Are stock and bond markets contradicting each other?

by on November 2, 2009 at 7:41 am in Economics | Permalink

Stocks are doing well yet interest rates remain low and flat.  What's up?  John De Palma sends along this very interesting analysis by Paul McCulley.  Excerpt:

Thus, as long as economic recovery appears underway, even if stoked primarily by (1) policy stimulus and (2) a turn in the inventory cycle, there is no urgent reason for investors to run from risk assets. Put differently, investors can be agnostic about (3) the strength of private demand growth until the one-off forces supporting growth exhaust themselves, as long as they don’t have fear of Fed tightening.

In turn, a bull flattening bias of the Treasury curve, with longer-dated rates falling toward the near-zero Fed policy rate, can be viewed as a consensus view that the level of the output/unemployment gap plumbed during the recession is so great that disinflationary forces in goods and services prices, and perhaps even more important, wages, will be in train, even if growth surprises on the upside. Accordingly, Treasury players, like their equity brethren, need not fear the Fed, as there is no economic rationale for an early turn to a tightening process.

Thus, both rich risk markets and the lofty Treasury market can be viewed as rational in their own spheres, even if they are seemingly irrational when compared to each other. The tie that binds them, that allows them to co-exist, need not be a common view regarding the prospective strength of the recovery, but rather a common view as to the Fed’s friendly intent and reaction function.

Is it a good thing when asset markets are so much about the Fed?  There is more to the short essayt, read the whole thing.  Here is his conclusion:

Simply put, big-V’ers should be wary of what they wish for. U’ers, meanwhile, must be mindful of just how bubbly risk asset valuations can get, as long as non-big-V data unfold, keeping the Fed friendly. But that’s no reason, in our view, to chase risk assets from currently lofty valuations. To the contrary, the time has come to begin paring exposure to risk assets, and if their prices continue to rise, paring at an accelerated pace.

Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.

1 MattF November 2, 2009 at 9:24 am

This seems to me to be ignoring the supply-side of assets. What about people who have been holding bonds for a while (and doing very nicely, thank you) but are now considering cashing out, and then, for example, paying off higher-interest debt with the cash?

2 Doc Merlin November 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

Sigh, when will people learn, that bubbles are the problem, not the solution. 🙁

3 Kaleberg November 4, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Maybe people are buying stocks because they can’t get any interest by lending their money out? This is what fueled the market boom in the early 90s.

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