Episodes of “corrections” are apparently happening more frequently according to BofAML's credit strategist Barnaby Martin and given the extremities of liquidity, profits, technological disruption, regulation, and income inequality, BofAML warns 'gently' that the potential for a cleansing drop in asset prices cannot be dismissed. Most likely catalysts: Consumer, Rates, A-shares, Speculation, High Yield. "We advise selling risk into strength, buying volatility into weakness, advocate higher than normal levels of cash and would add some gold."
According to Fitch, nearly 40% of credit in China is outside bank loans, meaning that between forced roll-overs, the practice of carrying channel loans as "investments" and "receivables", inconsistent application of loan classification norms, and the dramatic increase in off balance sheet financing, the 'real' ratio of non-performing loans to total loans is likey far higher than the headline number.
Looking for signs that the country's largest asset management firms believe a market meltdown may be on the horizon? Look no further than Vanguard and several other large ETF providers who have set up billions in credit lines with banks to guard against the possibility that a wave of redemptions could wreak havoc on illiquid credit markets.
If yesterday's strong 3 Year auction caught the hordes of shorts unaware, sending the repo rate plunging from a super special -1.7% to positive, today's just concluded 10 Year auction was nothing short of epic, in virtually every possible way.
Earlier today, there was once again a massive scarcity of 3 Year underlying paper, when as the SMRA charts below show, the bond was trading the most negative in repo it has been since September: at a -1.68% rate, everyone was rushing to short ahead of today's 3 Year auction. And with the latest tumble in rates, absolutely, everyone was convinced shorting today's 3 Year auction would be easy money. And then the central banks showed up, in the form of a whopping 52.7% in Indirect Bid takedown in the just concluded auction of $24 billion in 3 Years, which also was the highest indirect bid since December 2009.
"If banknotes are outlawed you will be forced to hold money that is a liability of a commercial bank (deposits) and refused access to money that is the liability of the central bank (bank notes)... In such a world, zero-yielding gold would be a high-yielding instrument. If the authorities ever sought to restrict access to banknotes, then gold would suddenly find itself enfranchised as money for the first time in many decades. So, given the scale of these competing forces, it is just too early to say what might happen to the gold price, but the allure of gold will grow the more it becomes clear that central bank fiat has failed and the age of government fiat is dawning."
Liquidity is plentiful when you don't care about it and scarce when you need it most
With NIRP having turned traditional risk-free assets into guaranteed losers, investors have poured more than $9 billion into junk bond ETFs YTD, and while common sense dictates that buying at the top of an epic HY bubble just ahead of a rate hike cycle and against a backdrop characterized by disappearing liquidity in the secondary market for corporate credit is a fool's errand, most investors feel they have little choice.
"They're buying the yield and they think 'Oh, bonds are going to go up,' but when they start coming down, there's going to be a great run to the exits and at least in 2008 you had a bit of a safety net with the prop desks at banks, but now with the Volcker rule you can't even depend on that."
Holidays in Europe and Asia left things quiet overnight after some traders used the last day of April to frontrun the old "sell in May and go away" market adage. Market closures also kept the Chinese day trading hordes from using a tiny beat on the official manufacturing PMI print as an excuse to pile more money into the country's equity mania, while Japanese shares ended mostly unchanged as investors fret over when the BoJ will deliver the next shot of monetary heroin. In the US we'll get a look at ISM manufacturing and the latest read on consumer confidence as we head into the weekend.
The current equities bull run seems unstoppable. No amount of geopolitical concerns, Greek default fears, rate hikes, US dollar strength, crude oil price volatility, Russian sanctions or whatever else you can think of can put a dent on it. Perhaps we should take a step back and try to understand what is driving this strength. OK, we know that central banks continue to spike the punchbowl, but what is the actual transmission mechanism that directs all this liquidity into equities – as opposed to commodities for instance, which continue to struggle?
While pricing right on the When Issued screws, or 0.540%, tied for the lowest high yield since October 2014, today's $26 billion auction of 2 Year paper was nothing to write home about. From a low Bid to Cover, which at 3.30 was down from March's 3.457%, and the lowest of 2015, to a slide in the Indirect bid to only 38.1%, also the lowest for 2015, to the highest Dealer take down of 2015, with commercial banks left with 47.8% of the short-end issue, there was not much demand for the paper which pays a 0.50% cash coupon and which matures on April 30, 2017.
"Where are the defaults?" UBS asks, referring to the highly leveraged US shale complex. "They're coming," is the answer, as current bond prices assume oil prices in the 60s and 70s.
Despite goldilocks (to use a financial market cliche) conditions characterized by the interplay between yield-starved investors, rock-bottom borrowing costs, and companies’ propensity to leverage their balance sheet in order to inflate earnings and underwrite their stock price, at least one leading indicator is flashing red.
Financial engineering is one of the worst ills perpetuated by the Fed’s regime of cheap debt and money market subsidies for speculation. And these deformations are turbo-charged by the tax code which creates a powerful bias toward loading capital structures with tax deductible debt, and to delivering returns as lightly taxed capital gains rather than ordinary income. In fact, stock buybacks and LBOs are the bastard offspring of the IRS and Federal Reserve.