A Painful but Healthy Adjustment

money mazeMy Comments: Reassuring comments here from a trusted thinker on the markets. No guarantees but if you have at least a 5 year time horizon, we will be OK. Just don’t get caught up in the media rhetoric and the pointing of fingers. Almost all of it is stupid, ill informed, and self-serving. Life happens, and this is normal. Which is not to say there are no ways to continue making money.

August 24, 2015 by Scott Minerd

The recent global equity market selloff reflects a long-awaited—and I believe ultimately healthy—market correction. A number of commentators speculated that after Monday morning’s sharp decline in U.S. stocks, the intra-day reversal indicated that we reached a bottom. In the very short run, I would agree. However, longer term, neither fundamental nor technical data support that we have reached the levels of capitulation associated with the end of a market correction.

One example is the Chicago Board Options Exchange SPX Volatility Index (VIX), often referred to as the “fear” index. While it spiked significantly higher, the VIX still failed to stay at the levels normally associated with capitulation like those experienced in 2011. Over the coming days I expect the market will try to find some short-term footing, but I doubt we have found a bottom yet. Buying risk assets now would be like catching a falling knife—if you do so you are likely to get quite bloody in the short run.

The market rout has spawned numerous news stories attempting to explain the source of the sharp declines in global equities. Many have highlighted the decline in emerging markets, which, on balance, have now officially reached bear market territory, given the over 20 percent decline in the MSCI emerging markets index since April.
Some markets have done much worse, especially when measured in U.S. dollars. Brazil is the poster child for the ravages of a full-fledged bear market. Even with the devastating declines, emerging markets have yet to show any signs of bottoming based on either economic fundamentals or market technical indicators.

While in the U.S. fundamentals remain supportive of continued economic growth, technical indicators point to lower prices in U.S. risk assets. Looking at the S&P 500, the sudden collapse in prices should provide near-term support, but after some consolidation I would expect us to revisit the lows and ultimately test the 1,820 level. A decline to 1,820 on the S&P 500 would represent a 15 percent drop from the peak, which would be a healthy correction in a long-term bull market. As this correction plays out, I would expect yields on below-investment-grade energy credits to widen by another 200 to 300 basis points. Other equity markets and higher quality credit assets are likely to sell off in sympathy as well.

So what is causing all of this turbulence? The source is the massive misalignment of exchange rates, which finds its roots in quantitative easing. Case in point, consider Japan, which has weakened its currency by over 50 percent against the U.S. dollar, while China, Japan’s largest trading partner, has basically pegged the renminbi (RMB) to the dollar.

Strains on the terms of trade between countries that have devalued and those that have not have built to the point that perpetuating these disparities is destabilizing to the countries that have staunchly fought devaluation. Witness China’s recent move to devalue the RMB versus the dollar, proving that artificial equilibrium is not only impossible to maintain, but ultimately disruptive to markets and economic growth.

Now we are facing the turbulent path to a new equilibrium. The coming weeks will be difficult and it is hard to hazard a guess as to when and how this will all end. Nevertheless, I place great faith in governments’ willingness to use the printing press. It is a handy tool to prop up asset prices and temporarily spur economic growth. For that reason I don’t see recession on the horizon for the G-7 nations or China either.

In time, policymakers will react. I would assume that the reaction time is fairly short. No one seems inclined to test the limits of how far asset prices can fall. Yet, given the current bias by the U.S. Federal Reserve to raise rates and the Peoples’ Bank of China to support the RMB, some more time will need to pass before more dramatic action is taken.

I would suspect that this will all climax by late October, but only time will tell. For the time being more downside risks remain. As I have mentioned before, cash is king, treasuries will outperform, and patience is a virtue. I don’t believe we have reason for panic, but complacency is dangerous too. Look for opportunities and more signs of capitulation.