The markets are rigged, the Knight Capital Group (KCG) robots are going wild, and the cheating bankers are manipulating Libor. I guess you might as well pack it in… right? Well, maybe not. While mayhem continues, equity markets stubbornly grind higher. As we stand here today, the S&P 500 is up approximately +12% in 2012 and the NASDAQ market index has gained about +16%. Not bad when you consider 15 countries are offering negative yields on their bonds. That's right, investors are paying to lose money by holding pieces of paper until maturity. As crazy as buying technology companies in the late 1990s for 100x's or 200x's earnings sounds today, just think how absurd negative yields will sound a decade from now? For heaven's sake, buying a gun and stuffing money under the mattress is a cheaper savings proposition.
Priced In, Or Not Priced In, That is the Question?
So how can stocks be up in double digit percentage terms when we face an uncertain U.S. presidential election, a fiscal cliff, unsustainable borrowing costs in Spain, and S&P 500 earnings forecasts that are sinking like a buried hiker in quicksand?
I guess the answer to this question really depends on whether you believe all the negative news announced thus far is already priced into the stock market's below average price-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 12x's 2013 earnings. Or as investor Bill Miller so aptly puts it, "The question is not whether there are problems. There are always problems. The question is whether those problems are already fully discounted or not."
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While investors skeptically debate how much bad news is already priced into stock prices, as evidenced by Bill Gross's provocative "The Cult of Equity is Dying" article, you hear a lot less about the nosebleed prices of bonds. It's fairly evident, at least to me, that we are quickly approaching the bond cliff. Is it possible that we can be entering a multi-decade, near-zero, Japan-like scenario? Sure, it's possible, and I can't refute the possibility of this extreme bear argument. However, with global printing presses and monetary stimulus programs moving full steam ahead, I find it hard to believe that inflation will not eventually rear its ugly head.
Again, if playing the odds is the name of the game, then I think equities will be a better inflation hedge than most bonds. Certainly, not all retirees and 1%-ers should go hog-wild on equities, but the bond binging over the last four years has been incredible (see bond fund flows).
While we may sink a little lower into the equity quicksand while the European financial saga continues, and trader sentiment gains complacency (Volatility Index around 15), I'll choose this fate over the inevitable bond cliff.
Disclosure: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in KCG or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC "Contact" page.