“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”

Miller_HeadshotBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” was the slogan used by Chiffon margarine, manufactured and trademarked by Anderson, Clayton and Company in the 1970s. It’s a catchphrase that is somewhat still indicative of the current market weakness in that China is meddling too much with its markets and currency.

Global risk assets are wrestling with the issue of “price discovery.” China is in the headlines for fooling both with its stock market and its currency. To speak as the Federal Reserve, this is probably not a “transient” problem.

The bar chart below titled, “China’s Stocks Still World’s Most Expensive after Rout,” indicates that the median Chinese stock is two to three times more expensive than other stocks globally. Such a large gap begs the question—are Chinese stocks worth it? Doubtful. China has a slowing economy, overvalued currency, overcapacity in many industries, and a lot of debt.

Last August, when we saw headlines such as “China meddling in stock market seen discouraging return of foreign funds” (Reuters – Aug 6, 2015), “China’s market meddling could do more harm than good” (CNN Money – July 28, 2015), and “China’s stocks keep falling because of government’s inept meddling” (INVESTORS.com – August 26, 2015), some of us wondered if we had just seen a preview of the future.

This week’s action seems to indicate, “yes.” China closed its stock exchanges twice and injected money at least once this week did little. On January 7, China also lifted its restriction imposed last summer on sales of shares held by large institutions. Now, investors have no idea what Chinese equities are worth. Price discovery will likely take time there.

Miller_China_Chart1

Source: Bloomberg

All of this, of course, leads us to sovereign bond markets around the world, most notably in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Central banks in these three developed economies have kept interest rates near zero for years now.

The European Central Bank appears increasingly willing to double down on this bet.

Miller_China_Chart2

Source: European Central Bank, Bloomberg

No doubt “fooling with Mother Nature” lurks in the minds of many investors. It is hard to fathom paying the government to save your money; but, that is exactly what German investors do when they purchase two-year German Treasury bonds at a -0.375% yield! Just think of all the retirees around that world that have been forced out of safe government bonds and bank certificate of deposits into higher-yielding riskier investments because they need income. There is a popular acronym for this forced behavior, TINA–There Is No Alternative.

To help quell this thought inside investor’s minds, check out Five Answers for the Voices in Your Head.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Decoding the G7 Statement

Andy RosenbergerAndy Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

Earlier this week, members of the seven richest countries met for the official G7 conference. Center to the assembly were discussions surrounding the recent actions by Japan to stimulate their economy through currency devaluation and higher inflation targets. Investors, hungry for a green light by the G7 that Japanese policies are warranted, were disappointed and confused as conflicting statements were issued. The official statement read:

“We, the G7 Ministers and Governors, reaffirm our longstanding commitment to market determined exchange rates and to consult closely in regard to actions in foreign exchange markets. We reaffirm that our fiscal and monetary policies have been and will remain oriented towards meeting our respective domestic objectives using domestic instruments, and that we will not target exchange rates. We are agreed that excessive volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates can have adverse implications for economic and financial stability. We will continue to consult closely on exchange markets and cooperate as appropriate.”

Confused by the statement? You weren’t alone. The statement, although obscure, was initially seen by the market as a green light. Specifically, market participants focused on the following sentence:

“We reaffirm that our fiscal and monetary policies have been and will remain oriented towards meeting our respective domestic objectives using domestic instruments…”

However, only hours later, an unnamed “official” was quoted in a Reuters article as saying:

“The G7 statement signaled concern about excess moves in the yen.” and “The G7 is concerned about unilateral guidance on the yen. Japan will be in the spotlight at the G20 in Moscow this weekend.”

G7

The unnamed “official” was enough to stop the yen’s depreciation; at least temporarily. Investors’ eyes will now turn to the G20 meeting this weekend for further clarification. However, the reality of all of this is that it’s more noise than news.

Japan has started down a path with which there’s no turning back. Too many failed stimulus attempts have been one of the major reasons as to why Japan hasn’t been able to escape its two-decade long deflationary spiral. Reversing course now would be disastrous for the Japanese economy, and more importantly, Japan’s newly elected Prime Minster Shinzo Abe. Prime Minster Abe has only months to establish his Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) credibility before another round of elections determine the party’s fate. Turning back now would surely cost the party its ruling power. Ultimately, it seems hard to believe that newly elected officials would side with six members from other countries over that of the voters and ultimately their political careers.