Did The VIX Have It Right?
Calm appeared to be restored to the markets on Thursday as the fear of what could happen in the emerging markets waned and the word "crisis" was barely used. Traders adorned in rose-colored Ray-Ban's suggested that the actions taken as well as those threatened by various governments and central bankers in the emerging market countries had produced a reprieve and that things ought to be hunky-dory from here.
By the time the opening bell rang at the corner of Broad and Wall on Thursday, markets were looking much better than they had the night before. And apparently there were four key reasons behind the improved mood.
Four Good Reasons
First, Russia vowed to launch "unlimited intervention" to protect the ruble (or is it rouble?). This was big because, if you will recall, Russia was at the center of the last brouhaha seen in the emerging markets circa 1998. So, taking a page out of the Bernanke/Draghi play book, the Russians decided to produce a "bazooka" of their own.
Speaking of bazooka sightings, India's finance ministry announced that it would "take any steps necessary." And in case you're not picking up on the theme, it's the threat of open-ended intervention to support a country's currency that seems to have done the trick. George Soros became famous for beating the Bank of England, and no country wants to play that game right now. So, it appeared to be all bazooka all the time yesterday.
Next, while it was not exactly in the bazooka category, Romania's central bank intervened to support the leu. (One benefit of a good crisis is you get to learn the names of all these little currencies.)
It was also positive that nary a word was spoken about Argentina yesterday.
And finally, the minutes from Tuesday's emergency late-night meeting in Turkey noted that the central bank is prepared to tighten further if necessary. So, if hiking rates from 7.75 percent to 12 percent isn't enough to get folks to stop pulling money out of Turkey, it looks like they are willing to have another go at it.
The Message Was Clear
The message from these actions/threats appeared to be quite clear. Whether or not there actually is an emerging markets crisis happening right now, all those announcements from the powers that be in the emerging markets told traders that it was not a day for worry.
So regardless of whether it was a reprieve from the emerging markets mess, the reassuring GDP print, or simply month-end seasonality, it appears that the bears decided to take the day off on Thursday.
While everyone has been focused on the fund flows in the emerging markets, there have been other happenings in the market that are worthy of note.
First off, while often cited as the lifeblood of the market, the earnings season just doesn't seem to matter much at all right now. According to FactSet, the latest batch of earnings reports helped push the S&P's EPS growth rate to 7.9 percent from the 6.4 percent that was seen at the end of last week. This is well above the 3.8 percent four-quarter trailing average. And of the S&P 500 companies that have reported (about 45 percent so far), 76 percent have beaten the consensus EPS estimates.
Next, although all eyes are on the emerging markets these days, nobody seemed to care that China's HSBC PMI fell into the contraction zone overnight. This is clearly not good news for the outlook on China's economy in general or, more specifically, the manufacturing sector. Perhaps this result has been well forecasted and was already baked into prices. But it was strange that such a big number got almost no reaction in the markets.
What Do The Charts Say Now?
Although we're guilty of been beating the subject to death this week, the inter-market relationships are fascinating right now. Remember, the goal here is to look at the action in the charts of things like stocks, bonds, gold, and the dollar in an effort to ascertain whether or not there is a real problem developing in the markets. Because if there are no bear tracks to be found, the current pullback isn't likely to last too long.
So, the thinking Thursday was that crisis fears were waning. As such, bond yields should have surged, gold should have fallen precipitously, the dollar should have dropped, and the VIX should have tanked.
So, let's see what we've got here. Stocks rallied - check. Gold prices went down (the GLD dropped 2.20 percent) - check. Bond yields were higher, but only fractionally so. Thus, raising an eyebrow here makes sense. The dollar actually rallied. Hmmm... I guess that could be blamed on the decent GDP data.
Then there's the VIX. If "fear" was receding and stocks were rebounding, it would follow that the VIX - commonly referred to as the fear index - should be diving, right?
VIX - S&P Volatility Index
In case the chart doesn't make it clear, the VIX didn't exactly plunge yesterday. While the VIX might be expected to make a 5 - 10 percent move on a triple-digit gain in the stock market, it fell just 6 bps or 0.35 percent.
We certainly don't proclaim to be experts in the VIX or the action in the dollar. However, the action in both was a bit odd. And the bottom line is that once again, it is tough to draw a conclusion as to whether or not a crisis is at hand. But this morning's action suggests that the message from the VIX should have been heeded as emerging markets concerns spill over into Europe.
Positions in stocks mentioned: none
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