How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
When I was growing up, Labor Day always marked the official end of summer, since we started school the next day. These days everyone seems to start school sometime in August, but for those of us of a certain age, the natural annual rhythm is still to see the last few days of August as the end of a carefree summer. So with a nod to your need for a little more summer relaxation, I will try to keep this letter shorter than usual. And with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I will list a number of reasons why I hate this market and then suggest a few reasons why that should get you excited. We will look at some charts, and I'll briefly comment on them. No deep dives this week, just a survey of the general landscape.
How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…
The market is down about 3½% since early August, with trading rooms short-staffed the last few weeks. Will the senior traders come back from vacation rested and looking for value? Or will they survey the gains they have banked so far this year and decide to lock them in to assure their year-end bonuses? Finding value these days is tough. It won't be hard for them to find reasons to head for the sidelines.
- There is a reason tapering is on everybody's radar screen. When the Fed ended its last two rounds of quantitative easing, the resulting sell-off was not pretty. Some think that happened because the Fed was not really providing "juice" to the market. There is an element of truth to that analysis, but I think a more fundamental reason has to do with sentiment. Fighting the Fed is very difficult. Or it might be more apt to say, fighting the narrative of the Fed that produces positive sentiment is very difficult. I remember more than a few commentators coming on CNBC in January of 2001, when Greenspan lowered interest rates by 1% in the span of 30 days, and telling us "Don't fight the Fed! You have to go long the stock market today!"
I was writing at the time that there was a recession coming, so I was saying pretty much the opposite. Perhaps the more appropriate lesson is to not fight the Fed unless there is a recession coming.
Here is a graph from a webinar (see below) that I will be doing in a few days. The last two times the Fed has ended a period of quantitative easing, the air has come out of the market balloon. Has this coming move been so telegraphed that the reaction will be different than in the past, or will we see the same result? Want to bet your bonus on it? Or your retirement?
- Global growth is in a funk (that's a technical economic term), and this market just doesn't seem to care. One of the first market aphorisms I learned was that copper is the metal with a PhD in economics. While you can get into a great deal of trouble regarding that as a short-term trading axiom, it is definitely a longer-term truth. Copper is a metal that is closely associated with construction, industrial development and production, and consumer spending. One can argue that the price of copper is falling today because of a fundamental increase in supply, but for those of us of a certain age, the following chart is nervous-making. Unless the long-term correlation has disappeared, the data would indicate that either the price of copper needs to rise or the market is likely to fall.
- There is a full-blown crisis developing in the emerging markets that has more than one serious commentator thinking of 1998. On Thursday, the lead article in the business section of USA Today asked "Are we poised for a repeat of 1998 — or worse?" Yet as I highlighted in last week's Outside the Box, the US Federal Reserve has very clearly said that problems in the emerging markets are not the concern of US policy. One of my favorite thinkers, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard over at the London Telegraph, wrote this on Wednesday:
This has the makings of a grave policy error: a repeat of the dramatic events in the autumn of 1998 at best; a full-blown debacle and a slide into a second leg of the Long Slump at worst.
Emerging markets are now big enough to drag down the global economy. As Indonesia, India, Ukraine, Brazil, Turkey, Venezuela, South Africa, Russia, Thailand and Kazakhstan try to shore up their currencies, the effect is ricocheting back into the advanced world in higher borrowing costs. Even China felt compelled to sell $20bn of US Treasuries in July.
Back in 1998 the developed world was twice as big as the developing world. Today that ratio is about even. We all know what a crisis for the markets 1998 was. And now, more than a few emerging markets have clear debt problems denominated in currencies other than their own.
Evans-Pritchard goes on to say:
Yet all we heard from Jackson Hole this time were dismissive comments that the emerging market rout is not the Fed's problem. "Other countries simply have to take that as a reality and adjust to us," said Dennis Lockhart, the Atlanta Fed chief. Terrence Checki from the New York Fed said "there is no master stroke that will insulate countries from financial spillovers".
The price of oil in Indian rupees has gone from 1100 to 7800 in the space of 10 years. Think about what a move like that would do to the US economy. (Chart courtesy of Dennis Gartman)
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