Bipolar Markets in the “New Mediocre”
After the global risk-off of late 2018, a newfound dovishness on the part of central bankers has combined with other positive developments to revive investors' animal spirits. But with a wide array of financial and political risks clearly in view, one should not assume that the current ebullience will last the year.
NEW YORK – Financial markets tend to undergo manic-depressive cycles, and this has been especially true in recent years. During risk-ons, investors – driven by “animal spirits” – produce bull markets, frothiness, and sometimes outright bubbles; eventually, however, they overreact to some negative shock by becoming too pessimistic, shedding risk, and forcing a correction or bear market.
Whereas prices of US and global equities rose sharply throughout 2017, markets began to wobble in 2018, and became fully depressed in the last quarter of the year. This risk-off reflected concerns about a global recession, Sino-American trade tensions, and the Federal Reserve’s signals that it would continue to raise interest rates and pursue quantitative tightening. But since this past January, markets have rallied, so much so that some senior asset managers now foresee a market “melt-up” (the opposite of a meltdown), with equities continuing to rise sharply above their current elevated levels.
One could argue that this latest risk-on cycle will continue for the rest of the year. For starters, growth is stabilizing in China, owing to another round of macroeconomic stimulus there, easing fears of a hard landing. And the United States and China may soon reach a deal to prevent the ongoing trade war from escalating further. At the same time, US and global growth are expected to strengthen somewhat in the second half of the year, and the disruption of a “hard Brexit” has been averted, with the European Union extending the deadline for the United Kingdom’s departure to October 31, 2019. As for the eurozone’s prospects, much will depend on Germany, where growth could rebound as global headwinds fade.
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