Thankfully the news out of Japan regarding the potential for nuclear meltdowns has subsided, and global stock markets have rallied for two days in relief. Many on Wall Street are claiming the correction in global stock markets is therefore over, and it’s a buying opportunity.
But let’s think this through and not react too quickly. The human toll and economic damage in Japan was from the earthquake, not the subsequent potential problems with nuclear plants.
Let’s consider first what was going on prior to the catastrophe.
Global markets were in quite significant corrections. For instance Brazil, China, India, and Hong Kong, topped out in November and were down 12% to 17% prior to the earthquake. Markets in Europe and the U.S. peaked in mid-February and were down 3% to 4%.
So an important question is whether the factors that had global markets already topped out prior to the earthquake have gone away. Unfortunately, the answer is that they remain in place, and if anything have worsened, and the aftermath of the disaster in Japan will likely add to them.
Those continuing problems are;
- Rising global inflation.
- Increasingly aggressive monetary tightening by important countries like Brazil, China, India, Hong Kong, and smaller emerging markets, in efforts to tackle the rising inflation, moves likely to also slow their economic growth.
- Uncertainties created by political uprisings in oil-producing countries.
- The on-going European debt crisis.
- Austerity programs in European countries aimed at tackling the debt crisis, including cuts in government spending and jobs.
- The coming cutbacks in U.S. federal, state, and local government spending to tackle their record budget deficits.
- The approaching end of the Fed’s QE2 pump-priming program.
And now added to those problems is the massive natural disaster in the world’s third largest economy,Japan, a very important part of the global manufacturing and high-tech supply chain. It has come at the worst time for the struggling Japanese economy. The damage has already forced the closing of factories by Nissan, Toyota, and Sony, as well as several oil refineries, while large agricultural areas were wiped out, which can only add to concerns about rising food prices. Japan’s problems will affect other global economies.
Optimists are pointing to reconstruction as being a positive for Japan’s economy, noting that six months after the Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995 almost all of Kobe’s factories and infrastructure had been rebuilt. They are leaving out that Japan’s stock market declined for six months after the smaller Kobe earthquake and during the re-building stage, losing 32% of its value. At the present time, the Japanese market is down only 15%.
Meanwhile, European central banks have now acknowledged inflation concerns, and the UK says it could begin raising interest rates as soon as its April meeting.
The uprisings in oil-producing countries have not gone away, and indeed have become more violent. In Libya, Dictator Muammar Gaddafi launched military operations this week to crush demonstrators, and the U.N. authorised military attacks against Gaddafi forces to assist the demonstrators. The previously peaceful uprising in Bahrain became violent after Bahrain’s royal family called in military forces from Saudi Arabia to help it put down the revolt.
The uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen, and unrest in Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, reportedly even have leaders in Russia, Cuba, and China nervous.
In the European debt crisis, Portugal’s credit rating was downgraded further this week, and its Prime Minister said he will quit if Portugal’s parliament does not consent to his proposed austerity measures.
And on it goes. The previous problems that had global stock markets topped out on fears of rising inflation and concerns about the sustainability of the fragile global economic recovery, have not gone away, and if anything worsened while attention was diverted by the disaster in Japan.
On the technical analysis side, the additional five-day market plunge following the disaster in Japan had markets short-term oversold, and likely to see a short-term rally off the oversold condition.
But it’s questionable whether a bottom is in yet, particularly in the U.S.
At their peaks, global stock markets, including that of the U.S., were extremely overbought above their long-term 200-day moving averages, to a degree that almost always results in a decline at least down to retest the support at that moving average. In their corrections, some of which began in November, others in mid-February, markets in Asia and Europe did decline to that moving average. In several cases the support did not hold and they broke below it.
But the U.S. market so far has pulled back only 6%, leaving it still 7% above its 200-day m.a.
Additionally, investor sentiment in the U.S. does not indicate a bottom. This week’s poll of its members by the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) shows bearishness has increased to 40.1%, but that is still well below the 55% to 65% bearishness usually seen prior to market lows.
So for now anyway, I still like the safe haven of treasury bonds, which I wrote up in my column last weekend. The iShares 20-yr bond etf, symbol TLT, has gained more than 5% in the five weeks since its early February low. And I still like gold bullion and the SPDR Gold etf, symbol GLD. Gold is the long-time hedge against rising inflation. I even like the idea of some downside positions against the U.S. market, and I’m looking at some toppy looking stocks that might be short-sale candidates.