What the 'Bear Flattener' Tells Us Today

Editor's note: Today, we're sharing a piece from our colleague Dr. David Eifrig, adapted from the January issue of Stansberry Portfolio Solutions. In it, he looks at the difference between prediction and risk assessment... explains why a simple outlook is better than a complex forecast... and highlights a key indicator that's shaping his market view today...

The market marches ever closer to being controlled by animal spirits rather than earnings reports...

We're entering a period where markets are increasingly divorced from fundamentals. So we find ourselves reviewing everything we know about behavioral finance – the study of the emotional and systemic mistakes that investors have made for centuries.

As humans, we don't predict well... And that's largely because the future is not predictable.

We live in a complex, interconnected world in which no one can truly understand what may happen next.

That's why today, I'll cover a better way to account for the future in your investment portfolio... instead of relying on "predictions." And I'll share one signal that's shaping our outlook from here.

Looking back at recent major stories in the market, any truthful assessment will admit that they were simply unpredictable...

No one predicted the COVID-19 pandemic specifically. It arose out of nowhere. In fact, we haven't even fully determined its origin in retrospect. And seemingly as unpredictable was the amazing rally that followed.

Other market drivers aren't the same sort of natural "black swans" as COVID-19. Rather, they hinge on a single decision by a small group that could go either way...

Take the collapse in Chinese stocks over the past few years, for example. Beijing decided it needed to crack down on the power of its wealthy tech firms. Officials started blocking initial public offerings and pressuring CEOs.

You couldn't have predicted the pandemic or China's anti-capitalist turn. But a studious assessment of the risks could have led you to expect that things like this may happen... even if you didn't know precisely when or how.

If you follow history, you know that pandemics happen and will likely happen again. If you follow the Chinese government, you know it can make forceful moves that don't respect property the way we do here in the U.S.

But again, those are assessments of risks, not predictions. You know that equity prices have exposure to broad and unpredictable events, so you make sure not to leverage up. And you understand a 50% drawdown may happen.

You know Chinese stocks sometimes face an unfriendly government, so you keep your allocation reasonable or demand a cheaper valuation on stocks that you buy.

If you trust your portfolio to your predictions – or someone else's predictions – you have put your wealth at risk.

That's why in Stansberry Portfolio Solutions, the rest of the investment committee and I turn to risk assessment – not prediction – to decide what a fully allocated, bulletproof portfolio should look like.

In short, we seek to understand all the possibilities of what may happen and to find the potential for returns without taking on undue risk.

As investors, we prefer to understand businesses well and determine which ones we'd like to own for the long term. It's a lot easier than playing the macroeconomic game. If you can get in for a reasonable price and hold for a reasonable amount of time, you can build true wealth.

And you do need a baseline view of the future. A simple outlook on whether you expect the economy to grow and whether valuations can climb will serve you better than a complex forecast... If nothing else, it will keep you from becoming overconfident.

With that in mind, we do have one indicator shaping our view today...

We're optimistic about the stock market. But we do see one rumble under the surface that tells us to be cautious about bonds: the yield curve.

The yield curve measures the difference in interest rates on short-term and long-term bonds.

When it's "inverted" – meaning short-term bonds fetch higher interest rates than long-term bonds – it's a powerful indicator of an upcoming recession, and it makes headlines across the financial media.

But the rest of the time, only bond markets watch the yield curve, even though it can still tell you a great deal.

Today, the yield curve is flattening... And that's not a good sign.

If you plot the interest rate for each maturing bond in a line, the curve is typically steep. Normally, a bond investor will require a higher yield on, say, a 10-year bond than a two-year bond to account for the lockup of capital and the greater uncertainty further into the future.

That was the case in early 2021. But now, the curve is flattening. You can see in the following chart that the curve last March was steeper than it is today...

Or you can look at it a different way... By focusing on the difference between the two-year rate and the 10-year rate, you see the yield curve has recently dropped very quickly.

The top of the chart below shows that difference as a ratio. Overall, the yield curve isn't inverted... but it's flattening. Take a look...

The bottom half of the chart plots the interest rates separately. This allows us to see that the yield curve has flattened, but only because of a rise in the short-term rates (and not because of a fall in long-term rates).

This is called a "bear flattener." It suggests that inflation will take hold... hence the lack of attention to longer-term bonds. And it suggests the Federal Reserve will hike rates, leading to higher short-term rates.

Neither of those outcomes is good for bondholders.

However, according to research from investment-management company Merrill Lynch that covered 1976 to 2018, it's a good environment for stocks...

During bear flatteners, the market has tended to return 17.4% per year, compared with 12.4% over the course of the period studied. This tells us that we should continue to see the scenario where stocks rise because there's no other place to go.

That's a simple baseline view of the future – and it's worth a lot more than any specific prediction about the market's next move. We can expect a strong economy... but also understand that valuations are high.

The key here is to understand that you don't need to predict how the market will act. You just need to avoid mistakes and bet on different outlooks in the right combination.

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig

Editor's note: If you're worried about stocks right now, make sure you tune in for our online discussion tomorrow night. Steve, Doc, and Stansberry's Director of Research Matt Weinschenk are sitting down together to share their top stock recommendations for 2022... and to give you their honest market outlook for the months ahead. We'll kick off tomorrow at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Save your free spot here.

Further Reading

We've all heard the age-old advice to "buy the dip." But you might not realize how hard it is to do. And worse still, waiting for the perfect time to buy in can mean losing out on major gains... Read more here: Buying the Dip Isn't as Easy as You Think.

"You don't get wealthy by bold predictions or a quirky financial product," Doc says. Instead, being a little bit right every day and making the correct decisions pay off over time... Get the full story here: A 'Magic Ticket' to Wealth... Or to Financial Disaster.

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The flattening yield curve has created an unpredictable market environment. But the Portfolio Solutions team has worked out a strategy to help you secure your portfolio no matter what happens next...

Market Notes


Today's chart shows one big bank that has been ridden with scandals recently...

We've talked about companies that you just can't trust before in DailyWealth... Whether a company is involved in a Ponzi scheme, fraud, or lawsuit, scandals will shake the trust of customers as well as investors – which leads to falling stock prices. That's what's happening with this investment banker...

Credit Suisse (CS) has been mired in scandal for several years. First, it defrauded investors over loans it facilitated between 2012 and 2016. Then, in March 2020, an investigation uncovered that the firm hired private detectives to spy on its former head, who had left to work for a rival company. And the pain isn't over yet... More recently, Credit Suisse said legal costs from the scandals would hurt fourth-quarter profits, even though third-quarter results were strong.

Shares of CS are down more than 40% over the past five years. And the latest announcement sent them to a new 52-week low. This company is hard to trust right now, and that means prices could continue to struggle...