Noise and Unpredictability

Distinguishing what’s happening in the market and the direction of important market metrics – the signal – from garbled, inconsistent, and mostly useless data – the noise – is extremely challenging today. Information is contradictory and transient making data and critical events more confusing and indistinguishable. Unusual circumstances brought about by the pandemic, subsequent supply chain interruptions, inconsistent production and demand, and unclear economic forecasts combined for almost unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability.

Typically, near-term predictions are reasonable and reliable because we have immediately available and fairly accurate data making short-term predictions reasonably accurate. In other words, we can estimate what will happen because we have a good idea what just happened. But this is not the case today. Predictions based on the near-term past are more muddled now than ever. While we used to be able to say we can see a trend, whether that’s inflation, economic growth, or some other important metric, too much volatility, irrelevance, and lack of applicability (after all, who is going to project from a base that includes a pandemic impacting global supply chains and production?), we really can’t reasonably rely on any of that data to try to find a trend or connect the dots generating a near-term forecast with any meaningful depth of data and understanding

More intense volatility occurring more often will be characteristic of this market from now on. An investment strategy must withstand and profit from this. The only clear signal from the market is that there is far too much noise and not enough of a clear signal. Without clarity, determining an investment strategy is flying blind with no instruments.

Core holdings combined with an ability to withstand and profit from volatility and unpredictability are essential for investors today.

Abundant Cash Is Not Cash Available Abundantly

The pandemic, Fed interest rate policy and bond purchases, restrictive banking regulations, and banks’ swelling cash balances will have a lingering impact on liquidity and produce some mind-bending policies to deal with this uncharted territory.

As the pandemic emerged in March 2020, strange things happened:

o Bond markets seized up and investors panicked.

o Bond yields spiked causing severe price declines.

o Credit default swap prices (debt protection derivatives) rose 100x in less than a month.

o The dollar rose and liquidity dropped for U.S. Treasuries, usually the world’s most liquid security.

o There was substantially lower demand at U.S. Treasury auctions.

The Federal Reserve responded with an almost never-ending pile of cash, buying vast quantities of bonds with newly created cash. It has continued its purchases, at a pace of at least $120 billion a month.

But this has not resulted in “happy days are here again.” This mountain of dollars is limiting liquidity and constraining markets. That’s right, read that again if you must – too much cash can constrain the economy.