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Rising volatility is the new normal


It is not often that signs of economic strength trigger a market sell-off. Slightly higher than expected wage growth was perceived as presaging significant inflationary pressures, leading to a market correction. Volatility accelerated faster than during the Lehman collapse. Our inboxes were inundated with emails proclaiming various shades of “buy the dip” from banks.

We take a largely sanguine view regarding recent economic data. There was nothing extraordinary about the wage numbers. Unemployment is exceptionally low, and businesses are struggling to find qualified staff. Low inflation expectations, however, remain very well entrenched. Core PCE inflation (one of the key measures targeted by the Fed) is at 1.5% and not expected to reach 2% until 2019.

Bitcoin’s strength is its weakness


A few weeks ago, a simple altercation between two men on a subway platform escalated to a complete lockdown of London’s busiest shopping district. This incident was a perfect example of how the behaviour of a misinformed crowd can lead to astounding outcomes.

One could argue that the craze around cryptocurrencies, and particularly Bitcoin, is comparable. The dollar value of a Bitcoin has been multiplied by 10 since the beginning of the year and much of it seems to be fuelled by investors scared of missing the “crypto-rally”. As investment advisors, are we right to maintain our scepticism about cryptocurrencies or have we missed the greatest rally of the 21st century?

Seeking returns outside our core markets


The global economy is experiencing a highly-synchronised acceleration of growth. The expansion is broad based, covering all major economies and regions. Despite the absence of inflationary pressures, the strength of US data has helped affirm the Fed’s monetary tightening trajectory. In Europe, it enabled the ECB to moderate its quantitative easing measures.

The sense of optimism over the weeks is pervasive. At the October IMF and World Bank meetings, for example, it was noteworthy that many participants saw the global risks as balanced. China, a long-standing source of much hand-wringing, was barely mentioned. One of the large fund managers, in which we are invested, sent out a note describing the outlook “as good as it gets.”

The risk of all this optimism is that it breeds complacency. Valuations are pricing in fair weather. In the US, current multiples are justified by earnings growth expectations, but can look expensive if earnings disappoint.

Reassessing our outlook for US rates


Since November 2016 we have taken the view, that long term interest rates are set to rise. We believed the Trump administration would enact expansionary fiscal policies. With the economy near full employment and wage pressures rising, the stage was set for inflationary expectations to rise. At the same time the Fed’s policy is on a tightening cycle. Taken together, all these factors suggested that long term interest rates were bound to rise. Yet, not only has this not happened, but long term rates declined this year.

Long term bonds are sending a signal…