The last time we looked at the Composite Liquidity Indicator (CLI), 4 months ago, I warned that the process of flattening the indicator was beginning, and that that would lead to bad things happening. Those bad things have been under way for a couple of months, but they have barely scratched the surface of the potential of what’s to come as this line turns flat. See chart (subscriber version).
The stock market is approaching the low side of its normal band of motion from the CLI. If history is any guide, the stock market will remain vulnerable to further severe declines until a week or two after the line representing the S&P 500 penetrates the bottom of the normal range of motion from the liquidity line.
Then we face the prospect that liquidity could be even tighter than during the period of October 2017 to September 2019 when the Yellen Fed was temporarily “normalizing” its balance sheet. See chart (subscriber version). The Fed is again threatening to begin shrinking the balance sheet. But this time around the market must absorb a far higher amount of new Treasury supply than it did in 2017-19, when the Fed last tightened.
Shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet now would pull cash out of the banking system, causing deposits to at least turn flat, if not shrink outright. I would have to bet that the Fed will never get to that point. The effects of merely holding QE at zero will be bad enough.
As for the War in Ukraine, it’s not helping, but stocks were already down nearly 9% the day that Putin attacked. Furthermore, historically, periods of war have been bullish for stocks. That’s because central banks have typically printed reams of money during wartime. Today, the Fed doesn’t have that luxury, with the CPI headline print almost 8%, and actual inflation at least 13%.
Wars don’t drive asset price trends. Central bank policy drives asset prices. Today, central banks simply cannot be easy during this wartime because of the devastating inflation already under way.
Under these conditions, where systemic liquidity stays flat, at best, my bet would be that we will see cataclysmic selloffs in stocks at times. Violent rallies will follow, but will inevitably result in lower highs.
Led by the Fed, the world’s biggest central banks have painted themselves, and us, into a corner. They can no longer continue to tilt the playing field in favor of the continuation of a long-running secular bubble. The consequences would simply be too dire.
On the other hand, there will be equally terrible consequences for maintaining tight policy. And I’m not talking about how much they raise interest rates. That’s a sideshow that is an effect of tight money. The market will tell the Fed what to announce about rates. It must simply rubber stamp the market, lest the public realize that the Fed doesn’t control rates the way that it wants the public to think that it does.
Now the Fed is not printing enough money to absorb virtually all new Treasury issuance, with additional cash left over to support stock prices. If it sticks to this new policy of no QE, money rates will rise. Bond prices will fall and yields rise, margin calls will go out. Stock prices will fall. More margin calls will go out. And so on.
But only when consumer prices start to fall will the Fed be able to resume QE. By then, asset prices should be much lower than they are today. Therefore, I will continue to focus on looking for good short to intermediate term stock xxxx xxxxx (subscriber version).. I would continue to xxxx xxxxx (subscriber version). the bond market xxxx xxxxx.
Even bondholders who hold to maturity will get robbed. Inflation will eat them alive.
Will gold be a long term hedge for all of it? In theory, it should be, but we all know about the difference between theory and practice. Meanwhile, the long term charts of gold and some gold mining stocks look more bullish.
I’ll continue to use technical analysis in the Gold Trader reports to try to identify when this gold bull breakout is overdone. And I’ll continue to look for good entry points for getting long the mining stocks.
Meanwhile, none of this has come as a surprise. We were forewarned.
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