It didn’t take long for the market to figure it out, did it? The Dow powered up by 2% overnight. Traders now realise it’s okay to borrow money and buy higher-yielding assets. Besides, with short-term interest rates so low, the Fed is all but demanding that investors move out of cash and into something that moves, like stocks, houses, or commodities.
So we’re moving. And we’re moving people. We’re moving.
But where are we moving to? It looks like another mini-bubble. The market seemed prime for a fall in conjunction with a U.S. dollar rally. That could still happen if the U.S. employment report tomorrow is a shocker.
A negative employment will remind everyone that this recovery (if it can properly be called) that is still largely a jobless one. The process of reducing household debt is going to take years and not months if households can’t grow their incomes. Real wage growth (adjusted for inflation) is pretty hard to come by in most of the Western world (unless you run a bank).
All this adds up to lower household spending ahead. How much further ahead can stock prices get of corporate profits that may never materialise? We’ll see. But valuations are already stretched. Investment advisor Jeremy Grantham reckons fair value on the S&P 500 is around 860 – or 24% lower than yesterday’s close at 1,066.
But whether the market breaks up or down here (something Murray has been looking out with his technicals) is up to investors. There is a huge cash position on the sidelines that’s still worried to jump back into markets. For the bear to really do his work, he’s got to convince these people to get into the market. The Fed is helping by making cash a wasting asset (when you figure in inflation).
Thinking out loud, then, you could make a case for new highs on the market as this cash mountain moves into equities. We saw a chart on Sunday at the opening of the conference hosted by the Gold Standard Institute which showed that the amount of cash on the sidelines exceeded the total market cap of the Wilshire 5,000 (a broad measure of the market value of all U.S. equities).
In layman’s terms, it means there is more money in cash right now than there is equity in U.S. companies. Now, there is a very good reason investors are reducing their allocation to stocks. As we’ve said before, we think the equity premium – what people are willing to pay for stocks – is regressing to the mean. It was so high for so long because corporate cash flows in the second half of the last century benefitted so much from low interest rates and globalisation.
But even if the equity premium is collapsing, it wouldn’t take a small change in that cash position to power equities much, much higher. In fact, if the investors holding that cash realise that inflation is a bigger risk than over-valued stocks, they may decide to get out of cash anyway, despite the risk of being in the market.
In any case, we are not suddenly becoming bullish. But we are suddenly thinking that the next phase of this GFC (other than the sovereign debt crisis) is to lure investors back into an equity rally. Whether they are prodded by negative real interest rates on short-term deposits, or lured by equity markets lurching ahead with the backing of the dollar carry trade, well that doesn’t really matter.
It could all be moving on up.
What’s really worth watching is how the commodities behave in this market. They are moving on up too. This means gold is shedding its image as a risk-aversion asset and becoming something that people want to own. Its allocation in household and institutional portfolios is going up too. And of course, trading cash for things is probably a good trade these days, no matter whose cash you have in your wallet.
We’ll have to cut it short today as other deadlines press. But beware. The bear is afoot and he is making mischief. He is doing is devilish best to convince investors that he’s hibernating. After all, the November to April period is usually when stocks do their best.
This year has been unusual because, thanks to the Fed, stocks had a great six months during a time when they generally don’t do much. It’s unnatural you might say. But so are current fiscal and monetary policy, we might say.
We might also say that there is something tawdry about insisting that modern living standards are not negotiable and must be preserved with high public sector debt. In effect, today’s policy makers are saying to the future, “Our current well-being and comfort is more important than any debt you may have to repay. We refuse to live within our means because it would inconvenience us to do so. We are too lazy and selfish to recognise our financial mistakes and pay for them. We’re going to leave that to you. Suckers!”
It’s not very nice. It’s not very moral. But it is what it is. And right now, it gives you the chance to prepare your portfolio for the consequences of bad policy (fiscal, monetary, climate…take your pick!) More on all of it next week. Until then!
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