Ongoing monetary stimulus is leading to heightened volatility, and the bull market which has been in place since 2009 is becoming overextended. The recent string of surprise downside moves in markets may be the canary in the coal mine for global investors. This is where we are today. The tide is rising for U.S. and Japanese markets and asset prices will ultimately move higher. The size and violence of each wave that advances or recedes will continue to increase due to the surge of liquidity from central banks. These tides of liquidity are strong, as are the currents underneath. We must guard ourselves from the risk of being pulled under.
Something is afoot in the land of credit markets. As we have been warning for a few weeks, credit appears to have 'turned' in the cycle suggesting equity should not be too far behind; but today's price action is rather stunning. Not only is investment grade credit spreads trading at their widest since the first day of the year, the high-to-low range of the day is huge. Aside from the extreme jump on the opening day of 2013, this is the biggest range in IG credit since Nov 2011. The last time we were at these levels was early 2011 and the rise in range then signaled the start of an extreme correction (from 80bps to over 150bps). Today's over 6bps range (from 76.9bps to 83.3bps) is extreme by any measure. Perhaps it is delta-hedging - since the low spread vol has driven many to the CDS options market for juice but whatever way one looks at it - something significant is changing (for the worse) in credit.
The “branding” of modern central banking started in the United States in the early 1980’s under then-Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. Facing worrisomely high and debilitating inflation, Volcker declared war against it – and won. In delivering secular disinflation, he did more than change expectations and economic behavior. He also greatly enhanced the Fed’s standing among the general public, in financial markets, and in policy circles. Building on Volcker’s success, Western central banks have used their brand to help maintain low and stable inflation. In the last few years, however, the threat of inflation has not been an issue. Instead, Western central banks have had to confront market failures, fragmented financial systems, clogged monetary-policy transmission mechanisms, and sluggish growth in output and employment. Facing greater challenges in delivering desired outcomes, they have essentially pushed both policies and their brand power to the limit. They will have materially damaged their standing and, consequently, the future effectiveness of their policy stance.
Recent price action amid the heavily shorted solar stocks has seemingly been predicated on hope that late May chatter of negotiated settlements in the industry would occur and everyone could go happily about their business. While hope remains for a settlement - and tariffs have been delayed 2 months, as the WSJ reports - the EU is set to announce drastic anti-dumping levies on Chinese solar panels in a move that could trigger a trade war between two of the world's largest economies:
- *EU SAYS SOLAR-PANEL DUTY TO START AT 11% ON JUNE 6
- *EU SAYS SOLAR-PANEL DUTY TO RISE TO 47.6% IN AUGUST
- *EU'S DE GUCHT SAYS NOT CLOSE TO SOLAR-PANEL PACT WITH CHINA
Sadly this is playing out very similarly to the Great Depression period as tariffs and protectionism replaced domestic focused fiscal and monetary policy and escalated problems rapidly. China rejects the EU's price-dumping allegations, but the problem is not new for Beijing. The U.S. last year imposed punitive tariffs on solar panel imports after finding that China's government was subsidizing companies that were flooding the U.S. market.
All traders walking in today, have just one question in their minds: "will today be lucky 21?" or the 21st consecutive Tuesday in which the Dow Jones has closed green.
All else is irrelevant.
In almost every asset class, volatility has made a phoenix-like return in the last few days/weeks and while equity markets tumbled Friday into month-end, the bigger context is still up, up, and away (and down and down for bonds). From disinflationary signals to emerging market outflows and from fixed income market developments to margin, leverage, and valuations, here is the 'you are here' map for the month ahead.
Turd Ferguson, of the TF Metals Report, does superb work and commentary on the precious metals markets. His latest analysis on Friday’s Commitment of Traders Report caught my attention for a number of reasons, in addition to it being so well done.
At the height of the financial crisis (i.e. 2008) it was easy to despise just the bankers for their serial and colossal ineptitude and rank hypocrisy. Now, five years into one of history’s most alarming bubbles, it’s easy to despise just about everyone in a position of financial or political authority, and for the same reasons. The real black comedy lies in the manipulation of market prices that is now endemic throughout the global financial system. As Japan is now showing, even with the unrestrained commitment of a central bank and its magical powers to create money out of nothing, there are practical limits to market rigging activity. Last week’s price action within the Japanese government bond market and stock market suggests that both of these markets are in the early stages of shaking themselves to pieces. The fallout of unintended (counter-intended ?) consequences from massive market manipulation will be awesome.
As the markets elevate higher on the back of the global central bank interventions it is important to keep in context the historical tendencies of the markets over time. Here we are once again with markets, driven by inflows of liquidity from Central Banks, hitting all-time highs. Of course, the chorus of justifications have come to the forefront as to why "this time is different." The current level of overbought conditions, combined with extreme complacency, in the market leave unwitting investors in danger of a more severe correction than currently anticipated. There is virtually no “bullish” argument that will withstand real scrutiny. Yield analysis is flawed because of the artificial interest rate suppression. It is the same for equity risk premium analysis. However, because the optimistic analysis supports the underlying psychological greed - all real scrutiny that would reveal evidence to contrary is dismissed. However, it is "willful blindness" that eventually leads to a dislocation in the markets. In this regard let's review the three most common arguments used to support the current market exuberance.
For all the grief BitCoin (and so often gold and silver) get during times of excess volatility, especially by those Keynesian prophets who urge everyone to adopt the one true FIATH and put all their cash in stocks (and more please: just use margin) we hear precious little about the ridiculous volatility farce that nationalized mortgage lender Fannie Mae has become: from opening above $4, trading up to $5.50, and now plunging to under $3.00, the stock is nothing but concentrated heatmap of every E*trade momentum chasing baby and dart-throwing monkey in the world (ignoring the fact that all "swing traders" merely respond to "price action" whatever that means and are thus all making money, no matter what happens). As for the fact that the swing in the stock price in the past hour wiped out nearly $15 billion in market cap, or nearly half of the total, on absolute no news (which is also substantially larger than the entire BitCoin market) well... we'll just leave it at that.
The last week has seen quite dramatic drops in the prices of a little-discussed but oh-so-critical asset-class in the last housing bubble's 'pop'. Having just crossed above 'Lehman' levels, ABX (residential) and CMBX (commercial) credit indices have seen their biggest weekly drop in 20 months as both rates and credit concerns appear to be on the rise. Perhaps it is this price action that has spooked Fitch's structured products team, or simply the un-sustainability (as we discussed here, here and here most recently) that has the ratings agency on the defensive, noting that, "the recent home price gains recorded in several residential markets are outpacing improvements in fundamentals and could stall or possibly reverse." Simply put, "demand is artificially high... and supply is artificially low."
UPDATE: As if by magic, the 'spike' lower has been fully retraced with a 'spike' higher. Of course, in the preceding sentence one should replace "magic" with a selling algo suddenly taking out the bid stack simple because it is programmed to do so, only for another algo to step in and try to make the entire move less obvious, in the process showing just how much of a farce price discovery in paper gold has become...
With markets quiet, what better time than now to smash the 'price' of spot gold lower than the moment US futures close and all that is left are a few Spot FX traders. Of course this makes perfect sense for any 'rational' bullion seller looking to unwind a position (or even a short looking to set out a decent trade) - wait until there is no liquidity so that your price action culls the order book and leaves you with anything but 'best execution' - but then again, when you don't have to worry about MtM, that doesn't matter. It seems that while the volume cat's away, the gold manipulators will play...
Price action in the foreign exchange market. Discuss.
In an age of economic policy activism, including widespread quantitative easing and associated purchases of bonds and other assets, Amphora's John Butler reminds us that it is perhaps easy to forget that foreign exchange intervention has always been and remains an important economic policy tool. Recently, for example, Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand have openly intervened to weaken their currencies and several other countries have expressed a desire for some degree of currency weakness. In this report, Butler summarizes the goals and methods of foreign exchange intervention and places today’s policies in their historical context; but moreover he discusses the evidence of where covert intervention - quite common historically - might possibly be taking place: perhaps where you would least expect it... And if the currency wars continue to escalate as they have of late, it seems reasonable to expect that covert interventions will grow in size, scope and frequency.
As the global equity and bond markets grind ever higher, abundant signs exist that we are once again living through an asset bubble – or rather a whole series of bubbles in a variety of markets. This makes this period quite interesting, but also quite dangerous. This can be summarized in one sentence: How could this be happening again so soon?