The $2.5 trillion hedge-fund industry is headed for its worst annual performance relative to U.S. stocks since at least 2005. As Bloomberg Brief reports, the funds returned 7.1% in 2013 through November; that’s 22 percentage points less than the 29.1% return of the S&P 500, with reinvested dividends, as markets rallied to records. Hedge funds are underperforming the benchmark U.S. index for the fifth year in a row as the Fed's inexorable liquidity pushes equity markets higher (and the only way to outperform is throw every risk model out the window). Hedge funds (in aggregate) have underperformed the S&P 500 by 97 percentage points since the end of 2008.
While the good times are about to end for the Japanese Bond Market (as shown in yesterday in Counting Down To Japan's D-Day In Two Charts), the reality is that anyone who bet on an surge in Japanese bond yields in the past few years has been carted out feet first. Which is also why shorting the Japanese bond market has been widely known as the "Widowmaker" trade in the investing community. However, according to Charles Gave, another "Widowmaker" has emerged in the past year: "It looks like the euro is competing to grab title for itself. Many traders have been shorting the currency, with poor results so far."
We’ve recently been treated to two mutually exclusive forecasts: that the Great Bull Market will run until 2016 or 2018, so no worries; and that markets are exhibiting bubble-like characteristics that presage another crash. So which forecast is more likely the correct one? Though it is unsatisfyingly imprecise, the “new normal” phase strongly implies that future declines will be as dramatic as the advances and that the five-year clock is ticking on the current Bull market. Forecasting an advance that lasts years beyond this five-year pattern is equivalent to forecasting that the “new normal” phase is now ending and a new phase of much longer Bull advances is beginning. That is a bold claim, and there is little historical data to give it much weight. Stripped of complexity, the charts suggest that the current run will top out within the next few months and retrace most of the advance from 2009; i.e., a crash of significant amplitude.
But...we have a deal in DC?! As the safety bid in bullion continues (but bonds are fading), stocks are greatly rotating lower (sadly a 10 point drop is now 'epic' in our new normal world), retracing much of the post-payrolls (taper is a good thing) gains. Perhaps more notably, attempts to juice stocks with EURJPY are failing (for now)... Still think taper is priced in?
Technically, "High Yield" is no longer the appropriate name for the riskiest credit issuance since the average coupon has declined to where Investment Grade used to trade in the years before the New Normal. It is therefore only appropriate that as part and parcel of this record high yield bond issuance surge levering the riskiest companies to the gills with low interest debt, that there is also a scramble between underwriters to become as competitive as possible. And, sure enough, as Bloomberg Brief reports, "the underwriting fees disclosed to Bloomberg on U.S. junk bond deals average 1.276 percent for the year to date, the lowest since our records began. The prior low was set in 2008, when fees averaged 1.4 percent." 2008... that was when the last credit bubble burst on unprecedented demand for junk bonds: we are confident the bubble apologists will find some other metric with which to convince everyone that reality, and the Fed's Stein, have it all wrong.
Inflating serial asset bubbles is no substitute for rising real incomes. Why are we stuck with an economy that only generates serial credit/asset bubbles that crash with catastrophic consequences? The answer is actually fairly straightforward.
While the world revels in the "recovery" propaganda of Spain's premier Mariano Rajoy, it is three time more difficult to get into Harvard than to get a minimum wage job at Ikea in Spain...
Today's nonfarm payroll number critical "make or break" margin, as estimated earlier by Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid, is a tiny 30K: "anything above +200k (net of revisions) will lead to a further dip in risk as taper fears intensify and anything less than say +170k will probably see a decent relief rally after a tricky week for markets." Goldilocks of course will be the expected 185K but what economists forecast rarely if every happens. So it is likely that what the BLS reports will either be good for the economy and horrible for market, or vice versa. So we decided to put this 30K in context. The charts below show both the average and the annual seasonal adjustment between the unadjusted and the final, adjusted nonfarm payroll print. In the past decade, the average November seasonal adjustment is the highest of all months, amounting to 1.165 million jobs! In other words, the 30K critical difference will fit nearly 40 times in just what the BLS' Arima X 13 smoothing simulator adjusts the actual print by in order to get what it believes is the appropriate trendline, ignoring entirely that in the New Normal all historical seasonal adjustments are no longer applicable.
Everyone knows "you never go bull retard," but it seems Eclectica's Hugh Hendry, the hardiest of hardy Scots, has accepted that there is only one way for this farce to end. As Investment Week reports, the bear-turned-bull has bought 3D printing stocks as a play on trend-driven, QE-fuelled equity markets, and said the rise in the valuation of Bitcoin amounts to “the same thing”. Perhaps summing up the "trend-driven, QE-fueled" new normal better than anyone, Hendry added:"I say to my team 'don't tell me the valuations, it is trending'... This is the environment where Bitcoin could go to $1m. There is no qualitative reason, but it is trending. If I could own Bitcoin, I would. It gets worse: Hendry is now chasing the biggest momentum trend of all, that of Bitcoin, which he now "expects" to rise to $1 million! As for his hedge - don't laugh - 3D printing stocks... Sigh. We suspect, as he noted previously, he will be avoiding mirrors even more now. And yes, that this whole series now reeks of an Onion viral marketing campaign, is clear to everyone. Although sadly, we fear it is all too sincere, and a sad consequence of what happens when Bernanke's centrally-planned markets crush one after another talented asset manager and leave the E-Trade momo babies in charge.
Renting and leasing of consumer products with the intention of testing them out or keeping them after a specific period is nothing new, and has been the basis for viable business models in the US, and around the world, with companies such as Rent-A-Center and Aaron's for decades. However, renting and leasing clothes is something that only a materially cash strapped people would engage in. Such as those of Europe, where the depression has been going on for five years and has manifsted itself in record unemployment month after month, and youth unemployment that in many cases is well over the 50% mark. In this context one has no choice but to live thrifty, even if that means renting, and leasing, second-hand clothing.
"What keeps us up at night? Well I can’t speak for the others, having spoken too much already to please PIMCO’s marketing specialists, but I will give you some thoughts about what keeps Mohamed and me up at night. Mohamed, the creator of the “New Normal” characterization of our post-Lehman global economy, now focuses on the possibility of a” T junction” investment future where markets approach a time-uncertain inflection point, and then head either bubbly right or bubble-popping left due to the negative aspects of fiscal and monetary policies in a highly levered world. ... investors are all playing the same dangerous game that depends on a near perpetual policy of cheap financing and artificially low interest rates in a desperate gamble to promote growth. The Fed, the BOJ (certainly), the ECB and the BOE are setting the example for global markets, basically telling investors that they have no alternative than to invest in riskier assets or to lever high quality assets. “You have no other choice,” their policies insinuate.... Deep in the bowels of central banks research staffs must lay the unmodelable fear that zero-bound interest rates supporting Dow 16,000 stock prices will slowly lose momentum after the real economy fails to reach orbit, even with zero-bound yields and QE." - Bill Gross
As we showed back in April, the marginal cost of production of gold (90% percentile) in 2013 was estimated at between $1250 and $1300 including capex. Which means that as of a few days ago, gold is now trading well below not only the cash cost, but is rapidly approaching the marginal cash cost of $1125... Of course, should the central banks of the world succeed in driving the price of gold to or below its costs of production (repressing yet another asset class into stocks) then we fear the repercussions will backfire from a combination of bankruptcies, unemployment, and as we have already seen in Africa - severe social unrest (especially notable as China piles FDI into that region).
What does the true earnings picture of companies tell us about the market? Simple: it is overvalued relative to historical averages on every single basis, and not just the much discussed recently 10 year average used in the Shiller PE which has the market now at a 25x multiple. In short: the trailing EPS of 18x GAAP and 16.3x Non-GAAP is higher than the comparable GAAP and non-GAAP multiple for the long term, 1910-2013 average (15.8x and 14.5x), and while in line with the GAAP average for the 1960-2013 period, it is overvalued relative to the 15.9x non-GAAP average. However, if one excludes the 1997-2000 tech bubble, the historical average multiples drop even more to 17.7 and 15.2.
It is no secret that the bulk of "very rich people" in recent years has been created in Asia (where some $15 trillion in liquidity has entered broad circulation in just the past five years). As the FT reports, "Asia is producing more new wealth than any other part of the world at any point in history. Over the past five years, the assets of rich individuals have grown at triple the rate of the wealthy elsewhere, while the number of rich people has increased by twice that of other regions. Their number grew by almost 10 per cent to reach 3.7m last year, according to the survey, while their wealth expanded by 12 per cent to $12tn." However, to find the truly ultra-high-net-worthy (UHNW), those with over $30 million in net assets, one has to go to the US and Europe - the places where Ben's print baby print policy has most aggressively inflated the latest asset bubble, making the richest richester. "More people from the US and Europe entered this club in the past year than from anywhere else – the population in China and Brazil actually declined slightly." So how many ultra-high-net-worth individuals are there? The answer: 199,235.
Regular readers know that at the end of every month we look at the next month's POMO schedule, and urgently advise against shorting stocks on POMO days. That in the New Normal POMO days are pretty much every single day, may have something to do with why the S&P is set for a +30% close in 2013. However, in December the Fed has something very special served up. In addition to the usual $45 billion in total monthly wealth effect injections (which happen to quietly end up directly in Singapore private wealth offshore accounts), in the next month, Ben Bernanke's parting gift to the 0.1% will be not one... not two... but a whopping three days with double POMOs: December 3, December 9 and, drumroll, December 19, aka the day after the final 2-day FOMC meeting of 2013, when Kevin Henry and his peers will monetize up to a whopping $7.5 billion in one day!