Goldman's Bear Market Indicator Shows Crash Dead Ahead, Asks "Should We Be Worried?"
ZeroHedge.com Wed, 09/05/2018 - 15:30
One year ago, we reported that in its attempt to calculate the likelihood, and timing, of the next bear market, Goldman Sachs created a proprietary "Bear Market Risk Indicator" which at the time had shot up to 67% - a level last seen just before the 2000 and 2007 crashes - prompting Goldman to ask, rhetorically, "should we be worried now?"
While Goldman's answer was a muted yes, nothing dramatic happened in the months that followed - the result of Trump's $1.5 trillion fiscal stimulus which pushed the US economy into a temporary, sugar-high overdrive - aside from the near correction in February which was promptly digested by the market on its path to new all time highs (here one has to exclude the rolling bear markets that have hit everything from emerging markets, to China, to commodities to European banks).
At the time, Goldman wrote that it examined over 40 data variables (among macro, market and technical data) and looked at their behaviour around major market turning points (bull and bear markets). Most, individually, did not work as leading indicators on a consistent basis, or they provided too many false positives to be useful predictors. So the bank developed a Bear Market Risk Indicator based on five factors, in combination, that do provide a reasonable guide to bear market risk – or at least the risk of low returns: valuation, ISM (growth momentum), unemployment, inflation and the yield curve.
And, as Goldman's Peter Oppenheimer explained, while no single indicator is reliable on its own, the combination of these five seems to provide a reasonable signal for future bear market risk.
All of these variables are related. Tight labor markets are typically associated with higher inflation expectations. These, in turn, tend to tighten policy and weaken expectations of future growth. High valuations, at the same time, leave equities vulnerable to de-rating if growth expectations deteriorate or the discount rate rises, or, worse still, both of these occur together.
To aggregate these variables in a signal indicator, we took each variable and calculated
its percentile relative to its history since 1948. For the yield curve and unemployment
we took the lowest percentiles relative to history, while for the other indicators we took
the highest. We then took the average of these.
Fast forward to today, when one year later Goldman has redone the analysis (and after what may have been some prodding from clients and/or compliance, renamed its "Bear Market Risk Indicator" to "Bull/Bear Market Risk Indicator") where it finds that the risk of a bear market - based on its indicator - is now not only nearly 10% higher than a year ago, but well above where it was just before the last two market crashes, putting the subjective odds of a crash at roughly 75%, well in the "red line" zone, and just shy of all time highs.
Or as Goldman puts it, "Our Bull/Bear market indicator is flashing red."
While one can argue with the subjective interpretation of this heuristic, a tangential analysis shows that Goldman's indicator is inversely correlated with future returns, and as of this moment, Goldman is effectively forecasting a negative return from now until 2023.
Here even Goldman's Oppenheimer admits that "the indicator is at levels which have historically preceded a bear market. Should we take this seriously? It’s always risky to argue that this time is different but there are two most likely scenarios when we think of equity returns over the next 3-5 years."
Or, in other words, "how worried should we be about a bear market?"
Goldman's answer is two-fold, laying out two possible outcomes from here, either a sharp, "cathartic" bear market, or just a period of slower, grinding low returns for the foreseeable future. Naturally, Goldman is more inclined to believe in the latter:
i) Valuation is currently the most stretched of the factors in the Indicator – other factors such as inflation appear more reasonable. This is largely a function of very loose monetary policy and bond yields.
ii) Inflation and, therefore, interest rate rises have played an important part in rising bear market risks in past cycles. Structural factors may be keeping inflation lower than in the past, and central bank forward guidance is reducing interest rate volatility and the term premium. Without monetary policy tightening much, concerns about a looming recession – and therefore risks of a ‘cyclical’ bear market – are lower. So long as the Phillips curve remains as flat as it is now, strong labour markets can continue without the risk of a recession triggered by a tightening of interest rates. While this has not happened before in the US (and hence the economic cycle has not lasted more than 10 years), there have been examples of other economies experiencing very long economic cycles where the unemployment rate moved roughly sideways for many years.
Our economists have shown that there are good examples of long expansions, such as in Australia from 1992 to the present, the UK from 1992 to 2008, Canada from 1992 to 2008 and Japan from 1975 to 1992. Typically they find that a flatter Phillips curve, stronger financial regulation and a lack of financial imbalances are all good indicators that a long cycle is more likely. On this later point, the signs are quite positive.
In the case of the US, our economists point out that a passive fiscal tightening, tighter financial conditions and supply constraints are likely to leave growth at 1.6% in 2020, below potential, leaving a greater risk of at least a technical recession in 2020-2021. But this is not their base case and their model (which uses economic and financial data from 20 advanced economies to estimate recession odds) puts the probability of a US recession at under 10% over the next year and just over 20% over the next two years, below the historical average.
iii) Aligned to this point, we can see that inflation targeting and independent central banks have both contributed to lower macro volatility and longer expansion phases in economic cycles since the 1980s.