One conundrum stumping investors in recent months has been how, with investors pulling money out of equity funds (at last check for 17 consecutive weeks) at a pace that suggests a full-on flight to safety, as can be seen in the chart below which shows record fund outflows in the first half of the year - the fastest pace of withdrawals for any first half on record...
... are these same markets trading at all time highs? We now have the answer.
Recall at the end of January when global markets were keeling over, that Citi's Matt King showed that despite aggressive attempts by the ECB and BOJ to inject constant central bank liquidity into the gunfible global markets, it was the EM drain via reserve liquidations, that was causing a shock to the system, as net liquidity was being withdrawn, and in the process stocks were sliding.
Fast forward six months when Matt King reports that "many clients have been asking for an update of our usual central bank liquidity metrics."
What the update reveals is "a surge in net global central bank asset purchases to their highest since 2013."
And just like that the mystery of who has been buying stocks as everyone else has been selling has been revealed.
But wait, there's more because as King suggests "credit and equities should rally even more strongly than they have done already."
More observations from King:
The underlying drivers are an acceleration in the pace of ECB and BoJ purchases, coupled with a reversal in the previous decline of EMFX reserves. Other indicators also point to the potential for a further squeeze in global risk assets: a broadening out of mutual fund inflows from IG to HY, EM and equities; the second lowest level of positions in our credit survey (after February) since 2008; and prospects of further stimulus from the BoE and perhaps the BoJ.
While we remain deeply skeptical of the durability of such a policy-induced rally, unless there is a follow-through in terms of fundamentals, and in credit had already started to emphasize relative value over absolute, we suspect those with bearish longer-term inclinations may nevertheless feel now is not the time to position for them.
And some words of consolation for those who find themselves once again fighting not just the Fed but all central banks:
The problems investors face are those we have referred to many times: markets being driven more by momentum than by value, and most negatives being extremely long-term in nature (the need for deleveraging; political trends towards deglobalization; a steady erosion of confidence in central banks). Against these, the combination of UK political fudge (and perhaps Italian tiramisu), a lack of near-term catalysts, and overwhelming central bank liquidity risks proving overwhelming – albeit only temporarily.
Why have central banks now completely turned their backs on the long-run just to provide some further near-term comfort? Simple: as Keynes said, in the long-run we are all dead.