High Yield Shorts As Confident As In October 2007

While the supposed common-knowledge is that rising short-interest is where to look for epic squeezes (and indeed it appears to the case in individual stocks); in ETF-land, it tends to be the opposite (especially when the underlying of the ETF is relatively illiquid). Absolute short interest in the high-yield bond ETF HYG is at a record - surging to over 23mm shares - heralded by many as evidence that HY can squeeze higher. However, given the incredible rise in shares outstanding in HYG (as flows drove creation until around six months ago) the more reliable indication is the short-interest-ratio. The SI ratio is back at the same levels it was at the highs of the Oct 2007 period - we humbly suggest that this (as was clear in 2007) is anything but contrarian as professional bond managers using ETF liquidity to hedge their over-stuffed and over-flowing illiquid HY bond portfolios. With HY 'yields' at record lows, HY spreads near record lows (and crossover having only been tighter during 1946-65 repression), leverage rising notably, and valuations extreme (only 22% of CCC credits priced with yields over 10%!!!) is it any wonder that the professionals are as confidently hedged as they were as the credit crisis exploded and Lehman struck.

10 Examples Of The Clueless Denial About The 'Real' Economy

They didn't see it coming last time either.  Back in 2007, President Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and just about every prominent voice in the financial world were all predicting that we would experience tremendous economic prosperity well into the future.  In fact, as late as January 2008 Bernanke boldly declared that "the Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession."  At the time, only the "doom and gloomers" were warning that everything was about to fall apart.  And of course we all know what happened.  But just a few short years later, history seems to be repeating itself. All of our "leaders" swear that everything is going to be okay.  You can believe them if you want, but denial is not just a river in Egypt, and another crash is inevitably coming.

On The Progressing Extinction Of The US Middle Class

Beneath the positive headlines Bloomberg's Joe Brusuelas notes that there is evidence that a good portion of consumers continue to face a difficult adjustment to the $125 billion tax hike in January and the 15 percent increase in gasoline prices during the past four months. Spending among the upper quintile of income earners is masking weakness elsewhere but it is jobs headlines that are really hiding the dismal reality in America. As the following chart shows, confirming our earlier discussion, the middle-class income-earner is becoming an endangered species (with no 'conservation group' willing to stand up for them) as the government holds the lowest income earners' hand and Bernanke the highest.

The Oddacity Of Hype - Geithner's "Behind The Scenes" Book Coming In 2014

The long-awaited tell-all is coming soon to an ebook near you soon - well in 2014. AP reports that none other than 'Turbo' Tim Geithner has an agreement with Crown Publishers (Random House) to publish his 'behind-the-scenes' account of the financial crisis. From his tenure at the NYFRB to his stint under Obama's wing, we can't wait for all the gossip - ...and then I said, "yes sir, whatever you want sir..." As Crown adds in its PR, "Secretary Geithner will chronicle how decisions were made during the most harrowing moments of the crisis, when policy makers faced a fog of uncertainty, risked catastrophic outcomes, and had no institutional memory or recent precedent to guide them." Should be a thriller... as he answers the all-important question of why (or not) but rest comfortably as he intends to "provide a 'playbook' that future policy makers can draw on." Given the success of Obama's odyssey, we humbly suggest Tim title the as-yet-untitled book, 'The Oddacity Of Hype'.

Not Even Fed's Premonetization Can Help Today's Weak 30 Year Auction

Not even the Fed pre-monetizing yesterday of today's 30 Year reopening auction could do much to improve demand for today's $13 billion sale in long-dated paper. Because if yesterday's 10 Year auction was a testament to demand from Direct and Indirect buyers, today's final auction of the week was anything but. Moments ago the Treasury sold $13 billion in 30 year paper, in a 29 year, 11 month reopening, of the infamous 912810QZ4 Cusip, and which priced at a high yield of 3.248%, the highest yield since last March's 3.381%, and more importantly 1.5 bps higher than the When Issued 3.233%. The internals explained why the demand in the primary market was just not there: Indirects got 42%, Dealer take down was 51.2%, which mean Direct bidders were allotted just 4.9% of the total. This was the lowest Direct allocation since September of 2009, and in stark contrast to yesterday's surge in 10 Year Direct bidders. Finally, the Bid to Cover came at 2.43, the lowest since August of 2012.

Landlord Blackstone Rushes To Capitalize On Housing Bubble By Launching First Ever REO-To-Rent Securitization

In addition to the phenomenon of "foreclosure stuffing" described here extensively before, one of the main reasons for the artificial drop in housing supply has been the ongoing government-subsidized, GSE/FHFA endorsed REO-to-Rent initiative, through which large asset managers have been encouraged to take advantage of government funded, risk-free financing and purchase foreclosed properties in bulk, with the intention of converting them into rental properties. The REO-To-Rent has traditionally been open to the biggest of financial companies, or at least those who don't have the stigma of legacy mortgage origination resulting in billions in litigation reserves, which means mostly hedge funds and PE firms. One of the main players in the space, Och-Ziff, decided to pull out of the landlord business in October of last year because, as Reuters reported, "the returns it is generating from rental income are less than expected and it is looking to take advantage of a recent rebound in home prices in northern California." In other words, selling while the selling is good. Of course, there is another, far more traditional way to offload risk while preserving some of the upside: dump the balance sheet exposure to others while giving them a fraction of the potential upside yield. This is precisely what the big banks were doing during the last housing bubble when massive residential mortgage-backed security portfolios were packaged, spliced, securitized (sometime without the feedback of firms like Paulson pre-shorting the MBS courtesy of firms like Goldman) and sold off to other yield-starved investors. Everyone knows how that ended. So fast forward to today, when this final missing link from the credit and housing bubble is finally here too, following news that mega-PE firm Blackstone is pushing forward with the first ever REO-To-Rental securitization.

Guest Post: A Community-Based Alternative To The Welfare State

Two of the key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline are complacency and intellectual sclerosis, what we have termed a failure of imagination. (The others are military over-reach, chronic deficits, a parasitic Elite that is immune to what's left of the rule of law, weak leadership, mass dependence on the Central State and excessive consumption.) It is important to discuss alternatives before the Status Quo devolves and collapses, so we have an intellectual framework to guide healthier, more sustainable alternatives once the current system implodes.

Morgan Stanley: The Central-Bank-Inspired "Omnishambles" Is Closer Than Most Think

It seems more likely to Morgan Stanley's Gerard Minack that central bankers may win the battle: sustaining recovery in developed economies with extraordinarily loose monetary policy. For a while this would go hand-in-hand with better equity performance. The battle is against a crisis caused by too loose monetary policy, elevated debt and mis-priced risk. Ironically, he notes, central bankers may overcome these problems by running even looser monetary policy, encouraging a new round of levering up, and fresh mis-pricing of risk. However, winning the battle isn't winning the war. If central bankers do win this round, the next downturn could be, in Minack's view, an omnishambles. In short, it seems more likely that central bankers may add another leg to the credit super-cycle. The key question for investors in this scenario is when (and how) this cycle may end, and Minack's hunch is that this cycle is already closer to 2006 than 2003.

Inflation Coming? Buy Bonds Says SocGen's Albert Edwards

A few weeks ago we pointed out something curious: despite the so-called massive "slack" in the US economy - the traditional alibi used by Bernanke & Co. to justify ongoing endless QE, labor productivity has slumped while labor costs have soared at the fastest pace in 11 months. This is a result that is directly at odds with the assertion that the structural unemployment for the US is still at 5%, and indicates that the New Normal baseline jobless rate is more likely well above, perhaps in the mid to higher 7% range (which also means that the Fed will never voluntarily end QE as the unemployment will not drop to 6.5%, and as for inflation, well, there's BLS' Arima-X-12 goalseeker for that). While the immediate implication of this is that central planning has merely broken yet one more law, that of Okun which maps productivity to GDP, a topic we have covered in the past, there is another aspect to what lies in the future, which is the topic of Albert Edwards' letter today. In it, he observes as we do, the rising labor costs, and the inherent inflationary pressures these bring, yet his thesis is that any inflation will be short-lived, and that unlike the mainstream which is advocating for a rotation out of bonds (apparently falling on deaf ears as inflows into bond funds are once more far greater than those into equities), he is suggesting to stay invested in bonds.

Guest Post: Is The U.S. Oil Boom About To Bust?

The United States is expected to lead the pack among non-OPEC members in terms of oil supply growth for 2013. That's the assessment from this month's market report from the Vienna-based cartel. OPEC, in its forecast, said U.S. oil supply growth is projected at 600,000 bpd this year. That figure, however, is 40,000 bpd less than the previous year. The Vienna-based cartel said U.S. oil growth could go either way for 2013, but noted growth from tight oil developments in states like North Dakota is expected to slow down. While improved drilling technology may offset some of that decline, OPEC said that factors like price issues may dampen the oil boom in the United States.

What Does China Know (Again) That The Rest Of The World Doesn't?

Yesterday we noted the fact that China's Shanghai Composite was now red for 2013 as inflationary fears once again raise the odd specter of a central bank suggesting less than orgasmic expansion of its free money. While the 'Pisani's of the world see the relative outperformance as some 'rotation' in the smart money, we humbly suggest he take a trip down memory lane and note how rapidly the so-called 'smart money' reverted to China's lead in the last few years as the lack of an inflation shock absorber led the PBoC to pull back and implicitly drag on the world's equity market-based linearly-extrapolated economic growth hopes. As a reminder, it's never different this time.

Carnival Becoming A Circus As Another Cruise Ship Suffers "Power Outages, Overflowing Toilets"

While "this time may be different" for the centrally-planned stock market, every historic example of subsequent ruin notwithstanding, the very recent past is again hitting Carnival Cruise Lines with a vengeance, as one short month after its disabled Triump cruise ship fiasco, in which passengers were trapped on board a filthy ship for five days, the cruise company is forced to suffer through a very humiliating case of deja vu. Reuters reports, "A Carnival Cruise Lines ship was stuck at port in St. Maarten in the Caribbean on Thursday with equipment trouble, a month after another Carnival vessel was disabled in the Gulf of Mexico by a fire, trapping thousands of passengers for nearly five days. The captain of the Carnival Dream reported a problem with the emergency diesel generator, which controls the ship's propulsion, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said.  "Right now the passengers are being kept on board the ship for accountability reasons," Doss said. "They were scheduled to leave today so the captain has decided to have everybody remain on board at this time. CNN reported that passengers aboard the Carnival Dream had contacted the cable news channel complaining of power outages and overflowing toilets, tales reminiscent of the troubles on the Carnival Triumph." And to think the passengers could have just stayed home, opened their E-trade accounts, BTFD, and basked in the glow of the wealth effect, knowing full well at the current rate of Fed liquidity injections they could all soon afford their own private island.

Cognitive Dissonance Of The Day: "Don't Be Depressed", Just Ignore Reality

For all those who have the displeasure of trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance of a record high stock market, and European employment at 2006 levels, here is some more fuel to the fire from Germany's Finance Minister:

SCHAEUBLE SAYS 'NO REASON TO BE DEPRESSED' ON ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

This is precisely the pep talk that the just announced record high number of unemployed Greek and Spanish youth needs.

Why Italy Is More Like Japan Than Spain

Italy has its own set of problems with huge debt loads, soaring unemployment, and a growing social revolt against the new normal austerity status quo but there is one issue that is not discussed much in the mainstream media that is as critical. Italy has the second fastest aging population in the world (and highest in Europe). Japan is the worst/fastest based on Bloomberg Brief rankings - driven by factors such as the speed of aging in one generation, concentration of seniors, the pipeline of elderly, and the number of seniors not participating in the labor force. As Niraj Shah notes, nine European nations make the world Top 10. Doesn't exactly bode well for Europe's future as dependency ratios are set to soar but it appears, sadly, that Italy is closer to Japan's dismal quagmire than Spain's based on demographics.

Stuff Managements Have Told Us

Meetings between public company managements and investors are the bedrock of the fundamental investment process.  The reason for that, however, is often lost in translation.  It is not, for example, because most investors or analysts are systematically better at reading “Body language” about the quarter or new products.  Seriously – they aren’t.  No – the reason that management meetings are useful is because, over time, managements let down their guards and act like regular people.  And in those moments, truth – about character, about wisdom, about judgment – comes rolling out.  Today we offer up a personal highlight reel of examples from +20 years of management meetings. Between the earnings forecast and the actual results sit only two things: time and management.  Time is uniform; management quality is not. 

Initial Claims Lower Than Expected At 332K, PPI In Line With Expectations

The grind lower in initial jobless claims continues, which from an upwardly revised 342k (was 340K) last week, declined to 332K in the most recent week ended March 9, on expectations of an increase to 350K. This was the third consecutive beat in a row and the lowest total print since January, which in turn takes it all the way back to January 2008. Continuing claims were also better than expected, dropping from an upwardly-revised 3113K, to 3024K, on expectations of a 3090K print. According to the BLS, unlike the last time we had an abnormally low print, no states were estimated this time around.

RIP Rotation: Two Weeks Of US Equity Fund Outflows

If it appears that there has been a period of perplexing quiet in the financial comedy TV's hammering on the topic of the great rotation, it is because that is indeed the case. The reason? As per ICI, following the start of year inflow surge into domestic equity mutual funds, we have experienced a steady trickle lower in inflows, and then, as noted last week, have had not one but two consecutive outflows, confirming that the pattern from 2011 is fully set. Finally, for those curious where the surge in early 2013 inflows came from, we suggest rereading our post from December on "A Record $220 Billion "Deposit" Injection To Kick Start To The 2013 Market." In summary: there has been zero, zilch, none "great rotation" out of bonds into stocks, especially since bond funds have seen far greater inflows in 2013 compared to stocks, and the only money "rotating" has been the parked deposits in year end 2012 ahead of the Fiscal Cliff, being reallocated back into equities (of which there is now no more), and some modest money market fund moves, which also have now tapered out.

Just Three Sticks

Three sticks and three chances for a poke in the eye. On the other hand they could be kindling for the fire or perhaps the first ingredients of alphabet soup. You see, this is what makes things so tough; we all stare at the same things, the same events and reach wildly different conclusions. The media hands out each stick as presented by the government, a corporation or someone else in a supposed leadership position. The somewhat wise can grasp that there are three sticks and not just one and the good minds recognize not only the three sticks but see that it can be made into the first letter of the alphabet. In this light then let us consider the recent proposal from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Under the banner of limiting the government’s support for the large U.S. banks in case one were to fail the Dallas Fed has proposed capping assets at $250 billion and of walling off investment banking from the bank...

European Employment Drops To 2006 Levels

If anyone is confused why European stocks just hit their highest levels in nearly 5 years (if not all time highs - there America with its 48 million foodstamp recipients has it beat), the chart below should provide some lack of color. According to Eurostat, in Q4 the number of persons employed in Europe compared to Q4 declined by 0.3% in the Euroarea, and 0.2% in the Eu27. The decline was -0.8% and -0.4% for the EA17 and EU27 compared to a year ago. Of course, if the Fed and ECB keeps pushing stocks higher, monetary illogic dictates that eventually this number will rise because somehow having more diluted claims on money floating around is good for jobs. Just not yet.