Longs may be forgiven if they are sweating their long positions over the weekend: not only did we just have a second, and far more solid Hindenburg Omen confirmation today, with 82 new highs, and 94 new lows, but the Saturday is the day when Iran launches its nuclear reactor, and everyone will be very jumpy regarding any piece of news out of the middle east. As for the H.O., the more validations we receive, the greater the confusion in the market, and the greater the possibility for a melt down (or up, as the case may be now that the market is unlike what it has ever been in the past). Furthermore, with implied correlation at record levels (JCJ at around 78), any potential crash will be like never before, as virtually all stocks now go up or down as one, more so than ever before. And should the HFT STOP command take place, the future should be very interesting indeed (at least for the primary dealers, and the Atari consoles which are unable to VWAP dump their holdings in the nano second before stuff goes bidless).
Ever wonder why the SEC, FINRA and all other regulators actively continue to ignore the flagrant quote stuffing, frontrunning (yes, Flash trading is still a perfectly accepted practice) and all other destabilizing market activities facilitated and performed daily by High Frequency Trading (when comparable such actions result in jail sentences in Norway)? Hopefully the chart below will explain it...
With Long/Short Investing Dead, The Days Of LTCM Strategies Are Back As Market Plants Seeds Of Own DestructionSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/17/2010 12:26 -0400
We have long observed the decline and eventual death of fundamental analysis, courtesy of i) the Fed's dominance of capital markets, ii) the emergence of HFTs and technicals as key driving forces behind the stock market, and iii) the record implied correlation between all stock asset classes, meaning everything trades as one. Ironically, the result is that reasonable, long/short investment strategies no longer generate a return (alpha or whatever one calls this relic of efficient markets), and instead we are back to the good old "pennies in front of a steamroller" strategy that was so "successful" and made so popular by such spectacular implosions as LTCM. Don't take our word for it - the FT reports: "The hedge fund strategy pioneered – and made notorious – by Long Term Capital Management is returning to prominence amid one of its most successful years yet, aided in large part by the massive issuance of bonds by the UK government and other sovereigns." In other words, the market is now stuck in a mode (courtesy of central planning) which guarantees that the only way to make money, sets the seeds of the markets' own destruction. It is only a matter of time before every investment strategy follows in the flawed footsteps of John Meriwether (who unfortunately can't participate in today's market due to three prior collapses, or else he would be making mint) and soon every single asset manager (not due to their own mistakes, but basically as a function of what the market rewards now) will follow a fate which will appear like an LTCM-like supernova in which every spread convergence trade explodes to historic divergence in a span of seconds.
As we pointed out on Friday, implied correlation closed at an all time high. While this phenomenon is likely the most concerning indicator of a wholesale market meltdown (not to mention that market neutral funds continue on their rapid progression to oblivion: for reference check HFRXEMN and HSKAX), more so than even the Hindenburg Omen (which however does make for a cool soundbite) as there are no endogenous safe-haven sectors within stocks (the safe haven is simply known as bonds, and stunningly high yield also applies even though HY, especially B2/B and lower, and stocks probably differ in some way, but we still haven't quite figured out what), the threat level will only be obvious in retrospect. The very curious topic has incentivized some in the sellside realm to present their own cautionary tales about the trade off and the cost-benefit analysis of a record high cross asset correlation. One among these is BNY's Nicholas Colas, who points out that due to the subliminal perception of record low stock dispersion (or liminal if such people read sites like Zero Hedge), investors have decided to diversify on their own not within stocks, but outside of stocks, the result being record inflows into bond funds (and outflows out of equities). His summary is very concerning: "Investors, even if they have not learned it formally, understand that diversification means lower correlations. As long as stocks, bonds, precious metals, and other assets all move in lock step, retail investors will most likely favor less risky assets." This statement captures the problem better than most: stocks, and their liquid, synthetic, nouveau-CDO cousins, the ETFs, continue to trade higher on ever greater vapors, as the underlying asset base is increasingly devoid of cash. And when the margin call-based liquidations set in, and they will, stocks will collapse more violently, and with far greater amplitude than they did on May 6 (incidentally a date which is an anniversary of the real Hindenburg disaster). Only in retrospect will the current record correlation levels be perceived for the loud alarm bell they truly are. But, courtesy of our idiot regulators, this will certainly not occur sooner, or before it is too late.
Goldman's John Noyce (part of the firm's trading desk) has released his most recent barrage of technical analysis and charts, confirming our running expectation that a drop in stocks is now widely anticipated by the charts. In addition to extended commentary on FX, Bonds, Curves, and the VIX, Noyce notes the following on the S&P: "as discussed in recent client meetings, while the timing is difficult, we remain concerned that a larger topping structure is still being formed on the S&P – which will eventually lead to another meaningful decline." Has everyone, Goldman included, now gone from bullish to bearish in the span of two weeks?
It was only Wednesday when we were lamenting the collapse of alpha after implied correlation hit an all time intraday high of just under 80. Well, today should be the day when all long/short funds are shutting down: implied corr just closed at an all time record high of 79.57, after also posting an absolute intraday record of 80.08. It is getting ever more obvious that stocks continue to trade more and more as just one asset class, as seen by the constant increase in JCJ below, which has risen almost 15% in this week alone. At this rate, every stock will trade just like every other stock in under 3 weeks when alpha is officially put to rest and stock dispersion has undergone an extinction level event (better known as HFT and ETF encroachment, in which it is the price that determines value and not the other way around).
Hinde Capital has expanded on an idea we have been toying around with and wish to follow up on soon (that ETFs are de facto the new CDOs, as the most actively traded products (SPY, GLD, etc) are now merely synthetic representations of underlying securities, as the actual securities are increasingly more thinly traded, thus creating a huge "tail wags the dog" paradox), by penning a presentation calling GLD "the new CDO in disguise." We don't think it is disguised - after all the two products share far too many characteristics, although having CDO-like features does not make something evil per se. The reason why implied correlation hit 0.8 yesterday as we first pointed out, is precisely due to the aggregation of products into such synthetic aggregators as ETFs, of which GLD is merely one of many. Yet Hinde's opinion focuses precisely on the disconnect between the "idea" of owning a hard asset, and the reality of merely having claims to a Cede & Co stock certificate which in turn has no liquid and direct physical collateral, in essence condemning GLD and all non-physical ETFs, by saying "we believe ETFs are a risky way to express a gold view." All this and much more on why GLD has more risks than are acceptable for any sophisticated investor in the attached Hinde Capital presentation.
Fundamental analysis is no longer relevant as Alpha has just done one more revolution in its grave: today 1 Year Implied Correlation hit a new all time record, at 79.84 (out of 100 maximum possible), meaning the inverse of the metric, stock dispersion, or the measurement of the variation in individual stock prices, or broadly speaking alpha, is now completely irrelevant. As we have been saying for a year, "investing" is now all about a levered beta bet, using the maximum possible leverage, and sacrifices to Moloch, that the market does not turn before price targets are hit. At this rate we anticipate the next broad or acute selloff, will take us to 100 in implied correlation, at which point there will be no benefit whatsoever to trading individual stocks: the entire market will be one big ETF.
Barclays' head of quantitative strategy Matt Rothman provides some additional information on one of the most notable facets of the current market regime, namely the record implied correlation and thus, near record low stock dispersion, in other words, the phenomenon that all stocks trade as one, regardless of fundamental differences across different publicly traded companies. While nothing a slight dip in 1 month implied correlation from all time records near 70% hit in the past month, Rothman observes that "low levels of stock dispersion generally correspond with difficulty in picking individual stocks...This high level of cross-sectional correlation also has implications for how certain characteristics are being priced. For if stock return dispersion is low but underlying fundamental (economic) performance of factors remains relatively constant then it would appear that mispricings in the market may be beginning to take root." In other words, as we noted last time we observed the record low stock dispersion a month earlier, alpha (continues to be) dead. Yet for those who are eagerly anticipating the dispersion to finally rise, Rothman says that the market is basically back to mid-2009, when high quality stocks were largely undervalued compared to low quality: "High Quality companies are cheap right now relative to low Quality companies. We believe this is due both to a compression of returns in the market and because of the current macro-economic environment that has favored lower Quality stocks." Of course, shorting high beta names in a Fed-mediated market, has led to nothing but implosion.
The Goldman Markets team has put together this handy analysis on a proposed set of metrics that could be used to spot capitulation days, based on such inputs as VIX, options skew,daily trading volume relative to the 50 DMA, magnitude of sell-off, return from S&P’s intraday low to close, and the Fama-French winner/loser momentum. Based on the correct spotting of true capitulation days, Goldman predicts that those buying stocks following dramatic sell offs leads to abnormal profits. On the other hand Goldman refuses to mention the alternative: shorting the market on dayswhen stocks, which now have an implied correlation of about 1 and no associated volume, melt up alongside the risk-FX squeeze. Furthermore, there is no accounting of those situations where after a several hundre d point drop, the Federal Reserve refuses to get involved, which as Alan Greenspan pointed out, is unlikely, due to the Fed's perception that the market is the one true indicator of economic health (and nothing less than a case of the tail wagging the dog.) Lastly, one should not forget the abysmal track record of Markets' group top 2010 trade recommendations, presented below as of today: with 2 out of 9 top recommendations profitable, clients who have bet against Goldman's sell side advice have made a mint.
In our day and age, when implied correlation is approaching 1 with each passing day, and when nuanced relationships are ignored, as every correlation somehow immediately becomes causation only to be invalidated, chewed out and left for dead, there is one certain and virtually guaranteed statistical relationship left, that not only persists day after day but has now become its own self-fulfilling prophecy. We speak of course of the (inverse) correlation between stock prices and volume: i.e., "volume up, stocks down; volume down, stocks up." Rinse, repeat, over and over and over. Rarely has this correlation been as pronounced (although we have been discussing it for well over a year) as over the past 12 weeks. Behold.
Luck Or Skill - What Is More Critical To An Exceptional Investor (Or Even A Completely Worthless One)?Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/27/2010 12:10 -0400
The age old debate of whether luck or skill is more important for an investors'a success will likely never be resolved, although the attached presentation by Legg Mason's Michael Mauboussin provides some colorful anecdotes to validate the view of either side of the polemic. To be sure, working with someone like Bill Miller, Michael must be all too aware of just how prominent a role luck plays (or at least decade long leveraging into a cheap market bull run, only to see all your profits and reputation evaporate overnight when it all comes crashing down), which is precisely why his conclusion tends to veer on the side of skill. Obviously, when dealing with such concepts that have Gaussian distributions, as stocks increasingly demonstrate fractal features (courtesy of HFT), the whole debate is becoming increasingly moot. Yet Mauboussin does have an interesting discussion on reversion to the mean phenomena: something which in a world of near 1.000 implied correlation is of huge and often underestimated, significance: "We have mentioned already that reversion to the mean ensnares a lot of decision makers. This is
so important for investors, however, that it bears additional comment. The sad fact is that there is significant evidence that investors—both individual and institutional—fail to recognize and reflect reversion to the mean in their decisions. To illustrate, the S&P 500 Index generated returns of 8.2 percent in the twenty years ended 2009. The average mutual fund saw returns of about 7 percent, reflecting the performance drag of fees. But the average investor earned a return of less than 6 percent, about two-thirds of the market’s return. The reason investors did worse than the average fund is bad timing: they put money in when markets (or funds) were doing well and pulled money out when markets (or funds) were doing poorly. This is the opposite of the behavior you would expect from investors who understand reversion to the mean." Ironically, investors have learned their lessons: after a nearly 60% ramp from the all time lows, investors continue to refuse to buy when everyone else is buying, contrary to the pleading by Obama, and all the conflicted fly by night permabullish mutual fund managers which CNBC appears to have an infinite collection of to recycle and fill content inbetween all those incontinence ads 24/7.
Friedberg Mercantile Confirms Collapse In Traditional Market Neutral Strategies, Laments Death Of Efficient MarketsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/27/2010 06:33 -0400
We have long warned about the collapse in traditional market neutral trading strategies which for the past decade provided a major portion of the moderate market liquidity, and whose participants offset at least to an extent the disastrous influence of the HFT self-fulfilling prophecy that drives fractal momentum to ridiculous levels and whips the market into an irrational, lemming-like frenzy based on microvolatility, until everything snaps. Furthermore, our observations of the deplorable performance of various MN indices and funds, confirms that between liquidations and capital losses, this investment category may be doomed. The second quarter report by the Friedberg Mercantile group confirms this observation: "We continue to experience problems with our equity hedge program, a market-neutral strategy applied to U.S. stocks. For many years a successful program, earning above-average returns that were totally uncorrelated to S&P 500 returns, the program has repeatedly disappointed us in the most recent past, losing money in each of the past five quarters. This persistence of unfavourable outcomes is a totally unique event in the 19-year history of the program... Structural changes such as the proliferation of exchange-traded
funds and super-rapid computer-based bloc trading, activities that are
totally unconcerned with valuation metrics and/or long-term trends, are
still taking place and there is little or no prospect of this
development coming to an early end." There is a massive shift going on behind the scenes in market structure, and it is now far too late for the SEC or really anyone to do anything about it now. We anticipate implied correlation to approach 1 quite soon as every trading day becomes a manic-depressive bout in which the last few remaining traders and algorithms push the market up and down by a thousand points as the market becomes nothing than a sleaazy, unregulated, second rate, back-door Atlantic City illegal gambling parlor with a few stripper poles on the side for the CNBC cheerleaders. The point being anyone who tells you they can predict any movement in stocks now that valuations play no role in asset prices, is a charlatan, an idiot, is selling a subscription to a newsletter, or all three. Full must read Friedberg observations below.
The acrobatics in the gold market resume, with ongoing jagged moves in spot indicative not of normal buying or selling but far more fundamentally wrong with the market itself. Gold just jumped $12 in the span of minutes, on what appears to be "reverse liquidation." This is happening as Bernanke notes he is sticking with Keynes and thinks a return to the gold standard would be a mistake. And a quick snapshot of the market where implied correlation is once again approaching unity, and everything is trading on the back of everything else. And a quick snapshot of the market where implied correlation is once again approaching unity, and everything is trading on the back of everything else. Apparently the catalyst was a "better than expected" existing home sales number, which came at 5.37MM on expectations of 5.1MM, still a material decline from the prior 5.66MM but the first piece of good news out of the past 18. Of course, the fact that ever more houses are being "sold" at distressed prices and that banks may finally be rotating the shadow inventory is completely lost on binary speculators. So the market thesis now is we may just have a slow down in the double dip based on accelerating job losses (see today's initial claims for the ignored data).
Once again deep value investors vie for the claim they are not only consummate relative value stock pickers (in a time when implied correlation is at all time highs, making relative value as dead a concept as the dodo), but underwater geologists too. At least that was the case until last night, when it was uncovered that (at least one more) seepage near the BP well site may be leaking oil, methane and who knows what else uncontrollably, potentially confirming the running thesis proferred by Matt Simmons that leaks are prevalent and not localized to just the Macondo well. Reuters follows up: "Investors fretted about possible seepage from BP's capped Gulf of Mexico well on Monday and speculation grew about assets the company may sell to pay multibillion dollar costs for its oil spill. A BP spokesman said the seep was detected by its engineers but it was unclear whether the source was the blown-out well, adding that seeps were a natural phenomenon in the Gulf." The stock has sold off appropriately, now that BP trades as a "distressed catalyst" story, with any given day seeing the shares going up or down by double digit percentage. How this stock is still pitched as a relative value play is mindboggling, when one adverse piece of news could send it materially lower.