Say what you want about the gold price languishing below $1200 (or not, as the case may be, after this week), and say what you want about the technical picture or the “6,000-year bubble,” as Citi’s Willem Buiter recently termed it; but know this: gold is an insurance policy — not a trading vehicle — and the time to assess gold is when people have a sudden need for insurance. When that day comes - and believe me, it’s coming - the price will be the very last thing that matters. It will be purely and simply a matter of securing possession - bubble or not - and at any price. That price will NOT be $1200. A “run” on the gold “bank” would undoubtedly lead to one of those Warren Buffett moments when a bunch of people are left standing naked on the shore. It is also a phenomenon which will begin quietly before suddenly exploding into life. If you listen very carefully, you can hear something happening...
Once again oil is not even the biggest story today. It’s plenty big enough by itself to bring down large swaths of the economy, but in the background there’s an even bigger tale a-waiting. Not entirely unconnected, but by no means the exact same story either. It’s like them tsunami waves as they come rolling in. It’s exactly like that. That is, in the wake of the oil tsunami, which is a long way away from having finished washing down our shores, there’s the demise of emerging markets. And we're not talking Putin, he’ll be fine, as he showed again yesterday in his big press-op. It’s the other, smaller, emerging countries that will blow up in spectacular fashion, and then spread their mayhem around. And make no mistake: to be a contender for bigger story than oil going into 2015, you have to be major league large. This one is.
"Most investors go about their job trying to identify ‘winners’. But more often than not, investing is about avoiding losers. Like successful gamblers at the racing track, an investor’s starting point should be to eliminate the assets that do not stand a chance, and then spread the rest of one’s capital amongst the remainder." So as the year draws to a close, it may be helpful if we recap the main questions confronting investors and the themes we strongly believe in, region by region.
Blind faith in policymakers remains a bad trade that’s still widely held. Pressure builds everywhere we look. Not as a consequence of the Fed’s ineptitude (which is a constant in the equation, not a variable), but through the blind faith markets continuing to place bets on the very low probability outcome – that everything will turn out well this time around. And so the pressure keeps rising. Managers are under pressure to perform and missing more targets, levering up on hope. Without further delay we present our slightly unconventional annual list. Instead of the usual what you should do, we prefer the more helpful (for us at least) what we probably wouldn’t do. Five fresh new contenders for what could become some very bad trades in the coming year.
Thanks to the massive surge of speculative trading account openings, Chinese stocks are up 28% in the last month and a stunning 52% since China unleashed 'QE-Lite'. This has sent the total market capitalization of China's stocks soaring relative to the rest of the BRICS. In fact, Chinese stocks are now worth 55% more than Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa combined... the most ever.
There are some signs of trouble in emerging markets. And the money at risk now is bigger than ever.
The financial media is euphoric because stocks are rallying. But stocks are ALWAYS the last to “GET IT.” The currency markets (which trade $5 trillion per day) realize that something MASSIVE is underway. And it’s only just beginning.
Putting it in a bigger picture context, CAT's global sales have now declined for a record 24 consecutive months, thanks to the "Great Recovery." By comparison the number of months of consecutive declines during the great financial crisis? 19, which means that for CAT, the Great Recovery is now 25% worse than the Great Recession. And counting.
With Emerging Market debt, equity, and FX rates coming under significant pressure once again, 48-year-old veteran EM fund manager Stephen Jen has a message for the new breed of EM fund managers, brace for more pain. As Bloomberg reports, with echoes of 1997-98's crisis at hand, Jen explains, "many [current managers] became EM specialists after the term ‘BRIC’ was coined in 2001 and don’t know any serious crisis," adding "they are about to be schooled."
"Back in the halcyon days of summer, it seemed nothing could go wrong; but now, ...the uncertainties presently being generated have the potential to undermine two crucial kinds of trust – that one must have in the merits of one’s own exposure and that equally critical faith in the reliability of one’s counterparties. If it does, the third great bull run of the 20-year age of Irrational Exuberance could well reach its culmination, after a rally of almost exactly the same magnitude as and of similar duration to the one which ushered it in, all those years ago."
Despite numerous interventions by Mexico, Russia, and Nigeria, the free-fall continues in their currencies. The Russian Ruble is the poster-child (down 40% since June alone - testing 58/USD today) but the crash in Mexico and Brazil is accelerating in the last week. Default risks are surging for all of the Oil-Producing nations with Russia topping 450bps (5Y CDS) .
Oil is not quite as powerful a weapon against modern-day Russia as one might think.
The central banks are now out of dry powder - impaled on the zero-bound. That means any resort to a massive new round of money printing can not be disguised as an effort to “stimulate” the macro-economy by temporarily driving interest rates to “extraordinarily” low levels. They are already there. Instead, a Bernanke style balance sheet explosion like that which stopped the financial meltdown in the fall and winter of 2008-2009 will be seen for exactly what it is—-an exercise in pure monetary desperation and quackery. So duck and cover. This storm could be a monster.
Brent Crude crossed below $65 for the first time since 2009 this morning and WTI began to slide as inventories showed a bigger-than-expected build. But it was Saudi Arabia's oil minister al-Naimi who sparked the latest dump:
*NAIMI SAYS `WHY SHOULD I CUT PRODUCTION'?
And with that WTI plunged to a $60 handle on heavy volume...
Now that China is on the same boat as the rest of the world, and its stock market is a direct reflection of hopes for constant liquidity injections by the central banks, nothing could be better for stocks than bad news, which is precisely what it got. After the biggest crash in the Shanghai Composite in 5 years, what China got just the bad economic update it needed, when it reported a PPI of PPI (-2.7%, Exp. -2.4%), the 33rd consecutive decline and a CPI (1.4%, Exp. 1.6%), lowest since November 2009, when the big banks’ RRR rate stood at 15.5% vs. current 20%. And so hope of yet more PBOC interventions to halt China's deflation promptly reversed SHCOMP losses of over 4% on the session (at which point it was just shy of correction territory from recent highs hit just this week), and stocks surged to close up almost 3%, erasing half of yesterday's losses. This spike came despite reports Chinese regulators may limit brokerages' interbank borrowing.