Wednesday, June 03, 2009

‘V’ is the word for 2009

‘V’ is the word for 2009 so far. I don’t know many market participants who saw the current market rally to be so furious and so fast. Neither did I expect. At best many traders called for a 50% rally over a period of few quarters. Now with most of stock Indices hovering around their 200 DMA in western markets and all Asian indices much higher from their 200 DMA question still looms whether we have entered a bull market or not. In my previous updates on S&P CNX Nifty 50, i.e. the Indian stock index, I had mentioned that prices suggest a bottom when we crossed above the all crucial level of 3200. Asian market too looks like they have formed a strong base. The trouble is the western stock markets. There is no clear indication from these indices whether this is a bear market rally or beginning of a new bull market.

The US stock markets have risen sharply over the last two months. The S&P 500 has rallied to a new high for 2009 which is 39.6% above the March 9th low. There are sector which have rallied in excess of 50% like materials and financials. There are some important changes in different markets that have occurred in the current calendar year. The US yield curve has steepened significantly and commodity prices have staged a strong rally along with an incessant fall in USD. The rising bond yields in a deflationary expectation scenario gave an early signal that stock prices will rebound sharply over a period of time. Equity markets always lag the bond markets and this was true this time also. There are two distinct signals that come from rising bond yields. First is the clear expectation of market participants that the economy is going to recover and growth will lead to inflation. Bond yields would also rise if there is an expectation of inflation without growth. This is a rare phenomenon and can occur only in case of misallocation of capital. This may happen if there is demand for goods and services due to excess liquidity instead of rise in base aggregate demand. Now the current scenario has seen continued unemployment in the US, EU and other western markets. There is continued weakness in retail sales and housing markets in whole of the western world. With stocks rising steadily, the real economy has not thrown out numbers which should appear after such a market recovery. This means that the monetization of debt has lead to a dramatic rise in expectation of a high inflation environment just after a severe deflationary threat. If we see the trajectory of inflation for the last one decade, there has been a dramatic shift from high inflation expectation – just at the turn of the century, then a deflationary threat due to tech bubble, then a high inflationary scenario due to the oil shock and back to deflationary expectation because of the financial melt down. The rapid change in inflationary expectation has been due to the severe monetary policy measured taken by central banks all over the world. The central bank either cut rates too low too soon or remained stubborn over a period of poor growth environment with high interest rates.

With bond yield steadily rising in the western world there is another phenomenon that explains the rise in bond yields. The buyers of western agency and government debt, especially the Asian countries are now worried about the long term stability of most of the western currencies and economies. This is leading them to purchases short term debt and either selling or not buying the long term debt especially in the US. This is leading to a steeping yield curve and a seeming expectation of a rise in inflation expectation. However this theory suffers from a serious threat from commodity prices. Most of inflation sensitive commodities like oil and copper have risen sharply. Gold has lagged this rally but is still near its all time high. The commodity indices have rallied sharply and steadily with support from agricultural commodities which are not directly linked with inflation and are generally cyclical and seasonal. The USD has been another factor which has supported this rally in energy, metals and some agricultural markets. The markets are devaluing the USD and there is a seeming revaluation of commodity prices. It’s been seen time and again the social moods drive the economy rather than the other way round. The bear market of 2008 has left most of the participants fearful of a fall in stock markets. Even a slight correction triggers bad investor confidence and poor financial reporting. So it’s prudent to keep and eye on how the USD moves once equity markets correct. Ultimately investors and governments along with their central banks have always returned to USD in times of crises and it becomes the safe haven when there is a real panic in the market. The argument that USD is doomed in the long term have held but in times of crises investors fear for their funds to be in a place which is ‘too big to fail’ or with some real value like gold.

Rising bond yield combined with huge monetization of debt and an every increasing money supply is creating inflationary expectation. More than any where else the Asian markets with excessively low inflation, high money supply and growing economies are being targeted by all the excess liquidity in the markets. This massive money supply which is not being lent to consumers in the western markets is now travelling to emerging markets and to any other asset class which has some real value or growth expectation. Stock prices in Asia have exploded without any correction as foreign investors flock to these markets. This was augmented with a huge short covering that triggered the bottom in most emerging market equity indices.

Current intermarket relationships suggest that rising bond yields are indeed pointing to inflationary expectation. If bonds stage a rally from the current level, which looks like it would happen sooner than later, it is just a matter of time before the downtrend begins again as high inflation scenario is here to stay for the next few years.

For the next few weeks to quarters focus should be given to movements in the USD, Euro and JPY along with the strength in gold. If equity markets see strong falls on rising volumes and gold rises with ever increasing investment demand, it would be good to have your funds in commodities which have value. Asian and emerging market might be the bubble of the new millennium built of the highest money supply that was ever created.

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