Bonds and stocks are at odds right now. Yields have dropped considerably as the bond market is predicting pain to come. Stocks have sold off, but are still around all-time highs. If you look at how money markets are currently priced they imply a whopping 20% decline in stocks. There is not a much macro data to support the money markets’ pricing, but it is certainly a sign to pay attention to. “The rates market has probably overreacted relative to other asset classes in the last two weeks. However, the macro backdrop is fundamentally more uncertain today”, says Deutsche Bank, continuing “The renewed trade tensions create downside risks which were deemed to be negligible 2 months ago”.
FINSUM: Stocks are going to react to economic data and the trade war, so the current forecasts for stock prices are only as good as one’s ability to prognosticate those factors.
There has been growing consternation about the threat of a major meltdown in corporate debt. The Fed, in particular, has been very troubled by the amount of corporate debt in the economy, which has led to speculation by Wall Street that there could be a blow up. Goldman Sachs has been more sanguine, saying debt levels look healthy. Now the Fed appears to be taking a more mild view as well. In a speech this week, Chairman Powell said that the comparison to pre-Crisis debt levels are not convincing. “Most importantly, the financial system today appears strong enough to handle potential business-sector losses, which was manifestly not the case a decade ago with subprime mortgages.
FINSUM: Debt levels seems high, but profits are margins are good to. The question is what happens when the economy turns south. We are especially concerned about the BBB market.
Whenever serious volatility strikes, investors get very nervous and don’t know how to react. One of the big questions is should I stay in the market? The other is which assets should I buy? Surprisingly, there is a fairly simple solution to handle volatility: every time the market moves wildly, hedge your portfolio with cash and/or options. When the markets calm down, unwind the hedge. Returns on stocks have actually been historically strongest during periods of low volatility (not the opposite).
FINSUM: The most interesting aspect here is that studies show that market returns have been highest in low volatility periods. Many people think that you have to stay in the market during volatile periods to make great returns, but that is simply not the case.
Economic data this year has mostly surprised to the upside. However, recently, things have started to disappoint. For instance, Citigroup’s basket of economic indicators has fallen to its lowest level since the Financial Crisis. Even the Atlanta Fed is bearish, recently forecasting GDP at 1.6%. Bond King Jeffrey Gundlach agrees, saying he believes the odds of a recession in the next 24 months are “very high”. He believes the chances of a recession within 12 months are 50-50.
FINSUM: We think Citi’s indicator is definitely overstating the situation. However, there are legitimate concerns about the economy, especially if you start to consider the possible implications of a trade war.
Yesterday was an ugly reminder of the fourth quarter. The Nasdaq fell 3.4%, its worst decline since December 4th. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better. The big falls came on the announcement that Trump was considering raising tariffs on a further $300 bn of Chinese imports following the failure of negotiations last week. Investors are anxious that the trade war may continue to escalate and impact the global economy. One economist summarized the situation this way, saying “The confrontation has now escalated to a battle of testosterone between two leaders who believe they have much to prove to their constituents. But the longer this exhibition of chest-beating lasts, the greater the odds of a US, if not global, recession”.
FINSUM: Though recently we have been more placid, a couple of months ago we were worried that a deal might be hard to complete because of how much China has on the line politically. The country’s unelected leaders need to keep their people happy, which means the stakes are incredibly high for them.