【英语财经】金融市场的“寂静之声” Sound of silence is cause for disquiet

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2014-6-11 07:01

小艾摘要: “The Sound of Silence” is not just an old Simon & Garfunkel hit; it has become the theme tune of a global financial market devoid of volatility.Prices are becalmed across asset classes – from cur ...
Sound of silence is cause for disquiet
“The Sound of Silence” is not just an old Simon & Garfunkel hit; it has become the theme tune of a global financial market devoid of volatility.

Prices are becalmed across asset classes – from currencies to bonds, equities and oil.

This silence highlights central bankers’ extraordinary control, in the post 2007-crisis era, of financial markets – and economies. While catastrophes have been averted, economic news has also turned distinctly less exciting.

“Volatility is the digestive noise of the market,” says Ramin Nakisa, volatility expert at UBS. “If it is not rumbling, it is because there is no new information: there are no shocks to make volatility spike; there are no directional changes.”

Calm markets might be a policy maker’s dream, but there are dangers. Volatility ensures discipline, especially when investors borrow to buy speculative assets. Investors’ apparent lack of restraint worries many central bankers – even if it is their own actions that have caused the silence.

The flood of money provided by central banks – by buying government bonds in the US, Japan and the UK and via loans to banks in the eurozone – has pushed yields on sovereign bonds steadily lower. With borrowing costs tumbling generally, even struggling companies have refinanced at lower rates.

“It all comes back to the same fact: a very benign credit environment and low defaults,” says Russ Koesterich, global chief investment strategist at BlackRock. “Monetary conditions are very loose even if the Fed is tapering.”

With the ECB last week loosening monetary policy further, borrowing costs will remain low for even longer. “When you have central banks buying assets, and ‘forward guidance’ saying they are going to continue buying assets, and even when they stop buying assets rates will remain low for a long time, then it would be irrational for markets to move much,” says Laurence Mutkin, head of global rates strategy at BNP Paribas.

Volatility has also fallen as the biggest banks have cut back proprietary trading desks, often blaming regulatory reforms.

In foreign exchange markets few are willing to comment openly on the effects of regulatory probes into alleged manipulation of benchmarks, which have led to the suspension of a swath of senior traders. But senior figures in the industry acknowledge that the absence of so many heavy hitters – those previously authorised to take risks on behalf of the banks – has reduced trading volumes.

Fear of saying something inappropriate has stopped traders indulging in the kind of chatter that previously drove “noise trading”.

In turn, low volatility in currency, bond and credit markets – plus increasing desperation among investors to find better-performing assets – has suppressed equity volatility further. “You need a catalyst to hurt markets. Typically, that was credit markets,” says Mislav Matejka, European equity analyst at JPMorgan.

Not just the Vix index – the so-called Wall Street “fear gauge” which measures the volatility of the S&P 500 – has fallen. Low volatility in equity markets is global. “Hedge funds are not taking big bets on Japanese equities,” says Makoto Kikuchi, chief executive at Myojo Asset Management.

There have been previous periods of calm, such as between 1991 and 1996 and from 2003 to 2007. So record low Vix readings could remain muted for an extended time.

“Complacency isn’t an overnight guest. It moves in and stays longer than you ever thought possible,” says Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx.

That stability – or complacency – extends into commodity markets.

“We haven’t seen this level of oil price stability since the break-up of Bretton Woods,” says Francisco Blanch, head of commodities and derivatives research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, referring to the post-second world war exchange rates system. “And during Bretton Woods, oil prices and currencies were fixed.”

In the case of oil, one factor has been the high level of Opec’s spare capacity, which stands at 3.45m barrels a day – more than double the amount when volatility exploded in mid-2008, according to the International Energy Agency.

With energy prices stable, airlines see less need to use hedging instruments, and volumes at futures exchanges have slumped.

“The markets feel a lot like the way the markets felt about a year after Enron collapsed,” says Jeff Sprecher, chief executive of IntercontinentalExchange, which owns 17 bourses around the world.

The longer the calm lasts, the eerier it becomes. Mr Sprecher says: “It would be unnatural to have a long period of no volatility in any asset class.”

Reporting by Michael Mackenzie, Ralph Atkins, Nicole Bullock, Gregory Meyer, Delphine Strauss and Ben McLannahan

“寂静之声”(The Sound of Silence)不只是西蒙和加丰克尔(Simon & Garfunkel)这支组合的热门老歌,它已经成为缺乏波动性的全球金融市场的主题曲。

不论是外汇、债券、股票还是石油,各类资产价格均是风平浪静。

当前寂静的景象凸显出2007年危机之后央行家对金融市场以及经济的卓越掌控。灾难得以避免,但经济新闻的刺激性也明显降低。

“波动像是市场消化时发出的声音,”瑞银(UBS)波动性问题专家拉闵?纳基萨(Ramin Nakisa)表示,“如果没有隆隆的响声,那是因为没有新信息:没有导致波动性显著增强的冲击,也没有方向性的变化。”

市场平静或许是政策制定者梦寐以求的,但也暗藏危险。波动性确保了市场纪律,尤其是在投资者借钱购买投机性资产方面。目前投资者似乎缺乏节制,令许多央行家感到担忧——即便寂静是央行的行为造成的。

来自央行的资金洪流——美国、日本和英国的央行购买政府债券,欧洲央行(ECB)向银行提供贷款——推动主权债券收益率持续走低。在借款成本普遍暴跌的背景下,即便是苦苦挣扎的公司也能以更低的利率再融资。

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“这都要归结为同一个事实:良性的信贷环境,违约率低,”贝莱德(BlackRock)全球首席投资策略师拉斯?克斯特里奇(Russ Koesterich)表示,“即使美联储(Fed)在缩减资产购买规模,货币环境仍然十分宽松。”

由于欧洲央行上周进一步放松货币政策,借款成本将在更长时间内处于历史低位。“央行购买资产,在‘前瞻指引’(forward guidance)中表示将继续购买资产,而且当它们停止购买资产时,利率仍将长期维持在低位。这种情况下,市场发生大幅波动是没有道理的,”法国巴黎银行(BNP Paribas)全球利率策略主管劳伦斯?穆特金(Laurence Mutkin)表示。

波动性下降还有一个原因:一些大银行削减了自营交易部门,其中原因往往被归结于监管改革。

在外汇市场,很少有人愿意公开评论监管机构调查银行操纵基准利率一事的影响,此事导致大批资深交易员被停职。但业界资深人士承认,诸多“大人物”——之前被授权代表银行进行风险交易的交易员——的消失,导致交易量下降。

由于担心语出不当,交易员不再执迷于以前推动了“噪声交易”的信息。

外汇、债券和信贷市场的低波动性——以及投资者越发渴求表现更好的资产——进一步压低了股市波动性。“使市场受到伤害需要催化剂。通常来说,信贷市场就是所需的催化剂,”摩根大通(JPMorgan)欧洲股票分析师米斯拉夫?马特雅卡(Mislav Matejka)表示。

不只是Vix指数——衡量标普500指数(S&P 500)波动性的华尔街“恐慌指标”——下跌了。股市波动率低是全球性现象。“对冲基金没有大额押注日本股市,”日本Myojo资产管理公司(Myojo Asset Management)首席执行官Makoto Kikuchi表示。

之前市场也有过平静时期,例如1991至1996年期间,以及2003至2007年期间。因此,处于历史低位的Vix指数可能将长时间维持在低水平。

“自满不是呆一夜就走的客人。它延续的时间比你想象得长,”ConvergEx首席市场战略师尼古拉斯?克拉斯(Nicholas Colas)表示。

这种稳定——或者说自满——延伸到大宗商品市场。

“自从布雷顿森林体系(Bretton Woods system)解体以来,我们还未见过油价如此稳定过,”美银美林(Bank of America Merrill Lynch)大宗商品与衍生品研究主管弗朗西斯科?布兰奇(Francisco Blanch)表示,他所说的“布雷顿森林体系”是二战后设立的汇率体系,“在布雷顿森林体系时期,油价和汇率是固定的。”

在石油市场上,石油输出国组织欧佩克(Opec)的大量闲置产能是一大影响因素。国际能源机构(International Energy Agency)表示,欧佩克目前的闲置产能为每日345万桶,是2008年中期波动率剧增时的两倍还多。

由于能源价格稳定,航空公司认为没有很大必要使用对冲工具,因此期货交易所的交易量显著下滑。

“市场目前的情绪,与安然(Enron)倒闭大约一年后的情况相仿,”洲际交易所(IntercontinentalExchange)首席执行官杰夫?斯普雷切(Jeff Sprecher)表示。洲际交易所在世界各地拥有17家交易所。

平静持续越久越可怕。斯普雷切表示:“各种资产类别长期缺乏波动性是不正常的。”

迈克尔?麦肯兹(Michael Mackenzie)、拉尔夫?阿特金斯(Ralph Atkins)、尼科尔?布洛克(Nicole Bullock)、格雷戈里?梅耶(Gregory Meyer)、德尔菲娜?施特劳斯(Delphine Strauss)和本?麦克兰纳汗(Ben McLannahan)联合报道

译者/徐天辰

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