The scale, speed, and time of the equity rally of the last five months or so echoes loudly the post-Jackson Hole rally in 2010 (from AUG10 to FEB11) and while the aggregate money pumpers of the world have done their best to keep the pedal to the metal (gold?), we worry that just as before we are running out of greater fools to buy assets at the margin in the hope that they will be first through the gates when the spigot gets turned off (or at minimum turned down). Sentiment is peaking, the number of bulls in the AAII survey is rolling over (just like in DEC10/JAN11), the number of bearish respondents is troughing (just like in DEC10) and the ratio of Bulls to Bears (having approached record highs) is now rolling over (just like in DEC10/JAN11). With energy prices surging (as they did in Q4 2010/ Q1 2011) and expectations high for the next round of gross money-printing (forget supposedly better US fundamentals, QE3 is here any minute apparently and LTRO 2 will be enough to build a real Death Star), we fear once again that hope has exceeded its credibility and with financials showing some cracks in their armor (in credit for sure and now in stocks too), perhaps the less-than-greatest fools are leaving the building early.
Too bad not every hedge fund can be long Apple (even if as Goldman points out, they sure are trying - "One out of five hedge funds has AAPL among its ten largest long positions" - a truly stunning observation and one which means that if Apple, which is priced to absolute perfection, has even one hiccup, we would see an absolutely epic bloodbath in the market). Because if 2011 was a horrible year for hedge funds which closed the year well below, or -10%, their respective benchmark - the S&P (unch for the year), the last thing hedge fund LPs can afford is another year in which they pay 2 and 20 to generate a return lower than the S&P. Yet to their horror, this is precisely what is happening. According to Goldman's latest Hedge Fund Tracker, "The typical hedge fund generated a 2012 YTD return of 3% through February 10th compared with 7% gains for both the S&P 500 and the average large-cap core mutual fund." Yes, there are outliers, but far and wide this means that even more redemptions are about to hit the hedge funds space, where jittery investors will no longer show any restraint before sending in that redemption letter. It gets worse: "The 60-fund Dow Jones Credit Suisse Blue Chip Hedge Fund IndexSM has returned 3% YTD, in line with our sample average.... The distribution of YTD performance indicates that 50% of hedge funds have generated returns between -2% and +2%." And the absolute kicker: "Only 10% have returned more than 7%, outperforming the S&P 500." Another way of saying that is that 90% of hedge funds are generating negative alpha! If that is not the signed, sealed and delivered notice of death of the hedge fund industry courtesy of not ubiquitous central planning, we don't know what is.
Americans participating in a recent Gallup poll showed the highest level of confidence in an economic recovery in a year. Sounds great, but you can’t ignore the nearly 13 million unemployed, the 46 million people on food stamps and the roughly 29% of the country’s homeowners whose mortgages are under water. They would find it hard to subscribe to the poll’s sunny conclusion. On the other hand, there’s no getting away from a bevy of seemingly increasingly favorable economic data, which, more recently, includes falling weekly jobless claims, four consecutive monthly gains in the leading economic indicators, somewhat perkier retail sales and a pickup in housing starts and business permits. Pounding home this cheerful view is the media’s growing drumbeat of increased economic vigor....Confused? How can you not be?
Yesterday we pointed out that the number of companies in Europe losing money jumped for the first time in 2 years, doubling from 5% to 10% (even as the matched metric for US peers continues to improve). Unfortunately, we can now say with absolutely certainty that this number will shortly soar courtesy of surging input costs which eat even further into what little is left of corporate profits, not to mention the demand destruction which comes from having to pay a price at the pump which would lead the average American to get a stroke on the spot. The culprit - Brent, whose price in euros has now risen to a new all time high, surpassing the peaks seen in 2008. In fact, EUR brent is now up 293% from its 2008 lows, putting the returns of the S&P and even gold to shame! And all along the market keeps on happily chugging higher completely oblivious of the tens of billions in corporate profits that new are eaten away courtesy of this latest and greatest side effect of massive central bank liquidity tsunamization. But hey - there's always Apple's latest gizmo which somehow is never quite "priced in" by the market.
The surreal keeps getting surrealer. One could probably think that after being forced to pay for the privilege of having a job, to fund European bank solvency out of their pocket as part of the Greek "bailout", and finally to hand over their gold, the Greeks would have at least put up a fight. One would be wrong: instead of doing anything else than the occasional store front looting by marauding gangs, what Greeks are doing instead... is lining up for German lessons. Well, if you can't beat them, may as well learn their language. Athens News reports: "Ruediger Bolz has 350 students coming through the doors of his German language institute in central Athens each day - 20 percent up on a year ago. The rush among Greeks to learn German may seem odd after the war of words between the two countries, with Greeks fuming at German accusations of financial mismanagement and some media playing on Nazi caricatures of Berlin politicians. Yet for Bolz, who has run the Goethe Institute for the last six years, there is no mystery: his pupils are happy to side-step politics and face up to harsh economic realities by acquiring new skills." So years of debt slavery induced misery may be in store, and the sheep are delighted to get the electric cattle prod, but at least they get to beg their employers to take their money with the proper umlaut usage.
It is just getting plain silly: with a record 216 hedge funds holding Apple at the end of 2011, why does anyone pay the 2 and 20 any more? Just buy Apple. As a reminder, at the end of Q3 209 hedge funds owned Apple, at the end of Q2 it was 181, at the end of Q1 it was 173 and so on. The paterns is clear. What is also clear is that as Apple goes, so goes the entire hedge fund space. "30% of fundamentally-driven hedge funds hold at least one share of AAPL. One out of five hedge funds has AAPL among its ten largest long positions. When among the top ten holdings, AAPL represents an average of 8% of total single-stock long equity exposure. In aggregate, hedge funds own only 4% of AAPL market cap with 1.6% average position across all funds."
While hardly discussed broadly in the mainstream media, the top news of the past 24 hours without doubt is that in addition to losing its fiscal sovereignty, and numerous other things, the Greek population is about to lose its gold in a perfectly legitimate fashion, following amendments to the country's constitution by unelected banker technocrats, who will make it legal for Greek creditors - read insolvent European banks - to plunder the Greek gold which at last check amounts to 111.6 tonnes according to the WGC. And so we come full circle to what the ultimate goal of banker intervention in the European periphery is - nothing short of full gold confiscation. So just how much gold will be pillaged by the banker oligarchy (it is amusing how many websites believe said gold is sacrosanct by regional national banks, and thus the EUR is such a stronger currency as it has all this 'gold backing' - hint: it doesn't, as all the gold is about to be transferred to non-extradition countries)? As the World Gold Council shows in its latest update, between all the PIIGS, who will with 100% certainty suffer the same fate as Greece (which has shown that unlike during World War 2, it is perfectly willing to turn over and do nothing) there is 3234 tonnes of gold to be plundered. And likely more as further constitutional amendments will likely make the confiscation of private gold the next big step. how much does this amount to? At today's prices this is just shy of $185 billion. Of course by the time the market grasps what is going on the spot price of the yellow metal will be far, far higher. Or, potentially far, far lower and totally fixed as the open gold market is eventually done away with entirely in a reversion to FDR gold confiscation and price fixing days.
We have read, and written, all of this before (and speaking of, since 2012 is still a carbon copy of 2011, we could so easily just repost articles from February 2011, change the year, and nobody would notice - we could even save on robo-posting costs) but there is always something just so enjoyable in hearing the Chairman of the Fermentation Committee point out the glaringly obvious to the vacuum tubes in charge of a market which is now a 6-8 week lagging indicator to reality.
“Ms. Katseli, an economist who was labor minister in the government of George Papandreou until she left in a cabinet reshuffle last June, was also upset that Greece’s lenders will have the right to seize the gold reserves in the Bank of Greece under the terms of the new deal.” The Reuters Global Gold Forum confirms that in the small print of the Greek “bailout” is a provision for the creditors to seize Greek national gold reserves. Reuters correspondents in Athens have not got confirmation that this is the case so they are, as ever, working hard to pin that down. Greece owns just some 100 tonnes of gold. According to IMF data, for some reason over the last few months Greece has bought and sold the odd 1,000 ounce lot of its gold bullion reserves. A Reuter’s correspondent notes that “these amounts are so tiny that it could well be a rounding issue, rather than holdings really rising or falling.” While many market participants would expect that Greece’s gold reserves would be on the table in the debt agreement, it is the somewhat covert and untransparent way that this is being done that is of concern to Greeks and to people who believe in the rule of law.
Snooze of an update from the BLS, which reported that this week's initial claims printed at 351K, slightly better than expected at 355K, but offset by the now perpetual (thus statistically impossible) upward revision in prior week claims, which increased from 348K to 351K, so unchanged week over week. Next week this 351K will be revised to 354K so on top of expectations. That this is driven primarily by ongoing abnormally hot weather (remember the lamentations over last year's cold winter and how it was impacting data adversely - odd how we continue to hear nothing about the opposite phenomenon) is largely ignored. Instead what we will hear is how claims printed at the lowest in 4 years (chart 1). And yet we will hear nothing about how when one adds initial claims to continuing claims to extended benefits, we are just a little bit higher than 4 years ago (chart 2).
While the bulk of tangential themes in Albert Edwards' latest letter to clients "The Ice Age only ends when the market loses hope: there is still too much hope" is in line with what we have been discussing recently: myopic markets focused on momentum not fundamentals ("It's amazing though how the market can get itself all bulled up and becomes convinced that we are the start of a self-sustaining recovery. And funnily enough there's nothing more likely to get investors bullish than a rising market"), short-termism ("One thing you can say for the market is that it has an extremely short memory"), and that so far 2012 is a carbon copy of 2011 ("One thing you can say for the market is that it has an extremely short memory. Let us not forget that the performance of the equity market so far this year is almost exactly the same as we saw at the start of 2011 (in fact the performance has been similar for the last 5 months"), his prevailing topic is one of hope. Or rather the lack thereof, and how it has to be totally and utterly crushed before there is any hope of a true bull market. And just to make sure there is no confusion, unlike that other flip flopper, Edwards makes it all too clear that he is as bearish as ever. Which only makes sense: regardless of what the market does, which merely shows that inflation, read liquidity, is appearing in the most unexpected of places (read Edwards' colleague Grice must read piece on why CPI is the worst indicator of asset price inflation when everyone goes CTRL+P), the reality is that had it not been for another $2 trillion liquidity injection in the past 4-6 months by global central banks, the floor would have fallen out of the market, and thus the global economy. In fact, how the hell can one be bullish when the only exponential chart out there is that of global central bank assets proving beyond a doubt that every risk indicator is fake???
Despite the release of better than expected German IFO survey, stocks in Europe remained on the back foot after the EU Commission slashed forecasts for 2012 Eurozone GDP to -0.3% vs. 0.5% previously, while EU's Rehn added that the Euroarea has entered a mild recession. As a result Bunds advanced back towards 139.00, whereas the spread between the Italian/German 10-year bond yields widened marginally on the back of touted selling by both domestic and foreign accounts ahead of the upcoming supply on Friday. Looking elsewhere, EUR/USD erased barriers at 1.3300 and 1.3325, while today’s strength in GBP/USD can be attributed to a weaker USD, as well as touted EUR/GBP selling by a UK clearer.
Credit indices are virtually unchanged in Europe and here. Stocks futures are virutally unchanged in Europe and here. I still see no evidence that the ECB has redeemed its old bonds and received new bonds (the amount outstanding on old bonds should show up as being reduced once the exchange is done - it is is probably just that the trade hasn't settled, though with CAC documentation proceed in Greece, it would be curious to see what happens if the ECB's exchange isn't done when the CAC is implemented).
- IMF Official: 'Huge' Greek Program Implementation Risks In Next Few Days (WSJ)
- European Banks Take Greek Hit After Deal (Bloomberg)
- Obama Urged to Resist Calls to Use Oil Reserves Amid Iran Risks (Bloomberg)
- Hungary hits at Brussels funds threat (FT)
- Bank Lobby Widened Volcker Rule Before Inciting Foreign Outrage (Bloomberg)
- Germany fights eurozone firewall moves (FT)
- New York Federal Reserve Said to Plan Sale of AIG-Linked Mortgage Bonds (Bloomberg)
- G-20 Asks Europe to Beef Up Funds (WSJ)
- New Push for Reform in China (WSJ)