When I predicted the economic apocalypse would begin for the US this month, I said the stock market would rise euphorically after the Fed raised its interest target. Rise it did. Steeply, too. I also said it would fall shortly after. Fall it did. Quickly, too. Now I’m saying the Epocalypse is here.
Just as I stated that “the rate at which the market goes up now is a measurement of pure euphoria,” by the same token, how quickly that euphoria falls off indicates just how far down the downside is. If you have ever floated in the ocean and felt yourself unexpectedly drop way down with the water, you know that means a huge wave is coming up right behind you.
“Particularly watch out,” I warned, “if the euphoria cools quickly because, after more than a year of concern over what would happen when stimulus ended, there is a lot of relief the bulls would like to celebrate. If the euphoria cools quickly, it’s likely to mean things are ready to go down hard and fast.”
While I said in my last article, “Their party could last for days or end tomorrow,” I actually anticipated the euphoric rise in the stock market would last several days, given how long investors feared what might happen when the Fed raised rates and how relieved they’d be that the sky didn’t fall that day … and how persistent they have been in taking bad news as good news.
That the market turned so quickly on itself is a strong indication of how different the Epocalypse will be compared to previous Fed tightenings following previous recessions where the revelry over recovery lasted longer. For such a long “recovery” out of such a deep hole, the celebration sure was short!
During many Fed tightenings, the stock market and overall economy improved for years afterward … because the Fed stimulus had actually brought a temporary form of economic recovery. Rarely if ever has the mood turned dark so fast after the Fed officially announced that the recovery is sound and the life support can be removed.
So, even while I knew the global economic news was bleak, I didn’t expect the market bulls to snuff out their own ecstasy the day after the ball began. I can only imagine how much the permabulls wanted to go on air that next morning to revel in their “We told you so’s” about how the economy would do just fine after a Fed rate hike. Only they could not. They woke up to face reality.
As the new week begins, everyone is nervously guessing which way the market will continue. That also tells you the market is starting to realize that bad news is only bad news from this point forward.
The party in the bull pen is over
Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, looked visibly happy when she was able to make the announcement of her lifetime — the claim that things looked optimistic enough for the Fed’s recovery that the Fed could finally end its economic aid. Never before has a Fed chairman looked less dour and more ready to crack open the champagne for the big Fed Christmas party.
Her market minions gleefully rewarded their queen with am immediate rise of 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the remains of the day after she delivered her glad yule tidings.
The market, however, decided to crash the street party along Wall Street the next morning by dropping 253 points — farther than it had risen during the celebration. The real gravity of those numbers was proven when the fall picked up speed for a 367-point plunge the next day, bringing the stock market down over 600 points before it closed at the end of last week.
And, so, the Fed’s rate hike made this the most volatile December for the Dow since the economic crisis of 2008. Moreover, since 1990 Decembers have been the least volatile month of the year. So, something is different this time. Something is very deeply and disturbingly different if you compare this seventy-degree day of Winter Solstice in Washington to any other.
This isn’t your typical placid and merry December. Friday’s sell-off was the sharpest one-day plunge since September, and trading volume has been higher than usual in December as investors jockeyed to position themselves for the Fed’s anticipate rate rise. This is the feel of something big beginning to creep.
The sharp sell-off in stocks across all sectors of the Dow in the heaviest trading of the year came because of news that oil prices were still falling and fear over what this means for banks that are heavily involved in financing highly leveraged oil companies. For the past several years, such news would have caused the stock market to rise because it would mean another year of struggle in which the Fed would be hard at work trying to re-inflate the economy by giving free money to its banksters.
All ten sectors of the S&P 500 also closed in negative territory Friday. For the Dow, it was the third weekly decline in four weeks. Reality, in other words, hit the face like a glass of ice water the morning after the party. For the market bulls, it was off to work with a hangover.
The sobering fact that bank stocks were the first to decline was a surprise to many (including myself). Common wisdom throughout the market expected bank stocks to rise the fastest when the Fed raised rates because the rise in interest would actually improve bank profits since so many of their adjustable-rate loans and credit cards are pegged to interest rates that are strongly affected by the Fed’s target.
Banks will be collecting more in interest but they will be slow to start paying more interest on deposits, so were expected to benefit. Yet, financials went down because banks ensnared in a commodities massacre look edgy.
Even high-tech stocks, which have been supporting the narrowly traded market fell last week with the King of Stocks, Apple, down 10% for the month! That means Apple, leader of the Dow, is already in correction territory.
It looks like there’ll be no Christmas rally for stocks this year because the Federal Reserve turned off the free money … just in time for Christmas.
The global market went into a similar slide two weeks ago when the European Central Bank did a little quantitative wheezing that didn’t satisfy the demands of its junkies. Likewise with the Quantitative Queen, Japan, where five rounds of QE have now failed to jack up the economy any longer than the QE lasted. QE is so unsuccessful that Japanese income and household spending are in decline again, even with the money pumps still running.
The Epocalypse is everywhere.
Santa Claws Offers Little Hope for a Christmas Rally
Some might say that stocks have only fallen because of a badly timed bout of bad news, which just happened to hit as the Fed raised rates; but that has been my point throughout this year of predicting the global economy and US stock market would both crash in the fall of 2015. This is the same bad news that has been happening all year — the same bad news that I said would only become more intense by the time the Fed finally did raise rates, so that it would be making its transition with the worst possible timing and be totally blind to that because the Fed doesn’t look at the right indicators.
The news trend all year has been tilting from moderately bad toward terrible. My predictions of the Epocalypse have been based on the loss of the loft effect from the Yellen put at a time when economic down pressures would become intense. We went back to reality on December 16. The market will now drop when bad economic news happens, and there is a lot of bad economic news happening all around the globe right now, so the kinds of drops in the market we saw last week will keep happening because there is little upside to bad news anymore and little chance of that trend changing anytime soon.
What market investors need to realize is that the critical importance of the Fed’s rate hike is not the meager quarter-of-a-percent rise in its interest target; it is the fact that the move off of the zero bound puts us back into the real world where bad news is now only bad news because bad news can no longer stave off the Fed’s first rate increase. That’s done.
So, gone are the drunken years of dissipation when bad news came to mean that speculators could anticipate a vault full of new free money from the Fed. No longer will the market get a rise rise out of the hope of more stimulus. This is an environment many market investors and advisors have never experienced in their neophyte careers. The market right now is hunting for news, looking for some clue of which way to go in this new environment, and it will go the direction the news takes it.
What everyone is — or at least should be — starting to understand is that when this stock market crashes the market has no airbags. There will be wounded.
There are plenty of skeletons in the closet for Christmas:
- The commodities market has already crashed, and from all appearances it will go down further, as economic conditions are worsening in China.
- The impact of the commodities crash has already started a junk-bond bloodbath, which has already leaked over into investment-grade funds, which saw record outflows last week.
- More hedge funds have already failed in 2015 than in any year since the 2008 financial crisis.
- Now that bad news is only bad news, stocks have finally begun to slide, including the high-tech stocks that were helping support the market when other stocks were falling. Now, every sector of the stock market is falling.
- Banks are heavily involved in the failure of junk bonds and in the decline of their own stocks. As sub-prime housing loans, subprime auto loans, student loans fail, banks will experience more downward pressure. So, banks will fail; but this time banks will follow the cascade of events, rather than lead it.
Look at those events and ask yourself, “Aren’t those the conditions under which central banks normally begin stimulus, not bring it to a close?” That ought to tell you a lot about where the Fed’s tightening is going to go, and the Fed cannot simply reverse course if things go from bad to worse because to do so would clearly be to admit its recovery was an immediate failure.
To do so would also require overcoming huge inertia the Fed must feel toward starting back down a course that it had such a hard time getting out of and which it so rejoiced to bring to an end. To do so, will also require overcoming the Fed’s denial, which causes it to really believe it’s program was a big success. To do so would also require Yellen to lose face for having just pronounced the economy sound like Ben Bernanke stated in 2008 when he saw no recession in sight.
One thing after another will now unravel as the most massive asset bubble in history unwinds globally, and the heaviest mountain of debt ever known to humankind crushes down upon it. The market is only starting to realize that there will be no Fed support in the short term if things do go bad. They still have no idea that an economic apocalypse is dawning.
How bad will it be? One of the most reliable leading indicators of a market crash has historically been a sharp rise in the difference between the yields of reasonably safe investment-grade bonds and junk bonds. An article today in Bloomberg asks the same question about how bad a stock market crash right now might be:
How bad? In the three months before August 1929, the high-yield spread spiked by 47 basis points, and in the three months before May 1937, it shot up 85 basis points. In the past six weeks of 2015, it has spiked by about 120 basis points.
Investors are just starting to see in the meager light through their fuzzy hangovers, but still have little idea how bad this crash is going to be. So, there is a lot of fear to set in when denial breaks.
Denial and a nearly religious belief in political-economic ideas of both parties, however, are hard to break. So, many will think I’m foolish to name something like this the “Epocalypse” and to claim that it has now begun. And the stock market, of course, will attempt rallies, maybe even a brief one for Christmas, as it loves to rally then anyway. If it does, it is nothing but a spurt of optimism cheered on by holiday feelings, the hope of getting some of that party spirit back that was shorted after two hours, and the lack of much economic news to go on today, leaving the market scouting around for a sense of direction in this fuzzy new world they are unaccustomed to. It probably won’t even have enough holding power to last the week. If it doesn’t rally at this generally upbeat time of year, which is usually a great time for the stock market, it really is going down fast.
I am willing to take the chance of people saying such things because I am fully certain proof that the US stock market crash began the day after December 16 and was triggered by the Fed’s change of course on December 16 will quickly become a fact of history. I think the Epocalypse will even be big enough to break through nearly everyone’s denial, and critics of this claim will have to stuff their words back in their mouths in a hurry.
Even afterward, some will still argue foolishly for their own ideas about how and why it happened; but they will believe no more in the Fed’s phony recovery, and they will soon enough be forced to realize the Fed delivered a bear at Christmas.
You can read more from David Haggith at The Great Recession Blog