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Market Complexity Could Trigger the Next Crash

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How Market Complexity Could Trigger the Next Crash

How Market Complexity Could Trigger the Next Crash

Complex systems are all around us.

By one definition, a complex system is any system that features a large number of interacting components (agents, processes, etc.) whose aggregate activity is nonlinear (not derivable from the summations of the activity of individual components) and typically exhibits hierarchical self-organization under selective pressures.

In today’s infographic from Meraglim we use accumulating snow and an impending avalanche as an example of a complex system – but really, such systems can be found everywhere. Weather is another complex system, and ebb and flow of populations is another example.

Markets are Complex Systems

Just like in the avalanche example, where various factors at the top of a mountain (accumulating volumes of snow, weather, temperature, geology, gravity, etc.) make up a complex system that is difficult to predict, markets are similarly complex.

In fact, markets meet all the properties of complex systems, as outlined by scientists:

1. Diverse
System actors have different points of view. (i.e. bullish, bearish, long, short, leveraged, non-leveraged, etc.)

2. Connected
Capital markets are over-connected, and information spreads fast. (i.e. chat rooms, phone calls, emails, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, Bloomberg, trading systems, order entry systems, etc.)

3. Interaction
Trillions of dollars of securities are exchanged in transactions every day (i.e. stocks, bonds, currencies, derivatives, etc.)

4. Adaptive Behavior
Actors change their behavior based on the signals they are getting (i.e. making or losing money, etc.)

And like the avalanche example, where a single snowflake can trigger a much bigger event, there are increasing signs that the complexity behind the stock market has also reached a critical state.

Markets in a Critical State

Here are just some examples that show how the market has entered into an increasingly critical state:

Record-Low Volatility
The VIX, an index that aims to measure the volatility of the market, hit all-time lows this summer.

Bull Market Length
Meanwhile, the current bull market (2009-present) is the second-longest bull market in modern history at 3,109 days. The only bull market that was longer went from the 1987 crash to the Dot-com bust.

Valuations at Highs
Stock valuations, based on Robert Schiller’s CAPE ratio (which looks at cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings), are approaching all-time highs as well. Right now, it sits 83.3% higher than the historical mean of 16.8. It was only higher in 1929 and 2000, right before big crashes occurred.

Market Goes Up
Investor overconfidence leads investors to believe the market only goes up, and never goes down. Indeed, in this bull market, markets have gone up 67 of the months (an average gain of 3.3%), and have gone down only 34 months (average drop of -2.6%).

Here are some additional signs of systemic risk that make complex markets less stable:

  • A densely connected network of bank obligations and liabilities
  • Over $70 trillion in debt added since Financial Crisis
  • Over $1 quadrillion in notional value of derivatives
  • Non-bank shadow finance through hedge funds and securitization make risk impossible to measure
  • Increased leverage of banks in some markets
  • Greater concentration of financial assets in fewer companies

In other words, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about “snow” accumulation – and any such “snowflake” could trigger the avalanche.

In complex dynamic systems that reach the critical state, the most catastrophic event that can occur is an exponential function of scale. This means that if you double the system, you do not double the risk; you increase it by a factor of five or 10

– Jim Rickards, author of Road to Ruin

The Next Snowflake

What could trigger the next avalanche? It could be anything, including the failure of a major bank, a natural disaster, war, a cyber-financial attack, or any other significant event.

Such “snowflakes” come around every few years:

1987: Black Monday
The Dow fell 508 points (-22.6%) in one day.

1994-95: The Mexican peso crisis
Systemic collapse narrowly avoided when the U.S. government bailed out Mexico using the controversial $20 billion “Exchange Stabilization Fund”.

1997: Asian financial crisis
East Asian currencies fell in value by as much as -38%, and international stocks by as much as -60%.

1998: Long Term Capital Management
Hedge fund LTCM was in extreme distress, and within hours of shutting down every market in the world.

2000: The Dotcom crash
Nasdaq fell -78% in 30 months after early Dotcom companies crashed and burned.

2008: Lehman Brothers bankruptcy
Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan were days away from same fate until government stepped in.

Shelter from the Avalanche

The Fed and mainstream economists use equilibrium theory, regressions, and correlations to quantify the markets. And while they pay lip-service to black swans, they don’t have a good way of forecasting them or predicting them.

Markets are complex – and only complexity theory and predictive analytics can help to shed light on their next move.

Alternatively, investors can seek shelter from the storm by investing in assets that cannot be digitally frozen (bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc.) or have their value inflated away (cash, fixed-income). Such assets include land, precious metals, fine art, and private equity.

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Markets

What History Reveals About Interest Rate Cuts

How have previous cycles of interest rate cuts in the U.S. impacted the economy and financial markets?

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Line chart showing the depth and duration of previous cycles of interest rate cuts.

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The following content is sponsored by New York Life Investments

What History Reveals About Interest Rate Cuts

The Federal Reserve has overseen seven cycles of interest rate cuts, averaging 26 months and 6.35 percentage points (ppts) each.

We’ve partnered with New York Life Investments to examine the impact of interest rate cut cycles on the economy and on the performance of financial assets in the U.S. to help keep investors informed. 

A Brief History of Interest Rate Cuts

Interest rates are a powerful tool that the central bank can use to spur economic activity. 

Typically, when the economy experiences a slowdown or a recession, the Federal Reserve will respond by cutting interest rates. As a result, each of the previous seven rate cut cycles—shown in the table below—occurred during or around U.S. recessions, according to data from the Federal Reserve. 

Interest Rate Cut CycleMagnitude (ppts)
July 2019–April 2020-2.4
July 2007–December 2008-5.1
November 2000–July 2003-5.5
May 1989–December 1992-6.9
August 1984–October 1986-5.8
July 1981–February 1983-10.5
July 1974–January 1977-8.3
Average-6.4

Source: Federal Reserve 07/03/2024

Understanding past economic and financial impacts of interest rate cuts can help investors prepare for future monetary policy changes.

The Economic Response: Inflation

During past cycles, data from the Federal Reserve, shows that, on average, the inflation rate continued to decline throughout (-3.4 percentage points), largely due to the lagged effects of a slower economy that normally precedes interest rate declines. 

CycleStart to end change (ppts)End to one year later (ppts)
July 2019–April 2020-1.5+3.8
July 2007–December 2008-2.3+2.6
November 2000–July 2003-1.3+0.9
May 1989–December 1992-2.5-0.2
August 1984–October 1986-2.8+3.1
July 1981–February 1983-7.3+1.1
July 1974–January 1977-6.3+1.6
Average-3.4+1.9

Source: Federal Reserve 07/03/2024. Based on the effective federal funds rate. Calculations are based on the previous four rate cut cycles (2019-2020, 2007-2008, 2000-2003, 1989-1992, 1984-1986, 1981-1983, 1974-1977).

However, inflation played catch-up and rose by +1.9 percentage points one year after the final rate cut. With lower interest rates, consumers were incentivized to spend more and save less, which led to an uptick in the price of goods and services in six of the past seven cycles. 

The Economic Response: Real Consumer Spending Growth

Real consumer spending growth, as measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, typically reacted to rate cuts more quickly. 

On average, consumption growth rose slightly during the rate cut periods (+0.3 percentage points) and that increase accelerated one year later (+1.7 percentage points). 

CycleStart to end (ppts)End to one year later (ppts)
July 2019–April 2020-9.6+15.3
July 2007–December 2008-4.6+3.1
November 2000–July 2003+0.8-2.5
May 1989–December 1992+3.0-1.3
August 1984–October 1986+1.6-2.7
July 1981–February 1983+7.2-0.7
July 1974–January 1977+3.9+0.9
Average+0.3+1.7

Source: BEA 07/03/2024. Quarterly data. Consumer spending growth is based on the percent change from the preceding quarter in real personal consumption expenditures, seasonally adjusted at annual rates. Percent changes at annual rates were then used to calculate the change in growth over rate cut cycles. Data from the last full quarter before the date in question was used for calculations. Calculations are based on the previous four rate cut cycles (2019-2020, 2007-2008, 2000-2003, 1989-1992, 1984-1986, 1981-1983, 1974-1977).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Global Financial Crisis were outliers. Spending continued to fall during the rate cut cycles but picked up one year later.

The Investment Response: Stocks, Bonds, and Real Estate

Historically, the trend in financial asset performance differed between stocks, bonds, and real estate both during and after interest rate declines.

Stocks and real estate posted negative returns during the cutting phases, with stocks taking the bigger hit. Conversely, bonds, a traditional safe haven, gained ground. 

AssetDuring (%)1 Quarter After (%)2 Quarters After (%)4 Quarters After (%)
Stocks-6.0+18.2+19.4+23.9
Bonds+6.3+15.3+15.1+10.9
Real Estate-4.8+25.5+15.6+25.5

Source: Yahoo Finance, Federal Reserve, NAREIT 09/04/2024. The S&P 500 total return index was used to track performance of stocks. The ICE Corporate Bonds total return index was used to track the performance of bonds. The NAREIT All Equity REITs total return index was used to track the performance of real estate. Calculations are based on the previous four rate cut cycles (2019-2020, 2007-2008, 2000-2003, 1989-1992). It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Index definitions can be found at the end of this piece.

However, in the quarters preceding the last rate cut, all three assets increased in value. One year later, real estate had the highest average performance, followed closely by stocks, with bonds coming in third.

What’s Next for Interest Rates

In March 2024, the Federal Reserve released its Summary of Economic Projections outlining its expectation that U.S. interest rates will fall steadily in 2024 and beyond.

YearRange (%)Median (%)
Current5.25-5.505.375
20244.50-4.754.625
20253.75-4.03.875
20263.00-3.253.125
Longer run2.50-2.752.625

Source: Federal Reserve 20/03/2024

Though the timing of interest rate cuts is uncertain, being armed with the knowledge of their impact on the economy and financial markets can provide valuable insight to investors. 

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