Asset Trends, Market Internals And Inflation Implication
The recent market weakness has drawn some requests from our users on a review on assets and markets. We will look at asset trends and some market internals. We then will discuss the issue of inflation.
As of last Friday (10/1/2021), we are seeing some firm surge in commodity prices for the first time in the past decade:
|Description||Symbol||1 Week||13 Weeks||52 Weeks||Trend Score|
|US Equity REITs||VNQ||-1.54%||1.93%||31.29%||7.7%|
|International Developed Stks||VEA||-2.52%||-1.59%||27.03%||4.37%|
|US High Yield Bonds||JNK||-0.23%||0.35%||9.65%||2.43%|
|Emerging Market Stks||VWO||-0.69%||-5.5%||19.7%||1.5%|
|Total US Bonds||BND||-0.22%||0.14%||-0.73%||0.09%|
Notice that Commodities lead all other major assets for the returns in the past 1, 13 and 52 weeks. It was the only positive asset last week, indicating a broad base inflation fear related selloff.
Looking at bond segments, we are seeing a similar picture here:
as of 10/01/2021
|Description||Symbol||1 Week||13 Weeks||52 Weeks||Trend Score|
|High Yield Muni||VWAHX||-0.51%||-0.47%||6.0%||1.29%|
|Interm Term Muni||VWIUX||-0.36%||-0.29%||2.36%||0.4%|
|Long Term Credit||LQD||-0.68%||0.07%||1.54%||0.75%|
|Short Term Credit||IGSB||0.13%||0.2%||1.47%||0.52%|
|Intermediate Term Credit||IGIB||-0.2%||0.11%||1.33%||0.67%|
|US Total Bond||BND||-0.22%||0.14%||-0.73%||0.09%|
The long term Treasury bonds (TLH) has an obvious weakness among all of the segments. This is a segment that’s most sensitive to interest rate expectation. In the meantime, inflation protected bonds (TIP) are now ranked one of the highest in trend score. All of these are indicating a strong concern on inflation (expectation).
However, the recent sell off hasn’t been completely everywhere. For example, energy related stocks are especially strong while small cap stocks have held up relatively well (so far):
But the selloff is indeed broad base enough to show steady worsening market internals since July:
The percent of stocks in NYSE that are above their 200 day moving averages has been under its 50 and 200 day averages. There are only a slightly more (58% vs. 42%) stocks that are above their 200-day moving averages than those that are not. A big warning here.
A more serious weakness is in Nasdaq stocks, most of which are growth or tech related. At the moment, only 35% of them are above their 200 day moving averages:
We all know that the current stock market has been mostly driven by few large and high flying tech stocks for a while. But the above indicator reveals a more dire situation.
Inflation and the secular long term ultra low interest rates
Manufacturers have experienced whole sale price pressure because of the supply chain constraint caused by the lack of transportation and lack of labors because of Covid-19 induced shutdown or limitation. The most well known example is the shortage of semiconductor chips. This pricing pressure is now more and more surfacing in consumer side. Employers have started to feel pressure to raise wages to attract/retain workers. This can create a feed back loop that exacerbates higher prices and higher cost.
For the past 30 years, advanced economies like the US have been able to maintain ultra low interest rates by taking advantage of globalization to reduce manufacturing cost and maintaining a relatively open immigration policies (thus attracting more new immigrants that can offer lower service cost). Both of the two factors have started to disappear now because of
- Covid induced shutdown and up stream commodity production reduction.
- Rising labor cost in less advanced economies, especially in China and others like India. Though efforts have been made to move more manufactures to other less costly regions, the pandemic has slowed down these efforts significantly. In fact, because of more serious Covid-19 outbreaks in other regions, China actually experienced an uptick in their recent export.
- One can expect more trade friction and growing anti-globalization sentiment even after the pandemic.
- Increasingly domestic dissent on immigration policies, both in the US and in Europe.
The above is by no means complete. But what one can see from this is that the low cost environment for both manufacturing and service is now fast disappearing. It does look like this is a secular change that will finally put the pressure to companies’ high profit margins. Lower profit margins will entice and/or force companies to raise prices, starting a vicious rising price cycle. We will be in a rising interest rate secular (may last a decade or longer) environment soon.
Of course, we have no idea whether this will be imminent. But the above backdrops are powerful enough to become major driving factors going forward.
The implication: if history is any guide, investors should be prepared for a very different investment environment if the above secular change does materializes: it will be more like 70s and 80s. The secular change itself will very likely severely dent the current super bull markets, both in stocks and bonds. A long secular weak market in stocks will ensue. For more details, see July 12, 2021: The Long Forgotten Bear Market Cycles.
As of this writing, stocks experienced another selloff on Monday. In addition to the longer term worries outlined above, investors are also facing the debt limit/government shutdown issue, the continuing Chinese debt deleveraging (Evergrande’s debt) and ongoing Covid uncertainty as we are entering fall. We can continue to list out more factors that can affect markets. However, all of these are not really the major factors if stocks (and bonds) were not in some unusually high elevated valuation levels by any meaningful historical metrics.
For now, we maintain our cautious stance and will respond according to market’s further development. As always, we advocate the following practice:
- For strategic allocation (buy and hold) investors, ignore the current market behavior. Remember, as what we have emphasized numerous times, when you choose and commit to a strategic portfolio, you essentially know and commit that your investment horizon (or the time you need to utilize this capital) is 20 years or longer. As we pointed out, if your investments are those diversified (index) funds such as an S&P 500 index fund (VFINX, for example), you know your money is in some solid ‘business’ that eventually (20 years later) will deliver some reasonable returns. As long as you are comfortable with this thesis, you should sit tight and forget about the current gyration.
- For tactical investors, again, you have to ignore the current market noise. Furthermore, you should follow your strategy rigorously, especially in a time like this. Human emotion, both optimistic and pessimistic, and human desire, both greedy and fearful, are your worst enemies. This has been shown to be true time and time again.
Stock valuation is still extremely high by historical standard. For the moment, we believe it’s prudent to be cautious while riding on market uptrend. However how serious a correction might be, we have confidence in the US economy in the long term and thus in the stocks in aggregate. We just need to manage through interim losses carefully.
We again would like to emphasize that for any new investor and new money, the best way to step into this kind of markets is through dollar cost average (DCA), i.e. invest and/or follow a model portfolio in several phases (such as 2 or 3 months) instead of the whole sum at one shot.
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–Thanks to those who have already contributed — we appreciate it.
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