Koesterich goes on to say in further edited excerpts:
In recent weeks, the equity market has continued its quiet advance. Both global and U.S. indices have hit record highs amid low trading volume. On the surface, this seems unremarkable given the market’s slow but steady ascent and the still benign environment of low rates, quiescent inflation and easy monetary policy that is supportive of stocks.
However, if you overlay the market’s recent performance against world news headlines on the front page, rather than the business section, it’s hard not to see some disconnect. In recent months, news headlines have covered:
- the growing disintegration of Ukraine,
- the victories of anti-euro and neo-fascist parties in European elections,
- a military coup in Thailand and
- the U.S. Justice Department indictment of five members of the Chinese military for stealing trade secrets.
yet none of these events have:
- prevented stocks from reaching new highs,
- equity market volatility from sinking to multi-year lows or
- deterred investors from gobbling up the most speculative forms of high yield.
…Is this simply a case of cognitive dissonance or are investors behaving rationally? My take: the disconnect may be rational in the near term, but not necessarily over the long term.
The Short Term
In the short term, recent market action isn’t as irrational as it might appear.
- There’s no clear link between these events and near-term economic or earnings growth. Yes, an escalation of violence in Ukraine could lead to increased sanctions against Russia and potentially slower growth in Europe, but thus far none of the parties involved in the crisis seem inclined to up the ante.
- Over the past five-years investors have been conditioned to “buy the dips.” Anyone who bought equities during the U.S. debt ceiling debacle or the showdown over European sovereign debt has been well rewarded.
- While these issues are obviously significant from a geopolitical perspective, some have little systemic significance for the global economy. The events in the Ukraine and Thailand are national in nature, and together these countries account for less than 3% of the MSCI Emerging Market Index.
The Long Term
However, while investors may be right to give a low weight to short-term impact of the front-page headlines, the headlines’ long-term impact may be a different story.
- Wars, military coups, and sanctions are rarely good for global economic growth.
- The pressure to increase military spending – a reality faced by the United States as well as Europe and Japan – has already strained government budgets.
- If there was a “peace dividend” at the end of the cold war, western governments may face a “geopolitical tax” in the coming decades.
- Finally, the growing populism – evident in the outcome of recent European elections – raises the risk of misguided policies that could add drag to an already sluggish recovery.
To be sure, none of these potential long-term effects are likely to hurt markets in the near term, but ironically investors are becoming more acclimated to the risks at a time when their cumulative impact may be starting to impact global growth, risk premiums or both.
For investors wondering how to respond to the potential long-term impact of world news headlines…I would suggest 3 rules of thumb:
- have some small portion of your portfolio allocated to “cheap insurance” assets that should do well in a crisis, and
- emphasize value. It’s not that cheaper assets will be immune when, and if, this year’s headlines lead to next year’s crisis. Rather, it’s probably easier to avoid a meltdown in your portfolio if you own assets that reflect the world’s imperfections.
Editor’s Note: The author’s views and conclusions in the above article are unaltered and no personal comments have been included to maintain the integrity of the original post. Furthermore, the views, conclusions and any recommendations offered in this article are not to be construed as an endorsement of such by the editor.
*http://www.blackrockblog.com/2014/06/10/disturbing-headlines-strong-equity-markets-disconnect/ (© 2014 BlackRock, Inc. All Rights reserved.)
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