Flight to Safety
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.
Apparently this is the message that popped up on the Congressional computer system when they were scheduling the last, last, last minute meeting before jumping over the cliff. The techies worked for hours I have heard but to no avail. What is interesting about this is that neither the computer geeks nor the people in charge of our government has any responsible position that is really useful to prevent the failure that is about to take place. The best that can even be hoped for now is some minor change in the rigging which may be heralded as “the fix to fix all fixes” but will be of little importance when considered in the light of day. I think the odds of any grand scheme that will honestly make a difference is equivalent to the value of a toe nail clipper when performing brain surgery.
About a month ago, in the third-quarter report of a Canadian global macro fund, its strategist made the interesting observation that “…Four ideas in particular have caught the fancy of economic policy makers and have been successfully sold to the public…” One of these ideas “…that has taken root, at least among the political and intellectual classes, is that one need not fear fiscal deficits and debt provided one has monetary sovereignty…”. This idea is currently growing, particularly after Obama’s re-election. But it was only after writing our last letter, on the revival of the Chicago Plan (as proposed in an IMF’ working paper), that we realized that the idea is morphing into another one among Keynesians: That because there cannot be a gold-to-US dollar arbitrage like in 1933, governments do indeed have the monetary sovereignty. It is not; and in the process of explaining why, we will also describe the endgame for the current crisis... "…We cannot arbitrage fiat money, but we can repudiate the sovereign debt that backs it! And that repudiation will be the defining moment of this crisis…"
Markets, you see, always live in this “day before” where the bend in the highway never comes, where the path is always straight and fixed and where it is generally thought that nothing of consequence will happen. Then some event takes place, something magical or wonderful or awful occurs and the world is turned on its axis and nothing is ever the same again. We are in danger, “clear and present danger” and the strategy of the “day before” is no longer appropriate. $400 billion has poured into bond funds this year, an all-time record, with yields at depressed levels indicating a quite real flight to safety. The United States lost thirty-six percent of its wealth during the American Financial Crisis and, people or institutions, the song rolls across the landscape, “We won’t get fooled again!”
Today is the 2nd of the long-end UST auctions for the month of November. 16bln 30yrs will be sold to the market at 1pm...largest single DV01 event of the monthly cycle. Can we game the US Govt??
Will 24bln more 10yr notes be enough to satisfy this Risk Off demand? Enquiring minds want to know...
Where European Banks Store Their Cash: Foreign Banks Domiciled In US See Cash Hoard Spike Back To Record HighsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/21/2012 11:49 -0400
Anyone looking at the broad headline data from the weekly commercial bank asset (H.8) release could rush to the superficial conclusion that cash assets at US-based financial institutions is approaching all time highs, which, again superficially, it is, at $1.9 trillion, the highest in 2012, and just shy of the all time highs of $1.936 trillion from July 2011. Further superficial analysis would lead one to believe that there is a notable divergence between total US bank cash (the bulk of its procured via repoing of previously purchased securities) and the weekly excess reserve balance indicated by the Fed. All these would be useful, if completely, wrong observations. The only relevant and accurate observation in this week's H.8 data is that foreign banks domiciled in the US have taken their cash balance back to all time highs, which at $918 billion is in the ballpark of the highest it has ever been, and merely confirms what everyone has known: the only reason the US market has benefited in the last several months is due to flight to safety into what, for whatever reason, is perceived as the safety of the US capital markets. At some point, this record cash balance will once again flow out, even as US bank cash holdings remain as flat as they have been for the past 3 years.
We have said it over and over, we'll say it again. For all those who for one reason or another would like to boycott the broken markets, yet trade gold in paper form, please understand that all the invested capital is at risk of total loss and can and will be lost, commingled and rehypothecated, not necessarily in that order, with little to zero recourse and the residual claim on liquidating assets pushed to the very end of the queue. Because if Lehman, MF Global, Peregrine, and countless other examples were not enough, here comes Amber Gold: a gold-based investment ponzi scheme out of Poland, in which it is likely needless to say that the gullible investors never had actual possession of the gold. And when they tried, it was gone. All gone.
When we wrote Part I of this paper in June 2009, the total U.S. public debt was just north of $10 trillion. Since then, that figure has increased by more than 50% to almost $16 trillion, thanks largely to unprecedented levels of government intervention. Once the exclusive domain of central bankers and policy makers, acronyms such as QE, LTRO, SMP, TWIST, TARP, TALF have found their way into the mainstream. With the aim of providing stimulus to the economy, central planners of all stripes have both increased spending and reduced taxes in most rich countries. But do these fiscal and monetary measures really increase economic activity or do they have other perverse effects?... The politically favoured option of financial repression and negative real interest rates has important implications. Negative real interest rates are basically a thinly disguised tax on savers and a subsidy to profligate borrowers. By definition, taxes distort incentives and, as discussed earlier, discourage savings.... The current misconception that our economic salvation lies with more stimulus is both treacherous and self-defeating. As long as we continue down this path, the “solution” will continue to be the problem. There is no miracle cure to our current woes and recent proposals by central planners risk worsening the economic outlook for decades to come.
On the surface all is well, stocks are soaring, the EURUSD is up solidly, and euphoria is back, or that is at least what is being telegraphed. So why is the single biggest unmanipulated flight to safety flag (defined by us) currently available - the Swiss 2 Year - screaming to run for cover? The bond is currently at an all time nominal low, as none of the peripheral euphoria has had any impact on Europe's true remaining risk free asset, and instead it just hit a new all time record low yield moments ago. Just what does it know that nobody else does, or wishes to acknowledge? Or is today merely the latest iteration of the Copperfield market: keep the algos distracted with flashing red headlines and bright green S&P numbers, which the real money is quietly running away into the safety of Geneva bank vaults...
In the last four days much has been made of Swiss and German short-dated bonds moving negative as investors seek the preservationist path of least resistance but perhaps even more critically, the real flight to safety globally has been from Europe to the US. The spread between 10Y US Treasuries and 10Y German Bunds has collapsed the most in over 3 months in the last few days as the world and their pet rabbit jump to front-run Bernanke and seek the safety of the most print-worthy currency in the world. Notably though, 2Y Treasuries are at their cheapest (widest spread relative) to German 2Y since Q3 2007! It appears domestic European capital is flooding into short-dated Bunds and any foreign money is being repatriated back to longer-dated US Treasuries.
Proposals from BIS, OCC and FDIC Would Reclassify Gold as a Tier 1 Asset
The revaluation that is underway now is beyond the simple scope of corporate earnings valuations, going to the very core of the system itself. Just like the equity pricing regime (and investor expectations for equity assets) needs to adjust to the twelve-year-old bear market reality, pricing within the global banking system as a whole needs to adjust to the reality that the artificial growth of the economic textbook is not replicable. The economic truth of 2012 is that much of the science of economics, and the foundation that gives to finance and financial pricing, was a temporal anomaly befitting only those specific conditions of that bygone era. In other words, the entire financial world needs to reset itself outside the paradigm of pre-2008. The secular bear market in US equities is one strand of this changing landscape, perhaps the first stirring of the collapse of the activist central bank experiment. In the end, the potential selling pressure of the dollar shortage is irresistible, no matter how “cheap” stock prices are to earnings, but none of it may matter in the grander scheme of a dramatic reset to the global system. The inability of that global system to escape this critical state, to simply move beyond crisis and function “normally” again, demonstrates conclusively, in my opinion, the foundational transformation that is still taking place well beyond the stock bear. Everything is a locked feedback loop of negative pressures in this age, no matter how much we want to see “value” where and how it used to exist.
Paradigm shifts are rarely orderly, but there are warning signs.
- Prepare for Lehmans (sic) re-run, Bank official warns (Telegraph)
- Fed Seen Extending Operation Twist While Avoiding Bond Buying (Bloomberg)
- US Watchdog Hits at ‘Risky’ London (FT)
- G20 Bid to Cut Cost of Euro Borrowing (FT)
- Romney Says Rubio Being Examined as Possible Running Mate (Bloomberg)
- Hollande Says Worth Exploring ESM Bond Buys (Reuters)
- US Upbeat After Eurozone Debt Crisis Talks (FT)
- BOJ Members Say Japan Could Be ‘Adversely Affected’ by Europe (Bloomberg)
- China Steps Said to Grow Bond Market, Add Issuer Scrutiny (Bloomberg)
- How Asia Will Fare if Europe Cracks (WSJ)