"It is a bad sign for the market when all the bears give up. If no-one is left to be converted, it usually means no-one is left to buy.” The extraordinarily low level of "bearish" outlooks combined with extreme levels of complacency within the financial markets has historically been a "poor cocktail" for future investment success.
As we warned earlier, there is the potential for broad risk premium re-pricing across European nations on the back of Scotland's independence referendum decision; and nowhere is that more evident in the last 2 days than in Spanish bonds. So-called "referendum risk" - in this case related to Catalan independence - has sent Spanish bond yields up over 17bps (over 8.1% - the biggest single day jump since before the EU was formed) and risk spreads are 12-15bps wider as the UK experience (with growing support for UKIP alongside faster economic growth) raises the issue that economic recovery alone may not be enough to reverse the rise in anti-elite, anti-establishment sentiment across Europe.
The dramatic rise in support for Scottish independence is nowhere more evident than in GBPUSD implied volatility, which has soared to 3-year highs as The Guardian reports a further poll showing next week's referendum is on a knife-edge with a gap of just 1 percentage point between yes and no. As one 'Yes Scotland' representative noted, "This new Scotland could be less than a fortnight away. But we must not be complacent. The scaremongering, dissembling and misrepresentation of the no campaign will be ramped up as we approach polling day." Of course, Scotland is not the only EU nation seeking separation, as we illustrate below, and as Goldman Sachs notes, there could be a broader impact on the risk premium across Europe as Scottish independence leads to other calls for more regional autonomy.
History teaches clear lessons about how this episode will end – namely with a decline that wipes out years and years of prior market returns. The fact that few investors – in aggregate – will get out is simply a matter of arithmetic and equilibrium. The best that investors can hope for is that someone else will be found to hold the bag, but that requires success at what I’ll call the Exit Rule for Bubbles: you only get out if you panic before everyone else does. Look at it as a game of musical chairs with a progressively contracting number of greater fools.
For those just catching up on the main news event of the weekend, namely the sudden surge in Scotland "Yes" vote polling surpassing 50% for the first time, here is a complete round up of the background, updates and expert reactions from RanSquawk, Bloomberg and AFP.
If the market signs are blurry, your best option is to look at what the top investors are doing.
Yields on European sovereign debt have collapsed in recent months as investors piled into these 'riskless' investments following hints that the ECB will unleash QE (at some point "we promise") and the economic situation collapses. However, Mario Draghi has made it clear that any QE would be privately-focused (because policy transmission channels were clogged) and the appointment of Blackrock to run an ABS-purchase plan confirms that those buying bonds to front-run the ECB may have done so in error. As Rabobank's Elwin de Groot notes in six simple comments that he expects continued "procrastination" by the ECB over sovereign QE even after dismal economic data - and in doing so, exposes the entire facade behind The Fed's QE.
"Rather than trying to spur private-sector spending through asset purchases or interest-rate changes, central banks, such as the Fed, should hand consumers cash directly.... Central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, have taken aggressive action, consistently lowering interest rates such that today they hover near zero. They have also pumped trillions of dollars’ worth of new money into the financial system. Yet such policies have only fed a damaging cycle of booms and busts, warping incentives and distorting asset prices, and now economic growth is stagnating while inequality gets worse. It’s well past time, then, for U.S. policymakers -- as well as their counterparts in other developed countries -- to consider a version of Friedman’s helicopter drops. In the short term, such cash transfers could jump-start the economy... The transfers wouldn’t cause damaging inflation, and few doubt that they would work. The only real question is why no government has tried them"...
With USDJPY algos, and thus the S&P, reacting as if stung like bees by every fabricated headline emerging out of Ukraine (only to reverse the move promptly after once the market realizes the biggest war in Ukraine continues to be one of disinformation), there appears to be far more confusion about how the Ukraine conflict will play out than what the Fed will do (recall that everyone is certain today Yellen will release even more dovishness). So to help out with the confusion here are three scenarios and trades from JPM, on how the Ukraine conflict may play out, if only in capital markets.
After several months of quite complacency, investors were woken up Thursday by a sharp sell off driven by concerns over potential rising inflationary pressures, rising credit default risk and weak undertones to the economic data flows. One of the primary threats that has been readily dismissed by most analysts is the impact from rising interest rates...
We show that equity markets are stretched (e.g., more than 80% of the S&P rally since last year is due to re-rating), but we also find that the fixed income market has become quite rich (we have been overweight European peripherals for more than a year on valuation grounds, we show that this argument no longer holds), and the same is true of the credit market. Second because capital has been flowing rapidly into risky assets, we document that argument and here too find evidence that the market might be ahead of itself. We read the market reaction last week to the Portuguese news as a sign that the market is indeed too complacent and could correct rapidly.
"If you're not concerned, you're not paying attention" say Axel Merk, founder and Chief Investment Officer of Merk Funds (and former President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis and a former FOMC member). Like many, he sees today's excessive high-price, low-volume, zero-volatility markets as an unnatural and dangerous result of misguided intervention by the Federal Reserve... "Now, the capital base and the equity of the Fed is very small. Odds are that the losses would wipe out the equity at the Fed."
While Janet Yellen is bust ignoring "noisy" inflation and dismissing low volatility as indicative of any complacency, Goldman is a little more concerned. The decline in economic and asset market volatility this year from already low levels in 2013 has been striking, which as Markus Brunnermeier states, means "the whole system is more prone to a financial crisis when measured volatility is low, which tends to lead to a build-up of risk in the background – the so-called 'volatility paradox'."
Now, for the first time, we have empirical proof that hedge funds are indeed on the verge of extinction. In its hedge fund quarterly note (which it clearly ripped off from Goldman), Bank of America has concluded what we said in the beginning of the decade: "Hedge Funds are less attractive post the financial crisis with lower alpha and less diversification benefits." Or, in other words, hedge funds (for the most part: this excludes those extortionists also known as activists who successfully bully management teams into levering up in order to buyback record amounts of stock, in the process burying their companies and employers when the next downturn arrives) no longer provide a service commensurate to their astronomical fees.