Anyone who has driven on a long road trip with children will be familiar with the cry of “are we there yet?”. After 13 months of the credit crisis we are also hearing the same cry from investors wondering if we have arrived in Bull Market territory once again.
The children usually start this refrain when they have become bored and tired, regardless of the distance still to be covered to reach the destination. Investors also become bored and tired by bear markets and are impatient to see their portfolio’s resume growth once again. Unfortunately for investors the answer will depend more on where you have put your money rather than the distance you have covered.
Many market commentators have talked about how world markets seem to be operating in tandem with no real decoupling evident. This is true if you are watching falls in the US markets rippling through Asia and Europe the next day. But if you step back and look at things over a larger time frame you can see that the markets are acting more like dominoes rather than operating in tandem.
The credit crisis has its roots in the falling values of US property. Due to financial engineering and credit derivatives, most of this risk had been sliced and diced and scattered in various toxic packages around the globe. As the mechanism that allowed this financial engineering seized up, so did other mortgage markets that had used the same models. The best example of this is the UK, which had also adopted most of the same irresponsible lending practices.
First, the US property market fell, and this quickly caused the market for CDO’s to dry up. Without this way of offloading risk, the UK banks had to curtail their imprudent lending practices. With no one able to lend to prop up the rotten edifice, the UK property market also began to fall. Banks around the globe stopped lending to each other because they all knew that their bookkeeping was suspect, with many being slow to mark to market the toxic CDO’s that where now, at least in the short term, worthless. This caused them to go running into the arms of sovereign wealth funds to shore up their capital.
All this financial turmoil has significantly impacted global growth to the extent that it was even able to slow the Emerging Market juggernauts of China and India and throw a spanner into the Commodities Supercycle.
Which brings us to where we are now with US government ostensibly nationalizing the two GSE’s that back the US housing market.
You can reasonably expect that since things fell like dominos, the recovery will be quite similar. The US property market has shown signs that its decline is slowing. Commodity prices and the inflation that they stoked have stalled, which will allow the central banks to change focus from inflation to pump priming.
Expect that the US markets will recover first, followed by Europe then Asia and the emerging markets. This will allow the Commodity Supercycle to gain traction again.
So in answer to the question, “Are we there yet “. The answer will very much depend on how you have positioned your portfolio. If you have over weighted the US market you should already be starting to see your portfolio recover. If you still have most of your assets in Europe it will be a long winter. If the bulk of your assets are invested in China, well, see you next year.