I think that I am on record somewhere for saying that I would sell everything if the 2s5 inverted. Well, it just did—by a slender margin of 2bp—and for that reason alone, I should have a view. It isn’t easy, though, to add something that hasn’t already been added by the cacophony of comments on the back of recent gyrations in U.S. bonds. If a falling tree in an empty forest doesn’t make a sound, does a yield curve inversion matter if everyone has been talking about it for a year? As it happens, the tree does make a sound, and the yield curve inversion does matter, though not for the reason that you might think. Rick Reider, CIO of the investment manager Blackrock, is a smooth operator, and he delivers the goods in a few tweets. The significance of a yield curve inversion is not about its ability to predict a recession in the U.S., or elsewhere—more about that in a bit—but about the following three points. First, the Fed has some questions to answer; second, an inverted yield is as much a statement of markets’ perception of the Fed’s neutral/terminal rate as it is about its ability to forewarn about a recession, and third; bonds are finally offering a bit of protection for balanced portfolios. This week, I’ll go through each of these points in turn.Read More
I am short on time this weekend, so I am doubling down on the story I told last week, with two more charts and some additional comments. The first chart updates picture of the startling spread between price change in S&P 500 and its multiple. As of last week, the U.S. large cap equity index was down 0.2% on the year, but trailing earnings were rising just under 22%. The only way to square these two headlines is to note that the P/E multiple has crashed, from a high of nearly 23 in January to 18 today. The silver lining is easy to spot. The market is now about 20% cheaper than it was at the start of the year, a significant re-rating.
The flip side is that paying 18 times earnings for the S&P 500 is not egregiously cheap. If growth in earnings roll over, a further decline in multiples would, at best, lead to stagnation; at worst, it would drive prices much lower. That’s certainly a significant risk if you consider that this year’s impressive jump in earnings, at least in part, have been driven by tax cuts, which won’t be repeated next year. It gets even worse if we start to change the assumptions around share buybacks, another important support for earnings growth via its denominator-reducing effect on the share count in the EPS calculation.Read More
Unfortunately, the stand-out move in markets since my last report—the crash in oil prices—is one on which I have little to say, let alone expertise. I didn’t see it coming, and I am not exactly sure why it happened. That said, I am not here to make excuses, so I’ll try to connect the dots as well as I can. A sudden fear of over-supply due to a shift in OPEC policy doesn’t seem to cut it as an explanation. I am more inclined to buy the idea of linking it with the jump natural gas prices, deeming it an erstwhile winning spread-trade gone wrong, at least in part. Pierre Andurand’s name has been mentioned too, which certifies that this has been a real rout in the oil market. Mr. Andurand’s $1B commodities fund reportedly shed a cool 20.9% last month. Whatever the causes of the swoon in oil, it serves as a decent entry the broader market discourse. I am sympathetic to the argument by Cameron Crise, a strategist with Bloomberg, that “Recent energy-price mayhem is just the latest sign that something about these markets looks broken.” Cameron goes on: “The presumption of a continuous liquidity spectrum is clearly an errant one.” Most readers of these pages will have plenty of recent examples that fit this picture, so I’ll jump straight to the grand conclusion.Read More
Depending on the wording, a search on Google Scholar for papers and research on the link between macroeconomics and demographics yields anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 results. This is an unhelpful start for someone looking to explore and understand the field. This essay aims to rectify this issue by tracing the origins of the life cycle hypothesis (LCH)—ground zero for linking macroeconomics and demographics—through a close inspection of the 1950s literature that gave birth to the theory. It is motivated by the idea that anyone who wishes to explore this topic needs to have a firm grasp of the original material. A lot can be said for getting the basics right, and this essay is an ode to that idea.Read More