When we tapered our coverage of HFT manipulation and stock market abuse some time ago, we thought that the message had been heard loud and clear: high frequency trading is a sophisticated market manipulating parasite, whose only real function is to abuse market structure and integrity, by making conventional market manipulation practices more difficult to spot and identify. It turns out some, i.e., Newedge, thought they could still get away with traditional manipulative practices such as spoofing, layering, momentum ignition, wash trading, bypassing, and others, if only they were wrapped in an HFT blanket. It did so for four years from 2008 until 2011. As it turns out it was wrong, and in a stunning example of actually doing its job, FINRA fined Newedge, which is one of the largest futures brokers in the world and ranks third in terms of U.S. customer assets on deposit, a record $9.5 million.
With the Snowden saga, it seems suddenly, the idea that there should be a limit to governments has resuscitated; wherever the governments and whatever the limits are. But there is indeed a limit and the global collective mind is trying to figure it out...
Bernanke's comments give market cause to re-think its outlook for tapering and eventaul rate hike. Here's why and what it means.
Bernanke gives a speech today in Boston beginning at 4:10 PM entitled “The First 100 Years of the Federal Reserve: The Policy Record, Lessons Learned, and Prospects for the Future”. There will be a post-speech ‘Question & Answer’ period. This is an ideal time for him to fine-tune the Fed’s complicated message to markets. He can use this opportunity to send up a trial balloon for next week’s semi-annual report to Congress. We suspect Bernanke could even have his staffers leak questions to ask to those in the audience in order to frame and direct the conversation. We believe the Fed has drifted toward acceptance of tapering because of concerns about: 1) financial instability, 2) asset bubbles and 3) amassing difficulties for its exit strategies, not because economic nirvana has been reached. Therefore, we believe the decision to taper at one of the next two meeting is almost a certainty.
It’s summer. Markets are supposed to be in the doldrums. But, that characterization hardly fits thus far this summer. What is different this year? We are nearing a possible inflection point in terms of Fed actions. The mere suggestion from the Fed that something is going to change is enough to supercharge markets, either up or down. If anyone was not convinced of market dependence on liquidity (and not fundamentals), the last thirty or so days should have clued them in. The Fed’s charter never included keeping markets levitating beyond where they should be. Now, at least de facto, it does. The Fed surrendered whatever independence it supposedly had. It is now just another tool of the political class. Stay tuned, this story has hardly begun.
When you get into too much debt, really bad things start to happen. Sadly, that is exactly what is happening to Italy right now. Harsh austerity measures are causing the Italian economy to slow down even more than it was previously. And yet even with all of the (supposed) austerity measures, the Italian government just continues to rack up even more debt. This is the exact same path that we watched Greece go down. But if Italy collapses economically, it is going to be a far bigger deal than what happened in Greece. Italy is the ninth largest economy on the entire planet.
"If central banks keep tacking and trimming as they edge away from accommodation, it may come to pass that none of their statements will carry much credibility. They could then lose control of long rates or, at best, stability in long rates might call for ever greater market intervention on their part. The end-result would be to render monetary measures largely useless as instruments of policy because central banks, with their controls jammed open, could never be sure of effecting any intended plan. Mr Bernanke and his co-thinkers may soon discover that, in taking a different line in coping with the current depression from that followed in the 1930s, they have fallen unsuspectingly into a trap from which escape will be painful."
Anyone who followed today's trading action with a very distinct sense of summer of 2008 deja vu dread, where soaring crude led to just one thing, soaring stocks, they are forgiven, because this is precisely how one can summarize today's action. In a day devoid of any news (except for the JOLTS survey of course, which confirmed the gaming of NFP payroll numbers), in which bonds did absolutely nothing, with the 10 Year trading in a very tight range just shy of 2.65%, it was all about low-volume levitating equities and the energy complex.
The U.S. economy weakened appreciably in the first quarter of 2013. But what if this weakness persists into the second quarter just completed, and worsens still in the second half of this year? Q1 GDP, as reported on June 26th, was revised lower to just 1.8%. And various indications suggest that Q2 could come in slightly lower still, at 1.6%. Might the U.S. economy be guiding to a long-term GDP of 1.5%? That’s the rate identified by such observers as Jeremy Grantham – the rate at which we combine aging demographics, lower fertility rates, high resource costs, and the burdensome legacy of debt. After a four-year reflationary rally in just about everything, and now with an emerging interest rate shock, the second half of 2013 appears to have more downside risk than upside. Have global stock markets started to discount this possibility?
Today, something happened that has not happened since the Lehman collapse: the 1 Month Gold Forward Offered (GOFO) rate turned negative, from 0.015% to -0.065%, for the first time in nearly 5 years, or technically since just after the Lehman bankruptcy precipitated AIG bailout in November 2011. And if one looks at the 3 Month GOFO, which also turned shockingly negative overnight from 0.05% to -0.03%, one has to go back all the way to the 1999 Washington Agreement on gold, to find the last time that particular GOFO rate was negative.
In principle, holding gold is a form of insurance against war, financial Armageddon, and wholesale currency debasement. And, from the onset of the global financial crisis, the price of gold has often been portrayed as a barometer of global economic insecurity. In fact, the case for or against gold has not changed all that much since 2010 - it makes perfect sense to hold a small percentage of your assets in gold as a hedge against extreme events. As Ken Rogoff explains, the recent collapse of gold prices has not really changed the case for investing in it one way or the other. Yes, prices could easily fall below $1,000; but, then again, they might rise; but he warns, policymakers should be cautious in interpreting the plunge in gold prices as a vote of confidence in their performance.
Five days ago the latest episode of the endless "Europe pays Greece to pay Europe" charade played out when the Eurozone gave Greece its latest three-day "ultimatum" to fix itself or else. Obviously, Greece did not fix itself, but since the three day ultimatum ran out two days ago, and since the BBG ticker for the Greek currency is still not XGD, one can assume that the latest European bluff, especially one coming 2 months before Merkel's reelection when nothing is allowed to disturb the precarious European house of insolvent cards, was just that: a bluff.
On occasion of an address to economists at a conference in France, Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann reminded the audience that 'the ECB cannot solve the crisis', because it is due to structural reasons and therefore requires structural reform. Weidmann rightly fears that governments will begin to postpone or even stop their reform efforts now that the ECB has managed to calm markets down. In a Reuters article on the topic, a number of people are quoted remarking on ECB policy. What is so interesting about this is how far removed from reality general perceptions are when it comes to judging current central bank policies. In short, Weidmann wants to end the three card Monte, whereby commercial banks buy the bonds issued by governments because they don't have to put any capital aside for the purpose, which bonds they then can in turn pawn off to the central bank for refinancing purposes. Weidmann wants to see the connection between banks and sovereigns severed, a connection that has been fostered by governments over many centuries in order to enable them to spend more than they take in through tax revenues.
With spot gold prices down 28% year-to-date, it appears John Paulson's Gold Fund has managed to create some epic high-beta losses. In a letter to investors, Paulson explains his fund fell 23% in June, is down 65% in 2013; but do not fear - as he concludes time and time again, the gold fund will "produce outsized returns in the long-run".
For hedge funds, June was the cruelest month.