Why have stock prices risen so dramatically since the last financial crisis? There are certainly many factors involved, but the primary one is the fact that the Federal Reserve has been creating trillions of dollars out of thin air and has been injecting all of that hot money into the financial markets. But now the Federal Reserve is starting to reverse course, and this has got to be the greatest sell signal for financial markets in modern American history. Without the artificial support of the Federal Reserve and other global central banks, there is no possible way that the massively inflated asset prices that we are witnessing right now can continue.
The chart below comes from Sven Henrich, and it does a great job of demonstrating the relationship between the Fed’s quantitative easing program and the rise in stock prices. During the last financial crisis the Fed began to dramatically increase the size of our money supply, and they kept on doing it all the way through the end of October 2017…
Unfortunately for stock market traders, the Federal Reserve has now decided to change course, and that means that the process that has created these ridiculous stock prices is beginning to go in reverse. In fact, according to Wolf Richter this reversal just started to go into motion within the past few days…
On October 31, $8.5 billion of Treasuries that the Fed had been holding matured. If the Fed stuck to its announcement, it would have reinvested $2.5 billion and let $6 billion (the cap for the month of October) “roll off.” The amount of Treasuries on the balance sheet should then have decreased by $6 billion.
And that’s what happened. This chart of the Fed’s Treasury holdings shows that the balance dropped by $5.9 billion, from an all-time record 2,465.7 billion on October 25 to $2,459.8 billion on November 1, the lowest since April 15, 2015
Does anyone out there actually believe that the immensely bloated balance sheet that the Fed has accumulated can be unwound without having an enormous negative impact on Wall Street?
And even more frightening is the fact that central banks all over the planet appear to be acting in coordinated fashion. I really like how Brandon Smith made this point…
An observant person, however, might have noticed that central banks around the world seem to be acting in a coordinated fashion to remove stimulus support from markets and raise interest rates, cutting off supply lines of easy money that have long been a crutch for our crippled economy. The Bank of England raised rates this past week, as the Federal Reserve indicated yet another rate hike in December. The Europeans Central Bank continues to prep the public for coming rate hikes, while the Bank of Japan has assured the public that “inflation” expectations have been met and no new stimulus is necessary. If all of this appears coordinated, that is because it is.
When interest rates are low and central banks are injecting money directly into the financial system, that tends to promote economic activity.
But when they raise interest rates and pull money out of the financial system, the exact opposite is true.
At this point Americans are more optimistic about the stock market than they have ever been before, and it is at this exact moment that the Fed is pulling the financial markets off of life support.
And it isn’t as if the “real economy” ever recovered in any meaningful way. Most American families are still living paycheck to paycheck, and a new economic crisis would push millions more out of the middle class.
For a long time I have been warning that the only reason why stock prices ever got this high was because of the central banks, and I have also been warning that they could crash the markets if they wanted to do so.
Hopefully there is nothing nefarious going on, but I do find it very strange that all of the major global central banks are moving toward tightening at the exact same time.
If things go south for the global economy in the months ahead, we will know exactly where to point the blame… – Michael Snyder
John Hussman: Market valuations, on these measures, presently approach or exceed the 1929 and 2000 extremes, placing U.S. equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history.
Indeed, with median valuations on these measures now more than 2.7 times their historical norms, there is strong reason to expect a market loss on the order of -63% over the completion of the current market cycle; a decline that would not even bring valuations below their historical norms (which we’ve typically seen by the completion of nearly every market cycle outside of the 2002 low).
“…unlike the 2000 valuation extreme, which was largely focused on a subset of extremely overvalued technology stocks, the current market extreme is the broadest episode of extreme equity market overvaluation in history. The chart below shows the median price/revenue ratio of S&P 500 component stocks, which set yet another record high in the week ended November 3, 2017, and now stands more than 50% above the 2000 extreme.”
The following chart below shows our Margin-Adjusted CAPE as of November 3, 2017.
On this measure, market valuations are now more extreme than at any point in history, including the 1929 and 2000 market highs.
Finally Hussman reminds the complacent majority of how this well end:
The final chart is a reminder of how these speculative episodes end.
In 2000, most deciles experienced losses on the order of 30-50%, with the exception of the hypervalued top decile represented, at the time, by technology stocks.
In March 2000, I wrote: “Over time, price/revenue ratios come back in line. Currently, that would require an 83% plunge in tech stocks (recall the 1969-70 tech massacre). If you understand values and market history, you know we’re not joking.”
While it feels like it at the moment, trees can’t grow to the sky, but as Hussman concludes, it’s clear from market internals that investors again have the speculative bit in their teeth.
What’s important, however, is to distinguish near-term speculative outcomes from longer-term investment outcomes.
If history is any guide, the first leg down from the current speculative blowoff is likely to be abrupt and rather vertical.Investors will be tempted to buy into that decline, and may very well be rewarded for it over the shorter-run. The problem is that while investors are reluctant to sell into strength here, they may also have no tolerance for selling into a market loss once internals break down. Instead, they will likely pass up their opportunity to reduce exposure to market losses even after market internals deteriorate clearly.
After that, the intermittent hope from fast, furious (but ultimately failing) rallies will likely encourage them to hold on all the way into a deep market collapse. That’s how severe market declines unfold.
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