Blow-Off Pattern Recognition
As noted in Part 1, historically, blow-patterns in stock markets share many characteristics. One of them is a shifting monetary backdrop, which becomes more hostile just as prices begin to rise at an accelerated pace, the other is the psychological backdrop to the move, which entails growing pressure on the remaining skeptics and helps investors to rationalize their exposure to overvalued markets. In addition to this, the chart patterns of stock indexes before and after blow-off moves are displaying noteworthy similarities as well.
“On Margin” – a late 1929 cartoon illustrating the widespread obsession with the stock market at the time. There was just a 10% margin requirement, i.e., investors could leverage their capital at a ratio of 10:1. The demand for margin credit was so strong, that it pushed call money lending rates in New York up quite noticeably. This in turn made it increasingly difficult to maintain extremely leveraged positions.
Why is the stock market seemingly so utterly oblivious to the potential dangers and in some respects quite obvious fundamental problems the global economy faces? Why in particular does this happen at a time when valuations are already extremely stretched? Questions along these lines are raised increasingly often by our correspondents lately. One could be smug about it and say “it’s all technical”, but there is more to it than that. It may not be rocket science, but there are a few issues that are probably not getting the attention they deserve.
The stock market has blown widespread expectations out of the water by embarking on a seemingly unstoppable rally since Donald Trump was elected POTUS.
Cartoon by Frank Hanley
As you can see below, we have marked “Brexit day” on the chart as well, which was another noteworthy juncture. Not only was the success of the “Leave” campaign just as big a surprise as Trump’s election victory, but it was yet another occasion on which the market ended up fooling most observers by dramatically reversing course after a mere two days of relatively mild panic selling.
Looming Currency and Liquidity Problems
The quarterly meeting of the Incrementum Advisory Board was held on January 11, approximately one month ago. A download link to a PDF document containing the full transcript including charts an be found at the end of this post. As always, a broad range of topics was discussed; although some time has passed since the meeting, all these issues remain relevant. Our comments below are taking developments that have taken place since then into account.
USD-CNY, the onshore exchange rate of the yuan vs. the USD. After years of relentless appreciation, the yuan topped in early 2014 and has weakened just as relentlessly ever since. The yuan’s top coincided with the beginning of the “tapering” of the Fed’s QE3 debt monetization program and the peak in China’s foreign exchange reserves at just below $4 trillion. There was practically no lead time involved, which is rare. Although the yuan is not convertible and therefore by definition a “manipulated currency” (is there a fiat currency that isn’t manipulated?), the assertion that China’s authorities are deliberately weakening the yuan is erroneous. The opposite is true: they are trying to keep it from falling or are at least trying to slow down its descent with every trick in the book (every intermittent phase of yuan strength since the beginning of the decline was triggered by intervention). Understandably so: due to the close correlation between the level of forex reserves and credit and money supply growth in China, a rapid depletion of reserves is likely to impact the country’s giant credit bubble. One of the moving parts in this equation are bank reserve requirements, which the PBoC essentially uses to control the extent of credit growth triggered by the accumulation of reserves (a.k.a. “sterilization”). These peaked at 21.5% in June 2011 and were since then lowered to 17% to keep domestic credit expansion going – click to enlarge.
A Shift in Expectations
When discussing the outlook for so-called “risk assets”, i.e., mainly stocks and corporate bonds (particularly low-grade bonds) and their counterparts on the “safe haven” end of the spectrum (such as gold and government bonds with strong ratings), one has to consider different time frames and the indicators applicable to these time frames. Since Donald Trump’s election victory, there have been sizable moves in stocks, gold and treasury bonds, as the election result has strongly boosted certain market expectations.
A Quick Chart Overview
Below is an overview of charts we picked to illustrate the current market situation. The selection is a bit random, but not entirely so. The first set of charts concerns positioning and sentiment. As one would expect, these look fairly stretched at the moment, but there are always ways in which they could become even more stretched. First a look at the NAAIM exposure index:
A Very Odd Growth Spurt in the True Money Supply
The growth rates of various “Austrian” measures of the US money supply (such as TMS-2 and money AMS) have accelerated significantly in recent months. That is quite surprising, as the Fed hasn’t been engaged in QE for quite some time and year-on-year growth in commercial bank credit has actually slowed down rather than accelerating of late. The only exception to this is mortgage lending growth – at least until recently. Growth in mortgage loans is still very slow though, especially compared to historical growth rates. It cannot really account for the recent surge in money supply growth either.
Year-on-year growth rates of TMS-2 (11.19%, black line) and total loans and leases at commercial banks (7.7%, red line) as of October. In absolute terms money TMS-2 has soared by a staggering $840 billion since the beginning of the year – click to enlarge.
Mini-Panic Over Inflation After Trump’s Election Victory
We have witnessed truly astonishing short term market conniptions following the Donald Trump’s election victory. In this post we want to focus on one aspect that seems to be exercising people quite a bit at present, namely the recent surge in inflation expectations reflected in the markets. Will we have to get those WIN buttons out again?
A 1970s “whip inflation now” button. The only thing that was actually needed to “whip inflation” was for the Federal Reserve to stop printing money in ever greater quantities (or to stop supporting rapid money creation by the commercial banking system). It started doing so about 2 years before Mr. Paul Volcker took the helm – true money supply growth began to slow down considerably. Volcker then exacerbated this slowdown and briefly even pushed broad true money supply growth into negative territory. By that time, the decline in price inflation had already gotten underway and the public’s inflationary psychology soon underwent a sea change – right on the eve of one of the strongest increases in manufacturing productivity in modern history.
Pre-Election Market Movers – Mr. Comey and the Trio Infernal
Before this Monday, the S&P 500 Index went down nine days in a row. While this was almost unprecedented (or in any case, a very rare event) the decline was quite small overall. The timing of the pullback and the subsequent strong rebound on Monday suggests that Mr. Comey’s letters to Congress regarding the FBI investigation into official emails by Hillary Clinton – which have found their way unto a computer owned by Anthony Weiner (the former husband of Clinton’s right-hand woman Huma Abedin) – were the “trigger” for these moves.
FBI chief Comey and the Trio Infernal: Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton. Weiner is embroiled in a rather unsavory scandal – allegedly he has inter alia mailed pictures of his unclothed reproductive organs to a minor. The FBI has detected some 650,000 emails on his computer that seem to have come from Ms. Clinton’s private email server, which she in turn used in her official capacity as Secretary of State (her use of this device violated regulations and testified to her lack of sound judgment).
Image credit: Robyn Beck, Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images
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