The panic buying of essential items around the globe – from food to, fittingly, toilet paper – sparked by the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been mirrored by panic selling in capital markets. It’s almost as if investors were taking cash out of stocks and bonds to buy whatever food, hand sanitiser and toilet paper they could get their hands on.
Pessimism in global financial markets has reached heights not seen since the dark days of the great financial crisis of 2007-2009, which this current crisis threatens to overtake in depth and significance. But, as news about rapid tests for COVID-19 and resilience to deal with the virus begin to multiply, could investors hope for a bottom in the capital markets’ selloff?
The list of reasons to worry in the market is growing longer by the day, and investors keep taking money out of risky assets – among them, European ones.
The phenomenon has been dubbed an “exodus from Europe” by analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who say there is “no surprise that the outflow from European high grade and high yield funds has been much more sizable than outflows from emerging markets debt funds.”
Last month has become known as Red October, not so much as a hint to the film starring Sean Connery as the commander of the defecting Soviet submarine by that name, but sadly, as an accurate description of the dominant colour on trading screens around the world.
The Halloween effect is a well-known seasonal quirk that pushes stock prices up between October 31 and May 1. After a horrible October for stocks, investors are anxious to know whether the market rout is over or it has more to run.
There is one indicator that could provide some clues. We’ve spoken about it before on this website. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Bull and Bear indicator triggered a “Sell” signal back in January of this year, and it is now close to a “Buy” one – although not yet.
There have been “massive” outflows from capital markets in the past week, but although they brought Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s “bull and bear” indicator close to the “buy” signal, they haven’t managed to trigger it.
It’s hard to find a more bullish start to a year than this one. There were “blockbuster” inflows of capital into stocks, as well as corporate and emerging markets bonds, according to the latest analysis by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Bearish sentiment abounds in financial markets, and the contrarian “buy” signals intensify. And yet, few analysts have the courage to say the correction/bear market is over and this is the time to jump into the market.
Some commentators have warned that a bear market in stocks could be near, citing things like the fall in US long-term interest rates or the decline of volatility as a sign of investor complacency.
But Garry Evans, global head of equity strategy at HSBC, argues that actually, a bear market usually starts when long-term interest rates and volatility are rising – although they are not necessarily reliable indicators.