The Illusion of Stability

  • Markets
  • Michael Gayed

illusion image

U.S. equities continue to trade like a risk-free money market. Over the past seven months, the range (from high to low) in the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been among the smallest in history.


This behavior has been comforting to most investors as they tend to equate low volatility with low risk. Additionally, every time there is minor spike in volatility, it soon collapses. We saw this in extreme fashion this month after Greece agreed to yet another bailout. The news was followed by the largest 5-day decline in the history of the VIX Index.


Behind this illusion of stability, though, are a number of signs pointing to increasing fragility…

1) S&P 500 earnings are likely to decline (year-over-year) for the third consecutive quarter.


2) S&P 500 sales are likely to decline (year-over-year) for the second consecutive quarter.


3) Credit risk is rising with U.S. Investment Grade spreads approaching multi-year wides.


4) High Yield credit is also weakening, with spreads widening and negative total returns over the past year.


5) Breadth within the equity market is deteriorating. While the S&P 500 is near all-time highs, only 42% of stocks in the NYSE are above their 200-day moving average.


6) The yield curve is starting to flatten again, with long duration bonds outperforming shorter duration issues (for why this matters, see our research on Treasury Bonds).


7) Breakeven inflation rates are falling again as commodities collapse and expectations for global growth are declining.


8) Industrials, a key cyclical sector that typically correlates with the broad market, is showing extreme relative weakness.


9) Emerging Market currencies are moving lower again, with many currencies like the Brazilian Real at multi-year lows. This is major issue for Emerging Market companies that issued a record-high $276 billion of dollar-denominated bonds in 2014.


10) The first rate hike in 9 years is getting closer. Fed Funds Futures are currently predicting a December hike, only five months away. This is the closest market expectations have been to a rate hike since 2009.


“But No One Cares”

Collectively, these factors point to an equity market that is increasingly fragile and in the past one that was about to become much more volatile. The response from market participants today: “no one cares.” Volatility is low, stocks are still acting like a 6-month CD, and monetary policy is easy.

All true, but investing is about the future, not the past. No one knows when the Minsky moment of this cycle will occur, but a necessary precursor is low volatility and the illusion of stability. Add fragility to the equation and you have a powder keg just waiting to explode.


This writing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell, a solicitation to buy, or a recommendation regarding any securities transaction, or as an offer to provide advisory or other services by Pension Partners, LLC in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. The information contained in this writing should not be construed as financial or investment advice on any subject matter. Pension Partners, LLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken based on any or all of the information on this writing.


Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC, an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts.  He is the co-author of two award-winning research papers in 2014 on Intermarket Analysis and investing. Mr. Bilello is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors, an institutional investment research firm. Previously, Mr. Bilello held positions as an Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms, giving him unique insights into portfolio construction and asset allocation.

Mr. Bilello holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University and a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and a Member of the Market Technicians Association. Mr. Bilello also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.

You can follow Charlie on twitter here.


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