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Inside investment: Credit’s gloomy message

Six months into a credit crunch there are few signs of an improving outlook for non-government bond markets. It is a signal equity investors would do well to heed.


One of my more successful Christmas presents last year was "The Pessimist’s Mug". It is made of glass and halfway down the mug a line is etched. Underneath that line the text reads, "This glass is now half empty". Every time the mug gets used thoughts turn to the markets. Since August, every piece of news emanating from the bond markets has been unremittingly gloomy. Stock markets, in contrast, have only just begun to play catch-up.

Maybe the knowledge that the best you can do as a bondholder is to get paid out at par creates a "glass half empty" mindset. Equity investors, by contrast, chased the MSCI World Index (Free) up to a record high on October 31, three months into the credit crunch. It has since fallen 19%, so is now skirting bear market territory. If this move feels extreme to eternally optimistic "glass half full" equity investors, it still pales by comparison to the carnage in bond markets. The iTraxx Europe index and iTraxx Europe Crossover index have just hit record spreads.

The Crossover index widened 75% from 200 basis points in early June 2007 to about 350bp at the end of the year.

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