Global Investing

Booking profits

Last week was one of the worst for global equities in a long time. MSCI’s benchmark all-country index fell 4.3 percent, the most it has lost since the week ending March 8, just before this year’s stunning rally began. Emerging market stocks, meanwhile, dropped 5.6 percent in the week, the largest fall since mid- to late-February.

As if that was not enough, volatility soared. The VIX fear gauge leapt 37.8 percent in the week, nearly 30 percent alone on Friday. Cross-sectional volatility — volatility between stocks as opposed to just the index — is also rising as can be seen  (black line) in the graph to the right.

But might it all simply be a matter of timing? Credit Suisse estimates that 22 percent of mutual funds end their fiscal year at the end of October. So the big sell off could at least in part be due to managers ensuring their end of year profits look good.

(Graph: Scott Barber)

Investors break commodities link with equities

Investors smelling profits in commodities are using the sector as an early cycle play, alongside equities, because a lack of production capacity means higher prices sooner rather than later. 

Historically, prices of natural resources lag equities, which typically front run the economic cycle by between 18 to 24 months. The change is also partly due to the tumbling dollar, a major driver in recent weeks.

The natural resources sector is also one of the last to price in economic expansion. But not this time.

“Normal” volatility to help rally?

As the graphic above shows, volatility in U.S. stocks has re-entered what could be called normal territory after soaring higher during the financial crisis. The blue band is plus or minus one standard deviation around the 1990 to 2007 avverage.

There may be an implication for equities beyond the obvious sign that things are calming down. Lower volatility is a buy signal in many trading models.

(Reuters graphic by Scott Barber)

Great earnings, pity about the whispers

It says a lot about the way investors are thinking at the moment that very good earnings from Goldman Sachs were greeted with a mini-stock selloff and a bounce for the dollar. But it is not that people are glum and selling even on good news — more a case of them being so ebullient that anything which is not outlandish is a disappointment.

The top-of-the-pile investment bank was supposed to report quarterly earnings of $4.24 a share.  Instead, it stormed in with $5.25 a share, a good 23 percent higher and an increase of 190 percent over the year earlier figure.

But on the wilder fringes of the market, speculation had been doing the rounds that the earnings-per-share figure would be around $6. It wasn’t, so Wall Street futures tanked, the dollar went positive and world stocks pared gains.

The best of all worlds for investors?

Could it be that equity and bond investors are living in the best of all worlds at the moment?

Tim Bond, head of global asset allocation at Barclays Capital, has hinted that they might be. He says that history shows current conditions to be the best for both assets.

 Since 1925, we find that in those years in which GDP was above trend and inflation below trend, U.S. equities have delivered an average 10.6 percent real return, with 20-year Treasuries delivering a 5.2 percent real return. 

Know when to hold ‘em

If you had bought emerging market stocks exactly at the top of the bubble and sold them exactly at the bottom of the crash, you would have suffered a lot of pain (and probably shouldn’t be in the investment business in the first place).  The loss would have been 67 percent of your principal.

Most people won’t have lost that much, of course, depending on when they bought and sold. But even if an investor did buy exactly at the top, as long as they held on their losses by now would have been pared back considerably. 

The graphic above, created by Scott Barber, shows how much of the crash has been clawed back. The full column represents the maximum loss; the green shows the amount recovered. In points terms, 50 percent of the emerging markets crash losses have been recouped.

from David Gaffen:

Ken Lewis: When Buying the Dips Fails

In a bull market, buying on the dips works like a charm. Pullbacks in the market are quickly cannibalized by hungry investors looking for anything that smells like a bargain.

 

In a bear market, dip-buying does not work so well, as supposed bargains turn out to be value traps. This brings us to Ken Lewis, retiring as CEO of Bank of America. If dip-buying is a disaster in bear markets, Lewis engineered the M&A version of "dip buying" at the worst time not once, but twice.

He struck first with a $2 billion investment in Countrywide Financial in August of 2007, just before stock markets peaked - and after real estate was already teetering. In a good environment, it's a potentially solid investment. Not so much this one, when Countrywide was at $18 a share, and Lewis doubled down with a $4 billion buy (well, rescue) of Countrywide in January of 2008. That's hit the bank hard due to rising defaults in the housing market, which some analysts believe have not peaked.

Investors cutting back on equity buying

This month’s Reuters global asset allocation survey shows that investors have cut back on buying equities after an almost non-stop rally since March.

According to a survey of 49 leading investors in the United States, Britain, continental Europe and Japan, investors now hold an average of 54.9 percent of their portfolios in equities.

This is the lowest level since February and below the long-term average of 59.3 percent.

from David Gaffen:

Fed Starts to Remove Candy; Market Demands More

The stock market's penchant for emotional reactions that remind one of a roomful of two-year olds can never be underestimated. Major world central banks are pulling back on their efforts to provide liquidity to the financial system, and the U.S. equity market has flipped out, with stocks falling sharply after the news.Volatility has spiked as well, even though the banks' move is largely administrative, with demand for certain borrowing programs already diminished. Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ notes that "demand for dollar liquidity at banks offshore is sharply reduced now that the crisis has blown through. The amount of dollar borrowing in offshore centers is down sharply."

But equity markets aren't so easily swayed by reason. The move in stocks follows a similar sell-off late Wednesday, after the Federal Reserve's statement, which intimated that it would start to reduce the tools that it has employed in keeping things afloat. Joe Saluzzi of Themis Trading pegged the reaction as a predictable one from the notoriously self-interested stock market, saying that "now all the money printing crack addicts who are waiting for more of it are not getting their money printing and they are going to throw a hissy fit."

Housing sales fall, despite lower rates.

Housing sales fall, despite lower rates.

And this is with only the most gradual of responses from the Fed. Lou Crandall of Wrightson ICAP points out that the Fed, with the tweak to their statement Wednesday and today's action, is signaling its intention to shift away from life-support efforts, even though it is nowhere near raising interest rates.

Equities: risky assets or return assets?

Are equities risky assets, or return assets? Watch Mark Tinker, Fund manager of the AXA Framlington Global Opportunities Fund, who talks about how the market has more room for an upside now that distressed sellers are gone.