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KEY TO TIPPING POINTS
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1 - Natural Physical Disaster
2 - Geo-Political Event
3 - Social Unrest
4 - Food Price Pressures
5 - Oil Price Pressures
6 - Rising Inflation Pressures &Interest Pressures
7 - Japan Debt Deflation Spiral
 
8- Sovereign Debt Crisis
9- EU Banking Crisis
10 - Risk Reversal
11- State & Local Government
12 - Chronic Unemployment
13 - China Bubble
14 - Residential Real Estate - Phase II
15 - Commercial Real Estate
16 - US Banking Crisis II
 
17 - Public Policy Miscues
18- Bond Bubble
19 - Pension - Entitlement Crisis
20 - US Dollar Weakness
21 - Central & Eastern Europe
22 - US Fiscal, Trade and Account ImBalances
23 -Credit Contraction II
24- Finance & Insurance Balance Sheet Write-Offs
25 - US Stock Market Valuations
26- Government Backstop Insurance
 
27 - Shrinking Revenue Growth Rate
28 -Global Output Gap
29 - US Reserve Currency
30 - Public Sentiment & Confidence
31 - Slowing Retail & Consumer Sales
32 - Corporate Bankruptcies
33 - Terrorist Event
34 - Financial Crisis Programs Expiration
35 - North & South Korea
36 - Iran Nuclear Threat
37 - Pandemic / Epidemic

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Tipping Points Life Cycle - Explained
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DISCLOSURE  Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. While he believes his statements to be true, they always depend on the reliability of his own credible sources. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.

COPYRIGHT  © Copyright 2010-2011 Gordon T Long. The information herein was obtained from sources which Mr. Long believes reliable, but he does not guarantee its accuracy. None of the information, advertisements, website links, or any opinions expressed constitutes a solicitation of the purchase or sale of any securities or commodities. Please note that Mr. Long may already have invested or may from time to time invest in securities that are recommended or otherwise covered on this website. Mr. Long does not intend to disclose the extent of any current holdings or future transactions with respect to any particular security. You should consider this possibility before investing in any security based upon statements and information contained in any report, post, comment or recommendation you receive from him

 

 
     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIPPING POINTS

"The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point"

The tipping point is the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development. The term is said to have originated in the field of epidemiology when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely. A tipping point is often considered to be a turning point. The term is now used in many fields. Journalists apply it to social phenomena, demographic data, and almost any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales. In some usage, a tipping point is simply an addition or increment that in itself might not seem extraordinary but that unexpectedly is just the amount of additional change that will lead to a big effect. In the butterfly effect of chaos theory , for example, the small flap of the butterfly's wings that in time leads to unexpected and unpredictable results could be considered a tipping point. However, more often, the effects of reaching a tipping point are more immediately evident. A tipping point may simply occur because a critical mass has been reached.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000. Gladwell defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."

The three rules of epidemics

Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.

  • Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances". He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram's experiments in the small world problem, the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and Chicagoan Lois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to "their ability to span many different worlds [... as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."
  • Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself". In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own". According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".
  • Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchor Peter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon's cultural microrhythms study.

 

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

 

PROCESS OF ABSTRACTION

 

 

SOVEREIGN DEBT & CREDIT CRISIS

 

Inverted chart of 30-year Treasury yields courtesy of Doug Short and Chris Kimble. As you can see, yields are at a "support" area that's held for 17 years.

If it breaks down (i.e., yields break out) watch out!

The state budget crisis will continue next year, and it could be worse than ever. That's part of what's freaking out muni investors, who last week dumped them like they haven't in ages.

States face a $112.3 billion gap for next year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If the shortfall grows during the year -- as it does in most years -- FY2012 will approach the record $191 billion gap of 2010. Remember, with each successive shortfall state budgets have become more bare.

Things could be especially bad if House Republicans push through a plan to cut off non-security discretionary funding for states, opening an additional $32 billion gap. 

MUNI BOND OUTFLOWS

RISK REVERSAL

 

RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE - PHASE II

 

COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE

2011 will see the largest magnitude of US bank commercial real estate mortgage maturities on record.

2012 should be a top tick record setter for bank CRE maturities looking both backward and forward over the half decade ahead at least.

Will this be an issue for an industry that has been supporting reported earnings growth in part by reduced loan loss reserves over the recent past? In 2010, approximately $250 billion in commercial real estate mortgage maturities occurred. In the next three years we have four times that much paper coming due.

Will CRE woes, (published or unpublished) further restrain private sector credit creation ahead via the commercial banking conduit?

Wiil the regulators force the large banks to show any increase in loan impairment. Again, given the incredible political clout of the financial sector, I doubt it.

We have experienced one of the most robust corporate profit recoveries on record over the last half century. We know reported financial sector earnings are questionable at best, but the regulators will do absolutely nothing to change that.

So once again we find ourselves in a period of Fed sponsored asset appreciation. The thought, of course, being that if stock prices levitate so will consumer confidence. Which, according to Mr. Bernanke will lead to increased spending and a virtuous circle of economic growth. Oh really? The final chart below tells us consumer confidence is not driven by higher stock prices, but by job growth.

9 - CHRONIC UNEMPLOYMENT

There are 3 major inflationary drivers underway.

1- Negative Real Interest Rates Worldwide - with policy makers' reluctant to let their currencies appreciate to market levels. If no-one can devalue against competing currencies then they must devalue against something else. That something is goods, services and assets.

2- Structural Shift by China- to a) Hike Real Wages, b) Slowly appreciate the Currency and c) Increase Interest Rates.

3- Ongoing Corporate Restructuring and Consolidation - placing pricing power increasingly back in the hands of companies as opposed to the consumer.

FOOD PRICE PRESSURES

RICE: Abdolreza Abbassian, at the FAO in Rome, says the price of rice, one of the two most critical staples for global food security, remains below the peaks of 2007-08, providing breathing space for 3bn people in poor countries. Rice prices hit $1,050 a tonne in May 2008, but now trade at about $550 a tonne.

WHEAT: The cost of wheat, the other staple critical for global food security, is rising, but has not yet surpassed the highs of 2007-08. US wheat prices peaked at about $450 a tonne in early 2008. They are now trading just under $300 a tonne.

The surge in the FAO food index is principally on the back of rising costs for corn, sugar, vegetable oil and meat, which are less important than rice and wheat for food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Haiti. At the same time, local prices in poor countries have been subdued by good harvests in Africa and Asia.

 

- In India, January food prices reflected a year-on-year increase of 18%t.

- Buyers must now pay 80%t more in global markets for wheat, a key commodity in the world's food supply, than they did last summer. The poor are especially hard-hit. "We will be dealing with the issue of food inflation for quite a while," analysts with Frankfurt investment firm Lupus Alpha predict.

- Within a year, the price of sugar on the world market has gone up by 25%.

US STOCK MARKET VALUATIONS

 

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

Potential credit demand to meet forecast economic growth to 2020


The study forecast the global stock of loans outstanding from 2010 to 2020, assuming a consensus projection of global
economic growth at 6.3% (nominal) per annum. Three scenarios of credit growth for 2009-2020 were modelled:


• Global leverage decrease. Global credit stock would grow at 5.5% per annum, reaching US$ 196 trillion in 2020. To
meet consensus economic growth under this scenario, equity would need to grow almost twice as fast as GDP.
• Global leverage increase. Global credit stock would grow at 6.6% per annum, reaching US$ 220 trillion in 2020.
Likely deleveraging in currently overheated segments militates against this scenario.
• Flat global leverage. Global credit stock would grow at 6.3% per annum to 2020, tracking GDP growth and reaching
US$ 213 trillion in 2020 – almost double the total in 2009. This scenario, which assumes that modest
deleveraging in developed markets will be offset by credit growth in developing markets, provides the primary credit
growth forecast used in this report.

Will credit growth be sufficient to meet demand?


Rapid growth of both capital markets and bank lending will be required to meet the increased demand for credit – and it is
not assured that either has the required capacity. There are four main challenges.


Low levels of financial development in countries with rapid credit demand growth. Future coldspots may result from the
fact that the highest expected credit demand growth is among countries with relatively low levels of financial access. In
many of these countries, a high proportion of the population is unbanked, and capital markets are relatively undeveloped.


Challenges in meeting new demand for bank lending. By 2020, some US$ 28 trillion of new bank lending will be
required in Asia, excluding Japan (a 265% increase from 2009 lending volumes) – nearly US$ 19 trillion of it in China
alone. The 27 EU countries will require US$ 13 trillion in new bank lending over this period, and the US close to US$
10 trillion. Increased bank lending will grow banks’ balance sheets, and regulators are likely to impose additional capital
requirements on both new and existing assets, creating an additional global capital requirement of around US$ 9 trillion
(Exhibit vi). While large parts of this additional requirement can be satisfied by retained earnings, a significant capital gap in
the system will remain, particularly in Europe.

The need to revitalize securitization markets. Without a revitalization of securitization markets in key markets, it is doubtful
that forecast credit growth is realizable. There is potential for securitization to recover: market participants surveyed by
McKinsey in 2009 expected the securitization market to return to around 50% of its pre-crisis volume within three years.
But to rebuild investor confidence, there will need to be increased price transparency, better data on collateral pools, and
better quality ratings.


The importance of cross-border financing. Asian savers will continue to fund Western consumers and governments:
China and Japan will have large net funding surpluses in 2020 (of US$ 8.5 trillion and US$ 5.7 trillion respectively), while
the US and other Western countries will have significant funding gaps. The implication is that financial systems must
remain global for economies to obtain the required refinancing; “financial protectionism” would lock up liquidity and stifle
growth.

 

US$ RESERVE CURRENCY

SocGen crafts strategy for China hard-landing

Société Générale fears China has lost control over its red-hot economy and risks lurching from boom to bust over the next year, with major ramifications for the rest of the world.

Société Générale said China's overheating may reach 'peak frenzy' in mid-2011

- The French bank has told clients to hedge against the danger of a blow-off spike in Chinese growth over coming months that will push commodity prices much higher, followed by a sudden reversal as China slams on the brakes. In a report entitled The Dragon which played with Fire, the bank's global team said China had carried out its own version of "quantitative easing", cranking up credit by 20 trillion (£1.9 trillion) or 50pc of GDP over the past two years.

- It has waited too long to drain excess stimulus. "Policy makers are already behind the curve. According to our Taylor Rule analysis, the tightening needed is about 250 basis points," said the report, by Alain Bokobza, Glenn Maguire and Wei Yao.

- The Politiburo may be tempted to put off hard decisions until the leadership transition in 2012 is safe. "The skew of risks is very much for an extended period of overheating, and therefore uncontained inflation," it said. Under the bank's "risk scenario" - a 30pc probability - inflation will hit 10pc by the summer. "This would cause tremendous pain and fuel widespread social discontent," and risks a "pernicious wage-price spiral".

- The bank said overheating may reach "peak frenzy" in mid-2011. Markets will then start to anticipate a hard-landing, which would see non-perfoming loans rise to 20pc (as in early 1990s) and a fall in bank shares of 50pc to 75pc over the following 12 months. "We think growth could slow to 5pc by early 2012, which would be a drama for China. It would be the first hard-landing since 1994 and would destabilise the global economy. It is not our central scenario, but if it happens: commodities won't like it; Asian equities won't like it; and emerging markets won't like it," said Mr Bokobza, head of global asset allocation. However, it may bring down bond yields and lead to better growth in Europe and the US, a mirror image of the recent outperformance by the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

- Diana Choyleva from Lombard Street Research said the drop in headline inflation from 5.1pc to 4.6pc in December is meaningless because the regime has resorted to price controls on energy, water, food and other essentials. The regulators pick off those goods rising fastest. The index itself is rejigged, without disclosure. She said inflation is running at 7.6pc on a six-month annualised basis, and the sheer force of money creation will push it higher. "Until China engineers a more substantial tightening, core inflation is set to accelerate.

- The longer growth stays above trend, the worse the necessary downswing. China's violent cycle could be highly destabilising for the world." Charles Dumas, Lombard's global strategist, said the Chinese and emerging market boom may end the same way as the bubble in the 1990s. "The basic strategy of the go-go funds is wrong: they risk losing half their money like last time."

- Société Générale said runaway inflation in China will push gold higher yet, but "take profits before year end".

- The picture is more nuanced for food and industrial commodities. China accounts for 35pc of global use of base metals, 21pc of grains, and 10pc of crude oil. Prices will keep climbing under a soft-landing, a 70pc probability. A hard-landing will set off a "substantial reversal". Copper is "particularly exposed", and might slump from $9,600 a tonne to its average production cost near $4,000. Chinese real estate and energy equities will prosper under a soft-landing,

- The bank likes regional exposure through the Tokyo bourse, which is undervalued but poised to recover as Japan comes out of its deflation trap. If you fear a hard landing, avoid the whole gamut of Chinese equities. It will be clear enough by June which of these two outcomes is baked in the pie.

SocGen crafts strategy for China hard-landing Pritchard

PUBLIC SENTIMENT & CONFIDENCE

 

 

SHRINKING REVENUE GROWTH RATES

PIMCO'S NEW NORMAL: According to PIMCO, the coiners of the term, the new normal is also explained as an environment wherein “the snapshot for ‘consensus expectations’ has shifted: from traditional bell-shaped curves – with a high likelihood mean and thin tails (indicating most economists have similar expectations) – to a much flatter distribution of outcomes with fatter tails (where opinion is divided and expectations vary considerably).” That is to say, the distribution of forecasts has become more uniform (as per Exhibit 1).

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his predictions on a House Republican plan to cut $60 billion dollars from the FY 2011 budget, saying it would eliminate 200, 000 jobs and only slightly lower economic growth.

He instead endorsed a Congressional federal deficit reduction plan that would take effect over a five to 10 year period, saying that markets look more towards Congressional action than the actual state of the economy. His remarks came during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in which he delivered his agency's semi-annual monetary report.

Despite Bernanke’s observations, several Republican lawmakers expressed doubt based on past efforts by the Fed and Congress to prompt economic growth through large stimulus packages.

Yesterday, the Fed Chair told the Senate Banking Committee that the U.S. economy will continue to grow this year despite rising oil prices, a high employment rate and weak housing market.

The 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins Act requires the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to deliver a report to Congress twice a year on its past economic policy decisions and discuss recent financial and economic developments.

SOURCE: SocGen: "The China Domino Has Fallen!", Big-Time Inflation Coming All Around The World Business Insider

China is about the export inflation to the rest of the world in a process that will resemble the fall of three dominos, one of which is already fallen, according to Societe Generale.

In a massive report titled "The China Domino has Fallen!" Soc Gen analysts outline the three dominos of the Chinese inflation export scheme, and their current progress.

  • Domestic inflation: China switch to a consumer driven economy means more domestic demand. Supply remains constant, so prices rise. This is already happening.
  • China exports inflation: "This dynamic seems as inevitable as gravity itself." Chinese demand for oil and steel has pushed prices up in those markets. Now it is effecting commodities like cotton and food products. That's being passed on to developed markets like the U.S., and it will really hit home in 2012. This is in the process of happening.
  • China demand shock: The country's long-term economic rebalancing results in an permanent increase in demand. Supply is sticky, and it will take time for it to catch up, thus limiting the world's ability to cope with this rise in demand. This is starting to happen.

If this didn't sound alarming, their conclusion on how this resembles the reverse of China's entry into the WTO should.

From Societe Generale:

The ascension of China to the WTO in 2001 was perhaps the most profound development in economics in recent decades as it caused a massive boost to the global labour supply whilst constraining wages growth in the developed economies. In short, the economic ascension of China, as the peak of all that was considered benign in globalisation, flattened the global Phillips Curve to such an extent that the output-inflation trade-off for the developed economies had skewed to such an extent that much higher output could be tolerated without generating inflation.

The major consequence of China’s policy response to the global crisis is that it is
now engineering an outward shift in the global demand curve. Is there any reason to believe
that the outward shift China engineers in the demand curve will be any less profound than the
supply curve shift it engineered a decade ago?

If you need more evidence this is already happening, note how U.S. CPI is being led by China CPI now.

REFERENCE: Tipping Points  Audio - Global Insights 

SOURCE: Sovereign Debt Default Risk BeSpoke

Below is a table showing default risk as measured by 5-year credit default swap prices for nearly 60 countries worldwide.   As shown, default risk for Greece is by far the highest of any country shown, and 5-year CDS prices for the country are up 40% so far in 2011.  Venezuela has the second highest CDS prices, but they're only up 6% year to date.  Portugal and Ireland are the 3rd and 4th riskiest countries.

The countries that investors believe are least at risk of default are currently Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.  The US used to be the least at risk of default, but CDS prices here have ticked up 20% so far in 2011.  US default risk is still low relative to the rest of the world, but any tick higher is something we don't want to see.

While default risk in Greece and here in the US is up in 2011, the average country has seen its default risk decline by about 5% this year.  Below are tables showing the countries where default risk has risen and fallen in 2011.  Egypt default risk is up nearly as much as Greece default risk this year, while Portugal, Saudi Arabia, and Israel rank 3rd, 4th and 5th.  The US has seen its default risk rise the 8th most out of the 57 countries shown in 2011.

On the positive side, the Netherlands has seen its default risk fall the most of any country so far in 2011 with a decline of 52.05%.  Austria ranks second at -36.04%, followed closely by Denmark at -36%. 

REFERENCE: Tipping Points Audio - Global Insights 

SOURCE: Second Biggest Weekly Drop Ever In Treasurys Held In The Fed's Custodial Account As Foreigners Dump Zero Hedge

There was one truly interesting observation in this week's Fed balance sheet update: not that the actual balance sheet hit a new all time record (which it did at $2.779 trillion), or that the Fed added another $24 billion in Treasurys to its balance sheet, or that total reserves hit a new all time record, increasing by $53 billion to $1.59 trillion. No. The biggest surprise was that in the just ended week, Treasury securities held in custodial accounts at the Fed, considered by some the best real-time representation of foreign holdings of US Treasurys considering that the TIC update is not only wildly inaccurate in its monthly update, but is also 3 months delayed, dropped by the largest amount in 4 years. From a total of $2.704 trillion, USTs held in custodial accounts declined by $18.7 billion to $2.685 billion. This is the second largest decline in history, only topped by the $22.1 billion in the week of August 15, 2007 which is the week that followed the great quant crash of 2007 that wiped out, among others, Goldman Alpha. This observation is in stark contrast to the recent record strength of bond issuance, after both the 5 and 7 Years auctions posted record Bid to Cover investor interest.

One explanation is that while foreign investors are aggressively buying up the belly of the curve, they are even more aggressively selling the other parts of the curve, namely both the short (sub 2 Year) and the Long (10-30 Year). Another explanation is that the weekly change in Custodial data is largely noise and has no bearing on total foreign holdings of debt, which however we would largely discount. Another question is whether the large outflow from bonds is a consequences to recent market volatility, or is the basis for one: i.e., will the money be used to purchase stocks, or, if as China is posturing, is this merely capital leaving the US and entering Europe. Lastly, the nearly $20 billion in USDs likely will have to be converted to another FX denomination: should any notably USD weakness be observed in the next several days, this could well be a reason.

A chart of total Custodial Treasury holdings:

And old faithful: the neverending weekly "record" Fed balance sheet chart:

REFERENCE: Tipping Points Audio - Global Insights 

SOURCE: More Confirmation Of The Economic Slowdown Comstock Partners

Our comment of two weeks ago outlined the major headwinds likely to impact both the economy and stock market over the period ahead, while last week's comment discussed the actual economic slowdown that was already happening.  Events of the past week have confirmed these views.

Keep in mind that this has happened during a period where QE2 poured reserves into the financial system, the stock market rallied and fiscal policy was boosted by the reduction in payroll withholding.  With all of that, we have an economy that is growing below trend and fading rapidly.  Now QE2 is ending within weeks, fiscal policy is about to tighten and housing prices are still falling with lots of additional supply still coming.

The stock market has now stalled for over three months and appears to be in the process making a top.  The S&P 500 reached an intra-day high of 1344 on February 18th, backed off and then broke out to a new high of 1370 on May 2nd.  It has since declined to well below the 1344 mark, a strong indication that the breakout has failed and that a new decline may be underway. This would be similar to the pattern of 2010, when the market dropped 17% following the end of QE1.  That time the market was saved by the initiation of QE2.  The Fed, however, is running out of ammunition, and we doubt that a QE3, if ever implemented, would be that effective. 

REFERENCE: Tipping Points Audio - Global Insights 

SOURCE: Goldman Is Now A Bigger Credit Risk Than Citigroup Chart of the Day

This chart is getting a lot of buzz today, and the lesson is obvious... Thanks to ongoing legal and reputational concerns, the CDS market suggests that Goldman is now a bigger credit risk than Citigroup -- once the poster child of a "bad bank."

Among other things, the company is waiting for a subpoena, and just got trashed.

REFERENCE: Tipping Points Audio - Global Insights 

SOURCE: JPMorgan Explains Why The Economy Is About To Deliver A Bullish Surprise Business Insider

An interesting point from JPmorgan's Thomas Lee, who argues that the economic data has been so consistently disappointing, that a rebound in the Citi Economic Surprise Index (which measures the data against expectations) is practically guaranteed.

Again, it's not that the economy will rebound, but the economy will rebound vs. expectations, which is actually what matters to markets.

We have found economic surprise indices (CESI, the Citi Economic Surprise Index in this case, CESIUSD index) to be a historically reliable signal for both Cyclical (vs. Defensive) relative performance as well as for S&P 500 absolute return. Economic momentum has been slowing for the past few months, reflecting the dual effects of both higher oil prices as well as disruptions stemming from Japan. Economic momentum, as defined by the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index (CESIUSD Index <<GO>>), is at an extreme low level of –57.9. This index is mean reverting, however, suggesting we are likely to see a rebound in economic surprise soon.

REFERENCE: Tipping Points Audio - Global Insights