Bonds Are Back And The Selloff May Just Be Getting Started


You get recessions, you have stock market declines. If you don't understand that's going to happen, then you're not ready. You won't do well in the markets. If you go to Minnesota in January, you should know it's gonna be cold. You don't panic when the thermometer falls below zero.


Peter Lynch


The Ivory Hill RiskSIGNAL is still firmly red, and we are still sitting on 60% cash (since January) and 4-5% Treasuries. The market will rip higher, we just don't know when, but we are in a very great position considering our cash levels. Our buy list three months back was one page, now its a scrolling document. Lots of great companies are getting hammered right now.


To name a few:

  • NVIDIA (NVDA): -41% YTD

  • Apple Inc. (AAPL): -22% YTD

  • Microsoft Corp. (MSFT): -24% YTD

  • Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL): -23% YTD

  • Amazon (AMZN): -35% YTD

  • Meta (FB): -43% YTD

  • Adobe (ADBE): -30% YTD

These are high quality companies with guardrails of strong balance sheets, abundant free cash flow, stable to improving margins, and real-organic revenue growth.


YTD Performance of S&P 500 Stocks

ARE WE GETTING CLOSE TO A BOTTOM?


I am not calling a bottom, but there are some very convincing statistics that make the case we are possibly approaching a near-term bottom.


Cash levels are stacking up to the highest levels in more than 20 years, signaling the 2022 market selloff is most likely in its late stages. The below chart from Bank of America's Fund Manager Survey shows that levels of cash amongst investment managers is at the highest levels since 2001, signaling the 2022 market selloff is most likely in its late stages.


21% of stocks are currently trading above their 200-day moving average and 79% are below their 200-DMA which means these numbers show an 89% chance that the market will be higher in the next 12 months. Historically speaking, when stocks have had this kind of selloff markets have tended to see a bottom.


Percentage of Stocks trading above their respective 200 day moving averages

Markets are not doing great, but companies are still making solid revenues: Of the 458 companies that have reported so far (92% of companies in the S&P 500), earnings results are beating their estimates by a 9% median, and 76% of those reporting are beating estimates in general.


WHAT WILL STOP THE SELLOFF?


While this sell-off may be entering a new phase, this does not alter what I estimated to be the “Worst Case” scenario for stocks based on our May Market Expectations Table and I am still comfortable with our range of 3,440-3,655 in the S&P 500.


If the S&P 500 does drop to that worst case level, we’ll likely view it as a generational buying opportunity (depending on our signals of course).



In the near term, we and a lot of others cautioned the rally of the past few days was likely only a bounce and that’s what it’s proven to be.


Bottom line, this market won't stop dropping until we actually get some good news. Inflation might be peaking (in fact it likely has peaked) but it's not declining much, yet. That's not good enough. Finally, commodity prices are not declining at all. That's not good enough.


BONDS ARE BACK AND THAT COULD MEAN A FURTHER SELLOFF


Stocks and bonds are normally negatively correlated. This shows investors can choose between risk and safety.


Over the past 18 months, stocks and bonds have spent more time being correlated than not. On some occasions, their positive correlation has been very strong.



In the middle of last year, stocks and bonds pushed higher together almost in perfect lock-step. This year, both bonds and stocks dropped together when markets started pricing in aggressive rate hikes from the Fed. This left market participants with few options for safety (we chose cash and I still stand by that decision).


It looks like the days of stocks and bonds falling in unison are over. Traditional market dynamics are back and that could be a threat to stocks.

This turn happened about two weeks ago when we started making small bits at long-term treasuries. The markets digested the Fed’s 0.50% rate hike at the beginning of this month and decided that the Fed would not get more aggressive than they already are. With economic data beginning to deteriorate, investors have looked past the current rate hike cycle to a year out. This was the decisive point where recession risks are likely to be running hot and the markets will are looking for the Fed to start reducing rates instead of raising them.

Since, Treasuries have started acting like a safe haven again - bonds are acting like bonds! Market watchers are looking for protection again and they’re looking to government bonds.


Here is a chart of stocks and bonds over the last two weeks.



The S&P 500 and 20 Year Treasuries are moving in opposite directions. This is a great sign that markets might be slowly getting back to normal. I don't want to get too ahead of myself here because there are a lot of factors at play before we can say things are “normal”, but Treasuries acting like a safe haven again and that is a positive.


This usually means that bigger trouble is ahead for stocks.


The Fed, as it usually is, was the straw that broke the camel's back in December of of last year. Traditional bond market activity can now resume, as the bond market has effectively priced in where the Fed will eventually stop.


To be crystal clear, this defensive pivot could be in its infancy. Some of the indicators that have usually flashed large warning signs prior to a recession have yet to fully activate. They may not have triggered because they never will. This might be a run-of-the-mill market correction, with the bottom approaching.


Or it's possible that the real market crash hasn't even started yet, and what we're witnessing now is just the beginning.


Here is the price ratio of treasury bonds divided by the S&P 500.


A rising price ratio means the numerator is outperforming (up more/down less) the denominator. A falling price ratio means underperformance.

This ratio has gone up over the past two weeks, and it is now at its highest level since the summer of 2021. But when compared to the big events that have happened in the past ten years, it's still not very deep.


In the past events, this ratio climbed between 17% - 50%. Today it has increased by 14%.


Bottom line, Treasuries still have room to rise compared to stocks if we use history as a guide. We may be very early in the Treasury bond rally so I will be spending my weekend testing the best way to start bleeding some of our cash into bonds. We currently hold about 4-5% long-term treasuries.


High yield spreads are something else that hasn't increased dramatically yet. Again, if history is any indication, it may be about to.


Over the last year, I have been saying when this level hits 4.5% we could be due for a major market correction (beyond 20%). This is because over the last 2.5 decades every time spreads broke though the 4.5% level, it's headed a lot higher.


Today, spreads are at 4.92%. This isn't a sign of trouble by itself, but considering the road we might be on, it might be time to get ready.


And remember – the one fact pertaining to all conditions is that they will change.


Feel free to reach out to me and use me as a sounding board.


Best regards,


Kurt S. Altrichter, CRPS®

Fiduciary Advisor | President

Direct: 952.828.5336

Email: kurt@ivoryhill.com

-Written 05.19.2022