Posts tagged Equities
Front-running Easy Money

In a nutshell, this is what my models are telling at the moment: the three-month stock-to-bond ratios in the U.S. and Europe have soared, indicating that equities should lose momentum in Q2 at the expense of a further decline in bond yields. That said, the three-month ratios currently are boosted by base effects from the plunge in equities at the end of last year. They’ll roll over almost no matter what happens next. Moreover, the six-month return ratios are still favourable for further outperformance of stocks relative to fixed income. Looking beyond relative returns, my equity valuation models indicate that the upside in U.S. and EM equities is now limited through Q2 and Q3, but they are teasing with the probability of outperformance in Europe. Finally, my fixed income models are emitting grave warnings for the long bond bulls, a message only counterbalanced by the fact that speculators remain net short across both 2y and 10y futures. This mixed message from my home-cooked asset allocation models is complemented by a mixed message from the economy. The majority of global growth indicators still warn of weaker momentum, but markets trade at the margin of these data, and the green shoots have been clear enough recently. Chinese money supply and PMIs showed tentative signs of a pick-up at the end of Q1, a boost reinforced by data last week revealing that total social financing jumped 10.7% y/y in March.

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Making sense of it all

I think that I am on record somewhere for saying that I would sell everything if the 2s5 inverted. Well, it just did—by a slender margin of 2bp—and for that reason alone, I should have a view. It isn’t easy, though, to add something that hasn’t already been added by the cacophony of comments on the back of recent gyrations in U.S. bonds. If a falling tree in an empty forest doesn’t make a sound, does a yield curve inversion matter if everyone has been talking about it for a year? As it happens, the tree does make a sound, and the yield curve inversion does matter, though not for the reason that you might think.  Rick Reider, CIO of the investment manager Blackrock, is a smooth operator, and he delivers the goods in a few tweets. The significance of a yield curve inversion is not about its ability to predict a recession in the U.S., or elsewhere—more about that in a bit—but about the following three points. First, the Fed has some questions to answer; second, an inverted yield is as much a statement of markets’ perception of the Fed’s neutral/terminal rate as it is about its ability to forewarn about a recession, and third; bonds are finally offering a bit of protection for balanced portfolios. This week, I’ll go through each of these points in turn. 

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A lot of noise, less signal

I promise that I will not do an explainer of the VIX this week. Instead, I will lead with some observations on markets and finish with a war-story from the world of retail investing. The return of equity volatility has engendered two responses. Firstly, it seemed as if investors breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when it became clear that we could peg the swoon to the blow-up of short-vol ETFs and related strategies. It is always scary when markest fall out of bed, and even more if so if we can’t explain why. Blaming excessive risk-taking in short-vol strategies assured that the sell-off, while painful, would be short.  Secondly, every strategist note that I have subsequently read—and comments from policymakers—have echoed this sentiment. A sell-off was long overdue and is perfectly normal. There is nothing to worry about, and underlying economic fundamentals for risk assets remain robust. Many have even welcomed the volatility as a sign of healthy markets. I have no particular reason to disagree, but my spider sense tingles when investors and strategists welcome a 10% puke in equities. I understand that macro traders are excited but real money and long-only? The logical response from markets would seem to be: “Oh, so you think you’re tough?”

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As you were

On a headline level, 2018 has started exactly as 2017 finished. Stocks are up, U.S. short term rates are up—but the dollar has traded heavy—and economic data continue to tell a story of a synchronised upturn in global growth. The bears are furious, or perhaps just confused. Hussman recently published a prepper’s guide to a hypervalued market. And value investor extraordinaire—and famed bear—Jeremy Grantham from GMO invokes the “highest-priced markets in US history,” but also proclaims that we’re now in the  “melt-up phase” of the bull market. I am all for holding opposing views at the same time, but markets demand a view and a position. So which is it Mr. Grantham? Long, short, or flat? I am not holding my breath for an answer. I have long since left the extremes behind. Picture a spectrum with Hussman and GMO at one end, and the wet-behind-the-ears trader, who have never experienced a sizeable drawdown in Spoos, at the other end. Hint: You want to be somewhere in between.

Separating signal from noise is an important skill in this game, and markets currently are throwing a number of curve balls at investors. What better way to kick off 2018 than by highlighting the ones that matter.

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