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Stocks Cast Aside Virus Risks Buffeting All Other Asset Classes

Stocks Cast Aside Virus Risks Buffeting All Other Asset Classes
(Vera Chitaeva/Dreamstime)

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 09:30 AM

Oil is down, gold is up. Rates are flashing warnings. But someone forgot to tell stocks.

The S&P 500 Index hit a record high on Monday, and global equities aren’t far off their own peak, shrugging off the extent of a coronavirus-fueled economic slowdown and ongoing geopolitical tensions. Meanwhile, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield is down more than 30 basis points in 2020, and WTI crude has dropped to around $50 a barrel from close to $63 in January. Safe-haven gold, which started the year below $1,520 an ounce, is up about $50.

“Equity exceptionalism lives on,” Stuart Kaiser, a strategist at UBS Group AG, wrote in a note Monday. “Although equities are back to highs, other assets have not recovered as smartly,” which “leaves equity valuation at an apparent discount to bonds, with both the dividend and earnings yield of the S&P 500 historically high versus the 10-year.”

There are reasons to push stocks higher. SMBC Nikko’s chief equity strategist, Masashi Akutsu wrote in a note Friday that three things are keeping stocks resilient: the coronavirus not having morphed into a stronger strain, the historical precedent of a steep rebound in Chinese economic indicators after the 2003 SARS outbreak, and market expectations that the Federal Reserve stands ready to make quick rate cuts if there are unforeseen developments.

The latter may help explain bond-market pricing. The U.S. central bank referenced the threat of the virus in its semi-annual report to Congress, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell may discuss it further in Tuesday’s Congressional testimony. Central banks in Europe and Asia have also acknowledged the risks posed by the coronavirus.

At the same time, U.S. economic data like labor and services are still showing strength, along with corporate profits that are beating analyst expectations. The bullish case got a boost Tuesday from billionaire Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, who said the market impact of the coronavirus is “exaggerated.”

It isn’t just the performance that’s setting stocks apart.

“Equity positioning dipped slightly through the sell-off but has been rising again and remains elevated,” Deutsche Bank AG strategists led by Binky Chadha wrote in a note to clients. “Positioning in other risk assets meanwhile has fallen steeply and remains so.”

With the rates and equity markets growing disconnected again, JPMorgan Chase & Co. is telling investors to heed at least one note of caution.

“The spread between the one- and two-year forward points of the U.S. OIS curve has turned more negative again,” said JPMorgan strategists led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou. “This implies that risk premia related to potential economic slowdown or end-of-cycle dynamics are likely re-emerging.”

Panigirtzoglou added that the idea that Chinese economic weakness would have limited repercussions for the rest of the world was “complacent.”

“Rate markets are sending warning signs,” he wrote. “For equity and other risky market investors, monitoring and understanding these warning signs would likely be as important this year as it was during 2018.”

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Oil is down, gold is up. Rates are flashing warnings. But someone forgot to tell stocks.
stocks, virus, risks, asset, classes
Tuesday, 11 February 2020 09:30 AM
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