Implied Correlation

Howard Marks' "2010 In Review"

Oaktree's Howard Marks has just released his "year in review" letter, which like any letter by Marks is a must read, as the Oaktree manager has proven his presence in the pantheon of asset managers is well-deserved. Not surprising, and as we had repeatedly highlighted, when we pointed out the near record implied correlation between all asset classes, 2010 was a year of "correlations" which we believe may be just as appropriate a word to describe last year's market as "austerity" (which has so far completely missed the US). Quote Marks: "The word for 2010 was “correlation,” meaning macro trends dominated performance within asset classes. Thus most securities performed in line with their market benchmarks and the returns to security selection were limited. It wasn’t easy to outperform benchmarks."All this and much more on the firm's performance below.

US-Europe Decoupling At All Time Record As SovX - Implied Correlation Spread Indicates Historic Domestic Complacency

In last night daily report by BofA's Jeffrey Rosenberg, one chart stands out: the spread between the 12 month S&P 500 top 50 Implied Correlation (generically a proxy of broad US equity risk) and the Sov X, or the blended sovereign risk as indicated by CDS, which recently hit an all time high. In a nutshell: the spread has never been bigger, confirming that US domestic complacency over all things European (and the continuing levitation in stocks) has reached unprecedented levels, as absolutely no fundamentals can stand in the path of the hedge fund levered beta year end rally. In other words the China-US fatally flawed "decoupling" of 2007 has been replaced with a decoupling between the US and Europe. This will also end in tears. And this is happening even as European markets are unraveling, and as the EURUSD is tumbling, guaranteeing a drop in both US exports and the top line for US MNCs. But why worry: as 58 year old Valerie Whelan yesterday summarized it best: "It's capitalism gone mad." Every move in risk assets higher is merely a bet that central bankers can kick the can down the road for one more day. Nothing else. That it is unsustainable is guaranteed. Willem Buiter makes the case all too clearly that Europe will go bankrupt soon. We expect someone to make the same argument about the US very soon, especially if China does in fact commence tightening, leaving the chairman no other choice than to open the liquidity floodgates in one last attempt to preserve the dying economic system, however, this time without the benefit of being able to export inflation to China.

Goldman Calls For Bail Out Of Portugal And Ireland So Everyone Can Go Back To Buying Amazon And Ebay

The more things are bankrupt, the more things stay the same. Evidence #1: Goldman's FUG (Francesco U. Garzarelli) sends a letter to clients in which he implies that Europe should promptly add Portugal and Ireland to its list of wards of the state, so that the Dow can go back to targeting 36,000 on short notice. Apparently this latest European nuisance (punctuated by the Irish Bund spread passing 600 bps) is too much for Goldman strategists, who are perplexed by this stunning inability of the ECB and EMU to grasp that in this market where the only buyer of everything are Central Banks and no market risk is supposed to exist, that Europe still has refused to step up to the plate and debase their currency by a few hundred bips. And after all, the only reason the EURUSD is trading where it is, is so that it has a whole lot of buffer room to fall.

Big Macro Discusses QE2 Impact On Pricing Power, Corporate Margins And Exporting Inflation Via The Renminbi Peg

Our friends over at Big Macro have put together the latest issue of their periodic newsletter. In this issue they look at the at seemingly inexplicable divergence between the VIX and the EURUSD 3 month implied correlation (never a good sign), the increasing delinquency rates across all consumer loan classes (as in buying but not paying, leading to companies like Netflix which made $7 million in cash in the quarter to have a market cap of over $8 billion), but most notably at the differential between commodity prices and the CPI, superimposed against inflation. What is uncovered is that while when unemployment is below 6% companies can increase prices faster than commodity prices can go up, at current levels of joblessness, it will be impossible to pass through surging input costs (whether these be in wheat, cotton, or rare earth minerals). This leads to the conclusion: "What does this mean for the inflation/deflation debate? If the FEDs QE program will continue to push up prices, companies can only squeeze their margins so much. The reason we are not seeing  inflation today is that there is a lag in the feed trough from commodity prices to consumer prices, partly because companies have been able to temporarily save their margins by aggressive cost cutting. I think we are potentially set up for a big decline in returns for equity investors." The last statement has a linear severity with the amount of free money that Bernanke floods in the market in two weeks.

Equities Go Full Retard As Rates Run For Cover

To see the prevailing schizophrenia gripping the two different sets of mindsets in the market right now, look no further than than the surging divergence between equity vol and implied correlation (VIX, JCJ) and credit vol (via swaptions: USSV011). The chart below shows that even as equity traders are going full retard into QE2, and expecting the Fed's Brian Sack to expense their purchases of such staples as hookers, booze and heroin next, rate guys are running for cove (guess what, the fact that going forward Americans will not pay mortgages again, likely for many months if not years, is not good news).

Paulson's Advantage Plus Fund Returns 12.5% In September, Flat For The Year

Paulson's largest Advantage fund, which managed $16.6 billion as of the end of Q2, and which was down 11% as of the end of August, has managed to ride the beta wave, which we expected in the beginning of September would miraculously come and rescue thousands of underwater hedge funds, and prevent tens of billions in redemption requests. As a result, Advantage pulled off a 12.5% return in September, outperforming the broader market 8.8% bounce over the same time period. Yet even with a gain of over $1 billion, the billionaire investor is just about breakeven for the year (in dollar-denominated terms), which taking high water marks and all that, likely means bonuses for all those analysts on the 50th floor of 1251 Ave of the Americas will be certainly subpar unless somehow the beta wave continues into the end of the year even as additional tens of billions in capital is pulled out by retail investors.

Frontrunning: September 24

  • CNBC's new pet blog is off to an unsurprising start: not only does it steal Zero Hedge stories without attribution, but apparently it discovered the entire correlation story - (NetNet). As a reference, Jeff, here are Zero Hedge's nodes on implied correlation going back into 2009, and here is our Nicholas Colas post. But yes, we also were very shocked someone out there read this to begin with. So keep stealing guys, nobody will catch it.
  • Two quotes of the day: "Irish debt agency CEO not worried about daily swings in bond spreads" and "Irish Finance Minister says concerned by yields in recent debt sales "
  • China Will Focus On Peaceful Development: Wen (China Daily)
  • China Takes Lead In Financial Deals (FT)
  • Spat Tests Japan's New Government." (WSJ)
  • Eurozone Crackdown On Public Finances (FT)
  • Spain Under Pressure to Show `Hair Shirt' Budget as Yields Rise (Bloomberg)

World FX Heatmap: Dollar Bloodbath

Remember those days when the dollar plunging (and the yen surging) meant a daily unwind in the carry trade, and a plunge in stocks? Neither do wo. Stocks are valiantly trying to confirm they are the most useless instrument ever, with bonds surging, gold skyrocketting, and stocks... about to go green (which is only due to increased speculation by MS as we pointed out yesterday, that the Fed will announce QE2 in one week). In the meantime, implied correlation in FX is starting to follow that of stock, as global capital flows are now one.

When Ignorance Is Bliss, The Recession Is Truly A Depression

With the market still drunk with hopium and grotesque stupidity from last week, after surging triple digits on an NFP number which was exactly as expected (returning strikers added 10,000 workers and the Birth-Death model, when accurately measured, contributed a net 17,000 jobs, so strip out these two effects and we actually end up with +40,000, which was bang on the consensus estimate) here is another reality check from David Rosenberg for all those who may be confused and believe that buying the "dips" or the market is in any way a prudent decision, when all it does is begs for someone to pull the rug from under the feet of speculators who believe that momentum and an implied correlation of 1 is indicative of improving fundamentals. Additionally, as nobody else seems to enjoy touching the topic, here is another observation on why we continue to live in a depression.

Third Hindenburg Omen Confirmation

The market is now down 3.4% from the August 12 open, when the first Hindenburg Omen was sighted, on route to validating the prediction of a 5% drop. However, in the process it continues getting worse and worse - today we just got a third H.O. confirmation, and a 4th standalone HO event, as the market seems to be getting ever more schizophrenic, with increasing new highs and new lows, while the undercurrent is one of ever increasing implied correlation as noted earlier, as ever more asset managers simply rely on levered beta "strategies" to redeem their year. Unlike 2009, however, this time the trick won't fly, as it appears the market's downside potential is finally starting to be appreciated.

Another Historic Milestone Passed As Implied Correlation Hits New Record

The 10 Year under 2.5%, Bunds, Gilts, JGBs all following suit to record risk-aversion levels, the EURCHF at record lows, the USDJPY at 15 year lows, and now this: the CBOE Implied Correlation index has just hit another historic plateau, touching on 85 earlier in the day, which means that all those who believe relative value can still be found are about to be carted off. Aside from the fact that the current level of JCJ would be the highest closing level in history, the intraday high of 84.50 is a very troubling indicator, which once again confirms that stocks continue to trade not on fundamentals, and probably not on technicals, but on ever increasing amount of leverage applied to some indication of beta. Essentially, market participants are likely levered to the gills like never before and betting it all on another daily Hail Mary. Another way of looking at the reading, as we have pointed out previously, is that stock dispersion: the most critical indicator of a healthy market, is at 15%! And let's not forget we are currently still in the H.O. regime (and to all naysayers we remind that the market has dropped almost 4% since the first Hindenburg Omen appeared). So many coincident records, can hardly be a coincidence... We look forward to getting Matt Rothman's thoughts on this increasingly disturbing trend, and for the NYT to pick up on this theme within 4-6 weeks.

Second Hindenburg Omen Confirmation In As Many Days, Third H.O. Event In One Week

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).

Institutions Now Actively Selling Into HFT Permabid

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 Destruction

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.