While 88% of hedge funds underperformed in 2012, no doubt relying on tried and true analysis of fundamental valuation, macro-economic trends, and flows (as opposed to a 12-inch ruler), it would appear one young chap by the name of Ken Griffin is doing rather well. As Bloomberg reports, the Citadel LLC fund founder (now gated since 2009) just purchased his second luxury oceanfront property in Palm Beach Florida in less than two months. In fact, Griffin bought the two lots for a total of $79.6mm. The compact-and-bijou house of a mere 6,055 square feet was built in 1988 and previously sold for $29mm in May 2011, was Zestimated at $33.75mm (by Zillow), meaning Mr. Griffin only 'overpaid' by a mere $8mm as he snipped it up a smidge under $42mm. The grander house, of a perfectly reasonable 9,111 square feet previously sold for $20mm in May 2000, was Zestimated at $21mm, and was bid at $38mm by the deal-making Citadel founder. It seems, given Citadel's 21% return through November, that being the Fed's alleged willing HFT-router-of-last-resort in times of 'market' need, has its handsome rewards - though all that sand would just get annoying.
2012 is a year most asset managers would like to forget. With the S&P returning 16% and Russell 2000 up 16.3%, on nothing but multiple expansion in a world where risk has been eliminated despite persistently declining revenues and cash flows, a whopping 88% of hedge funds, as well as some 65% of large-cap core, 80% of large cap value, and 67% of small-cap mutual funds underperformed the market, according to Goldman's David Kostin. The ongoing absolute outperformance of mutual funds over their 2 and 20 fee sucking hedge fund peers is notable, as this is the second or perhaps even third year in a row it has happened. And while the usual excuse that hedge funds are not supposed to beat the market but a benchmark, and generally protect capital from downside risk is valid, it is irrelevant if any downside risk (see ongoing rout in VIX and net position in the VIX futures COT update) is now actively managed by central banks both directly and indirectly, their HF LPs no longer see the world in that way. In fact as Bloomberg Market's February issue summarizes, some 635 hedge funds closed in 2012, 8.5% than a year earlier, despite a far stronger year for the general indices. The reason: LPs and MPs have simply had enough of holding on to underperformers and get swept up in the momentum of performance chasing, and the result is redemption requests into funds who may have had a positive benchmark year, but underperform relative to the S&P for two or more years, which nowadays is the vast majority of funds.
There were some readers who took offense at our "bloodbath" recap of yesterday's market action (modestly different from that provided by MarketWatch). And, all else equal, a modest 28 step drop in the E-Mini/SPX would hardly be earthshattering. However, all else was not equal, and based on peripheral facts, the reason for our qualifier is that as of last week virtually nobody was prepared for a move as violent and sharp as the one experienced in the last minutes of trading yesterday. In such a context a "mere" 1.5% drop in the futures market has a far more pronounced impact on participants than a 10% or even 5% drop would have had, had traders been positioned appropriately. They weren't. So what was the context? Let's find out.
Perhaps one of the most startling and telling charts of the New Normal, one which few talk about, is the soaring difference between bank loans - traditionally the source of growth for banks, at least in their Old Normal business model which did not envision all of them becoming glorified, Too Big To Fail hedge funds, ala the Goldman Sachs "Bank Holding Company" model; and deposits - traditionally the source of capital banks use to fund said loans. Historically, and logically, the relationship between the two time series has been virtually one to one. However, ever since the advent of actively managed Central Planning by the Fed, as a result of which Ben Bernanke dumped nearly $2 trillion in excess deposits on banks to facilitate their risk taking even more, the traditional correlation between loans and deposits has broken down. It is time to once again start talking about this chart as for the first time ever the difference between deposits and loans has hit a record $2 trillion! But that's just the beginning - the rabbit hole goes so much deeper...
With the entire "market" a synthetic algo-traded derivative (and facilitated by the fat pipe between Liberty 33 and Citadel) reflecting merely where the ES and VIX trades, and completely ignoring such trivial things as underlying corporate cash flows (see next post on market performance vs earnings) or GDP, concerns about fundamentals have become a total joke. This is obviously exacerbated by such "extenuating" circumstances as tropical storms which are designed to make any negative data irrelevant. Of course, for those still curious about such old school metrics as actual economic performance, untainted by Fed intervention (such as $85 billion in offsetting flow per month), here is one chart, showing the correlation between total FedEx package shipments and Real GDP. And no, sorry, you can't blame this one on Sandy, on the Cliff, or any of the other spin talking points. From Bloomberg: "The level of FedEx package shipments began to slump as early as the first quarter of 2012 and now appears to be signaling weaker economic conditions for 2013. In late March, FedEx made mention of cooling conditions, with CFO Alan Graf noting the economy was not as strong as the company hoped it would be a year earlier. According to Fred Smith, FedEx CEO, “Fundamentally, what’s happening is that exports around the world have contracted and the policy choices in Europe and the United States and China are having an effect on global trade."
In what is the first formal speech of Simon "Harry" Potter since taking over the magic ALL-LIFTvander wand from one Brian Sack, and who is best known for launching the Levitatus spell just when the market is about to plunge and end the insolvent S&P500-supported status quo as we know it, as well as hiring such sturdy understudies as Kevin Henry, the former UCLA economist in charge of the S&P discuss the "role of central bank interactions with financial markets." He describes the fed "Desk" of which he is in charge of as follows: "The Markets Group interacts with financial markets in several important capacities... As most of you probably know, in an OMO the central bank purchases or sells securities in the market in order to influence the level of central bank reserves available to the banking system... The Markets Group also provides important payment, custody and investment services for the dollar holdings of foreign central banks and international institutions." In other words: if the SPX plunging, send trade ticket to Citadel to buy tons of SPOOSs, levered ETFs and ES outright. That the Fed manipulates all markets: equities most certainly included, is well-known, and largely priced in by most, especially by the shorts, who have been all but annihilated by the Fed. But where it gets hilarious, is the section titled "Lessons Learned on Market Interactions through Prism of an Economist" and in which he explains why the Efficient Market Hypothesis is applicable to the market. If anyone wanted to know why the US equity, and overall capital markets, are doomed, now that they have a central planning economist in charge of trading, read only that and weep...
"Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire." Strauss & Howe wrote these words in 1997. They understood the dynamics of how generations interact and how the mood of the country shifts every twenty or so years based upon the generational alignment that occurs as predictably as the turning of the seasons. The last generation that lived through the entire previous Crisis from 1929 through 1946 has virtually died off. For those who doubt generational theory and believe history is a linear path of human progress, I would point to the last week of chaos, disarray, government dysfunction, and misery of those who didn’t prepare for Superstorm Sandy, as a prelude to the worst of this Crisis. The lack of preparation by government officials and citizens, death, destruction, panic, anger, helplessness and realization of how fragile our system has become is a perfect analogy to our preparation for this Fourth Turning. The regeneracy of the nation will occur during the next presidential term. The mathematical impossibility of sustaining our economic system is absolute.
The hurricane water surge has come and gone, devastating downtown New York, but one place, the one that represents the deepest hole burrowed south of Houston street and literally lies on the New York bedrock 80 feet below street level, is safe and sound. The place, of course, is where over 20% of the world's tungsten gold is stored. Especially that of Germany (wink wink). And Germany, whose central bank was recently caught in a series of official disclosure faux pas as described here in regards to its official gold holdings, can rest assured that nothing that hasn't already happened to its gold, happened last night.
On this lonely blustery day, with US equity markets closed, long-only managers around the US can go peacefully back to sleep as 'Kevin' has got our back. S&P futures (ES) managed a glorious ramp into the 915ET close to confirm a close above the vertically challenged 1400 level. Volume, as one would expect, is dismal but the 6500 contracts that ran thru in the last 2 minutes makes perfect sense (to someone we are sure). The equity futures market was on its own in this rampapalooza, as Treasuries slid to the lowest yields in two weeks, USD strengthened, and commodities dropped - all leaving ES significantly divergent from CONTEXT (broad risk-assets). Nothing but another episode of illegally Banging the Close (but don't hold your breath for the regulators to prosecute anyone, least of all the Liberty 33 residents) with your friendly New York Fed (and Citadel). Gold is higher - even with the USD up 0.25%.
There are two countries that are going to give you a whopper of a headache in the coming months. We are leaving Greece to the side for a moment because that country could provide a heart attack and necessitate bypass surgery as the Troika fiddles while Athens burns. We are just waiting to see what is agreed to for Greece and then how the citizens of that country respond but the home of Democracy is not the only place that could ratchet out of control; keep your eyes on Spain and France. Yes, France, while no one has paid particular attention to the antics in Paris and Monsieur Hollande scurries about siding with the troubled nations and advocating a 75% tax burden and leaving Berlin to wallow in schemes of their own making; they are on the verge of getting in real trouble. Furthermore, they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in my eyes, the finances of Spain are one ugly mess of spoiled tapas. We recall Prime Minister Rajoy’s “A great victory for Europe speech” and we state that the last time Europe had such a victory it was at Waterloo!
The last time we checked on the (funding) status of America's real presidential race - the one where America's uber-wealthy try to outspend each other in hopes of purchasing the best president money can buy - the totals were substantially lower. With November 6 rapidly approaching, however, the scramble to lock in those record political lobbying IRRs is in its final lap. And thanks to the unlimited nature of PAC spending, look for the spending to really go into overdrive in the next 2 weeks as the spending frenzy on the world's greatest tragicomedy hits previously unseen heights.
So far the Fed's 4 year old QEasing strategy has failed for the simple reason that the smart money instead of being "herded", has far more simply decided to just front-run the Fed thus generating risk-free returns, while the "dumb money", tired of the HFT and Fed-manipulated, and utterly broken casino market, has simply allocated residual capital either into deposits (M2 just hit a new all time record of $10.2 trillion) or into "return of capital" products such as taxable and non-taxable bonds. Alas none of the above means that the Fed will ever stop from the "strategy" it undertook nearly 4 years ago to the day with QE1. Instead, it will continue doing more of the same until the bitter end. But how much more is there? To answer this question, below we present the entire universe of marketable US debt, in one simple chart showing the average yield by product type on the Y-axis, and the total debt notional on the X.
While hardly a crash, today's AAPL driven market swoon is certainly not the stuff centrally-planned market confidence is built on (not to mention yet another day of various abnormal stock trading patterns in some of the more retail-heavy held stocks which will hardly break the pattern of domestic capital flowing out of equities and into bonds). And as we have seen in the past two weeks, when even green days have resulted in the infamous "market conditions" clause being triggered for companies attempting to sell equity or raise debt, today's red day, assuming of course, the fat pipe between Citadel and the FRBNY is not unclogged for the last hour of trading ramp, may mean that a surge of "market conditional" excuses by companies and underwriters is imminent. The reason: as the WSJ reports there are no less than 10 IPOs in the next 3 days. Should today's market tone persist into the close, we would be very surprised if even half of these price in a market in which the primary market bid disappears on even a -0.01% close.
While the 0.4% perfectly unmanipulated and totally coincidental swing in the unemployment rate in an Obama favorable direction one month before the election came at a prime time moment for the market, one hour ahead of the open, setting the market mood for the rest of the day (which despite all best efforts still closed red, valiant efforts by Simon Potter and the FRBNY's direct pipe to Citadel notwithstanding), there was one other, far more important data point released by the government's department of agriculture, sufficiently late after the market close to impact no risk assets. That data point of course was foodstamps (or the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka SNAP), and we are confident that no readers will be surprised to learn that foodstamp usage for both persons and households, has jumped to a new all time record.... Finally, and putting it all into perspective, since December 2007, or the start of the Great Depression ver 2.0, the number of jobs lost is 4.5 million, while those added to foodstamps and disability rolls, has increased by a unprecedented 21 million.
Think the US has it bad with its "soaring" gas price, which is now back to $3.75 per gallon? Think again. Here, courtesy of Bloomberg, is a list of the countries whose gasoline cost puts what Americans pay at the pump to shame. In order of descending gas prices, below are the 20 places in the world where one does not want to "fill 'er up."