Monday, June 7, 2010

3 Tiered Economic Recovery: a Stock Index Survey

Is there a 3 tiered global economic recovery under way? And how might stock market performance look?

The other day I noted in a comment on seeking alpha (an extension of ideas in the latest top 5 graphs article) the possibility for the existence of a 3-tiered global economic recovery. The basic idea is that there are 3 tiers in this recovery, with emerging markets leading (and developing economies following):
  1. Emerging Markets
  2. Lucky Developed Economies
  3. Unlucky Developed Economies
Basically this is simplifying the notion of an uneven recovery down to 3 categories (also could be called fast, medium, and slow). The lucky/unlucky comment is a bit facetious, but it refers to the divergence in prospects between developed economies such as Australia, South Korea, Poland, Canada, and New Zealand; and the older developed economies such as most of Europe, the UK, US, and Japan. While the first tier contains most emerging markets.

This divergence is driven by a number of factors such as existing and new vulnerabilities created by fiscal positions and government borrowing. But it also refers to factors (the lucky part) such as a fundamentally strong economy, and benefit from recovering commodity prices, and to a lesser extent global trade volumes.

Of course there are risks to all 3 tiers, and you only need to look at 2008 to see how correlated things can get, but I reckon the 3 tiers accurately captures the way the recovery will unfold for the various economies: fast growth, average growth, and low growth (or stagnation).

Stock Market Returns
So enough hypothesizing and proselytizing, let's do as the article title suggested; survey the stock market returns of the supposed 3-tiers. First up is Tier 1 - Emerging Markets; the category which is mostly to see the highest growth rate... The Chart below shows (with ETFs used as proxies where I couldn't find index data) tier 1 has been clocking up some pretty high annual returns (chart shows year on year % change on a weekly basis). But of course it's matched with higher volatility. Note the correlations in the past 2 years.

Next up is tier 2. The first thing to note is that returns are generally lower over the past 5 years than tier 1, another notable point is the higher correlation across the period vs tier 1. The generally lower returns relative to tier 1 will in part reflect the dichotomy of growth prospects (or potential growth rate).

Last but not least is the tier 3 economies, the unlucky ones. The bounce back has been and gone by a quick glimpse at the chart below, and the fundamentals tend to support that notion. Within this group there are those such as Japan and the EU, who may be more vulnerable with greater structural issues to deal with; especially in terms of fiscal positions. Also note that returns are generally lower than both tier 1 and 2; reflecting lower yet potential growth rates.

So what? So we can make a few generalizations like tier 1 generally had higher returns and higher volatility, and generally lower correlations prior to the crisis. But once the crisis hit all markets started behaving pretty similarly (to state the obvious). But there are some clues emerging e.g. looking at the tier 1 and 2 charts you can see the beginnings of a decline in correlations, with each market starting to move slightly different to the rest (in contrast to tier3).

So if I were to pick where things might go, I'd say tier 3 markets will generally show low performance in line with low growth prospects, and possibly lower correlations. Tier 1 will likely show the highest returns, but retain its characteristic volatility; and the past will probably look somewhat like the future in that respect. Tier 2, though, may present a more balanced mix of volatility and returns, tier 2 has reasonable growth prospects, and most tier 2 markets possess the desirable traits of developed economies i.e. good legal system, rule of law, democracy, stability, investor protections, etc. In any event this supposed 3-tier recovery concept will be an interesting one to think about as the fragile, gradual, and uneven global recovery unfolds...

Econ Grapher Analytics
Yahoo Finance (Historical Index Levels)

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