CDS

All posts tagged CDS

“It’s the devil’s way now, There is no way out

You can scream and you can shout

It is too late now, Because you have not been

Payin’ attention”

Radiohead 2+2=5

This week our Blog pulls together the themes and indicators from OTAS that we have been talking about for a while. We have been looking for clues that investors are losing faith in central bank omnipotence, which will expose those who do not adjust their portfolios from following the axiom of the past few years to a significant drawdown. There is a fierce debate among those who believe that judgement is coming and those who expect more of the same.

We tackled this issue in early September in what was probably my favourite blog, because the charts used to illustrate the points were the default charts that can be pulled up from OTAS with virtually no effort. For example, this chart of the average cost of credit for US large caps illustrates how credit risk has flat-lined this year, indicating a collective ambiguity about the direction of interest rates. Perhaps this is why the fiercest online investor arguments are about rates; because no one can be sure of where they are heading.

US Large Cap Average Cost of Credit

US Large Cap Average Cost of Credit

From here we developed the theory of Wall Street’s alternative fear gauge, where we used the relative volatility of banks and utilities to assess how relaxed investors were feeling about stock prices. In less than three weeks since then, the riskiness of banks, where low levels indicate an absence of fear, has fallen below that of utilities. This can hold true for several months, but it is not normal.

Relative Volatility of US Banks vs Utilities

Relative Volatility of US Banks vs Utilities

An obvious reason for the low relative riskiness of banks is that the odds of a US rate rise have increased, resulting in the dollar index breaking out of its recent trading range to the upside this week. Higher rates would raise banks’ margins, while hurting heavily borrowed utilities and diminishing the relative appeal of their dividend yields. This is a simple, but erstwhile effective investment conclusion.

Utility stocks are a stalwart of the low volatility portfolios that have been underperforming of late. This has led some to argue that the size of the unwind of the consensus trade in favour of low volatility and high yield will be the cause of the coming equity market fall. Last week we addressed the trigger point for index corrections in terms of the relative valuation of lower risk stocks. The sell-off in these names has pushed the riskiness of utility shares to extreme levels, which historically have not held for very long.

Relative Volatility of US Utilities

Relative Volatility of US Utilities

The mean reversion mechanism for this indicator is either that utilities lead and the rest follow in a coordinated meltdown in share prices, or the active few who trade relative volatility exit the stage, leaving the majority who passively expect the Fed to keep bailing them out to buy the dips.

The Radiohead song 2+2=5 references George Orwell’s 1984 and specifically Doublethink, whereby the state can compel citizens to believe something that is not true. For many investors it is axiomatic that stock prices will continue to rise, supported by easy monetary policy, because there is nowhere else for anyone to invest. The exchange rate related crushing that gold has taken this week reinforces this belief.

Radiohead subtitled their song The Lukewarm. This is a reference to those on the edge of Dante’s Inferno, who cannot figure out why they are there, because they didn’t do anything. For Dante, and the politically charged members of Radiohead, inactivity is precisely the crime for which these people are condemned. When you have an environmental activist in the family as I do, which makes Christmas colourful, you come to understand the charge sheet against the silent majority.

So who is more right; those who expect a major correction or those who believe that debt, deflation and an ageing population will result in years more pump priming by central banks. The reality is that both may be correct. A sell off in markets may be triggered by a rise in US interest rates, which could happen at the low point for our alternative fear gauge, which is now just a few points away. The resulting tumble could then trigger recognition of a policy error, leading central banks to resume the path of easy money.

In the first Blog referenced above we warned that CDS and implied volatility were sending conflicting signals. So far it is a correction in volatility that has addressed this discrepancy. US large cap CDS and implied volatility are two of the easiest charts to find and follow in OTAS. As Radiohead knew, there is no excuse for not payin’ attention.

The mainstream media is all over the story of the demise of Deutsche Bank, which suggests we have entered the denouement. We use OTAS to assess what is currently factored into the share price as the consequence of any rescue deal for the bank.

Over the past ten years Deutsche has fared no worse than the average European bank, although of course it is supposed to be an above average player, both in terms of international investment banking and among the low return retail banks in Germany. Yet the combination of return on assets and return on equity is forecast to be the worst in the sector this year and next, meaning that for all its leverage, Deutsche’s core return is simply too low.

Deutsche Bank 10 Year Price Performance

Deutsche Bank 10 Year Price Performance

Over a decade, the share price is down 70%, as is the average European bank, while the European market as a whole managed a near 2% rise. By way of comparison, BNP Paribas is down just over 10% during the same period.

OTAS Technical analysis describes Deutsche as a falling knife; a stock trading below its significant moving averages and one that has yet to trigger signs of a turnaround. EPS Momentum is -9% over the past month, which unsurprisingly is in 95th percentile of the European diversified financials industry. There are, however, several banks and financial companies where short term momentum is worse.

Deutsche Bank EPE Momentum

Deutsche Bank EPS Momentum

Since the beginning of Q2 2012, forward estimates of Deutsche’s earnings have fallen 75%, while the share price is down around 70%. A further 15% fall in the share price is implied were it to match the change in EPS over this period. Once talk of bail outs goes mainstream, however, 12 month EPS forecasts move to the periphery of the investment debate.

The downgrades have pushed Deutsche’s forward P/E ratio to the highest on record and it recently touched a premium to the sector that surpassed the level reached in April 2009. Perhaps more significantly, the price to book ratio of 0.24x is below the low point reached during the financial crisis in 2008-9. At one third of the average rating of the sector, the prospects for recovery of Deutsche’s net asset value have never looked worse.

Throughout this time, the short interest in the shares has been surprisingly benign, although the exceptional trading volume of late points to the action being in the cash market. The current level of free float shares on loan is in the middle of its normal range and seems unlikely to be a useful indicator of where the share price goes from here.

The question now becomes what a recapitalisation of Deutsche Bank looks like, assuming it is correct to assume that for all its hard-line rhetoric, the German government cannot let its largest bank go under. With the equity currently expected to return 25% of its value, what about the debt? The CDS trades at 232 basis points, an extreme level over the last decade, but not the highest point reached in that time. Interest rates have fallen over this period however, so it is worth noting that at 1.9x the level of the average European financial, Deutsche’s debt is consider more risky than it has ever been.

Deutsche Bank CDS Relative to the Sector

Deutsche Bank CDS Relative to the Sector

For those who are prepared to bottom fish, there are a number of indicators in OTAS that might point to a turnaround in fortunes at some stage. One would be a stabilisation and then improvement in EPS Momentum, although history teaches that the share price will have moved before the analysts are ready to risk reputations on calling a buy. Thus OTAS technical signals, which focus on mean reversion, may provide an earlier indication of a bounce, especially if combined with another signal. This may be from the CDS market, because if debt investors start to relax about how many cents in the euro will be returned, then Deutsche’s shares should rally.

Stay tuned to OTAS, for it hasn’t happened yet.

Two articles published overnight indicate that the period of central bank omnipotence has ended. The Daily Telegraph carries this commentary on the ECB exhausting its ability to improve the Eurozone economy and this piece about the need for central banks to continue to project omnipotence, whatever the reality. One of our favourite analysts, Ben Hunt, has already declared  that central banking influence is on the wane.

Our recent blog on the logic of investors doubling up equity positions through the option market concluded that this strategy was rational when central banks are the primary influence over stock markets. It stands to reason that if this influence is on the wane, then the risks to equity exposure are mounting.

At OTAS we spend a lot of time looking at the indicators that may inform investors about a change in trend. One popular indicator is the level of credit default swaps, shown here for the median US large cap.

US Large Cap Median CDS

US Large Cap Median CDS

The lowest level of risk for US companies on this measure was June 2014. We have noted that this corresponded to the approximate peak in global export volumes and that economic momentum has deteriorated subsequently. The Fed indicated its taper strategy in December 2013 and officially ended bond buying in October 2014, but it was not until April 2015 that the cost of credit for US corporates began a meaningful rise. Credit risk has returned to its average level and stalled. This may indicate a reluctance to believe that the Fed can raise interest rates meaningfully.

US Large Cap Median Implied Volatility

US Large Cap Median Implied Volatility

Implied volatility is another favoured measure of risk. This also reached a trough in the summer of 2014 and showed a more meaningful pick up from Q2 2015. The reduction in implied volatility since February however, is at odds with the CDS risk indicator. This may suggest that the actions of investors are supressing volatility without the same degree of support from central banks as in the past. This is either because corporate earnings are on a growth trajectory, or because a bubble is forming based on past behaviour by central banks.

US Large Cap Median PE

US Large Cap Median PE

The PE valuation of US large caps is above its average range and on the verge of completing four weeks of decline from close to record highs this cycle. PE can fall due to rising earnings or falling prices and there is nothing to stop the two occurring simultaneously.

The situation in Europe sees the PE valuation of large caps at the very top of the average range. Relative to US stocks the valuation is mid-range, as shown below. The relative valuation has been rising since early July, which may be currency related. It does not, however, bear out relative rates of growth and is not factoring in that further ECB action may be detrimental to the economy, as suggested in the first article referred to above.

European Large Cap Median PE relative to US Large Cap

European Large Cap Median PE relative to US Large Cap

Our final chart shows the valuation of large cap UK stocks. This looks a lot like the US chart, albeit at slightly lower levels of PE. Short term positive EPS revisions are dominated by the Materials sector; much as Energy stocks dominate the list of most recently upgraded US shares. In Europe, ex the UK, without such a prominent resources sector, upgrades show no obvious sector bias.

UK Large Cap Median PE

UK Large Cap Median PE

The last month suggests that cracks are beginning to form in the equity bull market thesis. One rationale for this is that the power of central banks to influence stock prices is diminishing, perhaps at an accelerating rate. The bigger point is that monetary policy alone has been insufficient to drive an economic recovery that translates into corporate earnings rising as quickly as stock prices. One has to doubt that investors will afford politicians and fiscal policy the same perceived omnipotence as they have allowed central banks and monetary policy in recent years.

Sustained periods of low volatility correlate well with steadily rising equity prices. Yet concern is mounting that the current low volatility is storing up future problems, because investors are doubling up on high share prices. By selling put options on shares and indices, thereby committing themselves to buy shares should the prices fall, these funds are exposed to an equity market sell-off through both their ownership of stock and the recently written put options.

It is perfectly rationale to sell puts if you believe that markets are rising. The concern however, is that funds are so starved of yield that they are writing puts for the short-term income benefit and relying on the world’s central banks to bail them out should stock markets take a dive. A parallel is drawn with the sub-prime mortgage debacle, when it was not the size of the market for poorly underwritten mortgage loans that triggered the financial crisis, but the vast number of derivatives layered on top that magnified risk throughout the financial system.

US Implied Volatility - 2 Years

Implied volatility for the top 500 US stocks has fallen sharply since the post-Brexit panic and even more significantly since the worries about global growth were at their height in February. Yet as the chart above shows, two year implied volatility remains in its average range and around 10% above the successive lows of 2015.

US Implied Volatility - Longer Term

On a longer timeframe the shock from the financial crisis and its echo in 2011 are clearly visible, but the current level of implied volatility is not unusual in the post-crisis period when central banks have been deliberately dampening volatility in order to encourage risk-taking. Implied volatility for US large caps is 6% above the low point of its average spread. In Europe the picture is similar and implied volatility is 18% above the bottom end of its normal range, which has repeatedly marked the low point for this indicator.

Europe Implied Volatility

The charts appear to support the strategy of the put sellers, because implied volatility still has room to fall to reach previous lows, during which time the options sold will expire worthless. The put writers are also doing central bankers’ bidding by taking more risk, so they will feel justified in expecting central banks to bail them out when necessary. Large, long-only funds find it difficult to react to sudden moves in markets, meaning that they miss their chance to scoop up large quantities of shares before prices rally back to where they were. A logical way to ensure that these funds benefit from temporary corrections is to write puts so that they are guaranteed stock immediately prior to a central bank induced bounce.

There is a near-term benefit in enhanced portfolio returns because of the income from writing puts, but the longer-term gains are based on the assumption that central banks will continue to do what they have been doing since 2009. Janet Yellen may lay out the path to higher interest rates in her speeches, but as long as the Fed is seen to be ready to ease monetary policy whenever markets are in stress, the put-writing investment strategy will work.

OTAS users may keep a close eye on the trends in implied volatility to see when the current normal moves become exceptional. They should also look for confirmation from other indicators presented in a similar fashion, such as the cost of credit for corporates derived from the CDS market.

 

We have written a lot about using implied volatility as the measure of how equity markets will react to supposedly high risk political events, including Brexit and the US Presidential Election. This week, Institutional Investor has been good enough to publish our article making precisely this point. Today, however, I want to focus on corporate credit and its importance in determining the success of central bank policy.

Once again I am grateful for outside help, in this instance EvergreenGK for pointing out when and why “Don’t fight the Fed” works. The crux of the argument is that our mantra should really be “Don’t fight the Spread“.

The message from implied volatility in equity markets is that stocks and shares are set fair for the next three months at least, which takes us to the eve of the Presidential election, supposedly the most polarising event in living memory. Equity investors are relying on volatility-crushing central bank interventions to maintain an upward trajectory to equity markets.

Evergreen notes that the early 1930s, the start of the 2000s and mid-2008 to early 2009, were all periods of expansionary monetary policy and terrible stock market performance. If you hadn’t fought the Fed on those occasions, your portfolio would have come-a-cropper. The signal to break from orthodoxy was the rise in corporate credit spreads, because investors considered the risk of companies defaulting to be so great that no authority could do anything about it. This proved to be the case for periods of time that we now call the Great Depression, the bursting of the Dot-Com Bubble and the Global Financial Crisis.

So to today and the five-year credit default swap for the average large cap US company as an indicator of risk for equities. The low point of the median CDS was June 2014 and there has been a steady rise since April 2015. This coincides with total global trade by volume (not value) starting its decline; hard evidence that the trend towards globalisation ended well before protectionists were the only choice for the White House.

Average 5Y CDS for US Large Caps

Average 5Y CDS for US Large Caps

I have shown the chart over a five year period. What this highlights is that corporate credit risk is now very close to the average level over that period and below levels seen in 2011 (thus well below extremes three years earlier). The high point of central bank potency has passed, because the links between money and trade, a primary conduit of long-term global growth, are just too tenuous. What central banks appear to have done however, thanks to the ECB’s intervention in February, is cap the level of risk for now.

EUR CDS

Average 5Y CDS for European Large Caps

The trends for large European corporate credit are similar to those in the US. Average credit costs are 13% higher in Europe, despite US policy rates being above those in Europe. This means that the risk of companies defaulting is greater than in the US, even though the ECB has been buying corporate debt directly since June.

This week the Bank of England announced that it would purchase up to £10bn of corporate debt. The rationale for this is that it will do more to make investors buy other corporate securities (i.e. equities) than if the Bank simply purchased more gilts. Also, with the cost of debt reduced, companies should issue more debt. It remains to be seen whether this has any impact on corporate investment, but recent history suggests that it will boost share buybacks and M&A.

UK CDS

Average 5Y CDS for UK Large Caps

Credit risk in the UK is higher than both the US and Europe. The highest risk is for mining companies, followed by supermarkets and then financial companies. The issues with each of these industries pre-dates Brexit by some way, although as we argue in the Institutional Investor article, the rapid response to Brexit by the Bank of England will only exacerbate the woes of banks and insurers. The UK economy is peculiarly dependent on financial industries.

The success of central banks in holding down corporate credit costs may well determine whether you should be “fighting the Fed” or going with the flow. OTAS presentation of corporate credit is relevant because of the deep statistical analysis that sits behind every chart and table and in the flags that alert you, stock-by-stock, to significant credit events. You can stare at other screens for hours if your firm buys the data feeds, but without the statistical significance, it’s all just noise.

“Because as any coup-launcher or Fed-fighter or volatility-embracer knows, if you’re wrong on timing … you’re just wrong” – Ben Hunt, Epsilon Theory July 26, 2016

The number of short bets on sterling through the futures market is at a multi-year high ahead of next week’s expected cut in interest rates in the UK. While these may be the speculations of the same hedge funds that lost money on the UK referendum, there is a strong consensus that the pound is headed lower. As recent events have shown, this is putting UK companies in the shop window, but can OTAS provide a way of figuring out who is next to be taken over?

There have been strong suspicions and some academic research suggesting option market activity pre-empts M&A announcements. What the research cannot determine is whether trading was due to inside information or informed opinion. Typically it is out-of-the-money call option activity that is more informative than at-the-money or put options.

Before we look at the evidence from OTAS, will the Bank of England cut rates next week? This is a different discussion to whether it should. Jeremy Warner argues in the Telegraph that the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut response to a knee jerk, post Brexit survey of disappointed corporate Remainers is not the right way to run an economy. He points out that the acquisition of ARM Holdings funds the current account deficit for three months. Speculators may not be “fighting the Fed”, but they are battling investment flows.

The post referendum narrative is that the economically disadvantaged swung the result and new Prime Minister Theresa May has aimed her pitch squarely at where she believes this constituency lies. Politicians still fail to appreciate that many of those who feel left behind are middle class savers whose retirement plans are decimated by central bank group-think. Unfortunately, the prospects for this small-c conservative demographic are very poor, as explained by Ben Hunt in his latest Epsilon Theory.

If Ben is right and that nothing will stop the central banks from flooding markets with cash, as Brexit, data dependence and such-like are just excuses for more of the only thing the authorities want to do, then stocks should rise and the pound fall. Typically bull markets take place over longer periods than bear markets, and are associated with lower implied volatility as the direction of travel becomes more certain.

UK Large Cap Implied Volatility

UK Large Cap Implied Volatility

Implied volatility for UK large cap stocks is back in the average range of the past two years, but five points above the stable state of the first half of 2015 that saw UK stocks rising steadily. The two recent peaks reflect Brexit worries immediately before and after the referendum. The one before, which was a bigger shock regardless of what the media may tell you, was the global recession fears of February, now long forgotten in large part thanks to desperate/determined[1] action by the ECB.

The US market appears to be leading the UK, which is worth bearing in mind as the Brexit furore subsides and the Trump-panic-hype really takes off.

US Large Cap Implied Volatility

US Large Cap Implied Volatility

M&A activity may mean stock specific rises in implied volatility. OTAS shows that among UK large caps only BHP Billiton has seen such a rise over a month, while Anglo American and GlaxoSmithKline have risen over a week. This is based on at-the-money options, but OTAS users with desktop access may dig deeper to see at what level recent trading has taken place. The bulk of the activity for Anglo American, for example, has been out-of-the-money puts (no take-over expected here).

AAL 1-Week Exchange Traded Option Activity

AAL 1-Week Exchange Traded Option Activity

The chart for ARM Holdings shows that the take-over by Softbank was a surprise. The subsequent sharp fall in implied volatility reflects a done deal at a fixed price, while any continuing option activity is by arbitrage specialists using leverage to magnify small price movements.

ARM Holdings Implied Volatility

ARM Holdings Implied Volatility

There is much more to the option market than M&A. Specialist take-over investors will have lists of potential acquirers and targets and stay on top of many more factors than market signals. For the part-time speculator it is worth creating your own list of sectors and stocks that you believe could be vulnerable to approach were the pound to fall further. Putting these in a portfolio in OTAS will allow easy filtering for unusual activity, whether that is in the options market, dealings by directors, or idiosyncratic price performance.

For those interested in potential acquirers, checking the CDS of the companies may be a means of investigating which managements are planning leveraged take-overs. There are, however, other reasons why credit costs can jump, such as a shortage of cash from operations. For this reason, while OTAS provides an initial view on the world of potential M&A that goes further than press speculation, it is only suggesting stocks on which the user will need to do additional research.

Right now there is little unusual option market activity among UK large cap stocks. This may be because, as the quote at the top of the blog indicates, timing is everything. Or it may be because so few people seem to have been able to contemplate that the UK would have a corporate future outside the EU, any M&A activity comes as a complete surprise.

[1] Delete as per your preferred narrative

With little over a day to go before the UK referendum, we present a last look at the state of play across equity markets using the multi-asset analysis within OTAS.

The pattern for the valuation of the STOXX 600 is established. At above 16.5x 12 months forward earnings the market is stretched beyond its normal range and has reverted in fairly short order. Much below 15x and the index attracts buyers, especially around 14x.

STOXX Jun 2016

This narrow range of values has persisted for many months and means that the Brexit vote in the UK is having little impact on investors’ views on the prospects for European equities. Rather investors should focus on 12 month EPS Momentum and the stocks being upgraded. A two-step filter within OTAS reveals nine shares in the STOXX 600 where upgrades were at least 5% in the last month and 10% in the past three months. Eight of these nine companies have EPS Momentum in the top decile across their respective sectors. Contact us for details.

STOXX CDS Jun 2016

The average cost of credit for European companies has been rising since March of last year, most likely to be when economic growth momentum was at its best. This is in spite of the ECB announcing and now launching purchases of corporate debt. Unless the cost of credit falls there is unlikely to be any change in productive investment across the continent’s listed sector, although recycling new debt into buybacks is one probable consequence of ECB action.

STOXX IV Jun 2016

Risk, as measured by three month implied volatility in the shares of Europe’s largest companies, has been rising gradually since September 2014. Even if we allow that the most recent spike to over 30 was Brexit related, the peak was no higher than the August 2015 move that took far longer to dissipate, and was well below the February 2016 period. At this time investors were focused on the risks of a global slowdown, so for all the publicity surrounding the potential damage Brexit could do to growth across Europe, equity option investors are dismissive of the risks.

The prevailing trends in European equities are a declining valuation, punctuated by central bank induced temporary recovery, mirrored by rising risk recorded in both credit default swap and equity option markets. This speaks to a gathering economic slowdown as a far more important trend than anything Brexit could cook up for European shares.

This is of course what the calm voices have been saying throughout the fractious UK debate, but calm voices don’t sell in the media and hence are easily drowned out by the ranting and raving of those using economic and market predictions for other ends.

‘I think you know,’ said Miss Marple. ‘You are a very well educated woman. Nemesis is long delayed sometimes, but it comes in the end.” ― Agatha Christie, Nemesis

I am indebted to the work of Jared Dillian who, as well as being a highly entertaining writer, shares a similar world view about how investing works to that deployed at OTAS. Jared likes to focus on anti-consensus ideas, picking on trends that appear to have run out of road, in a similar fashion to OTAS flagging extreme moves from the norm across the multiple factors that influence equity prices.

A typical Dillian argument will throw out an investment thesis, while recognising that the timing may not yet be perfect for the trade. These ideas can be of use to active managers who require a portfolio of ideas at different stages of the investment cycle, so that as one great investment comes to an end, there are already several others lined up to take its place. Jared’s latest bête noir is the low volatility trade, which has seen big, safe, high yielding stocks outperform, and the evidence from OTAS entirely supports his claims.

DVY June 2016

The chart shows the performance of the iShares Select Dividend (DVY) ETF against our index of the top 500 shares in the US. As the shares in this fund deliver a higher percentage of total return in the form of dividends, the returns are more stable and predictable than for other stocks, and hence the shares exhibit low relative volatility. Lower risk should equate to lower return, but as the chart shows this is patently not the case this year.

Similar outperformance can be seen in the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLP). As with DVY, the break above the normal trading range came around the turn of the year and the subsequent outperformance has lifted the fund to an extreme level.

XLP June 2016

We have written before about the desire of the world’s central banks to suppress volatility and the success with which this has been achieved. Interest rates are the return received for uncertainty about the future and by pushing multiple rates negative, central banks have created situations where the future appears more certain than the present. This is the logic-defying macro environment that our guardians have created for us and Jared, for one, is calling them out.

There are reasons to conclude that it is central bank action, rather than real macro trends, which is creating today’s investment extremes. Much has been made about German ten-year rates going negative this week, but inflation-adjusted bonds in Germany have not followed suit. This clearly suggests that it is the actions of the ECB and not imminent deflation that is determining bond prices.

OTAS shows that the cost of credit for the average German company has risen this month and is safely ensconced in the normal range over the past four years. A situation where the debt costs for companies stays stable, while risk-free rates fall, drives up the relative cost of investment for the private sector and creates a slow growth economy with falling productivity.

German CDS June 2016

The outperformance of low volatility ETFs illustrates that the equity markets are now captured by the cult of the central banker in the way that other asset classes have been for some while. The question is for how long this can continue, or how much more money can back these trend following strategies. Political events may shake the faith in the establishment and there are a number of upcoming events that may do just that between now and the year end. Or, like many other bubble trades, there may simply come a day when fewer new buyers show up in the morning and commentators are left scrabbling for ex post reasons to explain a major price reversal.

As Jared Dillian says, “Up on an escalator, down on an elevator.”

Every day OTAS flags extreme positioning in stocks across markets, in a neutral, unbiased fashion that brings your attention to trends and possible turning points and assists in your decision making process. The analysis may be tailored to your personal portfolio and thereby reduce the risk that your next crowded trade is to the downside.

Debt markets have responded enthusiastically to the recovery in commodity markets, which began with the ECB’s last major monetary intervention. The average cost of credit for European materials companies has fallen from 160 to 115 bps in the four months since the mid February peak. This brings the cost to the lower reaches of the average range over the past four years, as shown in the chart below.

Eur Mat CDS Jun 2016

The fall in the relative cost of credit for material companies compared with the wider market has been just as marked. The next chart shows that while the sector is consistently more risky in credit terms than the broader market; it is a heavily leveraged industry after all; the relative cost is at the benign end of the spectrum measured over the past four years.

Mat vs Mkt CDS Jun 2016

The improved outlook for the sector on the back of higher commodity prices is hardly a surprise and thus a reduction in implied volatility (risk) since mid-February is to be expected. Equity investors, however, remain distrustful of the sector and the risk remains at the upper end of the normal range over the past four years.

Eur Mat IV Jun 2016

This means that on a relative basis, there has been hardly any improvement in the risk profile of the materials sector compared to the rest of the equity market. The relative risk is 20% greater than it was at the low point in early September 2015 and 15% higher than the interim low in mid-January this year.

Mat vs Mkt IV Jun 2016

The reduction in relative risk in the materials sector that credit investors have clearly identified, might be expected to spill over into reduced risk for the equity, which would typically mean higher share prices.

The oil price has been a primary focus this year with three main schools of thought about its importance and impact on markets. The first sees falling prices as a negative for equities, because falls reflect weakening demand for commodities as a result of a coordinated global slowdown in economic growth. The second views energy prices as a quasi-tax and expects stronger economic growth as a result of price falls, with the overall impact on equities beneficial despite the carnage in the energy and basic materials sectors. The third school sees most things as a function of excessive global debt, exacerbated by central bank policy and treats an oil price fall as a consequence of the inevitable over-capacity that results from mispricing credit.

Whichever camp you are in, OTAS tracks the indicators that foretell of any recovery in equities linked to energy and commodity prices, whether this has to do with suppliers going bust, improving demand or tighter monetary policies (okay, maybe not the last one). The oil producers considered most at risk are the shale field producers of North America, where production costs are high and leverage even higher. The median credit default swap for North American companies is 280 bps (remember European banks are around 105 bps).

NA Energy CDS 2 yr view

Credit risk remains high in the US

Option market implied volatility, a measure of uncertainty, has reduced from a peak five weeks ago, but remains elevated compared to recent history and suggests that the average energy share could rise or fall 25% over the next three months. Investors are asking whether they can afford that volatility, but also whether they can afford to miss out if the sector were to rally so much.

NA Energy IV 2 yr view

One way or another, the shares are going to move

There are some very small stocks impacting the analysis above, but the median large cap stock is still predicted by those with skin in the game to move +/- 20% by mid-June. Companies such as Williams, Continental Resources and Baker Hughes are expected to move at least 50% more than average. Exxon, Chevron and Schlumberger, in contrast, should be relatively sedate.

Short interest provides a third risk indicator for the sector. While short interest is back at the average level of the past two years overall, for the large caps there is a clear upward trajectory, in spite of the recent pullback. This is in keeping with broader market reports, such as CFTC data, that short covering has not been a feature of the recent equity market rise.

NA Energy SI 2 yr view

Short interest is trending upwards year-to-date

In Europe, the risk indicators for Energy are more benign. This is because there are fewer wildcat operations listed and as Europe lacks the deep option, CDS and short interest markets that define the US. Credit risk among Europe’s energy giants is a little over a third of the North American average and barely differentiated from Europe’s banks. Short interest is at relatively low levels and implied volatility suggests stock moves of +/- 15% in the coming three months.

European energy stocks should move around thwo thirds as much as the US

European energy stocks should move around two thirds as much as in the US

All of this suggests that acute problems in the Energy sector are a peculiarly US trait, as a function of the high borrowing and extraction costs of multiple smaller oil producers. Both sectors yield a similar amount at around 4.3% 12 months’ forward, although US large caps promise only 2.8% as a reflection of their haven status within a troubled industry. European energy equity investors are happy to ride out low oil prices, comforted that the income from their holdings is a rare bonus in an environment of ever-lower interest rates.

None of this should provide grounds for complacency and OTAS continues to track individual names to see where risk is hiding. One particularly powerful analytical tool is divergence, a bespoke measure of by how much equity prices are divorced from the other risk indicators of credit, option volatility and short interest. Do you have a holding that is becoming riskier faster than its peer group; contact us to find out.