Trader thoughts - the long and short of it

Markets have been awash with data over the last 24 hours – and traders love it.

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Source: Bloomberg

More information, greater confidence: It’s a behavioural quirk in financial markets: whether good, bad, or otherwise, an inundation of information paints a full and colourful picture of the world and satisfies that innate human desire for (an illusion) of control and certainty. The phenomenon echoes lessons that were reinforced upon the world all the way back in 2008 by one of that years’ seminal cultural events. No, not the zenith of the Global Financial Crisis, but Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s inimitable portrayal of The Joker. In a scene that epitomizes the philosophy of the uber-anarchist Joker, the character ruminates during a monologue: “Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even when the plan is horrifying… nobody panics. Because it’s all part of the plan.”

Fundamentals unchanged: Why bring this up? Outside taking pause to remember a time before the ills of the GFC ailed the global economy, it sums-up quite well the attitude of market participants in times of turmoil. Yesterday saw the release of a swathe of economic and financial data, which assessed on balance, delivered unremarkable and mixed results. None of it fundamentally changed the outlook for the financial world, but the fact that it filled in some blanks and confirmed a few existing biases meant that everything, overall was judged to be ok. Herein lies the problem for now: the issues that ignited October’s sell-off have yet to disappear, meaning that markets remain just as liable to the extreme bouts of panic and volatility that last month delivered us.

Adjustments still underway: The biggest problem here is that when assessing the balance of buyers and sellers, and their overall behaviour, not much has changed. The market was led higher yesterday by a drive into tech-stocks and other growth/momentum sectors – apparently based on a so-so earnings update from Facebook, and an anticipation for upcoming Apple results. If there is one thing that can be taken away from the market commentary in the last 2 weeks, the financial market pros out there – the big money managers, the institutional players, the stock brokers, and the like – believe it’s time to shift away from growth investing into value investing. Assuming they are to be trusted, the players controlling the ultimate fortunes of the market are shifting funds away from areas that have propped markets up this week.

Same behaviour driving week’s recovery: Thus: here comes the fissure at the centre of it all: if traders are still chasing momentum flow in growth sectors, and the fundamental outlook for broader financial markets hasn’t changed yet, then October’s shake-out probably has further to run. Now, several factors will surely insulate punters from such extreme bouts of volatility. Oft-cited share buy backs will kick-off in a significant way now, plus seasonality suggests markets are entering a fruitful time of year. Moreover, earnings are still strong even if the medium-term outlook has changed, and economic growth (in the US, but to a lesser extent other geographies) is powering along. However, these factors paper over the cracks – and the truly structural factors – which means while financial calamity isn’t expected any time soon, greater adjustments (that is: more corrective action) in financial markets may well loom.

Risk one: higher rates: The two biggest factors remain the prospect of higher global interest rates, and the possibility that markets have already reached peak growth. Regarding the former, it is conspicuous and questionable that traders have reduced their bets of a rate hike from the US Federal Reserve in December and lowered their expectations of the number of hikes in 2019. It appears a classic conflation by market participants that weakness on Wall Street necessitates weakness on main street.

Though fortunes can quickly change, economic data continues to affirm that the US economy is in a strong position and price pressures are building – which will require a firmer hand and tighter policy from the US Federal reserve. US bond yields have fallen, and the USD has rallied of late, inviting investors back into equity markets. Last night’s trading session saw bond yields tick higher again, implying that the risks of rising rates haven’t been fully discounted, and sustained volatility on this basis persists.

Risk two: slower growth: Secondary to tightening global monetary conditions, the other factor that precipitated October’s market rout remains – and was, in fact, reinforced yesterday. The prospect of weaker growth ex-US economy, due to the trade-war as much as any other cyclical causes, looms large on the horizon. Chinese PMI data yesterday undershot forecasts once more, with the Manufacturing component to that release inching closer to a sub-50 “contractionary” print, pushing the off-shore Yuan ever closer to 7.00; while the BOJ during its meeting yesterday downgraded it growth and inflation forecasts.

The fears across Asia added to the nervousness catalysed by this week’s soft European growth numbers – although it must be said that the perception of European growth did receive a boost last night when it was reported that a Brexit deal may arrive as soon as November 21. Nevertheless, if the market correction October was in a big way foundered upon shakier global growth prospects, little revealed this week so far should be interpreted as diminishing that risk in the short-term.

Today for the ASX200: SPI futures are indicating that, to start the new month, the ASX 200 will participate in the relief rally sweeping markets and add 26 points at the open. Despite sluggishness throughout the day, the Australian market jumped just before the end of yesterday's session, courtesy of a buy-up in bank stocks following ANZ's better than expected results. A full turn around isn't yet underway for the ASX200, but the seeds are there to potentially break the corrective pattern hobbling the index -- with a break and hold above 5930 a definitive sign of this. Just like the rest of global equities, the risks and challenges remain, but yesterday's weak CPI print at least affirms that RBA policy will probably remain supportive of asset markets. The next two days of trade will be significant for the Australian market's nascent recovery, as NAB reports today, and macro watchers eye local retail sales figures tomorrow, and the more significant US Non-Farm Payrolls release on Friday night.

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