Most readers have probably heard of the Silk Road. No, not the historical trade routes that linked Europe to Asia, but rather the online illegal drug marketplace accessible only via anonymity browsing software Tor, and where the only currency accepted is Bitcoin. Those of you who have heard about it, probably know far less about the man that runs it. A character who only goes by the name Dread Pirate Roberts. Irrespective of what you think of the Silk Road specifically, there is no doubt it has led the way in figuring out a way to retain a certain level of anonymity and privacy within the surveillance state due to the nature of its business. We can all learn from, and hopefully improve on their tactics, as we transition from extreme centralization to a more decentralized and freer world.
“For my own part I did not see and did not appreciate what the risks were with securitization, the credit ratings agencies, the shadow banking system, the S.I.V.’s — I didn’t see any of that coming until it happened.” - Janet Yellen, 2010
If you are a stock picker, then it’s basically now or never for whatever investment discipline you might follow. Asset class and industry correlations have taken a surprising nosedive in recent weeks, which - as ConvergEx's Nick Colas notes. should allow your strategy/blend of magic to (hopefully) shine versus the benchmarks. Average industry sector correlations to the S&P 500 have dropped to 69.9%, by far the lowest observation for over two years. High yield bonds now show just 16% correlation to U.S. stocks, and the numbers for Emerging Markets (58%), EAFE stocks (76%), and currencies like the Australian dollar (11%) are also plumbing new lows. Why the sudden return to a ‘Normal’ world? Expectations that the Federal Reserve will begin to ‘Taper’ its bond buying help, to be sure. As do actual inflows (some $8 billion last month) into actively managed mutual funds. We’ll have to wait and see if current trends continue, but for now we welcome the return of the ‘Stock picker’s market’. Let the dart-throwing begin...
- U.S. Regulator Subpoenas Banks Over Long Warehouse Queues (BBG)
- Apple Said to Prepare Holiday Refresh of IPhones to IPads (BBG)
- Fed's Yellen Says Stance on Banks Hardened (WSJ)
- Mexico opens up its energy sector (FT)
- Spin: Greek GDP marks gradual deceleration of recession (FT) ... spin aside, it dropped 4.6%, and in reality, probably over 10%
- Made-in-Canada Solution For BlackBerry Avoids Nortel Fate (BBG)
- America's Farm-Labor Pool Is Graying (WSJ)
- Video of 'lame' cattle stirs new concern over growth drugs (Reuters)
- Paulson Bid for Steinway Trumps Kohlberg Offer (WSJ)
- Egyptian government yet to decide on pro-Mursi vigils (Reuters)
Two upcoming events could prove catalysts for a Japanese sovereign debt crisis.
When it was suggested it was considered in the blazing battles of the bail-outs and the scraping of the bottom of the drawers for extra cash as the God-sent answer to all EU woes and worries.
First it was the TBAC's May presentation "Availability of High Quality Collateral" piggybacking on reasoning presented previously by Credit Suisse. Then JPM's resident "flow and liquidity" expert Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou rang the bell on regulatory changes to shadow banking and how they would impact the repo market and collateral availability (and transformation) in an adverse fashion. Now, it is the turn of Barclays' own repo chief Joseph Abate to highlight a topic we have discussed since 2009: the ongoing contraction in quality collateral as a result of transformations in shadow banking and the Fed's extraction of quality collateral from traditional liquidity conduits (i.e., QE's monetization of bonds). To wit: "Several recent regulatory proposals will increase the pressure on banks to reduce assets that carry low risk weights. Repurchase agreements are a large source of banks’ low-risk assets, and we expect banks to reduce their matched book operations in response to these proposals."
The problem is clear; every level of government has promised too much and is now faced with the politically unappealing prospect of either drastically increasing taxes for the working age population or significantly reducing benefits for the retired (or future retired). As evidenced by the Detroit bankruptcy, the longer we wait, the worse it will get. The greater the delay, the more pain and suffering citizens will face when the benefits and safety nets they have come to expect from the government suddenly disappear. Over time, politicians from all stripes have proven adept at cognitive dissonance, but these increases in taxes and cuts to benefits will have to happen, one way or another; it is just a matter of time.
Greed; corporate arrogance; lobbying influence; excessive leverage; accounting tricks to hide debt; lack of transparency; off balance sheet obligations; mark to market accounting; short-term focus on profit to drive compensation; failure of corporate governance; as well as auditors, analysts, rating agencies and regulators who were either lax, ignorant or complicit. This laundry list of causes has often been used to describe what went wrong in the credit crunch crisis of 2008-2010. Actually these terms were equally used to describe what went wrong with Enron more than twenty years ago. Both crises resulted in what at the time was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history — Enron in December 2001 and Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Naturally, this leads to the question that despite all the righteous indignation in the wake of Enron's failure did we really learn or change anything?
The ancient question: how do you extract some moolah while you still can?
Following OAO Uralkali's decision to break up a 'marketing venture' that controlled around 43% of global potash exports, the world's largest producer is breaking the cartel that many US fertilizer companies have enjoyed. This move signals prices will weaken as the Russian company tries to grab market share shifting sales to its own unit. As Goldman notes, such behavior by Belaruskali in a structurally oversupplied potash industry should push for stricter competition for end customers and result in a significant swift decline in pricing to a level of marginal cost production. This slashing of margins has crushed the fertilizer stocks with POT, MOS, and AGU all down significantly in the pre-market."Uralkali’s announcement completely turns the global potash market upside down," noted one analyst. "If previously global potash producers were acting like an oligopoly, working with the rule that benefited higher potash prices over shipped volumes, now the market will be fully competitive." Shock, horror!
Munis are the most decentralized and still the most "good old boy" part of the Capital Markets. Relationships are paramount in the municipal markets, and in non-competitive situations, who you know often trumps what you know in doing business. Municipals are a unique space. For many years people and institutions paid less attention than they should to the financial statements of municipalities. Detroit is now teaching us several lessons and you can feel the sand shifting yet again. General Obligation bonds no longer have the first call on assets. The psychology of the Municipal market is also shifting in the sand. It was once a widely held belief that the State would stand behind any large Municipal credit in its domain. Detroit is proving this to be an inaccurate observation. There was even the notion that if the Municipal credit was large and systemic enough that the Federal government might step in to help. Detroit is exemplifying that this was a second mistake in thinking. We are now learning that each Municipal credit is a stand-alone situation which is a break from the traditional thinking of days past.
Hopes that Kuroda would say something substantial, material and beneficial to the "three arrow" wealth effect (about Japan's sales tax) last night were promptly dashed when the BOJ head came, spoke, and went, with the USDJPY sliding to a new monthly low, which in turn saw the Nikkei tumble another nearly 500 points. China didn't help either, where the Shanghai Composite also closed below 2000 wiping out a few weeks of gains on artificial hopes that the PBOC would step in with a bailout package, as attention turned to the reported announcement that an update of local government debt could double the size of China's non-performing loans, and what's worse, that the PBOC was ok with that. Asian negativity was offset by the European open, where fundamentals are irrelevant (especially on the one year anniversary of Draghi FX Advisors LLC "whatever it takes to buy the EURUSD" speech) and renewed M&A sentiment buoyed algos to generate enough buying momentum to send more momentum algos buying and so on. As for the US, futures are indicating weakness for the third day in a row but hardly anyone is fooled following two consecutive days of green closes on melt ups "from the lows": expect another rerun of the now traditional Friday ramp, where a 150 DJIA loss was wiped out during the day for a pre-programmed just green closing print.
When Standard & Poors is not engaged in "Puffery" (a defense which admits "our entire business model is worthless") it pretends to analyze credits and assign ratings, usually with both humorous and systematically catastrophic results. Just as it has done in the chart below. In the aftermath of the Detroit filing, one may be interested to see just how the rating agency, which had Greece rated at "A" months before the Eurozone's bananaest-republic member had its first bailout, evaluated America's various states since the start of the 21st century through 2012. Among the best: Florida. Worst: California. Michigan, whose main city just went bankrupt: AA-. And with countless cross-default provisions and collateral waterfalls upon a multi-notch downgrade, one can be certain that as reality finally comes to the muni space with roughly a 3 years delay, that this too will have a happy ending.
The raw economic truths from the Street. What's the difference between your common street thug or hustler and the K Street/Wall Steet/Central Banker? Read this to find out...