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The Latest Bear Market Sucker’s Rally Has Gone Bust as We Are Headed Towards Stag-Deflation
Nouriel Roubini | Nov 19, 2008
With major US equity indices free falling over 6% today Wednesday, ending below their October lows and now being back to 2003 levels the latest bear market sucker’s rally is now officially over. A cacophony of delusional bulls – including allegedly savvy investors such as the Sage of Omaha and other luminaries – were spinning for the last month the fairy tale that markets – especially equity markets – had fallen so much that a bottom had been reached and that this was the time to start buying equities. Some of us never believed this self-serving spin and warned repeatedly that both equity markets and credit markets had further severe downside risks (20% to 30% lower for equities).
Let’s flesh out the details of this bust of the latest bear market sucker’s rally and consider the future outlook for risky assets…
As I wrote over a month ago in mid-October:
So serious risks and vulnerabilities remain and the downside risks to financial markets (worse than expected macro news, earnings news and developments in systemically important parts of the global financial system) will dominate over the next few months the positive news (G7 policies to avoid a systemic meltdown, and other policies that – in due time – may reduce interbank spreads and credit spreads). So beware of those who tell you that we reached a bottom for risky financial assets. The same optimists told you that we reached a bottom and the worst was behind us after the rescue of the creditors of Bear Stearns in March, after the announcement of the possible bailout of Fannie and Freddie in July, after the actual bailout of Fannie and Freddie in September, after the bailout of AIG in mid September, after the TARP legislation was presented, after the latest G7 and EU action. In each case the optimists argued that the latest crisis and rescue policy response was “THE CATHARTIC” event that signaled the bottom of the crisis and the recovery of markets. They were wrong literally at least six times in a row as the crisis - as I consistently predicted here over the last year – became worse and worse. So enough of the excessive optimism that has been proven wrong at least six times in the last eight months alone.
A reality check is needed to assess the proper risks and take the appropriate actions. And reality tells us that we barely literally avoided only a week ago a total systemic financial meltdown; that the policy actions are now finally more aggressive and systematic and more appropriate; that it will take a long while for interbank markets and credit markets to mend; that further important policy actions are needed to avoid the meltdown and an even more severe recession; that central banks instead of being the lenders of last resort will be for now the lenders of first and only resort; that even if we avoid a meltdown we will experience a severe US, advanced economy and most likely global recession, the worst in decades; that we are in the middle of a severe global financial and banking crisis, the worst since the Great Depression; and that the flow of macro, earnings and financial news will significantly surprise (as during the last few weeks) on the downside with significant further risks to financial markets.
And as I repeated right before and after the election:
…in the meanwhile the brief bear market sucker’s rally in the equity market has lost its steam and U.S. and global equities are starting to plunge again. As I argued for the last few weeks this was a bear market rally and markets could not defy the laws of gravity: a slew of ugly and worse than expected macro news, earnings news and financial news was bound to take a toll on equities and other risky assets. And now, after a brief rally markets are starting to plunge again. For 2009 the consensus estimates for earnings are delusional: current consensus estimates are that S&P 500 earnings per share (EPS) will be $90 in 2009 up 15% from 2008. Such estimates are outright silly and delusional. If EPS fall – as most likely – to a level of $60 then with a multiple (P/E ratio) of 12 the S&P500 index could fall to 720, i.e. 20% below current levels; if the P/E falls to 10 – as possible in a severe recession, the S&P could be down to 600 or 35% below current levels. And in a very severe recession one cannot exclude that the EPS could fall as low as $50 in 2009 dragging the S&P500 index to as low as 500. So, even based on fundamentals and valuations, there are significant downside risks to U.S. equities.
So the brief sucker’s rally is over and a reality check is now dawning on markets and investors. Expect this financial crisis and economic recession to get much worse in the next 12 months before it gets any better. We are nowhere near a bottom for housing, the U.S, economy, the global economy and financial markets. The worst is ahead of us rather than behind us.
Now the latest brief bear market sucker’s rally has gone fully bust and conditions are getting again “fugly and fuglier” in the real economy - US and globally - and in financial markets, both equity and credit markets. Other shorter and shorter-lived bear market rallies may occur again as desperate policy authorities – especially monetary ones - try to get out of their policy hat other voodoo rabbits of more desperate and unorthodox policy measures as we have already effectively reach the zero-bound for the policy rate and a liquidity trap (the effective Fed Funds rate has already around 0.3% for weeks now while the target rate is formally still at 1%). And the risks of a stag-deflation – that I have been warning about since January – are now becoming conventional wisdom as even Don Kohn is now talking about the risks of deflation.
And in this downward race between equities and credit it is not even clear anymore which asset class is undervalued in relative terms: both are free falling so fast with credit spreads rising through the historical roof for both high grade and high yield (and CDS spread also headed towards new heights) while equities are falling to new lows. Credit still looks cheap relative to equities as a massive surge in corporate defaults as currently priced by credit spreads would certainly wiped out common equity even more than debt.
In early October I predicted – in an interview for Tech Ticker – that the Dow could fall towards the 7000 level by next year and that US equities would fall by 50% relative to their 2007 peak. Such predictions were considered too bearish and extreme at that time but, at the rate at which equities are falling now with this acceleration of a savage deleveraging by leveraged institutions (and even disorderly sell-off by many unlevered players too), the Dow may reach the 7000 before year end rather than in 2009 and we are getting close to a 50% drop in overall equity prices from their peak.
In my next piece I will discuss in more detail how we are now close to the deadly “Bermuda Triangle” of a liquidity trap, price deflation, debt deflation and sharply rising defaults.