Frontrunning: January 24

  • When the cash runs out: Nokia to Omit Dividend for First Time in 143 Years (BBG)
  • Passing Debt Bill, GOP Pledges End to Deficits (WSJ)
  • Japan logs record trade gap in 2012 as exports struggle (Reuters)
  • so naturally... Yen at 100 Per Dollar Endorsed by Japan Government’s Nishimura (BBG)
  • Japan rejects currency war fears (FT)
  • In Amenas attack brings global jihad home to Algeria (Reuters)
  • Investors grow cagey as Italy election nears (Reuters)
  • Mafia Victim’s Son Holds Key to Bersani Winning Key Region (BBG)
  • Bernanke Seen Pressing On With Stimulus Amid Debate on QE (BBG)
  • U.S. to lift ban on women in front-line combat jobs (Reuters)
  • Red flags revealed in filings of firm linked to Caterpillar fraud (Reuters)
  • Apple Sales Gain Slowest Since ’09 as Competition Climbs (BBG)
  • Spanish Jobless Rate Hits Record After Rajoy’s First Year (BBG)
  • North Korea Threatens Nuclear Test to Derail U.S. Policies (BBG)

Apple Earnings Shock Offset By Good Cop/Bad Cop Macro Data

While the main topic of conversation overnight was the Apple implosion after earnings (which was mercifully spared inbound calls from repo desk margin clerks who had all gone home by the time the stock hit $460), there was some macro data to muddle up the picture, which, like everything else in this baffle with BS new normal came in "good/bad cop" pairs. In early trading, all eyes were focused on Japan, whose trade and especially exports imploded when the country posted a record trade gap of 6.93 trillion yen ($78.27 billion) in 2012 and the seventh consecutive monthly drop in exports which showed that improved sentiment has yet to translate into hard economic data. Finance ministry data on Thursday showed that exports fell 5.8 percent in the year to December, more than economists' consensus forecast of a 4.2 percent drop. Trade with China was hit particularly hard following the ongoing island fiasco, which means that all the ongoing Yen destruction has largely been for nothing as organic growth markets simply shut off Japan. This ugly news was marginally offset by a tiny beat in the HSBC China manufacturing PMI which came slighly above consensus at 51.9 vs exp. 51.7, the highest print in 24 months, but as with everything else coming out of China one really shouldn't believe this or any other number in a country that will not allow even one corporate default to prevent the credit-driven illusion from popping.

Guest Post: Do I Have To Report My Offshore Gold...?

As you probably know, in 2010 the US government passed one of the most arrogant, destructive, poorly conceived pieces of legislation in history, now known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). FATCA heaps all sorts of reporting requirements on US taxpayers with foreign financial accounts - in a mind numbing 544 pages... Here’s the bright side of all this nonsense: now that the rules are finally settled, it’s now going to be much, much easier for US taxpayers to open foreign bank accounts. Over the past three years, the opacity of FATCA was too risky for banks. Today, while the final rules are cumbersome, they’re at least settled. So the banks know how to operate. I’m hearing from a number of overseas banker contacts, from Singapore to Panama to Malta, that they’re once again opening their doors to US customers.

 

"Return = Cash + Beta + Alpha": An Inside Look At The World's Biggest And Most Successful "Beta" Hedge Fund

Some time ago when we looked at the the performance of the world's largest and best returning hedge fund, Ray Dalio's Bridgewater, it had some $138 billion in assets. This number subsequently rose by $4 billion to $142 billion a week ago, however one thing remained the same: on a dollar for dollar basis, it is still the best performing and largest hedge fund of the past 20 years, and one which also has a remarkably low standard deviation of returns to boast. This is known to most people. What is less known, however, is that the two funds that comprise the entity known as "Bridgewater" serve two distinct purposes: while the Pure Alpha fund is, as its name implies, a chaser of alpha, or the 'tactical', active return component of an investment, the All Weather fund has a simple "beta isolate and capture" premise, and seeks to generate a modestly better return than the market using a mixture of equity and bonds investments and leverage. Ironically, as we foretold back in 2009, in the age of ZIRP, virtually every "actively managed" hedge fund would soon become not more than a massively levered beta chaser however charging an "alpha" fund's 2 and 20 fee structure. At least Ray Dalio is honest about where the return comes from without hiding behind meaningless concepts and lugubrious econospeak drollery. Courtesy of "The All Weather Story: How Bridgewater created the All Weather investment strategy, the foundation of the "risk parity" movement" everyone else can learn that answer too.

The High Price Of Understated Inflation

The reliable data which policymakers and the public need if effective solutions are to be found is not available. As Tullett Prebon's Tim Morgan notes, economic data has been subjected to incremental distortion; Data distortion can be divided into two categories. Economic data has been undermined by decades of methodological change which have distorted the statistics to the point where no really accurate data is available for the critical metrics of inflation, growth, output, unemployment or debt. Fiscal data, meanwhile, obscures the true scale of government obligations. While he does not believe that the debauching of US official data is the result of any grand conspiracy to mislead the American people; he does see it as an incremental process which has taken place over more than four decades. From 'owner equivalent rent" to 'hedonics', few series have been distorted more than published numbers for inflation, and few if any economic measures are of comparable importance; and the ramifications of understated inflation are huge.

Guest Post: The Hipster Techie Mental Map

We all have inner maps that assign awareness, priority and importance to geographic features. For those who work inside the Beltway, Washington D.C. dominates their mental map of the world. Residents of Manhattan famously regard it as the center of the financial, art, fashion, etc. world. In the hipster techie mental map, Washington D.C. doesn't exist, and New York has a small tech innovation footprint. In this world view, politics, finance and fashion are not what changes the world for the better; only tech does that.

The Business Cards Of The Rich, Famous, And Infamous

In today’s climate of cell phone contacts, Facebook and LinkedIn, business cards may be becoming a thing of the past. Then again, they can still say a lot about you. Whether boilerplate or highly designed, staid or comical, FlavorWire has gathered twenty business cards of fascinating and famous people from Abraham Lincoln to Lady Gaga, Einstein to Lady Gaga, and from Houdini's triangular card to Marc Zuckerberg's "I'm CEO, Bitch!"

 

What Really Goes On In China

From a valuation perspective, Chinese equities do not, at first glance, look to be a likely candidate for trouble. The PE ratios are either 12 or 15 times on MSCI China, depending on whether you include financials or not, and do not scream 'bubble'. And yet, China has been a source of worry for GMO over the past three years and continues to be one. China scares them because it looks like a bubble economy. Understanding these kinds of bubbles is important because they represent a situation in which standard valuation methodologies may fail. Just as financial stocks gave a false signal of cheapness before the GFC because the credit bubble pushed their earnings well above sustainable levels and masked the risks they were taking, so some valuation models may fail in the face of the credit, real estate, and general fixed asset investment boom in China, since it has gone on long enough to warp the models' estimation of what "normal" is. Of course, every credit bubble involves a widening divergence between perception and reality. China's case is not fundamentally different. In GMO's extensive discussion below, they have documented rapid credit growth against the background of a nationwide property bubble, the worst of Asian crony lending practices, and the appearance of a voracious and unstable shadow banking system. "Bad" credit booms generally end in banking crises and are followed by periods of lackluster economic growth. China appears to be heading in this direction.

Kashkari Resigns Amid 'Spotty' Fund Performance, Heads Back To Public Office

The ex-back of the envelope TARP calculation "chump" become wood-chopper, turned equity portfolio manager has gone full circle and decided his time is better spent serving the public good once again. As the WSJ reports, Neel Kashkari is considering running for office in California. The napkin-laden chrome-dome has seen his funds suffer from spotty performance since their launch - all underperforming the benchmarks. We can't help but think the timing of his announcement odd given his love affair with Apple and tonight's collapse but that would be harsh judgment on the always self-denigrating 39 year-old. Of course, we will hear the impressive nature of him leaving a well-paid job to run for office as his patriotism runs wild; we are less 'believer'. Still, managing to have your name turned into a noun and a verb is no easy task...

Guest Post: Apparitions In The Fog

After digesting the opinions of the shills, shysters and scam artists, I am ready to predict that I have no clue what will happen during 2013. The fog of uncertainty is engulfing the nation, making consumers hesitant to spend and businesses reluctant to hire or invest. Virtually all of the mainstream media, Wall Street banks and paid shill economists are in agreement that 2013 will see improvement in employment, housing, retail spending and, of course the only thing that matters to the ruling class, the stock market. Even among the alternative media, there seems to be a consensus that we will continue to muddle through and the day of reckoning is still a few years off. Those who are predicting improvements are either ignorant of history or are being paid to predict improvement, despite the overwhelming evidence of a worsening economic climate. The mainstream media pundits, fulfilling their assigned task of purveying feel good propaganda, use the 10% stock market gain in 2012 as proof of economic recovery. The facts prove otherwise... Every day more people are realizing the con-job being perpetuated by the owners of this country. Will the tipping point be reached in 2013? I don’t know. But the era of decisiveness and confrontation has arrived. The existing social order will be swept away. Are you prepared?

Assistant Attorney General Breuer Gets DOJ Boot In "Untouchables" Aftermath

Earlier today, we reported that "Assistant Attorney General Admits On TV That In The US Justice Does Not Apply To The Banks" when we commented on last night's PBS special "The Untouchables." Explicitly, we said that it was "Lenny Breuer who made it very clear that when it comes to the concept of justice the banks are and always have been "more equal" than others. He does so in such shocking clarity and enthusiasm that it is a miracle that this person is still employed by the US Department of Justice." As of minutes ago that is no longer the case as his employment contract has been torn up. The WaPo reports, that Lanny A. Breuer is leaving the Justice Department "after leading the agency’s efforts to clamp down on public corruption and financial fraud at the nation’s largest banks, according to several people familiar with the matter....It is not clear when Breuer intends to leave, nor what he plans to do once he departs, but it is certain that the prosecutor’s days in office are winding down, according to people who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter."

Surveying The Wreckage; AAPL Plummets To January 2012 Lows And Still Going

AAPL's after-hours loss in market cap is greater than the market cap of one BlackRock, Starbucks, Target, Costco, or Nike. Down almost 9% from yesterday's close, AAPL is trading down to January 2012 levels (off 35% from its highs) and is now notably less capitalized than the entire European banking system. Of course, this has had serious consequences for the major indices that are trading after-hours (and futures). Futures traded down to the day-session lows before closing but QQQ are now trading at 6-day lows in after-hours...and as S&P futures reopen they are gapping down a little more.

AAPL Meets EPS, Misses Revenues, Fails To Impress With In Line iPhone Sales, Total Cash Grows To $137.1 Billion

The most anticipated earnings release of the quarter has come and it has been a dud, at least judging by the market's expectations and its response. Because while EPS beats just barely (a far cry from the epic EPS beats of Steve Jobs days) coming at $13.81 on expectations of a $13.53 print, revenue outright missed, coming at $54.5 billion on expectations of a $54.9 billion Q1 2013 result. Furthermore, fears about profit margins were proven correct, with total gross profit coming in at $21.1 billion, which alas was 38.6% of revenue, well below the vaunted 40% threshold (as a reference margin was 44.7% a year ago, and 40.0% a quarter ago). And finally, the breakdown by components in the iPhone 5 release quarter was just, well, meh.

Netflix Beats, Guides Higher As Free Cash Flow Implodes

One look at the headline numbers, and of course the short interest of Netflix, and one can see why the stock is being squeezed by nearly 30% after hours:

  • Q4 Revenue: $945 MM, Exp. $934 MM
  • Q4 EPS of $0.13, Exp. $(0.13)
  • Q4 domestic contribution margin 18.5%, up from 16.4% in Q3 and 10.9$ in Q4 2011
  • Total domestic subscribers 27.15 MM, paying subs: 25.47 MM
    • Forecasts 28.5MM-29.2MM domestic subscribers in Q1
  • Sees Q1 Revenues of $1.004 billion to $1.031 billion
  • Domestic DVD subs dropped from 8.61 to 8.22 while generating $254MM in revenue and $128MM in profit

In fact, all is either just a little bit better or much better if one looks at the projection set... until one looks at the actual Cash generated by the Business. Behold the Free Cash Flow as reported by the company... no, not AMZN, although it may well be its small cousin.

POMO Pump Rescues Stocks Again But Risk-Assets Fade

In the old days, it was Fed via POMO to stocks; but given the new normal, now we have levered POMO to rescue us via vol compression and yet again - today saw risk-assets sliding all night (though admittedly only around 0.5% off highs) only to be rescued by a vol-compressing equity push that started the moment POMO finished. HY credit was tinkered with in the last hour to keep things afloat and of course AAPL soared into its earnings report. The debt-ceiling vote did little to maintain risk-on as CAD weakness (BoC holding off from rate hikes) pulled the USD higher, and hurt risk-on commodities - as Oil plunged on the day. Treasury yields continued to fall - entirely ignoring stocks once again - even though stocks caught down to risk early and ended at new five-year highs on the Dow (thanks almost entirely to IBM). So low volume in stocks (AAPL decent volume), low average trade size in S&P futures, and a disconnected equity market from bonds and FX once again... eyes down for an Apple full-house...

AAPL - The 'Other' Great Rotation

Much was made of the first two days of this year as indicative of the great 'meme' that every sell-side rep and commission-taking asset manager has pumped investors full of - the 'great rotation' is here. Finally, rates were rising, growth was here, money on the sidelines was moving, and the supposedly 'dumb money' was rotating from bonds to stocks. However, that is not what happened now is it? 10Y yields are now practically unchanged on the year - even as stocks continue to be bid - with the major divergence beginning on January 11th. There is, however, an alternate 'great rotation' that appears just as powerful - that of covering idiosyncratic AAPL longs and rotating into systemic long equity positions (or covering AAPL-hedging short equity index positions). We suspect, given the volume shifts below, that much of the mysterious buying power in S&P 500 futures is indeed beta-hedge unwinds from massively over-exposed AAPL longs unwinding. With AAPL's earnings due tonight, perhaps this 'rotation' will be over.

Track All The World's Billionaires In Real Time

While we know that most of the world's billionaires are currently holed up in Davos, Bloomberg has created a visual extravaganza for tracking the great and good of our fair world. The real-time billionaire tracker maps the world's richest people to their country of citizenship, industry, gender, age, and source of wealth. We assume this is the new deal target for our administration - how long before we see these headshots on the back of a set of playing cards?