Monday, August 19, 2013

Why No Great Rotation?

A popular view among market aficionados is that, with bond prices falling while stocks have been rising, money would shift from bonds to stocks.  Stocks and bonds have historically often moved inversely.  When stocks rose, bonds fell, and vice versa. With bonds falling now, it would seem reasonable to expect investors to rotate their money into stocks.  But there has been no rotation.  Why not?

First, for the past five years, we've had a brave new Fed which has manipulated asset values in ways beyond historical experience.  Since early 2009, central bank easy money has helped to spur a stock rally accompanied by a bond rally.  Both asset classes rose simultaneously, instead of moving inversely.  With their traditional relationship out of whack, it is hardly surprising that they don't cha-cha when they're supposed to.  Investors would be understandably suspicious of stocks in a market that is seemingly dependent on the Fed's methadone program, especially when the Fed is talking about easing out of its role as Dr. Feelgood.

Second, the Great Rotation is an investment strategy for the medium to long term.  Today's stock market is dominated by high-speed, computerized trading, where the holding period for stocks is measured in milliseconds.  The long term human investors that might consider rotating greatly have mostly been supplanted, and many have chosen to invest on autopilot, buying index funds and throwing salt over their left shoulders.

So whither the markets?  That's the $64,000 question, and in truth nobody knows the answer.  With both stocks and bonds having enjoyed years-long bull markets, logic and experience, especially recent very painful experience, tell us that when markets can't keep rising indefinitely, they won't.

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