Flight to Safety
What we’ve been experiencing in markets is the plain and simple fear that always accompanies a broken story. The human reaction to a broken story is an emotional response akin to a sudden loss of faith. It’s a muted form of what Stephen King defined as Terror … the sudden realization that the helpful moorings you took for granted are actually not supporting you at all, but are at best absent and at worst have been replaced by invisible forces with ill intent. The antidote to Terror? Call the boogeyman by his proper name. It’s the end of the China growth story, one of the most powerful investment Narratives of the past 20 years. And that’s very painful, as the end of something big and powerful always is.
News That Matters
We have lived through a credit hyper-expansion for the record books, with an unprecedented generation of excess claims to underlying real wealth. In doing so we have created the largest financial departure from reality in human history. Bubbles are not new – humanity has experienced them periodically going all the way back to antiquity – but the novel aspect of this one, apart from its scale, is its occurrence at a point when we have reached or are reaching so many limits on a global scale. The retrenchment we are about to experience as this bubble bursts is also set to be unprecedented, given that the scale of a bust is predictably proportionate to the scale of the excesses during the boom that precedes it. Deflation and depression are mutually reinforcing, meaning the downward spiral will continue for many years. China is the biggest domino about to fall, and from a great height as well, threatening to flatten everything in its path on the way down. This is the beginning of a New World Disorder…
With near record shorts in Treasuries once again, yields are collapsing as both a flight to safety and short squeeze send 30Y back below 3.00% for the first time in a month...
We are in a risk-off period, so we reiterate the need to have cash in portfolios. The US dollar and US Treasuries are the safest assets in our view...
Investors are losing money, which strikes us as largely inevitable with asset prices where they are and economic growth and profits on a downward trajectory. Losing the least amount of money may be the best source of success this year.
The unanticipated recent Greek political news flow and consequent market stress are addressed in our portfolio construction by the resilience we built into higher volatility scenarios and unexpected sources of turbulence. Indeed, the risk is not so much Greece but the structural illiquidity of the market which will exacerbate any moves up or down which should be part of the equation.
"because of the flight to safety, the long end if flying to the upside and it is wisest to head to the sidelines and we can do so with a small profit taken. We’ll do so… immediately." - Gartman
The "new" Bond King joins his predecessor on the bond throne in calling German Bunds a compelling short opportunity. Just as we said last week, "when you short negative yielding bonds you have a positive carry," so why not leverage your bet 100X and get paid to wait on rising yields?
The central bank high is euphoric, the crash and burn equally epic. Be careful what monkey you invite to latch onto your back...
Of course no two financial crashes ever look exactly the same. The crisis that we are moving toward is not going to be precisely like the crisis of 2008. But there are similarities and patterns that we can look for. Sadly, most people are not willing to learn from history. Even though it is glaringly apparent that we are in a historic financial bubble, most investors on Wall Street cannot see it because they do not want to see it. This next financial crisis will be strike number three. After this next crisis, there will never be a return to “normal” for the United States.
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, this morning's futures reaction to last night's shocking start of a completely unexpected Yemen proxy war, which has seen an alliance of Gulf State launch an air, and soon land, war against Yemen's Houthi rebels, is what one would expect: down, and down big. This is surprising, because on previous occasions one would expect the NY Fed, or its pet hedge fund, Citadel, or the BOJ or ECB (via the CME's "Central Bank Incentive Program") to aggressively buy ES to prevent a slide, something has changed, and for the BTFDers, that something may be very fatal with the e-Mini rapidly approaching a 1-handle yet again. The offset to tumbling stocks, as previously observed, is oil, with WTI soaring over 6% in a delayed algo response to the Qatar headlines.
No matter how bad the overall profitability picture got, S&P500 earnings per share (assisted almost exclusively by a record amount of stock buybacks in 2015 putting downward pressure on the PS in EPS) would grow by the tiniest of amounts, just so the profit recession stigma could be avoided in a world in which the stock market is the last remaining bastion of faith in central planning and confidence in the economy. No more. Overnight, Deutsche Bank finally did the unthinkable, and "broke the seal" of optimistic groupthink, when its strategist David Bianco became the first sell-sider to forecast that not only will 2015 EPS not grow (at 118 on a non-GAAP basis, this will be unchanged Y/Y), but "down a bit ex bank litigation costs."
This morning both the SNB stunner from two weeks ago, and the less than stunning ECB QE announcement from last Thursday are long forgotten, and the only topic on markets' minds is the startling surge of Syriza and its formation of a coalition government with another anti-bailout party - a development that many in Europe never expected could happen, and which has pushed Europe to the bring of the unexpected yet again. And while there is much speculation that this time Europe is much better positioned to "handle a Grexit", the reality is that European bank balance sheets are as bad if not worse than in 2014, 2013, 2012 or any other year for that matter, because none of ther €1+ trillion in NPLs have been addressed and the only thing that has happened is funding bank capital deficiencies with newly printed money. You know what they say about solvency and liquidity.
Yesterday the European Central Bank acknowledged that the currency it manages is being sucked into a deflationary vortex. It responded in the usual way with, in effect, a massive devaluation. Eurozone citizens have also responded predictably, by converting their unbacked, make-believe, soon-to-be-worth-a-lot-less paper money into something tangible. They’re bidding gold up dramatically.