In a must read Op-Ed in the WSJ, Mark Spitznagel, founder of "fat tail" focused hedge fund Universa, where Nassim Taleb has been known to dabble on occasion, explains the fundamental flaw with central planning, and specifically why "moral hazard" or the attempt to avoid the destructive part of natural cycles, is the greatest unnatural abomination ever conceived by man. His visual explanation should be sufficient for even such grizzled academics who have no clue how the real world works, as the Chairsatan, to comprehend why what he is doing is an epic abomination of every law of nature: "Suppressing fire, creating the illusion of fire protection, leads to the wrong kind of growth, which then invites greater destruction. About 100 years ago, the U.S. Forest Service took a zero-tolerance approach to forest fires, stamping them out at the first blaze. Fast forward to 1988 when a massive wildfire at Yellowstone National Park wiped out more than 30 times the acreage of any previously recorded fire." Another way of calling this, is what we have been warning about for years: delaying mean reversion does nothing but that. And when the Fed finally fails to offset the inevitable, and it will - it is a 100% certainty - the collapse and destruction will be unprecedented. Ironically, the only way the system could have been saved would be by letting it fail in 2008. Now, we are sorry to say, it is too late.
A short letter written to our readers about how we are skeptical of any US bullishness
If Reg. T is a "problem" then we have a big problem.
So I don’t have a good answer for the fundamental problem of tails. But there is an observed regularity in life reflected in the sayings “it is always darkest before dawn” and “where the danger grows, so grows the saving power” to quote Holderlin. And when no one can know the future, and the mechanism governing the future is unstable, anticipation of heightened risk premia warrants a barbell. In financial markets, extreme meltdowns are met by extreme policy reactions. Practically stated, it seems best to play center bets when others do not, and the tails when others do not. After markets price in heightened risk, actively manage the position by lowering exposure to the big gain leg. Move the proceeds to the center or double down on the other tail. Perhaps this is how one should manage tails. Given that the known categories of human experience do not provide adequate predictions, luck dominates control. Nobody has it all figured out. Even when you think you have it all figured out, everything blows up in your face again. We'll never figure it all out. Nobody can predict the future, and we don't have good enough imaginations to dream up every contingency.
Nassim Taleb is wrong about the financial crisis and black swans. The ongoing financial crisis is not the result of a perplexing phenomenon of complexity. It is the beginning of a train wreck we have seen for decades. We are not wandering into a surprise or horrified by the dark specter of a Black Swan rearing its long tailed head; this macro crisis appeared on the horizon long ago, easily calculated by any actuary armed with the knowledge that governments were not investing tax streams, but stealing them for current consumption. Our monetary policies do not defend inflation; they fund deficit spending and protect banking institutions. That is their empirical purpose, and that is what technocrats are now struggling to accomplish in the EU. Further, the monetary system as constructed is not modeled after complexity; it is an artificial hierarchical oligopoly with all the single process failure points that entails, pasted on top of complex economies and kept alive by increasing leverage and bailed out by equally non-robust, frail self-serving governments without the will or common sense to reform. We are not watching complexity at work; we are watching unsustainable bureaucracies self-destruct while they force complex economies to foot the bill. There is no Superman of bureaucracy. There are no rules or regulations that will prevent failure or negate investment on our road to prosperity that we do not already know. Our institutions have just consistently rejected them. After all, leverage and redistribution is much easier than successful investment. In a complex system, these bureaus would have died and been replaced by their betters long ago.
Misquoting Shakespeare before the market open may seem like blasphemy but in a follow-up confirmation of a thesis we proposed back in July, Luxor Capital expands on the idea that something rotten is ahead for the state of Denmark. As with many of these crises, the heart of the Danish problems lie in a commercial and residential real estate boom and looming bust and with the capital/equity remaining so low in the Danish banking system (and a pitiful funding profile), it seems increasingly evident that public balance sheet support will become necessary (and perhaps not sufficient). How ironic that we pointed out, back in July, the probability that Germany will need two insolvency funds, a South-facing and now a North-facing one. Having traded in the mid 20s during H1 2011, CDS now stands at 106bps (off its September peak of 158bps) and given the interest we are seeing from hedge funds in this relatively lower cost short, we suspect this week's modest decompression will accelerate.
As the Duke of Cambridge is due to be deployed to the British territory south of Argentina, the tensions are rising within Falkland Island waters as the Argentinians board Spanish fishing vessels as President Cristina Kirchner has adopted a steadily more belligerent stance towards Britain’s South Atlantic possessions. The Telegraph is this evening reporting that 29 years on from the last major tensions, Argentina has launched a naval campaign to isolate the Falkland Islands that has seen it detain Spanish fishing vessels on suspicion of breaking the country’s “blockade” of the seas around the British territories. Are we really starting to see escalations in global geopolitical tensions? Our recent discussion of the Black Swan of Cairo perhaps points to this not being as surprising as one might believe. Perhaps most worryingly, Argentina’s claim over the Falklands was backed by a newly formed block of South American and Caribbean countries, CELAC, on Saturday with unanimous approval.
During his recent lengthy discussion on the broad topic of global central bankers, optical backstops, and our coordinated cognitive dissonance, Kyle Bass, of Hayman Advisors, suggested everyone read "The Black Swan Of Cairo" penned by no less a tail-risk philosopher than Nassim Taleb (and Mark Blyth). The Foreign Affairs article from June 2011 brings into clear prose the fascinating dichotomy between the centrally planned smoothing efforts of world bankers and politicians and the inevitable (and much larger) instabilities that spring from this suppression.
It is both misguided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability “tail risks” to disappear from policymakers’ fields of observation.
With freedom comes some unpredictable fluctuation. This is one of life's packages: there is no freedom without noise - and no stability without volatility.
With Europe set to close shortly, it just may be the case that the relentless headline barrage of rumors, lies and other European sourced imports will cease at least for a few hours. So while we are awaiting to see what Syria and Iran's (not to mention Russia and China's) response will be to the latest Arab League 24 hour ultimatum, here is today's open thread to kill the boredom until we get a chance to express our thanks for all the selling opportunities about to unfold, and until we get to find out if one can buy that completely unnecessary 9th plasma (for 50% off because in America spending money is saving) while dumping BTPs from a WalMart store at 3am in the morning.
We would call the following just released chart of the Swiss monetary base a black swan, if not for two reasons: i) since this is precisely what Philipp Hildebrand demanded it is not unexpected and is in fact perfectly in line with a central banker's wet dreams, and ii) it looks far more like a Loch Ness monster. And while for the time being the monster is tame, thanks to what Kocherlakota said earlier, namely that "the old and familiar link between increased bank reserves and higher inflation has been broken," if ever the global economy were to actually improve, somewhat paradoxically, then the trillions in cash currently parked with banks the world over (assuming they are not secretly being used to plug trillions in capital shortfalls, to borrow, pun intended, an approach from MF global which commingled client capital; why should global banks not commingle central bank capital?), will immediately spill out into the street. What happens next will be amusing to quite amusing.
A global recession seems unavoidable now...
While everyone's attention was focused intently on peripheral European bond spreads last week and the incessant call for ECB intervention, a dramatic (and contagiously panic-worthy) move occurred in the European Investment Bank (EIB) bonds. For those unfamiliar, the EIB is the EU's IMF-equivalent and is the largest international non-sovereign lender and borrower. Technically, it is defined as "the European Union's long-term lending institution established in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome. It supports the EU’s priority objectives, especially European integration and the development of economically weak regions." 5Y Euro-denominated AAA-rated EIB bond spreads crashed higher, blowing past the 2009 record wides and clearly indicating that European capital flight is in full swing. The IMF-like entity, supported by a small capital base of deposits backed by promises of huge capital injections by sovereign nations (sound familiar?), has massive exposure across Europe (and elsewhere). The massive implicit leverage in the capital structure suggests the need for capital calls (and is Greece, Italy, and Spain likely to do that?) to maintain its AAA-status could be needed - given the MtM losses on its loans at a minimum. Clearly investors think the same this week and are starting to worry about the same self-referencing, self-supporting house-of-cards that caused the EFSF to be written off as potentially unworkable. With EUR20bn to be rolled (and EUR6bn in interest payments) in the next few months, we will get plenty of insight into investor demand for EIB AAA-rated paper and the impact on secondary trading from that supply.
When was the last time a politician prevented a crash by causing his/her car to instantly freeze in mid-collision? Exactly! Expect the same amount of success with these multiple, financially engineered schemes to get around recognizing the only true solution - DEBT DESTRUCTION - and by the boat loads!
I think the MF Global story comes back to the front page next week.