Category Archives: Financial markets

3/10/18: Dumping Ice bags into Overheating Reactor: Bonds & Stocks Bubbles

Wading through the ever-excellent Yardeni Research notes of recent, I have stumbled on a handful of charts worth highlighting and a related blog post from my friends at the Global Macro Monitor that I want to share with you all.

Let's start with the stark warning regarding the U.S. Treasuries market from the Global Macro Monitor, accessible here:  To give you my sense from reading this, two quotes with my quick takes:

"Supply shortages, induced mainly by central bank quantitative easing have been a major factor driving asset markets, in our opinion.  Not all, but a big part." So forget the 'not all' and think about risks pairings in a complex financial system of today: equities and bonds are linked through demand for yield (gains) and demand for safety. If both are underpricing true risks (and bond markets are underpricing risks, as the quote implies), it takes one to scratch for the other to blow. Systems couplings get more fragile the tighter they become.

"The float of total U.S. equities has shrunk dramatically, in part, due to cheap financing to fund share buybacks.   The technical shortage of stocks have helped boost U.S. equity markets and killed off most bears and short sellers." In other words, as I have warned repeatedly for years now, U.S. equity markets are now dangerously concentrated (see this blog for posts involving concentration risks). This concentration is driven by three factors: M&As and shares buy-backs, plus declined IPOs activity. The former two are additional links to monetary policies and, thus to the bond markets (coupling is getting even tighter), the latter is structural decline in enterprise formation and acceleration rates (secular stagnation). This adds complexity to tight coupling of risk systems. Bad, very bad combination if you are running a nuclear power plant or a major dam, or any other system prone to catastrophic risk exposures.

How bad the things are?
Since 1Q 2009, total cumulative shares buy-backs for S&P500 amounted (through 2Q 2018) to USD 4.2769 trillion.

Now, those charts.

Chart 1, via Yardeni Research's "Stock Market Indicators: S&P 500 Buybacks & Dividends" book from October 3rd (

What am I looking at here? The signals revealing flow of corporate earnings toward investment, or, the signs of the build up in the future economic capacity of the private sector. The red line in the lower panel puts this into proportional terms, the gap between the yellow line and the green line in the top panel puts it into absolute terms. And both are frightening. Corporate earnings are on a healthy trend and at healthy levels. But corporate investment is not and has not been since 1Q 2014. This chart under-reports the extent of corporate under-investment through two things not included in the red line: (1) M&As - high risk 'investment' strategies by corporates that, if adjusted for that risk, would have pushed the actual investment growth even lower than it is implied by the red line; and (2) Risk-adjustments to the organic investments by companies. In simple terms, there is no meaningful translation from higher earnings into new investment in the U.S. economy so far in 2018 and there has not been one since 2014. Put differently, U.S. economy has been starved of organic investment for a good part of the 'boom' years.

Chart 2, via the same note:

Spot something new in the charts? That's right: buybacks are accelerating in 1H 2018, with 2Q 2018 marking an absolute historical high at USD 1.0803 trillion (annualized rate) of buybacks. Guess what does this mean for the markets? Well, this:
And what causes the latest spike in buybacks? No, not growing earnings (which are appreciating, but moderately). The fiscal policy under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017, or Trump Tax Cuts.

Let's circle back: monetary policy madness of the past has been holding court in bond markets and stock markets, pushing mispricing of risks to absolutely astronomical highs. We have just added to that already risky equation fiscal policy push for more mispricing of risks in equity markets.

This is like dumping picnic-sized bags of ice into the cooling system to run the reactor hotter. And no one seems to care that the bags of ice are running low in the delivery truck... You can light a smoke and watch ice melt. Or you can run for the parking lot to drive away. As an investor, you always have a right choice to make. Until you no longer have any choices left.

7/4/18: Markets Message Indicator: Ouuuuch… it hurts

An interesting chart from the VUCA family, courtesy of @Business:

'Markets Message Indicator', created by Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden Capital Management, takes 5 different data ratios: stock market relative performance compared to the bond market, cyclical stocks performance relative to defensive stocks, corporate bond spreads, the copper-to-gold price ratio, and a U.S. dollar index. The idea is to capture broad stress build up across a range of markets and asset classes, or, in VUCA terms - tallying up stress on all financial roads that investors my use to escape pressure in one of the asset markets.

Bloomberg runs some analysis of these five components here: And it is a scary read through the charts. But...

... the real kicker comes from looking back at the chart above. The red oval puts emphasis on the most recent market correction, the downturn and increased volatility that shattered the myth of the Goldilocks Markets. And it barely makes a splash in drawing down the excess stress built across the 'Markets Message Indicator'.

Now, that is a scary thought.

9/2/18: Markets Mess: Sunday Business Post

My Sunday Business Post article from last week on the beginnings of the stock markets troubles:

As predicted: we had a messy week, with no catalyst to inflict a real, much needed and deeper correction onto grossly overvalued markets.

My next instalment on the continued mess is due this Sunday. Stay tuned.

16/12/17: Long-Term Stock Market Volatility and the Influence of Terrorist Attacks in Europe

Our paper

Corbet, Shaen and Gurdgiev, Constantin and Meegan, Andrew, Long-Term Stock Market Volatility and the Influence of Terrorist Attacks in Europe (August 2017). Available in working paper format at SSRN:

Was published in the Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance

7/9/17: What the Hack: Systematic Risk Contagion from Cyber Events

We just posted three new research papers on SSRN covering a range of research topics.

The second paper is "What the Hack: Systematic Risk Contagion from Cyber Events", available here:


This paper examines the impact of cybercrime and hacking events on equity market volatility across publicly traded corporations. The volatility influence of these cybercrime events is shown to be dependent on the number of clients exposed across all sectors and the type of the cyber security breach event, with significantly large volatility effects presented for companies who find themselves exposed to cybercrime in the form of hacking. Evidence is presented to suggest that corporations with large data breaches are punished substantially in the form of stock market volatility and significantly reduced abnormal stock returns. Companies with lower levels of market capitalisation are found to be most susceptible. In an environment where corporate data protection should be paramount, minor breaches appear to be relatively unpunished by the stock market. We also show that there is a growing importance in the contagion channel from cyber security breaches to markets volatility. Overall, our results support the proposition that acting in a controlled capacity from within a ring-fenced incentives system, hackers may in fact provide the appropriate mechanism for discovery and deterrence of weak corporate cyber security practices. This mechanism can help alleviate the systemic weaknesses in the existent mechanisms for cyber security oversight and enforcement.