An End to Complacency

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

Volatility abruptly made an entrance onto the global stage, shoving aside the complacency that has reigned over the world’s equity markets this year as they have marched steadily from record high to record high. Asset prices were driven sharply lower last week, as gathering concerns that the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States may be closer than anticipated to raising interest rates, combined with increasing worries about the possibility of deflation in the Eurozone, and a default by the nation of Argentina, to weigh heavily on investor sentiment. The selling seen across equity markets last Thursday was particularly emphatic, with declining stocks listed on the NYSE outpacing those advancing by a ratio of 10:1, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX), which measures expected market volatility, climbing 25% to its highest point in four months, all combining to erase the entirety of the gains in the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the year.

Preisser_Complacency_8.4.14The looming specter of the termination of the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program, which is scheduled for October, is beginning to cast its shadow over the marketplace as this impending reality, coupled with fears that the Central Bank will be forced to raise interest rates earlier than expected, has served to raise concerns. Evidence of this could be found last Wednesday, where, on a day that saw a report of Gross Domestic Product in the United States that far exceeded expectations, growing last quarter at an annualized pace of 4%, vs. the 2.1% contraction seen during the first three months of the year, and a policy statement from the Federal Reserve which relayed that, “short-term rates will stay low for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends” (Wall Street Journal) equity markets could only muster a tepid response. It was the dissenting voice of Philadelphia Fed President, Charles Plosser who opined that, “the guidance on interest rates wasn’t appropriate given the considerable economic progress officials had already witnessed” (Wall Street Journal), which seemed to resonate the loudest among investors, giving them pause that this may be a signal of deeper differences beginning to emerge within the Federal Open Market Committee. Concern was further heightened on Thursday morning of last week, when a report of the Employment Cost Index revealed an unexpected increase to 0.7% for the second quarter vs. a 0.3% rise for the first quarter (New York Times), which stoked nascent fears of inflation, bolstering the case for the possibility of a more rapid increase in rates.

Negative sentiment weighed heavily on equity markets outside of the U.S. as well last week, as the possibility of deflationary pressures taking hold across the nations of Europe’s Monetary Union, combined with ongoing concerns over the situation in Ukraine and the second default in thirteen years by Argentina on its debt to unsettle market participants. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Euro-zone inflation increased at an annual rate of just 0.4% in July, having risen by 0.5% the month before. In July 2013 the rate was 1.6%” While a fall in prices certainly can be beneficial to consumers, it is when a negative spiral occurs, as a result of a steep decline, to the point where consumption is constrained, that it becomes problematic. Once these forces begin to take hold, it can be quite difficult to reverse them, which explains the concern it is currently generating among investors. The continued uncertainty around the fallout from the latest round of sanctions imposed on Russia, as a result of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, further undermined confidence in stocks listed across the Continent and contributed to the selling pressure.

ArgentinaInto this myriad of challenges facing the global marketplace came news of a default by Argentina, after the country missed a $539 interest payment, marking the second time in thirteen years they have failed to honor portions of their sovereign debt obligations. The head of research at Banctrust & Co. was quoted by Bloomberg News, “the full consequences of default are not predictable, but they certainly are not positive. The economy, already headed for its first annual contraction since 2002 with inflation estimated at 40 percent, will suffer in a default scenario as Argentines scrambling for dollars cause the peso to weaken and activity to slump.”

With all of the uncertainty currently swirling in these, “dog days of summer,” it is possible that the declines we have seen of late may be emblematic of an increase in volatility in the weeks to come as we move ever closer to the fall, and the terminus of the Fed’s asset purchases.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

World Cup of Liquidity

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

With the eyes of the world currently trained on Brazil, and the incredible spectacle of the globe’s most popular sporting event, there is another coordinated effort taking place on the world stage, albeit one with less fanfare and pageantry, but possessing a far greater effect on the global economy, and that is the historically accommodative policies of two of the world’s major central banks. The unprecedented amount of liquidity being thrust into the system by these institutions has helped fuel the current bull market in equities, which continues to push stocks listed around the world further and further into record territory.

World CupThe more powerful of these central banks, the Federal Reserve Bank of The United States, is attempting to gradually extricate itself from a portion of the record measures it has taken to revive growth following the Great Recession, which have caused its balance sheet swell to more than $4 trillion (New York Times) while not causing the economy to suddenly decelerate. “To this end, last week the Fed announced a continuation of the reduction of its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion, bringing the new total to $35 billion.” They also voiced their collective intention to keep short-term interest rates at their current historically low levels until 2015. Financial markets rallied following this news as investors focused largely on the Fed’s comments regarding rates, as well as the little-discussed fact that although their monthly purchases are being slowly phased out, the Central Bank continues to reinvest the proceeds from maturing bonds, thus maintaining a measure of the palliative effect. According to the New York Times, “Fed officials generally argue that the effect of bond buying on the economy is determined by the Fed’s total holdings, not its monthly purchases. In this view, reinvestment would preserve the effect of the stimulus campaign.” Although the American Central Bank is attempting to pare back its efforts to boost growth in the world’s largest economy, the accommodative measures currently in place look to remain so long after its bond purchases are concluded.

Preisser_Liquidity_6.23.17_2Mario Draghi, on June 5, made history when he announced that the European Central Bank (ECB) had become the first major Central Bank to introduce a negative deposit rate. As part of a collection of measures designed to spur growth and combat what has become dangerously low inflation within the Monetary Union, the ECB effectively began penalizing banks for any attempt to keep high levels of cash stored with them. In addition to this unprecedented step, Mr. Draghi unveiled a plan to issue four-year loans at current interest rates to banks, with the stipulation that the funds in turn be lent to businesses within the Eurozone, (New York Times). The actions of the ECB were cheered by investors who sent stocks listed across the Continent to levels unseen in more than six-and-a-half years, with the expectation that the Central Bank will remain committed to combating the significant economic challenges that remain for this collection of sovereign nations. To this end, Mr. Draghi suggested, during his press conference, that he is considering additional growth inducing measures, which may include the highly controversial step of direct asset purchases. Mr. Draghi gave voice to his resolve, and a glimpse of what the future might hold when he said, “we think this is a significant package. Are we finished? The answer is no” (New York Times).

The actions of both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have directly contributed to the current rally in risk assets, but have also created a conundrum of sorts for investors; as though their historic measures have sent prices to record levels, the conclusion of these programs carry with them serious risks of disruption, as they too are unprecedented.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Winds of Change

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Portfolio Specialist, Brinker Capital

The winds of change have begun to blow through Washington, D.C. carrying with them whispers that the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States is contemplating a more immediate slowing of the unprecedented stimulus measures it has employed since the financial crisis than many analysts anticipate, which could have broad implications across the global landscape. Several signals have been offered by the American Central Bank in the past few weeks to prepare the marketplace for the impending reduction of their involvement, highlighting the delicate nature of this endeavor.

The Institution faces a daunting challenge in trying to scale back a program that has largely been credited with fueling a dramatic rise in asset prices, without interrupting the current rally in equity markets.  Although the U.S. economy has shown itself to be growing at a moderate pace, a measure of uncertainty lingers within investors as to whether this growth is robust enough to compensate for the paring back of the Bank’s historically unprecedented accommodative monetary policies.

As the depths of the ‘Great Recession’ threatened to pull the global economy into depression, the U.S. Central Bank undertook a herculean effort to bring the country back from the precipice of disaster. The tangible result of these efforts has been a deluge of liquidity forced upon the marketplace, which has given birth to a tremendous rally in share prices of companies listed around the globe, and helped to repair much of the damage inflicted by the crisis. The dramatic expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, since the inception of these programs, has culminated in the most recent iteration of these efforts—an open-ended program of quantitative easing, comprised of the purchase of $45 billion per month in longer dated U.S. Treasury debt and $40 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertaken in September of last year, that has brought the aggregate amount of assets acquired by the Bank to more than $3 trillion.

5.17.13_Pressier_WindsOfChange

The chart above depicts the increase in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet (white line) versus the S&P 500 Index (yellow line).

As the economic recovery has gained momentum in the United States, with notable improvements seen in both the labor and housing markets, concern has been voiced that the flood of liquidity flowing from Washington should be tapered, lest it potentially result in the creation of artificial asset bubbles, which in turn could present risks to price stability.

The first broach of the possibility of the Fed varying the additions it is making to its balance sheet came in a press release from the Federal Open Market Committee on May 1 which stated that, “The Committee is prepared to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes.” This statement was followed by the May 11th publication of an article authored by Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal, who is widely considered to be a de facto mouthpiece for the Central Bank, “officials say they plan to reduce the amount of bonds they buy in careful and potentially halting steps, varying their purchases as their confidence about the job market and inflation evolves. The timing on when to start is still being debated” (Wall Street Journal). Comments issued on Thursday by the President of the San Francisco Fed, John William’s, referred once again to the possibility of the Central Bank’s program being scaled back, potentially sooner than many market participants anticipate, “It’s clear that the labor market has improved since September.  We could reduce somewhat the pace of our securities purchases, perhaps as early as this summer” (Bloomberg News).

Though the Fed has stated that it will continue its accommodative monetary policies until the unemployment rate in the United States has been reduced from its current rate of 7.5% to a target of 6.5%, it appears that the pace of this accommodation may change in the near term.  While the consensus among market participants is for this gradual reduction in quantitative easing to begin sometime this year, no one is sure of the scale or the exact timing.  As the Central Bank has played such an integral role in helping to engineer the current rally in equities, it will be imperative to closely monitor the deftness with which they handle the extrication of their involvement.

Balancing Act

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Brinker Capital

Concern lurched back into the market place last week, as the specter of an eventual withdrawal of the extraordinary measures the U.S. Central Bank has employed since the financial crisis, served to temporarily rattle markets around the globe. Although stocks rebounded smartly as the week drew to a close, from what had been the largest two-day selloff seen since November, the increase in volatility is noteworthy as it spread quickly across asset classes, highlighting the uncertainty that lingers below the surface.

Equities listed in the United States retreated from the five-year highs they had reached early last week following the release of the minutes of the most recent Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting as the voices of those expressing reservations about continuing the unprecedented efforts of the Central Bank to stimulate the U.S. economy grew louder. The concern of these members of the Committee stems from a fear that the current accommodative monetary policy may lead to “asset bubbles” (Bloomberg News) that would serve to undermine these programs. “A number of participants stated that an ongoing evaluation of the efficacy, costs and risks of asset purchases might well lead the committee to taper, or end, its purchases before it judged that a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market had occurred. The minutes stated.” (Wall Street Journal).

Tangible evidence of the unease these words created in the marketplace could be found in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, or VIX, which measures expected market volatility, as it leapt 19% in the aftermath of this statement representing its largest single-day gain since November 2011 (Bloomberg News). The reaction of investors to the mere possibility of the Fed pulling back its historic efforts illustrates the continued dependence of the marketplace on this intervention and highlights the difficulties facing the Central Bank in not derailing the current rally in equities when it eventually pares back its involvement.

A measure of the uncertainty surrounding the timing of the Federal Reserve’s withdrawal of its unprecedented efforts to support the U.S. economy was dispelled by St. Louis Fed President, James Bullard, in an interview he gave late last week. Mr. Bullard, currently a voting member of the FOMC, was quoted by CNBC, “I think policy is much easier than it was last year because the outright purchases are a more potent tool than the ‘Twist’ program was…Fed policy is very easy and is going to stay easy for a long time.”

Reports of statements made by The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, earlier this month, which downplayed the potential creation of dangerous asset bubbles through the Central Bank’s actions, released Friday, helped to further assuage the market’s concerns. “The Fed Chairman brushed off the risks of asset bubbles in response to a presentation on the subject…Among the concerns raised, according to this person, were rising farmland prices, and the growth of mortgage real estate investment trusts. Falling yields on speculative-grade bonds also were mentioned as a potential concern” (Bloomberg News). Although the rhetoric offered by these members of the Federal Reserve in the wake of the release of the minutes of the FOMC was offered to alleviate fears, the text of the meeting has served as a reminder to the marketplace that the asset purchases currently underway, which total $85 billion per month, will be reduced at some point in the future, and as such, has served as a de facto tightening of policy.

Though investors appeared to be appeased by the words of Mr. Bullard as well as those of Mr. Bernanke, the steep selloff that accompanied the mention of a pull back of the Central Bank’s efforts is a reminder of the high-wire act the Fed is facing when it does in fact need to extricate itself from the bond market.

A Tale of Two Currencies

Joe PreisserJoe Preisser, Brinker Capital

As the global marketplace continues to recover from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, two of the world’s major currencies, the yen and the euro, have embarked on remarkably different paths of late in a reflection of the efforts of the Central Bank’s, which guard the levers of these economies, to achieve growth and stability. The responses of the nations ‘ respective policy makers has led directly to a steep decline in the value of the Japanese Yen, while the European continent has seen its common medium of exchange rise to heights unreached since 2011. Although the nature of the challenges facing what are two of the largest economies in the world differ significantly, the efficacy of the monetary policies employed to combat them will have a profound effect on markets across the globe.

In Japan, newly elected Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has grabbed headlines after only a few weeks in office, through his advocacy of aggressive measures designed to foster growth within a nation that has been mired in stagnation. Dubbed “Abenomics”, the plan is a multifaceted approach to economic stimulus whose centerpiece is a desire to devalue the nation’s currency, in an effort to support its exporters by rendering the goods and services they provide less expensive on the world stage. According to the Wall Street Journal, on February 6th, “Analysts at Goldman Sachs Inc. estimate that for every 10 yen the currency weakens against the dollar, profits of exporters would rise by 7% to 10%.” Mr. Abe has professed his aim to achieve this through a controversial limiting of a measure of the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) autonomy in an effort to effectively force the reflation of the economy through a program of unlimited monetary easing and large scale stimulus. In addition, the Prime Minister has pledged to fill the recently vacated position at the helm of the BOJ with an appointee who shares his commitment to revitalizing the country’s economy through all available means (The Economist, Jan 26th). The efforts undertaken thus far, combined with Mr. Abe’s emphatically-stated focus on combatting the deflation that has plagued Japan for more than a decade, have resulted in a sharp fall in the value of the yen, and a steep rise in equity prices listed on the nation’s exchange, which should be sustained as long as this endeavor proves successful. “The Nikkei has surged 32% since mid-November…The yen has declined 14% against the dollar over the same period…The gains in Tokyo have made Japan the world’s best-performing major stock market over the past three months ”(The Wall Street Journal, February 6th).2.8.13_Preisser_Currencies

On the Continent, the nearly four-year-old struggle to maintain its union in the face of a perilous debt crisis that threatened the world economy, has led to an unprecedented effort by the European Central Bank (ECB) to support the common currency. The fear of a possible dissolution of this unique collection of countries led directly to the widespread selling of the euro, as well as large scale liquidations of bonds issued by its sovereign members. As the cost of repaying the debt of a host of the European Union’s members rose to unsustainable levels the President of the ECB, Mario Draghi elected to act pledging to do, “whatever it takes to preserve the euro”(Bloomberg News July 26,2012). This statement manifested itself in a series of massive sovereign debt purchases by The Central Bank in September of 2012 which was dubbed, “Outright Monetary Transactions.” Mr. Draghi’s effort brought stability back to the euro-zone, and as a result led to an appreciation of its currency. As investors have become more confident that the worst of the crisis has been averted, the euro has risen further, and is now back to levels untested in two years. The sequence of events on the Continent stands in stark contrast to those in Japan, as Europe’s exporters have seen the cost of their products increase, thus making it more difficult for them to compete in the global marketplace. The threat that this state of affairs poses to the recovery of the region’s economy is such that it was directly and repeatedly addressed by Mr. Draghi this week during a press conference in which he suggested that the Central Bank may take steps to counter the effects of the currency’s rise. The ECB President was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying on Feb 7th, “The exchange rate is not a policy target, but it is important for growth and price stability…We want to see if the appreciation is sustained, and if it alters our assessment of the risks to price stability.”

The historic measures undertaken by both the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan in the interest of maintaining stability and fostering growth have thus far been largely successful, however it will be the ongoing maintenance of the consequences of this success that will ultimately determine the fate of these economies.

Central Banks Once Again Lift Stocks

Joe Preisser, Product Specialist

Stocks listed across the globe rose in dramatic fashion this week, carried on the wings of an announcement made by European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi that a program of unlimited buying of the distressed bonds of the Continent’s heavily indebted nations will be enacted. In a nearly unanimous decision, the ECB’s board endorsed Mr. Draghi’s proposal to reduce sovereign borrowing costs by making large scale purchases of short term debt, ranging in maturities from one to three years in a plan named, “Outright Monetary Transactions” (New York Times). As a means of countering German fears of increasing inflationary pressures through their actions, the money used by the Central Bank to buy the sovereign bonds will be removed from the system elsewhere, thus “sterilizing” the purchases. The bold action of the European Central Bank was characterized by its President as, “a fully effective backstop” for a currency union he deemed, “Irreversible” (New York Times).

The concern over the possible dissolution of the Continent’s monetary union, which has held sway over the global marketplace for the last two and a half years, was diminished by the resolute decision of the European Central Bank to embark on its latest plan to purchase the debt of its most heavily indebted members. Whether this action marks a decisive turning point in the struggle to end the crisis is yet to be determined, as obstacles remain, not least of which are the stipulations that the embattled sovereigns themselves must formally request aid from the Central Bank and adhere to strict conditions in order to be granted assistance. Despite the questions which continue to swirl around this collection of countries, the resolve of its policy makers to maintain their union has been affirmed. Doug Cote, the Chief Market Strategist for ING Investment Management was quoted by the Wall Street Journal, “it seems like there is a very clear and strong commitment that the euro will not only survive, but prosper.”

Speculation that the Federal Reserve Bank of The United States will enact additional measures designed to bolster growth in the world’s largest economy, following next week’s monetary policy meeting, increased in the wake of the release of a disappointing report of job growth for the month of August. According to Bloomberg News, “the economy added 96,000 workers after a revised 141,000 increase in July that was smaller than initially estimated…The median estimate of 92 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a gain of 130,000.” The case which Chairman Bernanke made for possibly employing additionally accommodative monetary policies, after the Jackson Hole Symposium on Aug. 31, included language which categorized the current rate of unemployment as a, “grave concern” (New York Times). The lack of progress made toward improving payrolls in the United States, as reflected by the weakness of this report, greatly increases the chances of the Central Bank taking action, which will be supportive of risk based assets. Michelle Meyer, senior U.S. economist at Bank of America was quoted as saying, “The Fed will not stand idle in the face of subpar growth, we expect additional balance sheet expansion before year-end, with a growing probability of an open-ended QE program tied to healing in the economy” (Wall Street Journal).

Central Bank’s Sway Stock, Market Commentary by Joe Preisser

Aided by a broad based reassessment of comments issued by European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi on Thursday, and the release of better than anticipated employment figures for the month of July in the United States, stocks rallied strongly on Friday to reverse the losses suffered earlier in the week and reclaim their upward trajectory.

Following a meeting of the American Central Bank’s policy making committee this week, the decision to forbear enacting any additionally accommodative monetary policy at present was announced in tandem with indications that measures designed to stimulate the world’s largest economy may be forthcoming.  The Federal Open Market Committee said in its official statement that they, “will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions.”  As the recovery in the world’s largest economy has continued at a frustratingly slow pace, hope has pervaded the marketplace that increased liquidity will be provided by policy makers in order to encourage growth should they deem it necessary.  In its most recent communiqué, the Federal Reserve has reinforced this belief thus offering support for risk based assets.  Brian Jacobsen, the Chief Portfolio Strategist for Wells Fargo Funds Management was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “They probably are closer to providing, as they say, ‘additional accommodation as needed’, but I still think that they want more data before they actually pull the trigger.”

Investors across the globe registered their disappointment on Thursday with the decision rendered by the European Central Bank, to refrain from immediately employing any additional measures to support the Eurozone’s economy, by selling shares of companies listed around the world.  Hope for the announcement of the commencement of an aggressive sovereign bond buying program, designed to lower borrowing costs for the heavily indebted members of the currency union, which blossomed in the wake of comments made by Central Bank President Mario Draghi last week were temporarily dashed during Thursday’s press conference.  Although Mr. Draghi pledged to defend the euro, and stated that the common currency is, “irreversible” (New York Times), the absence of a substantive plan to aid the ailing nations of the monetary union was disparaged by the marketplace and precipitated a steep decline in international indices.

Friday morning brought with it a large scale reinterpretation of the message conveyed by European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi the day before, as investors parsed the meaning of his words and concluded that the E.C.B. is in fact moving closer to employing the debt purchasing program the market has been clamoring for.  The release of better than expected news from the labor market in the United States combined with the improvement in sentiment on the Continent to send shares markedly higher across the globe.  According to the New York Times, “on Friday, stocks on Wall Street and in Europe advanced as investors digested the announcement alongside data showing the U.S. added 163,000 jobs.”  Although the absence of immediate action served to initially unnerve traders, further reflection upon the President’s comments revealed the resolve of the Central Bank to support the currency union and fostered optimism for its maintenance. A statement released by French bank Credit Agricole on Friday captured the marked change in market sentiment, “Mr. Draghi’s strong words should not be understated, in our view.  The ECB President made it perfectly clear that the governing council was ready to address rising sovereign yields…Overall, notwithstanding the lack of detail at this stage, we believe the ECB will deliver a bold policy response in due time”(Wall Street Journal).