Central Banks Wade Into Stocks
Readers may recall that we have frequently remarked that the fact that central banks have reportedly become fairly large net buyers of gold over the past two years was at best irrelevant and at worst a contrary indicator. What it never was and never will be, is bullish. There is some hope that it may not be a big negative signal, due to the fact that the central banks doing the buying are not the same ones that sold between $250 and $600 and because they only buy fairly small amounts. However, it sure hasn't been a positive signal so far. Central banks as a rule are the worst traders in the world.
It is therefore interesting that the latest central bank fad is apparently to buy stocks. They didn't buy stocks in early 2009, mind. They probably had to wait for the markets to 'look safe' or something like that.
“Central banks, guardians of the world’s $11 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, are buying stocks in record amounts as falling bond yields push even risk- averse investors toward equities.
In a survey of 60 central bankers this month by Central Banking Publications and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, 23 percent said they own shares or plan to buy them. The Bank of Japan, holder of the second-biggest reserves, said April 4 it will more than double investments in equity exchange-traded funds to 3.5 trillion yen ($35.2 billion) by 2014. The Bank of Israel bought stocks for the first time last year while the Swiss National Bank and the Czech National Bank have boosted their holdings to at least 10 percent of reserves.
The survey of 60 central bankers, overseeing a combined $6.7 trillion, found that low bond returns had prompted almost half to take on more risk. Fourteen said they had already invested in equities or would do so within five years. Those conducting the annual poll had never before asked that question.
“I definitely see other central banks doing or considering equities,” said Jan Schmidt, the executive director of risk management at the Czech National Bank in Prague, which has built up stocks to 10 percent of its $44.4 billion in reserves since 2008.
Central banks’ purchases of shares show how the “hunger for yield” is changing the behavior of even the most conservative investors, according to Matthew Beesley, head of equities at Henderson Global Investors Holding Ltd. In London, which oversees about $100 billion.
“Equities are the last asset class standing,” Beesley said in a phone interview on April 18. “When you have dividend yields in excess of bond yields, it’s a very logical move.”
Good grief. Yes, it's only 'logical' to invest in the 'last asset class standing' – which means in translation: the one asset class that's recently been in an uptrend. We weren't actually aware that central banks had a 'hunger for yield'. Aren't they supposed to be out there 'fighting inflation'? Just kidding.
However, they are supposed to be the stewards of the currencies they issue, and it is not entirely clear why that suddenly requires them to pile into equities. One thing is certain though: it is an example of very interesting timing.
NYSE Margin Debt Back at Nominal Record High
Just as central bankers eagerly eye stocks as a means to 'diversify' their reserves, margin debt at the NYSE is finally back at its 2007 record high. It may well grow even larger this time around though, as the annual rate of change has not yet achieved a spike similar to those seen in 1999/2000 and 2007.
Still, in spite of rising stock prices, investor net worth has now been negative for more than three years (with a few brief interruptions). That's not as long as during the 1990s mania, but longer than the period preceding the 2007 peak. Naturally, investors have nothing to worry about, since it is well known that the . Even if it is 'impossible to predict how long it will take'.
But then again, mutual funds have seen large inflows lately, so surely they have lots of cash to deploy? Unfortunately their cash amounts to only 3.7% of their assets, 40 basis points above an all time low. The small wiggles that can be seen on the chart in recent months are likely the result of said inflows.
Surely that doesn't mean much though, since it hasn't meant anything for three years running. And besides, investors are bearish, so stocks can only go higher.
OK, so some investors are bearish. But it isn't as if speculators were heavily long futures on speculative stocks, something like small caps, say.
Enough already…who cares about these technicalities? Fundamentals are sound! Companies are throwing off oodles of cash!
That seems to leave only one thing: central banks are buying stocks and they know best!
We must admit that the above amounts to some extent to an exercise in cherry-picking of data. Not every stock market-related sentiment and positioning datum looks as stretched as the ones shown above. There are surveys like Consensus Inc. and Market Vane that are pretty much at the top of their historical range, but others like the Investors Intelligence survey look less extreme. Speculators don't hold record net long positions in all stock index futures, but their long positions are nevertheless historically large in all of them (they are not far from records in most of them – and the records were all set within the past year).
Economic conditions are meanwhile at best middling in the US, and downright atrocious in Europe and Japan. China is growing, but less than it used to and it has a debt problem to boot (of course, everybody has a debt problem).
Either the stock market 'knows' something we don't – and we frankly don't think so, because it usually knows very little – or it is indeed rising on fumes. No doubt the fact that central banks continue to be 'accommodating', i.e., are printing gobs of money, currently lends support to stocks. One must however be careful with such simplistic cause-effect schemata. One could for instance ask, why is this additional money no longer lifting commodity prices? And how does the persistent bid enjoyed by 'safe haven' type government bonds jibe with rising stock prices? To be sure, warning signs like the ones discussed above have been noticeable for many months and this hasn't kept the rally from continuing. It was easy to underestimate its persistence, and may still persist for even longer. However, once even central banks are beginning to buy stocks, a few extra alarm bells should start ringing.
Oh well, at least stocks are cheap.
Oops! Sorry! : )
Charts by: Sentimentrader, St. Louis Fed, BC
Dear readers, we are greatly honored by your readership and sincerely hope that our special mixture of entertainment and education continues to add a little value to your lives. As you can probably guess, our blog is not really a giant commercial enterprise, for that its readership is too exclusive and small. Nevertheless, running it involves not only time and effort, but also monetary costs. We are therefore starting another fundraising drive. You can help us reach our funding goal by either donating directly via Paypal or via Bitcoin.
Thank you for your support!Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
3 Responses to “Central Banks and Their Unerring Sense of Timing”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- The Stock Market in Trouble - How Bad Can it Get?
A Look at the Broader Market's Internals We have previously discussed the stock market's deteriorating internals, and in light of recent market weakness want to take a brief look at the broader market in the form if the NYSE Index (NYA). First it has to be noted that a majority of the stocks in the NYA are already in bearish trends. The chart below shows the NYA and the percentage of stocks above their 200 day and 50 day moving averages, which is 39.16% and 33.77% respectively. When...
- Gold Stocks: A Playable Rally May Be Beginning as Junk Bonds Crater
Gold Stocks Jump and Retrace 50% Last week we discussed the potential for a rally in the gold sector (see: “Gold Stocks at an Interesting Juncture” for details). Gold stocks jumped early in the week and then retraced almost precisely 50% of the initial move higher, in the process closing a gap that was left behind on Wednesday. Image credit: dreamstime.com Interestingly, for the first time in many months, there were three up days in a row prior to the...
- A new Multi-Year High in Buying by Gold Sector Insiders
Latest Data from INK Show A Huge Surge in Insider Buying As our friends at INK Research in Canada have pointed out to us, insiders at gold companies have made use of the recent sell-off in the sector to load up on shares to an extent not seen in many years. Image source: bidness etc The INK insider buy/sell indicator for gold stocks has peaked just one day after China's initial devaluation announcement at nearly 1,200%: INK's gold insider sentiment...
- Is Crude Oil Close to a Low?
Panicky Headlines Everybody knows that there is a never-ending glut in crude oil, right? Who knew about it a year ago? Not everybody, that much is certain. The problem with what everybody knows is of course that it is often not worth knowing. Photo credit: Alamy Today a friend pointed two articles out to us that have been published yesterday and today. Their headlines say it all. The Wall Street Journal writes “No End in Sight for Oil Glut” - and proceeds to...
- The Stock Market's Panic Potential
The Odds Favor a “Warning Shot” Scenario - but there is a “But” As regular readers have probably noticed, we have upped the frequency of our “caution is advised” posts on the stock market in recent weeks in light of the market's increasingly deteriorating internals. Although one never knows when exactly such warning signs may begin to matter, it is always a good bet that they eventually will. Last week the market delivered a little wake-up call to the hitherto rather...
- The Donald and China, or The Fallacy of Protectionism
Not Every Populist Topic is Worth Exploiting For reasons that will forever remain a mystery to us, mercantilism and protectionism actually hold enormous popular appeal. The best explanation we can come up with for this phenomenon is that the support for such policies is based on a mixture of economic ignorance and relentless propaganda by vested interests over the past, say, four centuries. Still, it is almost comical that people are so vociferously clamoring for policies that can actually...
- Real Wealth and Phantom Wealth – Secular Boom and Bust
The Things that Produce Real Wealth vs. Phantom Wealth Our friend Michael Pollaro, the keeper of long-term data on the true money supply and author at Forbes as well as occasionally a guest author on this site, recently sent us the following chart of a relationship he keeps a close eye on. It depicts the annual change rate in new orders for non-defense capital goods and compares this series to the Wilshire total market index. Photo via...
- Jackson Hole – Meeting of the Physics Envy Brigade
Planners Meet to Discuss the Impossible The Jackson Hole pow-wow takes place this weekend. A more revolting get-together of actual and armchair central planners (i.e., the advisors to the planners, many of whom see themselves as planners-in-waiting) could hardly be imagined. One has to wonder how much more damage they will be allowed to inflict before someone finally says “enough!”. The parlous state of the global economy and the series of booms and busts we have experienced over the...
- The Stock Market After the Mini Crash
A Post Mortem – the Influence of Black Box Systems Here is a brief update on the recent market action and what we think one should watch out for now. First of all, we already noted in our last market update that something about the recent “mini crash” was quite unusual. For one thing, it started to get serious in an options expiration week, which happens only rarely. One rather scary precedent is actually the 1987 crash: on that occasion the market declined sharply during expiration...
- Godfrey Bloom, Anti-Politician
The Original Non-PC Politician Godfrey Bloom was UKIP's party whip for a long time, and for many years served as a member of the European parliament for UKIP. Ironically, although the party has solid electoral support in the UK, it has yet to make an inroad into Westminster due to the “first past the post” electoral system. It has always had a much greater representation in Strasbourg - at an institution it would prefer to abolish. Godfrey Bloom: “The State is an...