Stocks have surged 11% since June 10th. At the same time, the 10 year treasury yield has declined almost 70 basis points to close at 3.18% yesterday. What is curious here is that the stock market is telling a very different story from the bond market. Bond investors (who tend to have a longer time horizon) are forecasting a long battle with deflation. Equity investors (who tend not to think much farther than one quarter into the future), on the other hand, are putting their money on the line in the hopes that the reflation trade is alive and well.
Unfortunately for equity investors, they have a poor record of forecasting the future when compared to bond investors. There have been 4 famous cases of such bond and stock divergences in the last 20 years. The most famous is the summer of 1987. We all know what occurred then. The other three cases were fall ’94, summer ’98 and winter 2000. All three preceded declines in the market. Of all 4 instances, three of them preceded 15% declines in the S&P 500.
The real crux of the issue here is not terribly complex. In order for corporations to tack on to the $80 in operating earnings that the equity market is currently pricing in for 2010, they will need pricing power. The cost cutting and resulting margin expansion we are seeing is great in the near-term, but we’re unlikely to see pricing power and hence real revenue expansion without at least some inflation. The bond market, however, is pricing in little to no inflation. The bond market’s message is clear – we are in a deflationary world. That doesn’t bode well for the prospect of corporate earnings and that likely means stocks are getting a bit frothy here. Investors would be wise to take a step back and reconsider the risk/reward of owning equities once the euphoria surrounding Q3 earnings wears off….