomberg)