JPM's Head Quant Explains Who Unleashed The S&P Rally, And What May Happen Next

Yesterday, when reading the latest note by JPM's "Gandalf" head quant Marko Kolanovic, we noted something strange: for the first time we observed a JPM quant not only commenting on such sensitive topics as social fairness, but daring to challenge the oligarch orthodoxy implying that Buffett is wrong that "the babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history."

This is what he said:

While we do not take either a glass half-full or glass half-empty view on the current state of US economy, there are good reasons to believe that ‘the luckiest generation in history’ statement is overly optimistic. US primary results show a very strong lead for D. Trump in the Republican Party, and a surprisingly good showing for B. Sanders. We believe this indicates that a significant part of the electorate disapproves of the current political establishment and feels left behind by the new economy (e.g. voters may not agree with W. Buffet that an average upper-middle class American today has a better living standard as compared to John D. Rockefeller Sr.).

Since the opinion of Kolanovic's boss Jamie Dimon - if only that for public purposes - is largely a carbon copy of Buffett's, we hope this rare statement of truth from a banker does not cost Kolanovic his job, especially since his uncanny insight and abilities to time market inflection points have made him almost as invaluable to stock pickers as Gartman (the latter, by batting a solid 0.000, is arguably the most irreplaceable voice on Wall Street today).

Insight such as this, on who is buying and selling this bear market rally:

Since mid-February, the S&P 500 has staged a meaningful rebound. Similar to the market rally in October 2015, systematic strategies had an important role in both the January selloff (here) and February rally (Figure 1).  


Short term equity momentum (1-month) turned positive around the 1930 level and 6m momentum turned positive a few days ago. This would have resulted in CTAs covering most of their short equity exposure and inflows in $50-70bn (also confirmed by the equity beta of CTA benchmarks). The market moving higher also changed the index option (gamma) imbalance and resulted in daily hedging flow that suppressed realized volatility. Lower realized volatility in turn led to some (albeit smaller) equity inflows into Volatility Targeting strategies (~$10bn) and Risk Parity strategies ~$10-$20 bn. All In all, over the past 2 weeks, equity inflows from systematic strategies totaled around $80-$100bn. Taking into account the low liquidity (S&P 500 futures market depth) and assuming that total equity market depth is ~4 times that of futures (including stocks, ETFs, and options), we estimate that more than half of the market rally in the second half of February was driven by these systematic inflows. Another likely significant driver is the rally in oil prices over the past 2 weeks.

... and that, as we showed, and as UBS confirmed last Thursday, has been entirely a function of an epic short covering squeeze.

So now that we know who drove the rally, here - according to Kolanovic - is what happens next:

What is the fate of this market rally? In terms of technical flows, more inflows would come if 3M and 12M momentum turn positive, which would happen at ~2025 and ~2075, respectively (the precise level depends on the timing of potential moves). If volatility stays subdued, volatility-managed strategies could also increase equity exposure. However, equity momentum is also vulnerable to the downside and a move lower could be accelerated by 6M and 1M momentum unraveling at ~1950 and ~1900, respectively. From the perspective of systematic strategies, downside and upside risks are balanced. However, equity fundamentals remain a headwind. In our recent strategy note, we showed that historically, periods of consecutive quarterly EPS contractions are often followed by (or coincide with) economic recessions (~80% of the time over the past ~120 years). EPS recoveries that follow 2 consecutive EPS contractions (~20% of times) were typically triggered by some form of stimulus (fiscal, monetary or exogenous). We expect market volatility to stay elevated and investors to remain focused on macro developments such as the Fed’s rates path, developments in China, and releases of US Macro data. Elevated volatility and EPS downside revisions will provide a headwind for the S&P 500 to move significantly higher (via multiple expansion). While investors need to have equity exposure, we think there are better opportunities in Value stocks, International and EM equities (as compared to broad S&P 500 exposure)

Which probably also explains why late last week JPM's head strategists went underweight stocks last week "for the first time this cycle", while urging clients to buy gold.