Via Nomura's Bob Janjuah,
Referring back to my last note from 26th March (Bob's World: Post-Cyprus Tactical Update):
A – At best I give myself 5 out of 10 in terms of the accuracy of my main tactical call detailed in the above note. The S&P rallied to 1597 in early April, and then sold off 63 points (4%) to 1534 in Q2 before recovering. I was looking for a 5% to 10% sell-off from 1575 to around 1450/1475.
B – I score myself more highly for the 2nd key call I made back in March, which was that once we cleared a consecutive weekly close above 1575 in the S&P, we’d see new nominal all-time highs with the S&P trading in the high 1600s. I had thought we’d get there in Q3, but as it happens we have seen a (to date) Q2 high print of 1687 (22nd May). So maybe that deserves 7 out of 10? My sense that positioning and sentiment was set-up to get to extremes and chase/buy any dip seems to have played out pretty well.
C – The 3rd and last main call I made was that – based on (poor) fundamentals, (in my view) dangerously loose global central bank policy settings, increasing complacency towards risk and blind faith in central bank ‘puts’ amongst investors, and the sense that positioning and sentiment can and needs to be at (even more) absolute extremes as a pre-condition to any major market move – it would not be until late 2013 or early 2014 before we see the onset of the next major (-25% to -50%) bear market. Time will reveal all on this call, but for now I continue to hold this view.
D – To clarify further, I feel that the current dip that began with the S&P at 1687 in late-May, sparked by moves in rates and rates volatility in Japan and by the Fed ‘taper’ talk, is not the big one. Risk became way overbought from late 2012 and through the first 5 months of 2013, so a 5% to 10% correction (see A above) in, for example, the S&P (from 1687) should and will, I think, be considered normal and healthy – and will be a dip that is also bought (into C above)
Of course things change all the time and I would have to be an (even bigger than usual) idiot to ignore all the Fed ‘taper’ and Japan talk.
Here is what I think matters:
1 – There can be no doubt in my view that the global growth, earnings, incomes and fundamental story remains very subdued. But at the same time financial markets, hooked on central bank ‘heroin’, have created an enormous and – in the long run – untenable gap between themselves and the real economy’s fundamentals. This gap is getting to dangerous levels, with positioning, sentiment, speculation, margin and leverage running at levels unseen since 2006/2007.
2 – The Fed knows all this. The Fed also knows that it was held at least partially responsible for creating and blowing up the bubble that burst spectacularly upon us all in 2007/2008. But very importantly, the Fed now has explicit and pretty much full responsibility for regulation of the banking and financial sector.
3 – As such, and as discussed by Jeremy Stein in February (remember, Mr. Stein is a Member of the Board of Governors of the Fed), the Fed now de facto has a new duel mandate based on (the trade-off between) what I’d call Nominal GDP (or macro-economic stability), and Financial Sector Stability (or what I’d simply label as system-wide ‘leverage’ levels).
4 – This means first and foremost that while growth, inflation and unemployment all matter a great deal, the Fed cannot now either allow, or be perceived to allow, the creation of any kind of excessive leverage driven speculative (asset) bubbles which, if they collapse, go on to threaten the financial stability of the US. Imagine if this Fed were to allow a major asset bubble to blow up and then burst anytime soon (say within the next two or three years). This time round Congress and the people of the US would be able to place the entire blame on the Fed – probably with some justification – and, if the fallout approached anything like that seen in 2008, then it would mean, in my view, the end of the Fed as we currently know it.
5 – Turkey’s do not vote for Christmas, nor is Chairman Bernanke or any other member of the Fed willing, in my view, to take such a risk. Back in Greenspan’s day he could always blame asset bubbles on someone else – even though leverage either in and/or facilitated by the banking/finance sector is always at the heart of every asset bubble. But this get-out has now explicitly been removed from the list of options open to the Fed going forward.
6 – So for me, ‘tapering’ is going to happen. It will be gentle, it will be well telegraphed, and the key will be to avoid a major shock to the real economy. But the Fed is NOT going to taper because the economy is too strong or because we have sustained core (wage) inflation, or because we have full employment - none of these conditions will be seen for some years to come. Rather, I feel that the Fed is going to taper because it is getting very fearful that it is creating a number of significant and dangerous leverage driven speculative bubbles that could threaten the financial stability of the US. In central bank speak, the Fed has likely come to the point where it feels the costs now outweigh the benefits of more policy.
7 - As part of this, the lack of sustainable growth in the US (much above the weak trend growth of 1% to 2% pa in real GDP which has been the case for some years now) is very telling. And, while I can’t be 100% certain, at least some members of the Fed and other central bankers must be looking with concern at recent developments in Japan whereby the BoJ’s independence has, for all practical purposes, been consigned to history, and which has a two decade head start with respect to QE. At least some members of the Fed may be worrying about the future of the Fed and the US if they persist with treating emergency and highly experimental policy settings as the new normal.
8 – The Fed will hope that markets heed its message and that we gradually, through the normalization of yields (in the belly of the curve) and rates volatility (higher!), move aggressively over optimistic financial market asset valuations somewhat closer to what is justified by rational and sustainable real economic fundamental metrics. Rather than being based on some circular and self-serving ‘risk premium’ delusion, which is almost completely predicated on the bogus time-inconsistent assumption of a continuous and never to be removed Fed/central bank put on yields and rates volatility.
9 – The sad likelihood is that markets – which are suffering from an acute form of Stockholm Syndrome - will listen and react too little too late. This could give us the large 25% to 50% bear market I expect to see beginning in late 2013 or early 2014, rather than a more gradual correction. In part, this is because markets will not believe – until it is too late – that the Fed is actually taking away its goodies. Further, it’s because positioning and sentiment among investors just always seems to go to extremes, way beyond most rational expectations, before they correct in spectacular style. Think Chuck Prince and his dancing shoes.
10 - Crucially I suspect that the Fed will be so conflicted/whip-sawed by, and suitably vague in its response to data that it ends up watering down its tapering message a little too often and a little too much, thus encouraging one or two more rounds of ‘buying the dip’. This would reflect the new dual FED mandate and because we are living through an enormous and never seen before global policy ‘experiment’. Furthermore, we are probably going to see Bernanke be replaced come January 2014. I don’t actually think it matters who will replace him – anyone different is a risk and a new uncertainty for the market. In the unlikely event that Bernanke signs up for another term, I don't think that the coming shifts and changes will be reversed, but I tend to feel that the transition phase would be a little less fraught with risk and volatility, as Chairman Bernanke has credibility and the confidence of the market.
11 – So, going back to C & D above, we can certainly see a dip or two between now and the final top/the final turn. But it may take until 2014 (Q1?) before we get the true onset of a major -25% to -50% bear market in stocks. We also need to be cognizant of the Abe/BoJ developments. Along with the Fed, ‘Japan’ is one of the two major global risk reward drivers. The ECB response to (core) deflation and the German elections, and weakening Chinese & EM growth and the indebtedness of China & EM, will also matter a great deal.
As of today, my best guess is at least one major dip around Q2/Q3 (we may be in the middle of it now) as we seek more clarity around all of these drivers. My initial line in the sand for this dip is around S&P at 1530 and my major line is at S&P at 1450. A weekly close below 1450 S&P, in particular, would be extremely bearish. But I expect at least one more major buying of the dip come (late) Q3/Q4.I would not be surprised if we saw the S&P not just back up in the high 1600s, but perhaps even a 100 points higher (close to 1800!) before the next major bear market begins. It depends on who says what, and on the levels of extreme speculation and leverage. In other words, did we collectively learn our lesson from the events leading up to and including the global 07/08 crash? My 25+ years in financial markets lead me to believe, sadly, that the answer is almost certainly NO.
What I do know is that the longer we wait and the longer we put our faith in a set of time-inconsistent policies the greater the fallout will be from the forced unwind of the resulting speculative leverage extreme. This would come once the cost and availability of capital (i.e., rates volatility) ‘normalizes’. It would follow current policies that seek to force a mis-allocation of capital by mis-pricing the cost and availability of capital. I am confident that view is a correct read of the current state of affairs . And I think the Fed is telling us that they know this too. Ignoring this seemingly transparent signal from the Fed – by, for example, believing that the Fed will not have the courage to taper, or that the BoJ and/or ECB can replace or even out do the Fed over the next year or so - could prove to be extremely dangerous for investors.
We are (I think) in a new volatility paradigm now. Cash will increasingly become King over the next year, even if I do still expect another round or two of dips that get bought during this period. Not getting too sucked in and/or too long illiquidity and/or overly invested in high-beta risks should all be avoided. Nimble tactical trading of risk should be the rule. An increasing focus on de-risking core balance sheet/portfolio should, over the next 12/18 months, hopefully set one up to take advantage of what I think will be another savage bear market in global risk assets over most of 2014.
If cash is too safe, then safety should be sought in the strongest balance sheets, whether one is investing in bonds, in credit, in currencies and/or in stocks. And, as a rule of thumb, (and excluding real house prices in the US) those things that have ‘gone up the most’ over the past few years are likely to be the things that ‘go down’ the most – so as well as equities, EM investors also need to be very careful.