Hussman in his weekly column hit it out of the park. He said almost perfectly what has been bottled up in frustration inside me for months. Is he right on 2010? I don't know. It mimicks my thoughts very well. In the interim, us bears continue to watch the market that never stops moving up with very little conviction whatsoever. How people can buy is beyond me but I have been on the wrong side of the trade so what do I know?
The entire piece is a must read. Thanks goes to Cason and Terry.
We face two possible states of the world. One is a world in which our economic problems are largely solved, profits are on the mend, and things will soon be back to normal, except for a lot of unemployed people whose fate is, let's face it, of no concern to Wall Street. The other is a world that has enjoyed a brief intermission prior to a terrific second act in which an even larger share of credit losses will be taken, and in which the range of policy choices will be more restricted because we've already issued more government liabilities than a banana republic, and will steeply debase our currency if we do it again. It is not at all clear that the recent data have removed any uncertainty as to which world we are in.
Frankly, I've come to believe that the markets are no longer reliable or sound discounting mechanisms. The repeated cycle of bubbles and predictable crashes over the recent decade makes that clear. Rather, investors appear to respond to emerging risks no more than about three months ahead of time. Worse, far too many analysts and strategists appear to discount the future only in the most pedestrian way, by taking year-ahead earnings estimates at face value, and mindlessly applying some arbitrary and historically inconsistent multiple to them.
I couldn't agree more. There has been a disconect.
In my estimation, there is still close to an 80% probability (Bayes' Rule) that a second market plunge and economic downturn will unfold during the coming year. This is not certainty, but the evidence that we've observed in the equity market, labor market, and credit markets to-date is simply much more consistent with the recent advance being a component of a more drawn-out and painful deleveraging cycle. Meanwhile, valuations are clearly unfavorable here, and even under the “typical post-war recovery” scenario, we are observing an increasing number of internal divergences and non-confirmations in market action.
I have been seeing these divergences also. They screamed out last week and yesterday. Market ignored them today and instead cheered a horrble ISM number.
Andrew Smithers, one of the few other analysts who foresaw the credit implosion and remains a credible voice now, concurred last week in an interview with my friend Kate Welling (a former Barrons' editor now at Weeden & Company): “The good news so far is that the stock market got down to pretty much fair value or even, possibly, a tickle below it, at its March bottom. But now it has gone up… we probably have a market which is, roughly, 40% overpriced. In order to assess value, it is necessary either to calculate the level at which the EPS would be if profits were neither depressed nor elevated, or to use a metric of value which does not depend on profits. The cyclically adjusted P/E (CAPE) normalizes EPS by averaging them over 10 years. It thus follows the first of those two possible methods. Using even longer time periods has advantages, particularly as EPS have been exceptionally volatile in recent years - and using longer time periods raises the current measured degree of overvaluation. The other methodology we use measures stock market value without reference to profits: the q ratio. It compares the market capitalization of companies with their net worth, also adjusted to current prices. The validity of both of these approaches can be tested and is robust under testing - and they produce results that agree. Currently, both q and CAPE are saying that the U.S. stock market is about 40% overvalued.”
This is what is so frustrating for investors like myself. It is assumed that we missed the buyng opportunity of a lifetime and maybe we did but the market was never that cheap on the March lows. It was maybe a little cheap but compared to the mess we are in how could one go all in on a little cheap? There is a chart following this paragraph that speaks volumes.
What matters is sustainability, and unfortunately, it is clear that credit continues to collapse. Banks are contracting their loan portfolios at a record rate, according to the latest FDIC Quarterly Banking Profile. Even so, new delinquencies continue to accelerate faster than loan loss reserves. Tier 1 capital looked quite good last quarter, as one would expect from the combination of a large new issuance of bank securities, combined with an easing of accounting rules to allow “substantial discretion” with respect to credit losses. The list of problem institutions is still rising exponentially. Overall, earnings and capital ratios have enjoyed a reprieve in the past couple of quarters, but delinquencies have not, and all evidence points to an acceleration as we move into 2010.
It has been a statistical recovery at every level. Not an intrinsic recovery.
From a policy standpoint, it is effectively too late to forestall further foreclosures absent explicit losses to creditors. The best policy option now is to make sure that the second wave does not result in a debasement of the U.S. dollar.
I think he is dreaming here.
Emphatically, the trillions of dollars spent over the past year were not in the interest of protecting bank depositors or the general public. They went to protect bank bondholders. Instead of taking appropriate losses on those bonds (which financed reckless mortgage lending), those bonds are happily priced near their face value, for the benefit of private individuals, thanks to an equivalent issuance of U.S. Treasury debt. But that's not enough. Outside of a very narrow set of institutions that are subject to compensation limits, just watch how much of the public's money – which benefitted several major investment banks following a very direct route – gets allocated to Wall Street bonuses in the next few weeks.
It has been a taxpayer rapeathon. Strong nasty word that really does not capture what truly happened and what we will all pay for.