How much of where equities are today has come from quantitative easing (QE)? For a long time the answer to this question has not really been that important to equity investors. But now, with central banks moving towards shrinking their balance sheets, it’s a question equity investors can no longer ignore. My view is that QE may not have contributed much to the equity rally and therefore its unwinding may not be a major concern either.
After eight bull market years and with strong macro data all round, recession and bear market memories must surely be fading. Still, signs of exuberance or great bullishness are difficult to find; at most there is cautious optimism. Why? One of the most common push-backs against an equity bull case is that equities are too expensive. I can see where this concern comes from, but believe it’s something to push back against. Here are my top 10 points on equity valuations.
Markets are grinding higher and many investors are looking to call the top of the market cycle. In this light we ask ourselves what causes bubbles and more importantly how do we spot them? Over time I have collected a range of indicators that seek to have some predictive value in spotting bubbles emerging. I modestly call this the Heiligenberg Index.
Going into 2017, the market consensus was one of a strong US dollar environment, with the expectation of the US engine firing on all cylinders, with support from fiscal policy, monetary policy and de-regulation. The engine has stuttered, the US dollar has been declining all year and not many US dollar bulls are left. We are taking stock.
Since Trump's election in November, financial markets have focused on the reflation trade. Inflation expectations and bond yields have risen, as have equities and commodities. Although the US dollar has strengthened by a little over 3% on a trade-weighted basis, this masks the individual currency winners and losers.
As our attentions turn to outlooks for the year ahead, it's best to avoid messages from perma-bears, perma-bulls and the hopelessly vague. However, clairvoyance is not a strategy. Instead we should try to favour sound analysis and be more willing to think (and talk) in probabilistic terms, or as I like to call it, shades of grey.
Six years into a bull market and with many equity indices at all-time highs it is understandable that investors are nervous about when the party will end. Unfortunately (or fortunately) predicting the end of a bull market is not as easy as looking at a calendar.