There is one major problem when the entire market is a rigged casino (by both the Fed and HFTs), favoring degenerate gamblers over traditional investors: at the first whiff of trouble everyone bails. Or as BofA politely puts it, "Typically flows follow returns and this week was no exception." In the past week, trouble whiffed, and the degenerate gamblers, loaded up to the gills with record margin debt hightailed it out of the casino, leading to the largest weekly equity fund outflow in over two years! Add some record leverage to the equity withdrawal, continued EM turbulence, ongoing Japanese deflation exports, oh and of course the ongoing Fed taper which has been solely responsible for all S&P gains since 666, and suddenly you have all the ingredients for a broad market crash.
While 2014 has not quite panned out (so far) as the traveling-strategist-roadshow would have hoped, the last few days have been outright perilous for the record high numbers with bullish sentiment sucked into a world of central-bank-suppressed volatility and jawboned utopia. The following charts show where the pain has been (e.g. Greece, Spain, Argentina, European banks) and where it has not been (e.g. gold miners, China, Philipinnes, and Egypt) with the US indices sitting squarely in the middle with some of their biggest losses in months. For now, the BTFATH'ers are absent - even though the drooling mouths of asset-gatherers are demanding the 'cash on the sidelines' use this 2-3-4% drop from the all-time highs to load the boat for retirement heaven... However, some have increasing concerns...
One couldn't make this up:
- S.KOREA TO HOLD EMERGENCY MEETING ON JAN. 26 TO DISCUSS MARKETS
US equity investors have not been this "euphoric" since the peak of the US equity market in 2000. As Citi's Tobias Levkovich notes, while he is longer-term a believer is the secular bull, one has to remember that there can be a secular run with substantive bumps along the way. No one questions the 1982-2000 equity bull market but there were some awful moments in that 18-year period including the stock market crash of 1987 and the sharp pullback in 1990 as well as in 1998. With Citi's proprietary Panic/Euphoria model at levels that imply an 80% probability of a negative return in the next 12-months, Levkovich warns chasing the tape simply on the basis of momentum may not be a good strategy since expecting another 25%-30% appreciation in 2014 seems rather excessive.
The start of 2014 was less than exuberant as the markets turned in the steepest loss for the first trading day of a new year since 2008. What does this mean for the rest of 2014? Likely not much. The old Wall Street axioms of "the first 5 trading days" and "so goes January, so goes the year" tend to be statistically more important. However, it did get me thinking about the new year from a more macro perspective. This weekend's "Things To Ponder" is a collection of ideas to get you to do the same.
As we slide into the last weekend of 2013, we read several articles this week that got us thinking about where the markets and economy are likely headed in 2014. There are many high hopes going into 2014. Mid-term election years have a 67% chance of sporting positive returns, interest rates remain subdued along with inflationary pressures and the Federal Reserve is still pumping in $75 billion a month. Markets rising are not what we as investors should be thinking about. Rising stock markets are easy. What we should be pondering are the rising risks that could potentially take it all away when we least expect it. Complacency has never been a hallmark of investor success.
While some individual stocks (cough TWTR cough) may have reached irrational bubble territory, the US equity market is undergoing a seemingly 'rational' bubble. However, as John Hussman illustrates in the following chart, the probability of a stock market crash is growing extremely rapidly.
Nearly 100 years ago, on December 23, 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, giving the U.S. exactly what it didn’t need: a central bank. Many people simply assume that modern nations must have a central bank, just as they must have international airports and high-speed Internet. Yet Americans had gone without one since the 1836 expiration of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, which Andrew Jackson famously refused to renew. Not to be a party pooper, but as this dubious anniversary is observed, we should ask ourselves, Has the Fed been friend or foe to growth and prosperity? ... In actuality, the Fed’s modus operandi has been to trick capitalists into doing things that are not aligned with economic reality.
December 23rd, 1913 is a date which will live in infamy. That was the day when the Federal Reserve Act was pushed through Congress. Many members of Congress were absent that day, and the general public was distracted with holiday preparations. Now we have reached the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve, and most Americans still don't know what it actually is or how it functions. But understanding the Federal Reserve is absolutely critical, because the Fed is at the very heart of our economic problems. Since the Federal Reserve was created, there have been 18 recessions or depressions, the value of the U.S. dollar has declined by 98 percent, and the U.S. national debt has gotten more than 5000 times larger. This insidious debt-based financial system has literally made debt slaves out of all of us, and it is systematically destroying the bright future that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have. The truth is that we do not have to have a Federal Reserve. The greatest period of economic growth in U.S. history was when we did not have a central bank. If we are ever going to turn this nation around economically, we are going to have to get rid of this debt-based financial system that is centered around the Federal Reserve. On the path that we are on now, there is no hope.
"The powers of financial capitalism had (a) far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland; a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank... sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world." - Carroll Quigley, member of the Council on Foreign Relations
- Traders Seek an Edge With High-Tech Snooping (WSJ)
- Gold Drops Below $1,200 an Ounce for First Time Since June (Bloomberg)
- SAC Manager Guilty as Insider Focus Turns to Martoma (Bloomberg)
- Why Ukraine spurned the EU and embraced Russia (Reuters)
- Target confirms major card data theft during Thanksgiving (Reuters)
- Zuckerberg is no suckerberg: Company to Sell 27 Million Class A Shares While CEO Will Offer 41.4 Million (WSJ)
- Facebook, Zuckerberg, banks must face IPO lawsuit (Reuters)
- Swiss Christmas Trees Feel Chill as Franc Helps Rivals (BBG)
- Iran, six powers to resume nuclear talks after snag (Reuters)
- Dolphins Suffering From Lung Disease Due to Gulf Oil Spill, Study Says (WSJ)
All that glitter is not gold.
Could we have another bullish year in 2014? It is certainly possible as long as the Federal Reserve remains engaged in their ongoing balance sheet expansions. But maybe the ongoing inflation of assets, without the underlying improvement in organic, sustainable, economic growth, will eventually lead to the next market bubble and bust. Of course, for anyone that has payed attention, such an outcome would be of little surprise. The important point is that, as an investor, you need to pay attention to the ever decreasing reward/risk ratio of chasing the financial markets. The "low hanging fruit" has long been harvested and the risk currently far outweighs the potential reward of being aggressively invested. Of course, it is not popular, or fun, to rain on the bullish parade. However, while they will likely appear to be correct in the short term; the long term outcome will most likely be far less pleasant.
Saying we need continuous financial bubbles to keep full employment is such a flawed conception of economics, it belongs on an island of misfit philosophies. Krugman’s incessant promotion of statism is doing more harm to the economy than good. As an opinion-molder, he is perpetuating the economic malaise of the last few years. More bubbles won’t help the recovery, just harm it more. In the middle of a grease fire, Krugman calls for more pig fat. And the rest of us are the ones left burnt.
The so-called Volcker Rule for policing banking practices, approved by a huddle of federal regulating agency chiefs last week, is the latest joke that America has played on itself in what is becoming the greatest national self-punking exercise in world history. The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 was about 35 pages long, written in language that was precise, clear, and succinct. It worked for 66 years. The Volcker rule comes in the form of nearly 1,000 pages of incomprehensible legalese written with the “help” of lobbyist-lawyers furnished by the banks themselves. Does this strain your credulity? Well, this is the kind of nation we have become: anything goes and nothing matters. There really is no rule of law, just pretense.