Posts tagged political uncertainty
Head fake?

It’s been a choppy start to the year, but last week’s price action added to the evidence that the bulls have regained control, at least temporarily. The MSCI World and HYG US equity are now about 8% and 5% higher, respectively, from their lows in December, and treasury yields are up across the board. The rebound has been broad-based, but European and EM equity indices have shown particularly promising signs, consistent with the fact that they have, after all, been much cheaper than their U.S. counterparts through the Q4 chaos.   These headlines are good news, but at this point, I am not willing to treat them as evidence of anything but a reflexsive rebound in the wake of a horrific Q4. Short-term indicators suggest that a lot of fear already has been priced-out. The put/call ratio on Spoos it peaked at 2.7 SDs above its mean on December 27th, but has since plunged to -1.0 SDs. Normally, this would be a sign of complacency, at least in the very short run, but the put/call ratio looks more balanced on Eurostoxx 50, indicating that the picture for global equities as a whole is more neutral.  Other indicators also suggest that the market can run a further. My first chart shows that that the crash in the U.S. stock-to-bond return ratio at the end of 2018 was similar to the plunge during the EZ sovereign debt panic in 2012, and well in excess of the Chinese devaluation scare in 2015/16.

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Watching and Waiting

Sometimes it is best just to sit back and do nothing, and perhaps, watching the World Cup isn’t such a bad way to spend your time at the moment. Last week, I laid out what I consider the two main economic and market themes. First, real narrow money and liquidity growth is slowing, which is usually a bad sign for risk assets and second, monetary policy divergence is being stretched to new extremes. I surmise that most of the key macro-trading trends can be derived from these two stories. All other important themes are just crammed into the box labelled political uncertainty, a box which incidentally is increasingly full to the brim. The consensus is that political risk is the dog the never barks; this true on a headline level. But I can’t help but think that markets are a like deer caught in the headlight. Everyone is waiting for one of the political land mines to blow up, but no one knows what to do about it. In the U.S., Mr. Trump has escalated the global trade wars, though markets are not exactly pricing-in the end of the globalised world order as we know it. Rather, they seem to have settled on the idea that the U.S. is winning. Small cap U.S. equities have soared, and the dollar is bid. The latter effectively is an equaliser. If the dollar rises as U.S. imposes import tariffs, the real economic impact of Mr. Trump’s policies will be curbed, perhaps even neutralised altogether.

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Is the Wall of Worry Becoming Vertical?

The melt-up, and break-out, in the U.S. stock market recently is a classic case of the market once again climbing the wall of worry in a convincing fashion. Political and economic uncertainty has surged. Trump is now real contender, the Brexit limbo persists, Italian banks are on the brink, and Turkey is wobbling. But the mighty S&P 500 has no time for such petty headwinds, as low yields press investors to seek returns in the equity market. We have seen this movie before, and it ends badly eventually, but it could go on for a while. This is especially the case if investors are starting to discount that EU politics are about to get really ugly.

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