In the auction wars at Sotheby’s this week – where former couple Harry and Linda Macklowe parted ways with much of their art collection after a bitter divorce – there were some mysterious lulls.
Several of the best-known works sold for less than expected. that of Alberto Giacometti The nose, a long-nosed bronze figure, was hammered below his estimate of $ 70-90 million before an Andy Warhol screenprint of Marilyn Monroe hit $ 41 million, barely above the low of its expected price range. This was somewhat incongruous given the enthusiasm seen a few minutes earlier that helped set records for artists like Jackson Pollock.
It had somewhat surprising parallels to moves in the $ 54 billion U.S. stock market, where valuations of many stocks soared to sky-high while others hit proverbial air pockets. The valuation of electric vehicle maker Rivian, which only recently started delivering vehicles to consumers, surpassed that of IBM and General Motors this week. Tesla, in a similar vein, has gained more than 90% in the past six months, even after factoring in recent declines.
And yet, at the same time, more than 175 stocks in the benchmark S&P 500 are down in the past six months. This is a fact that you might be surprised to hear, given that the index itself rose 14% during this period and the general enthusiasm of retail investors has driven so many large stocks to records.
The dispersion of returns – whether in art or stocks – is a symptom of widely divergent views on the trajectory of markets and different industries and companies in the months to come. Morgan Stanley this week warned clients that they were preparing for “a boom-bust environment”, comparing this cycle to the post-World War era, when there had been five recessions in 16 years.
“The market is struggling to determine what outcome is likely to occur and is hedging its bets,” bank strategist Michael Wilson said.
More recently, as the S&P 500 attempted to establish a new high, there was evidence that the market’s uptrend was faltering. Research agency Bespoke Investment Group noted on Thursday that there had been a drop in the number of stocks traded above their 50 and 200-day moving averages. And the proportion of risers to descendants on any given day has been declining recently.
Warren Buffett seems to be one of those who have doubts about the current market. Take a look at his $ 310 billion investment account at Berkshire Hathaway. The company bought tiny stakes in two new companies in the third quarter, according to new information released this week. But otherwise, the billionaire investor was a net seller of shares, cutting stakes in AbbVie, Merck, Mastercard and Visa. There weren’t many great deals Buffett thought were worth investing some of the company’s gigantic $ 149 billion in cash.
Many investors are rightly concerned that slowing economic growth, coupled with tighter Federal Reserve policy and potentially higher real yields – interest rates after inflation – will finally peak at rising US stock prices.
The current lower real interest rates have been key to the long-standing rally in growth stocks, as the distant projected earnings are reduced to today’s value with such a small denominator. A Fed pushed to record the highest inflation in 30 years could only mean one thing, at least that’s what you think.
But there is reason to be skeptical about increasing real returns so significantly that it will hurt stocks. Goldman Sachs strategists predict that real returns will stay in negative territory next year, even if they rise. And global demand from investors in the US and overseas to meet their return targets will likely keep nominal Treasury yields down.
Watch the strong demand at an inflation-protected 10-year Treasury bill auction this week. The yield at which the debt was sold was the lowest ever. As Goldman strategist David Kostin puts it, the lack of attractive alternatives means investors have little other place to park their money than stocks.
That’s not to say that the ratings of many of this year’s frequent flyers can be justified. Markets have been extremely distorted by central bank interventions as well as purchases from a new base of retail investors.
These same private investors are starting to roam the art world. And even if a participatory group was failed to get a rare first copy of the US constitution up for auction on Thursday, they helped bid its price to an all-time high. This begs the question: If the crowdsourcing group that pooled $ 40 million in an attempt to buy the constitution had not been brought together, Kenneth Griffin – the billionaire who ultimately won the auction – would he even have caught up in a bidding war that drove the price of the document up to such a feverish level? It doesn’t look like it.