Posts tagged oil prices
Valuations to the Rescue?

Equities have wobbled a bit at the start of the month, but unless they lose the plot in coming weeks, it is fair to say that Q1 will be everything that Q4 wasn’t; decent and calm. Indeed, the finer details reveal an even more striking dichotomy with the calamity that culminated in the rout at the end of last year. Between June—when the PE multiple peaked at just under 21—and the low for the S&P 500 in the final weak of December, EPS rose by 13%, but the index fell by 10%. In other words, the multiple crashed, a story which was repeated across almost all key DM and EM indices. By contrast, the story so far in Q1 is the exact opposite. By my calculation, trailing EPS for the S&P 500 and MSCI World are down 0.5% and 2.1% year-to-date, respectively, but both indices have rallied smartly. This can only mean one thing; multiples have expanded, and they have indeed, by about 14% in both cases since the end of December. I am confident that the tug-of-war between multiple expansion and deteriorating earnings will determine the fate of many equity investors in 2019. 

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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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