The US Federal Reserve’s support for the markets can be measured lots of ways, from the impact on bond yields through to comparisons of equity prices and the central bank’s balance sheet. Here’s one I rather like, with a hat tip over to BNP Paribas’s William De Vijlder.
The third round of the Fed’s quantitative easing, or QE∞, is now 41 weeks old, and during that time there hasn’t been a single really bad week, which I defined as a loss of 2.5 per cent or more. The last time there was such a long period without a big down week was during QE2. Before that it hadn’t happened since early 1997.
The total loss of all the down weeks since QE∞ began, including weeks with only a small loss (a somewhat odd measure, obviously offset by plenty of up weeks) has been just under 18 per cent, close to the lowest reached over rolling 41-week periods during the “great moderation” of 2003-2007, and to that reached under QE2. Read more
Here are the two Japan charts that matter after Japanese shares plunged more than 5 per cent today.
First, the Nikkei 225 Average is poised at the 50 day moving average, an important technical support level. If it recovers from here, this will be nothing more than a correction, if a big one, of the excessive optimism which had taken hold. From their peak last Thursday to today’s low Japanese shares were down almost 15 per cent – but are only back to where they stood a month ago. The rally can continue, as the futures market suggests, with futures prices and bond yields both rising sharply after the cash equities market closed. But once the current volatility settles down, a continued rally is likely to come at a far more moderate pace. Read more
While you consider the sell-off in Japan, here are a few charts, as of Thursday night prices:
Total returns (including dividends) on various asset classes for the year to date, in local currencies: Read more
The Nikkei 225 is down more than 7 per cent today, its 11th biggest daily fall since it was created in 1950. Explanations abound: the hawkish interpretation of Ben Bernanke’s testimony to Congress (although it can be read either way), the hawkish interpretation of the Fed minutes (ditto) and the surprisingly weak purchasing managers’ index from China, showing manufacturing shrinking slightly.
All these no doubt matter. But the real question is why markets chose to care today. China has been slowing for months, and while Fed-ology always moves prices, it was particularly hard to read anything much new into Wednesday’s comments. Read more
There’s been quite a bit of excitement about the Dax hitting a record high this week, with the Wall Street Journal even splashing its European edition on it. The chart looks impressive:
Markets aren’t known for their patriotic fervour. Populated by cynics and motivated by money, there is little reason to expect local markets to support their national governments – particularly in the eurozone, where the response by the wealthy in crisis-hit countries has been to ship their cash to Germany or the UK.
But hang on! Perhaps brokers are more patriotic than popularly thought: it turns out that analysts tend to recommend shares in companies from their countries.
A nice piece of work by Charles de Boissezon at Société Générale‘s global equity engineering and advisory unit looked at broker recommendations on German and Spanish blue-chips, the two markets tending to be reasonably domestically-exposed.
Not surprisingly there are more buy recommendations on German than Spanish shares, and more sells on Spanish.
But the breakdown is revealing: analysts at German brokers are much more positive about German companies than analysts working for Spanish brokers, and vice-versa:
Cue great excitement. All those pre-written articles and commentaries on the S&P 500 passing its previous closing highs can be rolled out, and there is something for the 24-hour TV to talk about other than the rather small queues at banks in Cyprus.
Just a couple of small flaws: Read more
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. Read more
To answer the question of who owns corporate America, we turn naturally enough to Goldman Sachs. In spite of all the “vampire squid” hype, the answer isn’t GS: but it does have an excellent summary of how ownership has changed (click on the chart for a bigger version).
Reasons to worry: the S&P 500 is back above its dotcom bubble high today and just 1.4 per cent below its 2007 credit bubble high of 1,576.
This makes investors feel happy, and when they are happy they tend to buy more shares. In this sense equities are a Giffen good like a Rolls-Royce: the higher the price, the more people want them. Until, suddenly, they don’t.
For those who believe the market is truly efficient, rising shares merely reflect a changed reality, and the potential gains from here are just as good as at any other time. But the market is not truly efficient. Investors are growing complacent, which adds to the risk of a correction.
The market may well carry on up (one driver would be the combination of good news on the economy and further signs from the Fed that it will not tighten monetary policy), but the fact of its having risen should play no part in a decision to invest, momentum trading strategies aside. Watch yourself. The time to buy is when shares are cheap, not when they are expensive. Shares, particularly in the US, clearly offer less upside than they did a few months ago.
We now face a giant triple top in the markets, as this chart of the S&P 500 shows: