It’s a contrarian’s dream come true.
Contrarian investors like to buck the trend. They buy when other investors are selling and sell when others are buying.
Last week, Bank of America (BofA) delivered a contrarian’s dream. BofA’s monthly survey of 225 global asset managers, who are responsible for $645 billion in assets under management, showed the managers were almost fully invested, according to CNBC.
The survey showed asset managers’, “…cash levels at the lowest since March 2013, global equity allocations at a 10-year high, and a record number of respondents reporting taking a ‘higher than normal’ level of risk,” reported Randall Forsyth of Barron’s.
Asset managers’ optimism reflects central banks’ monetary policies, governments’ fiscal stimulus programs, and positive signs of economic recovery.
Last week, yields on 10-year Treasuries moved higher and the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and Nasdaq Composite both finished the week lower.
Way back, when radio disk jockeys played 45-rpm vinyl singles, the A-side of a disk was the song the record company was promoting and the other side – the flip side – held a song that sometimes had an equal or greater impact. For instance, the flip side of Queen’s We Are the Champions was We Will Rock You.
When it comes to the economy and financial markets, flip sides can have significant impact, too. For example:
The flip side: Concern that share prices may not be sustainable. “The long, long bull market since 2009 has finally matured into a fully-fledged epic bubble. Featuring extreme overvaluation, explosive price increases, frenzied issuance, and hysterically speculative investor behavior…this bubble will burst in due time…,” wrote asset manager Jeremy Grantham of GMO in January 2021.
The flip side: Vaccines may not be as effective as many anticipate for two reasons: 1) Some Americans are reluctant to be vaccinated, and 2) Vaccines may not be effective against all strains of the virus.
That seems particularly important since employment gains have slowed. Last week, Carleton English of Barron’s reported, “All told there were 20.4 million workers receiving benefits under programs for the week ending January 23, a 2.6 million increase from the prior week. At this time last year, there were 2.2 million workers receiving benefits.”
The flip side: Too much stimulus could cause the economy to overheat, lead to inflation, and cause the Federal Reserve to raise rates. The bond market has already been pushing rates higher. Last week, the yield on 30-year U.S. Treasuries rose above 2 percent for the first time since February 2020.
The flip side: While many agree U.S. infrastructure needs repair, the cost may be paid through higher taxes. There is ongoing debate about whether tax increases impede or accelerate economic growth, according to Jim Tankersley of The New York Times. In addition, government spending of this type is another form of stimulus, which could heat up economic growth.
Last week, Colby Smith of Financial Times reported numerous economists have increased U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth estimates for 2021. Estimates ranged from 5.9 percent to 6.3 percent.
The Guidance Wealth Office will be closed on Monday, February 15th, in observance of Presidents Day.
It’s not a black diamond ski run yet, but the yield curve for U.S. Treasuries is steeper than it has been in a while.
A yield curve is the line on a graph showing yields for different maturities of bonds. Yield curves provide insight to bond investors’ perceptions about the economy. There are four basic types of yield curves:
Right now, the steepening of the U.S. Treasury yield curve is positive news, according to a source cited by Ben Levisohn of Barron’s:
“Historically, [a steepening yield curve is a] good sign for both the economy and stock markets…But it is also an early warning sign that the clock is ticking on how long the Fed will remain on hold, or easy, before beginning to hike rates and tighten financial conditions to combat the threat of runaway inflation.”
Inflation concerns were part of last week’s debate over the size of the pending stimulus. If stimulus is too small, economic growth and jobs recovery may falter. If it’s too big, the economy may overheat and inflation could become an issue, according to economist Lawrence Summers in The Washington Post.
Judging by January’s anemic jobs report, it could be a while before the economy runs too hot.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 49,000 jobs were created last month. At that rate, it would take a very long time for the economy to recover the jobs lost in 2020. The pace of hiring is expected to accelerate as more Americans get vaccinated and new stimulus is distributed, reported Matthew Klein of Barron’s.
Major U.S. stock indices finished the week higher.
They say people watching the same event often see different things. That seems to have been the case last week when share prices of a few companies experienced tremendous volatility.
Some cast the events as a David vs. Goliath morality tale, however, Michael Mackenzie of Financial Times saw it differently. He wrote, “…a speculative surge from retail investors using borrowed money…has in the past signaled a frothy market top.” (In financial lingo, a market is ‘frothy’ when investors drive asset prices higher while ignoring underlying fundamentals.)
No matter how you characterize it, the events of last week were unusual. Felix Salmon of Axios explained, “Almost never does a stock trade more than twice its market value in a single day…It has happened 7 times this week already, and 20 times this month…What we've seen in the past month, and especially the past week, is certain companies becoming little more than vehicles for short-term gambling.”
While the social-media-driven trading spectacle was fascinating, it overshadowed other substantive news that may affect more companies over a longer period of time:
Last week, major U.S. stock market indices finished lower.