Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When Will The Crash Happen?.....DO NOT MISS THIS!

When Will The Crash Happen?

Since the question "when is the crash going to happen?" is now being asked quite frequently. 

Here is the research on that topic. 

Timing a crash can be a fool's errand, and fortunately such efforts are largely irrelevant if you are tail hedging (though they are quite relevant if you aren't). When tail hedging efficiently, the extreme asymmetries in payoffs, by definition, remove any need to time the top. But this doesn't mean that exercises in timing are without merit.

Without a doubt (or at least with over 99% confidence), bad things happen with increasing expectation when conditioning on higher Q ratios ex ante. That is, when Q is high, large stock market losses are no longer a tail event but become an expected event. Factoring time into the equation, and again based on history, the confidence interval around the median time would point to an expectation that a crash should commence at almost any time now.

Monetary policy has proven to be effective over the past seven years in elevating asset markets. However, its effect has been limited to the price of assets (the "title" to existing capital), but not the price of new capital. This differential is depicted in the Q ratio, where one can think of the numerator as representing the aggregate price of the stock market and the denominator as the aggregate book value. 

The higher the ratio, the further the stock market is priced relative to the reality of the underlying capital, and the greater the implied return on that aggregate capital above the average aggregate cost of capital. 

This ratio has always had its breaking point, much to the frustration of interventionist monetary policy, as the numerator ultimately crashes back to the denominator, rather than the denominator catching up to the numerator (a fact that Keynesians have considered a central puzzle of economics). 

Indeed, the continued deviation of this ratio from its long run historical average is something that both economic history and, best of all, economic logic dictate as unsustainable.

The question becomes how deviations and extremes in the Q ratio are ultimately corrected. The short answer is: they are corrected via the numerator, i.e., through corrections in the aggregate stock market value. The further the Q ratio has deviated from its long run historical average, simply put, the further the stock market has to fall to correct that deviation (this is what the market's homeostatic process does so predictably well).

There are regularities in the "stopping time" to the market's homeostatic correcting of extreme Q deviations, and as we saw recently in China, even massive interventions can't ultimately stop such corrections. An equity holder should be very aware of the current valuation environment, the magnitude of the drop that is to be expected, and the inherent cyclicality behind the amount of time between crashes.

We are currently beyond the median amount of time, historically, before we would expect to see at least a 20% correction of the stock market (the numerator). Most importantly perhaps, the majority of the losses tend to happen in a concentrated plunge at the tail end of the path down to minus 20%. For instance, in just the last two months before the market passes through our 20% drawdown trigger, it typically (on average) has experienced a loss of nearly the entire 20%.

The very high probability of a crash currently implied by history flies in the face of a very low probability of a crash currently implied by the options market. 

The same beliefs that have pushed the market to extreme valuations have also returned option prices back to near record lows. If there is elevated risk in the equity market to the degree we have seen, counter-intuitively, it is not at all priced into options markets.

To use a favorite investing metaphor, the pot odds – the payoff, or the size of the pot relative to the price of calling – are very favorable compared to the hand odds – the likelihood of making the best hand; that is, we are getting to the point where a downside bet has very favorable odds.

In the recent August volatility (or in any other crashes we have seen), the tide turned both too surprisingly and too quickly for most to fully re-position until it was much too late. The future need not look like the past, but for an equity holder (or an opportunistic trader), the price of equity tail risk is not currently representative of that which has proven itself throughout history under similar (if not far less risky!) circumstances. How much further the rally stretches, whether another 10% or 100%, does not matter to an efficient tail hedger; it only adds to the expected magnitude and timing of a pending crash—which grows larger and sooner with each uptick in the stock market and tick of the clock—thus adding to the expected profitability and strategic advantage of the hedge.

For most investors in either case - buying or selling - there is little if any thought about taking on risk, rationally or otherwise. In both cases, they are unconsciously acting to reduce risk, thanks to the emotionally satisfying impulse to herd. Herds act to gain sustenance or avoid danger. Gazelles may lope together toward the water hole or dash in a herd from predators. The goal, albeit unconscious, of both types of actions is to reduce risk. Likewise, in market advances speculators herd as if trying to gain sustenance; and in market declines they herd as if trying to avoid getting killed... Subjectively, i.e. in their own minds, speculators perceive greater risk as less risk and less risk as greater risk. That is why they buy in uptrends and sell in downtrends. In the former case, they behave as if the herd is leading them to sustenance, and in the latter case they behave as if the herd is leading them away from danger. Ironically, the truth is wholly the opposite.

When members of a galloping herd suddenly begin to disperse, leaping and scattering about, it's the sign of a threat at close range. It's time to retreat, and quickly. In investing, a bullish herd that drives valuations to a speculative extreme and then begins to disperse is a warning sign of potential collapse. Likewise, a bearish herd that drives valuations to a panic low and then begins to disperse is a sign of opportunity. At present, we observe a herd at the peak of a valuation cliff, where an increasing proportion of the herd is backing away. It's increasingly urgent to dig in one's hooves to keep from dashing over the edge. We can do little for those who insist on remaining in full gallop, imagining that sustenance awaits them ahead.

After years of Fed-induced yield-seeking speculation that has driven equity valuations to the second most extreme point of overvaluation in history (and the single most extreme point on the basis of median valuations), investors have somehow convinced themselves that this time will be different; that this time the market will maintain at a permanently high plateau. That belief is nothing new - it's the same delusion that investors have held at speculative peaks across history, refusing to accept the familiar signs of danger until the equally familiar losses were conclusively in hand.

How did the S&P 500 trace out a total return of zero between 2000 and the end of 2011? By first losing half its value, then more than doubling, then losing more than half its value, and then doubling again. Across history, extreme valuations have invariably been followed by similar behavior - wide cyclical swings, yet only modest overall returns over the following decade.

I implore investors who could not comfortably ride out a market collapse similar to 2000-2002 or 2007-2009, or who rely on their assets to finance near-term spending plans, to shift their risk exposure down to a level that could tolerate that outcome. Understand that while valuations have been hostile for years, and while overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions have repeatedly emerged in the recent half-cycle without effect, the hinge that supported continued gains was a persistent willingness to speculate, as conveyed by uniformly favorable market internals. That support has dropped away. Ignore that key distinction at enormous risk. The market behavior we've observed in recent quarters is fully consistent with an extended top formation. With credit spreads predictably widening in successively larger spikes, that formation appears increasingly vulnerable to a steep vertical break of prior support. Once rich valuations are joined by deterioration in market internals, any prospects for further gains are overshadowed by the prospects for vertical losses.

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