Posts tagged Federal Reserve
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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Doves on Parade

My main job on these pages is to  distil the market Narrative™ for my readers, and recent events have made this week’s missive a layup. The debate on whether to fire, and how to arm, the fiscal bazooka has continued, and now monetary policymakers have joined the party. For a while, it seemed as if the world’s biggest central banks were sleepwalking into coordinated tightening, or in the case of the PBoC, failing altogether in the attempt to counter a sustained cyclical slowdown. To the extent that the Q4 chaos in equities was investors’ vote on this strategy, they should consider their message received. In Japan, signs of wage growth briefly alerted markets to the prospect that the JGB market would be un-frozen by further loosening of the yield-curve-control. But the truth is that Kuroda-san is stuck. With global headline inflation pressures now easing, manufacturing and exports struggling, and the looming consumption tax, the BOJ isn’t going anywhere fast; zero rates and (modest) balance sheet expansion will continue as far as the eye can see.  In Frankfurt, the ECB recently downgraded its assessment of the economy—the convoluted shift from “broadly balanced” to “downside” risks—and expectations are building that the TLTROs will be extended, or even renewed and expanded.

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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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Slipping and Sliding

Unfortunately, the stand-out move in markets since my last report—the crash in oil prices—is one on which I have little to say, let alone expertise. I didn’t see it coming, and I am not exactly sure why it happened. That said, I am not here to make excuses, so I’ll try to connect the dots as well as I can. A sudden fear of over-supply due to a shift in OPEC policy doesn’t seem to cut it as an explanation. I am more inclined to buy the idea of linking it with the jump natural gas prices, deeming it an erstwhile winning spread-trade gone wrong, at least in part. Pierre Andurand’s name has been mentioned too, which certifies that this has been a real rout in the oil market. Mr. Andurand’s $1B commodities fund reportedly shed a cool 20.9% last month.  Whatever the causes of the swoon in oil, it serves as a decent entry the broader market discourse. I am sympathetic to the argument by Cameron Crise, a strategist with Bloomberg, that “Recent energy-price mayhem is just the latest sign that something about these markets looks broken.” Cameron goes on: “The presumption of a continuous liquidity spectrum is clearly an errant one.” Most readers of these pages will have plenty of recent examples that fit this picture, so I’ll jump straight to the grand conclusion.

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