Last weekend, One River’s CIO Eric Peters explained what he thought would be the nightmare scenario for the next Fed chair, who as we now know will either be Jerome Powell or John Taylor, or both (with an outside chance of Yellen remaining in her post). According to the hedge fund CIO, the “worst case scenario” is one in which despite an improving economy, yields simply refuse to go up, leading to the final asset bubble and Fed intervention that “pops” it:
“if we don’t see a sustained cyclical jump in wages, then yields won’t go up. And if yields don’t go up, then the asset price ascent will accelerate,” continued the strategist. “Which will lead us into a 2018 that looks like what we had expected out of 2017; a war against inequality, a battle for Main Street at the expense of Wall Street, an Occupy Silicon Valley movement.” He paused, flipping through his calendar. “Then you’ll have this nightmare for the next Federal Reserve chief, because they’ll have to pop a bubble.”
While Peters never names names in his pieces, the “strategist” in the weekend letter was BofA’s Michael Hartnett, who several days after Peters penned the above, followed up with some thoughts of his own on precisely this topic, and in a note released this week, described what he believes is the “biggest market risk” for the market. Not surprisingly, it is precisely what Peters was referring to in the above excerpt.
Responding to the question of “What is the biggest market risk”, Hartnett writes that “in our gut, it’s that the two most important investment trends of the past decade, central bank liquidity & technological disruption, ends in a bubble for tech stocks (Chart 7), & High Yield & EM bonds, the epicenters of the “scarce growth” & “scarce yield” themes.
As with Peters, for Hartnett it all comes down to one thing: inflation and higher yields, specifically among long-dated yields:
Multi-year lows in unemployment, multi-year highs in consumer confidence, soaring global PMIs, soaring profits, a doubling of the oil price, fiscal stimulus…little wonder the world is short bonds in 2017.
And yet inflation & bond yields refuse to rise.
The reason is simple: in attempting to stimulate wage growth, and thus benign inflation, the Fed continues to target the symptom of a condition which it no longer has any control over. Remember: Deflation = Debt + Demographics + Disruption? Well, they’re back. Quote Hartnett:
Aging Demographics and excess Debt remain structural impediments to higher inflation. But the biggest impediment is technology, and the potential for the labor market to be permanently disrupted, as AI and robotics crush wage expectations, particularly in the service sector.
For now the bond market still gives the Fed the benefit of the doubt, with 10Y yields occasionally pushing higher when the nearly extinct bond vigilantes make a surprise appearance, pushing rates up at least until the next deflationary scare emerges. But what happens if the bond vigilantes finally throw in the towel? Well, that’s what unleashes the final bubble… and sends 30Y yields toward 2% and the Nasdaq to 10,000.
Capitulation of bond bears would send 30-year Treasury yields toward 2%, the Nasdaq toward 10,000, and high yield & Emerging Market bond spreads 100bps tighter (all-time lows…241bps in the US, 179bps in Europe, 139bps in EM). The outperformance of “deflation” versus “inflation” could turn exponential (Chart 8).
And while the market may or may not have a major correction in the coming months (Hartnett also predicted last week that the next major market drop will take place between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day), the longer-term implications as this tension is finally resolved either way, most likely with the intervention of the Fed – whose next chair will have no choice but to burst the bubble – will define the market for the next generation, or as the BofA strategist puts it:
‘“Icarus Unleashed” in coming quarters would then set-up 2018/2019 as a period of volatility, aggressive Fed tightening to pop bubbles, and more hostile War on Inequality & Occupy Silicon Valley politics, setting the stage for the end of the bull market as Icarus crashes back to earth.’