The S&P 500 Index has fallen by more than 8 percent in the first three weeks of 2016, and international markets such as Japan, China and the U.K. have fallen into bear market territory.
It’s natural to fear a repeat of the financial crisis and stock market collapse of 2008, and investors appear fearful of contagion from falling oil prices and slowing growth in China. The search term “market collapse” generates 269 million results, with headlines such as “80 percent Stock Market Crash to Strike in 2016, Economist Warns,” “Here Comes the Biggest Stock Market Crash in a Generation,” and “New Crisis Is Coming.” The last search result emanates from former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, author of a book titled “End the Fed.”
Our view is that this market correction is an over-reaction to current conditions rather than the start of a financial crisis or a long-lasting bear market. Here’s why:
Bear markets and recessions
Bear markets, defined as a market decline of 20 percent or more, typically are associated with recessions. There have been bear markets that haven’t coincided with recessions, such as in 1987 and 2011, but those bear markets reversed course relatively quickly.
Recessions since 1970
Economic and Market Impact
Arab oil embargo, “stagflation”
Inflation rises to critical levels
Inflation, real estate bubble, financial deregulation
Volcker Fed tightens monetary policy; significant rise in interest rates
Saddam invades Kuwait
Oil price shock
Stock market plunge
Real estate bubble, over-leveraged economy
Real estate collapse, financial crisis
We don’t see signs of the imbalances that frequently cause recessions and severe market downturns, for these five reasons especially:
1. Collapse of energy and commodity prices:
Energy and other commodity prices are severely distressed, with no turnaround in sight. However, energy is a relatively small contributor to the U.S. economy – with U.S. energy companies accounting for about 6 percent of the S&P 500, and oil and gas extraction employment less than one-eighth of 1 percent of total non-farm employment.
We don’t see the downturn in oil and other commodity prices as a catalyst for another crisis for the U.S. economy. Falling oil prices are an economic nightmare for the governments of Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, but are good news for oil consumers throughout the world. In the words of Oaktree’s Howard Marks, “I think low energy prices today will contribute to better economic growth tomorrow.”
2. Slowdown in China:
The symbolic impact of China’s slowdown is taking on outsized importance relative to the actual impact on the global economy. We expect the industrial slowdown in China to continue, creating challenges not only for China but for commodity exporters throughout the world who previously benefited from China’s seemingly insatiable appetite.
The Chinese government has substantial financial resources and powerful motivation to keep their economy from falling into too steep a slowdown. Thinking in very basic terms – when Americans are unhappy, leaders are voted out of office, but when the Chinese or Russian people are unhappy, more extreme events may happen.
The Chinese leadership is very aware of the need to maintain social harmony, and we think they will do whatever is possible to smooth the transition to more of a consumer-led economy.
3. Bank health:
U.S. banks are stronger than was the case in the prelude to the financial crisis, more than doubling equity capital since 2009 while significantly improving credit standards. European banks have made less progress, but are still stronger than they were at the depths of the European sovereign debt crisis. We are, however, monitoring the troubling buildup of debt in the developing world.
4. Residential real estate:
Real estate, according to BCA Research, represents half the share of GDP that it had in 2005. My wife and I went to the movies to see “The Big Short” last weekend, and I was reminded of the credit excesses that jeopardized the global financial system. I’d almost forgotten about “NINJA loans (no income, no job, no assets),” pay option loans (loans that gave borrowers the choice of payments each month), and the abundance of derivative structures (CDO, CLO, CDS) that created enormous systemic leverage.
We’ve come a long way since 2007! There is considerably less real estate-related leverage in the system, and delinquencies are not signaling a return to the systemic stress experienced in 2007-09. Although there may be some pockets of excess, real estate doesn’t seem to be a threat to the health of the U.S. or global economy.
5. High yield: