Howard Marks isn’t waiting for a bottom as the stock market attempts to recover from a brutal, coronavirus-inspired selloff that hit rock bottom on March 23.
There has been an near-endless debate on Wall Street about when and if stocks will retest that late-March nadir amid the unknowable that is the duration and overall economic impact from the pandemic.
However, at least one thing is known, as far as Marks is concerned. In a recent memo, titled “Calibrating,” he said that the chances are high that the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.11% , which fell as low as 18,974.10 about two weeks ago, the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.16%, which sank to 2,281.64, and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.32%, which touched a low of 6,897.84, will slip below those recent nadirs.
Citing monthly research from Gavekal for April, the billionaire investor and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management said that history going back to the 1950s suggests that a retest is almost certain:
|…MARKETS RARELY CLEAR AFTER ONE MASSIVE DECLINE. IN 15 BEAR MARKETS SINCE 1950, ONLY ONE DID NOT SEE THE INITIAL MAJOR LOW TESTED WITHIN THREE MONTHS…IN ALL OTHER CASES, THE BOTTOM HAS BEEN TESTED ONCE OR TWICE. SINCE NEWS-FLOW IN THIS CRISIS WILL LIKELY WORSEN BEFORE IT IMPROVES, A REPEAT SEEMS LIKELY.|
That said, Marks — reiterating some of the calls from his past memos in March — said investors need to focus on purchasing assets that they deem to be intrinsically valuable at prices they think translate to discounts based on some metric.
‘So it’s my view that waiting for the bottom is folly. What, then, should be the investor’s criteria? The answer’s simple: if something’s cheap — based on the relationship between price and intrinsic value — you should buy, and if it cheapens further, you should buy more.’
To be sure, it has become decidedly harder for many bulls to suss out value opportunities now, amid markets that have whipsawed over the past several weeks.
The price-to-earnings ratio in the coming year, a popular measure of value, for the S&P 500 was around 16.50, with the five-year average at 16.7, based on FactSet data. And the Shiller PE ratio, popularized by Yale finance professor Robert Shiller, was at 25.10. That represents the lowest level since 2016, but still loftier than the 16.19 mean average.
However, Marks’ point may be less about valuations and more about conviction.
“It’s not easy to buy when the news is terrible, prices are collapsing and it’s impossible to have an idea where the bottom lies,” he wrote. “But doing so should be the investor’s greatest aspiration.”
The dollar edged higher in early European trade Wednesday, with the safe haven currency in demand as a resurgence of the coronavirus in the United States cast doubt over the strength of the economic rebound.
At 3:050 AM ET (0705 GMT), the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six other currencies, was up 0.1% at 96.873.
There are almost 11.8 million COVID-19 cases globally as of July 8, according to Johns Hopkins University data, of which the U.S. has the highest known numbers of cases and deaths in the world.
A number of Federal Reserve officials expressed concern Tuesday that the surge in infections could adversely impact the economy just as some stimulus programmes are set to expire.
Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic warned that the spike in the number of cases has made business owners “nervous again” and that ‘there is a real sense this might go on longer than we have planned for.”
Still, the rise in cases is not simply a matter for America. The AUD/USD pair lost 0.2% to 0.6935, with the Australian dollar weakening after the country’s second-largest city Melbourne re-imposed lockdown measures to curb the outbreak.
Elsewhere, GBP/USD gained 0.2% to 1.2559 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the U.K. remains committed to working hard to find an agreement over trade with the EU. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is due to announce details of the country’s latest fiscal stimulus package later Wednesday.
Sterling has gained around 0.6% this week against the dollar and 0.4% against the euro, but still remains one of the weakest G7 currencies as doubts still remain as to whether a trade deal will be signed by the end of the year.
Additionally, skepticism exists that a proposal by some of Donald Trump’s advisers to undermine Hong Kong’s currency peg would come to fruition, as such a move would be difficult to implement and risk hurting U.S. interests as much as it would punish China.
Oil retreats slightly on risk aversion
With one eye on the equity markets overnight, oil markets mirrored the response of currency markets, giving up some of their recent gains and slipping into range trading mode. Brent crude fell slightly by 0.70% to 42.90 a barrel. WTI eased by 0.70% to USD 40.50 a barrel.
Both contracts are unchanged this morning in Asia, with critical resistance on Brent crude at USD 44.00 a barrel, and on WTI at USD 42.00 a barrel. Only a fall below USD 40.00 a barrel for Brent crude, or USD 37.00 a barrel for WTI, would suggest that the rally in oil prices has run its course.
Oil prices continue to remain balanced between Covid-19 induced growth concerns, and recovery expectations in Asia and Europe. Oil’s downside is likely to be limited unless the US situation deteriorates dramatically. OPEC+ discipline is high, and the grouping will no doubt find the willingness to extend the headline cuts if the situation calls for it.
Excitement builds for gold longs as USD 1800.00 approaches
Anticipation is building in the gold fraternity, with Covid-19 concerns giving a haven boost to prices overnight. Gold rose 0.60% to USD 1795.00 an ounce, having tested USD 1797.00 an ounce earlier in the session. Gold’s grind higher is remorseless and pleasingly, appears to have detached itself from negative equity price action for now.
The USD 1800.00 an ounce region will be a tough nut to crack though. It capped gold’s advance multiple times from 2011 to 2012. I do not doubt that there will be substantial option related offers ahead of it to defend USD 1800.00 strikes. Nevertheless, gold is girding itself for the long-awaited assault on this critical resistance level. Gold had support at USD 1775.00 an ounce. Only a daily close below here would delay proceedings. Should USD 1800.00 an ounce give way, gold is likely to move quickly to the USD 1820-1830 zone, driven by stop loss and algorithmic buying.
Gold is unchanged in Asia today in yet another moribund session. It will probably be left to the New York market to get the job done.
Oil prices fell on Tuesday, erasing earlier gains, on concerns that the surge in coronavirus cases in the United States, the world’s biggest oil user, will limit a recovery in fuel demand.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude (CLc1) futures fell 17 cents, or 0.4%, to $40.46 a barrel at 0340 GMT, after earlier rising to as high as $40.79.
Brent crude (LCOc1) futures declined by 19 cents, or 0.4%, to $42.91, after hitting an intraday high of $43.19.
With 16 U.S. states reporting record increases in new COVID-19 case in the first five days of July, according to a Reuters tally, there is mounting concern that public health measures to limit the virus spread will curb fuel demand.
Florida is re-introducing some limits on economic reopenings to grapple with rising cases. California and Texas, two of the most populous and economically crucial U.S. states, are also reporting high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week.
«The potential for demand destruction as lockdown re-instatement looks more likely are combining with concerns about OPEC+ discipline to weigh on oil prices,» said CMC Markets’s Chief Market Strategist Michael McCarthy in Sydney in an email.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers including Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, are lowering output by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for a third month in July.
However, those cuts are set to taper to 7.7 million bpd starting next month, adding supply at the same time U.S. fuel demand, especially for gasoline, remains impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
«Summer driving demand in the U.S. is low, keeping gasoline demand subdued, and a reintroduction of lockdowns is a major headwind,» ANZ said in a note.
Data from the American Petroleum Institute industry group later on Tuesday and the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday are expected to show a 100,000 barrel rise in gasoline stockpiles, six analysts polled by Reuters estimated.
The U.S. crude market faces some uncertainties from a court decision on Monday ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, the biggest artery transporting crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin to Midwest and Gulf Coast regions, over environmental concerns.
Market sources in the Bakken said the closure of the 570,000-bpd pipeline, while a thorough environmental impact statement is completed, will likely divert some oil flows to transportation by rail.