Last week, USDNCY began to accelerate lower and break across the "real pain" threshold that we have been discussing for many of the world's so-called "hedgers" who have been riding the one-way strengthening trend of the CNY for years and piled in with leveraged trades on what had been a one-way bet. The collapse this week, to levels not seen since pre-BoJ QQE and pre-Fed QE3 appeared to trigger an avalanche of unwinds or hedges of the exposures we have been worrying about. As the chart below shows, billions of dollars of upside calls on USDCNY were purchased on Friday with serious size out to 6.65 strikes (levels not seen since 2009) by the end of 2014.
The PBOC's willingness to a) enter the global currency war (beggar thy neighbor), and b) 'allow' the Yuan to weaken and thus crush carry traders and leveraged 'hedgers' is about to get serious. The total size of the carry trades and hedges is hard to estimate but Deutsche believes it is around $500bn and as Morgan Stanley notes the ongoing weakness means things can get ugly fast as USDCNY crosses the crucial 6.25 level where losses from hedge products begin to surge. This is a critical level as it pre-dates Fed QE3 and BoJ QQE levels and these are pure levered derivative MtM losses - not a "well they will just rotate to US equities" loss - which means major tightening on credit conditions...
As we noted earlier, The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has continuously been overly optimistic regarding its expectations for economic growth in the United States. A major reason for the FOMC’s overly optimistic forecast for economic growth and its incorrect view of the effectiveness of quantitative easing is the reliance on the so-called 'wealth effect'. However, "There may not be a wealth effect at all. If there is a wealth effect, it is very difficult to pin down..." Since the FOMC began quantitative easing in 2009, its balance sheet has increased more than $3 trillion. This increase may have boosted wealth, but the U.S. economy received no meaningful benefit. Furthermore, the FOMC has no idea what the ultimate outcome of such an increase will be or what a return to a ‘normal’ balance sheet might entail. Given all of this, we do not see any evidence for economic growth as robust at the FOMC predicts. Without a wealth effect, the stock market is not the “key player” in the economy, and no “virtuous circle” runs through the stock market.
Tax time, but not pay-up time.
One can see that while the traditional 6:00 AM USDJPY buy program is just duying to resume aggressive upward momentum ignition, futures are still leery and confused by the recent post-open high beta selloffs. Then again, things like yesterday's ridiculous no news 3:30pm ramp happen and confused them even more just as momentum is about to take a downward direction. Stocks in Asia (ex-China) advanced amid a reversal in sentiment after Citigroup (+4.15%) inspired positive close on Wall Street, however Shanghai Comp (-1.4%) underperformed as concerns over GDP data on Wednesday following weak money supply data weighed on sentiment. Stocks remained on the back foot (Eurostoxx50 -0.42%), with Bunds supported by the release of lower than expected German ZEW survey and also ongoing concerns surrounding the stand-off between Ukraine/Russia. Short-Sterling bear steepened after UK CPI fell to its lowest level since October 2009, but house prices across Britain posted its biggest rise since June 2010, reviving concerns over an overheating market.
Today's 'bounce' in US equity markets is not translating into Asian equity market strength as China, India, Indonesia, and Thai stocks are fading. Copper is crumbling and just stopped out Dennis Gartman's long. In China, the PBOC withdrew 172bn Yuan (highest since Feb 2013) and pushed the currency back towards its weakest since Feb (which is the weakest since the PBOC began its erstwhile carry-killing-policy). Lots of odd moving-parts in Chinese data tonight with M2 YoY growth tumbling to 12.1% (missing expectations) - its slowest since Jan 2001 but Total Social Financing smashed expectations at 2.07tn Yuan (vs 1.86tn expected). It seems, try as the PBOC might to control it, credit creation continues to balloon in China.
There is a reasonably quiet start to the week before we head into the highlights of the week including the start of US reporting season tomorrow, FOMC minutes on Wednesday and IMF meetings in Washington on Friday. On the schedule for today central bank officials from the ECB including Mersch, Weidmann and Constancio will be speaking. The Fed’s Bullard speaks today, and no doubt there will be interest in his comments from last week suggesting that the Fed will hike rates in early 2015.
Big Bubble Brutally Bursts ... Bringing Bankruptcies, Bond Busts
With the world still on edge over developments in the Ukraine, overnight newsflow was far less dramatic than yesterday, with no "bombshell" uttered at today's Putin press conferences in which he said nothing new and simply reiterated the party line and yet the market saw it as a full abdication, he did have some soundbites saying Russia should keep economic issues separate from politics, and that Russia should cooperate with all partners on Ukraine. Elsewhere Gazprom kept the heat on, or rather off, saying Ukraine recently paid $10 million of its nat gas debt, but that for February alone Ukraine owes $440 million for gas, which Ukraine has informed Gazprom it can't pay in full. Adding the overdue amounts for prior months, means Ukraine's current payable on gas is nearly $2 billion. Which is why almost concurrently Barosso announced that Europe would offer €1.6 billion in loans as part of EU package, which however is condition on striking a deal with the IMF (thank you US taxpayers), and that total aid could be as large as $15 billion, once again offloading the bulk of the obligations to the IMF. And so one more country joins the Troika bailout routine, and this one isn't even in the Eurozone, or the EU.
Yuan volatility is part of a major rebalancing of global trade. The next phase of EM turmoil will involve banking crises in several countries including China.
This week saw the continuation of the "bad news is good news" theme as one economic report after another came in far below expectations. The question remains whether it is actually all just a function of the weather? Of course, there is something inherently wrong with driving asset prices higher based on hopes that a weaker economy will keep the Fed's "liquidity fix" flowing to drug addicted Wall Street traders. Under that theory, we should be rooting for an outright "depression" to double our portfolio values. But, when put into that context, it suddenly doesn't make much sense. Yet that is the world in which we live in...for now. Therefore, as we wind down the week on this "options expiry" Friday, here is a list of things to think about over the weekend.
The market correction that begin in January appears to be subsiding, at least for the moment, as Yellen's recent testimony gave markets the promise of the continuation of Bernanke's legacy. With the markets back into rally mode, for the moment, this week's "Things To Ponder" focuses on some of the bigger issues concerning the effectiveness of QE, investing and "77 reasons you suck at managing money."
Gold is up 3.3% this week and headed for the biggest weekly advance since October as U.S. economic data was again worse than expected. This increased safe haven demand and the biggest exchange-traded product saw holdings rise to a two-month high. Call options on gold, giving the buyer the right to buy June 2015 futures at $2,200 an ounce, surged 24% to a five-week high as prices climbed to a three-month high. Gold has traded above the 100 day moving average since February 10, and is heading for a close above the 200 day moving average for the first time since February 2013. A weekly close above the 200 day moving average and the psychological level of $1,300/oz will be very positive for gold and could lead to gold challenging the next level of resistance at $1,357/oz and $1,434/oz. Gold is up 5.3% so far in February and 9.3% so far this year as concerns about emerging market markets, currencies, and the U.S. economy boosted safe haven demand. Recent employment and sales data was poor. U.S. jobless claims reached 339,000 in the week ended February 8 and retail sales in the U.S. declined in January by the most in 10 months.
The bubble of private debt that we have seen inflate in China since the Lehman crisis is unlike anything that the world has ever seen. Never before has so much private debt been accumulated in such a short period of time. All of this debt has helped fuel tremendous economic growth in China, but now a whole bunch of Chinese companies are realizing that they have gotten in way, way over their heads. In fact, it is being projected that Chinese companies will pay out the equivalent of approximately a trillion dollars in interest payments this year alone. That is more than twice the amount that the U.S. government will pay in interest in 2014. So will a default event in China on January 31st be the next "Lehman Brothers moment" or will it be something else? In the end, it doesn't really matter. The truth is that what has been going on in the global financial system is completely and totally unsustainable, and it is inevitable that it is all going to come horribly crashing down at some point during the next few years. It is just a matter of time.
All this boils down to one simple question: can the top 10% (roughly 11 million households) support the billions of square feet of retail space that were added in the 2000s? If the answer is no, as it clearly is, then the retail CRE sector is doomed to implode. Let's try a second simple question: what's holding the retail CRE sector up? Answer: leases that will soon expire or be voided by insolvency, bankruptcy, etc. as retailers close stores and shutter their businesses. One last question: who's holding all the immense debt that's piled on top of this soon-to-collapse sector? The domino of retail CRE will not fall in isolation; it will topple the domino of debt next to it, and that will topple the lenders who are bankrupted by the implosion of retail-CRE debt. And once that domino falls, it will take what's left of the nation's illusory financial stability down with it.