First we deny, then we deny we ever denied, and then we forget we were ever in denial. Man is an extremely efficient organic computing machine, so this is just kid’s stuff we learn right out of the crib.
A look back at the headlines and market movements of the last month provides some useful color for why markets are weak and why now... As Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann warned early last month, there is a threshold point during the Fed’s attempt to normalize policy where the tide reverses and investors join in a sell-off in a race to avoid being left behind. This is why it's called the greater fool theory.
This week, markets have been driven by position squaring and P&L management. There have been extraordinary price movements in various commodities and currencies due to extreme weather, the decline in the Chinese Renminbi, capital flight, Fed taper, and geo-politics. Such P&L volatility is causing decisions to be made in other, seemingly uncorrelated markets, due to the need to manage P&L risk. These movements are of elevated concern because the investment climate of recent years has created a herd mentality. Now that global stimulus is being withdrawn, those trades are under attack and a mini-contagion is unfolding. "The apt analogy is a playground see-saw where investors (and Fed) have a seat firmly on the ground and risk assets dangling in the air... The Fed would like to balance the see-saw, but history suggests the chances are infinitesimal.”
The word “tantrums” referenced in the title was the paper’s attempt to explain adverse market reactions, e.g., last year’s reaction from ‘taper-talk’. The authors stated that risk premiums can jump quickly, simply because non-bank market participants (read: mutual funds) are motivated by their peer performance rank. The authors had 3 subsequent conclusions: 1) the relative peerperformance race causes momentum in return; 2) return chasing can reverse sharply; and 3) changes in the stance of monetary policy can trigger heavy fund inflows and outflows. These conclusions partially explain (empirically) the herd mentality and momentum in recent years behind tight credit spreads and elevated equity prices. Investors are so fearful of missing the upside and underperforming peers that they frantically scramble to remain ahead of them (i.e., seek risk). However, the conference and paper suggests that there is a threshold point during the Fed’s attempt to normalize policy where the tide reverses and investors join in a selloff in a race to avoid being left behind. This is why I’ve been calling it the greater fool theory. The most surprising part of the conference was Rubin’s keynote speech. Rather than speak about Washington’s messy politics or such, he basically gave a speech that criticized and questioned Fed policy.
Nature is full of unpleasant parasites which cause their hosts to engage in irrational, destructive, or even suicidal behavior. Of course, they exist for humans too... especially for investors. In fact probably the number one parasite which affects investors is a very peculiar emotion: fear. Specifically, it’s the fear of missing out that drives so much irrational investment behavior. Nobody wants to miss a big boom, no matter how baseless the fundamentals. Ironically, this fear of missing out is stronger than the fear of loss. Following the crowd is a great way to lose a lot of money.
Just as many expect that the #1 buyer of Treasuries (the Fed) will soon begin paring back its purchases, the top foreign holder (China) may cease buying, thereby opening a second front in the taper campaign. Little thought seems to be given to how the economy would react to 5% yields on 10 year Treasuries (a modest number in historical standards). The herd assumes that our stronger economy could handle such levels. That is why when it comes to tapering, the Fed is all bark and no bite. But the market understands none of this. This is not unusual in market history. When the spell is finally broken and markets wake up to reality, we will scratch our heads and wonder how we could ever have been so misguided.
Breaking Bad With Big Bank CEOs: How Bad Bank CEOs Use the Bystander Effect to Dupe Good People Into Working For ThemSubmitted by smartknowledgeu on 09/30/2013 06:09 -0400
This may become the most important article I’ve ever written. But whether it becomes that article or dwells in anonymity is up to you, the reader.
Investors may be trapped in a ‘greater fool theory’ in thinking they can all unwind risk at the same time. Over-regulation, shrinking bank balance sheets, and fewer market makers mean that market liquidity is challenged. Retracting Fed dollars is always far more difficult than creating them, particularly in the current environment. The FOMC scientists have been working in their lab tweaking models to assess marginal benefits, but it is blinding them from seeing the underlying risks that are building. They openly ask what signs of troubles are evident, but the morphine drip has been in use for so long that they can’t see that the current calm may be replaced with an uncontrollable monster unleashed when the sedation fades.
"When it comes to market events, there have been no impactful black swans - the so-called unexpected 'tail events," Mark Spitznagel notes in his excellent new book, The Dao Of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World, explaining that, "what were unseen by most, were indeed highly foreseeable" by others. The Fed planted the seeds for the last financial crisis and "when you prevent the natural balancing act, you get growth that shouldn't be happening."
The financial crisis of 2008 could have been the wake-up tall that, like the Yellowstone fires of 1988, alerted so-called managers to the dangers of trying to override the natural governors of the system. Instead, the Federal Reserve, with its head "ranger," Ben Bernanke, has deluded itself into thinldng ft has tamped down every little smolder from becoming a destructive blaze, but instead all it has done is poured the unnatural fertilizer of liquidity onto a morass of overgrown malinvestment making a even more highly flammable. One day - likely sooner than later, it will burn, and when that happens, the Fed will be sorely lackng in buckets and shovels and must succumb to the flames.
So, apparently, according to Jon Hilsenrath, "QE to Infinity" is actually "finite" after all. There is no doubt that the Federal Reserve will do everything in its power to try and "talk" the markets down and "signal" policy changes well in advance of actual action. However, that is unlikely to matter. The problem with the financial markets today is the speed at which things occur. High frequency trading, algorithmic programs, program trading combined with market participant's "herd mentality" is not influenced by actions but rather by perception. As stated above, with margin debt at historically high levels when the "herd" begins to turn it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to valuation or fundamental measures. The reality is that the stock market is extremely vulnerable to a sharp correction. Currently, complacency is near record levels and no one sees a severe market retracement as a possibility. The common belief is that there is "no bubble" in assets and the Federal Reserve has everything under control. Of course, that is what we heard at the peak of the markets in 2000 and 2008 just before the "race for the door." This time will be no different.
By now everyone knows that POMO is the daily physical manifestation of the Fed's love for the "1%", and the trillions in underfunded pension and stock-linked entitlements, taking place (almost) every day in the hours between 10:15am and 11:00 am Eastern, when the NY Fed's trading desk injects between $1 and $6 billion in the stock market. What many may not know is that while POMO was the name of the game since 2009 (just think where the S&P would be if the "market" was only open on Thursday, during the 45 minute duration of POMO, and between 3:30 pm and 4:15 pm), it may have finally met its homophonous match, courtesy of Citigroup. So step aside POMO. Presenting.... FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out.
One cannot see clearly while in the midst of the madness using only the cognitive tools and worldview assumptions supported and promoted by the madness.
The 2008 crash resulted from the bursting of the biggest bubble in financial history, a ‘credit super-cycle’ that spanned more than three decades. How did this happen? Some might draw comfort from the observation that bubbles are a long established aberration, arguing that the boom-and-bust cycle of recent years is nothing abnormal. Any such comfort would be misplaced, for two main reasons. First, the excesses of recent years have reached a scale which exceeds anything that has been experienced before. Second, and more disturbing still, the developments which led to the financial crisis of 2008 amounted to a process of sequential bubbles, a process in which the bursting of each bubble was followed by the immediate creation of another. Though the sequential nature of the pre-2008 process marks this as something that really is different, in order to put the 'credit cuper-cycle' in context, we must understand the vast folly of globalization, the undermining of official economic and fiscal data, and the fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamic which really drives the economy.
We already posted Howard Marks' most recent letter in its entirety previously, but it bears reposting a section from Art Cashin's daily letter which focuses on one segment of Marks' thoughts, which is especially relevant in light of today's most recent comment from one Warren Buffett - a person who very directly benefited from the government/Fed's bailout of the banking sector in 2008 - who said that "Bank Risk No Longer Threatens U.S. Economy." The same banks, incidentally, who are TBerTFer than ever. An objective assessment or merely yet another example of the "handcuff volunteerism" (not to mention crony hubris) Marks touches on? Readers can decide on their own.
Bulk (Wall Street) buyers have been receiving a lot of attention recently. It's time to take a closer look. There is little data available pertaining to bulk investors and even less meaningful analysis. Historically, Wall Street has never been active in direct ownership of single family homes, so there is no past histrory to learn from. We need to start from scratch. Anecdotally, Las Vegas is the most shocking: "... never seen a market where over half of the buyers paid cash and over 1/3 of the sales were financed via the FHA, leaving only 14% of sales in the "other" category." The herd mentality is in full control with buying increasing at all levels. How long will this feeding frenzy last? Will the bulk investors be able to generate enough returns to whet their appetite for more? Stay tuned.