The FOMC has used experimental tools for so long to keep the accelerator pressed that it fears what happens when the car stops. Therefore, the FOMC believes they have little choice other than to keep the car going forward, which works until it doesn’t. The risk/reward tradeoff continues to skew unfavorably. The farther markets move into the right-tail side of the distribution curve, the deeper they will eventually more into the left-tail. Vrooom...Crash.
What if Janet Yellen is wrong?
Risk is no longer priced into anything. Volatility has gone to sleep. Uniformity of thought has taken over the stock market. Complacency has reached a point where even central banks have begun to worry about it: the idea that markets can only go up – once entrenched, which it is – leads to financial instability because no one is prepared when that theory suddenly snaps. But all this bullishness, this complacency is only skin deep. Beneath the layer of the largest stocks, volatility has taken over ruthlessly, the market is in turmoil, people are dumping stocks wholesale, and dreams and hopes are drowning in red ink.
As the chart below shows, there’s much the Fed doesn’t understand, while at the same time showing that QE may have little purpose beyond providing a massive gift to wealthy traders and investors. With regard the question of where a dollar of QE goes, the answer is “not far.” Outside of pushing up asset prices and encouraging an occasional luxury purchase, it doesn’t seem to escape the financial sector. Liquidity that might otherwise be offered by private institutions is instead provided by the Fed, and – as Phil Collins might put it – that’s all.
While the last 2 weeks have seen numerous Fed heads, most vociferously Bill Dudley, warning of 'complacency' in markets, fearsome of low volatility and worried about low risk spreads. Of course, investors don't care - don't fight the fed unless the fed tells you to sell, appears the mantra-du-jour. Fed communications are not working... and so they have left it to their mouthpiece - WSJ's Jon Hilsenrath - to explain that they are indeed concerned at just how risk-free markets have become..."Federal Reserve officials, looking out at mostly calm financial markets, are starting to wonder whether tranquility itself is something to worry about."
A day after the Federal Reserve warned that "low level of expected volatility implied by some financial market prices might also signal an increase in risk appetite" and this complacency; the Bundesbank has decided to try and jawbone back investors' exuberance across Europe. As Die Welt reports, while stocks and bonds are near record highs across Europe - thanks to the ECB's Mario Draghi's promises, Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret warned "we see risks - despite the fact that markets are calm," and perhaps incredibly suggested investors "flatten all risks now to avoid the herd behavior."
It was supposed to be a blistering Mega Merger Monday following the news of both AT&T'a purchase of DirecTV and Pfizer's 15% boosted "final" offer for AstraZeneca. Instead it is shaping up to be not only a dud but maybe a drubbing, with AstraZeneca plunging after its board rejected the latest, greatest and last offer, European peripheral bond spreads resume blowing out again, whether on concerns about the massive Deutsche Bank capital raise or further fears that "radical parties" are gaining strength in Greece ahead of local elections. But the worst news for BTFDers is that not only did the USDJPY break its long-term support line as we showed on Friday, but this morning it is taking even more technician scalps after it dropped below its 200 DMA (101.23) which means that a retest of double digit support is now just a matter of time, as is a retest of how strong Abe's diapers are now that the Nikkei has slid to just above 14,000, while China, following its own weak housing sales data, saw the Shanghai Composite briefly dip under 2000 before closing just above it. Overall, it is shaping up to be a less than stellar day with zero econ news (hence no bullish flashing red headlines of horrible data) for the algos who bought Friday's late afternoon VIX slam-driven risk blast off.
“I am often asked why I do not support a more rapid deceleration of our purchases, given my agnosticism about their effectiveness and my concern that they might well be leading to froth in certain segments of the financial markets. The answer is an admission of reality: We juiced the trading and risk markets so extensively that they became somewhat addicted to our accommodation of their needs… you can’t go from Wild Turkey to cold turkey overnight."
It has been a very quiet session so far, and despite the slow-mo levitation in the USDJPY, its impact on US equity futures has been minimal if not negative. In fact, following yesterday's latest late day tumble, which Goldman summarized as follows, "Equities tried and failed again to break 1885, it continues to be the level that we can’t escape"... it would appear we are increasingly changing the trading regime, and as Guy Haselmann explained simply, markets are slowly but surely coming to the realization that the Fed's crutches are being taken away (that they may well return following a 20%, 30%, or more drop in the S&P is a different matter entirely) and that the economy will not grow fast enough to make up for this. Perhaps the most notable "event" is the sheer avalanche of banks pushing up their forecasts for an ECB rate cut (and or QE start) to June following Draghi's yesterday comments. And so the 1 month countdown begins until the end of forward guidance, or until the ECB "shatters" its credibility as expained yesteday.
In one of his most voracious tomes, The Wall Street Journal's Fed-see-er Jon Hilsenrath prepared 726 words and published them in 5 minutes to explain that the Fed's forecasts for Q1 were dismally wrong, that the future will all be rosy, and their forecasts spot on, and that the Taper is steady..."Fed officials acknowledged the first-quarter slowdown was worse than expected by saying activity "slowed sharply." Previously, they had just said activity merely slowed...Still, officials nodded to signs of a pickup in economic activity in March and April, suggesting they aren't too worried about the winter slowdown."
In case you misunderstood and judged the market's reaction to Janet Yellen's first FOMC statement, the ultimate Fed mouthpiece is out with a few clarifying words (well 712 words posted in under 4 minutes). The Wall Street Journal's Jon Hilsenrath clarifies "The Fed stressed it has not changed its plan to keep interest rates low long after the bond-buying program ends," and added further that "the Fed said explicitly for the first time that it likely would keep short-term rates lower than normal, even after inflation and employment return to their longer-run trends." While noting a bigger consensus of members around a 2015 rate 'liftoff', Hilsenrath is careful to point out that the Fed also blamed the weather for not having a clue.
As Bill Clinton once famously stated; "What is....is" and while the current market "IS" within a bullish trend currently, it doesn't mean that this will always be the case. This is why, as investors, we must modify Clinton's line to: "What is...is...until it isn't." That thought is the foundation of this weekend's "Things To Ponder." In order to recognize when market dynamics have changed for the worse, we must be aware of the risks that are currently mounting.
While Janet Yellen fell back on the ubiquitous central banker statement that she "would do all that [she] can" it was Dallas Fed's Richard Fisher who raised the most eyebrows yesterday. In a speech in Mexico City, the central banker said he was concerned about "eye-popping levels" of some stock market metrics warning that the Fed must monitor the signs carefully to ensure bubbles were not forming. While other Fed members have paid lip-service to bubbles, Fisher explicitly discussed stocks in the context of the dot-com boom of the late '90s warning of "the ghost of 'irrational exuberance'" and worried about corporate bonds too.
It is still all about the Yen carry which overnight tumbled to the lowest level since November, dragging the Nikkei down by 4.8% which halted its plunge at just overf 14,000, only to stage a modest rebound and carry US equity futures with it, even if it hasn't helped the Dax much which moments ago dropped to session lows and broke its 100 DMA, where carmakers are being especially punished following a downgrade by HSBC of the entire sector. Also overnight the Hang Seng entered an official correction phase (following on from the Nikkei 225 doing the same yesterday) amid global growth concerns and has filtered through to European trade with equities mostly red across the board. Markets have shrugged off news that ECB's Draghi is seeking German support in the bond sterilization debate, something which we forecast would happen a few weeks ago when we pointed out the relentless pace of SMP sterilization failures, with analysts playing down the news as the move would only add a nominal amount of almost EUR 180bln to the Euro-Area financial system. Elsewhere, disappointing earnings from KPN (-4.3%) and ARM holdings (-2.5%) are assisting the downward momentum for their respective sectors.
With the market more bullishly positioned, more euphoric, and more levered than almost any time in history, it is perhaps worth "pondering" what some of the risks to this optimism could be...