Global Investing

Clever Fed

Proof  that a little surprise can be quite big.

Ahead of the Federal Reserve’s decision on more quantitative easing there were three possible outcomes that  could have threatened what is becoming a strong global equity rally. In short:

– Meeting expectations could have been seen as boring, leading to a sell off

– Not meeting expectations could have been seen as widely disappointing, leading to a sell off

– Exceeding expectations could have been seen as a sign that the U.S. economy is in worst shape than  feared, leading to a selloff.

In the event, the Fed’s $600 billion by June was a tad more than expected but not enough to spook the horses.  ”Slightly pleasantly surprising,” is how Jonathan Schiessl of wealth managers Ashburton put it.

Between optimism and pessimism

“Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria. The time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy, and the time of maximum optimism is the best time to sell,” wrote late billionaire investor and philanthropist John Templeton in 1994.

CHINA-RAREEARTHS/

Investors might have done exactly that. After hitting a trough in March 2009, world stocks have gained  83 percent, with many analysts and investors saying that the rally may have further to run.

But with valuations becoming less attractive compared with the absolute trough last year, what should investors buy now?

Investors love those emerging markets

No question that investors are in the throes of passion over emerging markets. The latest Reuters asset allocation polls show investors pouring money into Asian and Latin American stocks in October to the detriment of U.S. and euro zone equities. Exposure to equities in emerging Europe, Asia ex-Japan, Latin America and Africa/Middle East rose to 15.6 percent of a typical stock portfolio from 14.3 percent a month earlier. untitled

Bad economic data, please

Interesting twist at the moment – how are financial markets going to view not-so-bad or good data out of the United States in the run-up to the next Federal Reserve meeting.

Investors have been pricing in a chunky operation by the Fed to feed the markets with cheap cash – look at the gold, silver, the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar. Bad data from the United States will keep investors confident of such Fed action and support the flows into high yielding assets.

But any data showing the pace of recovery in the world’s largest economy is not in such a bad shape. Investors will adjust their expectations and positions, causing a sell-off in equities, speculative-grade credit and high-yielding currencies.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

And the investor survey says…

Reuters asset allocation polls for August are out. They show very little change from July, which suggests investors are still cautious and uncertain about what is happening.

One big difference, month-on-month, was a large jump into investment grade corporate debt.  Andrew Milligan of Standard Life Investments reckons this  may in part  have been because  sovereign debt rallied so much over summer that returns from government bonds are now too meagre.

Here is the big picture:

Poll

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Wishful thinking on earnings?

The U.S. earnings season is over bar a handful of firms. It has been robust to say the least: Thomson Reuters Proprietary Research calculates that S&P 500 companies overall had second-quarter earnings growth of 38.4 percent. That was 11 percentage points higher than people had been expecting heading into the season.

There may be more surprises ahead -- although which sort, remains in question. The research suggests that analysts still expect solid growth in the coming quarters and that the decline in U.S. economic strength over the summer has not changed their minds much.

Third-quarter earnings growth is estimated at 24.9 percent, down slightly from July estimates but higher than earlier in the year. Fourth-quarter estimates are at 31.8 percent.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Micro versus macro

There is little doubt that the latest U.S. earnings season has been a good one for long-equity  investors. Thomson Reuters Proprietary Research calculates that with 67 percent of S&P 500 companies having reported, EPS growth -- both actual and that still forecast for those who have not filed yet -- has come in at 36 percent.

Furthermore, a large majority of the reports have surprised on the upside, as they like to say on Wall Street.  Some 75 percent of  reports have been better than expected.  Not surprisingly, the S&P index gained around 6.9 percent in July and is up another 1.7 percent in the first two trading days of August.

But given what looks like at least a faltering U.S. economy with little consumer confidence, some analysts  have begun asking what there is to get excited about. Philipp Baertschi, chief strategist at wealth manager Bank Sarasin, for example, calls it a case of micro bulls versus macro bears and warns that it won't last.

Emerging markets pull through

Emerging market stocks have been a big favourite among investment managers this year, based on the view that long-term growth patterns remain in place despite the wobbles in developed economies. But it has not been an easy ride. MSCI’s emerging market stocks index has been in an out of positive territory for much of the year.  It has just moved back into the black after a rally of  more than 16  percent since late May.

EM

from David Gaffen:

5 Questionable Arguments Against the Double-Dip

Don’t tell George Costanza, but double dipping is all the rage these days. The possibility of the U.S. slipping back into recession after a brief period of growth is a hot topic of late – and while such an occurrence is unlikely, pundits are feverishly declaring that it can’t and won’t happen. 

Here are some of their reasons, some of which appear to strain credulity:  Double-dips are “rare.” Simon Hobbs of CNBC is a vigorous promoter of this idea, but let’s face it, the last 15 years of financial-market history is a veritable compendium things that no one expected to happen – LTCM, the financial panic, Lehman Brothers. Rare means nothing. The stock market hasn’t dropped enough. Ah yes, the stock market, that stellar indicator of the economy’s future, such as in October 2007, when it hit an all-time high, two months before the onset of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Next. The yield curve hasn’t flattened enough. This indicator comes with a bit more in the way of history, as a flattened/inverted yield curve has been a reliable indicator of economic weakness ahead. But the Federal Reserve is anchoring the short end of the curve to the ground with its zero interest rate policy. It complicates the curve’s predictive value – something Goldman Sachs noted in a morning commentary. “External shocks” are responsible for the declines in economic activity, such as that in Europe. Similar shocks were enough to spark recessions in the 1930s, 1970s, and in 2008. Everything’s connected now, remember? Corporate profits are strong. As they were all the way through the beginning of 2007, once again, before the most recent eruption.  

A recent Reuters poll put the odds of a double-dip recession at about 15 percent. Gluskin Sheff’s bearish strategist David Rosenberg puts it around 50-50, and Jim Bianco of Bianco Research also put that kind of odds on it. It may not happen – but when a lot of people are trying to convince you that something’s not going to happen, it can make you believe that it’s more likely than not.

What fund managers think

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s monthly poll of around 200 fund managers had a few nuggets in the June version, aside from the usual mood-taking.

Gold is too expensive.  A net 27 percent of respondent thought it overvalued, up from 13 percent in May. Then again, the respondents to this poll have reckoned gold is too pricey since September 2009.

The fall in the euro should be tailing off. A net 14 percent reckon the single currency is still overvalued, but that is way down from the net 45 percent who thought so in the May poll.