"In effect, by pursuing indexation we have introduced a socialist way of allocating capital in the heart of the capitalist system... As we all know, socialism is the ultimate form of freeloading. It has never worked, and it never will. This indexation is one of the most obvious forms of parasitism we have ever encountered."
The 2008 Wall Street meltdown is long forgotten, having been washed away by a tsunami of central bank liquidity. Indeed, the S&P closed today up by nearly 200% from its March 2009 low. Yet four cardinal measures of Main Street economic health convey nothing like a 2x pick-up from the post-crisis bottom.
Goldman Goes Schizo On Gold: Boosts Price Target To $1200 Even As It Is "Selling It With Conviction"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/23/2014 20:44 -0400
With less than 6 months to go until the end of the year, with various gold ETFs suddenly seeing the biggest buying in years, and with gold continuing to outperform most asset classes YTD, what is Goldman to do? Why follow the trend of course, and just like David Kostin had no choice but to boost his S&P 500 price target using the idiotic Fed model as a basis, so earlier today Goldman just upgraded its gold price target from $1,066 to $1,200. Probably this means that after accumulating it for the first half of the year, Goldman is finally preparing to sell the precious metal. Not so fast: because while Goldman did just raised its price target, it continues to have a Conviction Sell rating on Gold, which is its second most hated commodity after iron ore. Go figure.
The Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing has produced a historically prolonged period of speculative yield-seeking by investors starved for safe return. The problem with simply concluding that quantitative easing can do this forever is that even speculative assets have to compete with zero. When a safe zero return is above the medium or long-term return that one can estimate for a very risky asset, the rationale for continuing to hold the risky asset becomes purely dependent on expectations of immediate short-term price gains. If speculative momentum starts to break, participants often try to get out the door simultaneously – especially if there is some material event that increases general aversion to risk. That’s the dynamic that produces market crashes.
We are witnessing implied volatility on all asset classes simply collapse to the lowest levels witnessed in 20 years, or at least the lowest levels achieved prior to the GFC in early 2007.
Market bears take the position that stocks are expensive, citing a variety of indicators and arguing that profit margins should “mean revert” from record highs. On the other side, market bulls dispute the indicators and propose that fat margins are no big deal – they might just remain at record highs indefinitely.
“High margins reflect a long-term structural change, not a short-term cyclical one,” according to one account of a popular position. Or “It’s a mistake to think that margins will revert to a long-term mean just for the sake of reverting to a mean.”
The message seems to be that mean reversion is for losers. This is a new era, or it’s a new economy, or whatever. We're paraphrasing, but the story sounds a lot like the capital letter New Economy of the late 1990s. There’s even a technology angle once again, along with huge confidence in monetary policy and recession-free growth. Above all, there’s a notion that the world might be different. Needless to say, the new, new economy story comes with plenty of red flags.
Bill Gross lost "Bob" this week. The death of his cat sparked some longer-term reflection on the hubris of risk-takers, the mirage of magnificent performance, and the ongoing debate in bond markets - extend duration (increase interest rate risk) or reduce quality (increase credit risk). As the PIMCO boss explains, a Bull Market almost guarantees good looking Sharpe ratios and makes risk takers compared to their indices (or Treasury Bills) look good as well. The lesson to be learned from this longer-term history is that risk was rewarded even when volatility or sleepless nights were factored into the equation. But that was then, and now is now.
Howard Marks once wrote that being a "contrarian" is a lonely profession. However, as investors, it is the downside that is far more damaging to our financial health than potentially missing out on a short term opportunity. Opportunities come and go, but replacing lost capital is a difficult and time consuming proposition. So, the question that we will "ponder" this weekend is whether the current consolidation is another in a long series of "buy the dip" opportunities, or does "something wicked this way come?" Here are some "words of caution" worth considering in trying to answer that question.
Despite much hope that the current breakout of the markets is the beginning of a new secular "bull" market - the economic and fundamental variables suggest otherwise. Valuations and sentiment are at very elevated levels while interest rates, inflation, wages and savings rates are all at historically low levels. This set of fundamental variables are normally seen at the end of secular bull market periods. It is entirely conceivable that stock prices can be driven higher through the Federal Reserve's ongoing interventions, current momentum, and excessive optimism. However, the current economic variables, demographic trends and underlying fundamentals make it currently impossible to "replay the tape" of the 80's and 90's. These dynamics increase the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. The good news is that it is precisely that reversion that will likely create the "set up" necessary to launch the next great secular bull market. However, as was seen at the bottom of the market in 1974, there were few individual investors left to enjoy the beginning of that ride.
"Property taxes are equitable and efficient, but underutilized in many economies. The average yield of property taxes in 65 economies (for which data are available) in the 2000s was around 1 percent of GDP, but in developing economies it averages only half of that (Bahl and Martínez-Vázquez, 2008). There is considerable scope to exploit this tax more fully, both as a revenue source and as a redistributive instrument, although effective implementation will require a sizable investment in administrative infrastructure, particularly in developing economies (Norregaard, 2013)." - IMF
As the markets push once again into record territory the question of valuations becomes ever more important. While valuations are a poor timing tool in the short term for investors, in the long run valuation levels have everything to do with future returns. The current levels of profits, as a share of GDP, are at record levels. This is interesting because corporate profits should be a reflection of the underlying economic strength. However, in recent years, due to financial engineering, wage and employment suppression and increase in productivity, corporate profits have become extremely deviated. This deviation begs the question of sustainability. As we know from repeatedly from history, extrapolated projections rarely happen. Could this time be different? Sure. However, believing that historical tendencies have evolved into a new paradigm will likely have the same results as playing leapfrog with a Unicorn. There is mounting evidence, from valuations being paid in M&A deals, junk bond yields, margin debt and price extensions from long term means, "irrational exuberance" is once again returning to the financial markets.
The default cycle that should have occurred, given historical patterns of issuance cycles, has morphed (thanks to the Fed) into a refinancing cycle; but while DoubleLine's Jeff Gundlach suggests that fundamentals are supportive, "the valuation of junk bonds as a category is at its all-time overvalued versus long-time treasury bonds." So despite Yellen exclaiming that she sees no bubbles, one of the world's largest bond fund managers has never seen corporate bonds (investment grade and high yield) more expensive. Gundlach goes on to note he has sold some Apple (but believes it will remain range-bound), is baffled by the valuation of Chipotle, and sees 10Y Treasury yields dropping to 2.5% or lower.
I vividly remember how low interest rates and the Fed Model were used as propaganda tool in the late ’90s to justify the stock market’s “this time is different” sky-high valuation
While stock prices can certainly be driven much higher through the Federal Reserve's ongoing interventions, the inability for the economic variables to "replay the tape" of the 80's and 90's increases the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. Inflation-adjusted, the current rally of 115.56% is the 6th longest in history with the market still below its 2000 peak. We are currently at valuation levels where previous bull markets have ended rather than continued. Understanding the bullish arguments that support markets rise is important, however, the real risk to investors is the eventual and inevitable "reversion to the mean". In other words, what comprises that "light at the end of the tunnel" is critically important to the future of your investment success.