Is this how it starts?
The third great market crash of the 21st century?
At Ben Bernanke’s perhaps final public appearance at the Brookings Institution on January 16th, the beginnings of the 2008-2009 financial crisis were linked to the issues of a French bank in the summer of 2007, an incident little noticed at that point in time.
This time around will it be the currency problems of frontier and emerging markets? The default of a Chinese trust fund, discussed in some detail here atForbes? Or something else altogether, totally hidden at the moment? Or nothing at all?
With U.S. equity markets suffering their deepest losses since 2012, there were plenty of disparate concerns to go around this past week.
These included the fear of the Fed’s tapering ultimate timing and impact, weakening China growth, those currency devaluation jitters, a lackluster U.S. earnings season, perceived overheated equity market valuations, and that China trust fund, to mention a few. There was also the end of week concern that the selling could feed upon itself, as those market-makers selling puts on indices and calls on the VIX could get squeezed and have to hedge next week with more S&P futures selling.
On the week, the Dow gave up -3.5%, finishing below 16,000 for the first time since mid-December. The S&P 500 lost -2.6%, closing below the key 1800 level at 1790. And the NASDAQ fared the best, down “only” -1.7%, helped by the relative strength of some of its high-fliers. Notably, the VIX popped close to +46%, ending the week just above 18, although still far below panic levels.
It is a bit iffy to reconstruct the true narrative of the week, as things seemed to get rolling to the downside on Monday evening. Influential Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath of the WSJ wrote of January FOMC tapering possibilities:
A reduction in the program to $65 billion a month from the current $75 billion could be announced at the end of the Jan. 28-29 meeting, which would be the last meeting for outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Coincidence or not, the next four trading days were all on the negative side of the ledger for the Dow, although the S&P hung in decently on Tuesday and Wednesday. But then China’s HSBC PMI numbers hit, indicating a drop in January to 49.6 from December’s final reading of 50.5, moving “below the 50 line which separates expansion of activity from contraction.” (Reuters).
This, combined with the currency devaluation news, with Venezuela, Argentina, and Turkey leading the headlines, seemed to fuel the overall“emerging market risk” theme which overwhelmed markets on Friday.
Not helping were some comments coming out of Davos. Larry Fink ofBlackRock BLK -3.95% said there was “too much optimism” in the markets. He added, according to Bloomberg , “The experience of the marketplace this past week is going to be indicative of this entire year. We’re going to be in a world of much greater volatility.”
This came on the heels of Goldman’s chief strategist, David Kostin, saying two weeks ago that market valuations are “lofty by almost any measure.”
But the real outlier came from Dr. Doom himself, NYU professor and head of Roubini Global Economics, Nouriel Roubini. Roubini seized on yet another global issue, tweeting:
@ Nouriel: “Japan-China war of words goes ballistic in Davos” and “A black swan in the form of a war between China & Japan?” along with various comments on the emerging market issues, saying, “Argentina currency crisis & contagion to other EM – on top of weak China PMI – suggests that some emerging markets are still fragile.”
The China/Japan “conflict” story was the shocker, and apparently goes back to some comments allegedly made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abewhich compared China/Japan tensions to those found between Germany and Britain prior to World War I. (CNBC) In an interview with Business Insider, Roubini called the events of last week “a mini perfect storm,” alluding to“weak data in China, fresh currency market turmoil in Argentina, and a worsening chaotic situation in the Ukraine.”
It is a bit amusing to note that while Mr. Roubini was serving on several panels at Davos, giving press interviews, and tweeting non-stop, he also found time (or one of his associates did) to post a ranking of “top Tweeters” from the World Economic Forum, showing himself in 5th place. (See Twitter imagehere.)
Let’s take a very quick look at a few of the other notable quotes from newsmakers this week:
–“I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol.” –President Obama in a New Yorker interview published last Sunday. The remark created a firestorm of controversy, including reportedly negative feedback from DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and many others. (Huffington Post)
–Apple is “one of the biggest ‘no-brainers’ we have seen in five decades of successful investing.” –Fund manager and legendary investor Carl Icahn, in continuing to tout AAPL’s undervaluation and push for stock buybacks by the company. Forbes also noted that Icahn grabbed headlines last week for now getting involved with eBay and urging a spinoff of its PayPal holding.
–“Gross: PIMCO’s fully engaged. Batteries 110% charged. I’m ready to go for another 40 years” –PIMCO’s Bill Gross tweeting after the highly visible and speculation-provoking departure of Mohamed El-Erian. Mr. El-Erian reportedly said in a letter to PIMCO employees, “The decision to step down from PIMCO was not an easy one.”
–“It’s a very juicy target.” –Andrew Kuchins, Russia Program Director for CSIS, in commenting on the terrorist threats at the Sochi Olympics and the need for extensive security and preparedness planning. (USA Today)
–“It’s so easy to enter, a caveman could do it.” –Warren Buffett, a bit jokingly, in announcing his company’s sponsorship of a $1 billion March Madness challenge along with Quicken. (Fox Sports) The simple idea is that an absolutely perfect bracket will produce the billion-dollar winner, but the offer includes also some twenty $100,000 winners for the best, if imperfect, brackets. There is also a charity angle, but at something like 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds (we have seen varying estimates all over the place) Berkshire is likely not facing too much risk here.
–“A lot of people got dead in that one.” –retired NYC detective and now security consultant/media celebrity Bo Dietl on the Don Imus program, commenting on the history of the Lufthansa “Goodfellas” robbery and this week’s arrests in the case.
–And in another high profile criminal case, famed lawyer Roy Black said of client Justin Bieber, “I’m not going to make any comments about the case except to say Mr. Bieber has been released on bond and we agreed that the standard bail would apply in this case.” (CBS Miami)
–“We’ve lost some of our consumer relevance.” –McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson in a call after client traffic comps greatly disappointed in the recent earnings release. This was the flipside of Netflix, which surged dramatically after their latest numbers and user figures, with NFLX stock up some 17% despite the terrible market week.
–“We believe POS malware will continue to grow.”–The FBI in a statement on the troubling hacking of Target and other retailers, which was revealed in far greater detail this week, including the hacking intrusion of Neiman Marcus. (Yahoo)
–“It was so awesome!” –ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, in a slightly hard to believe remark on the antics of Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman after last week’s NFC title game. Her initial real-time reaction to the interview seemed at odds with that statement, as she stood in utter disbelief in the post-game situation. (seattlepi.com)
Let’s close it out there, as all eyes will be on the opening of foreign equity markets tonight and the U.S. futures trading. Well, maybe not all eyes, as the Grammy Awards also kicks off this evening. But the really big event of the week will be President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Presidential senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer predicted in an email of the upcoming SOTU address, according to Bloomberg:
Pfeiffer: ‘Three words sum up the president’s message on Tuesday night: opportunity, action, and optimism. The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed.’ While Obama ‘will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way,’ Pfeiffer said he ‘will not wait for Congress’ to act on some of his goals.’
Have a good week!