The global economy has regained some composure, according to asset management firm Schroders. In their view, markets have regained a risk appetite following action by central banks, the normalization of commodity prices, and a lack of materialization for tail risks such as a U.S. recession or a Chinese hard-landing:
While volatility is indeed near its YTD low with the benchmark VIX down 32% since the start of the year, we would point out that this is potentially some calm before the storm.
Here are some upcoming waves, and we’ll see how they break:
Earnings and Buybacks: The blended earnings decline for the S&P 500 so far in 2016 Q1 is -8.9%, according to Factset. When earnings season is done and if this stays on target, it will mark the first time the index has seen four consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in earnings since Q4 2008 through Q3 2009. That said, companies are doing whatever they can to stifle these declines via share buybacks. S&P Dow Jones says that nearly one-third of S&P 500 companies have cut their share counts by at least 4% in Q1 of 2016.
Will investors continue to be “impressed” by this financial engineering, or will the reality of declining earnings finally hit?
U.S. Recession Watch: The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model forecasts U.S. growth at just 0.4%.
Brexit: While the margin has widened on the Brexit vote in favor of the “remain” camp, one in five have still not decided how they are voting. This means Brexit is still in play, especially if there is any voter complacency as the referendum draws closer. A “leave” decision could have significant impact: Britain makes up 15% of the EU GDP, 17% of EU domestic demand, and 13% of EU population. This previous post shows why Brexit could be a losing proposition for everyone.
Debt: The amount of debt is also hitting center stage. In the U.S. auto loans and student debt are two separate $1 trillion debt markets. Credit cards is getting there as well, and 62% of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. Sovereign debt will close in on $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s tenure.
Things in China don’t look so good, either. Experts are warning that the country’s 237% debt-to-GDP, the highest in emerging markets, could lead to a American-style financial crisis or Japan-style malaise.