With global growth slowing, global trade tumbling, and earnings revisions falling rapidly, equity market outperformance has been (as we noted earlier) based on the Fed/ECB's largesse. The unanswered question is - how much is now priced in? Given recent 'stability' post-FOMC, it seems the follow-through is not there (especially if we look at sectoral performance) and based on David Rosenberg's estimate of Fed QE's impact on stocks, we think we know why. In the last three months, the S&P 500 has 'outperformed' the Fed balance sheet by around 220 points - which equates to a pricing-in of around 11 months of additional QEternity.
Ray Dalio, founder and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, L.P. and one of the most successful hedge fund managers of all time told Maria Bartiromo last week that he owns gold and that he sees no “sensible reason not to own gold”. The interview was part of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Corporate Program's CEO Speaker Series, which provides a forum for leading global CEOs to share their priorities and insights before a high-level audience of wealthy and influential CFR members. The respected hedge fund manager suggested that a depression and not a recession was likely and warned of social unrest and the risk of radical politics as was seen with Hitler and the Nazis in the Depression of the 1930’s. Dalio spoke about how “gold is a currency” and when asked by Bartiromo “do you own gold?”, he smiled and said “Oh yeah, I do.” The admission elicited a laugh from the CFR audience. Dalio’s interview is important as it again indicates how slowly but surely gold is moving from a fringe asset of a few hard money advocates and risk averse individuals to a mainstream asset. Wealthier people and some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world are slowly realising the importance of gold as financial insurance in an investment portfolio and as money. This will result in sizeable flows into the gold market in the coming months which should push prices above the inflation adjusted high of 1980 - $2,500/oz. The interview section where Dalio is asked about gold by an audience member begins in the 43rd minute and can be seen here.
The seemingly inexorable rise of corporate bond ETFs (most specifically HYG and JNK is the high-yield market, and LQD in investment grade) have been discussed at length here as both a 'new' factor in the underlying bond market's technicals (flow) as well as their correlated impact on equity and volatility markets. Goldman Sachs' credit team delve deep into the impact of these relatively new (and rapidly growing) structures with their greater transparency but considerably higher sensitivities and conclude that not only are they here to stay but the consequences of ETF-inclusion (dramatic outperformance bias relative to non-ETF bonds) are deepening the liquidity divide (and relative-value) of what is already a somewhat sparsely-traded market. Our concern is that, as the divide grows (and liquidity is concentrated in ETF bonds), given the crowding tendency we have witnessed, (even with call constraints at extremes thanks to low interest rates), this is yet another crowded 'hot potato' trade hanging like a sword of Damocles over our markets (courtesy of Bernanke's repression).
Marc Faber, one of the few analysts, to have predicted the current crisis correctly and to have protected his clients in the process, remains very bullish on gold. In another excellent Bloomberg interview, Faber said that “the trend for gold prices will be steady but the trend for the dollar and other currencies will be down. So in other words gold in dollar terms will trend higher.” “How high it will go, you will have to call Mr Bernanke and at the Fed there are other people who actually make Mr Bernanke look like a hawk and so they are going to print money.” Faber is on record as to the importance of owning physical gold and he again warned about the importance of owning gold but not storing it in the U.S. “You ought to own some gold but don’t store it in the U.S., the Fed will take it away from you one day,” Faber astutely noted. He said that Bernanke is a money printer and this could lead to massive inflation and the Dow Jones at 20,000, 50,000 or 10 million. Faber cheerily predicted that the “the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy will destroy the world” and “eventually we will have a systemic crisis and everything will collapse.”
- Anti-Japan demonstrators protest in New York City (China Daily) ...and the propaganda: Younger generation feels wave of emotions (CD)
- And the retaliation: Obama to launch auto trade case against China (Reuters)
- Spanish Banks Bleeding Cash Cloud Bailout Debate (Bloomberg)
- Chicago teachers extend strike (Reuters); Emanuel Promises He’ll Sue to End Chicago Teacher Strike (Bloomberg)
- China hurts own credibility with Xi's vanishing act (Reuters)
- European Squabbling on Euro Crisis Solution May Test Rally (Bloomberg)
- Two South Africa mines reopen, most don't (Reuters)
- Finance Industry Warns of ‘Cliff Effect’ in ECB’s Bond Plan (Bloomberg)
- China struggles to cure the violent ills of health system (Reuters)
- QE3 is for Main Street, except... it isn't: QE3 hit by mortgage processing delays (FT)
- Probe focuses on JPMorgan's monitoring of suspect transactions (Reuters)
- As explained here before: Spanish Bonds Decline as EU Policy Makers Clash on Bank Plan (Bloomberg)
Under widespread NIRP, pensions, annuities, insurers, banks and ultimately all savers will suffer a slow but steady decline in real wealth over time. Just as ZIRP has stuck around since the early 2000’s, NIRP may be here to stay for many years to come. Looking back at how much widespread damage ZIRP has caused since its introduction back in 2002, it’s hard not to expect that negative interest rates will cause even more harm, and at a faster clip. In our view, NIRP represents the death knell for the financial system as we know it today. There are simply too many working parts of the financial industry that are directly impacted by negative rates, and as long as NIRP persists, they will be helplessly stuck suffering from its ill-effects.
Moments ago, the FOMC members formalized their opinion on where inflation is heading: "Most members continued to anticipate that, with longer-term inflation expectations stable and the existing slack in resource utilization being taken up very gradually, inflation would run over the medium term at a rate at or below the Committee’s objective of 2 percent." The only conclusion one can derive from this is that since the perpetually wrong FOMC committee, which has never accurately predicted any one thing in its entire history, sees little to no inflation, inflation is most likely about to soar. A convenient independent confirmation of this assumption comes from none other than bond manager PIMCO which moments ago announce that it was adding to its gold holdings "on inflation concerns...as it bets that global inflation rates will pick up over the next three to five years." Specifically, "The Pimco Commodity Real Return Strategy Fund, which has about $20 billion in assets, has increased its gold holdings to 11.5% of total assets recently, from 10.5% two months ago, and has been adding to the position when gold prices dipped toward $1,500 a troy ounce, says Nic Johnson, the fund's co-portfolio manager." And with global asset managers allocating about 1% of their AUM to the precious metal, should the majority of them copycat PIMCO in this move, then gold would cross the psychological $2,000 barrier in minutes. The irony is that for a bond manager, which Pimco just happens to be the biggest in the world, inflation is your worst friend. So acknowledging its imminent creep, is hardly "talking one's book."
Silver, wine, art and gold – or SWAG – may be the solution for investors looking to protect their wealth in the coming years according to perceptive Reuters Columnist, James Saft. In an interesting article and an interesting video for Reuters, Saft coins the term “Investing 201” which means having SWAG in your portfolio in order to protect investors from “a grim decade of money printing and financial repression.” SWAG, as in silver, wine, art and gold, are real assets that might just outperform if official policy causes the money supply to surge according to Saft. This is the idea of Joe Roseman, who says SWAG will do very well over what could be a very troubled next decade. "These assets effectively act as a money supply index tracker," said Roseman, who for 16 years was a money manager and economist at Moore Capital, run by the legendary Louis Bacon. "If the authorities are going to bail themselves out, money supply will expand. Every single time governments have been here, this is exactly what they have done."
How far is the Fed from reaching the bottom of its ammunition box? Well, both Mario Draghi and Ben Bernanke said no to yet more monetary stimulus recently. Wall Street unsurprisingly was disappointed. Wall Street expected more stimulus, as institutional investors are analyzing monetary policy from their own perspective rather than the central bank's viewpoint – understandable, but a big mistake. Wall Street's Conundrum: with the S&P 500 up less than 7% in 2012, the year is almost over, and the investment firms have little to show for it.
We all make mistakes. In the investment world, some mistakes arise from having imperfect information, some from not anticipating the future correctly and some from sloppy analytics. Sloppy analytics includes everything from outright mathematical errors or misinterpretations, to poor assumptions, to overfocusing on unimportant variables or underfocusing on important ones. Analytics is the most critical and controllable part of the investment process, but even if done flawlessly does not ensure a favorable outcome by any means because the views/ behaviors/incentives of other investors – and indeed, the investment environment itself – change continually in ways that can’t be anticipated. But there is one more common mistake that is a consistent source of perplexity for active investors. Over the years, my experience has been that those who lose money more often (and in greater amounts) than they should, often do so because of overconfidence. Overconfidence can lead to the conviction that one is only buying investments that will be highly profitable and one is only selling investments that no longer have significant upside potential. This can lead to a lack of diversification and a heavy concentration of money in a single investment or asset class. Overconfidence, however, also leads to overtrading.
It is important to note that markets were also unusually calm during the two weeks of the Chinese Olympics in 2008. The 2008 Summer Olympic Games took place slightly later in August than the London Olympics – starting August 8 and ending August 24. Only days after the ending of the Chinese Olympics came massive market volatility in September and then seven months of market turmoil. Similarly to this Olympic year, in Olympic year 2008, gold traded sideways to down in a period of consolidation prior to further gains. Gold bottomed in September 2008 in euro and sterling terms. Another brief bout of dollar strength saw gold bottom in November 2008 in dollar terms. Besides the eurozone crisis (and the significant risk of the German Constitutional Court deciding on September 12th to reject the recently cobbled together alphabet soup response to the crisis (ESM etc etc) and significant instability in the Middle East, there is also the not inconsequential risk from the US Presidential campaign and the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff’.
Just when you thought the Li(e)bor scandal had jumped the shark, Germany's Spiegel brings it back front-and-center with a detailed and critical insight into the 'organized fraud' and emergence of the cartel of 'bottom of the food chain' money market traders. "The trick is that you can't do it alone" one of the 'chosen' pointed out, but regulators have noiw spoken "mechanisms are now taking effect that I only knew of from mafia films." RICO anyone? "This is a real zinger," says an insider. In the past, bank manager lapses resulted from their stupidity for having bought securities without understanding them. "Now that was bad enough. But manipulating a market rate is criminal." A portion of the industry, adds the insider, apparently doesn't realize that the writing is on the wall.
- Hilsenrath: Heat Rises on Central Banks (WSJ)
- Some at Fed Are Urging Pre-Emptive Stimulus (NYT)
- Obama Warns of Headwinds in Europe; Urges European Leaders to Take Decisive Action on Euro (WSJ) - also needs reelection
- ECB thinks the unthinkable, action likely weeks away (Reuters)
- Games Turn London Into ‘Ghost Town.’ (FT)
- Greek Leaders Seek to Defer Austerity Cuts (FT)
- Hong Kong Builders Unload Properties to Raise Cash for Land Rush (Bloomberg)
- North India Crippled by Power Cuts (FT)
- Euro-Area Unemployment Rate Reaches Record 11.2% on Crisis (Bloomberg)
- Italy's Monti sees hope of end to euro crisis (Reuters)
The Europeans have played the Great Game badly; are playing it badly and there will be consequences for their failures. All of this nonsense with Greece, with Spain, could have been avoided by telling the truth about the numbers, by not goose stepping with plans meant to mislead instead of illuminating the truth, with trying to hide the self-evident and presenting scams as solutions or by addressing the size of firewalls instead of trying to cure the sickness of the nations that lie within them. There is no Prince, there are no glass slippers and the bills have to be paid and the money to pay them will not be found in the pot of gold at the end of some rainbow. Unless the Germans are willing to have the same standard of living as those in Greece and that will not be happening so that it can be foretold that the play will end badly. It is not economics that will determine the end of the European fantasy but politics.
As the flow of subsidies from Washington slowly ebbs, the TBTF banks will begin to feed upon one another...