Opinions and observations expressed on this blog reflect the authors' individual experiences and should not be construed to be financial advice. None of the members of this blog are licensed financial advisors. Please consult your own licensed financial advisor if you wish to act on any recommendations here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

QE and the Macro Climate for Stocks, Bonds, and Commodities

Since the Fed has decided to further monetize the debt in bid to try even more monetary stimulus, a few things are clear. One is that the Federal Reserve is absolutely nowhere near tightening and won't be for many months to come. That should be no surprise considering the size of the present shortfall in employment. The other is that the dollar looks like an extremely unfavorable investment right now, meaning that foreign stocks are comparatively more attractive in the interim as the supply of dollars will increase greatly as well as the fact that US interest rates will do a poor job of attracting fixed income investments. Foreign investors holding dollar denominated investments better watch out.

One thing that is abundantly clear is that financial markets have interpreted this Fed action as an all clear signal and everything from gold to Goldman Sachs (GS) has joined in. We are not in bubble territory in the stock market, though we are almost there in some, though not all, commodities markets. Those who are using commodities as a substitute for investing in financial assets in times of loose monetary policy continue to push those assets further and further from their fundamental values. There is no need to be worried about a bubble being fueled in the real estate markets. Those are so far deflated that no amount of monetary or fiscal stimulus could re-inflate them because investor expectations of returns have been so brutally throttled.

In the short run, meaning the next few weeks, I would not be stunned to see some retracement of recent gains on the order of as much as 5% in domestic stock markets. However, the next 12 months or so should be quite good. Earnings growth for the time being is strong and interest rates will not be a headwind. Commodities markets are probably a better than even shot to outperform in this environment as this global distrust of "paper" currencies seems to really be hitting a frenzy. However, once this current period of extremely loose policy relents those investments will crack much worse than the equity markets in the aggregate because there is much less of a link to fundamental value.

Stocks are supported by extraordinary levels of corporate profitability that make overall valuations quite reasonable. This is due in no small part to the current levels of slack in the labor markets that allow corporations to enjoy a larger share of productivity gains without passing them along as wage increases. However, lack of investment in both human and physical capital means, to a large extent, that corporations are cannibalizing future earnings for current earnings. Invariably this means that future earnings growth will be relatively muted as corporations need to hire and expand plant and equipment to grow sales as conditions normalize. That will prove to have a dampening effect on the later stages of the present rally.

Bonds, on the other hand, are currently being supported by Fed purchases, but this obviously will wear off, particularly as investors in long term bonds become frustrated by their low rates of return compared to high rates of return elsewhere. As such, prices will fall and yields will rise, possibly considerably. Long term treasuries are thus not a particularly good place to be.

Now, all of this is just my own opinion, which in no way constitutes professional advice, and I could certainly be wrong as I have been in the past. Still, it seems to me that this represents a fair summary of where we are right now.

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