For the second week in a row, Deutsche Bank's strategist Parag Thatte has a somewhat conflicted message for the bank's clients: on one hand, he writes that positive economic surprises continue "but are getting less so", and although the divergence between hard data surprises and sentiment is diminishing the bank is somewhat confident that a "pullback in the very near term is unlikely" (here DB disagrees with Goldman Sachs). However, Thatte is increasingly hedging, and notes that because a "rally without a 3-5% sell-off that is typical every 2-3 months is now running over 4 months and is in the top 10% of such rallies by duration", he cautions that "the probability of seeing a negative shock is high" especially since Q1 buyback blackout period has begun.
Here are the key observations from the Deutsche Bank strategist:
- The equity market rally has been going uninterrupted for a long time, driven by the unusual resurgence of positive data surprises. Strong data surprises drove equity inflows and fund positioning, adding to the steady support from buybacks. An expectation that positive data surprises were likely to persist underpinned DB's call 2 weeks ago that a pullback was unlikely in the very near term. The bank takes stock of the current situation below:
- Duration of rally now in top 10%. The rally without a 3-5% sell-off that is typical every 2-3 months is now running over 4 months and is in the top 10% of such rallies by duration.
- Data surprises positive but getting less so. While incoming data in the last week has continued to surprise to the upside relative to consensus, it has done so at a more modest rate and DB's data surprises index, the MAPI, is now declining off its highs.
- Divergence between sentiment and hard data surprises diminishing. Attention has focused on the divergence between sentiment data which has run up strongly and hard data which has so far lagged. In terms of surprises, i.e., relative to what’s priced into consensus forecasts, hard data surprises have fallen back to neutral over the last two weeks, while sentiment surprises have declined this week but remain elevated. The surge in sentiment data is getting built into consensus forecasts and sentiment surprises also moving down to neutral over the next 3-4 weeks.
- Fund positioning already trimmed in line with neutral hard data surprises. US funds have already been trimming equity exposure for the last three weeks in line with the decline in hard data surprises suggesting funds may already be anticipating a modest slowdown in overall data. Real money equity mutual funds are already close to neutral but asset allocation funds and long-short equity hedge funds are still overweight. Macro hedge funds are exposed to short rates positions in our view, not long equities.
- Inflows accelerate. The pace of US equity fund inflows has accelerated over the last 4 weeks ($36bn). However flows have been closely tied to overall data surprises and could start to moderate in turn.
- Buyback blackout period has begun. Heading into the Q1 earnings season, the pace of buybacks will slow as an increasing number of companies enter earnings blackout periods starting this week.
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DB's summary take on near-term equity moves:
Continued muddle through most likely in the near term. The fundamental drivers as well as demand-supply considerations for equities point to a continued muddle through in the near term. However history suggests that with the duration of the rally already in the top 10% by duration, the probability of seeing a negative shock is high. But the medium term outlook remains robust with the unfolding growth rebound having plenty of legs while from a demand-supply point of view flow under-allocations to US equities and robust buybacks remain very supportive.
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Away from equities, the picture in rates, commodities and currencies based on trader flows is as follows:
- Oil falls but still expensive and long positioning still elevated. Following the November OPEC supply-cut announcement oil prices became very expensive on our medium term valuation framework for oil and commodities based on the trade-weighted dollar and global growth (Trading The Commodity Underperformance Cycle, Apr 2013). The decline in oil prices over the last two weeks has trimmed the extent of overvaluation but leaves oil prices slightly above the upper-end of the historical 30% overvaluation band which has marked extremes (currently $48). Net long positions are off of recent record highs but remain quite elevated.
- Extreme short positions remain an overhang for rates moving up. Bond yields fell sharply after the rate hike this week much like they did after the December one. While real money bond funds remained close to neutral going into the FOMC this week, leveraged funds shorts in bond futures remained near extreme highs. Outside of HY funds which saw a large outflow as oil prices fell this week, bond funds have continued to receive robust inflows. Indeed duration sensitive funds have this year completely recouped all of the outflows seen in the aftermath of the elections.
- Gold valuations stretched again. Gold prices have rallied on the back of a return of inflows into gold funds this year reversing the modest outflows in Q4. Massive cumulative inflows since early 2016 ($40bn) remain an overhang. Gold longs had been declining heading into the FOMC meeting. Gold prices have again disconnected sharply to the upside from the historical drivers of the dollar and the 10y yield as well as global growth. Copper long positions continued to slide for a 6th straight week.
- Shorts in the Mexican peso, the best performing currency this year, have collapsed to neutral. Mexican peso shorts fell sharply last week to the lowest levels in over 15 months as gross shorts fell sharply while longs also rose. Aggregate long dollar positions had been rising going into the FOMC meeting reflecting rising shorts in the yen and sterling even as euro shorts were pared.