As the market rally falters (perhaps), John Authers and I have a new home on FT Alphaville.
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As the festive season approaches investors will be preparing for the boring but essential job of selling some of their wonderfully-performing US shares to rebalance their portfolios back into underperforming bonds, protecting some of those gains.
The question investors face is whether such diversification will help protect their portfolios in the future. Read more
Russell Napier’s Anatomy of the Bear seems to be quite a cult classic among investors. I regularly see it on portfolio managers’ desks. Meanwhile, his video interviews with the FT in the years since the crisis also seem to have created quite a cult following. This week he completed his fourth interview with us since 1999, and he is sticking to his claim, based on historical experience, that the S&P 500 will need to slide down below 500 once more before this bear market is over (he did say 400 in the book).
How much has his story changed, and how seriously should we take him? This obviously divides opinion. So here are his previous interviews with us, in chronological order. Read more
While the US Treasury bond sell-off goes on, the market’s sorting of emerging markets is brutal. One factor matters above all others: does the country have a current account surplus or deficit? In other words, does it need to attract foreign capital or not?
The following chart was produced by John Lomax, emerging market equity strategist at HSBC. Since tapering talk began in May, it shows that emerging markets have been bifurcated. Those with a surplus prosper, those with a deficit sell off. This is how shares in the two classes of countries have performed this year, relative to the MSCI emerging markets index: Read more
Ben Bernanke can move markets, and sometimes his words are too strong for his own good. That may have been true of his press conference last month, when he announced that he planned to start tapering off QE bond purchases later this year, and end them altogether by next summer. That drove a dramatic rise in Treasury yields, and in the dollar.
For a further classic example, look at the speed with which currency markets responded late on Wednesday and early on Thursday to a speech he made in Massachusetts, and to the minutes from last month’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, published on Wednesday. The euro gained 4.5 cents against the dollar in a matter of minutes, while the pound gained almost 4 cents (or about 2.6 per cent). Read more
The fun part of the eurozone crisis, if there is one, is that you never know where to look. After the Cyprus crisis three months ago, the hunt was on for the next small peripheral country that would create a headache. Slovenia was a popular bet. So, among some hedge fund managers, was the Netherlands, where house prices are dropping alarmingly. There was a frisson of concern about Croatia’s accession to the EU. But it turns out that the next country to administer a shock, two years on from its bail-out, is Portugal.
You do not need to be an expert in Portuguese politics to see that the country is in a crisis, or that local markets were shocked by developments. When the foreign minister hands in a resignation hours after the finance minister has done the same thing, over an issue of core economic policy, and the existence of a fragile coalition is called into question, then it is natural that prices will be revised. Read more
As the month draws to a close, the old “sell in May” strategy failed miserably for equity investors – except in Japan and emerging markets.
There are a couple of lessons from this May, but first here’s what the major assets did during May, first in local currency then in dollar terms:
Since the US is still open, both charts are up to the close of the 30th, for consistency, so not quite the full month; European markets today were down about 1 per cent, and Japan up just over 1 per cent, but the broad patterns remain the same. Read more
There’s a lot of excitement now junk bond yields (at least on one index) have dropped below 5 per cent for the first time. What to call them, for one thing. “High yield” no longer seems appropriate, although frankly “junk” was always better, and remains just as good. The fact that they barely ever default any longer, suggesting on its face that they are no longer junk, is yet another problem – as John discusses with Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid in today’s Note video.
But hold on a minute. It is true yields have plunged. But the following charts show that junk bonds are much shorter dated now than they were, so the drop in yield is not as dramatic as it looks (if you lend someone money for less time, you should expect a lower yield as the loan is less risky). The average duration on the index is at a record-low three and a half years (modified duration is a tad longer, but still a record low).
On the other hand, investment-grade bonds (and top-grade junk too) have longer maturities – in the case of investment grade, the longest since 1980 at more than seven years. So the ultra-low yields (just over 2.5 per cent) of these better-quality bonds are even lower when adjusted for the risk of lending money for longer. Chart-fest after the jump. Read more
A suggestion by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem that the Cyprus deal could mean depositors at troubled banks elsewhere in the eurozone also suffering has pushed banks back into bear territory. James Mackintosh, investment editor, warns of the risk of a vicious downward spiral unless Europe and the European Central Bank can reflate peripheral economies.
Cyprus has finally struck a €10bn deal to become the fifth country “rescued” by the rest of the eurozone, after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and a special loan for Spain. Almost a third of the 17 countries in the single currency have now had to be rescued.
Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers warned of the dangers in the eurozone in his latest op-ed for the FT, and it is hard to disagree. But part of what he said bothered me:
A worrisome indicator in much of Europe is the tendency of stock and bond prices to move together. In healthy countries, when sentiment improves stock prices rise and bond prices fall, as risk premiums decline and interest rates rise. In unhealthy economies, as in much of Europe today, bonds are seen as risk assets, so they move just like stocks in response to changes in sentiment.
Ireland’s recent history is a story of hopes dashed. Hope is now being stoked again, not least by those with the most interest in being positive: the Irish government and European lenders.
For Europe, Ireland is the poster child for austerity and must, just must, be recovering. Some positive jobs figures, showing the first growth in employment since 2008 (on which more later) have prompted what passes for elation in the depression-hit island.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso led the cheering this week on a visit to Dublin, saying Ireland’s economy “is turning the corner”.
It shows that the programmes can work. It shows that there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
When there’s a determination we can achieve results. This is a message that’s valid for Ireland and other countries that are going through reforms.
Of course, he wants to believe this. Europe desperately needs a success story to set against the anti-austerity vote in Italy, yet more gloom in Greece and a worsening economic outlook for the eurozone.
But the bond markets agree, and have done for months. Irish 8-year yields (its benchmark) stand at 3.7 per cent, lower than Spain and Italy. The country has successfully returned to bond markets, and hopes to bring in a 10-year benchmark before the end of June. Even the inconclusive Italian elections prompted only a slight wobble.
So, have the markets become too optimistic? Below is a rather longer than usual read on Ireland and the wider eurozone issues. Read more
Has the Great Rotation already started? A couple of startling data points from the last month, covering treasury yields and flows into equity funds, certainly suggest so. But the picture is maddeningly unclear under closer examination.
First, there is the treasury bond market, as discussed in last week’s video with Mike Mackenzie, before 10-year yields had risen above 2 per cent (they’re back below today). Significant rises in yields would be an obvious sign of a rotation. You can see that video, and Mike’s emphatic argument that if the equity rally makes any sense at all then the rotation out of bonds must be coming, here:
Note that even with the brief move above 2 per cent, there is still a way to go before the inexorable downward trend in yields that has now lasted more than a quarter of a century is breached.
The other obvious data to look at concerns flows into equity mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Until very recently, the trend to pull money from equities and transfer it to stocks has continued unabated. Stephane Deo of UBS discussed this with Ralph Atkins in the Note video available here:
Again there are signs of change, but not enough to make the call that the “Great Rotation” has already begun. Most startlingly, TrimTabs, which can publish flow data quickly because it uses algorithms to derive estimated flows from funds’ performance, found that inflows to all equity mutual funds and ETFs this month have already topped $55bn. That beats the previous monthly record, set ominously in February 2000 on the eve of the dotcom crash. Read more
More than half European companies have dividend yields above corporate bond yields for the first time, while mutual fund sales saw their biggest weekly inflow into equities since the US stock market peaked in 2007. James Mackintosh, investment editor, analyses whether this is the long-awaited rotation from bonds back into stocks – and how to compare them.
The UK’s inflation-linked gilts markets have just seen their largest one-day rise in 25 years – thanks to the decision of statisticians to do nothing. James Mackintosh, investment editor, looks beyond gilts to analyse what the real yields on government bonds are telling us.
Contrarians are usually a grumpy lot, constantly being ridiculed for making mad investments, only to have those that work out dismissed as pure luck.
2012 gave plenty of examples, with pretty much any mainstream equities the clearest (almost no one wanted them in January, everyone does now). For the more adventurous contrarian, Greek bonds bought at the start of the year and held through the default have returned 100 per cent, including coupons, while Portuguese bonds are up 79 per cent on the same basis. Read more
Italian shares fell and bond yields rose as investors reacted badly to losing Mario Monti. Investment editor James Mackintosh says this looks like a classic market over-reaction. But there are reasons to worry that worse might be ahead for the country.
Reasons to be fearful are everywhere: Greece, triple-dip Japan and the looming fiscal cliff in the US. Yet, as James Mackintosh, investment editor, points out, share, bond and currency volatility are all extremely low. Is this complacency or have central banks disconnected the volatility sensors?
FT investment editor James Mackintosh analyses the impact on bondholders if Catalonia and Scotland were to become independent
Being widely hated is one thing, but being widely hated and poor is even worse. This fate almost befell Europe’s bankers earlier this summer. Share prices have soared in the past two months, so all the bankers now have to worry about is mobs with pitchforks.
Seriously, though, European banking seems to be returning to what passes for normal nowadays: money markets have stabilised, bond markets reopened and Americans are even willing (at a price) to put dollars back into French banks, as I discuss in today’s Short View video:
The result has been that eurozone bank shares were one of the smartest investments of the year – as long as you avoided the trouble periphery. This chart shows the split in returns from buying eurozone core or eurozone periphery banks. Read more
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