The “most frightening chart” in the world shows that most investors are not aware of the elevated level of political uncertainty.
Albert Edwards, a global strategist at Société Générale, has been steadily beating the doomsday drum for decades.
But despite the perma-bear’s repeated warnings about an impending economic disaster, investors are still likely to take notice when he gleefully shares the “most frightening chart” he’s seen in a while — especially when the stupendous postelection rally in U.S. stocks has stoked fears that a correction might be just around the corner.
“I sometimes feel like ‘The Grim Reaper,’ scouring the research savannah in a ghoulish quest to harvest bad news with a forceful sweep of my scythe. Imagine then my perverse delight when our credit team produced what is one of the scariest charts I have seen for a very long time,” writes Edwards in his report.
The chart by Guy Stear, head of emerging markets and credit research at Société Générale, shows credit spreads holding steady even as political uncertainty spikes to an unprecedented level.
According to Edwards, that cognitive dissonance is all wrong.
“Markets shrugged off the Brexit vote in a couple of days. They shrugged off Donald Trump’s election in a single day. They shrugged off the Italian referendum result in a couple of hours. Heck, in this mood they would shrug off an alien invasion of planet Earth,” he said. “But global political risk is now at such elevated levels that investors must surely be on another planet.”
The graph is based on the economic policy uncertainty index developed by three U.S. professors — Scott Baker, Nick Bloom and Steven Davis.
This is the original chart that shows the EPU index at 282, significantly above 201 in 2008 and 218 in 2011, two previous periods of panic:
Stear observed that in 2008 and 2011, the correlation between policy uncertainty and credit spreads was very tight and spreads rose in tandem with the EPU index. Yet today, even as uncertainty mounts, credit spreads are hovering at levels from 2008 when they should track rising uncertainty.
Investors should be worried, said Edwards, as his analysis shows that U.S. debt is the “vortex of debility for the next recession.”
The surprise election victory by Donald Trump has triggered a strong rally in the U.S. stock market with the S&P 500 SPX, +0.22% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.33% hitting record highs. Expectations of accelerated inflation and increased spending under his presidency have also pressured bonds with the 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, +1.30% jumping to 2.38% from 1.85% before the U.S. election.