We have clearly been in a recent run of higher interest rates, with a looming "threat" that there might be less quantitative easing before the end of the year. It would appear now that Bernanke wants to leave his successor to implement what everyone knows must be coming at some point: a return to a normal interest-rate environment. While rising interest rates are bad for me personally (for another four months), a return to normalcy would be good for our future – though the transition is likely to be bumpy.
With this in mind, I offer this week's Outside the Box from Louis and Charles Gave. In a brief essay entitled "Bad Omens," they note:
… if the recent global equity market sell-off can be laid at the feet of the 100bp move higher in US bond yields, it is hard to know how another 50bp increase in real rates will be digested.
US investors might not have noticed, but there is carnage scattered here and there on the world's markets, and not just the equity markets. The central banks of the world, in their furious attempts to promote stability through easy-money policies, have cooked up a witches' brew of instability of unknown quantity and contents. There is no set formula for this concoction; they are making it up as they go along. Anything that seems to calm the storm momentarily becomes the order of the day. Bernanke hints at the mere possibility of less easing (not tightening, God forbid!), something that we all know must happen at some point, and the market throws up and half a dozen Fed governors go on the air to say "Not really … maybe … we are going to be cautious … we'll go slow … no one wants to do anything rash" – etc. It was almost comical.
Thus we can expect a volatile summer (as the interns man the trading desks), and I think you will find the Gaves' insights useful.
Bad OmensBy Louis Gave & Charles Gave
In late May we published a debate piece on the near-term outlook for equity markets. Since then, emerging markets have once again lived up to their name by proving themselves hard to emerge from during an emergency (in USD terms, Brazil is down –35% year to date while Chinese valuations are back to 2008-crisis levels); for their part, European and US equity markets have pulled back, while the only salvation has come from Japan (the one market where it’s possible to find attractive valuations, accelerating economic activity and liquidity growth feeding off a Tour de France vitamin cocktail). But is this a case of Japan being the best looking horse in the glue factory? In the following paper, we aim to review a number of signs from equity markets that look somewhat ominous. Needless to say, we welcome any feedback on the below.
The question at hand: is this a break-out?
The chart over-leaf traces the relative performance of the S&P 500 against long-dated bonds since the Asian Crisis in 1997. Since then, the world has experienced a series of deflationary shocks, each of which has been met by more activism from the Fed and other central banks: i.e.: lower rates and higher monetary base growth. And each time, the excess money allowed for the rise in a few asset classes (TMT in the late 1990s, housing and financial intermediaries in the mid 2000s, commodities, fixed income instruments and emerging markets in the late 2000s...). But each time, the asset price rise was followed by an equity market bust; begging the question of whether the bust that seems to be unfolding in emerging markets is now the third iteration of a movie every investor has seen before (and which few have enjoyed)? Or whether the recent correlation between bonds and equities indicates that the repeated deflationary shocks are a thing of the past and nominal GDP g rowth will accelerate from now on? Could we be at a structural turning point?
1– A first bad omen: fewer markets rising
In the chart below, we take the top twenty equity markets in the world and compile a diffusion index that shows how many rose in the previous six months, against how many fell. So when the grey bar is at +20, global equity investors have made money in every major market; when the index reads –20 they found nowhere to hide. And when the number is in negative territory, it simply means that more markets have fallen then risen in the previous six months. The red line is the performance of the S&P 500. Since 1992, we have had 14 occurrences in which more stock markets were falling than rising. In 10 of these 14 occurrences, the S&P500 fell by at least –10%. In the other 4, the S&P 500’s performance hovered between 0% and –10%. As things stand, the S&P 500 has recorded a double digit rise in the past six months, a major divergence.
2– Another bad omen: collapsing silver prices
Unfortunately, it’s not as if, lately, equity markets have been the only place to lose money. Indeed, as every gold bug has rediscovered in recent months, precious metals have again proven that they are anything but a safe-haven. Still, drops of 30% or more in silver prices do not happen that often: looking back at the past 100 years, such drops have only occurred 11 times. And interestingly, each one of these massive declines marked a significant change in the world financial system.
Continue reading here.