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Risky Assets Leap Into New Year


Investor appetite for them seems to be renewed.


Back from the festive season break, traders pushed stock market indices to new highs for the rally, logging a full house of five up-days for the S&P 500 Index and pushing the CBOE Volatility (VIX) Index -- also referred to as the "fear gauge" of the US stock markets -- down to levels last seen pre-Lehman in 2008.

Pundits shrugged off Friday's unexpected decline in non-farm payrolls, as well as mixed economic data earlier in the week, focusing instead on the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) communiqué for its December 15-16, 2009 meeting which maintained its "extended period" stance for easy monetary policy, i.e. more "juice" for risky assets.

Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust) said:

The details and tone of the December employment report indicate that labor market conditions remain bothersome. A meaningful pace of hiring is unlikely in the next few months given the structural unemployment in the economy, the shortened workweek, and the large number of part-time workers. In other words, the December employment report reinforces expectations of the FOMC on hold in the near term. The Fed is unlikely to undertake a reduction of monetary accommodation until the unemployment rate has peaked.

The past week's performance of the major asset classes is summarized by the chart below -- a set of numbers that indicates renewed investor appetite for risky assets. Silver (+9.5%), "the poor man's gold," and platinum (+7.0%) were the stars of the week, playing catch-up on historically cheap ratios relative to gold bullion. The yellow metal (+3.7%) also resumed its uptrend with a so-called "upward price dynamic" on Monday. Bonds performed poorly as Pimco and BlackRock (BLK) among others, cut holdings of US and UK debt as the two nations' borrowings hit record levels.

A summary of the movements of major global stock markets for the past week and various other measurement periods is given in the table below.

The MSCI World Index (+2.5%) and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index (+2.7%) experienced a strong first week of 2010. Only three emerging markets -- the Shanghai Composite Index (-2.5%), the Russian Trading System Index (-0.4%) and the Venezuela Caracas General Index (-1.2%) -- bucked the broader uptrend.

Notwithstanding solid gains since the March lows, only the Chile Stock Market General Index, one of the week's strongest performers, has been able to reclaim its 2007 pre-crisis peak -- now trading 6.5% higher. Mexico and Brazil could be the next countries to eliminate the bear market losses.

As far as the US indices are concerned, Wall Street managed to hit 15-month highs on Friday. This means that the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Index have now retraced 55% and 54% respectively of their crisis losses. After the thin festive season period, volume on the NYSE came close to the one-year average.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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