Earlier this month, JPMorgan’s Jan Loeys revealed that the bank is underweight equities “for the first time this cycle.”
Why? Well, allow Jan to explain it to you:
The fundamentals of growth, earnings and recession risk have not improved, and if anything have worsened. We remain wary of the near-empty ammo box of policy makers. Our 12-month-out US recession odds have risen to 1/3. But even with no recession this year or next, we see US earnings rising only slowly by low single digits and see little to boost multiples. The eventual recession should bring US stocks down some 30%, creating a strong downward risk skew to returns over the next few years.
That came just a day after Mislav Matejka suggested one reason to avoid buying this market: namely that even as equities were down 3% on the year going into March, multiples were actually higher than they were on January 1.
On Monday, we get the latest from Matejka. His advice: fade the ECB. To wit:
Having advocated for a tradeable rebound since 15th February, we called last week to start fading the bounce, looking for the rally to peter out. We reiterate the view that one should be using the latest announcement of additional ECB stimulus as an opportunity to cut exposure, a case of “travel and arrive”.
While Draghi made every effort to atone for disappointing markets in early December by throwing the Keynesian kitchen sink at things last week, JPM thinks the outlook for inflation (which is of course still abysmal) and less focus on the currency wars makes Draghi’s “package” "solid" but ultimately underwhelming:
ECB clearly tried to put last December’s disappointment behind it by moving deeper into negative rates territory, offering four additional TLTROs and increasing the pace and scope of asset purchases. On the negative side, the forward inflation targets were downgraded substantially, ECB didn’t address the issue of capacity constraints, and the shift in focus away from facilitating further currency depreciation will, in our view, end up being a negative for region’s equity market. Overall, we believe the latest package is far from a game changer.
And besides, the bank goes on to point out, so far NIRP has done... well... not much of anything:
Looking at past examples of negative interest rates, in Switzerland, Japan, Sweden and Denmark, the impact on economic activity was muted, with no boost to consumer confidence or IP. Credit growth also failed to strengthen once negative interest rates were introduced. Equity markets typically struggled to perform in the backdrop of negative interest rates. Inflation metrics remained subdued, the direction of bond yields was down and the shape of the yield curve flattened. At the sector level, Banks unsurprisingly showed a consistently poor performance in the NIRP backdrop in every region that implemented it.
There's nothing good about any of that if you're central banks experimenting in NIRPdom. Here's a look at how "effective" NIRP has been across countries:
As JPM goes on to note, "both IP and consumer confidence are weaker today than they were when NIRP was announced, in most cases, PMIs have also weakened in most places since NIRPs started, [and] only Danish stocks have moved up since the deposit rate was cut to negative territory."
So how should you play Draghi's new "package," you ask? European insurers. Why? Simple. They have quite a bit of corporate debt on their books and Draghi is about to drive a rally in IG:
ECB purchases are likely to lead to tighter spreads, which should help asset values and reduce default potential through cheaper refinancing. Insurance is the sector displaying the largest inverse correlation to IG spreads.
So don't expect the ECB's kitchen sink to do much for equities at the index level. Or for the economy. Or for inflation. And on balance it's likely to be bad for banks given the observed propensity for flatter yield curves under NIRP.
But if you're so inclined, you can play the insurers in hopes Draghi can drive significant spread compression. Then again, maybe by buying corporate debt, the ECB can unleash a buyback bonanza in Europe. Perhaps that would help index returns under NIRP.
Of course it still won't do much for the real economy or inflation. Just ask Janet Yellen.