Tuesday, July 29, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Who put sleeping pills into Wall Street’s water?

By
From page B8 | June 25, 2014 |

NEW YORK — Is the lack of fear on Wall Street something to fear?

Sunni extremists are inching closer to Baghdad. A housing bubble in China is deflating. Russia is massing troops near the Ukrainian border again. Military forces in Egypt and Thailand have staged coups.

In a world suddenly more dangerous, you’d think fund managers and traders would be selling and buying and selling again in a frenzy of second-guessing. Instead, they’re the picture of calm and contentment.

People are trading 38 percent less each day than they did four years ago. Prices of bonds and stocks are barely moving day by day. For 46 days in a row the Standard and Poor’s 500 index has risen or fallen by less than 1 percent, a state of serenity unmatched since 1995. Then, last Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told investors the U.S. economic recovery was on track, and things got really dull. A gauge of expected swings in stock prices, known as the “fear index” among traders, sunk to lows not seen since 2007, when stocks began a 2 ½ year plunge.

Which helps explain why the calm may not last: The lack of fear is spooking some people.

“It’s quiet out there,” says Robert Buckland, chief global stock strategist at Citigroup. “Eerily quiet.”

As with weather, the theory goes, so with markets: Calm often precedes storms. Investors get cocky, take on too much risk, and prices of stocks and bonds collapse.

Most professional investors, strategists and economists don’t appear worried that the lack of worry is leading to reckless bets, not yet anyway. Yellen, for one, says there’s little evidence of trouble brewing. But a few dissenting voices see trouble aplenty.

Investors are borrowing money more than ever to buy stocks. Sales of “junk” bonds from the riskiest companies are at a record. Some investors are so heedless now that they’re willing to accept rock-bottom interest payments to lend to risky countries.

Spain, struggling to collect taxes from a population facing 26 percent unemployment, is paying just 1.3 percent to borrow money for five years, less than the U.S. pays.

Says Michael Lewitt, founder of the Credit Strategist Group, an investment manager: “No one is afraid of anything.”

The list of things to shrug off over the past three years is lengthy: two dozen government collapses, surprise military moves and mass demonstrations.

That tally comes from a recent Citigroup report that, predictably, created few waves. Titled “Taking It To The Streets,” it attributes much of the political turmoil lately to a combustible mix of angry middle classes and the ease with which they can organize using the Internet and social media.

In Italy, “Pitchfork Protests” broke out over political corruption and unemployment in December as demonstrators blocked roads and occasionally clashed with police. In Brazil, people have taken to the streets over high transportation costs and expenses for hosting the World Cup.

The Citigroup report suggests this new “vox populi risk” isn’t going away soon and asks, Why so little reaction from investors?

David Levy, chairman of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, blames “fear fatigue.” Investors have faced down lots of trouble over the years, from a European debt crisis to a pair of near defaults by the U.S. government. None of these things have kept stocks down for long.

“It’s hard to be scared all the time,” Levy says. But, he adds, “The more sectarian violence, the more countries fighting civil wars, the greater the potential for something going wrong.”

Another reason for calm is central banks. From Tokyo to Washington and London, they’ve kept short-term borrowing rates they control low and bought trillions of dollars worth of bonds to push down long-term rates, too. Many investors are convinced little can upset markets as long as central banks are willing to pump money into the financial system.

The problem is, panic can spread fast at times when there is little trading. A few big sales can push prices down dramatically. That is what happened last summer, when owners of municipal bonds found few buyers during a bout of selling. Panic mounted and prices plunged.

Other areas of the $100 trillion global bond market are vulnerable, too. Some investors have been fretting for years that bonds are due to drop after a three-decade bull run. With the low levels of trading in some corporate and government bonds, the fear now is a single big move could push them over the edge.

Japanese government bonds may be especially fragile. Credit Strategist’s Lewitt notes that some 70 percent of these bonds are bought by the country’s central bank upon issuance now, then held to maturity instead of re-sold on the market.

The lack of supply means that the first trade in Japanese bonds some days doesn’t occur until the afternoon, which is stunning considering that Japan’s government debt market is the second-largest in the world. Lewitt fears that prices could suddenly drop in that thinly traded market, walloping investors with losses, spreading fear and setting off selling and losses elsewhere.

“All markets are linked through webs of ownership,” says Lewitt. “There’s no escaping.”

That said, it may all work out in the end.

Buckland, one of the authors of Citi’s “vox populi” report, notes that periods of calm don’t always presage turmoil. In 1995, for instance, the fear index was also low. The S&P 500 ended that year up 38 percent, including dividends.

Then there is this line of argument, offered up in a June 13 report from Charles Schwab: With more people worried about the lack of worry, maybe it’s the wrong time to worry.

If you don’t find that logic convincing, assuming you can follow it, there’s a way of betting the calm will break: Buy a stake in the clumsily named VelocityShares Daily Long VIX Short-Term ETN, a fund that tracks the fear index. The price of the fund will rise as people get worried.

But you better hope for nothing short of Armageddon. Despite all the chaos in the world this year, the fund has dropped 32 percent.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Area LGBT Democratic Club cancels meet

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Library teens plan summer reading party

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5

 
Weather for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page:

 
Big-rig driver strikes telephone lines in Fairfield

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: July 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: June 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
Caltrans makes I-80 lane change

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield tries to end Cordelia Road detour

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ primed for big screen

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A7

.

US / World

 
Sacramento Gold Rush Days canceled due to drought

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Annoying minor floods are increasing on US coasts

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Man charged in teen’s 9-month disappearance

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Medicare’s own health looking better, report says

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Deal to improve veterans’ health care costs $17B

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Suspect dead, 2 marshals and cop wounded in NYC

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
New fears about Ebola spread after plane scare

By The Associated Press | From Page:

In Iraq’s Mosul, radicals unleash their vision

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Fighting in Ukraine prompts residents to flee

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Israeli PM warns of prolonged campaign in Gaza war

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Witnesses: Thunderstorm hit beach without warning

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Suspect’s mom also charged in Long Beach burglary

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
City: Emails show ‘cozy’ ties of PG&E, regulator

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Pool water dumped in South Tahoe; resort fires 3

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Additional charge filed in California wildfire

By The Associated Press | From Page:

California governor takes dig at Texas guard plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
.

Opinion

Editorial cartoons for July 29, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page:

 
Immigration protests short on compassion

By John M. Crisp | From Page:

 
.

Living

Horoscopes for July 29, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Today in History for July 29, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

I don’t want to have intimate contact since learning I had a STD

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page:

 
Community Calendar: July 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page:

.

Entertainment

Kevin Bacon brings his ‘Six Degrees’ to Comic-Con

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Sarah Palin launches online subscription channel

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

‘Sharknado’ sequel has bite and lots of laughs

By Frazier Moore | From Page: | Gallery

 
TVGrid July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

.

Sports

Giants lose 5th straight, 5-0 to Pirates

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
 
Lakers finally confirm Byron Scott is new coach

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Raiders relying on healthy Watson to solidify line

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
This date in sports history for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Quarterback Johnny Manziel’s day at Browns camp

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Judge OKs record-setting $2B sale of Clippers

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Humphrey to savor Hall of Fame day with ‘wingman’

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Rays’ Archer: ‘Never saw Hank Aaron flip his bat’

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Reed HOF induction gives Bills cause to celebrate

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

In the Pits: Gordon eyeing 5th title after big Brickyard win

By Jenna Fryer | From Page: | Gallery

 
Marketing agreement an obstacle in US bid for 2024

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Sailors to navigate dirty water in 1st Rio test

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Manningham back with Giants, with no guarantees

By The Associated Press | From Page:

.

Business

Contracts to buy US homes slip in June

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
FAA proposes to fine Southwest Airlines $12M

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Stocks pause as traders await key economic news

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Zillow buying Trulia to build real estate titan

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Dollar Tree steps up fight, buys Family Dollar

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

B.C. July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Crossword July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Garfield July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Word Sleuth July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Cryptoquote July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

For Better or Worse July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Bridge July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Wizard of Id July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku July 29

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5