The economic "recovery" has been based on a simple premise: debt can be substituted for income with no ill effects. As real household incomes have declined, the legitimate foundation of additional spending--more income--has eroded for the bottom 90%. The Fed's substitution of debt for income has only doomed the nation to a deeper, more painful realignment of real income and expenses.
Whole Foods management seems to have read our lament and acted accordingly. On the chart below see if you can figure out which is the company's quarterly stock repurchase and capex activity without peeking at the legend.
While headlines are flashing red about how exuberant the consumer is, there appears to be some 'new normal' oddness under the covers. Projecting this positive news into the future (as every talking-head is) does not add up with the fact that "plans to buy a car" and "plans to buy a major appliance" both tumbled in July. But the biggest problem for the 'recovery', "plans to buy a home" collapsed to its lowest since Feb 2013... perhaps not a total surprise when 77 million Americans have debt past due. Welcome to the new normal definition of confidence.
Earlier today, countless investors who still foolishly believe that in the new normal "fundamentals" matter, screamed out in terror when Zillow announced that it would acquire Trulia for $3.5 billion or a 20% premium to the Friday close, and were suddenly silenced. The reason: with 38% of its float short (making it the 30th most shorted stock in the Russell 2000), this was one of the most dramatic confirmations of what we said was the best trading strategy under the Fed's artificial and capital misallocation regime, namely "buying the most hated names to generate the most alpha." So for all those who still believe that the market has quite a ways to go under the yoke of the Fed's centrally-planning before it all crashes into a house of rigged cards, here is the list of the most shorted stocks in the S&P500 and Russell2000, sorted by descending short interest as a % of float.
Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Perhaps just as importantly, this weekend is also the 120th anniversary of the first Sino-Japanese war: a war between China's Qing dynasty and Meiji Japan. A war which China lost, and which has been a chip on China's shoulder ever since. As Hong Kong's SCMP reports "China's loss of the first Sino-Japanese war has been attributed to a disorganised navy. Although the northern fleet equalled, some say exceeded, the Meiji navy in terms of firepower, it was annihilated because it lacked coordination among its military units." In the context of constant recent flare ups over various contested East China Sea islands, one can see why the anniversary of the war coupled with a sudden spike in nationalistic ambitions of Japan's PM Abe, would be a sensitive issue to China. However, as we can see below, China no longer has an inferiority complex when it comes to its navy compared to that of Japan.
Two quick quick anecdotes about the new (ab)normal.
Somehow this makes perfect sense: Zillow's stock is up over 22% on news that it will acquire rival real estate company Trulia for $2 billion. Trulia is up 32%, which is about half in absolute terms of the $1 billion Zillow's market cap has grown by in the past few moments to $6 billion. Imagine if it had paid even more for Trulia? And the piece de resistance: Neither company is currently profitable on an annual basis - the combined net income of the two companies is... zero. Two wrongs do not make a right, or rather didn't. And then the new normal came around...
In what could be the most unpatriotic report ever, Fidelity reports that average IRA contributions for tax year 2013 reached $4,150 - an all-time high. That's great news, right? Not if you ask Janet Yellen as Fidelity notes younger investors, those in their 20s, 30s and 40s, are adopting the strongest savings behaviors as Americans are "saving more, paying off debt, and spending less." This is not acceptable in the new normal, don't they know "debt is the bridge between hard work and play?"
As part of Bernanke's and now Yellen's experiment in market central-planning, in which newsflow no longer matters to a market that has lost all ability to discount anything except how big a central bank's balance sheet will be and where HFT momentum is far more important than fundamentals, one of the greatest investing perversions to emerge has been our finding from two years ago since confirmed on a monthly basis, that the best performing asset classes happens to also be the most hated one, as the most shorted stocks have outperformed the market better than twofold just since 2012.
The topic of whether college is worth it (costs vs benefits) has been discussed at length (here, here, and here most recently) but no lesser entity than the San Francisco Fed's PhDs have crunched the numbers and found that in the new normal, median starting wages of recent college graduates have not kept pace with median earnings for all workers. Furthermore, they are not optimistic - "because college grads face wages and hiring conditions that are especially responsive to business cycle conditions, this low earnings growth, together with shifts in the distribution of graduates’ labor market status, suggests continued weakness in the overall economy."
From 1998 to 2013, Barclays and Deutsche Bank sold 199 basket options to hedge funds which used them to conduct more than $100 billion in trades. The subcommittee focused on options involving two of the largest basket option users, Renaissance Technology Corp. LLC (“RenTec”) and George Weiss Associates. The hedge funds often exercised the options shortly after the one-year mark and claimed the trading profits were eligible for the lower income tax rate that applies to long-term capital gains on assets held for at least a year. RenTec claimed it could treat the trading profits as long term gains, even though it executed an average of 26 to 39 million trades per year and held many positions for mere seconds. Data provided by the participants indicates that basket options produced about $34 billion in trading profits for RenTec alone, and more than $1 billion in financing and trading fees for the two banks.
"The head of the International Monetary Fund warned on Friday that financial markets were "perhaps too upbeat" because high unemployment and high debt in Europe could drag down investment and hurt future growth prospects." To summarize: first the BIS, then the Fed and now the IMF are not only warning there is either a broad market bubble or a localized one, impacting primarily the momentum stocks (which is ironic in a new normal in which momentum ignition has replaced fundamentals as the main price discovery mechanism), they are doing so ever more frequently.
Sometimes, with the stock market doing its best imitation of the Energizer bunny, we forget just how extraordinary are the times in which we live. We’ve been lulled to sleep by the relentless and mesmerizing march higher of stocks and all manner of risky assets. Maybe it’s just that having lived through two booms and busts already that people have come to believe that another boom in risky behavior is not just the new normal but the old one as well. And having survived the last two busts, none the wiser apparently, everyone figures we’ll survive the next one too. Maybe. Or maybe people just don’t realize how truly weird things are right now. Some suggest there is no reason prices can’t continue to go higher; however, the supply of greater fools however is not unlimited and at some point reality and rationality will return, likely with a vengeance.