The only chart that matters?

In the past few months, we have seen that despite the significant decrease in economic surprise indexes, US equities have constantly been reaching new all-time highs, with the SP500 index breaking above the 4,500 level this week. We previously saw that the US mega-cap growth stocks (i.e. FANGs) have been mainly driven by the dramatic surge in global liquidity, which we compute as the total assets of the major G10 central banks.

As the FANGs stocks represent a significant share of the SP500 index (over 25%), the strong momentum in tech stocks have pushed the whole index to new highs.

Interestingly, the chart below also shows the strong relationship between the Fed’s balance sheet assets and the SP500 in the past year. As a reminder, when the Fed halted its POMO operations in the end of October 2014 (following nearly a year of tapering), US equities remained flat for 18 months and experienced several drawdowns before starting to edge higher in H2 2016 with markets starting to price in further stimulus (Tax reform plan, higher spending). See the article entitled ‘Could we survive without QE?’ that we wrote in September 2014 for more details.

Even though this time is different, there is still a lot of uncertainty over the economic recovery, therefore normalizing policy too early could halt the momentum in US equities in 2022. This is a challenging time for US policymakers as inflationary pressures remain elevated in both DM and EM economies and the Fed needs to normalize its policy in order to leave more room for a potential new economic shock in the future. 

Source: Bloomberg

Momentum in Tesla stock price halts as global liquidity decelerates

In the past year, Tesla has been one of the main companies that benefited from the significant surge in global liquidity, which we calculate as the sum of the total assets of the 5 major central banks (Fed, ECB, BoJ, PBoC, BoE). The left chart shows that the 8-trillion-dollar rise in global liquidity last year levitated Tesla’s stock price from $100 to over $800, and the upside could be limited in the short run amid rising optimism over the vaccination campaign and the reopening of the economy as warmer days are getting closer.

What would Tesla share price be worth if we were to remove the 8tr USD of liquidity added in 2020? (most likely much lower…)

Source Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

Great chart: gold vs. global liquidity

In the past few months, gold has been showing some signs of ‘fatigue’ with market participants starting to price in a smooth ‘Covid-19 exit’ with the vaccination campaign. However, major drivers of the precious metal such real interest rates or the total amount of negative-yielding debt are still sending bullish signals; we think that market participants are underestimating the impact of social distancing and travel restrictions in the medium term.

With another 3tr USD of liquidity expected to reach market this year, it looks like the downside risk on gold remains limited as we think that most economies will rely on debt (therefore more liquidity) in the coming two years, which implies strong demand for the ‘currency of the last resort’.

Main risks in the near term: rising optimism over the vaccine campaign, warmer days and USD strength.

Source: Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

‘Buy the dip’ strategy will prevail in the current environment

One striking observation we can notice in the past cycle has been the speed at which the equity market recovers each time it experiences a significant drawdown (> 10%). For instance, while it took it took 7 years and 3 months and 5 years and 6 months in the past two economic recessions for the S&P 500 to recover to its previous highs, US equities recovered to their February 2020 peak in just 6 months after crashing by over 35% during the Covid19 panic.

As we previously mentioned, the drastic rise in liquidity to finance the high cost of lockdowns has been one of the major forces behind that historic rebound, and that a repeat of the 1930s period with stocks having a period of hope followed by a drastic selloff will be very unlikely this time.

Figure 1

Source: Eikon Reuters, FRED

Hence, market participants have constantly tried to buy the dip each time the market was experiencing a selloff. Figure 2 (left frame) shows that people were looking to buy stocks at the heart of the panic regardless of how dramatic the impact of Covid19 will be on the economic activity, especially on the service sector. Even though it has not always been a successful strategy in the past 100 years, ‘buy the dip’ has been a winning trade in the past 25 years (to the exception of 2002, 2008 and 2018); figure 2 (right frame) shows the average weekly performance of the S&P 500 following a negative week. If investors bought the dip in 2019 and 2020, they would have generated a positive average performance of 0.6% and 0.7%, respectively.

With another 3 trillion USD expected to reach markets this year (at least), we think that the ‘buy the dip’ strategy will prevail in the near to medium term.

Figure 2

Source: Eikon Reuters, Google Trend, RR calculations

Great chart: TOPIX vs. USDJPY

In the past 15 years, we have seen that the dynamics of the exchange rate in Japan (JPY) has had a significant impact on equities; it has been described as a negative ‘Pavlovian’ relationship where a cheaper currency has usually been associated with higher equities. This chart shows the significant co-movement between Japanese equities – TOPIX – and the USDJPY exchange rate; hence, we are confident that policymakers in Japan are strongly aware of that relationship and therefore the BoJ is carefully and constantly watching the exchange rate.

It is interesting to see while the Japanese Yen has been constantly appreciating against the US Dollar amid the aggressive liquidity injections from the Fed (relative to BoJ), equities have strongly recovered from their March lows and are currently trading at their highest level since October 2018. However, we do not think that this relationship will persist in the medium term; as we previously mentioned, a strong Yen will not only dramatically impact the economic ‘recovery’ but also weigh on LT inflation expectations. The last time the relationship broke down between the two times series was in the beginning of 2018, with the TOPIX rising to nearly 1900 while the Yen was gradually strengthening against the USD, but it did not take long for equities to converge back to their ‘fair’ value.

We are not suggesting that trend in equities is about to revert, but investors should be careful as the ‘Short USD / Long The Rest’ trade has become very crowded.

Source: EIkon Reuters

Growth stocks loves liquidity

Even though a significant amount of investors have become increasingly worried about the current state of the equity market and how ‘extremely stretched’ the equity positioning has been in recent weeks, they must not underestimate the force of the liquidity injections coming from central banks. Figure 1 shows the evolution of the major 5 central banks’ assets since 2002 (Fed, ECB, BoJ, PBoC and BoE); after rising by over 7 trillion USD since March, assets of the top 5 central banks are expected to grow by another USD 5tr in the coming two years up to USD 33tr in order to support the high costs of running restrictive economies to fight the pandemic.  

Figure 1

Source: Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

Therefore, although some fundamental ratios such as price-to-sales or the traditional P/E ratio have reached stratospheric levels for some companies and also for the entire equity indexes (for instance, Robert Shiller’s CAPE ratio was of 33.1 in November, far above its 140-year average of 17.1), the constant liquidity injections could continue to support the equity market in the near to medium term, especially the FANG+ stocks. Figure 2 shows the strong co-movement between the total assets from the major 5 central banks and the FANG+ index; we can notice that the titanic rise in central banks assets has ‘perfectly’ matched the strong rebound in the mega-cap growth stocks in the past 8 months.

With 5 trillion USD of assets expected to be added in the coming 24 months, is it really time to be bearish on tech stocks?
Figure 2

Source: Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

2020 onwards: struggling economy, more QE?

In the past cycle, central banks have been constantly intervening in the market to counter the strong disinflationary force coming from the 3D: Debt, Demographics, Disruption. Figure 1 shows that between the beginning of 2008 and early 2020, the assets from the major 5 central banks grew steadily by a annual pace of $1.25tr per year, for a total of $15tr in 12 years.

As a response to the Covid19 shock, central banks just printed more in order to prevent the economies from falling into a deflationary depression, which resulted in a 7-trillion-dollar increase in central banks’ assets in the past 8 months. The titanic liquidity injections resulted in a significant rebound in equities, especially in the US with the SP500 trading over 100 points above its February high.

With most of the European economies entering a second lockdown, and restrictions also expected to be announced in the US (as the elections are now over), governments will again run aggressive fiscal policies and extend the furlough schemes in order to avoid the rise of social unrest, which will result in more money printing from central banks in the coming months.

Is it as simple as this: the worst the economy gets, the better it is for stocks as it will result in more liquidity injections?

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Source: Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

Mind The Rise In The Term Premium!

Introducing the Term Premium

Through the use of economic models, academic research has decomposed the observable long-term bond yields (i.e. US 10Y Treasury bond yield) into the expected path of the real interest rate (r*) and the additional term premium, which is thought as the extra return that investors demand to compensate them for the risk associated with a long-term bond. Using the dominant measure developed by the NY Fed (Adrian et al., 2013), we overlay it with a set of macro and financial variables and look at the pros and cons of a rise in the term premium in the coming months.

Figure 1 shows that the evolution of the US 10Y yield along with the expected r* and the term premium. While we can notice that part of the fall on the 10Y was driven by the decrease in the expected r* from 3.15% to 1.80%, the elevated volatility in the short run was mainly coming from the moves on the Term Premium (TP). The TP hit a historical low of -1.47% on March 9th and is still standing at extreme low level of -1.1%. Many investors had expected the term premium to start rising the US in 2018 and in the first half of 2019, but it surprised most of them by constantly reaching new lows.

Figure 1

fig1Source: NY Fed

Term Premium: a counter-cyclical variable

One important characteristic of the term premium is that it is a counter cyclical variable that tends to rise when the uncertainty around unemployment (or the business cycle) and inflation expectations starts to increase.

Figure 2 (left frame) shows the striking relationship between the unemployment rate and the term premium since 1961. Periods of rising unemployment have been generally associated with a sharp increase in the term premium. Now that we expect the jobless rate to skyrocket following the dismal prints of NFPs and initial claims in recent weeks, could we see a response in the term premium as well?

Figure 2 (right frame) shows another interesting relationship between the US 2Y10Y yield curve and the term premium. We know that the inversion of the yield curve is usually marked by a sharp steepening effect within the next 12 to 24 months as the economy enters a recession. This is referred as a ‘bear steepener’ as the long end of the curve starts rising due to a surge in the term premium. Will the Fed’s emergency measures and QE purchases be enough to deprive the yield curve and term premium from rising significantly in the coming months?

Figure 2

fig2Source: Eikon Reuters

Term Premium vs. inflation expectations

The 2-trillion USD increase in the Fed’s balance sheet as a response of Covid-19 has brought its holding of securities to a new all-time high of $5.85tr. The Fed has recently been buying $625bn of securities each week, which corresponds to an annual pace of $32.5tr and is $25bn more than the entire QE2 run between November 2010 and June 2011. The balance sheet of the Fed is now expected to hit 8 to 9 trillion USD by the end of the year in hopes that it will bring back confidence in the market. Hence, it is fair to raise the following question: will we experience rising inflation in the medium term?

As the term premium is very sensitive to the uncertainty around inflation expectations, it shows an interesting co-movement with the 12-month volatility of the Fed’s balance sheet assets. When interest rates reach the zero bound, central banks run aggressive asset-purchase programs in order to decrease the shadow rate below the neutral rate of interest rate (r*) and stimulate demand and inflation. Figure 3 (left frame) shows that previous periods of rising 12M vol in Fed assets were associated with a short-term increase in the term premium.

Investors could argue that inflation expectations have been falling if we look at the market-based measures – the USD 5Y5Y inflation swap. Figure 3 (right frame) shows that the 5Y5Y inflation swap is currently trading at a historical low of 1.75%, down from nearly 3% in January 2014. However, we previously saw that inflation swaps have been very sensitive to equity and oil prices in the past cycle; in theory, an oil shock should not impact inflation expectations as better monetary policy readjustments from central banks will offset that shock. Hence, these products represent more the demand for inflation hedges (which decreases when energy prices fall), but do not tell us anything about long-term inflation expectations.

Figure 3

fig3Source: Eikon Reuters

Term premium and free-floating bonds

Certainly, moves on the term premium also depends strongly on the amount of free-floating securities in the market. As central banks keep increasing their balance sheet through the purchase of securities such as government bonds, the amount of free-floating bonds have dramatically been reduced in the past cycle. For instance, it was estimated that large asset-purchase programs in the Euro area have decreased the free float of German government bonds from approximately 40% in 2015 to 3% in early 2020 (figure 4, left frame). Figure 4 (right frame) shows how the relationship between the 10Y Bund term premium and the free float flattened in the past few years; low free float is associated with a flat term premium.

In the US, the amount of free float is much higher due to the large quantity of marketable debt securities (USD 16tr) held by the non residents; non-resident holders (NHR) hold nearly 40% of the US debt. Hence, even though the Fed’s aggressive purchases will reduce the free float in the medium term, there is still the risk of a sudden rise in the term premium in the short run as the economy enters a recession.

Figure 4

fig4

Source: Danske, ECB

To conclude, the risk of higher long-term interest rates in the US is still there in the coming months; even though we do expect long-term rates to eventually go to zero, there is still a high probability to see a little short-term surge in the 10Y -plunge in US Treasury prices (TLT), which would significantly steepen the yield curve coinciding with the drastic rise in unemployment.

Great Chart: G10 policy rate vs. World equities

As more and more regions in developed economies have been put under a dramatic total lockdown amid growing concerns over Covid-19, central banks have started to cut rates aggressively in order to avoid a complete market meltdown. We saw in the previous week that both the Fed and the BoE held emergency meetings and cut rates by 50bps, the most since the Great Financial Crisis, benefiting from their positive benchmark interest rate to act faster than the rest of central banks. Economies already experiencing a NIRP policy (i.e. Sweden, Euro area) will probably implement or expand asset-purchase programmes in order to fight against a significant economic shock and therefore implicitly reduce their ‘shadow rate’, a rate first introduced by Fischer Black (1995) that can measure the effects of QE, to lower levels.

However, it is important to note that a significant reduction in benchmark policy rates globally has been associated with sharp equity sell-offs. This chart shows that in the previous two downturns, the GDP-weighted G10 policy rate was cut by approximately 4 percent and coincided with a global equity sell-off of 45% to 55%. Are we set for a similar story in 2020?

Chart. G10 policy rate vs. World equities (source: Eikon Reuters)

fig4

Great Chart: Gold price vs. Negative-yielding debt

Empirical researchers have demonstrated that gold has had many drivers over the past few decades, but has been mainly influenced by interest rates, inflation trends, the US Dollar, stock prices and central banks reserve policies. Baur and McDermott (2010) also shows that the precious metal plays the of a safe ‘zero-beta’ asset in periods of market stress and equity selloffs. For instance, in the last quarter of 2018, US equities (SP500) fell by 14% while the price of gold in US Dollars was up 7.6%. In the short run, participants usually look at the co-movement between gold price and real interest rate (TIPS) to define a fair value of the precious metal (gold price rises when real yields fall and vice versa).

However, gold has shown a stronger relationship with another variable in recent years: the amount of negative-yielding debt around the world. This chart shows us the striking co-movement between the two times series. After oscillating around USD 8 trillion between the beginning of 2016 and the end of 2018, the amount of negative-yielding debt doubled to nearly USD 17 trillion in the first half of 2019 amid political uncertainty and concerns over global growth, levitating gold prices from $1,280 to $1,525. However, we have noticed that investors’ concern has eased in the past two months, normalising global yields (to the upside), increasing the US 2Y10Y yield curve back to 25bps after turning negative in the end of August, therefore reducing preference for ‘safe’ assets such as bonds. The amount of debt yielding below 0% has dropped significantly since the end of August to USD 11.6 trillion this week, dragging down gold prices to $1,460. We think that market participants have overreacted to the global growth slowdown in the first half of the year and that the rise in leading indicators we have observed in the past three months (i.e. global manufacturing PMI) will continue to push preference for risk-on assets. The amount of negative-yielding debt could easily come back to its 2016-2018 8-trillion-dollar average in the following months, hence emphasising the downward pressure on gold prices. It looks like gold is set to retest the $1,350 – $1,400 support zone in the short run (which used to be its resistance zone before the 2019 rally).

Chart.  Gold price (in USD) vs. amount of negative-yielding debt (tr USD) – Source: Bloomberg, Eikon Reuters.

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