Three unlucky attempts in a row to retake the S&P 500 all time high may have been all we get, at least for now, because the fourth one is shaping up to be rather problematic following events out of the Crimean in the past three hours where the Ukraine situation has gone from bad to worse, and have dragged the all important risk indicator, the USDJPY, below 102.000 once again. As a result, global stock futures have fallen from the European open this morning, with the DAX future well below 9600 to mark levels not seen since last Thursday. Escalated tensions in the Ukraine have raised concerns of the spillover effects to Western Europe and Russia, as a Russian flag is lifted by occupying gunmen in the Crimean (Southern Ukrainian peninsula) parliament, prompting an emergency session of Crimean lawmakers to discuss the fate of the region. This, allied with reports of the mobilisation of Russian jets on the Western border has weighed on risk sentiment, sending the German 10yr yield to July 2013 lows.
For the second night in a row, China, and specifically its currency rate which saw the Yuan weaken once more, preoccupied investors - and certainly those who had bet on endless strenghtening of the Chinese currency - however this time it appeared more "priced in, and after trading as low as 2000, the SHCOMP managed to close modestly green, which however is more than can be said about the Nikkei which ended the session down 0.5%. Still, the USDJPY was firmly supported by the 102.00 "fundamental" fair value barrier and as a result equity futures, which had to reallign from tracking the AUDUSD to the old faithful Yen carry, have been propped up once more and are set to open at all time highs. If equities fail to breach the record barrier for the third time in a row and a selloff ensues after the open in deja vu trading, it will be time to watch out below if only purely for technical reasons.
It would indeed be supremely ironic if the "strong" foreign law bond indenture would be tested, and breached, not by Greek bonds, as so many expected in late 2011 and early 2012, but by one of the last contries in Europe which is still AAA-rated. We would find it less ironic if the next leg of the global financial crisis was once again unleashed by an Austrian bank: after all history does rhyme...
Debt is the great palliative that has enabled the US and other major economies to escape reality, at least for a time. Ayn Rand described such behavior:
You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.
It is possible to steal from tomorrow to improve today but only at the cost of having less of a future. That is what both nations and citizens have been doing. The ability to continue doing so has about run its course.
The default cycle that should have occurred, given historical patterns of issuance cycles, has morphed (thanks to the Fed) into a refinancing cycle; but while DoubleLine's Jeff Gundlach suggests that fundamentals are supportive, "the valuation of junk bonds as a category is at its all-time overvalued versus long-time treasury bonds." So despite Yellen exclaiming that she sees no bubbles, one of the world's largest bond fund managers has never seen corporate bonds (investment grade and high yield) more expensive. Gundlach goes on to note he has sold some Apple (but believes it will remain range-bound), is baffled by the valuation of Chipotle, and sees 10Y Treasury yields dropping to 2.5% or lower.
Three days ago it was S&P that opened the can of Puerto Rico junk worms. Moments ago it was Moody's turn to downgrade the General Obligation rating of the Commonwealth from Baa3 to Ba2, aka junk status. We note this just in case someone is confused what the catalyst was that just sent stock to a new intraday high in the aftermath of today's disappointing jobs number which until this moment barely managed to push the S&P higher by 1%. From the report: "While some economic indicators point to a preliminary stabilization, we do not see evidence of economic growth sufficient to reverse the commonwealth's negative financial trends. Without an economic revival, the commonwealth will face difficult decisions in coming years, as its debt and pension costs rise. The negative outlook signals the remaining challenges facing the commonwealth."
"Financial systems are unstable with excessive risk-taking," warns PIMCO's now solo guru Bill Gross, telling Bloomberg TV's Stephanie Ruhle that in a "Soros reflexivity... Once you get the levered system going, it hardly knows when and where to stop." Credit, as we have noted, has been relatively more stable (though less positive on the the way up) Gross notes and "the way to get rich in the past was to borrow money and to lever [up]," but Gross explains that now, "assets are artificially priced... from this point forward, double-digit returns, getting rich on leverage, no. You better look elsewhere for – for your profits," and not Asia. China is "the mystery meat" of emerging market countries, Gross cautions, "nobody knows what’s there and there’s a little bit of baloney."
There are two major concerns that everyone should be concerned about that we see taking this sell-off further and faster than anyone else expects...
As a prelude to the following dismal market update, Japan just posted the largest annual trade deficit ever (ever ever ever) at JPY 11.47 trillion... so much for Abenomics and the magic J-Curve as the year just got worse (not better). With the Nikkei 225 (cash) down over 400 points (as we would have expected given futures action) and back under 15,000; Japanese stocks are at 7-week lows but Japanese credit risk is rapidly accelerating lower at its riskiest in 10-weeks. Japanese government bonds are well bid with yields on the 20Y having dropped to 1.443% - the lowest since April 2013. Away from Japan, the iTraxx Asia index (which tracks credit risk of investment grade corporates) has soared in the last few days to almost 5-month highs. Emerging Market Sovereign CDS are all notably wider with Vietnam and Indonesia topping the relative moves so far (and most at multi-month wides). Chinese repo is stable for now (CDS are wider by 2bps at 7-month wides) but so far, no good, for those believing the contagion in EM FX will remain contained.
The Dow Transports has outperformed the Industrials by over 3% year-to-date (+1.9% vs -1.1%) as both the Trannies and Russell pressed new record highs today (as the Dow and S&P lagged on bigger-cap earnings disappointments). Treasuries lost ground with the front-end worst (5Y +6bps) but 30Y was unch leading to a significant further flattening in the curve to its 2nd flattest close in 17 months. The USD ended the day (and week so far) unchanged as a big drop in CAD was offset by a rally in AUD and GBP. Gold & silver dribbled lower all day and were smacked into the close; with copper flat to slightly lower on the day as WTI surged towards $97 (narrowing the spread to Brent to 1-month lows). It was recent business-as-usual in VIX as it leaked higher testing 13% once again and credit markets remain divergent from stocks (though the relative safety of investment grade credit was bid this afternoon). For those keeping track, today's market was brought to you by the letters USDJPY and the number 17.62.
One of the bigger stories overnight is Hilsenrath's latest communication from the Fed which once again simply paraphrases the status quo opinion, namely which is that the Fed will taper by another $10 billion on January 29, reducing the total monthly flow to $65 billion. "The Federal Reserve is on track to trim its bond-buying program for the second time in six weeks as a lackluster December jobs report failed to diminish the central bank's expectations for solid U.S. economic growth this year, according to interviews with officials and their public comments." Of course, should the Fed not do that, as the Hilsenrath turned to Hilsen-wrath after all those Taper rumors in September ended up being one giant dud, one can once and for all completely ignore the WSJ reporter, who will have lost all his Fed sources and is now merely an echo chamber of consensus. What is notable is that the result of the latest mouthpiece effort, the USD is stronger, which means USDJPY is higher, which means US equity futures are flying.... on less QE to be announced. We eagerly await for this particular correlation pair to finally flip. The other big story, of course, is the already noted well-telegraphed in advance PBOC liquidity injection ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and ahead of a potential January 31 Trust default which will certainly shake the foundations of the Chinese shadow banking system to the core. Not helping nerves was last night's announcement by Zhang Ming, a researcher and director of the international investment department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that "trusts and shadow banking will see defaults this year, and this is a good thing." Let's circle back in 6 months to see just how good it is.
Markets have started the week on the back foot, despite a brief rally following a better-than-expected Q4 GDP print in China. Indeed, Asian equities recorded a small pop following the GDP report, but the gains were shortlived as the general negativity on China’s growth trajectory continues to weigh on Asian markets. In terms of the data itself, China’s Q4 GDP (7.7% YoY) was slightly ahead of expectations of 7.6% but it was slower than Q3’s 7.8%. DB’s China economist Jun Ma maintains his view that economic growth will likely accelerate in 2014 on stronger external demand and the benefits from deregulation. The slight slowdown was also evident in China’s December industrial production (9.7% YoY vs 10% previous), fixed asset investment (19.6% YoY vs 19.9% previous) and retail sales (13.6% vs 13.7% previous) data which were all released overnight. Gains in Chinese growth assets were quickly pared and as we type the Shanghai Composite (-0.8%), HSCEI (-1.1%) and AUDUSD (-0.1%) are all trading weaker on the day. On a more positive note, the stocks of mining companies BHP (+0.29%) and Rio Tinto (+0.26%) are trading flat to slightly firmer and LME copper is up 0.1%. Across the region, equities are generally trading lower paced by the Nikkei (-0.5%) and the Hang Seng (-0.7%). Staying in China, the 7 day repo rate is another 50bp higher to a three month high of 9.0% with many investors continuing to focus on the Chinese shadow banking system following the looming restructuring of a $500m trust product that was sold to ICBC’s customers.
Overview of the major forces shaping the investment climate.
- Yellen’s Record-Low Senate Support Reflects Fed’s Politicization (BBG)
- Euro-Zone Inflation Rate Falls in December, even further below ECB's target (WSJ)
- Zambia politician charged for calling president a potato (AFP)
- Blame gold: India Savings Deposit Scam Collapse Leaves Thousands Penniless (BBG)
- Hedge Funds Raise Gold Wagers as Yamada Sees $1,000 (BBG)
- George Osborne limits cuts options with pensions promise (FT)
- Vietnam Raises Foreign Bank Ownership Caps to Aid System (BBG)
- But they said buy a year ago... Goldman to JPMorgan Say Sell Emerging Markets After Slide (BBG)
- SAC Trial Seen by Probe Convict as Latest Abusive Tactic (BBG)
Over the past two weeks, Trust Preferred (or TruPS) CDOs have gained prominent attention as a result of being the first, and so far only, security that the recently implemented and largely watered-down, Volcker Rule has frowned upon, and leading various regional banks, such as Zions, to liquidate the offending asset while booking substantial losses. But... what are TruPS CDOs, and just how big (or small) of an issue is a potential wholesale liquidation in the market? Courtesy of the Philly Fed we now have the extended answer.