A recent survey of asset managers globally, managing USD 27.4 trillion between them, found that 78% of defined-benefit plans would need annual returns of at least 5% per year to meet their commitments, while 19% required more than 8%, "a target of 5% per year can be reached but only by using leverage, shorting, and derivavtives." And sure enough, as Deutsche Bank (DB) reports, in short, investors have rarely been more levered than today! According to DB, a MoM change in NYSE margin debt >10% has to be taken as a critical warning signal as there are astonishing similarities in the sequence of events among all crises. As the S&P 500 just hit a new all-time high, investors might want to ask themselves when it is a good time to become more cautious – yesterday, in our view. Simply put, the higher margin debt levels rise, the more fragile the underlying basis on which prices trade; with even a less severe sell-off in equities capable of triggering a collapse.
Every failing organization, from empires to school districts, responds to its embarrassingly visible failure by proclaiming one reform after another. To take but a few from a long list, China is "reforming" its hopelessly corrupt, debt-based central-planning economy, President Obama is "reforming" the Global Surveillance State (into a presumably kinder, gentler machine gun hand?), The European Union is "reforming" its banking sector and the overly complex U.S. Sickcare system is being reformed with 2,300 pages of additional complexity under the Orwellian title of Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. ObamaCare. The one dynamic that matters is of course left unsaid: the inability of the Status Quo to reform itself, i.e. undertake fundamental, systemic reforms. This inability has many facets but only one root: political sclerosis caused by entrenched, vested interests seeking to protect their perquisites and power. This is as true of local school districts as it is of entire states.
Perhaps the best source of real, actionable financial information, at least as sourced by Wall Street itself, comes in the form of the appendix to the quarterly Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC, aka the Goldman-JPM chaired supercommittee that really runs the world) presentation published as part of the Treasury's refunding data dump. These have informed us in the past about Goldman's view on floaters, as well as Credit Suisse's view on the massive and deteriorating shortage across "high quality collateral." This quarter was no different, only this time the indirect author of the TBAC's section on fixed-income market liquidity was none other than Citi's Matt King, whose style is well known to all who frequent these pages simply because we cover his reports consistently. The topic: liquidity. Or rather the absolute lack thereof, despite what the HFT lobby would like.
- Solyndra Cola: California aims to 'bottle sunlight' in energy storage push (Reuters)
- Ackman may sues himself after all - Penney Board Assails Director William Ackman, Considered 'Rogue' After Releasing Deliberations (WSJ)
- CFTC subpoenas metals warehousing firm as inquiry heats up (Reuters)
- Obama Plan to Revamp NSA Faces Obstacles (WSJ)
- Japan growth slows in second quarter, adds to sales tax uncertainty (Reuters)
- China Urbanization to Hit Roadblocks Amid Local Opposition (BBG)
- Parents Losing Jobs a Hidden Cost to U.S. Head Start Budget Cuts (BBG)
- US seeks better access to Africa as part of trade pact review (FT)
- Singapore Cuts Trade Outlook as China Slowdown Caps Recovery (BBG)
- White House Sifts Fiscal Ideas With Band of Senators (WSJ)
- Spain may ask United Nations for support over Gibraltar (Reuters)
- Michigan Safety Net for Boomers Frays on Bankrupt Detroit (BBG)
The best returning asset class traded in the NY Metro area is yellow but doesn't change hands on Wall Street. As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, over the last 12 months New York City taxi medallions have risen 49% in price, besting the relatively humdrum returns of the S&P 500 (up 21%), the NASDAQ (22%) and the Dow (18%). Medallions – essentially the right to operate a for-hail taxi in New York City – now trade for as much as $1.3 million, an all-time record. Part of this dynamic is fixed supply – there are just 13,336 medallions available for a city of 8.3 million people. There is also a macroeconomic point, with a stronger NYC economy for those inhabitants who can afford the service. The more surprising observation, however, is that new technology in the form of in-car credit card machines and more recently smartphone hailing apps both materially increase the value of owning a medallion. In a world where every technology is deemed “Disruptive”, here’s a case where the status quo has actually reaped much of the reward.
Next month promises to be more volatile than this month. Consensus views are unlikely to be challenged by the data in the week ahead.
Back in April 2012, Zero Hedge pointed out something rather disturbing for the European banking sector and defenders of the European monetary myth: the "aggregate shortfall of required stable funding Is €2.78 trillion" which was the number estimated by the BIS' Basel III rules needed to return to some semblance of balance sheet stability in Europe. More importantly, this was a number so big, it was obvious that there was only one way to deal with it: cover it up deeply under the rug and pray it never reemerged. What happened next was inevitable: Basel III's implementation was delayed as there was no way Europe's banks could satisfy their deleveraging requirements, while the actual capital shortfall hole became bigger and bigger. Today, 16 months later, the FT discovers what Zero Hedge readers knew long ago in "Eurozone banks need to shed €3.2tn in assets to meet Basel III." In other words, not only has Europe not fixed anything in the past year, but the liquidity tsunami injected by the central banks merely taped over the epic capital shortfall that just got epic-er, increasing from €2.8 trillion to €3.2 trillion, an increase of half a trillion to over $4 trillion in one short year.
The good, if fake, Chinese "data" releases continued for a second day in row, dominating the overnight headlines with a barrage that included CPI, PPI, retail sales, industrial production, fixed investment, money growth, car sales, and much more (summary recap below). Needless to say, all the data was just "good enough" or better than expected. Yet judging by both the Chinese market (which is barely up, following the drop on yesterday's "surge" in made up trade data) and the US futures, not even algos are dumb enough to fall for the goalseek function in China_economy.xls. Either that, or traders are taking the "rebound" in the Chinese economy as a further indication that the Taper (which will take place in September), will take place in September. And since global risk sentiment continues to be driven by the USDJPY, the Yen pushing to overnight highs is not helping the "China is bullish" narrative.
President Obama recently stopped in Phoenix to deliver his latest diatribe on how he is going to fix the economy. Yes, that is correct, another round of "campaign speeches" that, as has been the hallmark of this Administration to date, have generally wound up mired in an abyss of a broken congressional system. What really struck me, however, was his comprehensive plan designed to further boost the housing market. Another housing bailout program is the last thing we need. It's time to stop trying to fix what is broken by trying to cure the symptoms rather than the disease.
From Bill Gross: "Capitalism depends on the successful offering and capture of carry in its multiple forms. If capitalism is faltering (recession) in developed/developing economies and yields are close to the zero bound, then portfolios should have less carry than before. If prospects are mediocre, portfolios should be overweight carry. If prospects are very bright, they should again be underweight bond carry. If we can be mindful of this, and accurately forecast it, we will be successful. This may be the most important conceptual change I have ever written about in an Investment Outlook. Readers who have stuck with this Outlook at least to this point have a scoop, if not a magic feather."
It appears, as UBS' Stephane Deo notes, that in a rising rate environment, so-called risk-parity portfolios were susceptible to draw-down as yields 'gap' higher. As it turned out the 'equalization of risk across assets within the portfolio' failed dramatically after the Fed's June 19th FOMC statement which sent rates and stocks higher (and moreover rate volatility considerably higher) - the consequence for some risk parity funds was a significant loss. The question is whether this will happen again, or was this event a one-off? We believe this is a relatively mild foretaste of what is to come... as the 'speed limit' for rising bond yields is smashed.
The sharpening international geopolitical competition over natural resources has turned some strategic resources into engines of power struggle. Transnational water resources have become an especially active source of competition and conflict, triggering a dam-building race and prompting growing calls for the United Nations to recognize water as a key security concern. With the era of cheap, bountiful water having been replaced by increasing supply and quality constraints, many investors are beginning to view water as the new oil. Political and economic water wars are already being waged in several regions, reflected in dam construction on international rivers and coercive diplomacy or other means to prevent such works. The World Bank estimates that such constraints are costing China 2.3% of GDP. In short, we must focus on addressing our water-supply problems as if our lives depended on it. In fact, they do.
President Obama said yesterday that he wouldn't support restoring FNMA and Freddie Mac to the status they enjoyed before the credit crisis, which let Fannie and Freddie make profits during good times, "knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be left holding the bag." The implications loom large not just for property owners but for investors if there will not be any "implicitly guaranteed" Agencies. For home owners it is likely to mean that their cost of mortgage products will rise and perhaps significantly if this task is left totally to the private sector. We suspect that in times of trouble then no one will lend and the volatility in the housing sector will increase dramatically.
A bearish take on U.S. stocks is about as fashionable as a beehive hairdo at the moment, which makes it a decent time to think like a contrarian. Sell-side strategists with a sense of reality are few and far-between but as ConvergEx's Nick Colas warns, the most important reason for caution currently is, obviously, valuation and complacency. U.S. stocks currently reflect, both in price level (16x current year earnings) and implied volatility (an 11 handle VIX), an economic acceleration which has yet to fully flower. In addition, Colas adds, domestic equities look good in part simply because everything else – Europe, Japan, emerging markets, etc... - look so bad. Wouldn't an accelerating U.S. economy spill over to other regions? So what is lurking around the corner for the next lucky Fed head? And what about the three main memes for why the 'bull' can keep running?
Bullish on one, no so much on the other.