Over the past thirty years there has been an emergence and almost deification of retail sales as the driver of economic growth.  For instance, in the U.S. it is quite common to hear economists talk about how 70 percent of GDP growth stems from consumer spending and therefore if consumer spending dries up, so does GDP growth.

Ignoring for the moment the illegitimacy of the argument once one begins to consider productivity, investment, and other real growth drivers (i.e. the consumer is a follower, not a leader), here is a look at the global retail sales recovery according to national statistics.  This matters for investment banking professionals in that it affects where future global deals may be sourced, as well as affecting investment bankers’ advice on marketing and overall strategy.

Global Retail Sales Growth Since 2007

Likely unsurprising, the country that has experienced the largest growth in retail sales is China at about 183 percent.  In a distant second place is Brazil at 148 percent growth since 2009. The third fastest growing consumer base is Canada at 68 percent, followed by Russia at 61 percent and South Korea at 46 percent. The bottom end of the spectrum includes Spain at -16 percent, Japan at 4 percent, Mexico at 7 percent, Italy at 7 percent, and Switzerland at 8 percent.

Interestingly, right in the middle of the group is the United States at 33 percent, grouped with Sweden, Norway, the U.K., Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and France.

The shifting of the global consumer to non-western countries largely indicates that investment banking professionals should give greater attention to how strong demand for their services will perform in fast growing countries.  Focusing only on so-called “advanced economies” may leave investment bankers in the out in coming years.

Retail Sales since 2007

Can the BRICs Keep it Up?

With these numbers as the backdrop, it likely comes as no surprise why markets continue to shift their attention to emerging markets in search of growth.  Three out of the four leading so-called emerging markets are in the top four (China, Brazil, and Russia).  The fourth member of the famous BRICs group is India, which lacks timely data to be included in the analysis.

Given the increasing importance of the BRICs, the question economists keep asking themselves is – can they maintain this growth?

The simple answer is, at least in the case in three out of the four, yes.  There’s an enormous appetite in the People’s Republic and India to become more like the U.S.  consumer.  Unless something happens with property values in China, there’s no sign of the Chinese consumer stepping away from large scale consumption. Of course, one of the four – Russia – likely will give up some of its growth given the ongoing fighting in what governments currently call Eastern Ukraine.

Overall, the global retail world continues to shift its attention towards consumers in China, Brazil, and other emerging market economies.  Although some economists have their doubts about the sustainability of the emerging market consumer, every indication is that these emerging economies will continue to become more like American consumers rather than revert to a slower growth path.  Investment bankers who ignore this fact will certainly become dinosaurs in a field generally on the cutting edge of market and consumer research.

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Financial market observers, investment bankers chief among them, have long theorized about the relationship between the growth in the money supply and the performance of equity markets. Here’s an empirical update on the discussion.

Money Supply Growth

The first chart below shows the growth in money supply by country since 2007, as measured by M2.  As a brief reminder or introduction, M2 is the sum of total currency in circulation and in bank vaults, bank reserves, traveler’s checks, demand deposits, checkable deposits, savings deposits, and time deposits.  All numbers are in local currency; some countries were excluded due to lacking data.

On top in the money supply expansion game is Venezeula, with an overall growth of 867%.  The next largest expander has been Azerbaijan at 755%, followed by Ghana at 583%, Mongolia at 558%, Bolivia at 455%, Iraq at 377%, and Argentina at 354%.

On the bottom, the most prudent of central banks includes Portugal, with a growth in assets since 2007 of just 2.2%.  Portugal is followed by Ireland at 2.9%, Greece at 4.1%, Luxembourg at 13.7%, and El Salvador at 16.8%.

money suply

Growth in Equity Market Values

With the growth in money supply as the first side of the coin, the other side is the growth in equity prices.  Here’s the look at the performance of equity markets, by country, over the same period, 2007 – 2014.

On top in the equity market appreciation game since 2007 is the national exchange of Iran, with total appreciation of 670%.  The other four of the top five performing national equity markets include Argentina at 237%, Indonesia at 177%, Philippines at 121%, and Thailand at 116%.

On the other end, the top 5 poorest performing equity markets since 2007 include Botswana at -98%, Cyprus at -74%, Greece at -58%, Kazakhstan at 58%, and Macedonia at -56%.

equity

Putting the Two Together

With the two components addressed, here’s the connection between the expansion in money supply and the performance of equity markets.

The scatterplot graphic shows the correlation between the two, with each dot representing a country month.  The plot is from 2007 to year-to-date 2014. The positive and statistically significant regression line indicates that as a given country’s money supply increases, so does the given country’s equity markets.

As a caveat, all numbers are in local currency values.  Increases in a country’s money supply certainly affects other variables, including inflation and exchange rates.  A more complete analysis may want to include these factors.  With this caveat taken into account, the main conclusion still stands – money supply increase are generally correlated with equity market appreciation.

Interestingly, the correlation coefficient comes out to 0.28, meaning that a 1% increase in the money supply is correlated with a 0.28% increase in a given country’s equity market.

correlation

Concluding

Overall, in inspecting the relationship between the growth in money supply and the performance of equity markets, it certainly appears as though the two are connected.  Of course, before arriving at a complete conclusion, other variables may need to be included, including country inflation and exchange rate changes.

With the caveat that correlation does not imply causation, one could presume, simply based on correlation and common sense, that when central banks start getting serious about reducing the money supply (if they ever do), equity markets would be one of the first areas where the effects would be felt.

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Market observers (investment bankers chief among them) have long debated how political Federal Reserve policy is.  Some economists think officials at the Federal Reserve are completely immune from political pressure, akin to the way some legal observers think Supreme Court justices are impartial observers.  Others, perhaps the more enlightened ones, see Federal Reserve policy as almost completely political, similar to the way many legal observers see political agendas out of the supposedly impartial opinions of Supreme Court justices.

Here’s a look at what the Federal Funds target rate has been by U.S. President.

Federal Funds by President 

Although bunched together closely, one can clearly see trends by President.

President Obama

The current president is the most obvious outlier.  Since he took office in January 2009, President Obama has yet to see the Federal Reserve increase the Federal Funds target rate.  Instead, President Obama has experienced consistent losing throughout his Administration.  For some observers, this is no surprise given that the sitting president appointed the the current chair of the Federal Reserve.

Bush II

Interestingly, the figure shows much less consistency in the Federal Funds rate for Obama’s predecessor – Bush II.  In the first year of Bush II’s presidency, the Federal Funds rate was decreased from about 6 percent to about 1.75 percent.  The Federal Funds rate then floated around bottom for the next three years.  After spending three years in the trough, Mr. Greenspan’s Federal Reserve began tightening interest rates, with the Federal Funds rate going from a low of 1 percent to about 5 percent over the course of the next two years.  The rate then spent the next year at about 5.25 percent, after which the Federal Reserve began decreasing the target rate at a fairly rapid pace to end Bush II’s presidency.

President Clinton

Bush II’s presidency was preceded by President Clinton.  Surprisingly, although the 90s was full of heavy equity price appreciation, the Federal Funds target rate was much less volatile during Clinton’s presidency than it was during Bush II’s administration.  Clinton came into office with the Federal Funds target rate at 3 percent.  The rate doubled over the next two years to 6 percent.  After reaching 6 percent, the Federal Funds target rate spent the remainder of Clinton’s presidency floating in the narrow 5 percent to 7 percent range.

Bush I

Bush I consistently saw the Federal Reserve decrease the target rate during his time in office, going from 9 percent to 3 percent over his four years.

President Reagan

During Reagan’s time in office, the Federal Reserve only increased the Federal Funds target rate for a few months at a time.  The most severe was early in Reagan’s presidency, when Mr. Volker increased the rate from about 14 percent to as high as about 30 percent (third and fourth months of Reagan’s presidency).  Besides Mr. Volker’s defeat of the Carter years’ hyperinflation, the Federal Funds rate trended downwards during most of Reagan’s time in office.

Here’s another look at the numbers with a different view.  Each row represents each of the past 11 U.S. presidents (please note the different vertical axes).

Federal Funds by President (Different Scaled Axes)

So, any politics involved in the setting of the Federal Funds target rate?  It’s impossible to tell from the graphics or discussion if there is a bias.  Here’s a simple regression result to test further.

Simple Probit Regression Check

The probit regression results given below has as the dependent variable whether the Federal Reserve was in a general tightening (=1) or loosening cycle (=0).  The predictor is whether the president at the time was a Republican (=1) or Democrat (=0).

Interestingly, the -0.026 indicates that, in general, Republican presidents generally see less Federal Reserve tightening cycles than Democratic presidents.  The results, though, are not statistically significant at the 95 percent level, nor is the model a good fit.  Interesting though.

probit

Overall, although there may be politics behind the setting of Federal Reserve policy, in particular the Federal Funds target rate, it’s hard to show by just looking at the target rate by U.S. president.

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The Financial World’s Biggest Numbers

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Not that long ago, politicians and economic leaders trumpeted the idea that they had prevented the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.  In the same breath, they generally gave the impression that they had taken steps to prevent another financial collapse similar to the 2008 financial crisis.  Those steps apparently encompassed punishing banks with […]

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Are Investment Bankers Underpricing the Risk of Central Bankers Raising Rates Quickly?

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Central bankers have the option of increasing rates quickly.  They also have the option of taking a plodding approach. Although central bankers could, in theory, increase interest rates just as easily by 200 basis points as they could 25 basis points, investment bankers appear convinced that the latter will be the case for the foreseeable future. […]

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How is Employment in Investment Banking Doing Compared to Private Equity and Hedge Funds?

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If you had to guess which financial sector has seen the best recovery in employment, which would you guess? Would it be the popular, but beat-down hedge fund industry? Perhaps it would be the private equity industry given the strength in mergers and acquisitions recently and the availability of cash? On the other hand, maybe the industry […]

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When Having No Mentor Is Better Than Having a Bad One

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Let’s get one thing straight about mentors: They’re nice-to-haves, not have-to-haves. Someone in a senior position paving the way for you is a rare advantage, but counting on some patron to drag you up is just pathetic. Robert I. Sutton’s recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review site suggests five reasons why even a […]

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