When we first warned 8 days ago that in the last week of trading a “Red Flag For Markets Has Emerged: Pension Funds To Sell “Near Record Amount Of Stocks In The Next Few Days”, and may have to “rebalance”, i.e. sell as much as $58 billion of equity to debt ahead of year end, many scoffed wondering who would be stupid enough to leave such a material capital reallocation for the last possible moment in a market that is already dangerously thin as is, and in which such a size order would be sure to move markets lower, and not just one day.
Today we got the answer, and yes – pension funds indeed left the reallocation until the last possible moment, because three days after the biggest drop in the S&P in over two months, the equity selling persisted as the reallocation trade continued, leading to the S&P closing off the year with a whimper, not a bang, as Treasurys rose, reaching session highs minutes before the 1pm ET futures close when month-end index rebalancing took effect.
10Y yields were lower by 2bp-3bp after the 2pm cash market close, with the 10Y below closing levels since Dec. 8. Confirming it was indeed a substantial rebalancing trade, volumes surged into the futures close, which included a 5Y block trade with ~$435k/DV01 according to Bloomberg while ~80k 10Y contracts traded over a 3- minute period.
The long-end led the late rally, briefly flattening 5s30s back to little changed at 112.5bps. Month-end flows started to pick up around noon amid reports of domestic real money demand; +0.07yr duration extension was estimated for Bloomberg Barclays Treasury Index. Earlier, TSYs were underpinned by declines for U.S. equities that accelerated after Dec. Chicago PMI fell more than expected.
Looking further back, the Treasury picture is one of “sell in December 2015 and go away” because as shown in the chart below, the 10Y closed 2016 just shy of where it was one year ago while the 30Y is a “whopping” 4 bps wider on the year, and considering the recent drop in yields as doubts about Trumpflation start to swirl, we would not be surprised to see a sharp drop in yields in the first weeks of 2017. Already in Europe, German Bunds are back to where they were on the day Trump was elected.
So with a last minute scramble for safety in Treasurys, it was only logical that stocks would slide, closing the year off on a weak note. Sure enough, the S&P500 pared its fourth annual gain in the last five years, as it slipped to a three-week low in light holiday trading, catalyzed by the abovementioned pension fund selling.
The day started off, appropriately enough, with a Dollar flash crash, which capped any potential gains in the USD early on, and while a spike in the euro trimmed the dollar’s fourth straight yearly advance, the greenback still closed just shy of 13 year highs, up just shy of 3% for the year.
Meanwhile, the year’s best surprising performing asset, crude, trimmed its gain in 2016 to 52%.
The S&P 500 Index cut its advance this year to 9.7 percent as it headed for the first three-days slide since the election. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was poised to finish the year 200 points below 20,000 after climbing within 30 points earlier in the week. It appears the relentless cheerleading by CNBC’s Bob Pisani finally jinxed the Dow’s chances at surpassing 20,000 in 2016. Trading volume was at least 34 percent below the 30-day average at this time of day. A rapid surge in the euro disturbed the calm during the Asian morning, as a rush of computer-generated orders caught traders off guard. That sent a measure of the dollar lower for a second day, trimming its rally this year below 3 percent.
Actually, did we say crude was the best performing asset of the year? We meant Bitcoin, the same digital currency which we said in September 2015 (when it was trading at $250) is set to soar as Chinese residents start using it more actively to circumvent capital controls, soared, and in 2016 exploded higher by over 120%.
For those nostalgic about 2016, the chart below breaks down the performance of major US indices in 2016 – what began as the worst start to a year on record, ended up as a solid year performance wise, with the S&P closing up just shy of 10%, with more than half of the gains coming courtesy of an event which everyone was convinced would lead to a market crash and/or recession, namely Trump’s election, showing once again that when dealing with artificial, centrally-planned market nobody has any idea what will happen, or frankly, what is happening.
Looking at the breakdown between the main asset classes, while 30Y TSYs are closing the year effectively unchanged, the biggest equity winners were financials which after hugging the flatline, soared after the Trump election on hopes of deregulation, reduced taxes and a Trump cabinet comprised of former Wall Streeters, all of which would boost financial stocks, such as Goldman Sachs, which singlehandedly contributed nearly a quarter of the Dow Jones “Industrial” Average’s upside since the election.
The FX world was anything but boring this year: while the dollar soared on expectations of reflation and recovery, the biggest moves relative to the USD belonged to sterling, with cable plunging after Brexit and never really recovering, while the Yen unexpectedly soared for most of the year, only to cut most of its gains late in the year, when the Trump election proved to be more powerful for Yen devaluation that the BOJ’s QE and NIRP.
The largely unspoken story of the year is that while stocks, if only in the US – both Europe and Japan closed down on the year – jumped on the back of the Trump rally, bonds tumbled. The problem is that with many investors and retirees’ funds have been tucked away firmly in the rate-sensitive space, read bonds, so it is debatable if equity gains offset losses suffered by global bondholders.
And speaking of the divergence between US equities and, well, everything else, no other chart shows the Trump “hope” trade of 2016 better than this one: spot thee odd “market” out.
So as we close out 2016 and head into 2017, all we can add is that the Trump “hope” better convert into something tangible fast, or there will be a lot of very disappointed equity investors next year.
And with that brief walk down the 2016 memory lane, we wish all readers fewer centrally-planned, artificial “markets” and more true price discovery and, of course, profits. See you all on the other side.
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