A world, in which former permabears David Rosenberg, Jeremy Grantham and now Hugh Hendry have thrown in the towel and gone bull retard, and where none other than the Chief Investment Officer of General Re-New England Asset Management - a company wholly-owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has issued one of the direst proclamations about the future to date and blasts the Fed's role in creating the biggest mess in financial history, is truly upside down...
"What keeps us up at night? Well I can’t speak for the others, having spoken too much already to please PIMCO’s marketing specialists, but I will give you some thoughts about what keeps Mohamed and me up at night. Mohamed, the creator of the “New Normal” characterization of our post-Lehman global economy, now focuses on the possibility of a” T junction” investment future where markets approach a time-uncertain inflection point, and then head either bubbly right or bubble-popping left due to the negative aspects of fiscal and monetary policies in a highly levered world. ... investors are all playing the same dangerous game that depends on a near perpetual policy of cheap financing and artificially low interest rates in a desperate gamble to promote growth. The Fed, the BOJ (certainly), the ECB and the BOE are setting the example for global markets, basically telling investors that they have no alternative than to invest in riskier assets or to lever high quality assets. “You have no other choice,” their policies insinuate.... Deep in the bowels of central banks research staffs must lay the unmodelable fear that zero-bound interest rates supporting Dow 16,000 stock prices will slowly lose momentum after the real economy fails to reach orbit, even with zero-bound yields and QE." - Bill Gross
In Feb 2007, Oaktree Capital's Howard Marks wrote 'The Race to the Bottom', providing a timely warning about the capital market behavior that ultimately led to the mortgage meltdown of 2007 and the crisis of 2008 as he worried about "carelessness-induced behavior." In the pre-crisis years, as described in his 2007 memo, the race to the bottom manifested itself in a number of ways, and as Marks notes, "now we’re seeing another upswing in risky behavior." Simply put, Marks warns, "when people start to posit that fundamentals don’t matter and momentum will carry the day, it’s an omen we must heed," adding that "the riskiest thing in the investment world is the belief that there’s no risk."
If this week's 2 year auction was an indication of a rising Bid to Cover, and the 5 Year yesterday showed a modest decline, the just completed 7 Year auction was evidence that any rumors of a pick up in ultimate demand in the belly and the long-end of the curve are greatly exagerated. The initial indication of how weak the auction would be came moments before the 11:30 am announcement, when the When Issued was trading at 2.094%. When the formal announcement from the Treasury came that the bond had priced at a high yield of 2.106%, or tailing by a 1.2 bps, the bond complex promptly exhaled. Things only got uglier when looking at the internals: as noted above, the Bid to Cover came at 2.36: a sharp drop from the last auction's 2.66, well below the TTM average of 2.62, and the lowest going back all the way to the 2.26 in May 2009. The takedown was just as unimpressive, with Direct interest sliding to just 16.14% of the final allocation, Indirects likewise seeing their allotment tumble from 42.30% to 34.07%, the lowest since February, which left Dealers holding half of the auction, or the most since June 2012.
If yesterday's 2 Year Auction showed a substantial pick up in Bids to Cover in recent months, then today's 5 Year, while sold in terms of end demand with the high yield pricing at 1.340%, through the 1.344% when issued, did not confirm this trend for at least the next longer maturity. The sale of $35 billion in 5 Years came at a 2.61 Bid to Cover, below last month's 2.65, and below the TTM average of 2.69. More importantly as can be seen on the chart below, the trendline is lower if one sets aside such "one-time" spooking events as debt ceilings and government shutdowns. Indirect demand picked up notably, taking down precisely 50% of the auction, leaving 10.8% to Directs, and just 39.2% to Dealers: the lowest PD takedown since the 37.8% in July. Overall, nothing to write home about as total US debt, contrary to all fabulations about a plunging deficit, continues on its relentless ramp every higher, at last check printing over $17.2 trillion.
If one of the biggest concerns in early 2013 was the progressively declining Bids To Cover in US Treasury auctions, the past few months have seen a halt in this trend, while today's auction of $32 billion in 2 Year paper marked a substantial return to the high-flying BTC day of yore when the just completed 2 Year auction not only priced strongly through the 0.303% high yield, pricing at 0.300, but more importantly, at a 3.54 Bid to Cover, a jump from October's 3.09, and the second highest since February excluding only April's 3.63. Curiously, the drop in the overall Bid To Cover (as can be sen on the chart below) correlates closely to the drop off in Direct take downs in the first half of the year. This too has reversed in recent months with Directs getting 27.28%, Indirects holding 22.47% and Dealers left holding just over half, or 50.25%. Over the next few days it will be revealed if the same rising BTC trend is sustained in the other near-term vintages, the 5 and 7 year auctions also due out later week.
It is hard to believe that the end of the year is fast approaching. This weekend's list of things to ponder covers a range of issues that caught our attention this week. Will the economy continue to grow, are stocks under owned, what about Fed - rising credit risk (and collapsing credit risk premia) and the question of "when or if to taper?" These are all important questions that all investors must answer as the new year rapidly approaches.
The following Top Ten Market Themes, represent the broad list of macro themes from Goldman Sachs' economic outlook that they think will dominate markets in 2014.
- Showtime for the US/DM Recovery
- Forward guidance harder in an above-trend world
- Earn the DM equity risk premium, hedge the risk
- Good carry, bad carry
- The race to the exit kicks off
- Decision time for the ‘high-flyers’
- Still not your older brother’s EM...
- ...but EM differentiation to continue
- Commodity downside risks grow
- Stable China may be good enough
They summarize their positive growth expectations: if and when the period of stability will give way to bigger directional moves largely depends on how re-accelerating growth forces the hands of central banks to move ahead of everybody else. And, in practice, that boils down to the question of whether the Fed will be able to prevent the short end from selling off; i.e. it's all about the Fed.
Treasuries rallied 4-6bps on the day (with the POMO-driven belly outperforming). The USD dumped back its knee-jerk gains on Europeans trying desparately to talk down the EUR early on. High yield credit banged higher into the close. VIX was man-handled back under 12.5% (despite being bid early). Oh - and every US equity market malted up in an insane intrday swing which seems to be pinned on the back of expctations Yellen will open her shirt tomorrow showing a big red "S" on it. So while every flow-driven market banged higher in a mad scramble of un-tapery goodnesss, gold went sideways and silver was monkey-hammered (-4.5% on the week). The last 3 days have seen "most shorted" names double the market's performance. Nasdaq's swing from low to high is the largest positive intraday move for the index in 5 months!
While on the surface today's bond auction of "only" $32 billion in 2 Year paper (last month and previously it was $33 billion or more, which is now declining alongside the dropping US deficit and net funding needs, if not the absolutely flat amount of debt monetized by the Fed), was uninspiring, there was some stirring beneath the surface. Specifically, the high yield of 0.323% was through the When Issued of 0.328%, while the Bid To Cover of 3.32 was above last month's 3.09, and was the highest since the 3.63 in April. Has the trend of declining Bids to Cover finally ended? Looking at the internals shows a return to some recent normalcy, namely that the Directs took down a substantial 30.97%, the highest since February, Indirects had a modest 29.02% allocation leaving just 40% to the Dealers, which was also the lowest Primary Dealer take down since October of last year. Perhaps most importantly, the flatline in the yield which has been in the 0.3% range since August 2011 indicates that absolutely nobody belives the Fed will hike rates any time before 2016.
This week marked what we suspect will become an important inflection point when the world looks back at this debacle of a bubble. The Fed, having already warned in January of 'froth' in credit markets (and ths the fuel for 'hope' in stocks) proposed tougher underwriting standards for leveraged loans. Credit markets have underperformed since; but as Diapason Commodities' Sean Corrigan notes, the baleful impact of the central banks is still everywhere to be seen in the credit markets. From junk issuance to the rapid regrowth of the CDO business to the 'record' high multiples now being exchanged for LBOs; Central Banker's monomaniacal fixation on zero interest rates and artificial bond pricing is setting us up for the next, great disaster of misallocated capital and malinvested resources.
"We see upside surprise risks on gold and silver in the years ahead," is how UBS commodity strategy team begins a deep dive into a multi-factor valuation perspective of the precious metals. The key to their expectation, intriguingly, that new regulation will put substantial pressure on banks to deleverage – raising the onus on the Fed to reflate much harder in 2014 than markets are pricing in. In this view UBS commodity team is also more cautious on US macro...
All of these things are not like the other... except one!
Despite stock (not bond) euphoria yesterday that a DC debt ceiling deal was sealed leading to the second largest risk ramp of 2013, last night was spent diffusing the excitement as one after another politician talked back the success of a "non-deal" that Obama rejected, at least according to the NYT. As a result, with both retail sales data and the PPI not being released (and the only data of note the always leaked UMichigan consumer confidence) markets will again be at the behest of developments on Capitol Hill, with some talk from Republicans suggesting a deal as early as today could be possible in an effort to reopen government on Monday. It is entirely possible that talks could continue over the weekend though, which would ensure a gappy open to Asian markets on Monday.
For all expectations of a big jump in US futures overnight on the largely priced in Janet Yellen nomination announcement which is due at 3 pm today, the move so far has been very much contained, as expected, with a modest 90 minute halflife, as the markets' prevailing concern continues to be whether the debt ceiling negotiation will be concluded by the October 17 deadline or if it would stretch further forcing the government to prioritize payments. There is however some hope with Bloomberg reporting that some possible paths out of the debt impasse are starting to emerge with less than a week before U.S. borrowing authority lapses after Obama said he could accept a short-term debt-limit increase without policy conditions that set the terms for future talks. Whether this materializes or just leads to more empty posturing and televized press conferences is unclear, although as Politico reports, the stakes for republicans are getting increasingly nebulous with some saying they are "losing" the fight, while the core GDP constituency is actually liking the government shutdown.