Where The Stock Market Goes Now…

With the Rails index back to all-time highs this seems like an especially appropriate question considering the fundamental data which is…. well, see for yourselves.

Consider where rail stocks are trading:

Do fundamentals justify this price? Here is the chart of total carload and intermodal traffic for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first five months of 2020 was 4,713,757 carloads, down 14.7 percent, or 815,413 carloads, from the same period last year; and 5,186,630 intermodal units, down 11.3 percent, or 661,703 containers and trailers, from last year.

And another way to see the unprecedented divergence tells us Where The Stock Market Goes Now:

U.S. railroads originated 740,171 carloads in May 2020, down 27.7 percent, or 282,965 carloads, from May 2019. U.S. railroads also originated 912,922 containers and trailers in May 2020, down 13 percent, or 136,241 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in May 2020 were 1,653,093, down 20.2 percent, or 419,206 carloads and intermodal units from May 2019.

In May 2020, one of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with May 2019. It was farm products excl. grain, up 324 carloads or 10.6 percent.

Meanwhile, commodities that saw declines in May 2020 from May 2019 were coal, down a record 127,201 carloads or 40.7%; Coal carloads are down 26.1% so far this year and have declined on an annual basis for 13 straight months.

In short, lowest rail traffic in years, and that was based on a trend even before the coronavirus, and yet rails stocks are at all time high.

Here is why:

As BMO rates strategist Ian Lyngen writes in “Jay’s Market, Just Trading in it“, a core theme of trading has been “the remarkable resilience of the equity market despite a shuttered economy, historic job losses and civil unrest across the US.”

So to get to the bottom of the question on every trader’s mind – just who is behind this rally – BMO sent out a poll to its clients where the first question showed a clear consensus for the driver behind the move; “73% offered the Fed as the inspiration behind the S&P 500’s impressive rally”, vastly more than those who cited labor market recovery/reopening optimism (6%) greater fiscal stimulus (5%), and progress on Covid-19 treatment (6%). And now that Powell owns this rally, he better not allow to reverse.

1. What is driving the swift recovery of equities?

a) Fed – 73%
b) Earnings Optimism – 0%
c) Labor market recovery – 6%
d) Further fiscal stimulus – 5%
e) Progress in treating/preventing Covid-19 – 6%
f) Other (please specify) – Reopening Optimism/ All of the Above/ Underinvestment

Less relevant to the market’s ramp but just as interesting in terms of what markets expect for the Fed to unveil next in the central bank’s creeping nationalization of capital markets, were responses to BMO’s second special question – when, or even if the FOMC will roll out yield curve control – which were not nearly as clear cut with a wide variety of opinions. 3-6 months was the most common answer with 33%, which points to the September, November, or December meeting as the most probable venue for the introduction of the new policy tool. Within ‘3 months’ or ‘not this cycle’ both took a roughly equal share as the second most frequent reply, so as Lyngen notes, “clearly investors are split on whether YCC needs to be deployed rapidly, or not at all given the state of the economy and recovery. 6-9 months and 9+ months both rounded out the replies with 14% and 12%, respectively.”

2. When will the Fed announce yield curve control?

a) Within 3 months – 21%
b) 3-6 months – 33%
c) 6-9 months – 14%
d) 9+ months – 12%
e) Not this cycle – 20%

Finally, an interesting snapshot on how investors respond to data is BMO’s question how respondents will react to tomorrow’s jobs report: In the event of a disappointment and a Treasury market rally, the clearest takeaway was a reluctance to take profits – only 25% would sell versus a 37% average and the lowest read since October 2019. Meanwhile 11% would join the rally and buy and 64% would do nothing compared to respective averages of 7% and 56%.

The other meaningful takeaway was a positive skew on the belly of the curve as 36% thought the next 15 bp in 5-year yields will be higher; well below the 45% average and matching last month’s figure as the lowest since November 2019.

Watch out below.  The International Monetary Crisis Is Starting, and you will witness precisely where the stock market goes now. Will you avoid the pain.

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