Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cyclicality of global slowdown projection

In brief…
Current market slowdown will express itself in a cyclical matter with cycles accelerated or compressed within a short span of time. It is better not start pre-mature celebrations. It makes more sense to track the frontier of this storm wave. However, 5 years down from today we will marvel at the low-high-low-high forecast cycles wondering what were analysts thinking!

Into the cycle…
On the first anniversary of the slowdown, the US GDP was revised upwards much to the cheer of the markets. Experts like Tyler Cowen, Brad DeLong and others have already looked under the hood and have not found anything remarkable. US GDP seemingly grew on the back of strong manufacturing performance. The news coincided with a slowdown in Europe. This gave a chilling clue that possibly US growth came at the expense of a European growth. This newfound US competitiveness against the EU is primarily due to exchange rate weakness of the dollar. The dollar regained strength on the news of GDP uptick undoing the competitive forces. Thus, the situation is now ripe for US consumer uptick expectation and further realignment when it does not happen.

The down cycle oscillations…
The situation is likely to oscillate for at least another cycle. All the gains in competitiveness are still addressing American and European consumers. This, to my mind, is critical weakness of the currency system. I expect this cycle to oscillate until European consumers stop consuming at the next uptick, waiting for growth that is more fundamental and hence robust. Therefore, the last cycle will not produce a GDP increment as this time. The sooner this stabilizes the better. The more these cycles run on, the more loss of confidence will create panic. How long will this run and how spectacularly will it end is difficult to predict.

The consolidating cycles – more oscillations…
The next wave of cyclicality will hit when actually Chinese and Indian consumers hit the global markets. As global manufacturers rush to address this demand, they will unleash a new wave of competition. The resultant action will create a cyclical rebalancing in currency markets. Even this cyclicality will create an oscillation difficult to fathom/ predict.


The wavelength of the cycle…
Making money given the cyclicality of the world economy in the near-term, implies understanding the wavelengths of the cycles. As of now I believe we can only expect to understand down-cycle waveleangth. The consolidating-cycles will be far more complex and knowing their wavelength will be more difficult.

The down-cycles, as mentioned above, we can argue will have peak-to-trough time of at least 2 GDP reporting periods. Implying these will play out over little less than a year. Lead indicators of GDP like retail sales, car sales, energy consumption, inventories etc. also tend to influence markets during down-cycles. However, I think these indicators distort the way GDP growth diffuses through the economy and hence may mislead the markets. Actual GDP measurements may turn out to be more robust on upside and downside than predicted using lead indicators. Thus what was a single cycle may actually be aggregation of auxiliary-cycles. The main cycle though can be expected to follow GDP readings. The imposing auxiliary -cycles, if large enough in magnitude, can distort the wavelength.


In sum…
The near-future is going to be cyclical, with accelerated/compressed cycles. Most likely cycles will have wavelength (twice of peak-to-trough) of 4 GDP reporting periods. Auxiliary-cycles may play spoil-sport within the cycle. Making money in such an environment is equivalent to wave-surfing. At each peak you have to make enough to take you till the next peak! Thus making money is quite tough and entails highest risks. Welcome to the beach!