Volatility exploded this week as the S&P 500’s last three trading sessions produced some of the largest intraday swings of the year.
The biggest wild card continues to be 10-year Treasury yields, surging from 0.5% last autumn to 1.5% today. While 1.5% is trivially small by historical standards and investors are not afraid of these 1.5% rates, they are afraid this surge will turn into 3% or even 5% over the next several months.
Remember, the investors don’t price stocks based on where we are today, but what they think we will be in six to twelve months.
Stocks are stupid expensive by conventional measures (forward P/Es, etc). But these valuations are actually reasonable given these historically low interest rates. That’s because the lower interest rates are, the more valuable future cash flows become.
The problem is one percent interest rates justify really high stock valuations. Four percent interest rates do not. And that’s the million-dollar question, where are interest rates headed?
With all of this money printing supporting the Covid economy, most people assume inflation and higher rates are inevitable. But you know what? They said the same thing after the Fed pumped the economy full of cash following the housing bubble and 2008 financial crisis. Quite a few “forward-thinking” hedge funds lost a ton of money a decade ago when they bet on higher inflation and ended up being wrong.
Now I will count myself as one of the people concerned about inflation and higher interest rates. As I described, these crazy high stock valuations are built on a foundation of low interest rates. Take that away and the whole thing comes crashing down.
I have little doubt higher interest rates are what will kill this bull market. The problem is I don’t know when it will happen. As I’ve written previously, these rallies go so much further and last way longer than anyone thinks possible. While we might already know how this ends, the demise is still probably a few innings away.
The one thing we know for sure is dying markets do not keep making new highs. If the S&P 500 returns to the highs over the next few days, all of this talk of the end is premature. If prices retreat under recent lows, then we have to take this more seriously.
The great thing about being independent investors and traders is we don’t have to predict the future. We are small enough that we can react to these developments in real-time as the future unfolds in front of us. If the market bounces tomorrow, buy and hold. If prices retreat under the lows, sell and even consider going short.
It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that. Volatility is picking up, meaning the next move will be large. We just need the market to pick a direction and then hang on.
My intuition and educated guess is higher, but I have no problem being wrong. (In fact, I’ll make more money if stocks decline sharply, so here’s to hoping I’m wrong!)
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Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and financial analyst that has successfully traded stocks and options for nearly three decades. He has an undergraduate engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines and two graduate business degrees from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes engineering at Fortune 500 companies, small business consulting, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two children.