There once was a time when it was fair to say that Alan Greenspan was the biggest living contrary indicator of all time. Long before he became known to a wider audience, in early January of 1973, he famously pronounced (paraphrasing) that 'there is no reason to be anything but bullish now'. The stock market topped out two days later and subsequently suffered what was then its biggest collapse since the 1929-1932 bear market. That was a first hint that stock market traders should pay heed to the mutterings of the later Fed chairman when they concerned market forecasts: whatever he says, make sure you do the exact opposite. The reason why we feel he must be relegated to third place is that since then, arguably two even bigger living contrary indicators have entered the scene: Ben 'the sub-prime crisis is well contained' Bernanke, and Olli 'the euro crisis is over' Rehn. Admittedly it is not yet certain who will be judged the most reliable of them by history, but in any case, when Greenspan speaks, we should definitely still pay heed...
Despite the all-knowing Alan Greenspan confirming there is no irrational exuberance currently, Oaktree Capital's Howard Marks is less convinced. Though he is not bearish, he lays out rather succinctly the current pros and cons for equities - based on the various 'valuation' arguments, discusses the folly of the equity risk premia, and highlights the dangers of extrapolation and what history can teach us... "appreciation at a rate in excess of the cash flow growth accelerates into the present some appreciation that otherwise might have happened in the future... it isn't just a windfall but also a warning sign."
The underlying question in Bill Gross' latest monthly letter, built around Jeremy Stein's (in)famous speech earlier this month, is the following: "How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values?" He then proceeds to provide a very politically correct answer, which is to be expected for the manager of the world's largest bond fund. Our answer is simpler: We know there is an irrational exuberance asset bubble, because the Fed is still in existence. Far simpler.
It is hard to find a policymaker who hasn’t actively tried to talk his currency down. The few who don’t talk, act as if they were intent on driving their currency lower. Citi's Steven Englander argues below that the ‘currency wars’ impact is collective monetary/liquidity easing. Collective easing is not neutral for currencies, the USD and JPY tend to fall when risk appetite grows while other currencies appreciate. Moreover, despite the rhetoric on intervention, we think that direct or indirect intervention is credible only in countries where domestic asset prices are undervalued and CPI/asset price inflation are not issues. In other countries, intervention can boost domestic asset prices and borrowing and create more medium-term economic and asset price risk than conventional currency overvaluation would. So the MoF/BoJ may be credible in their intervention, but countries whose economies and asset markets are performing more favorably have much more to lose from losing control of asset markets. So JPY and, eventually CHF, are likely to fall, but if the RBA or BoC were to engage in active intervention they may find themselves quickly facing unfavorable domestic asset market dynamics.
Gold dropped $8.20 or 0.49% in New York on Friday and closed at $1,656.30/oz. Silver slipped to as low as $29.22 in London, but it then rallied to as high as $30.25 in New York and finished with a gain of 0.2%. Gold finished down 0.05% for the week, while silver was up 0.53%.
Friday’s U.S. nonfarm payrolls for December were 155K, 150K was expected and this was down from the previous data of 161K. The unemployment rate was still an elevated 7.8% suggesting a frail U.S. jobs market.
Sixteen years ago today, Alan Greenspan spoke the now infamous words "irrational exuberance" during an annual dinner speech at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Much has changed in the ensuing years (and oddly, his speech is worth a read as he draws attention time and again to the tension between the central bank and the government). Most critically, Greenspan was not wrong, just early. And the result of the market's delay in appreciating his warning has resulted in an epic shift away from those same asset classes that were most groomed and loved by Greenspan - Stocks, to those most hated and shunned by the Fed - Precious Metals. While those two words were his most famous, perhaps the following sentences are most prescient: "A democratic society requires a stable and effectively functioning economy. I trust that we and our successors at the Federal Reserve will be important contributors to that end."
The greater story behind Mark Carney’s appointment to the Bank of England may be the completion of Goldman Sachs’ multi-tentacled takeover of the European regulatory and central banking system. But let’s take a moment to look at the mess he is leaving behind in Canada, the home of moose, maple syrup, Jean Poutine and now colossal housing bubbles. George Osborne (who as I noted last month wants more big banks in Britain) might have recruited Carney on the basis of his “success” in Canada. But in reality he is just another Greenspan — a bubble-maker and reinflationist happy to pump the banking sector full of loose money and call it “prosperity” before the irrational exuberance runs dry, and the bubble inevitably bursts.
Is There a Better Way to Allocate Stocks?
Reports that the housing sector is recovering has generated more than a little irrational exuberance among investors regarding financials.
Since the EU-Summit, US and European equity markets have (in general) outperformed. From being in sync before the Summit, US equities went into the weekend with a sell-off, which then spurred a short-squeeze push as the S&P 500 was over-exuberant (relative to European equities) on the way up at the start of last week. That cracked back to reality at the end of last week - squeezing the over-levered longs to a significant underperformance relative to European equities. It would appear that in the last 24 hours, US equities are now rallying back to that European 'surreality'. Surreal because European stocks remain dramatically exuberant relative to European (peripheral spreads unch and AAA massively bid) and US (Treasuries bid) bonds and European corporate and financial credit. As we stand, the S&P 500 has retraced back to Europe's 'fair' perspective.
For the past six months we have extensively discussed the topics of asset depletion, aging and encumbrance in Europe - a theme that has become quite poignant in recent days, culminating with the ECB once again been "forced" to expand the universe of eligible collateral confirming that credible, money-good European assets have all but run out. We have also argued that a key culprit for this asset quality deterioration has been none other than central banks, whose ruinous ZIRP policies have forced companies to hoard cash, but not to reinvest in their businesses and renew their asset bases, in the form of CapEx spending, but merely to have dry powder to hand out as dividends in order to retain shareholders who now demand substantial dividend sweeteners in a time when stocks are the new "fixed income." Yet while historically we have focused on Europe whose plight is more than anything a result of dwindling cash inflows from declining assets even as cash outflow producing liabilities stay the same or increase, the "asset" problem is starting to shift to the US. And as everyone who has taken finance knows, when CapEx goes, revenues promptly follow. Needless to say, at a time when still near record corporate revenues and profit margins are all that is supporting the US stock market from joining its global brethren in tumbling, this will soon be a very popular point of discussion in the mainstream media... in about 3-6 months.
The Fed’s promise to use more QE should the economy falter is supporting gold.
The global economic picture remains grim, with euro zone economic sentiment falling more than
expected in April and the US job market recovery showing signs of a slowdown.
Apple earnings and the tech boom and indeed possible tech bubble remains one of the primary
drivers of continuing irrational exuberance and risk appetite.
The poor and deteriorating economic backdrop is gold supportive.
22% of the Q1 earnings season (by market cap) is over, and anyone listening merely to soundbites and reading media headlines would likely think that stocks have soared as a result of a relentless parade of beats. One would be mistaken. In fact, as the chart below shows, there is something very wrong with this earnings season...
The Fed is clearly worried about the economy. Ben Bernanke's latest speeches aren't exactly inspiring. It is as if he thinks the rosy(ier) numbers are some prank being played upon him by the gods; that soon this will all be taken away. He is right. He admits he doesn't understand why the economy is the way it is. Reality doesn't fit his theory. ("It's supposed to work, dammit!") So, what do you do when you are the head of the world's biggest printing press, and don't know what else to do? Why QE3 of course.
Deals from last week tell me that we are are again in a credit bubble.