Posts tagged yields
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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Are Bonds Setting a Trap?

The easiest way for U.S. bond markets to entice investors to abandon their obsession with a flattening yield curve—and whether it’ll soon invert—always was to steepen it. The spreads between 5y/10y and two-year yields have widened to 17bp and 30bp, respectively, about 10bp wider than at the end of August. More importantly, this move has occurred as a result of higher mid-to-long term yields. A few basis points don’t make a trend, but the combination of U.S. 5y and 10y bond yields pushing above 3% introduces a number of erstwhile dormant narratives into the mix. Perhaps the mythical neutral, or terminal, rate is higher than the Fed and markets think? Fed Chair Jerome Powell admitted recently that the FOMC probably doesn’t know where this rate is. This argument makes little sense in the context of the dots, which seem to imply that a policy rate of a bit over 3% in 12-to-18 months time is deemed restrictive. But it makes sense if this signal is no longer relevant for markets. The always optimistic David Zervos, the Chief Strategist for Jeffries, detects a shift at the Fed. “The most important takeaway here is that the probability of an aggressive late-cycle curve inversion has plummeted. (...) Maybe Jay goes there if we start ripping toward 3500 in spoos, but it won’t be because of the inflation or growth data.” 

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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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What if the Fed doesn't matter?

Markets were focused on one of their favourite pass-times last week; fed watching. The FOMC underlined that it considers recent softness in core inflation to be transitory, and also defied uncertainty over two hurricanes which battered the U.S. earlier. Mrs. Yellen informed markets that the run-off of the Fed’s balance sheet will begin in October and that the Fed believes the economy is strong enough to warrant a continuation of the so far slow, but steady, hiking cycle. The peanut gallery saw this as a moderately hawkish statement, but this was because markets had been pricing out a December rate hike going into Wednesday’s meeting. Fed funds futures and front-end rates have since corrected to reflect a near certainty that the Federales will raise rates one more time this year, likely in December. In effect, though, the Fed merely confirmed the path that it set out 12-to-18 months ago. Last week’s signal to markets from the Fed led punters to re-evaluate a vexing question; does the market lead the Fed or the other way around? The vibe I am getting from the veterans on FinTwitter is that the Fed laid down the gauntlet, signalling that it intends to push on. If that is true, trades are there for the taking. 

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