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ALPHA SOURCES

JANUARY 8, 2018
ALPHA SOURCES

AS YOU WERE

O n a headline level, 2018 has


started exactly as 2017 finished.
Stocks are up, U.S. short term rates
but markets demand a view and a
position. So which is it Mr. Grantham?
Long, short, or flat? I am not holding
are up—but the dollar has traded my breath for an answer. I have long
heavy—and economic data continue to since left the extremes behind. Picture
tell a story of a synchronised upturn in a spectrum with Hussman and GMO at
global growth. The bears are furious, one end, and the wet-behind-the-ears
or perhaps just confused. Hussman trader, who have never experienced
recently published a prepper’s guide a sizeable drawdown in Spoos, at
to a hypervalued market. And value the other end. Hint: You want to be
investor extraordinaire—and famed somewhere in between.
bear—Jeremy Grantham from GMO Separating signal from noise is
invokes the “highest-priced markets an important skill in this game, and
in US history,” but also proclaims that markets currently are throwing a
we’re now in the “melt-up phase” of number of curve balls at investors. What
the bull market. I am all for holding better way to kick off 2018 than by
opposing views at the same time, highlighting the ones that matter.

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HOW STRONG IS GLOBAL GROWTH? FORGET SPOOS, BUY COMMODITIES?


A common refrain from the bearish Goldilocks is the perfect scenario for
community is that equities are detached equities, and the mighty Spoos—and its
from economic fundamentals. I call close brethren—have not disappointed.
bullshit on that narrative. The swoon The index finished 2017 up about 20%,
in Q1 16—labelled the “Chinese and have come out swinging in 2018; it
devaluation scare”—came on the back was up just over 2% last week.
of a dip in global growth. The sizzling A healthy and stable global economy,
rebound in equities since has gone however, is not the only reason that
hand-in-hand with a broad-based equities have had a good start to 2018.
upturn in global economic momentum. My in-house put/call index jumped to a
The first chart below shows that 15-month high on the first trading day
global leading indicators are turning in January. Apparently, punters were
up, and that industrial production is worrying about a turn in the trend at
responding accordingly. Economic data the start of the year. And there is
always include an inherent lag, but the nothing this market loves more
message here is clear; hard data in the than to climb a wall of worry.
next few months should be solid. Looking ahead, valuations are
Cameron Crise’s recent missive challenging, and the second chart
argues that this global “boom” is more below shows that my fair value model
modest than the bulls would have us for Spoos warns about downside risks.
believe. Perhaps. But if this is true, But these headwinds won’t necessarily
doesn’t it just mean that core inflation kill off this bull market on their own. In
pressures will be slower to build and fact, evidence suggests that they don’t
that goldilocks—which markets love— matter at all. Just ask those analysts
are more likely to persist? “Just right” who have been using valuations or
seems to be preferable to a “BOOM,” at technicals to talk equities down in
least in the current environment. regular intervals since 2011.

fig. 01 / Don’t fight the trend? — fig. 02 / Spoos are running ahead of everything

Alpha Sources, global LEI diffusion, advanced one month (Left) S&P 500, error-term*, (Left) Model predicts higher returns
OECD industrial production, y/y% (Right) S&P 500, price index in $, (Right) than current levels.
1.5 15 15 3000
* Over-/underestimation of the price level
1.0 expressed in percentage from current level.
10
10
0.5 5 2500
0.0
0 5
-0.5 2000
-5
-1.0 0
-10
-1.5 1500
-15 -5
-2.0
-2.5 -20 1000
* GDP weighted index of the U.S., the EZ, -10
-3.0 Japan and the U.K. Latest value is available -25
data for November, and otherwise October.
-3.5 -30 -15 500
08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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Instead, rotation between asset If ZIRP and QE become structural,


classes—and equity sectors—have though, the link between liquidity and
offered plenty of opportunities. To commodities reverse. Abundant liquidity
that effect, 2018 has started by leads to unproductive investment and
teasing investors with the idea of excess capacity, which drives up supply
a sustained upturn in commodities. and prices down. As a result, when
The primary catalyst has been the rates rise and liquidity is withdrawn,
continued increase—and recent range supply is constrained and prices go
break-out—in oil prices. This, in turn, up, with a lag. This narrative requires
chimes with the fact that energy that the economy maintains some form
equities look relatively attractive at the of momentum as financial conditions
start of 2018. tighten. After all, the traditional model
Belief in mean-reversion, though, of commodity prices partly assumes that
also is playing a role. Commodities their prices are pro-cyclical.
have been sluggish for a long time, and The fortunes of oil prices in the next
investors are betting that inflows from a few months will tell us a lot about what
low base will produce a winner in 2018. drives commodities. The spot price of
Normalised at 2010 values, the headline CL1 is gunning for $65, close to the
CRB commodities index is close to a level where you would expect U.S.
record low vis-a-vis the MSCI World. shale cowboys to start pumping like
Another argument for commodities mad. But interest rates in the U.S. have
to flex their muscles turns the normal shot higher—and are still rising—which
model upside down. Traditionally, we could change the story. The idea is that
treat commodities as a risky financial the marginal producer needs money to
asset, and as a positive beta to global ramp up production, but that funding
excess liquidity. When central bankers will be less easy to come by now that
open the taps, “unprintable stuff” goes benchmark yields are higher. If this is
up in value. true the elasticity of shale production to

fig. 03 / It’s been a long slump — fig. 04 / Long lags between yields and commodities?

Ratio of CRB commodities to the MSCI World, 2010=100, $ U.S. two-year yield, % (Left)
1.4
Ratio of CRB commodities to the MSCI World, 2010=100, $ (Right)
7 1.3
1.3
1.2
1.2 6
1.1
1.1 5
1.0
1.0
4 0.9
0.9
3 0.8
0.8

0.7 0.7
2
0.6 0.6
1
0.5 0.5

0.4 0 0.4
93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 02 04 06 08 10 13 15 17

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ALPHA SOURCES

higher prices will be a negative function you require external financing to fund
of higher yields. I suspect we are about domestic consumption and capex.
to find out whether this framework is If China is a ticking debt time-
sound or not. bomb, a current account deficit
would be an ominous sign for its
KEEP AN EYE ON CHINA economy and markets. Where will
Every year a select number of analysts yields in China go if foreigners have to
proclaim that the great unravelling chip in to deliver on the government’s
of China’s debt binge—the notorious growth targets? Alternatively, how much
“hard landing”—is at hand. This year will the CNY depreciate—or domestic
is no different, but it is juxtaposed by growth slow—to balance the external
the sense that China is serious about books? In both cases, the question is
changing its ways. The economy is how much deflation, a Chinese external
rebalancing, allegedly, and the One deficit will export to the world.
Belt One Road initiative hints at China’s USDCNY is now close to 6.45, which
global economic aspirations. is where the PBoC drew a line in the
A rebalancing and more assertive sand in Q3 last year. Whether they do
China probably is good news. But I the same here will tell us a lot about the
am worried about the current account appetite for an appreciating currency
suplus, which dipped to a decade low and a dwindling external surplus.
of just over 1% of GDP in Q3. Most My colleague Freya Beamish does not
economists agree that rebalancing in expect China to slip into an external
China is necessary. But markets are deficit in 2018. But this is partly
accustomed to the idea of a command- because she expects growth to slow
control economy in China under the on the back of slower investment and
stewardship of the PBoC. The ability to household borrowing. Rebalancing in
micro-manage the flows of credit and China probably is good news, but it also
investment is diminished, however, if carries new risks.

fig. 05 / Are we ready for a Chinese CA defict? — fig. 06 / Will PBoC intervention save the day again?

USDCNY, y/y% (Left) DXY index


China, current account, % of GDP (Right) 130
9.0 12

120
8.5 10

110
8.0 8

7.5 6 100

Will she, wont she?


7.0 4 90

6.5 2 80

6.0 0 70
07 09 11 13 15 18 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

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