There are things going on with the financial markets currently that seem just a bit "out of balance." For example, asset prices are rising against a backdrop of global weakness, deflationary pressures and rising valuations. More importantly, there is a rising divergence between sentiment and hard data. While weather can't be blamed yet, it will likely be the main "excuse" in the months ahead as early record snowfall is already impacting economic production. However, it isn't just the manufacturing data that seems "out of whack."
"The market has been dodging boomerangs, not bullets, and they are likely to come back harder for it." Importantly, rich valuations here cannot be “justified” by appeals to current interest rates or profit margins unless that justification carries with it the assumption that both zero interest rate policy and cyclically-elevated profit margins will be sustained for decades, coupled with the assumption that economic growth will proceed at historically normal rates.
Yes the US does not practice laissez faire capitalism. It never did. It manipulates sets intersest rates. The fx market is still understandable and the dollar is moving higher.
Investing in oneself and enterprises one actively controls may now be the only legitimate deployment of capital that qualifies as an investment in the traditional sense - that is, capital isn't being risked in rigged gambling halls and Ponzi schemes.
Next week marks the beginning of May and the potential for a regime change in US Treasuries. As BofAML's Macneil Curry notes, historically the month of May coincides with a jump in Treasury volatility. A seasonal analysis of implied Treasury volatility using the MOVE Index (Merrill Option Volatility Estimate) shows that May is traditionally the second strongest monthly of the year after December. With the MOVE Index also showing signs of basing, and 10yr Treasury yields stuck in an increasingly unsustainable narrow range, this May is unlikely to disappoint. While the long term trend for US 10s suggests that Treasury yields should climb higher, in the near term we prefer to take a wait and see approach, watching for a break of the range extremes at 2.825% and 2.591%.
Dispassionate big picture overview.
While the perma bears may find comfort in the dollar's decline, its weakness has not been very broad, but really limited to the euro, sterling and currencies that move in their orbit. Still further dollar declines look likely near-term.
Investors who believe that history has lessons to teach should take our present concerns with significant weight, but should also recognize that tendencies that repeatedly prove reliable over complete market cycles are sometimes defied over portions of those cycles. Meanwhile, investors who are convinced that this time is different can ignore what follows. The primary reason not to listen to a word of it is that similar concerns, particularly since late-2011, have been followed by yet further market gains. If one places full weight on this recent period, and no weight on history, it follows that stocks can only advance forever. What seems different this time, enough to revive the conclusion that “this time is different,” is faith in the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing. The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak...
As suggested here last week, the dollar moved higher over the past five sessions. Although it finished the week on a firm note, I suspect we may have a pullback before seeing higher levels. Here is why.
As the markets elevate higher on the back of the global central bank interventions it is important to keep in context the historical tendencies of the markets over time. Here we are once again with markets, driven by inflows of liquidity from Central Banks, hitting all-time highs. Of course, the chorus of justifications have come to the forefront as to why "this time is different." The current level of overbought conditions, combined with extreme complacency, in the market leave unwitting investors in danger of a more severe correction than currently anticipated. There is virtually no “bullish” argument that will withstand real scrutiny. Yield analysis is flawed because of the artificial interest rate suppression. It is the same for equity risk premium analysis. However, because the optimistic analysis supports the underlying psychological greed - all real scrutiny that would reveal evidence to contrary is dismissed. However, it is "willful blindness" that eventually leads to a dislocation in the markets. In this regard let's review the three most common arguments used to support the current market exuberance.
While there are a plethora of Wall Street analysts calling for much higher levels for the S&P 500; most of these calls are based simply on the belief that the current trajectory must continue indefinitely. While you certainly cannot "fight the Fed" the underlying fundamentals and economics that support the markets long term are not present for the party. What is very important to understand, and can be clearly seen in the chart below, is that despite repeated calls for "ever rising" stock markets in the past eventually left investors devastated. Markets do not, and cannot, continue indefinitely in one direction. Unfortunately, for most individuals, by the time they realize what is happening it will likely be far too late to act. Could the catalyst be 'language' changes from the FOMC as they see bubbles and froth in high-yield credit and margined stocks?
It is the yen, not the dollar, that is the key currency in the foreign exchange market.
There have been some large moves in the foreign exchange market in recent days. The euro posted its largest rally in four months last week. The yen has fallen to its lowest level against the dollar since June 2010 and extended the declining streak to nine consecutive weeks, something not seen since 1989. The Canadian and Australian dollar rose to multi-moth highs, as did the Mexican peso.
In last week's technical note, we suggested the key question whether the sharp drop in the major foreign currencies following the avoidance of the full fiscal cliff in the US was trend reversal or overdue correction. We favored the latter and looked for the underlying trends to continue. They did.
Now market participants face a different question. Given the out-sized moves, have the trends become stretched? The answer, we propose, is more nuanced than last week. There is not one answer for all the major currencies we review here.
Because there are still some traders who adhere to such old normal traditions as charting and technical analysis (because apparently the FOMC committee sits down each month and observes Ichimoku clouds, RSI indicators and Bollinger bands), it is probably notable that one of the most respected chartists, Steve Cohen's favorite technician Tom DeMark, is now uniformly bearish on virtually all markets around the world which have triggered a sell signal in his studies, and is about to drop the axe on the US as well where a "Daily 13" signal is imminent. The caveat, of course, is that in a world in which fundamentals haven't mattered in years, why should technicals?
The US dollar moved lower over the past week against the major currencies, with the notable exception of the Japanese yen. The greenback's technical tone has deteriorated. The euro and sterling appear to have convincingly broken above significant down trend lines. With the holiday season upon us, there seems to be no compelling technical reason not to look for a continuation of dollar weakness into the end of the year. Few are incentivized to fight the trend.
The extent of the Fed's easing, and the implication of its guidance, suggests an even more dovish posture than the expansion of QE3+ (remember it was purposely open-ended, unlike QE1 and QE2). While the euro zone economy appears to be contracting this quarter at a slightly faster pace than in Q3, the slowdown in the US is more dramatic. Growth may be more than cut in half from the 2.7% annual pace seen in Q3. The fiscal cliff is the main cause of consternation at the moment. Although there is private negotiations taking place, the public posturing is what investors have to guide them, and it is not particularly flattering.