Investment week: Punch drunk and hard to startle
This week’s rehashing of European banking concerns – related variously to the Basel III impact on German banks, the ongoing morass re Anglo Irish Bank or any other scare story you want to exhume — provided the latest excuse for a global markets wobble as September kicked off. Yet, with some justified head-scratching over what really was new to the world this week as opposed to last week, price moves showed little conviction. Most losses were quickly recouped and decibel level of the commentariat, still frantically competing to warn you of the next disaster, toned down.
The world’s major sovereigns and banks have big financial problems, no doubt, and Europe more than its fair share. The rescues of the Spring did not provide a silver bullet and genuine repair will likely take a painfully-long time. But we’ve also had a lot of time to adequately discount these risks and the marketplace at large is already positioned extremely cautiously. That’s why the idea of sudden, blind panic on these long-running sagas seems just a little OTT – especially against a relatively stable, if bruised, economic backdrop. The bigger issue many investors are grappling with is the growing difficulty in making money in a hyper-cautious, low-growth environment. Ask Stanley Druckenmiller. If he threw in the towel because money-making conditions are just lousy, then you can be sure others see the same. Anecdotally at least, pressurised hedge funds – who faced rising redemptions through the summer – are ultra-cautious about open positions and seem quick to cut and run on even the slightest gain, long or short. (A bit like continually shouting ‘bank!’ on reaching £100 pounds on The Weakest Link!) Big institutional funds, meantime, are sufficiently uncertain about the market and economic direction that many are already keen to lock down for the remainder of the year and are hugging benchmarks to preserve whatever capital they have without resorting to zero-yielding cash or barely-more-attractive TBonds. U.S. midterms in November only add the caution. In short, it will take a pretty major positive or negative surprise to truly set these markets alight and there is every chance we won’t get a decisive one for some time. We already have historically high vol and caution – but relative steady, unspectacular conditions for all that. The smart money may simply be tempted to buy or sell any hysterical extremes. Is may even be possible that some are tempted to foster a long-absent patience gene?
As to next week? There’s welter of new economic data to maybe add some flavour. The biggest potential movers are August China production and investment stats (now, oddly, being released Saturday rather than Monday) and then US retail sales, Philly Fed and German ZEW indices later in the week. On the issue du jour re European banks/sovereigns, an informal EU summit on Thursday provides the main set-piece – but BIS central bankers meeting in Basel this weekend and Spanish and Italian debt auctions next week may add their own spice.
The Japanese yen intervention theme will likely rumble, with the Japanese Democrats leadership poll and BOJ Tankan playing a part. China will also likely find renewed political heat stateside, as the US election campaign adds an edge to a congressional hearing on China’s FX policy on Wednesday as well as the monthly Treasury/TIC flow data. All the above have their own ability to surprise — but few seem game changers in themselves.