A few thoughts as the market heads into a relatively quiet week featuring mostly Federal Reserve speakers and a few other random events that aren’t likely to knock the market to its knees:
- Bear markets don’t just start “because,” as Dan Greenhaus of BTIG puts it. Usually there are a few factors, but most often it’s some combination of speculative excess, tightening rates, and a reduction in that bit of froth in an area that’s crucial to the bull market or economic expansion in question. When technology investing money dried up and the companies that sold shares to the public foundering on a lack of earnings, the tech bubble was unwound pretty quickly. The financial crisis came about as banks became unable to handle the volume of debt that had been sold and as the Fed raised rates, sapping demand in the “greater fool” housing market, and as the banks ate themselves under synthetic products that weren’t anything underlying. So with that in mind, what’s the speculative excess now? Probably the overall thing is ultimate low rates, because when that does go, the market is going to view growth differently.
- The expectation for higher rates is a primary underpinning for overall investor nervousness. If rates are higher, the expansion is threatened, and inflation becomes an issue. It’s not that those conditions exist now, but the prevailing view for rising rates explains in many ways why this bull market is as loathed as it is. People remain wary of making bets in this market, even if retail investors would have been handsomely rewarded by getting in at any morn, so that’s point in favor of them rather than against.
- Higher rates often do end up killing a lot of bull markets – and economic expansions – so the inflation figures and the Fed members’ beliefs related to the threat of rising prices are all important, and we’ll attempt to make sure of the chatter coming from the likes of Charles Plosser, Jeff Lacker and John Williams. So that’s the second team when it comes to Fed speakers (Bill Dudley also speaks, but the Puerto Rican economy is the topic) in terms of influence, but still, those views remain important.
- Complacency isn’t a “thing.” As Luciana Lopez and Jennifer Ablan wrote about late last week, the VIX being low isn’t a workable assessment of the concerns thousands of investors have about the equity market and economy, particularly when the VIX really only reflects expectations for volatility in the coming couple of weeks and not in any long-term kind of way. So yes, the VIX around 10 doesn’t make a lot of sense until you remember it’s been about 45 cays where the index hasn’t even hit a 1 percent change – so realized volatility has been in the 4 percent range.