Once upon a time, one of the best sell-side analysts in the MBS space was Merrill Lynch's "Convexity Maven" Harley Bassman: he was so good, in fact, he was quickly soaked up to the buyside, or at least the prop-trading side, when several years ago he left Merrill to join Credit Suisse as a prop trader. It was here that he provided some insightful trade ideas such as "The "Anti-Widowmaker" Trade: Get Paid To Wait For The Japanese House Of Card To Collapse" and previewed the "Inevitable 'Taper'" at a time when most still didn't think the Fed was running out of paper to monetize. Then, about a year ago, Bassman disappeared again, only to reappear in a new capacity at recently-troubled bond manager Pimco. It is from here that following a year-long silences, he has just sent out his latest letter, in which he picks up on his favorite topic: implied volatility in rates, and the arbitrage opportunities it provides courtesy of epic risk mispricing in the current quote-unquote market, courtesy of the Fed's 6 year+ centrally-planned manipulation of, well, everything.
It's that time in the quarter, when Jeff Gundlach takes the mic to walk everyone though his latest thoughts on the market, as well as the most recent capital allocation of his fund, DoubleLine, which like PIMCO, had a less than memorable 2013, although 2014 is certainly starting off on a far better foot for bond funds everywhere. Also who knows: with MBS guru, "convexity maven" Harley Bassman announcing today he is leaving Credit Suisse and joining Pimco, maybe Gundlach will shock everyone with an announcement that El-Erian is moving from Newport Beach and making Doubleline, and West LA, his new home?
Taking a “short position” in either Japanese interest rates or their currency is a fundamentally sound idea; however it may take three to seven years for the “Macro-profits” to be fully realized. Over that time, a short position will demand a cost, either in the terms of the negative carry of a spot position or the time decay of a short-dated option. Additionally, since it is unlikely you will enter the trade at the extreme, there could be some mark-to-market vibrations that may breach your risk limits. To the rescue is the strange circumstance of a widening USD vs. JPY Rate differential in conjunction with a flattening Volatility Term Surface. Below is a table of mid-market values for Par Strike USD call // JPY put options with expiries from one-year to ten-years. The critical observation is that a five-year option costs more than a ten-year option; thus the weird dynamic of owning an option with (effectively) positive “theta”: You are paid to own an option !
It is not a good time for Janet Yellen. The one time Bernanke-replacement favorite who many were confident would be the next Fed chair, and whose odds in the initial stages of the Fed race were 75%, is so far out of the running one can almost ignore her candidacy. At least if the market makers behind Paddy Power, and the Fed Chair market betting participants have it right. As of today, her odds have slumped to the lowest in the life of the contract, or 29.4%, below the 36.4% from mid August. The leader by an even greater margin: Larry Summers whose 2/5 odds, or 70%, mean that absent a material change in rhetoric, will be the person Obama announces as Fed chairman replacement over the next month.
With all eyes fixed on GDP and unemployment data this week (and all their revised and propagandized unreality) for more hints at if (not when) the Fed will Taper; the dismal reality that few seem willing to admit is that it is when (not if) and that the announcement of a "Taper" has nothing to do with the economy. There are three key factors driving this decision: Bernanke's bubble-blowing and bond-market-breaking legacy, the political 'clean slate' his successor needs, and, most importantly, the fear that QE will be discovered for what it is - monetization. As BoJ's Kuroda admitted last night "if QE is seen as financing debt, this could lead to rise in yields." With deficits falling, the Fed's real actions will be exposed (unless QE is tapered) and as Kyle Bass has explained before, it was out of the hands of the BOJ (or The Fed) and entirely up to market psychology.
It seems everyone and their pet Goldfish has been brainwashed into the belief that because it's an election year, we have to buy stocks. There is plenty of noise in that empirical study with some large outliers. However, Credit Suisse's Harley Bassman notes there is another cycle in election years - that of implied volatility - and he adds "the clearly defined economic nature of this election should increase implied volatility on most financial assets." As the chart below shows, volatilities tend to trough in August and peak in October into a November election - only to fall once again from two-weeks before to one week after the election. The pattern is clear.
Must read observations from Merrill's Harley Bassman, formerly head of the RateLab: "Maybe I am showing my age, but I can assure you that as World Political events go, what is happening in the Middle East is actually the BIG ONE...The reason there is no "Flight to Quality" bid for USTreasuries is that USTs are no longer the "Quality" asset. Since the FED has turned on the printing presses, the "value" of the dollar has steadily declined. This is why the "Flight to Quality" is happening in Gold, Oil, Copper, Cotton, etc...Attention all you non-inflationists (and you know who you are), what more evidence do you need that the Govt's Plan "A" (inflation) is well underway?"
Harley Bassman's Model Portfolio For 2011, And Why "It Is Just A Matter Of Time" Before The Fed Creates InflationSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/05/2011 20:08 -0500
Harley Bassman, who used to head Merrill's RateLab, and who was one of the most erudite sellside voices on rate matters, and doubly so on mortgage issues, and subsequently moved to Merrill's prop side, has kept a low profile recently. Which is why we are happy to present his model portfolio for 2011. Bassman is a firm believer in inflation (synthetic or real), and we for one would pay good money to see the redux of the Rosenberg vs Grant debate in 2011 be Rosenberg vs Bassman. Bassman's conclusion, even though obtained in a circuitous way to our own, is comparable to the Zero Hedge thesis that the Fed will have no choice but to eventually create inflation. "In a nutshell, the FED (with the help of the Govt), is going to
engineer some type of Inflation to reduce the value of both our Private
and Public Debt. Since Inflation is the only solution, it will happen;
it is just a matter of time. Since the entire G-7 is in the same boat,
trading in Euro or Yen is purely a short-term speculation since all
these currencies will be heading south." Where Zero Hedge and Bassman, however, differ, is that we are certain that the Fed will be unable to contain said inflation once it has finally been unleashed, resulting in a complete wipeout of all assets that are directly or indirectly a rate derivative (ref: a very notable reparation paying, post-WW1 central European state), which means all fiat derivatives, leaving only hard assets in the wake.
Harley Bassman Returns With Extended Perspectives On Implied Vol, The Yield Curve, Convexity, Duration And Much MoreSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/22/2010 12:00 -0500
Harley Bassman, who used to run ML's RateLabs is back on the scene, now as part of ML prop (hmmmm) and we are happy to present his two most recent "Convexity Maven" research pieces. Not for the faint of heart - serious curve expertise required. And for those brave enough, an idea for one of the cheapest catastrophe insurance trades: "What to do ? The only reasonable “bear” trade is some sort of mid-dated payer spread. Buying 2yr to 5yr expiries will reduce the time decay issue so you will have more time to wait. More importantly, by selling the OTM payer you reverse the large cost of “dynamic” risk. This will be a huge carry reducer since you would now be paying for the Curve and Volatility risk vectors but selling the Skew risk vector. Since Skew accounts for almost 20% of the cost of a 3yr-10yr 200bps payer spread, this is significant."