The biggest fear the market currently has is not the ongoing crisis in the Emerging Markets, not the suddenly slowing economy, not even China's credit bubble popping: it is that Bernanke's successor may have suddenly reverted to the "Old Normal" - a regime in which the Fed is not there to provide the training wheels should the S&P suffer a 5%, 10% or 20% (or more) drop. Whether such fears are warranted will be tested as soon as there is indeed a bear market plunge in stocks - the first in nearly three years (incidentally the topic of the Fed's lack of vacalty was covered in a recent Reuters article). So, assuming that indeed the most dramatic change in market dynamics in the past five years has taken place, how does one trade this new world which is so unfamiliar to so many of today's "younger" (and forgotten by many of the older) traders? And, more importantly, how does one look for the signs of a bottom: an Old Normal bottom that is. Courtesy of Convergex' Nicholas Colas, here is a reminder of what to look forward to, for those who are so inclined, to time the next market inflection point.
How many times in the last few days have we been told that Turkey - or Ukraine or Venezuela or Argentina - are too small to matter? How many comparisons of Emerging Market GDP to world GDP to instill confidence that a little crisis there can't possible mean problems here. Putting aside this entirely disingenuous perspective, historical examples such as LTCM, and ignoring the massive leverage in the system, there is a simple reason why Emerging Markets matter. As Reuters reports, European banks have loaned in excess of $3 trillion to emerging markets, more than four times US lenders - especially when average NPLs for historical EM shocks is over 40%.
My point with this is that when the capital markets “break” due to a loss in credibility, the shift tends to be both swift and violent.
Nine Event Risks for the week ahead: identified, discussed and assessed.
Hinting that the worst is yet to come, was none other than India's Central Bank governor Raghuram Rajan himself, who yesterday in an interview in Mumbai with Bloomberg TV India, said that "international monetary cooperation has broken down." Of course, when the Fed was monetizing $85 billion each and every month and stocks could only go up, nobody had a complaint about any cooperation, be it monetary or international. However, a 4% drop in the S&P from its all time high... and everyone begins to panic.
If one were only to look at the stock market and the buzz within New York, London, San Francisco, Sydney or Toronto; they would conclude that the world is indeed booming. After all, people say the stock market is a leading indicator and that is telling us that the world is bursting at the seams with accelerating growth. And of course, the leading financial news stations are tripping over themselves with gushes of great news. Now, we don’t mean to be the party pooper; however one must understand what is really happening to truly appreciate the still, slow moving and delicate economic pickle the world has been stuck with. For starters, these major cities are always booming. Instead, for a better picture of economic life, feel free to visit St. Louis, Winnipeg, or Marseilles and we’re sure you’ll have no problems at all securing that dinner reservation. Peeling away the top layer of fabulous news resulting from the stock market, we cannot help but see that the deep structural issues associated with the 2008-09 crisis remain. The mountains of bad debt have simply shifted away from specific investors, to governments and their tax payers. From a global perspective, this transfer of bad debt from specific investors to tax payers is THE most important issue to understand. In simpler terms, and unknown to many, the bad debt has been spread around the world for everyone to share. Yes, socialism has arrived and few in our capitalistic world have noticed.
Consensus that the Fed would extend its $10bn taper from December with a further $10 bn taper today (reducing the monthly flow to a 'mere' $65 billion per month - $30bn MBS, $35bn TSY) was spot on. We suspect the view, despite the clear interconnectedness of markets (and flows), of the FOMC is that "it's not our problem, mate" when it comes to EM turmoil.
- *FED TAPERS BOND BUYING TO $65 BLN MONTHLY PACE FROM $75 BLN
- *FED SAYS LABOR MARKET `MIXED,' `SHOWED FURTHER IMPROVEMENT'
- *FED REITERATES LOW RATES UNTIL JOBLESS RATE `WELL PAST' 6.5%
Of course, "communication" was heavy with forward guidance on lower for longer stressed. We'll see if the market buys the dichotomy of hawkish real tapering and dovish promises...remember "tapering is not tightening."
Pre-FOMC: S&P Futs 1775, Gold $1267, 10Y 2.71%, 2Y 35.5bps, USDJPY 102, EM FX 85.67, WTI $97.35, IG 72bps, HY $106.35
A slew of favorable overnight news, including a stronger than expected German IFO business climate print, reports that Draghi has signalled he would be prepared for the ECB to buy packages of bank loans to households and companies, when he said "the ECB might be able to buy securitised bank loans if they could be packaged as asset-backed securities in a transparent manner" (a QE-lite will hardly make the market happy), a largely expected bail out of the Chinese Trust Equals Gold imminent default (more in a subsequent post), as well as the announcement of Argentina's new liberalized dollar purchase capital controls (which have a monthly purchase limit as well as a minimum income threshold), not to mention the traditional USDJPY levitation which drags all risk along with it, were unable to put an end to the ongoing rout in emerging markets, which saw the Turkish Lira collapse to fresh record lows before it jumped on news the Turkish Central Bank would hold an extraordinary meeting tomorrow (if the recent intervention by the CB is any indication, watch out), not to mention the Ruble, Zloty and even the Ukraine Hryvna dump as the outflows from EMs continued over a mixture of tapering fears as well as concern that the one way fund flow would accelerate creating its own positive feedback loop. Is today the day the fund flow exodus will finally be halted? Stay tuned to find out and keep a close eye on the USDJPY - the most manipulated, confiduing-boosting "asset" in the world right now, more so than gold even.
Overview of forces impacting stocks, bonds and currencies.
What a difference half a year makes. It seems like it was yesterday when Blackrock head Larry Fink, when discussing the future of capital markets with the now defunct money honey, uttered these infamous words about any and all possible risks: "it doesn't matter." Suddenly, it matters. Speaking in Davos, Fink warned there is 'way too much optimism' in financial markets as he predicted repeats of the market turmoil that roiled investors this week. As Bloomberg reports, Fink warned a Davos panel that "the experience of the marketplace this past week is going to be indicative of this entire year... We’re going to be in a world of much greater volatility."
The concept of the "Fed Put" is about to be tested.
With China's shadow-banking system turmoiling and data not at all supportive of the same kind of growth investors are hoping for, some were surprised when China's GDP magically turned out at the 7.7% expectations deemed acceptable by the government. As Xinhua reports, not all is as it seems. China's GDP amounted to 56.9 trillion yuan (9.3 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2013. However, the aggregate of the provincial GDP figures, which were independently calculated and released, was about 2 trillion yuan more than the 56.9-trillion-yuan figure arrived at by the NBS, even though three of the 31 localities that were yet to release the figures were not included. This has aroused suspicion (just as we saw with the PMI data in the past) that some growth-obsessed local officials have cooked the books.
With Russia offering $10 billion in funds to the troubled nation this morning, and Ukrainian capital markets in disarray over the anti-anti-Europe protests and ongoing riots, Stefan Karlsson offers an alternative take on the "people vs dictator" meme - especially in light of the fact that Yanuckovich is supported by a large part of the population (specifically in the eastern and southern parts of the country).
Nearly two years ago, before the topic of (the great and constantly missing) Capex became a mainstream media mainstay, we said that as long as the Fed was actively engaged in manipulating the capital markets - and this was before the Fed launched its endless QEternity - the bulk of corporate cash would go not into investing for growth, i.e., capital spending and/or hiring, but dividends and (levered) stock buybacks. Nearly $1 trillion in stock buybacks later, and zero growth Capex, we were proven right, much to the chagrin of permabulls who said the capex spending spree is just around the corner again... and again... and. Of course, if this were to happen, it would promptly refute our fundamental thesis that the Fed's presence in the market results in the terminal misallocation of efficient corporate capital. We were not concerned. We are even less concerned now having just read an FT piece forecasting that "capital spending by US companies is expected to grow this year at its slowest pace for four years, in a sign of corporate caution over the outlook for global demand." And like that, dear permabuls, the key pillar beneath all "corporate growth" thesis was yanked. Again. Fear not. There is always 2015. Or 2016. You get it.
What are you afraid of, exactly? ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes we all have our phobias and fears, some logical and anchored in reality and others irrational but still powerful; but for the capital markets currently it seems there is no fear. The CBOE VIX Index started the year at 14.2 and has fallen to a close of 12.9 today. That move, Colas adds, has dragged the IVs of everything from U.S. large cap energy stocks to gold to corporate bonds lower in its wake. Even expectations for Emerging Markets equity volatility are in retreat as we start 2014. But, when near term historical or implied volatility becomes this complacent, it seems appropriate to spend a little more time pondering what might go wrong. Markets, after all, have the entire “What should go right” side of the trade well understood and reflected in current prices. In that spirit, here is the "Top 10" list of what might take us off the rails of complacency in 2014.