On Friday, the Department of Labor reported that March non-farm payrolls increased by 120,000, falling well short of consensus expectations in excess of 200,000. For our part, we continue to expect a deterioration in observable economic variables, with weakness that emerges gradually and then accelerates toward mid-year. On the payroll front, our present expectation is that April job creation will deteriorate toward zero or negative levels.
Immediately after the payroll number was released, CNBC shot out a news story titled "Disappointing Jobs Report Revives Talk of Fed Easing." Of course it does, because this remains a market dependent on sugar. And with little doubt the Fed will eventually deliver it - perhaps following a market plunge of 25% or more - but with little doubt nonetheless, because like the indulgent parent of a spoiled toddler, the FOMC can't stand to see Wall Street throw a tantrum without reaching for a lollipop.
If the Fed indeed steps in with an additional round of QE, a few distinctions may be helpful. First, regardless of Fed actions, and even in the past few years, the market has invariably suffered significant losses following the emergence of the "overvalued, overbought, overbullish, rising-yields" syndrome that we presently observe. In contrast, the main window where it has not paid to "fight the Fed," so to speak, has been the period coming off of oversold lows. That's primarily the window where financials, cyclicals, materials, and garbage stocks with highly leveraged balance sheets have outperformed. Regardless of the fact that QE has had no durable economic benefits (more on that below), and does little but to repeatedly lay fresh wallpaper over the rotting edifice that is the global banking system, the main effect of QE has been to provide temporary support for the most speculative corners of the financial market after they have been pummeled.
Strategically, then, we concede that there is some latitude to ease back on defensiveness between the point where QE induces an early improvement in market internals and an upturn in various trend-following indicators (coming off of a previously oversold condition), and the point where an "overvalued, overbought, overbullish, rising-yields" syndrome is established. But once that syndrome is established, it is unwise to ignore it, and a defensive stance becomes essential (as we saw separately in 2010 and 2011, not to mention at most major market tops over history). Meanwhile, it is unwise to believe that additional rounds of QE will do much to help the economy in any event, as its primary effect is merely to drive investors into speculative investments by starving them of safer yields.