Market Anthropology: An Expectation Gap

Friday, September 19, 2014

An Expectation Gap

Ignoring what Yellen continues to emphasize as her intentions to leave rates lower – longer, participants once again focused their attention Wednesday on the updated dot-plot projections, that implied some Fed officials may have turned towards a more aggressive policy path over the next two years. This hawkish bias was confirmed in the market, as 10-year yields rose to ~ 2.6% and 5-year inflation breakevens collapsed to just under 1.72%. Where the rubber met the road – real rates rose; causing the financials and US dollar to surge, commodity currencies to collapse and precious metals to weaken. 

Similar to the reaction of the taper-tantrum last year, the ballast of the market continues to not believe that Yellen will err on the side of caution and maintain the status quo, implicitly encouraging inflation to perk before even considering raising rates. Here lies the large expectation gap in the market – and one we expect will capitulate towards the Chairwoman’s underlying directive. As Jon Hilsenrath pointed out this week, the old market adage, “Don’t fight the fed”, should really be “Don’t fight what the Fed says” – this time around the block. This dynamic is contrary to how participants reacted to the last time inflation was troughing during the financial crisis, when traders expectations were greatly in line with the Fed – as they both jumped hand and hand into the trenches. Today, there exists a large hawkish skew in expectations – predominantly swollen by the uncertainty surrounding the Fed’s exit plan and the leftover and misplaced biases of previous rate tightening cycles. While we continue to believe participants are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to raising rates and inflation expectations, we have clearly remained offsides over the past quarter in anticipating the timing and catalyst of such a paradoxical resolution. 

Further muddling the waters has been the more aggressive policy and posturing by the ECB in response to persistently low inflation in the eurozone. These actions have encouraged and maintained downside momentum in the euro, which has re-engaged the value trap like conditions for commodities – as the disinflationary trend in the US has once again rebooted on the back of a surging dollar. While the circularity of conditions is enough to make even Rust Cohle smile, the feedback loop has maintained trend in the equity markets with all the smoothness of a Madoff return – basking under the fair weather conditions of moderating inflation. Conversely, this has caused various reflationary assets (i.e. precious metals, commodities, commodity currencies, emerging markets) to stall out for a third time over the past year – as participants inflation expectations have broadly fallen. All things considered, we believe those biases are once again misplaced and find the same relative value that has remained attractive over the past year, in corners such as precious metals and their respective miners, the Australian dollar and emerging market and Chinese equities.