Tuesday, November 20, 2007
There's a well-worn market cliche that economic agents are driven by fear and greed, and in particularly difficult conditions they seem to straddle the divide between the two. Indeed, the overlap between fear and greed is one of the primary drivers of market volatility, wherein investors find themselves navigating an emotional minefield and, more often than not, doing the wrong thing.
Macro Man now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having one foot in each camp. As he looks around, he sees several apparent mispricings which might generate some tasty alpha. At the same time, he has to acknowledge that the fundamental picture as he sees it has deteriorated; disposable income and aggregate net wealth are much more important in determining his worldview than house prices, for example, and the outlook for neither is particularly pleasant at the moment.
Moreover, financial market prices are also determined by the collective result of the fear/greed equation, and in times of severe distress notions of "value" and "ought to" go out the window. The following is a brief, non-exhaustive sampling of some of the issues that Macro Man is grappling with at the moment:
1) VIX suggesting equity sell-off is overdone? Macro Man was quite surprised to see that his favoured indicator of risk aversion barely moved yesterday, despite the sharp sell-off in the S&P 500. The reason is that despite the new recent low in stock prices, the VIX is well off its recent highs, and indeed barely rose yesterday (see below.) Such a divergence, which may suggest that the street has been layering option hedges even as Macro Man's have rolled off, would ordinarily suggest that a near-term bottom is in sight. A similiar phenomenon can be seen in EUR/USD, which, unlike in August, has plowed higher despite weaker stock prices/higher VIX. Indeed, even USD/CHF has finally made a new all time low today. All this would normally make Macro Man relatively comfortable with his new long equity market posture (following the recent option expiry)....and yet...and yet:
2) The credit market is still buggered, and there's still no bid for assets of questionable quality. ABX continues to plummet, including the "high quality" tranches, to a degree that suggests that bidders have completely stepped away from the market. Meanwhile, Northern Rock, which could be considered an equity version of structured credit, is rapidly approaching the price target that Macro Man set two months ago.