The correlation between stock prices and margin debt continues to rise (to new records of exuberant "Fed's got our backs" hope) as NYSE member margin balances surge to new record highs. Relative to the NYSE Composite, this is the most "leveraged' investors have been since the absolute peak in Feb 2000. What is more worrisome, or perhaps not, is the ongoing collapse in investor net worth - defined as total free credit in margin accounts less total margin debt - which has hit what appears to be all-time lows (i.e. there's less left than ever before) which as we noted previously raised a "red flag" with Deutsche Bank. Relative to the 'economy' margin debt has only been higher at the very peak in 2000 and 2007 and was never sustained at this level for more than 2 months. Sounds like a perfect time to BTFATH...
There comes a time in every bubble's life when participants who have a stake in its continuation have to employ ever more tortured logic to justify sticking with it. We have come across an especially amusing example of this recently. “Good news!” blares a headline at CNBC “Bubble concern is at a 5-year high”. Ironically, since at least 1999 if not earlier, the source of this headline has been referred to as 'bubble-vision' by cynical observers (or alternatively as 'hee-haw'). It definitely cannot hurt to be aware of market psychology and sentiment. However, the argument that a surge in searches for the term 'bubble' on Google can be interpreted as an 'all clear' for a bubble's continuation seems to have things exactly the wrong way around. The misguided behavior of financial market participants that can be observed during bubbles is merely mirroring the clusters of entrepreneurial error monetary pumping brings about.
This is the single largest allocation of investor capital to stock based mutual funds since 2000: at the height of the Tech bubble. That year, investors put $324 billion into stocks. We might actually match that inflow this year as we still have two months left in 2013.
Last week, Citi's Tobias Levkovich raised numerous concerns about the state of exuberance and "disconcerting disconnects" that is our new normal market currently. In the week since, Citi's proprietary Panic/Euphoria model is sending a clear warning of substantial complacency - its most "euphoric" since 2008. This is worrisome, he notes, since there is an 80% probability of a market decline in the next 12 months based on the current reading.
Last week, Bank of America warned that "it's getting frothy, man" based on the sheer surge of fund flows into equities. Here is the same firm with some other observations on what can simply be described as a "frothy", "overbought", "overmargined" market with "not enough bears."
Normally Treasury Bills are not something discussed around the dinner table or hotly debated on the business news channels. As UBS notes, the fact that the Tbill market has become the focus of attention is an ominous sign, and indicates that the stalemate over the debt ceiling could have profound effects. While TED-Spreads, and financial CDS were the key indicators in 2008, now we must watch money fund flows, and Tbill forwards. In a sense, the Tbill market is the proverbial canary in a coal mine for the US financial system. The canary is not yet back in good health.
- Government has too much debt to issue more debt
- Government nationalizes private pension funds making their debt holdings an "asset" and commingles with other public assets
- New confiscated assets net out sovereign debt liability, lowering the debt/GDP ratio
- Debt/GDP drops below threshold, government can issue more sovereign debt
The 10Y Treasury yield has jumped nearly 130bp from its low point in early May. Given the tight ranges and low volatility of yields during the most of QE era, this kind of move in just over 3 months seemed stunning to some investors. Consequently, the question that has come up often recently is: what has been driving Treasury yields? As UBS' Boris Rjavinski notes, several years ago a rate strategist would give you a straightforward and predictable answer: inflationary expectations, economic growth projections, and current and future monetary policy. But now, as Rjavinksi notes, central banks and politics in the driver seat. Volatility will remain elevated as we await key messages from the Fed in September, and U.S. political calendar will start to heat up as we approach the “drop-dead” dates to fund the government and extent the dent ceiling.
As is well-known by now, one of the main reasons why the Fed's hands are tied when it comes to the future of QE, is the dramatic drop in the US budget deficit which cuts down on the amount of monetizable gross issuance (read Treasurys) and for which a big reason is that the GSEs have shifted from net uses of government cash to net sources. So in what may be the best news for Bernanke, and/or his successor, we learn that according to a report written by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) inspector general and reviewed by Reuters, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are masking billions of dollars losses because of the level of delinquent home loans they carry."
Deutsche: "Either The Central Banks Lose Credibility Soon Or The Markets Have Overstretched Themselves"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/19/2013 08:46 -0500
Some unpleasant observations from Deutsche Bank below for fans of either central planning and/or risk assets, as having one's cake and eating it too is no longer an option, and one or the other is finally set to snap. To wit: "Yield curves are very steep suggesting a challenge to central bank guidance credibility is at a tipping point. Either the data really are strong and the central banks lose credibility soon or the markets have overstretched themselves, allowing for a partial recovery in lower rates." A "tweeted out" Bill Gross is praying to the Newport gods it's the latter.
Succinctly summarizing the positive and negative news, data, and market events of the week...
Those seeking the definitive, one-stop fund flow heatmap covering the key paper asset classes over the past 10 years, are advised to bookmark this page.
It is well-known that as part of the S&P500's ascent to new records, investor margin debt has also surged to all time highs, surpassing for the past three months previous records set during both prior, the dot com and the housing, stock market bubbles. And as more attention has shifted to the topic of speculator leverage once more, inquiries into the correlation between bets upon bets and stock performance are popping up once more, in this case in a study by Deutsche Bank titled "Red Flag! - The curious case of NYSE margin debt." Of particular note here is a historical comparison of margin-debt warnings that have recurred throughout history but especially just before major stock bubble crashes, such as in the period 1999/2000, 2007/2008 and of course today, which have time and again been ignored. Here is what was said then, what is being said now, and what is ignored always.
With the Federal Reserve's bond-buying, liquidity-injecting, market-inflating, volatility-suppressing, confidence-inspiring, economic-supporting, media-headline-generating, program currently in full swing; one would assume that the daily pushes to new market highs are driven by massive inflows of cash into the equity markets. Well, that assumption is only partially correct.
There has been much discussion about fund flows into domestic mutual funds in the past few weeks for one simple reason: there have been inflows into domestic mutual funds (as tracked by ICI). For some reason, pundits correlate this inflow with the move higher in stocks. What remains unsaid is why there was little to no discussion of fund flows into domestic stock funds for about 90% of the time in the past three years. The reason is just as simple: there were no inflows, as can be seen on the chart below. There were, however, other "exogenous" events during this time: such as QE2, LTRO 1 + 2, Draghi's whatever it takes language and Operation Twist of course, and then QE3 which will likely continue indefinitely and be replace by QE4 the second it is fully "tapered." So what is relevant: inflows (or, gasp, outflows) or whatever central banks do? You decide.