“Don’t look back - something might be gaining on you,” Satchel Paige famously warned. For connoisseurs of civilizational collapse, 2014 was merely annoying, a continued pile-up of over-investments in complexity with mounting diminishing returns, metastasizing fragility, and no satisfying resolution. So we enter 2015 with greater tensions than ever before and therefore the likelihood that the inevitable breakdown will release more destructive energy and be that much harder to recover from.
Einstein advised “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. Yet that’s mostly what I see happening today on many levels.
Issuing lies and pursuing willful blindness is not leadership: it's failure on a grand scale.
Anyone who put on a long Shanghai Composite, short Brent trade on January 1, 2014, congratulations: you can now retire. However, since nobody did and instead the groupthink herd of beta-levered momentum chasers known as hedge funds were mostly long the S&P and short Treasurys, it explains why most of them generated negative returns in 2014. Here is how all the other main asset classes did in 2014, denominated both in local currency and in the soaring USD.
The new year is not even a week old and already the volatility fireworks are off, as well as the continued commodity derisking. But while for now US stocks continue to be an island oasis in a turbulent global sea where GDP forecasts decline every single day, the same can not be said about either the Euro, which after crashing overnight to a 9 year low, and rebounding briefly, has continued to decline and is now once again flirting with a key support level, this time 1.19, last reached during the May 2010 first Greek bailout. The catalyst, as usual, Greece which may or may not be leaving the Eurozone shortly, as well as ongoing bets on ECB QE following this morning's regional German inflation data which declined once more and now hints at outright deflation in Europe's strongest nation.
We thought yesterday's absurd story of former hedge fund manager James Crombie, founder of Paron Capital Management, who was arrested after found squatting in a million dollar Maryland house, would be as strange as it gets for hedge fund stories this weekend. We were wrong: moments ago the WSJ reported that Thomas Gilbert, founder of the $200 million Wainscott hedge fund, whose success Gilbert said previously had come from investing in biotech funds, was found dead with a single bullet to the head in his Manhattan apartment this afternoon, allegedly shot by none other than his 30-year-old son.
The investment climate is being shaped by four forces:
1. De-synchronized business cycle with the US ahead of the pack
2. The prospects of sovereign bond purchases by the ECB, amid political uncertainty sparked by Geece's snap election
3. The continued drop in energy prices is a stimuluative writ large but poses challenges for oil producers and the leveraged eco-system that has been built on the premise of high oil prices forever.
And they are picking up shares in all kind of (precious metal) miners...
Today, concerned that Tsipras' ascent to power will mean precisely that, namely more "blackmail" by Greece of Germany and the Eurozone, as a Grexit opens the way for a collapse of the monetary union and a return to the DEM which would cost Germany far more than continuing the annual charade of keeping Greece in the Euro, Spiegel is out with another piece saying "Bundesregierung hält Ausscheiden Griechenlands aus dem Euro für verkraftbar", or loosely translated, the Federal Government considers Greece's exit from the euro manageable. Why is this coming out today? Because moments ago, Tsipras made it quite clear just what he will demand once he gets the power: "Germany had most of nominal value of debt written off in 1953, same should be done for Greece in 2015", adding that Greece wants writedown on nominal value of Greek debt. And so the gloves come off, and the real bluffing begins.
We will readily admit that one cannot know with certainty whether the bubble in risk assets will become bigger. However, it seems to us that avoiding a big drawdown may actually be more important than gunning for whatever gains remain. We don’t think it is a good idea to simply “take the blue pill” and rely on the idea that the effects of the money illusion will last a lot longer. It is possible, but it becomes less and less likely the higher asset prices go and the more money supply growth slows down. If no-one can say when, then the “blue pill” strategy has a major weakness. It means that things could just as easily go haywire next week as next year.
Hugh Hendry's Eclectica Fund has had a great Q4 (up 3.3%, 4.0%, and 5.0% in the last 3 months) despite portfolio risk being quadruple his 'old normal'. How did he achieve this? He begins... "There are times when an investor has no choice but to behave as though he believes in things that don't necessarily exist. For us, that means being willing to be long risk assets in the full knowledge of two things: that those assets may have no qualitative support; and second, that this is all going to end painfully. The good news is that mankind clearly has the ability to suspend rational judgment long and often... He who hangs on to truth has lost. The economic truth of today no longer offers me much solace; I am taking the blue pills now."
The worldwide economic and industrial boom since the early 1990s was not indicative of sublime human progress or the break-out of a newly energetic market capitalism on a global basis. Instead, the approximate $50 trillion gain in the reported global GDP over the past two decades was an unhealthy and unsustainable economic deformation financed by a vast outpouring of fiat credit and false prices in the capital markets. In short, when the classical Austrians talked about “malinvestment” the pending disasters in the global steel and iron ore industries (and also mining equipment and other supplier industries) are what they had in mind.
Should I buy a house in 2015? No one can answer that question for anyone else, but it seems prudent to ask the question in the context of an Echo Bubble in valuations that appears to be deflating and household income that is potentially at risk of declining further in a global recession that eventually impacts the U.S. economy.
China's Leading Index has fallen to its lowest since Feb 2009 this evening, down 4 straight months from credit-driven 18 month highs. This economic weakness has exaggerated the already weak tone in Yuan trading this evening pushing CNY to its weakest in almost 7 months (against the USD), its furthest on record from the CNY Fix (10-month highs), and very close to the PBOC's upper +2% band for CNY trading. At 6.23, USDCNY is over 1000 pips weaker than the CNY fix.