Churn is probably the best way to describe equity markets at the moment. Inter- and intra-day volatility have increased, which is great news for the traders—and investment banks, apparently—but it isn’t much help to the rest of us. It reduces the signal-to-noise ratio, which has already been stung by the persistent cloud of political uncertainty, the threat of trade wars and related themes. Everyone likes to talk about this, but these events have, so far, been of no consequence whatsoever to markets as far as I can see. All that moaning notwithstanding, I am happy to report that the portfolio had its first decent month of the year in April. I was beginning to wonder whether I could be that bad at picking my horses. My confidence is now restored slightly, although I am still behind the mighty Spoos. Also, the next calamity is never far away. Equity strategists are now telling me to worry about another thing: The multiple-crushing rise in oil prices. Looking beyond the idea that a higher oil price ought to result in divergence between energy and the rest of the market, the idea is simple. A sharp rise in oil prices drives up inflation expectations and bond yields, both of which are poison for valuations. Multiple-expansion turns into contraction, and equities struggle.
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