Art Cashin: The First Thing I Look For Is The Exit Sign by Christoph Gisiger, Finanz und Wirtschaft – reposted with permission
From the assassination of President Kennedy via the stock market crash of 1987 and the Fall of the Berlin Wall through to the burst of the dotcom bubble, the terror attacks of 9/11 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers: Art Cashin has experienced all the major world events of the last half century at the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Currently, the highly respected Wall Street veteran keeps a close eye on the geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and on the situation in Ukraine which reminds him of the Cuban missiles crises. <<The markets are edgy and nervous», says the Director of Floor Operations for UBS AG (NYSE:UBS) (16.33 -0.79%) Financial Services while constantly checking the quotation board. Like many traders here, he is somewhat skeptical of the huge stock market rally that started in March 2009. «I think it is a question of the extraordinarily low interest rates», he explains.
Art Cashin, September is historically the most difficult month of the year for equities. What is your take on September 2014 so far?
Art Cashin: It is strange that September still lingers as a particularly weak month. It goes back to when America was more of an agrarian society and we depended on what would happen with the crop cycles. If a cooking factory for example had to buy wheat from the farmers it would send a check out drawn on an account at a city bank and the country bank would then cash it and put the money in the farmer’s account. Before the Federal Reserve was created, there was a wide spread between the time that money was asked for and when it was replaced. For centuries, this caused bank panics around this time of the year, most notably the panic of 1907. You would think that now that we are no longer an agrarian society, those changes would ease up on the financial pressures. But the market has kind of an echo.
So what are traders talking about at the present time here at the New York Stock Exchange?
Art Cashin: We are concerned about two questions. First, how will the Fed do in keeping money reasonably easy without causing inflation? Second, where do we stand with the current geopolitical challenges? For now, these challenges seem to be short term concerns. But should we begin to see a financial contagion and pressure building on banks in Europe, perhaps out of the Ukraine situation, things could theoretically turn into what I call a «Lehman moment». That is when markets come under pressure but seem to be under control, and then things change suddenly.
How do you handle these concerns in your daily business as stock market operator?
Art Cashin: Having done this over half a century now, the market tends to have recurring cycles of some type or other. For example, at the beginning of the Cuban missile crisis no one thought that it would turn into a major event. Yet, as time went on and neither side relented, it began to look like we might be on the verge of a nuclear war. That had great reverberations in the financial markets. Then, finally the Russian convoy that was going to resupply the Cuban missiles turned and headed back. Immediately, the stock market began to rally on that sense of relief and that rally continued for months. So you can have these theoretical events – whether they are geopolitical or not – and you get two sweeping changes: First, you can get further and further pressure on prices. And then suddenly, when it releases, you can get almost a rocket shot to the upside.
What are the signals you are looking for to stay on top in such a market?
Art Cashin: Over the years, we on the floor have taken to look at what we call the risk monitors. For instance, the yield on the 10–year Treasury note is usually an indicator for the flight to safety. People are looking to get over to the United States protected by the two large oceans. You also look at the gold market where people invest who are concerned that things are changing radically and who think they need some currency protection. And then, particularly in situations like this, you look at things like oil because that is inextricably involved with Russia and with the Middle East and what is going on with the Islamic terror organization ISIS.
And what are the risks monitors signaling?
Art Cashin: Right now, it almost looks like peace is breaking out. The price of oil is sharply lower, both Texas West Intermediate and Brent. That indicates a lot less stress there. Although traders can be believers in conspiracies too. There is some wonder if perhaps Saudi Arabia and the United States are encouraging downward pressure on oil prices which would in turn put pressure on Russia and limit the availability to finance what they are doing. So there may be either market forces or government forces behind this.
And how stable is the situation on the stock market? Equities have stalled somewhat lately. Nevertheless, at the End of August the S&P 500 closed over 2000 for the first time and so far equities have performed quite well this year again.
Art Cashin: I think it is a question of the extraordinarily low level of interest rates. There are very few places that investors can go to and get some return. So some people are using historic yard sticks and they are saying: «If rates are this low and the economy is this okay then the value of stocks should go higher.» But some of us question that since rates are artificially low.
So what is your take on those super low rates?
Art Cashin: I think it means that there are still deflationary pressures out there and that the central banks all around the world are fighting off that deflation risk by keeping rates low. Rates are incredibly low in Europe, they are incredibly low in Japan, they are incredibly low in England and in the United States. That drives people to look at some other avenue to get a return and they have been driven into the stock market.
With the looming end of the QE3 program, the stock market soon will have to pass an important test. But surprisingly, in contrast to the end of QE1 and QE2 investors do not seem to be so nervous this time.
Art Cashin: But we are seeing a rather similar reaction in the bond market. Perversely, when they ended the earlier QEs, treasury yields went down instead of going up. So we are seeing a little of that. I think the reaction of the stock market has to do with something that is referred to as the Greenspan put, and later as the Bernanke put. Investors believe that the Fed is concerned about its own independence and therefore it cannot let anything