Keep a close eye on China: it is on the cusp between the end of the leverage cycle (where as we reported over the past two days, it has been pumping bank assets at the ridiculous pace of $3.5 trillion per year) and on the verge of having its debt bubble bursting. What happens then is unclear.
The third stage of bull markets, the mania phase, can last longer and go farther that logic would dictate. However, the data suggests that the risk of a more meaningful reversion is rising. It is unknown, unexpected and unanticipated events that strike the crucial blow that begins the market rout. Unfortunately, due to the increased impact of high frequency and program trading, reversions are likely to occur faster than most can adequately respond to. This is the danger that exists today. Are we in the third phase of a bull market? Most who read this article will say "no." However, those were the utterances made at the peak of every previous bull market cycle.
If you have not already, it is time to modify your UST trading strategy to adapt to current market conditions. Buyer beware...
Over 2 years ago when we first discussed the fact that "muddle through" had failed, BCG noted that "there were only painful ways out of this mess." The most painful truth, they suggested, was that "the only way to resolve the massive debt load is through a global coordinated debt restructuring... which will have to be funded by the world's financial asset holders: the middle-and upper-class' who will have a ~30% one-time tax on all their assets to look forward to as the great mean reversion finally arrives and the world is set back on a viable path." However, given the delay (and worst progression), Ken Rogoff warns that temporary wealth taxes may well be a part of the answer for countries in fiscal trouble today, and the idea should be taken seriously; but they are no substitute for fundamental long-term reform to make tax systems simpler, fairer, and more efficient.
While BTFATH has caught on as the new normal meme, Cti's Tobias Levkovich has another that is just as critical to comprehending the current euphoria: LMNOP = "Liquidity, Momentum, Not Operating Performance." In essence, Levkovich notes that the recent sharp move has come about as liquidity concerns have shifted to the sidelines; upward momentum for stock prices following the shutdown ending is just pulling in more short covering while long-only investors also have been buyers given the need to meet alpha generation or benchmark requirements; but operating performance by companies is simply not there in the manner that is perceived. As he concludes, "we have not seen this kind of deviation before and it is troublesome to us... we must admit to being a bit worried that investors might be facing some near term volatility."
Once the economy's capital structure is distorted beyond a certain threshold, it won't matter anymore how much more monetary pumping the central bank engages in – instead of creating a temporary illusion of prosperity, the negative effects of the policy will begin to predominate almost immediately. Given that we have evidence that the distortion is already at quite a 'ripe' stage, it should be expected that the economy will perform far worse in the near to medium term than was hitherto widely believed. This also means that monetary pumping will likely continue at full blast, as central bankers continue to erroneously assume that the policy is 'helping' the economy to recover.
Quick: which BRIC nation has the highest consumer loan default rate?
If you said China, India or Russia, you are wrong. Actually, if you said China you are probably right, but since absolutely all economic "data" in China is worthless, manipulated propaganda, only a retrospective post-mortem after the Chinese credit, housing, commodity, consumption bubbles have all burst will we know the answer. So excluding China, which country's consumers after a multi-year shopping spree funded entirely on credit, are suddenly suffering the epic hangover of soaring non-performing loans as they suddenly find themselves unable to even pay the interest on the debt? Just ask former billionaire Eike Batista whose OGX oil corporation is days away from filing bankruptcy. The answer, with 5.6% of all loans in default, above Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey and India, is Brazil.
From Cascading Complexity To Systemic Collapse: A Walk Thru "Society's Equivalent Of A Heart Attack"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 10/05/2013 22:59 -0500
"The commonalities of global integration mean that diverse hazards may lead to common shock consequences. The systems that transmit shocks are also the systems we depend upon for our welfare and the operation of businesses, institutions and society... One of the primary consequences of a generic shock is an interruption in the flow of goods and services in the economy. This has diverse and profound implications - including food security crises’, business shut-downs, critical infrastructure risks and social crises... More generally it can entail multi-network and delocalised cascading failure leading to a collapse in societal complexity.... This is a complex society’s equivalent of a heart attack. When a person has a heart attack, there is a brief period during which CPR can revive the person. But beyond a certain point when there has been cascading failure in co-dependent life support systems, the person cannot be revived. The extent of our contemporary complex global system dependencies, and our habituation to a long period of broadly stable economic and complexity growth means a systemic collapse would present profound and existential challenges."
"We are in the middle of an epic credit bubble, in my opinion, the likes of which I haven’t seen in my career in private equity."
- Joseph Baratta, Global Head of Private Equity at the Blackstone Group
To say that bonds are under pressure would be an understatement. Over the last few months, sentiment about fixed income has flipped dramatically: from a favored investment destination that is deemed to benefit from exceptional support from central banks, to an asset class experiencing large outflows, negative returns and reduced standing as an anchor of a well-diversified asset allocation. Similar to prior periods, history will regard the ongoing phase of dislocations in the bond market as a transitional period of adjustment triggered by changing expectations about policy, the economy and asset preferences – all of which have been significantly turbocharged by a set of temporary and ultimately reversible technical factors. By contrast, history is unlikely to record a change in the important role that fixed income plays over time in prudent asset allocations and diversified investment portfolios – in generating returns, reducing volatility and lowering the risk of severe capital loss. Understanding well what created this change is critical to how investors may think about the future.
“At the peak of the cycle, when profits are far above average and the economy is doing well, it is hard to imagine earnings collapsing back below the average, as it is to imagine a depressed region recovering. Mean-reversion in earnings, though sometimes delayed, is as undeniable as the economic cycle itself. Cyclically adjusted (or trend) PE calculations will always give a conservative valuation estimate. But that is exactly the point of valuation – to offer a degree of safety (a margin of error) and to smooth the dangers of the economic cycle. That peak profits typically accompany peak valuations only reinforces the point." In the long run valuations mean everything.
This might just be the cruelest time to be an asset allocator. Normally we find ourselves in situations in which at least something is cheap; for instance when large swathes of risk assets have been expensive, safe haven assets have generally been cheap, or at least reasonable (and vice versa). This was typified by the opportunity set we witnessed in 2007. Likewise, during the TMT bubble of the late 1990s, the massive overvaluation of certain sectors was offset by opportunities in “old economy” stocks, emerging market equities, and safe-haven assets. However, today we see something very different. As Exhibit 2 shows, today we see something very different. As Exhibit 2 shows, today’s opportunity set is characterized by almost everything being expensive. As I noted in “The 13th Labour of Hercules,” this is a direct effect of the quantitative easing policies being pursued by the Federal Reserve and their ilk around the world.
The 'good-is-bad and good-is-good', or as Morgan Stanley's Adam Parker calls it, the "Hall-Pass' market is one of four regimes that investors face in the current environment. In the current world, he finds that negative economic surprises - while causing negative short-term responses in stocks - are rapidly mean-reverted into a positive return reflecting this 'good/good' response suggesting participants now viewed tapering as the base case: good data would presumably help the post-taper economy, while bad data might lead to a delay or mitigation of the tapering. The market has been mostly in this 'Hall-Pass' mode since the start of 2013 but fell briefly into 'normal' mode when Taper talk began in May (until Bernanke and his cohorts jawboned us back from the edge). Critically though, Parker notes, while the current period is also one where the market responds favorably to both directions of economic surprises, the drift in responses is now flat to down: in the absence of large economic surprises, we would therefore expect the market to be flat to down.
Bernanke's comments washed out some late dollar longs and they may be reluctant to re-establish ahead of the Chairman's testimony before Congress at the end of next week. The underlying bullish case for the dollar remains intact.
The U.S. economy weakened appreciably in the first quarter of 2013. But what if this weakness persists into the second quarter just completed, and worsens still in the second half of this year? Q1 GDP, as reported on June 26th, was revised lower to just 1.8%. And various indications suggest that Q2 could come in slightly lower still, at 1.6%. Might the U.S. economy be guiding to a long-term GDP of 1.5%? That’s the rate identified by such observers as Jeremy Grantham – the rate at which we combine aging demographics, lower fertility rates, high resource costs, and the burdensome legacy of debt. After a four-year reflationary rally in just about everything, and now with an emerging interest rate shock, the second half of 2013 appears to have more downside risk than upside. Have global stock markets started to discount this possibility?