Here’s my metaphor for investors and central bankers today — the brilliant Cars.com commercial where a woman is stuck on a date with an incredibly creepy guy who declares that “my passion is puppetry” and proceeds to make out with a replica of the woman.
After bouncing into mid-March, bourses across the European continent have struggled to maintain any momentum. In fact, as of today, many of the broader European averages are trading back at late-February levels. Furthermore, on a relative basis, European stocks have lagged so badly that they have now set a new record for futility.
Unlike yesterday's overnight session, which saw some subtantial carry FX volatility and tumbling European yields in the aftermath of the TSY's anti-inversion decree, leading to a return of fears that the next leg down in markets is upon us, the overnight session has been far calmer, assisted in no small part by the latest China Caixin Services PMI, which rose from 51.2 to 52.2. Adding to the overnight rebound was crude, which saw a big bounce following yesterday's API inventory data, according to which crude had its biggest inventory draw in 2016, resulting in WTI rising as high as $37.15 overnight
The market's slumberous levitation of the past month, in which yesterday's -0.3% drop was the second largest in 4 weeks and in which the market had gone for 15 consecutive days without a 1% S&P 500 move (in March 2015 the sasme streak ended at day 16) may be about to end, after an overnight session, the polar opposite of yesterday's smooth sailing, which has seen a sudden return of global risk off mood.
In a quiet start to the week following last week's surprisingly strong rebound which followed a stronger than expected jobs report (perhaps to demonstrate that good news is once again good news), Japan stocks continued to sink as the USDJPY dropped to fresh lows, while commodities declined for a fifth day as the supply glut from crude to copper weighed on prices, dragging down commodity currencies. European equities rose, rebounding from a one-month low.
US equity markets rebounded by the greatest amount ever in Q1 to end the quarter with a "keep the dream alive" positive return. This 'central-bank'-sponsored bounce occurred as S&P 500 earnings expectations plunged 9.6% - the biggest quarterly collapse since Q1 2009. Simply put, nothing else matters.
In a note released on Friday night, JPM's Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou has several important observations, the main of which is that CTAs and risk parity funds - which appear to have driven March’s equity rebound - are both significantly overweight equities. As a result he points to figure 2 below as an indication of a "more vulnerable equity market relative to a month ago, with all of the above types of funds currently overweight equities apart from discretionary macro hedge funds which appear to be still close to neutral."
The lessons I learned in Japan leave me comfortable with this outlook. Years of staring at low JGB yields certainly immunized me from the sticker shock associated with low Treasury yields... In Japan, with a negative yield on 10-year JGBs, investors are paying the government to borrow out to a 10-year term and spend. If the public sector ignores these types of messages on a global scale and private demand globally remains deficient, those same investors will accept still lower yields on government bonds outside of Japan – our base case for the rest of 2016.
"The Fed is increasingly worried about these ever-weaker fundamentals, yet asset markets seem more preoccupied with the omnipresence of the Fed put than downside cyclical risk. This then perhaps points to the bigger underlying concern for investors, the overwhelming build-up of leverage in the system. For in the absence of sensible drivers of returns (i.e. sensible interest rates, EPS growth etc.), investors and corporates resort to leverage.... With miserly rates of return on offer in fixed income markets, investors are leveraging up. The longer the Fed feeds this game, the bigger the mess when the inevitable downswing comes along."
For Japan, the post "Shanghai Summit" world is turning ugly, fast, because as a result of the sliding dollar, a key demand of China which has been delighted by the recent dovish words and actions of Janet Yellen, both Japan's and Europe's stock markets have been sacrificed at the whims of their suddenly soaring currencies. Which is why when Japanese stocks tumbled the most in 7 weeks, sinking 3.5%, to a one month low of 16,164 (after the Yen continued strengthening and the Tankan confidence index plunged to a 3 year low) it was anything but an April fool's joke to both local traders.
“This has the makings of a gigantic funding crisis..."
On the last day of an extremely volatile first quarter, following the latest torrid push higher in risk assets over the past two days following Yellen's dovish Tuesday comments, today has seen a modest pull back in risk, whether because the market is massively overbought, because someone finally looked at what record multiple expansion that has taken place in Q1 as earnings are set to collapse by nearly 10%, or simply due to fears that tomorrow's payrolls number will show an abnormal amount of minimum wage waiters and bartenders added.
At the end of the day, it was all about the dollar and the reason for this morning's stock surge around the globe, as we noted last night, is absurdly delightful: Yellen signaled "weakening world growth" and "less confidence in the renormalization process." In other words, the "bad news is good news" mantra is back front and center.
With Europe back from Easter break, we are seeing a modest continuation of the dollar strength witnessed every day last week, which in turn is pressuring oil and the commodity complex, and leading to some selling in US equity futures (down 0.2% to 2024) ahead of today's main event which is Janet Yellen's speech as the Economic Club of New York at 12:20pm, an event which judging by risk assets so far is expected to be far more hawkish than dovish: after all the S&P 500 is north of 2,000 for now.