Discussion of a market bubble (in stocks, credit, bonds, Farm-land, residential real estate, or art) have dominated headlines in recent weeks. However, QEeen Yellen gave us the all-clear this morning that there was "no bubble." Are we currently witnessing a market bubble? It is very possible; however, as STA's Lance Roberts notes, if we are, it will be the first market bubble in history to be seen in advance (despite Bullard's comments in opposition to that "fact"). From a contrarian investment view point, there is simply "too much bubble talk" currently which means that there is likely more irrational excess to come. The lack of "economic success" will likely mean that the Fed remains engaged in its ongoing QE programs for much longer than currently expected - and perhaps Hussman's pre-crash bubble anatomy is dead on...
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...
The risk of a more meaningful reversion is rising. It is unknown, unexpected and unanticipated events that strike the crucial blow that begins the market rout. Unfortunately, due to the increased impact of high frequency and program trading, reversions are likely to occur faster than most can adequately respond to. This is the danger that exists today. Are we in the third phase of a bull market? Most who read this article will immediately say "no." However, those were the utterances made at the peak of every previous bull market cycle. The reality is that, as investors, we should consider the possibility, evaluate the risk and manage accordingly. With the current bull market now stretching into its fifth year; it seems appropriate to review the three very distinct phases of historical bull market cycles. While the current bull market cycle may not be set to end tomorrow; it seems sensible to take a pause to question mainstream beliefs.
Secular bull markets are great parties. Investors arrive from secular bears really wanting to take the edge off. As the bull proceeds, above-average returns become intoxicating. By the time it is over, the past decade or two has delivered bountiful returns. In contrast, secular bears seem like hangovers. They are awakenings that strip away the intoxication, leaving a sobering need for an understanding of what has happened. If history is a guide, the inflation rate will at some point trend away from the present price stability. The result will be a significant declining trend in P/E. If this occurs over a few years, the market losses will be dramatic. These processes take many years. Be careful not to let hope for the next secular bull mask the reality of the current secular bear.
"When things are going well people become greedy and enthusiastic, and when times are troubled, people become fearful and reticent. That’s just the wrong thing to do. Another mistake that people often make is that they compare themselves with others who are making more money than they are and conclude that they should emulate the others’ actions ... after they’ve worked. This is the source of the herd behaviour that so often gets them into trouble... As long as human nature is part of the investment environment, which it always will be, we’ll experience bubbles and crashes.... People talk about the wisdom of the free market – of the invisible hand – but there’s no free market in money today. Interest rates are not natural. They are where they are because the governments have set them at that level. Free markets optimise the allocation of resources in the long run, and administered markets distort the allocation of resources. This is not a good thing..." - Howard Marks
The price-to-trend-earnings multiples also raise questions about the Federal Reserve’s long campaign to prop up asset prices through unconventional policies. The “wealth effects” sought by the Fed are mostly bringing forward gains that would have otherwise occurred in the future. They’re weakening tomorrow’s growth in return for a shot in the arm today. Of course, policymakers would like you to believe their actions are stabilizing. But the last two decades suggest otherwise. And the chart above reinforces the risk that we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day-like loop of living through the same boom-bust cycle over and over. It shows that the next policy-induced bust may be gradually coming into view.
It is perhaps too soon to tell if the market is beginning a topping process or just pausing during the current advance. The bulls will argue valuations, Fed interventions and low interest rates. They could be right for a while longer but not for the reasons expressed as much as the continued push of panic buying driven by current price momentum. However, given the current set of circumstances, most investors fail to realize about the current market environment is that with stocks already stretched to extremes, trading driven by computerized programs and near record levels of leverage - a break in the market could lead to a very fast, unprecedented and unanticipated plunge in asset prices... "Still, we know that the same strenuously overvalued, overbought, over bullish syndrome observed in 1972, 1987, 2000, 2007 and even 1929 (on imputed sentiment data) is already in place here, and that the losses from such extremes have been spectacular."
We have discussed the idea of a VaR shock (driven by Abe/Kuroda's loss of control) a number of times recently but as Saxo's Steen Jakobsen fears, reality is about to hit as the marginal cost of capital normalizes. The world, so far, has been kept in artificial equilibrium by the way quantitative easing (QE) and fiscal policies bring support and endless liquidity to the 20 percent of the economy that mostly comprises large and already profitable companies and banks with good credit and good political access. The premise for supporting these companies is based on the non-existent wealth effect which unfairly culminates in supporting the haves to the detriment of the have-nots. However, as Jakobsen notes below, things are rapidly changing; the recent increase in yields has happened despite no real improvement in the underlying data. The the next few days are potential major game changers – the bloated VaRs will make people hedge and over hedge, and the normalization process of rising risk premiums and higher real rates (higher yield plus lower inflation) will lead to more selling off of those trades that have "worked so far"... and increase volatility in their own right.
While the market itself has exhibited the exuberance we have all seen before (and never seem capable of learning from), BNP has quantified this love-panic relationship (and the news is not great for the bulls). When in 'love' mode, the average drop in stocks has been 12% in the next six months. The biggest drivers of this "love" have been investor confidence, CoT positioning, short-interest, relative trading volumes, and sectoral outperformance with fund-flows shifting away from "love" suggesting the short-term top is in. The index itself peaked a week or two back at levels of "love' not seen since pre-Lehman; not a good sign.
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.
Seth Klarman Expains When "Investing Is At Its Hardest" And Why He Is Not Joining The Momentum TradeSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 05/05/2013 08:35 -0500
If you thought that Baupost's Seth Klarman would be the next to join twitter, #timestamp his minute-holding trades, ignore the money-losing ones, trumpet his winners, always make money, scream at all those who don't agree with his "strategy", and otherwise become what is known these days as a (momentum) investor, we have some bad news: it's not happening. Here's why.
One of the simplest, most overused and popular assertions is that claim that stocks must rise because interest rates are so low. In fact, you cannot get through an hour of financial television without hearing someone discuss the premise of the Fed Model which is earnings yield versus bond yields. The idea here, once formalized as the "Fed Model," is that stocks' "earnings yield" (reported or forecast operating earnings for the S&P 500, divided by the index level) should tend to track the Treasury yield in some fashion. This simply doesn't hold up in theory or practice.
First it was thousands of dead pigs floating in the Shanghai water supply (at last estimate over 16,000), then a thousand dead ducks were pulled from a river in the Sichuan province, and now, pushing the meme beyond even its most grotesque boundaries, we learn that five black swans were found floating lifeless on the pond of Anhui University’s old campus in Hefei, traditionally inhabited by a bevy of black swans. From Danwei: "The latest instance of floating dead animals in China – first pigs, then ducks, and now black swans – these mere five black swans became an object of heated discussion on the Internet right after the announcement was made. How did they die? Was it a natural disaster or another man-made one? As Star News tells us today, upon hearing of the news yesterday it immediately sent a journalist to the scene to find out exactly what happened. What he found was just one more filthy pond filled with oily water and garbage."
As the markets once again approach historic highs - the overly exuberant tone, extreme complacency and weakness in the economic data, bring to mind Bob Farrell's 10 investment rules. These rules should be a staple for any long term successful investor. These rules are often quoted yet rarely heeded - just as they are now. Farrell became a pioneer in sentiment studies and market psychology. His 10 rules on investing stem from personal experience with dull markets, bull markets, bear markets, crashes and bubbles. In short, Farrell has seen it all and lived to tell about it. Despite endless warnings, repeated suggestions and outright recommendations - getting investors to sell, take profits and manage your portfolio risks is nearly a lost cause as long as the markets are rising. Unfortunately, by the time the fear, desperation or panic stages are reached it is far too late to act and we will only be able to say that we warned you.
Typically, we humans will anchor on the most recent patterns - especially if they conform to our anchored inherently optimistic bias. It seems, once again, that just as in previous euphoric stages of equity market cycles, we are doing the same again. There are plenty of market movements that remove any hope for the 'who could have seen it coming?' herd: European stock and bond markets 'breaking' their positive contagion trends (core and periphery); US credit markets seeing very disturbing trends of selling pressure and technical outflows; and US equity valuations reaching multi-month highs in the face of declining earning, declining macro fundamentals, and declining GDP expectations. With US stocks at highs against a plunging US macro background and EU stocks slumping against a rising EU macro background, it appears good is bad and bad is good and while we do not know what catalyst stalls the can-kicking hope in the short-term, the longer the divergence from reality lasts, the bigger the fall to come.