Value Strikes Back

That screeching sound you heard in equities last week was caused by a train wreck underneath the surface of a steady uptrend in the market as a whole. The hitherto outperformance of growth and momentum reversed sharply, a move that coincided with a steeper curve and a tasty outperformance of value and small caps. The dramatic rotation across equity sectors, and the steepening yield curve, vindicate the story peddled on these pages recently. But the question is whether this is the beginning of a sustainable shift in markets, or whether it’s merely an invitation to buy the dip in an eternally winning strategy? It’s difficult to say. Robert Wiggleworth’s expertly written overview of the flurry in the FT certainly suggests that strategists have taken note, equating last week’s gyrations to the so-called “Quant Quake” in 2007. Apart from the fact that the event is significant enough to merit at least a small footnote in modern finance history, the quotes garnered by Robin indicate that strategists are at least mulling the idea that the shift has legs. This, in turn, presumably means that they’re advising their clients to run with the reversal, which almost surely would do nicely for the portfolio

Read More
Not long now

Too many themes have caught my attention recently, so I’ll stick with some points on markets this week, leaving my more discursive thoughts for later. I think two things currently are serving to make sure that markets resemble deer caught in the headlights. For starters, Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed is keeping everyone on edge, whether they like it not. Markets clearly are moving as he tweets—no matter how crazy the statements—and to the extent that the president is using his executive powers to affect policy, he is liable to announce it on Twitter, even if he does decide not to go ahead. This makes Trump’s twitter feed a bit like nonfarm payrolls. Everyone knows that it is a lagging indicator, that it is heavily revised, and notoriously volatile due to seasonal adjustment and sampling issues. Still, knowing the headline in advance can make you a lot of money. In short; traders have to stay alert to Mr. Trump’s volatile ramblings. Secondly, markets are waiting for the decisions by the Fed and the ECB later this month. Further easing is all but guaranteed from both central banks, but expectations are elevated, increasing the risk of a disappointment. In any case, it is fair to say that whatever they actually do this month, the guidance from messieurs Powell and Draghi will be just as important as the actual actions taken by the FOMC and ECB.

Read More
Control This

My pre-holiday missive that FX volatility is making a comeback. Mr. Trump’s threat to slam tariffs on Chinese consumer goods earlier this month prompted the PBoC to step back and “allow” USDCNY to breach 7.0. This, in turn, drove the U.S. to label China as a currency manipulator. Markets now have to consider that the trade war are morphing into currency wars. This is significant for two reasons. First, it confirms what most punters already knew; the CNY is inclined to go lower if left alone by the PBoC. Secondly, it has brought us one step closer to the revelation of how far Mr. Trump is willing to go. The problem for the U.S. president is simple. He can bully his main trading partners with tariffs, “winning” the trade wars, but he is losing the currency wars in so far as goes as his desire for a weaker dollar. The veiled threat to print dollars and buy RMB assets, as part of the move to identify China as a manipulator, is a loose threat. Just to make it clear; it would involve the Fed printing dollars and buying Chinese government debt and/or stakes in SOEs, which would probably be politically contentious. Moreover, the PBoC could respond in kind; in fact, it probably would.

Read More
(FX) Volatility to Make a Comeback?

I said my peace on what I consider to be the big market stories last week, so I won’t belabour bonds and equities too much this week. FX markets, however, could well be the driver of the NarrativeTM in the next few months, at least judging by the rustling of the grapevine. This story starts with the notion of the “global Fed,” which is not a new idea at all. Fed watchers tend to pivot between two extremes in their analysis of, and forecasts, for U.S. monetary policy. In one end, Fed conducts itself according to the reality of a relatively closed U.S. economy, without regard to the impact of its policy on the rest of the world, and the value of the dollar. At the other end, the Fed acts according to its role as a warden of the global reserve currency, taking into account the impact of its policy on the rest of the world. A more cynical version of this story is the idea that the Fed, in a world of free capital mobility, is constrained by the fact that other major central banks, in economies with large external surpluses, are stuck at the zero bound. This could happen in practice as tighter monetary policy in the U.S. drives the value of the dollar higher and/or leads to an increase in capital inflows. Both likely would drive up the external deficit, which would probably be counterproductive in an environment when the Fed would otherwise want to raise rates to curb inflation pressures.

Read More