Markets and the price discovery process: Is something odd here?

The main purpose of any market is price discovery, however in pursuit of active management, all governments have tampered with the process. And when the market reasserts itself, it may not be pleasant

Every investor is bombarded by massive amounts of numbers every trading day. Analysts are unusually fond of coming up with all sorts of strange correlations to help predict the rise and a fall of markets within the coming months. For example in the US we have correlations as to rises and falls of the market for certain months, the presidential elections year, the party that wins the election and even which league wins the national championship for various sports. 
Most of these correlations are not very helpful in terms of their ability to accurately predict a rise or fall in the markets. But one would assume that there would be one correlation that would be absolutely accurate. The growth of the economy would seem to be a pretty good indicator of equity market returns. The market should rise in times of business expansion and contract during recessions. For most of the past 10 years in the US this has been the case. Expansion in the US last on average about 37 months. Contractions last about 15 months and the Dow Jones Industrial average falls about 31% during that time. Usually recessions start about two to three months from a market peak. The US market reached a peak on 15th September and the economy has been expanding for 40 months.
Like recurrent plagues, recessions are considered to be a bad thing. Like doctors utilizing antibiotics, central bankers have been trying to control them. In the past it was considered adequate just to lessen their impact by controlling interest rate. Recently the bankers have gone further and made it clear that they are trying to stamp them out. In addition to central bankers, despite the views to the contrary, governments around the world are taking larger shares of the economy either through direct ownership or indirectly by providing stimulation through state-owned banks. In either case governments are manipulating the economy and the markets. So the state of the economy may or may not be reflected in the market itself. 
For example the US experienced two recessions in the past 10 years. The economy went into recession in March of 2001 and started growing again in November. The market hit the bottom in the fall of 2002. The most recent recession started in December of 2007 and lasted until June of 2009. The market hit its peak in October of 2007 and fell until March of 2009. But such correlations are not so accurate in emerging markets.
To know why the Fed’s latest quantitative easing won’t work, click here.
Brazil has had short periods of contraction in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2009. India has had short periods of actual contraction in 2004 and 2010. It did slow dramatically in 2009. Neither Indonesia nor China has had any period of contraction over the past ten years. Yet despite the short slowdowns or consistent enviable growth, the markets in these countries have had either dramatic swings or periods of no growth at all. 
Despite some growth in the early part of the decade all of the markets in China, India, Brazil and Indonesia were basically flat. In 2004 something happened. Emerging markets, despite the evidence, became a safe investment. Emerging markets in general and the BRIC markets in particular were no longer risky and volatile. Instead they were considered part of a necessary diversification for every portfolio.
To read why there is still fear of fall of the global economy, click here.
The emerging markets returned the compliment. From 2004 to 2008 the Chinese market went up 600%. The Indian market went up 400%; Brazil 350%. Indonesia was up 300% while the US market was up only 40%. Although growth rates in these countries were good, they weren’t that good. Everything changed in 2008. China hit its high in 2007. India, Brazil, and Indonesia all hit their highs in 2008. Then the crises hit the US and all of the markets collapsed by between 50% and 60%.
Since emerging markets were supposed to grow faster than the old developed markets, the emerging markets bounced back quickly. India and Brazil were back up almost 200% by early 2011 near their pre-crash high, but so was the US. Indonesia was on a roll. Its economy continued to grow along with its market.
But something odd has happened. The rate of growth for India and Brazil has been declining since 2010, while their markets remain relatively high. Even more interesting is the Chinese market. Like the Saudi market after its collapse in 2006, it has never come close to its old highs despite the fact that its economy is still experiencing one of the fastest growth rates in the world. Meanwhile the US market, despite lacklustre economic growth, is only 7% from its all-time high.
This is troubling. The main purpose of any market is price discovery. In their pursuit of active management, all governments have tampered with the process. When the market reasserts itself, it may not be pleasant.
To read more articles by the same writer, please click here.
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages. Mr Gamble can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected].)
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