The first year of the new decade begins with markets in a much more exuberant mood than at the beginning of 2019. Some of the world’s most important stock markets reached record highs in the last month of 2019 — but do investors feel that markets have peaked?
Caught in the middle of the Brexit saga, European investors can be forgiven if they glossed over a speech by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell that could turn out to be the starting point of a very risky period for the global economy.
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump would want the Fed to cut interest rates and debase the dollar. Earlier this year, he called the Fed “crazy” and Powell himself, “clueless.”
Of course, Powell did not immediately show that these repeated attacks influenced his policy. However, in a speech he gave last week he reiterated his fondness for a very risky idea on how to ease monetary policy even further.
Uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations has hit new highs, President Trump seems determined to scare the markets witless with his threats of escalating the trade war, debt problems in China are accelerating – the perfect background for a contrarian ‘buy’ signal.
Just as it was beginning to look like the bond market’s luck was finally running out, President Trump made some remarks that all but guarantee that the bond rally will go on for a little while longer.
Last week, investors yet again favoured bonds over any other asset class, despite central banks cooing dovish everywhere.
The Fed is cutting rates? No worries, buy bonds. The European Central Bank prepares to push rates even further into negative territory? Bonds are the ticket. The Bank of England gets the printing press ready again? Oh yes, some bonds would be great.
What does well when the world’s most powerful man writes a furious tweet, followed by real life decisions that send stock market plunging? Bonds. But if you are still exposed to equities, where is the best place to be? Bond proxies.
This, at least, has been the scenario so far. But investors are forgetting that companies less dependent on the business cycle are not completely immune to economic turmoil.
It seems that nothing can break the bond rally — or deflate the bond bubble, as critics would say. Inflows into bond funds have hit a record this year, in tandem with record high bond prices, but how long can the euphoria last?
It finally happened: investors are so bearish that a contrarian “buy” signal has been triggered. The Bull and Bear indicator developed by researchers at Bank of America Merrill Lynch is finally indicating Buy, one year after climbing so high that it triggered a Sell signal.
Corporate bondholders, beware. The wave of enthusiasm for this asset class, which has helped it to reach new heights, is now ebbing. A research paper recently published by the IMF illustrates the reasons behind this – although it must be said the paper does not represent the official position of the IMF.
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.”