Massive Stock Selloff Sinks Latin American, US Markets

The hawkish stance of central banks sent markets tumbling on Friday, with all of Latin America’s markets closing with losses and the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting a year-to-date low

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, US. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
By Bloomberg Línea and Bloomberg News
September 23, 2022 | 09:07 PM

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A roundup of Friday’s stock market results from across the Americas

📉 A bad day for Latin America’s markets:

A massive stock selloff in Latin America saw all the region’s markets close with losses on Friday, with the biggest loss on Argentina’s Merval index (MERVAL), dragged down by shares of YPF (YPFD), Transportadora Gas del Sur (TGSU2) and Cresud (CRES).

Brazil’s Ibovespa (IBOV) also closed with losses, while Mexico’s S&P/BMV IPC (MEXBOL) followed suit for its third consecutive session of decline.

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“It seems that the stock markets continue to assimilate the Fed’s monetary policy decision where it was clearly more ‘hawkish’ than the market anticipated,” according to Valentín Mendoza, associate director of equity research at Actinver Mexico.

The strategist explained that investors’ attention is beginning to focus on the performance of companies and how it could impact the generation of profits and results projections in the face of new downward adjustments in economic growth.

🗽 On Wall Street:

A selloff in the riskier corners of the market deepened as the UK’s plan to lift its economy fueled concerns about heightened inflation that could lead to higher rates, adding to fears of a global recession.

It was a sea of red across equity trading desks, with the S&P 500 briefly breaching its June closing trough -- and failing to pierce its intraday low for the year. Chartists looking for signs of where the rout might ease had identified that as a potential area for support. Yet the lack of full-blown capitulation may be an indication the drawdown isn’t over. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. slashed its target for US stocks, warning that a dramatic upward shift in the outlook for rates will weigh on valuations.

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The S&P 500 slid 1.72%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1.62% to close at a year-to-date low, and the Nasdaq Composite (CCMPDL) slumped 1.80%.

As risk-off sentiment took hold, Wall Street’s “fear gauge” soared to a three-month high, with the Cboe Volatility Index momentarily topping 30. Throughout the year, the US equity benchmark has hit near-term lows when the VIX was above that level, according to DataTrek Research.

A surge in the greenback to a fresh record swept aside global currencies. The euro slid to its weakest since 2002, while sterling hit a 37-year low -- with former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers saying that “naive” UK policies may create the circumstances for the pound to sink past parity with the dollar.

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 1.3%, the euro fell 1.5% to $0.9693, the British pound fell 3.5% to $1.0868 and the Japanese yen fell 0.6% to 143.30 per dollar.

Treasury 10-year yields fell after earlier topping 3.8%. Meanwhile, two-year US rates climbed for 12 straight days -- an up streak not seen since at least 1976.

“It appears that traders and investors are going to throw in the towel on this week in what feels like ‘the sky is falling’ type of event,” said Kenny Polcari, chief strategist at SlateStone Wealth. “Once everyone stops saying that they ‘think a recession is coming’ and accepts the fact that it is here already – then the psyche will change.”

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Liz Truss’s new UK government delivered the most sweeping tax cuts since 1972 at a time when the Bank of England is struggling to rein in inflation, which is running at almost five times its target. The plunge in gilts means that investors are now betting the central bank boosts its benchmark lending rate by a full point to 3.25% in November, which would be the sharpest increase since 1989.

Amid heightened fears over a hard economic landing, commodities got hammered across the board. West Texas Intermediate settled below $79 a barrel for the first time since January, posting its longest stretch of weekly losses this year. Not even gold -- a haven asset -- was able to gain due to a surging dollar, and sank to the lowest level in two years.

The greenback’s strength has been unrelenting and will also exert a “meaningful drag” on corporate earnings -- serving as a key headwind for stocks, said David Rosenberg, founder of his namesake research firm.

KKR & Co. sees potential trouble ahead, including a mild recession next year, with the Fed narrowly focused on driving up unemployment to tame inflation. The US labor shortage is so severe that it’s possible the Fed’s tightening doesn’t work, wrote Henry McVey, chief investment officer of the firm’s balance sheet.

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“This is a more draconian outcome than corporate profits falling,” he noted, “because it will encourage the Fed to tighten even further.”

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Investors are flocking to cash and shunning almost every other asset class as they turn the most pessimistic since the global financial crisis, according to Bank of America Corp. Investor sentiment is “unquestionably” the worst it’s been since the turmoil of 2008, strategists led by Michael Hartnett wrote in a note.

“It’s a realization that interest rates are going to continue to rise here and that that’s going to put pressure on earnings,” said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at TIAA Bank. “Valuations are still a little high even though they’ve come down, interest rates still have a lot further to go up and what impact that will have on the global economy -- are we headed for a sharper recession than the recession everybody expected? I think it’s a combination of all of that, it’s not good news.”

Extreme Pessimism

Stocks are indeed still far from being obvious bargains. At the low in June, the S&P 500 was trading at 18 times earnings, a multiple that surpassed trough valuations seen in all previous 11 bear cycles, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In other words, should equities recover from here, this bear-market bottom will have been the most expensive since the 1950s.

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Bleak sentiment is often considered a contrarian indicator for the US stock market, under the belief that extreme pessimism may signal brighter times ahead. But history suggests that equity losses may accelerate even further from here before the current bear market ends, according to Ned Davis Research.

In another threat to stocks, different iterations of the so-called Fed model, which compares bond yields to stock earnings’ yields, show equities are least appealing relative to corporate bonds and Treasuries since 2009 and early 2010, respectively. This signal is getting attention among investors, who can now know look to other markets for similar or better returns.

The idea that companies with rock-solid balance sheets will at least offer robust payouts, is buckling. The pool of the S&P 500 firms whose dividends yield more than cash has plunged 70% this year.

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“The next question is when and how far do earnings estimates decline for 2023,” said Ellen Hazen, chief market strategist and portfolio manager at F.L. Putnam Investment Management. “Earnings estimates for next year are too high, they really have not come down, and as that happens you’re going to have further equity pain because in addition to the multiple coming down via the yield mechanism, the earnings you’re applying that multiple to are going to come down as well.”

As slower growth and tighter financial conditions start catching up to companies, a wave of downgrades will come for the US investment-grade corporate bond market.

That’s according to strategists at Barclays Plc, who say companies are facing margin pressure thanks to high inventories, supply chain issues, and a strong dollar. The firm expects the average monthly volume of downgrades to increase to $180 billion of bonds over the next half year. The current monthly average is closer to $40 billion.

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🔑 Key events of the day:

Risk aversion also hit the oil market with concerns focused on a possible economic recession impacting demand for crude oil.

WTI prices plunged below $80 per barrel for the first time since January. The market is heading for its first quarterly loss in more than two years on a day when the strong dollar also hit commodities priced in that currency.

“It looks like traders and investors are going to throw in the towel this week in what looks like a ‘sky is falling’ type of event,” Kenny Polcari, chief strategist at SlateStone Wealth, told Bloomberg. “Once everyone stops saying they ‘think a recession is coming’ and accepts the fact that it’s already here, then the psyche will change.”

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Cryptocurrencies did not escape market sentiment and continued the declines that have marked price behavior this week. Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, was trading below $19,000 per unit.

🍝 For the dinner table debate:

The sports world bade farewell this Friday to tennis star Roger Federer. Playing doubles alongside his friend and log-time rival, Spaniard Rafael Nadal, with whom he fought for several years for the No. 1 ranking of the Association of Tennis Professionals, the Swiss tennis player played his last match on the professional circuits at the age of 41.

Federer and Nadal teamed up in the Laver Cup in London, which pits selected players from Europe against a team from the rest of the world, and lost on Friday to Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe.

Federer leaves the courts as a legend after winning 103 titles, 20 of them Grand Slams and six in the ATP finals. He is among the 10 highest paid athletes in the world.

With the titles he won during his career, he earned at least $130 million in official prize money. This, together with his sponsorships from brands such as Nike Inc. (NKE), Rolex, and Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo, have led him to earn more than $1 billion in sponsorships throughout his career, according to the specialized portal Celebrity Net Worth, which places his net worth at $550 million.

-- Carlos Rodríguez Salcedo, a content producer at Bloomberg Línea, and Rita Nazareth of Bloomberg News, contributed to this report.