The 2022 bear market has been driven by collapsing valuation multiples, particularly for expensive growth stocks and unprofitable companies. Coming into the year, U.S. stocks stood as one of the most egregiously valued equity markets around the world, motivating investors to look elsewhere for more reasonably priced alternatives. Fortunately, international stock markets offered much better valuations that could serve as havens from the coming U.S. valuation collapse. Unfortunately, the strategy of seeking refuge in moderately priced foreign markets was foiled by an unusually strong U.S. dollar, leading us to take a closer look at how moves in the USD affect investment outcomes for domestic investors.
Most U.S. dollar drivers point to a stronger dollar: attractiveness of U.S. assets; policy differentials; real interest-rate differentials; terms of trade; weaker Yuan; and capital flows/hedging activity. Speculative positioning, however, is a negative and suggests the dollar rally might at least take a pause in the near term.
A stronger U.S. dollar is “supposed” to be bearish for commodities, but it’s been a banner year for most commodities with gold among the few that are down on the year. However, keep in mind that gold tends to be a harbinger of major moves in industrial commodities, with a lead time of about six months—and its year-over-year change is now negative.
It’s near the year’s mid-point and U.S. equities are doing what they’ve done nearly every year since the onset of the Great Financial Crisis: trouncing their foreign counterparts. The S&P 500’s YTD gain of 13.5% is about 500 basis points better than EAFE’s, and 800 basis points above that of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
As the market rebound has extended, we’ve noted its striking similarities with the rally of 1999—one that might have been the most speculative in U.S. history.
We have mentioned a number of times that China had experienced a very unpleasant “second-hand” tightening due to its peg to the dollar. Its trade competitiveness has suffered tremendously. With a weaker dollar the Chinese Yuan can re-gain some of its competitiveness while maintaining its peg to the dollar. A rare win-win in today’s convoluted world of finance.
Xenophobia continues to be a handsomely rewarded trait for U.S.-based equity investors, with the MSCI World Ex USA Index down 3.8% YTD through December 3rd—and now (incredibly) unchanged from its May 2011 high. Comparable period gains for the S&P 500 are +12.2% YTD and +50% from spring 2011 highs.
Jim Floyd and Steve Leuthold believe that U.S. consumer price inflation has peaked and is headed for the +3% level by mid-2009. With current headline inflation running at +5.4%, that implies there is plenty of disinflation in the pipeline.