Prognosis: the prospect of recovery as anticipated from the usual course of disease or peculiarities of the case
Overview – This strategy piece will probably be regarded as the more optimistic one you will ever come across in these turbulent times. I am quietly (or not so quietly) optimistic for 2009 and beyond for global stock markets. I believe we have seen the groundwork laid for possibly the mother of all bull markets over the next 3 years. It should be a gradual stop-start thing. It will be one which is loaded with inflationary pressures as well.
Expectations – The trouble with many investors is that we are always only able to perceive and view things within a certain perimeter. Back in January 2008, there were still many who viewed the global economy with a sense of bullishness, and that the real issue was higher commodity prices. We tend to feel and sense things happening around us at that point in time. Now we are surrounded by layoffs, that the many injections of liquidity are unstoppable, that the many rate cuts are insufficient, that the mother of all fiscal measures may not be adequate, that lending and risk aversion are still kings of the world – it is natural then to assume that we have a long way to go. As we sit in the middle of this crisis, it is also natural to hear experts proclaim that this is the deepest recessions the world has seen since the Depression. It is logical to conclude that we are in for the long haul. We let things around us shape the bulk of our investing decisions, when we should base our investing decisions on what things will be like 6-12 months down the road. Just like back in January 2008, we should base our investing decisions on things happening 6-12 months down the road, and not how things were like at that point in time.
The Recession – As announced a few weeks back, the recession started in November 2007, and as we stand now, its 14 months deep in recession. Prior to World War II recessions were more prolonged and deep, usually 18-22 months. Mostly it’s that the tools available to governments and central banks to deal with recessions and their effects were very limited then. The understanding of monetary and fiscal stimulus were in its infancy then. Post WW II till today, the longest recessions by ranking were:
November 1973 – March 1975: 16 months
July 1981 – November 1982: 16 months
December 1969 – November 1970: 11 months
April 1960 – February 1961: 10 months
The average being 11 months, and this present recession is already past the average at 14 months. Of course we cannot be satisfied just knowing it is already past the median. We cannot just imply that things are towards the end just based on averages, we are not in a baseball game.
Its Different this Time – This idea that things are different this time around will cost you your life savings. The more things evolve, the more things stay the same. This recessions’ fundamentals deterioration may be more widespread, but so are the measures doled out to rectify the patient. Its not really different, it just seems that way when you are in the midst of it. Business cycles are called cycles for many reasons. Things will peak and they will drop, they will boom and they will bust, each boom and bust will have their own stories to tell, but the cycle remains the same. The gravity of this crisis is matched by the unprecedented cooperation by all nations to work as one to rectify the problem. The amount of additional fiscal stimulus and the coordinated rate cuts are unprecedented. On November 9,
Owing to the high risk to aversion now, I believe the fiscal measures undertaken so far may have gone past what is required to bring back liquidity and consumer demand to the forefront. When your anorexic fishes are not eating, you might tend to throw everything at it to get them to eat - its actually more than they can consume even for a healthy fish. Once they start to eat again, they will find that there is actually too much food in the fridge.
You try to bake a nice cake, you have put in all the right ingredients into the bowl. Its enough to be a mother of all cakes... but no one is stirring the pot... yet. For pot stirrer information, please read on.
Confidence – The risk aversion mentality has taken strong roots, thus delaying the effects of the many measures being instituted. In fact, it is likely that we have already over-injected the required sums to revive many problem areas. It’s the confidence in the system that is wreaking havoc still. Confidence and risk aversion can also become a bubble condition – just look at the rush into yen and the rush into USD and US Treasuries. If those are not at bubble levels, I don’t know what it. Just like a pendulum, things will always sway to extremes before righting itself. I am not saying that the credit situation is over. I still think there are pockets of danger in credit cards.
Why Mother of All Bull Markets – We are seeing a readiness to go to zero interest rates in most major economies’ monetary policies. In a normal market situation, the rapid rate cuts will be balanced with a re-rating of stocks and yields, but they have not had that effect because the risk aversion mentality still rules. But that is OK, it just delays the “bull” not that the bull is not around. The bull will always surface when the right factors congregate.
The global economy has grown by nearly 70% in size from 2007 till mid 2008 before things imploded. Things imploded because of derivatives and capital issues. Yes those liquidity or multiplied liquidity was drained from the system, but it would be silly to think that they were responsible for the bulk of the 70% growth in global trade. What we have seen over the last 8 years was a huge rise in global middle class, in particular from the BRIC nations. This huge new middle class will still be consuming more resources as more emerging economies continue to pour resources to build up infrastructure. That is the inevitable “good” that comes from globalization. The demand on our resources was highlighted over the last 3 years when commodity prices went through the roof. Their price rises may have been exaggerated by the remarkable liquidity from hedge funds and specialized funds – but the underlying principle still remains. The implosion in commodity prices over the last 6 months was more due to the retraction of liquidity, rather than a rapid deterioration in demand fundamentals.
The secular bull in commodities was caused by perceptions of massive demand in emerging markets, particularly the BRIC nations -
Inventory & Capacity Utilisation - Most companies have already worked down their inventory levels over the past 6 months in anticipation of weaker demand. Resource companies have shut down certain plants to reduce production capacity. All told, the current situation sees a very level of inventory for essential goods. Companies have been quicker to respond to market changes or better at trying to anticipate market trends. The scenario also pans out well for a confluence of factors to rebound smartly on the slightest hint of recovery. For example, palm oil exports have been haunted by buyers reneging and sharp drops in demand. Users have been working down on their inventory. Yesterday, data showed that exports for the December 1-25 period soared 24 per cent to 1,345,325 million tonnes from 1,087,865 tonnes shipped in the same period last month.
Inflation – Following on the above premise, it is safe to say that inflation will rise when confidence returns. Central banks will then have to drain liquidity from the system gradually. As the risk aversion was so strong, it is likely that most central banks will allow the markets to rise, and even allow inflation to seep in for the first 12 months. You do not want to ruin the hard work by tightening the noose so soon. Hence the first 12 months will be most vibrant and exciting.
Darkest Before Dawn - Investors were bailing out of mutual funds at record pace, the VIX set new highs, more than 90% of closed-end funds were trading at a discount that were much higher than the average. All these are signs of bottoming. As I have written before, it should be very useful to look for bottoms by looking at the yen/usd rate. You need risk aversion to reduce before investors are willing to get back into stocks.
Cheap valuations are a reflection of risk aversion, the rush to US Treasuries is a sure sign of risk aversion, the rush to USD and yen are a sign of definite risk aversion.
Gem #1: Markets will only start a genuine recovery when risk aversion subsides
Gem#2: Risk aversion reduction will be immediately reflected in weaker USD and yen
The fall in USD over the last two days is more due to the zero interest rate regime enacted by Federal Reserve, so that should not be a sign of risk aversion reduction.
The best guide for locating current markets' bottom: WHEN USD and YEN BOTH STARTS TO FALL IN VALUE in a sustained pattern. When these two currencies fall, it show a willingness to move exposure into other currencies or assets, be it stock or bonds. Before they are reflected in the prices, the signal will be most apparent in the currencies.
However, even then we cannot really ascertain a buying trigger. So, my advice would be to break up you investing funds into 3 portions, get ready your list of stocks to buy.
Catalyst #1: When yen/usd rate moves back to 94, plonk down 1/3 of your funds
Catalyst #2: When the rate moves to 97, move the second portion
Catalyst #3: When the rate breaks 100, move the rest in
A point not missed here is that if yen weakens against the USD, the latter would be gaining in strength. However, I am using the yen/usd rate as a guide, as I believe when the yen starts to weaken, the USD would also weaken, but not by as much - i.e. the USD would gain ground against yen but at the same time lose ground against the euros and other major currencies. I use the yen/usd rate because that is most widely followed. The yen is used as the determinant because it was the most popular currency for carry trades, the unbelievable strength now is due to risk aversion as the Japanese exporters are basically losing money and cannot compete below 90.
Comforting Data – Over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 tends to bottom:
One quarter before the GDP bottoms; 3 months before the ISM manufacturing survey bottoms; 7 months before the peak unemployment rate; 4 months before the largest decline in non-farm payrolls; and 4 months before the bottom in consumer confidence surveys.
Using that as benchmarks, we should expect a genuine economic recovery somewhere between March and June of 2009.
The Obama Factor – Just like investing, to move share prices you need catalysts to make things happen. Risk aversion does not just go away, they also need to have catalysts. Obama will take office in January 2009. Call it goodwill, call it anything you want. He has already assembled a group of very credible people to help him. He has shown a clarity and purpose in hiring the best, rather than just from his own circles. The key would be the stimulus package he will be announcing. What started off as a $350bn package has now ballooned to $600bn, and now its likely to top $1 trillion.
Its not just a hopeful thing. As mentioned, the groundwork has been laid: very low interest rates, very high risk aversion, stocks at very cheap levels, governments pumping fiscal stimulus like crazy… its like everyone is working towards an Obama effect.
Confidence is a strange yet important part of global finance. A basic re-rating of 10% jump from current levels will improve valuations for a lot of toxic assets as well and in turn relives the constant need to raise capital. Further jumps in markets will see a willingness to buy even toxic assets. Things that look like being worth just 20 cents to the dollar may now be worth 50 cents to the dollar. It’s a cumulative snowball effect. Injured banks may even be able to use the capital raise to actually repair balance sheet and do actual lending, instead of constantly having to write down every quarter. You would be amazed what a 10%-20% jump in equity prices can do to the entire system.
I am looking for the Dow to reach 10,000 by February / March 2009 and to go back to 12,000 by June 2009. I cannot safely say what will happen for the second half of 2009. A lot will depend on what the central banks and governments do over the next 6 months. If they play their cards right, I think global equity markets could fully recover by end 2009 and go on a 2-3 year unprecedented bull run.
photo: Judy Kang Jung Hwa
photo: Judy Kang Jung Hwa