Global Market Relationships – Don’t Forget the News

As I have been saying, 2010 will be an interesting year in the markets, and this week only supports my contention. Many bearish voices are suggesting a correction is coming, but we have been hearing this since March of last year. Nonetheless, something bearish is afoot, as the world wrestles with the continuing ramifications related to recovering from the worst economic collapse since the 1930s. Here is where we are this week.

The risk aversion following the 2-day slide in the markets has supported safe haven currencies such as the dollar and the yen, sending commodities lower. Amid this backdrop and in the absence of any key economic report, the major averages may fight to hold key support levels. - World Daily Markets Bulletin

The factors contributing to this bearish influence are global in scope, and they offer insight into just how interrelated all the global markets have become, and, as we will see at the end of this article, how one less-discussed factor just might be a prime mover in the market of today.

China, the driver of today’s economic recovery, is so “hot” it is tapping the brakes on its rapidly growing GDP, which hit 10.7% in Q4. China announced it would begin reducing liquidity in its markets. The announcement of this “normalization” process immediately and negatively impacted the global equity and commodity markets, but positively affected the U.S. dollar and Japanese yen. One might argue that this relationship is typical, and so it is, but now factor into that the possibility that China has a larger problem with its developing housing bubble. Housing prices have jumped some 70% in the last two years. Put that together with an over-stimulated economy, a government that is putting on the monetary brakes, and you now have one huge market (China as a whole) acting as a drag on the global economy.

Fine, China is China, and we know that its debt-free and rapidly growing economy is influencing the global markets, but what about our markets right here in the U.S.? We have mixed economic data indicating our recovery is happening, but it is not quite solid in its footing. Q4 corporate earnings for the most part have been strong, but some would argue that is true only because of major cost-cutting and tighter inventories. The fact that unemployment is stubbornly hanging around 10%, and credit is still not leaching down to small business and the average consumer leads one to think that it might be some time before the U.S. begins a more accelerated recovery, which means that our deficit and debt will continue to grow. This reality turns us back to China. Since China has been buying up much of our debt, the economic thinkers there must be calculating that if America is too slow in its economic recovery and China is too rapid, the imbalance will hurt China more than it hurts the U.S. After all, we are the number one importer of Chinese goods and they hold almost one-trillion dollars of our debt, so to protect the balance of trade and to protect their investment in our Treasury bonds, not to mention Chinese corporate investment in our country, the Chinese government must “tap the brakes” and wait for us to catch up. They really have no choice.

The broad inter-market relationship between Chinese economic policy and our own economic recovery is clear, but what about economic policy right here in the U.S.? How does that fit into the relationship outlined above, and what impact is that likely to have on the U.S. equity markets?

Clearly, the rest of the world is watching how we handle our economic recovery, and now they are watching our response to the factors that brought us all to the place we are today. Re-regulating the financial industry in this country is a complicated, politically charged, and potentially disruptive process. Will the new regulations be enough or too little? With the lobbyists get more for this sector than that sector? Will those segments of the American public looking for a scapegoat draw the blood they seek? In the short term, will the reformation talk allow bears to swallow us all? In the long term, will the new regulations actually do anything to curb the excesses of those who profit from excessive speculation and actually help prevent another meltdown? The lack of answers to these questions at this juncture all contribute to an already jittery market, a market that flourishes on stability and flounders on uncertainty. Thus, part of the bearish revival this week is directly attributable to government discussion of financial reform.

All of this is interesting, but one might ask, so what? None of what has been discussed today is unknown, or particularly enlightening for that matter. In this, the Information Age, it is difficult to produce information and conclusions someone somewhere has not already analyzed or discussed, which brings me to the most interesting part of this week, this year, and the foreseeable future, as it relates to markets, and the influence of markets on one another.

Relatively speaking, the discussion about the importance of the media in terms of its impact on governments, corporate policy, and the markets is minimal. Although it is not quantifiable, an inductive conclusion is that the impact is huge. The ubiquitous and pervasive 24-hour news cycle has become a fight for ratings, as well as an agenda-driven enterprise. The fight for ratings produces much, much more bad news than good and the agenda-driven nature of analysts and pundits on the news clearly has an impact on which direction the markets move. As traders and investors, we understand that news drives markets, but do we truly understand the influence of the constant pounding of one notion, the impact of “reporting” one news items over and over again? You see, the problem is not the news; that is a necessary and important part of the market. No, the problem is the excessive and repetitive “chatter” that goes on sometimes for weeks at a time. The more a story is told, the truer it becomes, much like a self-fulfilling prophecy. How does one factor this into the reality of market behavior? What is truly interesting to think about is how does one quantifiably factor that influence into his or her trading/investment decision-making process? Since the market represents our mass trading/investment consciousness, the answer might be that as individuals, we just might not have any choice but to go with the flow. This cynical perspective might not be true now, but as time goes on, and the news media continues to consolidate and continues to “drive” the news as opposed to just reporting the news, one has to wonder. Yes, this has been an interesting week and 2010 promises to be an interesting year as we start the second decade of this new century. My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

Best Wishes,

Lou Mendelsohn