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‘I Love the Delusion of the Markets at this Point in the Cycle’

‘I Love the Delusion of the Markets at this Point in the Cycle’

Courtesy of Michael Panzner at Financial Armageddon 

Since I started publishing Financial Armageddon in late-2006, I’ve often railed against the incompetence and tomfoolery of highly-paid Wall Street "strategists" (note the double quotes). Many of these so-called experts are clueless data-regurgitators or ivory tower economists with above average communications skills. Indeed, it seems to me that most of the "stars" of the forecasting game are simply being rewarded for having the gift of gab, rather than their ability to look past the trees and size up the layout of the forest.

But as with most generalizations, there are exceptions. Surprisingly — yes, I am cynical — a very small number of those who know what they are talking about, have something intelligent to say, and know how to translate their insights into clear and interesting prose have been recognized as such. I am referring in particular to Albert Edwards, the number-one ranked global strategist for I-don’t-know-how-many-years running, and his sidekick Dylan Grice, who placed second overall in the 2010 Thomson Reuters Extel Survey, both of whom are members of the strategy team at Societe Generale.

In his most recent Global Strategy Weekly, Mr. Edwards touches upon two topics near-and-dear to my heart: the real state of the economy and the utter cluelessness of most equity investors [italics mind]:

The current situation reminds me of mid 2007. Investors then were content to stick their heads into very deep sand and ignore the fact that The Great Unwind had clearly begun. But in August and September 2007, even though the wheels were clearly falling off the global economy, the S&P still managed to rally 15%! The recent reaction to data suggests the market is in a similar deluded state of mind. Yet again, equity investors refuse to accept they are now locked in a Vulcan death grip and are about to fall unconscious.

The notion that the equity market predicts anything has always struck me as ludicrous. In the 25 years I have been following the markets it seems clear to me that the equity market reacts to events rather than pre-empting them. We know from the Japanese Ice Age and indeed from the US 1930′s experience, that in a post-bubble world the equity market merely follows the economic cycle. So to steal a march on the market, one should follow the leading indicators closely. These are variously pointing either to a hard landing or, at best, a decisive slowdown. In my view we are poised to slide back into another global recession: the data is slowing sharply but, just like Japan in its Ice Age, most still touchingly believe we are soft-landing. But before driving off a cliff to a hard (crash?) landing we might feel reassured when we pass a sign that reads Soft Landing and we can kid ourselves all is well.

I love the delusion of the markets at this point in the cycle. It bemuses me why investors cannot see what is clear as the rather large nose on my face. Last Friday saw the equity market rally as August’s 67k rise in private payrolls and an upwardly revised July rise of 107k beat expectations. But did I miss something? When did we switch from looking at headline payrolls to private jobs? Does the fact that government is shedding jobs not matter? Admittedly temporary census workers do mess up the data, but hey, why not look at nonfarm payroll data ex census? Why not indeed? Because the last 4 months run of data looks notably weaker on payrolls ex census basis than looking only at the private payroll data (ie Aug 60k vs 67k, July 89k vs 107k, June 50k vs 61k and May 21k vs 51k). But these data, on either definition, look dreadful compared to the 265k rise in April and 160k in March (ex census definition). If someone as pathologically lazy as me can find the relevant BLS webpage after a quick call to the BLS (link), why can’t the market? Because it is bad news, that’s why.

Ismleading

August’s rebound in the US manufacturing ISM was an even bigger surprise. This is a truly nonsensical piece of datum as it was totally at variance with the regional ISMs that come out in the weeks before. The ISM is made up of leading, coincident and lagging indicators. The leading indicators new orders, unfilled orders and vender deliveries all fell and point to further severe weakness in the headline measure ahead (see chart above). It was the coincident and lagging indicators such as production, inventories and employment that drove up the headline number. Some of the regional subcomponents (eg Philadelphia Fed workweek) are SCREAMING that recession is imminent.

The real reason why markets reversed last week was that they got ahead of themselves. Aside from the end of 2008, government bonds were the most over-bought they had been over the last decade. And in equity-land the AAII two weeks ago recorded a historically low 20% of respondents as bullish. These technical extremes will now be quickly worked off before the plunge in equity prices and bond yields resumes. 


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