Thursday, July 17, 2014

Is the MH17 sell-off a gift to the bulls?

When I wrote that the US stock market was vulnerable to a pullback (see A short-term negative divergence), I never dreamed that it would be a geopolitical tragedy that would cause the sort of risk-off response that we are seeing.

The news of the crash of MH17, which was apparently shot down by a missile, caused a market freak-out and risk premiums to spike. Unverified reports of intercepted phone calls and that a pro-Russian rebel commander took credit for downing the aircraft (before he knew it was a civilian airliner) didn't help matters. Further, news of an Israeli invasion of Gaza is underway also served to heighten global geopolitical tensions.

Spiking fear = Buy signal
As a result, VIX spike 3.54, or 34%, in a single day. Moreover, the VIX to VXV ratio, which is a measure of the term structure of VIX, moved from a normally upward sloping term structure to inversion indicating a spike in fear levels. As the bottom panel of the chart below shows, the VIX-VXV term structure soared well above 1. I have also indicated with vertical lines past instances where the term structure inverted. With the exception of episodes in 2008, 2009 (Lehman Crisis) and 2011 (eurozone crisis and US budget impasse), past instances of VIX inversion have marked low-risk entry points into stocks.

A modern Archduke Ferdinand moment?
I would caution, however, that Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group indicated that the MH17 incident could prove to be a spark for further escalation on both sides of the simmering Russia-Ukraine dispute (via Business Insider):
• Ukraine's new government, led by President Petro Poroshenko, will feel more intensified pressure to conduct military operations to push back pro-Russian separatists in southeastern regions of Ukraine.
• More countries could get involved, and in a broader scope. There could be a new push by the Ukrainian government to get military support from the U.S., which has so far resisted, as well as more nonmilitary aid from the European Union.
• During the months-long conflict, Russia has long asserted its right to intervene on behalf of Russian-speaking citizens. The Pentagon said Wednesday that Russia was again building up its forces along the volatile Russia-Ukraine border.

"Ukrainian government now under much more pressure to remove the separatists by force. There's a better chance that they secure meaningful military support (including weapons) from the U.S. and nonmilitary from the EU," Bremmer wrote in an email to BI.

"But the Russians will deny any involvement and demand protection of the Russians on the ground. Likelihood of escalation has just increased significantly."
There are two scenarios at play here:
  1. These tensions will blow over in a few days and this market freak-out will be a gift for market bulls to buy stocks at a discount.
  2. This incident turns out to be a modern "Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo" moment for the relationships between Russia and the West.
Now ask yourself::
  • Which scenario is more likely? 
  • Is the market pricing risk correctly?

Correction: The VIX curve did not invert, though it did get close to inverting. The apparent inversion shown is the result of a bad data feed. I apologize for the error and any inconvenience caused.


Anonymous said...

Putin's oligarchs have too much trade with the west to warrant a prolonged crisis.

Unknown said...

Speculation Follows: 1) Hamas will be crushed, or at least their essentially useless rockets will be, soon enough, and then a long quiet period will once again follow where Israel (and Egypt's new ruler won't be complaining about the inevitable outcome either) has no need to militarily intervene in Gaza. Then the VIX chatter-heads will have to move onto to something else perhaps equally insignificant to the major economies of the World. 2) Why the MH17 should be the final straw that the fear-bear-mongers think will finally justify their foolishly early predictions of the World Economies recollapsing in a mere 5 or 6 years after the Great Recession is another tempest in their warpped echo-chamber. Putin has fallen in the same old trap isolated power mad rich males always seem to wind up in. The fool (obviously I think the media myth about how crafty Putin is equally daft) should not of tampered with the Democratic process as it would have saved him from himself. Putin's Russia will never be trusted again and will be treated accordingly until fair elections and the rule of law are established. Eventually, the Russian KGB-leadership (even if they pull off a 'Et tu, Brute?' on Putin) will likely step over the line and the Democracies with help of numerous indigenous movements (they will not allow the same mistake to be again) will do what should of been done after the Communist collapse. Then the VIX will have something to be frightened about.