Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015: Points to Ponder

As you gear up for the year end, here a list of things and points for the next year. To mull over, without any iota of attempts to forecast!

1. Oil: from peak-oil to freak oil. And how the story unfold will be driving a lot in 2015. IMF Direct (the blog from IMF) had a very interesting piece on this recently. They estimate unexpected lower demand can account for only 20% to 35% of the price drop. And they find little evidence of financialization. In this context what is surprising is the speed of adjustment. For 2015 most analysts maintain gloomy forecasts for oil. Perhaps rightly so. But a lot of that comes from forecast of continued lower demand from China and Europe. Given the lower contribution of demand in the price change (as above), and the still volatile geopolitics of a large part on the supply side, the question remains what if there is a strong come back of oil price in 2015? It will mostly reverse what we have seen in 2014. The hysteresis loss will be for new investments in oil sector with renewed long term risk assessment; and in Europe, especially if the ECB had not gone through with the QE by then.

2. Russia: very much related to above. Will they get out of it? yes if the oil price bounces back. What if it does not. That is the hard part to speculate. On the face of it Russia does not look particularly bad on economic parameters. Yes, the inflation is running a bit high, and the GDP has slowed down. But they have been there before. The missing links are current account weakness, ruble appreciation reversal, and the possibility of capital flight. Krugman explains the first two of them here. The last part is the hardest to explain and quantify. See here, for example. And in my opinion this is the most crucial make-or-break factor. Russia will survive in the short run if the oligarchs have a lot to lose otherwise, and if Putin survives.

3. Wage growth: That will shape the Fed policy to a large extent. We have already seen some encouraging trends. 2014 has been a great year for job growth in the US. 2015 might as well be a good (perhaps not great) year for wage growth. If that is supported by lower oil price, it is good. If that coincides with a sudden rise in oil price, that can spook the market and push up break-evens and rates.

4. Housing: One of the weakest part of the so far good enough recovery of the US, is the contribution of housing to the investment component and hence the economy. The flow of funds from the Fed has consistently shown continued deleveraging in mortgages while consumer credit picked up. The higher mortgage rates and increasing prices did not help it either. Historically the contribution of housing to GDP is near record low. And that to me seems like a lot of upside in 2015.

5. Europe: If we have a Grexit start of the year (or even a panic towards that), that will greatly ease Draghi's case for an all-out QE. European equities missed out a lot compared to elsewhere, and can benefit from both improved earnings and re-rating. As I mentioned before, I think people are unusually bearish on Europe now (just like they were unusually bullish a while back). If you think the US equities are done with most of the run, and Abenomics not really working for Japan, and missed out the Chinese rally and now scared of the EM, you do not have much choice. On the rates side, a lot of the curve flattening has been driven by global influence and a re-pricing of the long end. I do not think the rates market is nowhere near as confident of a QE as most analysts are. The European swap markets now looks hardly any different from Japan. And with much much better upside.

6. Abenomics: And speaking of Japan, which I frankly do not understand much, all I say I do not see Abenomics working. The problem with that is if Abenomics does not work, the challenge for the subsequent governments will be progressively humongous. What are the odds that we will stop to see the yen rallying in a global panic? And what are the odds we will actually see yen selling off in a panic? I will keep rolling my yen shorts. In good times or bad.

7. China: Perhaps most discussed. One good thing about China for traders and investors is that China, with its mighty central bank and strong command control hardly produces any large surprise for the markets. (Of course the antithesis is that when the surprise does come it will be huge and bad, but somehow I do not buy in to that yet). With the rally belying the economy, the central bank and policies will be in the driving seat.

8. The bull run in India: I am a believer. Well for one, the benefits of the large oil re-pricing on India is still totally lost in the panic about EM. In fact India has been a net importer of non-agri commodities. So recent secular weakness is a huge bonanza if they sustain. In terms of valuation it may not be cheap, but much scope remains for earning improvements. 

9. Return of volatility: A sustained period of low vol can be policy driven (when the central bankers become sellers of vols), or it can be just a phase of a complex system. Because low vols just happen some times. FX has already seen some uptick in vols. And yes, commodities of course. May be time for the rest.

10. What else: move away from rotation to diversification? a policy-driven liquidity crisis? year of the frontier markets? crisis in Europe? middle-east mayhem? HY melt-down? comeback from the UK? Wide open. As always.

Best wishes and a happy new year

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