Capital Markets

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Guest Post: Japan's Self-Defeating Mercantilism





In the 16 months since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his bold plan to reflate Japan’s shrinking economy the yen has depreciated by 22% against the dollar, 28% against the euro and 24% against the renminbi. The hope was to stimulate trade and push the current account decisively into the black. Yet the reverse has occurred. Japan’s external position has worsened due to anemic export growth and a spiraling energy import bill: in January it recorded a record monthly trade deficit of ¥2.8trn ($27.4bn). Having eked out a 0.7% current account surplus in 2013, Japan may this year swing into deficit for the first time since 1980. So why is the medicine not working?

 
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Frontrunning: March 21





  • Australia says nothing spotted in search for plane (AP)
  • Putin looks to Asia as West threatens to isolate Russia (Reuters)
  • China Billionaire Builds Metals With Dreyfus, Glencore Hires (BBG)
  • China Beige Book Says Economy Slowing (BBG)
  • Caterpillar Said to Be Focus of Senate Overseas Tax Probe (BBG)
  • US Cancels Summit With Divided Group of Gulf Nations (WSJ)
  • Cyprus defense minister suffers aneurysm (AP)
  • Abe to zero in on economy as tax hike looms (Nikkei)
  • Europe strikes deal to complete banking union (Reuters)
 
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NY Attorney General Probing HFT "Fairness & Predatory Behavior": Did He Just Kill The Virtu IPO?





It seems the blatant unveiling of the HFT market's Holy Grail trading - Virtu (1 loss in 1238 days) - has raised some attention as Bloomberg reports, NY AG Eric Schneiderman has opened a broad investigation into whether U.S. stock exchanges and alternative venues provide high-frequency traders with improper advantages. As one European lawmaker noted, "the area of high-frequency trading is lacking suitable regulation," and Schneiderman warned "this new breed of predatory behavior gives a small segment of the industry an enormous advantage over all other competitors."  We wonder how this will affect Virtu's IPO given regulation is risk factor #1!

 
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Yuan Tumbles To 11-Month Lows As China Home Price Growth Slows





It would appear that the widening of the daily trading bands (we discussed last night) are having a directional effect on USDCNY as the devaluation continues on the back of forced carry-trade unwinds. At 6.19, CNY is its weakest in 11 months (2.5% weaker than its lows in January) and the last 2 months have seen by far the biggest weakening in the currency on record. This 'implied' easing is modestly supporting the stock market and copper for now (though we suspect that is more spillover from risk-on squeezes post-Ukraine). While Goldman and BofA are adamant that widening the bands will not mean a change in trend overall, it seems clear that hot money is outflowing and driving a trend change anyway as corporate bond prices are not rising and home-price appreciation is slowing in the major cities.

 
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RIP - The Truman Show of Bubble Finance, 1987-2014





Seth Klarman recently remarked:

"All the Trumans – the economists, fund managers, traders, market pundits –know at some level that the environment in which they operate is not what it seems on the surface…. But the zeitgeist is so damn pleasant, the days so resplendent, the mood so euphoric, the returns so irresistible, that no one wants it to end."

Klarman is here referring to the waning days of this third and greatest financial bubble of this century. But David Stockman's take is that the crack-up boom now nearing its dénouement marks not merely the season finale of still another Fed-induced cycle of financial asset inflation, but, in fact, portends the demise of an entire era of bubble finance.

 
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Frontrunning: March 13





  • China premier warns on economic slowdown as data fans stimulus talk (Reuters)
  • Li says China defaults ‘unavoidable’ (FT)
  • Russia Said to Ready for Iran-Style Sanctions in Worst Case (BBG)
  • Rescue the tapes from the Bank of England’s dustbins  (FT)
  • Obama Warns Putin of Cost to Russia for Annexing Ukraine (BBG)
  • The TVIX is back: Credit Suisse VIX Note That Ran Amok in 2012 Back on Top (BBG)
  • U.S. Risks National Blackout From Small-Scale Attack (WSJ)
  • U.S. Investigators Suspect Missing Airplane Flew On for Hours (WSJ)
  • Malaysia says no evidence missing plane flew hours after losing contact (Reuters)
  • Missed Alarms and 40 Million Stolen Credit Card Numbers: How Target Blew It (BBG)
  • Death Toll in NYC Building Blast Rises to Six; Search Continues (BBG)
 
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Frontrunning: March 12





  • China worries chill markets, copper slumps (Reuters)
  • Peak dot com dot two idiocy: Candy Crush Saga maker King seeks $7.56 bln valuation from IPO (BBG)
  • Obama Meeting With Yatsenyuk Raises Stakes in Ukraine (BBG)
  • Federal prosecutors open criminal probe of GM recall (Reuters)
  • Pimco Cuts Government Debt on Outlook for Fed Buying (BBG)
  • Missing Malaysian Jetliner Confuses World That’s Online 24/7 (BBG)
  • Mortgage Giants Face Endgame (WSJ)
  • Russia Calls U.S. Aid to Ukraine Illegal Amid Standoff (BBG)
  • U.S. judge freezes assets of Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange boss (Reuters)
  • Ousted Libyan PM flees country after tanker escapes rebel-held port (Reuters)
  • Senate-CIA Dispute Erupts Into a Public Brawl (WSJ)
 
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This Is The One Financial Product Now Targeted By The HFT Swarm





In order to determine if there is indeed truth behind the speculation that growth for the HFT space may have topped out, we decided to break down Virtu's 2013 net trading income by product line. We were not surprised to find that of the $45 million in total growth, the largest income category, US stocks growth was a tiny 5% of all, rising by $2.3 million in 2013, half the $4.5 million growth a year earlier. In fact, between EMEA, APAC and US Equities, there was very limited growth in 2013, while commodities posted an outright trading income decline. So indeed, it appears to be the case that growth in conventional products has indeed plateaued, as more and more HFT competitors rush in. And yet, one product stood out. It is highlighted on the chart below...

 
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Seth Klarman On "Born Bulls", Bitcoin, & "The Truman Show" Market





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."

 
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Futures Drift Higher Pushed By Yen Carry In Advance Of BOE, ECB Announcements





Following yesterday's abysmal employment and service data which led to an unchanged close it quite clear that the market has returned to a mode where it ignores all newsflow - at least the bad, which is due to the weather, the good news is due to the recovery - and instead is simply driven by such "fundamental drivers" as the momentum and position of the Yen carry trade. And overnight the USDJPY positively exploded following news that the Japan advisory committee has decided the nation's pension fund, the GPIF, does' t need a domestic bond focus. Implicitly this means that the GPIF will soon be able to purchase stocks like Facebook and Tesla, which is a guaranteed way of generated short-term gains and longer-term total losses for the Japanese pensioners. Of course, when the latter happens, nobody will have been able to foresee it and some scapegoat somewhere will be summarily fired. As for what this means for futures, the drift higher has made SPOOs rise once more and at last check was just below if not at new all time highs on an ongoing barrage of increasingly negative macro news.

 
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Bernanke Finally Reveals, In One Word, Why The Financial System Crashed





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?

Ready?

 
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"The Market Is Not The Economy" And The Winner-Takes-All Society





You hear that old saw that "the market is not the economy," a lot these days, and for good reason. As ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes, the S&P 500 breaks to record highs - but U.S. labor markets remain sluggish; investor portfolios do well - but over 47 million Americans (more than 15% of the population) are still in U.S. food stamp program – the same as August 2012. The important question now is: "Is the market TOO different from the economy?"

 
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Howard Marks: "In The End, The Devil Always Wins"





"If I ask you what’s the risk in investing, you would answer the risk of losing money. But there actually are two risks in investing: One is to lose money and the other is to miss opportunity. You can eliminate either one, but you can’t eliminate both at the same time. So the question is how you’re going to position yourself versus these two risks: straight down the middle, more aggressive or more defensive. I think of it like a comedy movie where a guy is considering some activity. On his right shoulder is sitting an angel in a white robe. He says: «No, don’t do it! It’s not prudent, it’s not a good idea, it’s not proper and you’ll get in trouble». On the other shoulder is the devil in a red robe with his pitchfork. He whispers: «Do it, you’ll get rich». In the end, the devil usually wins. Caution, maturity and doing the right thing are old-fashioned ideas. And when they do battle against the desire to get rich, other than in panic times the desire to get rich usually wins. That’s why bubbles are created and frauds like Bernie Madoff get money." - Howard Marks

 
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