Seth Klarman's comments on "The Truman Show" market and "born bulls" appeared to upset the status quo today on CNBC leaving none other than Joe Kernan and then later, Jim Cramer questioning Klarman's credentials with a passive-aggressive "when did Klarman turn negative? We should look into that..." question. We found it intriguing and wondered how much the investing public weights the differing views of these veritable titans of stock market wisdom. The answer - a market-based answer - lie in the purest measure of all... the cost of acquiring their knowledge...
The world is a strange place. The banks have no money. Or rather, they have no money that they want to lend anyone out there in the real world. So, in their place, it’s the governments that have decided since the financial crash to become the lenders to the economies.
With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
As Bill Clinton once famously stated; "What is....is" and while the current market "IS" within a bullish trend currently, it doesn't mean that this will always be the case. This is why, as investors, we must modify Clinton's line to: "What is...is...until it isn't." That thought is the foundation of this weekend's "Things To Ponder." In order to recognize when market dynamics have changed for the worse, we must be aware of the risks that are currently mounting.
Today's nonfarm payroll number is set to be a virtual non-event: with consensus expecting an abysmal print, it is almost assured that the real seasonally adjusted number (and keep in mind that the average February seasonal adjustment to the actual number is 1.5 million "jobs" higher) will be a major beat to expectations, which will crash the "harsh weather" narrative but who cares. Alternatively, if the number is truly horrendous, no problem there either: just blame it on the cold February... because after all what are seasonal adjustments for? Either way, whatever the number, the algos will send stocks higher - that much is given in a blow off top bubble market in which any news is an excuse to buy more. So while everyone is focused on the NFP placeholder, the real key event that nobody is paying attention to took place in China, where overnight China’s Shanghai Chaori Solar defaulted on bond interest payments, failing to repay CNY 89.9mln (USD 14.7mln), as had been reported here extensively previously. This marked the first domestic corporate bond default in the country's history - indicating a further shift toward responsibility and focus on moral hazard in China.
The Fed’s basic beliefs and workings are clearly sacrosanct, no matter how many times they fail. And as long as that continues to be the case, expect current and future Fed Chairs to follow Bernanke’s lead and draw up a list of boom-bust blunders shortly after leaving office. The aggregate equity allocation for U.S. households is now at a level that’s only ever been reached in the Internet bubble years of 1998 to 2000. This will surely lift spirits at the next FOMC meeting. (Cue the laugh track.) Higher equity allocations are exactly what the Fed tries to achieve with its so-called portfolio balance channel – their jargon for driving up the prices of a few assets by enough that you push investors into other assets (risky assets, such as equity, in the present case). The Fed’s confessions haven’t gone far enough
On the heels of yesterday's confessions (as we detailed here), ex-Fed chair Ben Bernanke continues his contrition:
- *BERNANKE SAYS HE UNDERESTIMATED IMPACT OF SUBPRIME PROBLEM
- *BERNANKE SAYS HE THOUGHT SLOWDOWN WOULD BE 'MODERATE'
But apart from that, "nailed it." What a great way to earn $250,000 per appearance (a year's Fed salary): by admitting your mistakes destroyed the middle class.
With the world still on edge over developments in the Ukraine, overnight newsflow was far less dramatic than yesterday, with no "bombshell" uttered at today's Putin press conferences in which he said nothing new and simply reiterated the party line and yet the market saw it as a full abdication, he did have some soundbites saying Russia should keep economic issues separate from politics, and that Russia should cooperate with all partners on Ukraine. Elsewhere Gazprom kept the heat on, or rather off, saying Ukraine recently paid $10 million of its nat gas debt, but that for February alone Ukraine owes $440 million for gas, which Ukraine has informed Gazprom it can't pay in full. Adding the overdue amounts for prior months, means Ukraine's current payable on gas is nearly $2 billion. Which is why almost concurrently Barosso announced that Europe would offer €1.6 billion in loans as part of EU package, which however is condition on striking a deal with the IMF (thank you US taxpayers), and that total aid could be as large as $15 billion, once again offloading the bulk of the obligations to the IMF. And so one more country joins the Troika bailout routine, and this one isn't even in the Eurozone, or the EU.
Now that Ben Bernanke is no longer the head of the Fed, he can finally tell the truth about what caused the financial crash. At least that's what a packed auditorium of over 1000 people as part of the financial conference staged by National Bank of Abu Dhabi, the UAE's largest bank, was hoping for earlier today when they paid an exorbitant amount of money to hear the former chairman talk. Bernanke confirmed as much when he said he could now speak more freely about the crisis than he could while at the Fed - "I can say whatever I want."
So what was the reason, according to the man who was easily the most powerful person in the world for nearly a decade?
The Bitcoin phenomenon has now reached the mainstream media where it met with a reception that ranged from sceptical to outright hostile. The recent volatility in the price of bitcoins and the issues surrounding Bitcoin-exchange Mt. Gox have led to additional negative publicity. It is clear that on a conceptual level, Bitcoin has much more in common with a gold and silver as monetary assets than with state fiat money. The supply of gold, silver and Bitcoin, is not under the control of any issuing authority. It is money of no authority – and this is precisely why such assets were chosen as money for thousands of years. Gold, silver and Bitcoin do not require trust and faith in a powerful and privileged institution, such as a central bank bureaucracy. Under a gold standard you have to trust Mother Nature and the spontaneous market order that employs gold as money. Under Bitcoin you have to trust the algorithm and the spontaneous market order that employs bitcoins as money (if the public so chooses). Under the fiat money system you have to trust Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, and their hordes of economics PhDs and statisticians.
Yuan volatility is part of a major rebalancing of global trade. The next phase of EM turmoil will involve banking crises in several countries including China.
There’s good propaganda and bad propaganda. Bad propaganda is generally crude, amateurish Judy Miller “mobile weapons lab-type” nonsense that figures that people are so stupid they’ll believe anything that appears in “the paper of record.” Good propaganda, on the other hand, uses factual, sometimes documented material in a coordinated campaign with the other major media to cobble-together a narrative that is credible, but false. The so called Fed’s transcripts, which were released last week, fall into the latter category... But while the conversations between the members are accurately recorded, they don’t tell the gist of the story or provide the context that’s needed to grasp the bigger picture. Instead, they’re used to portray the members of the Fed as affable, well-meaning bunglers who did the best they could in ‘very trying circumstances’. While this is effective propaganda, it’s basically a lie, mainly because it diverts attention from the Fed’s role in crashing the financial system, preventing the remedies that were needed from being implemented (nationalizing the giant Wall Street banks), and coercing Congress into approving gigantic, economy-killing bailouts which shifted trillions of dollars to insolvent financial institutions that should have been euthanized. What I’m saying is that the Fed’s transcripts are, perhaps, the greatest propaganda coup of our time.
Missed today's follow up Janet Yellen testimony before the Senate Banking Committee? Don't worry: you didn't miss much, all the bases were covered including winter weather during the winter, the Fed's complete cluelessness about what "full employment" means (because the definition changed thoroughly from December 2012 when it was 6.5%), what the "quantitative" definition of quantitive easing is (Yellen has no idea), why the Fed isn't subject to a haircut on its MBS holdings while all the other banks have to suffer under the intolerable Basel III 15% haircut (something to do with illiquidity of MBS, and specifically - something to do with the fact that the Fed has soaked up more than all net issuance of MBS in the past year, but don't worry - the Fed is on top of it), and, of course, Bitcoin. For everything else, here is Goldman's post-mortem of Yellen's Day Two testimony.
That didn't take long: merely weeks since he walked out of the Marriner Eccles building and into the sunset, Ben Bernanke is writing his memoirs. AP reports: "Ben Bernanke, who stepped down last month after eight years as chairman of the Federal Reserve, is planning a memoir. Bernanke told The Associated Press on Monday that he will focus not just on the defining moment of his time at the Fed, the 2008 financial crisis, but on the "Great Recession" that followed. "I want people to understand what we knew, when we knew it, how we made decisions and how we dealt with the enormous economic uncertainty," said Bernanke, who expects to begin meeting with publishers within the next several weeks. Bernanke, 60, says he will cover his entire career at the Fed, starting in 2002, when he joined the Board of Governors." So our question to you, dear readers, is what should the title of Bernanke's book of memoirs be?
880 grams at a time...