With the fundamental and economic backdrop becoming much more hostile toward investors in the intermediate term, understanding the value of cash as a "hedge" against loss becomes much more important. As John Hussman recently noted: "The overall economic and financial landscape, then, is one where obscene valuations imply zero or negative S&P 500 total returns for more than a decade — an outcome that is largely baked-in-the-cake regardless of shorter term economic or speculative factors. Presently, market internals remain unfavorable as well. Coming off of recent overvalued, overbought, overbullish extremes, this has historically opened a clear vulnerability of the market to air-pockets, free-falls and crashes."
Importantly, while the "bias" of the market is to the upside, primarily due to the psychological momentum that "stocks are the only game in town," the mounting risks are clearly evident. From economic to earnings-related weakness, the "bullish underpinnings" are slowly being chipped away.
Will they, won't they, should they or shouldn't they? Those are the questions being hotly contested by the mainstream media on a daily basis. Of course, the reality is the Federal Reserve faces the huge obstacle of weak global growth and deflationary pressures which could very well keep them on hold well into 2016. The potential loss of credibility in the Fed by the markets could be the bigger issue to be concerned with. For now, we wait.
If one looks at the NDX alone, one would have to conclude that the bull market is perfectly intact. The same is true of selected sub-sectors, but more and more sectors or stocks within sectors are waving good-bye to the rally. Even NDX and Nasdaq Composite have begun to diverge of late, underscoring the extreme concentration in big cap names. Naturally, divergences can be “repaired”, and internals can always improve. The reality is however that we have been able to observe weakening internals and negative divergences for a very long time by now, and they sure haven’t improved so far. In terms of probabilities, history suggests that it is more likely that the big caps will eventually succumb as well.
Should the Fed actually hike in December (the statement explicitly mentioned the possibility), we think it’s highly likely to become a “one and done” that will be taken back shortly, similar to the BoJ’s handful of attempts to hike rates after the bursting of the 1980s bubble. We say this simply based on the economy’s actual performance. After all, it took only a minimal tightening of policy (the “tapering” of QE3) to induce a bust in the sector most exposed to capital malinvestment.
“It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.”
"Investors are now facing the second most extreme episode of equity market overvaluation in U.S. history (current valuations on similar measures already exceed those of 1929). The belief that zero interest rates offer no alternative but to accept risk in stocks is valid only if one believes that stocks cannot experience profoundly negative returns. We know precisely how similar valuation extremes have worked out for investors over the completion of the market cycle, and those outcomes have never been deferred indefinitely. The only question at present is how many grains are left in the hourglass."
The inherent problem of "eternal bullishness" is the "wilfull blindness" to the underlying data in an effort to chase short-term returns. This leads to the unfortunate problem of being "all-in" on every hand which has a devastating consequence when a mean reverting event occurs. In the end, it does not matter IF you are "bullish" or "bearish." The reality is that both "bulls" and "bears" are owned by the "broken clock" syndrome during the full-market cycle. However, what is grossly important in achieving long-term investment success is not necessarily being "right" during the first half of the cycle, but by not being "wrong" during the second half.
This past week saw the markets rebound off their lows which has brought the "bulls" rushing back claiming the correction is over. However, is that really the case?
What most investors do not realize currently is they could go to "cash" today and in five years will likely be better off. However, since making such a suggestion is strictly "taboo" because one might "miss some upside," it becomes extremely important for measures to be put into place to protect investment capital from the coming downturn. Of course, since Wall Street does not make fees on investors holding cash, maybe there is another reason they are so adamant that you remain invested all the time.
With the Federal Reserve still hinting at raising interest rates, but trapped by weak economic growth, will the next big move by the Fed be another form of monetary accommodation instead? Or, are the underlying dynamics of the economy and market really strong enough to shake off the recent weakness and continue its bullish ascent?
When you tell people in self denial the market could drop 40% in a few months, they think you are crazy. They declare this could never happen. They would get out of the market before it would fall vertically. Their memories are conveniently short as their normalcy bias and cognitive dissonance blind them to what happened over three months in 2008/2009. We wonder how many willfully ignorant investors can handle a 50% to 70% haircut in their 401k, especially if they are over 50 years old. We wonder how much angrier the populace will become when the current recession results in more job losses, bankruptcies and revelations of Wall Street malfeasance. Beware of the bear.
What has always separated successful professional gamblers from the "weekend sucker" is knowing when to step away from the table.
Some people will never learn... ever. What is happening today is nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The iceberg has been struck, we’re taking on water, and this sucker is going to sink. Game Over.
The current surge in dis-inflationary pressures is not just due to the recent fall in oil prices, but rather a global epidemic of slowing economic growth. While Janet Yellen addressed this "disinflationary" wave during her post-meeting press conference, the Fed still maintains the illusion of confidence that economic growth will return shortly. Unfortunately, this has been the Fed's "Unicorn" since 2011 as annual hopes of economic recovery have failed to materialize. However, it is these ongoing views of optimism that have collided with economic realities.