Despite the ubiquitous v-shaped recovery in stocks from the US open to EU close (decoupling entirely from bonds), stocks slumped into the end of the quarter leaving the S&P and Dow barely positive for Q3 and Russell 2000 down 7.9% - its worst quarter since Q2 2011 (and -5.2% year-to-date). Treasury yields flip-flopped around in a 4-5bps range with a late-day ramp (suggesting liquidations cough PIMCO cough) leaving 30Y -1bps on the week. The USDollar suged higher in the European session and traded lower in the US session. The bigger news on the day was the carnage in commodities that appeared to occur around the European close (desk chatter of commodity fund liquidations). Silver and WTI Crude were monkey-hammered, gold and copper dropped to down 1% on the week. VIX pumped and dumped again but closed above 16. Stocks closed very weak with Russell tumbling 1.5% on the day to not "off the lows."
There is nothing like the release of secret tape recordings to clarify an inconclusive debate. Actually, what the tapes really show is that the Fed’s latest policy contraption - macro-prudential regulation through a financial stability committee - is just a useless exercise in CYA. Macro-pru is an impossible delusion that should not be taken seriously be sensible adults. It is not, as Janet Yellen insists, a supplementary tool to contain and remediate the unintended consequence - that is, excessive financial speculation - of the Fed’s primary drive to achieve full employment and fill the GDP bathtub to the very brim of its potential. Instead, rampant speculation, excessive leverage, phony liquidity and massive financial instability are the only real result of current Fed policy.
Heavy volume and volatile price action early in stocks and high-yield credit markets subsided later in the day as despite several big stocks in the red, the indices jammed higher in the last hour desparate to get positive (on terrible volume) but failed. Treasury yields fell 3-4bps early on and stuck near the lows of the day (ignoring equity's exuberance). High-yield credit rallied back off early spike wides at 380bps (with desks noting heavy demand for protection) but remains worse than stocks. VIX tested above 17 and crashed back below 15.5. The USD ended the day unchanged (AUD weakness notable) but gold and silver slipped lower with oil (back over $93) and copper up on the day. Camera-on-a-stick smashed over 11% higher to $91.50 as the 41% float short continues to get squeezed out.
The key question now is “Can the U.S./global economy handle a meaningful downturn in financial asset prices?” The short answer is that it may not have a choice. The Federal Reserve has done what it can to juice the American economy and has the balance sheet to prove it. Central banks, for all their power, do not control long term capital allocation or corporate hiring practices. Fed Funds have been below 2% for six years. If the U.S. economy can’t continue to grow in 2015 as the Federal Reserve inches rates higher, there are clearly larger issues at play. And those private sector problems will need private sector solutions.
The Nasdaq, Russell 2000, and Dow Transports have been rescued in their high-beta manner all the way back to green by an initial USDJPY ramp to ignite some momentum "off the lows". Treasuries and credit refuse to play along and even USDJPY has decoupled as stocks surged on a VIX-slamming (from over 17 to 15.50) ramp to unch. Safe-haven buying of camera-on-a-stick continues (+8% today).
This week's 35bps rise in high-yield credit spreads (or ~10%) is the worst since at least June of last year and anxiety spread through other asset-classes appropriately as cheap-buyback-funding and liquidity concerns weighed on all equities - most aggressively small caps. The Russell 2000 is down around 4% from FOMC (and for the year) even with today's buying-panic this afternoon trying to rescue yesterday's losses. Much of today's moves were thanks to The Bill Gross Effect - Treasury short-end sold (2Y-5Y +5bps, 30Y unch), corporate bond spreads jumped wider (HY +20bps, IG +4bps), and European bonds (and German stocks) lurched lower. Markets recovered some of the early move but 2Y closed at 2014 yield highs. The USD closed 1% higher for the 11th week in a row to June 2010 highs. WTI crude close +1.5% on the week, gold unchanged, and copper and silver lower. VIX jumped 22% on the week, closing above 14.5.
With over half of all the stocks in the Russell 2000 and Nasdaq already in a bear market, US equity market indices are becoming increasingly driven by a highly concentrated set of stocks that lack any relationship to macro factors. As BofA shows in the charts below, participation in the record-high exuberance in stocks is waning... and waning fast... But, the biggest concern, BofA fears, is a new low for net free credit at -$182 billion - the major risk is if the market drops and triggers margin calls, investors do not have cash and would be forced to sell stocks or get cash from other sources to meet the margin calls. This would exacerbate an equity market sell-off.
First it was the foreign exchange markets, then commodities, followed by fixed income markets. Now it’s the equity markets. Wherever we look, volatility has been creeping higher. To some extent, this is not surprising. At the end of the US Federal Reserve’s first round of quantitative easing, and at the end of QE2, the markets wobbled. So with QE3 now winding to a close (and with the European Central Bank (ECB) still behind the curve), a period of uncertainty and frazzled nerves should probably have been expected.
US equities suffered their biggest drop in 2 months today, with the S&P 500 closing a glaring 30-point divergence with high-yield credit markets which also sold off dramatically. The S&P 500 broke (and closed) below its 50DMA (as did the Nasdaq, Dow Industrials, and Transports). Russell 2000 dropped to beyond 4-month lows (-4.4% in 2014). Early USD strength gave way as stocks started to leak lower and closed unchanged (+0.5% on the week) led by JPY and EUR strength. Treasury yields plunged 4-6bps on the day (led by the long-end) with 10Y testing the critical 2.50% handle once again. VIX broke above 16, its 4th biggest rise of the year. Gold rose as stocks lost ground but silver, oil and copper slipped lower. HY Credit spreads closed at 8 month wides. Investors also piled into safe-haven short-squeeze 'camera-on-a-stick'. Stocks closed not "off the lows."
A "huge" institutional sell order, covering almost 200 individual stocks, is rumored to have been responsible for getting this morning's weakness across stocks going as equity indices catch down to bonds and credit. The S&P 500 broke key support at its 50-day moving-average (for first time in 2 months) and is back at 6 week lows. The Russell 2000 is now down 4.25% from the FOMC meeting last week...
The U.S. economy has had six full years to bounce back since the financial collapse of 2008, and it simply has not happened. Median household income has declined substantially since then, total household wealth for middle class families is way down, the percentage of the population that is employed is still about where it was at the end of the last recession, and the number of Americans that are dependent on the government has absolutely exploded. Even those that claim that the economy is "recovering" admit that we are not even close to where we used to be economically. Many hope that someday we will eventually get back to that level, but the truth is that this is about as good as things are ever going to get for the middle class.
The Russell 2000 is -7.5% from July highs, -3% in 2014, unchanged since last October and year-over-year small-cap performance is the worst since July 2012. Despite four valiant momo-pump efforts to rally stocks to VWAP (to cover institutional sellers), they just kept falling back to bond-market-reality as US equities decoupled lower from JPY after Europe closed. The USD closed unch (after major swings intraday around Europe's close) with GBP strength and AUD/CAD weakness leading it lower on the week. Treasury yields dropped 2-3bps across the curve (down 3-5bps on the week) and all below FOMC levels (30Y -11bps). Gold is now up 0.6% on the week with oil and silver rising modestly. Copper found no bid. Financials slipped once again (catching down closer to credit). On the day, the European close signaled risk-off and the ubiquitous Tuesday panic buying in the last hour lifted the S&P to VWAP before a very weak close "not off the lows." Dow down 100+ pts 2 days in row for first time since June. VIX closed just shy of 15 at 7-week highs.
Positioning among "smart money" participants in the markets continues to show major divergences. While large speculators bought S&P 500 contracts at their strongest weekely pace in more than a year - shifting to a net long position - they also increased the net short Russell 2000 position to its 'most short' in five years. Large speculators also bought crude oil after eleven consecutive weeks of selling. In the rates complex, hedge funds maintained their 10Y Treasury long exposure while large speculators sold 2-Y Treasuries at the fastest weekely pace in more than three years to the biggest net short position in five years. - leaving, as BofA warns, 2Y susceptible to a squeeze pull-back. This potential squeeze extends all the way to 5Y as repo rates indicate a massive shortage into month-end.
Death crosses; Hindenburg Omens; PBOC, BOJ, and ECB hinted at removing the punchbowl; crappy US housing data; and a Chinese IPO takeout hangover weighed on stocks with Russell 2000 the biggest loser (suffering its biggest high-to-low drop from Friday in over 5 months). The Dow is the only index holding post-FOMC gains (Russell down over 2%). Homebuilders are now down 4% from last week's FOMC statement, post-FOMC high-flyer financials have tumbled red (catching down to credit), and only safe-haven healthcare is holding any gains post-FOMC (Biotech -3%). Treasury yields fell led by the short-end (3Y -3.5bps, 10Y -2bps) back under FOMC levels. The USD recovered European session losses to end almost unchanged as considerable AUD and CAD weakness outweighed GBP strength. Despite being clubbed like a baby seal in Asia, Silver rebounded through the day to end -0.3%, gold unch, oil down, and copper -1.6% as China stimulus hopes faded. S&P 500 lost 2,000; Russell is down 2.6% year-to-date (-6.8% from July highs); VIX jumped most in 2 months to ~14. BABA pinned at $90, HLF smashed -10%.