As has been repeated on Zero Hedge many times, with the stock market just 15% off its post-Jackson Hole surge highs, the market continues to be irrationally exuberant that QE3 will come come hell or high water. No. That will not happen until all the mutual funds who have been holding for 2+ years realize that in order to get another heroin hit, some will have to be wiped out (thank near-record margin debt and record low cash holdings) before QE3 does arrive. The latest to confirm this is Goldman Sachs, which via a note just released by Dominic Wilson confirms our speculation that "QE3 optimism is excessive." Ironically, the only thing that will guarantee QE3 is a fresh round of significant pains which retraces the entire QE2 move higher. Nobody in the long-only community wants to hear it. Alas, it is the truth. As usual: he who sells first, will have a job tomorrow...
Part of the reason for speculating that QE3 optimism is excessive is that many investors believe that equity markets have been strangely resilient. We have ourselves pointed out that US equity indices have been vulnerable to the growth downgrade that their own rotations out of cyclical sectors imply, and some of that “gap” has recently closed. But it is also true that the current pattern of asset markets is broadly consistent with the way mid-cycle slowdowns are often priced. Cyclical assets underperform broad equity indices, bonds rally as the market adjusts its views of policy and that dynamic in turn partially cushions the hit to risk assets overall. As Themos Fiotakis described in a recent Daily, a weakening dollar is not uncommon in an environment where the global cycle is showing positive but declining growth. So the critical question again comes back to how persistent and how significant the underlying growth slowdown turns out to be. Amid all this is a reminder that the simplest US slowdown trade – mid-cycle or otherwise – is generally to be long US fixed income.
And some more observations:
While the market has been quick to price easier policy in the US in response to the growth slowdown, it has been slower to relax about EM tightening risk. At one level, that makes sense given tighter capacity and more intense inflation pressures in many of the large EM markets. But we think a US slowdown – up to a point at least – is probably more helpful to EM than to DM markets. This is simply the reverse of our argument in late 2010 that an accelerating US recovery would add to EM policy dilemmas by pushing commodity prices higher and providing a tailwind to local demand. While persistently slower US growth would be more troubling for the large developed economies that are still trying to make inroads into spare capacity, it would also create more “room” for EM economies to grow without hitting global constraints so hard. That was the rationale for our long EM Top Trade recommendation in April. The timing of our shift has clearly been premature. But we are less puzzled that EM equities have been outperforming again recently in this environment than we were by their underperformance in the first half of May. Our latest tactical FX trade recommendation to be short MXN/CLP, based on Robin Brooks’ and Alberto Ramos’s recent work on cyclical momentum in Latam, has a similar flavour.
One potential lesson of the last few months is that the global economy finds itself in uncomfortable places when US growth accelerates alongside robust growth in other parts of the world. Our latest round of forecast revisions in May were to a large extent about acknowledging that the energy constraint is more binding than we expected going into the year. The silver lining of a US slowdown could thus be that it takes the sharpest edge off some of the commodity-related inflation worries. Our own new forecasts look for higher commodity prices over the coming 18 months, but not for the kind of rapid acceleration that we started to see in the first quarter of this year in energy markets. Those forecast revisions do reinforce our preference for commodity exposures – having taken a break in April and early May – and Jeff Currie and team added fresh long recommendations in oil, copper and zinc two weeks ago. With that shift and an expectation of more USD weakness, we added a short $/NOK Top Trade recommendation (our eighth) at the same time, which is off to a good start.
Translation: prepare for much more selling (including precious metals which will likely see at least one or two rounds of margin call satisfying liquidation), before the time to front run the Fed comes again.