Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Risk aversion slowly declines



I've been featuring this chart off and on for more than a year. I think it is arguably one of the best ways to track the degree of risk aversion that is embodied in market prices. This has been the most risk-averse recovery ever. You can see that in the fact that 1) gold prices are still very elevated, substantially above their 100-year, inflation-adjusted average of about $600, and 2) real yields on 5-yr TIPS are still very low. Both of those are shown in the chart above.

In short, we know that risk aversion is still high—but declining—because the market is willing to pay elevated prices for the safety of gold and TIPS. (I use the inverse of the real yield on 5-yr TIPS as a proxy for their price.) The price of gold and the price of TIPS has come down quite a bit over the past year or two, but their prices are still relatively high.


As the chart above suggests, real yields on 5-yr TIPS are consistent with real GDP growth of less than 1%. If the market were quite sure that the economy could continue to grow at 2-3% (which would still be quite modest by historical standards), then real yields on TIPS would be substantially higher. But it's important to note that on the margin, real yields are slowly rising—that suggests that the market is slowly regaining confidence in the economy's ability to grow. Once the economy is on solid footing and the market is no longer concerned about the threat of another relapse, real yields will be much higher, of that we can be almost sure. The late 1990s and early 2000s were the epitome of high confidence and strong growth. Real yields on TIPS were 4%, and the economy was growing at a 4-5% rate.

As risk aversion declines, gold prices will fall further and TIPS prices will fall further. At the same time, confidence will rise, and the public will feel less need to stockpile cash and cash equivalents and more inclined to take risk and invest. Banks are currently holding over $7.5 trillion in savings deposits paying almost nothing. If the demand for safety were to decline, the public would attempt to spend some fraction of that money on stocks, homes, cars, iPads, or whatever. But the money can't just disappear, since someone always has to hold it. So rising confidence will result in more money trying to be spent on "things" and that in turn will fuel faster nominal GDP growth (i.e., faster real growth and/or higher inflatino). It may well take years for confidence to fully return, but this is one of the most important developments that will shape economic activity and financial markets in coming years.

9 comments:

William said...

Scott, who do you believe owns the "$7.5 trillion in savings deposits paying almost nothing"?? Are these ordinary savings deposits that individuals buy? Are CDs lumped in this category? Or are there some unusual types of savings deposits that large investors or corporations use?

I am always staggered by this number each time you post it. I believe it is almost twice the size of total money market mutual funds.

Joseph Constable said...

Obviously 4%+ growth in the 1990s and 2000s is unsustainable. Better to have stable slow growth and just let everyone bitch about it.

Scott Grannis said...

William: according to the Fed, U.S. banks are holding over $7.5 trillion in retail savings deposits. CDs are not included in that figure, nor are institutional or retail MMFs, both of which are only a fraction of this figure. Bank savings deposits are up from about $4 trillion just before the financial crisis hit in late 2008.

Joseph Constable said...

It may seem perverse, but it may be low interest rates actually increase the impulse to save. The Federal Funds rate and money velocity have declined together, steadily, for decades. Just look at government employees who don't have to save for retirement. The ones I know spend all their money and have no savings.

I also think there is a new attitude today that is operating to reduce spending. I don't think keeping up with the Jones is that important any longer. Well, as much. If there IS a new attitude it can be stronger than all the incentives thrown at it. Including negative interest rates.

Carter the Examiner said...

Interesting, but does this really measure risk aversion, or does it represent the flood of money in the markets driving all yields to zero: simple supply of funds exceeding investment opportunities.

Equity market CAPE etc don't seem to confirm

William said...

Thank you very much, Scott. That huge number is a mystery to me.

Scott Grannis said...

Carter: all yields are not headed to zero. Only the yields on risk-free instruments are unusually low, reflecting pervasive risk aversion. Earnings yields on equities are still quite attractive.

Richard Harris said...

Scott: Recently you posted a valuation chart using S&P vs NIPA profits. Was that before / after tax profits? And with / without IVA & CCA? And curious on your best measure for corp profit growth and why. Thanks

Scott Grannis said...

Re: corporate profits. The chart of S&P PE ratios using NIPA profits uses after tax profits, but not adjusted for IVA and CCA after tax profits.

For a long time I've used the adjusted version in the belief that was better, but I'm puzzled by the big drop in adjusted after tax profits in the first quarter, so more recently I've just used the unadjusted after tax number.