We discussed the major rotation, overvaluation, and underperformance of high-yield credit markets recently as relevering stock-buying-back firms find their source of funding starting to dry up. The question is - why now? Perhaps this chart of the wall of maturing corporate debt ($3.9 trillion by 2019 which will need massive liquidity to roll-over and will eat earnings thanks to higher coupons) is what triggered the anxiety as the end of QE and start of rate-hikes looms close...
Despite an early dump on dismal data, US equity markets (except Trannies) 'v-shape-recovery'ed back up to unchanged or better (as Europe closed and POMO ended) on the heels of an increasingly more beta-sensitive AUDJPY rampfest. Trannies never really recovered (3rd down day in a row) and Russell was less exuberant in its dead-cat-bounce but the Dow and S&P closed very modestly green. High-yield credit markets continue to widen - now at 10-week wides (up 35bps from tights) - notably divergent from stocks. Away from the shenanigans in stocks, the USD ended unchanged; Treasury yields were up 1-2bps; and gold closed very modestly lower. Oil slipped 0.5% to $101.60. VIX closed unch. Only the Nasdaq is green post MH17 Headlines on 7/17 and The Russell 2000 is -1.9% and Homebuilders -9% year-to-date.
Yesterday, in what was probably a case of moronic drivel penner's remorse, the same firm which just upgraded its S&P price target by 150 points two weeks ago, decided to... downgrade stocks. But only kinda, sorta and only for the next 3 months: Kostin is unwilling to go so far as to tell the whole truth so while he did downgrade stocks to Neutral through October, he is still Overweight equities over the next 12 months. In other words, sell in July but don't go away, and keep on buying over the next 12 months, or something. To wit: "We downgrade to neutral over 3 months as a sell-off in bonds could lead to a temporary sell-off in equities. This makes the near-term risk/ reward less attractive despite our strong conviction that equities are the best positioned asset class over 12 months, where we remain overweight."
As we have been highlighting for a few weeks, something is rotten in high-yield credit markets. This week, the mainstream media is starting to catch on as major divergences in performance (high-yield bond spreads are 30-40bps off their cycle tights from just prior to MH17 even as stocks rally to new record highs) and technicals weaken. However, as BofA warns, flows follow returns and this week saw the biggest outflows from high-yield funds in more than a year. Investment grade bonds saw notable inflows as investors chose up-in-quality, rather than reach-for-yield, for the first time in years... equity investors, pay attention.
Following yesterday's disappointing results by Visa, which is the largest DJIA component accounting for 8% of the index and which dropped nearly 3%, while AMZN's 10% tumble has weighed heavily on NASDAQ futures, it has been up to the USDJPY to push US equity futures from dropping further, which it has done admirably so far with the tried and true levitation pump taking place just as Europe opened. One thing to keep in mind: yesterday the CME quietly hiked ES and NQ margins by 6% and 11% respectively. A modest warning shot across the bow of what may be coming down the line?
Treasury yields pushed 4-5bps higher on the day - the worst in 3 weeks - as yesterday's test of 2014 lows saw some reactive bond-selling. Asian and EU PMIs sent stocks to record-er highs but absymal US PMI and housing data took the shine off the exuberance early on (despite the best efforts at a 5th short-squeeze ramp at the open in a row). AUDJPY was in charge of stocks once again helping the S&P desperatly cling to unchanged. Espirito Santo bankruptcy headlines stumbled stocks at around 1300ET (but that dip was bought). The USD rose modestly (now up almost 0.5% on the week) led by GBP and EUR weakness but that was nothing compared to the dumpfest in precious metals. Silver's worst day in 6 months and a big drop in gold retraced them to near June FOMC levels. Credit markets continue to diverge bearishly from stocks (now 30bps wider than the tights as stocks rally to new highs). Despite the ubiquitous late-day ramp, stocks ended the day mixed around unchanged (and VIX higher on the day). By the close the S&P 500 closed +0.045% to a new all-time-record high.
Following the overnight ramp in various JPY crosses (dragging equity futures higher, and the Nikkei up 0.8%) it is as if the market is desperate to put all of last week's geopolitical events in the rearview mirror, and while yesterday there were no economic events of note, today's CPI and existing home prints should provide at least some distraction from the relentless barrage of one-line updates on Ukraine and Gaza. Still, that is precisely where the biggest risk remains, with an emphasis on the possibility of more Russian sanctions, this time by Europe.
They call them ‘junk bonds’ for a reason. They now constitute an offence against linguistic decency: ‘high yield’ no longer even is. “By sacrificing quality an investor can obtain a higher income return from his bonds. Long experience has demonstrated that the ordinary investor is wiser to keep away from such high- yield bonds. While, taken as a whole, they may work out somewhat better in terms of overall return than the first-quality issues, they expose the owner to too many individual risks of untoward developments, ranging from disquieting price declines to actual default.” - Ben Graham, ‘The Intelligent Investor’.
There is a glaring divergence between the performance of US equities and high-yield credit's spread over investment-grade credit. As BofAML warns, "either HY rallies or stocks soon in a bit of trouble," because the only pillar left to hold up the fragile un-bubble-like stock market - buybacks - will disappear if costs of funding start to surge (there's always a limit to the leverage a credit cycle will bear). The more concerning aspect is that it appears investors are already rushing for the doors... as this week saw the largest HY outflows in over a year.
We show that equity markets are stretched (e.g., more than 80% of the S&P rally since last year is due to re-rating), but we also find that the fixed income market has become quite rich (we have been overweight European peripherals for more than a year on valuation grounds, we show that this argument no longer holds), and the same is true of the credit market. Second because capital has been flowing rapidly into risky assets, we document that argument and here too find evidence that the market might be ahead of itself. We read the market reaction last week to the Portuguese news as a sign that the market is indeed too complacent and could correct rapidly.
For a centrally-planned market that has long since lost the ability to discount the future, and certainly respond appropriately to geopolitical events, yesterday was a rough wake up call with a two punch stunner of not only the MH 17 crash pushing the Ukraine escalation into overdrive, but Israel's just as shocking land invasion of Gaza officially marking the start of a ground war, finally dragging global stocks out of their hypnotized slumber and pushing risk broadly lower across the globe, even if the now traditional USDJPY and AUDJPY ramp algos have woken up in the past few minutes and will be eager to pretend as if nothing ever happened.
If last week's big "Risk Off" event was the acute spike in heretofore dormant Portugese bank troubles (as a reference Banco Espirito Santo has a market cap at the close last night stood at around €2.1bn ($2.9bn), contrasting to Goldman Sachs ($78.1bn) and JP Morgan ($220.5bn)), then yesterday's acceleration in the Portuguese lender's troubles which as we reported have now spread to its holding company RioForte which is set to default, were completely ignored by the market. Today this has conveniently flipped, following a Diario Economico report that Banco Espirito Santo has the potential to raise capital from private investors. No detail were given but this news alone was enough to send the stock soaring by nearly 20% higher in early trading. Still, despite the "good", if very vague news (and RioForte is still defaulting), Bunds remained bid, supported by a good Bund auction, in part also dragged higher by Gilts, which gained upside traction after the release of the latest UK jobs report reinforced the view that there is plenty of spare capacity for the economy to absorb before the BoE enact on any rate rises. Also of note, touted domestic buying resulted in SP/GE 10y yield spread narrowing, ahead of bond auctions tomorrow.
The current elevation in asset prices is clearly beginning to reach levels of exuberance particularly in high yield "junk" bonds (and small caps). This time, like every other time before, will eventually end the same. However, while this time "is not different" in terms of outcome, the fundamental level from which the eventual "reversion to the mean" occurs will likely surprise most of the mainstream "bullish" clergy. Take a step back from the media, and Wall Street commentary, for a moment and make an honest assessment of the financial markets today. If your job is to "bet" when the "odds" of winning are in our favor, then exactly how "strong" is the fundamental hand you are currently betting on? (and are you willing toi bet your retirement on it?)
The Fed spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on increasing Lending with the idea that loan growth increases economic activity. Is it possible that it is Interest Income derived from Savings that is more important to economic growth?
A nervous peace prevails in the financial markets as central banks sit on their throne, fingers at the ready on the liquidity switch. As UBS' Bhanu Baweja notes, most volatility buyers have been 'rolled' into their graves. As they have explicitly targeted risk premia in addition to rates, a lot more hangs on the monarchs of monetary policy today than it has in previous cycles. While growth and inflation are both low, they are not necessarily uncertain; and although every crisis is different, certain patterns tend to repeat and certain events have reliably driven volatility higher.