Has something gone wrong? Absolutely.
The mispricing of assets across world markets has reached epidemic proportions.
"We have come to the point in Japanese monetary policy—and soon perhaps in the West—where it is hard to tell sense from nonsense."
“Fed Chair Janet Yellen will be forced to either acknowledge labor market tightening as reason to continue with the four-hike schedule for 2016 or risk her credibility, belittle job market stability and sound a warning about the risks of lower oil prices and cheap gasoline (sacrilege to regular Americans) by slowing the hiking pace after a single 0.25 percent increase last month. If she gets it wrong, things could get ugly fast."
In the world of fiction, the most famous threshold may be that of 88 miles per hour. In the non-fictional world of economics and finance, however, an even more important threshold is that of 5% unemployment. At that moment everything changes. Wall Street's most prominent former converted permabull, Jim Paulsen, explains.
“To the intelligent man or woman, life appears infinitely mysterious, but the stupid have an answer for everything.” ~Edward Abbey
While it is hoped that the economy can continue to expand on the back of the "service" sector alone, history suggests that "manufacturing" continues to play a much more important dynamic that it is given credit for.
"The strong stock market rally during the last few days has pushed the S&P 500 near its highest closing level since the correction began in late August. This has boosted optimism that the recent selloff may be ending. While this could certainly prove to be the case, we remain less sanguine that the vulnerabilities, which initially produced this correction, have yet to be resolved. Ultimately, we expect a more fearful investment culture suggesting a final capitulation and more importantly, a lower stock market valuation level able to withstand a less hospitable recovery as the economy nears full employment."
The recent peak in profits, combined with substantially elevated P/E ratios, is likely suggesting that forward return expectations should be revised sharply lower.
With the Federal Reserve now indicating that they are "really serious" about raising interest rates, there have come numerous articles and analysis discussing the impact on asset prices. The general thesis, based on averages of historical tendencies, suggests there are still at least three years left to the current business cycle. However, at current levels, the window between a rate hike and recession has likely closed rather markedly.
The reality is, like dominoes, that once one of these issues becomes a problem, the rest become a problem as well. Central Banks have had the ability to deal with one-off events up to this point by directing monetary policy tools to bail out Greece, boost stock prices to boost confidence or suppress interest rates to support growth. However, it is the contagion of issues that renders such tools ineffective in staving off the tide of the next financial crisis. One thing is for sure, this time is "different than the last" in terms of the catalyst that sparks the next great mean reverting event, but the outcome will be the same as it always has been.
The economic data has continued to disappoint on virtually all fronts, earnings are weak and markets are grossly extended. Yet, investors are more bullish than ever...
No matter how bad the overall profitability picture got, S&P500 earnings per share (assisted almost exclusively by a record amount of stock buybacks in 2015 putting downward pressure on the PS in EPS) would grow by the tiniest of amounts, just so the profit recession stigma could be avoided in a world in which the stock market is the last remaining bastion of faith in central planning and confidence in the economy. No more. Overnight, Deutsche Bank finally did the unthinkable, and "broke the seal" of optimistic groupthink, when its strategist David Bianco became the first sell-sider to forecast that not only will 2015 EPS not grow (at 118 on a non-GAAP basis, this will be unchanged Y/Y), but "down a bit ex bank litigation costs."
Why Monetary Policy Is Failing
The "conundrum" between lower gasoline prices and retail sales is not really one at all. Furthermore, the real story behind the weakness in retail sales also suggest that something is "amiss" within the broader economic backdrop. When combined with the deterioration in earnings, the risk of a "gotcha" moment in the market has risen markedly.