Real Interest Rates
Nike recently published a series of ads declaring “winning takes care of everything,” in reference to Tiger Woods’ recapture of the world #1 golfer ranking. The slogan went over with certain critics like an illegal ball drop. Many economists insist that “economic growth takes care of everything,” and the related debate is no less contentious than the Nike ad kerfuffle. Listening to some pundits, you would think there’s one group that appreciates economic growth while everyone else wants to see the economy crumble. It seems to me, though, that growth is just like winning – there’s no such thing as an anti-winning camp, nor is there an anti-growth camp. More fairly, much of the growth debate boils down to those who think mostly about long-run sustainable growth and those who advocate damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead growth. I’ll break off one piece of this and consider: How much of everything does growth take care of?
"Part of my advantage, is that my strength is economic forecasting, but that only works in free markets, when markets are smarter than people. That’s how I started. I watched the stock market, how equities reacted to change in levels of economic activity and I could understand how price signals worked and how to forecast them. Today, all these price signals are compromised and I’m seriously questioning whether I have any competitive advantage left. Ten years ago, if the stock market had done what it has just done now, I could practically guarantee you that growth was going to accelerate. Now, it's a possibility, but I would rather say that the market is rigged and people are chasing these assets, without growth necessarily backing confidence. It's not predicting anything the way it used to and that really makes me reconsider my ability to generate superior returns. If the most important price in the most important economy in the world is being rigged, and everything else is priced off it, what am I supposed to read into other price movements?" - Stanley Druckenmiller
There's no way to sugarcoat the dismal performance of the precious metals in recent months. But a revisitation of the reasons for owning them reveals no cracks in the underlying thesis for doing so. In fact, there are a number of new compelling developments arguing that the long heartbreak for gold and silver holders will soon be over.
Emerging markets have tanked but some of the reasons for their underperformance will prove overblown, providing opportunities for long-term investors.
To get a sense of the momentous volatility in Japan, consider that the Nikkei225 is more or less in the same numeric ballpark as the Dow Jones, and that each and every day now it continues to have intraday swings of more than 500 points! Last night was no different following swing from 13100 on the high side to 12548 on the low, or nearly 600 points, with all this ridiculous vol culminating in a close that was just red however for a simple reason that the rumor of the Japanese Pension Fund reallocation taking place hit shortly before the close sending the USDJPY higher by 200 pips... only for the news to emerge as an epic disappointment when it was revealed that the GPIF would raise its target allocation to domestic equities from 11% to... 12%. So much for the "Great Japanese Rotation."
The problem is central banks have created a vast pool of credit-money that is far larger than the pool of sound investment opportunities. Why are asset bubbles constantly popping up around the globe? The answer is actually quite simple. Asset bubbles are now so ubiquitous that we've habituated to extraordinary excesses as the New Normal; the stock market of the world's third largest economy (Japan) can rise by 60% in a matter of months and this is met with enthusiasm rather than horror: oh goody, another bubblicious rise to catch on the way up and then dump before it pops. Have you seen the futures for 'roo bellies and bat guano? To the moon, Baby! The key feature of the New Normal bubbles is that they are finance-driven: the secular market demand for housing (new homes and rental housing) in post-bubble markets such as Phoenix has not skyrocketed; the huge leaps in housing valuations are driven by finance, i.e. huge pools of cheap credit seeking a yield somewhere, anywhere:
India should monetise their huge gold stockpiles of over 20,000 metric tonnes according to the World Gold Council (WGC) as reported by Bloomberg this morning.
“In the long term gold could be monetized as a financial asset," Aram Shishmanian, the CEO of the WGC said in India overnight.
The World Gold Council has approached the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to work with it so that bullion could be used as a financial asset, rather than just a physical asset.
Some of my first memories of television are of a series called The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which was a witty combination of animated cartoons about the exploits of the title characters, Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose and their nemeses, two Pottsylvanian nogoodniks spies, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. The show was filled with current event commentary, political and social satire. The show was also filled with commentary on economic and market conditions that resonated with the parents watching the show while the kids focused on the cartoons. Each show ended with the narrator describing the current cliffhanger with a pair of related titles, usually with a bad pun intended. So let's adapt some of my favorite Rocky and Bullwinkle episode titles to modern day; we might see that there are some political and economic challenges that are timeless, as it appears we have been doing the same thing over and over for decades and expecting different results.
It is not just the massive short positioning in Gold futures that has BofAML's commodity strategists concerned; but the regime changes in the precious metal's volatility structures suggests risks are significantly mispriced relative to equities, rates, and other commodities. Following the most abrupt price collapse in 30 years, near-dated implied volatility in gold spiked dramatically in the past month. The term structure of implied gold volatility has also changed shape and the market now shows a marked put skew. Even then, the spike in precious metals volatility had remained a rather isolated event until this week’s sharp drop in Japanese equities. As the following chartapalooza demonstrates, while large-scale QE has tempered volatility across all asset classes for months, we remain concerned about the recent sharp price movements in gold or Japanese equities, and see a risk that other bubbling asset classes may follow.
With the first arrow of Abenomics perhaps hitting its limit, it will be the second and third arrows that need to occur quickly and aggressively to carry this momentum forward (and for the economy to grow into stock valuations). Barclays lays out 15 of its most frequently asked questions below but concerns remain as the BoJ’s planned absorption of nearly 80% of new JGB issuance from the markets this fiscal year has triggered a dramatic change not only in JGB supply/demand and ownership structure but in the JGB market risk profile itself, which has moved from “low carry, low volatility and high liquidity (superior to other assets from perspective of risk-adjusted returns or Sharpe ratio)” to “low carry, high volatility and low liquidity (inferior from same perspective)”. Barclays added that with a wave of major political and policy events ahead, starting with a crucial Upper House election, there was no big change in the basic belief among foreign investors that Japan is likely to be the main source of surprise for the global economy and of volatility in financial markets.
Up until today, the narrative was one trying to explain how a soaring dollar was bullish for stocks. Until moments ago, when Bill Dudley spoke and managed to send not only the dollar lower, but the Dow Jones to a new high of 15,400 with the following soundbites.
- DUDLEY: FED MAY NEED TO RETHINK BALANCE SHEET PATH, COMPOSITION
- DUDLEY SAYS FISCAL DRAG TO U.S. ECONOMY IS `SIGNIFICANT'
- DUDLEY: FED MAY AVOID SELLING MBS IN EARLY STAGE OF EXIT
- DUDLEY: IMPORTANT TO SEE HOW WELL ECONOMY WEATHERS FISCAL DRAG
- DUDLEY SAYS HE CAN'T BE SURE IF NEXT QE MOVE WILL BE UP OR DOWN
And the punchline:
- DUDLEY SEES RISK INVESTORS COULD OVER-REACT TO 'NORMALIZATION'
Translated: the Fed will never do anything that could send stocks lower - like end QE - ever again, but for those confused here is a simpler translation: Moar.
Despite efforts by the government to quell the black-market (or blue-dollar) for Argentina's foreign exchange, the unofficial rate surged yesterday to 10.45 Pesos per USD. This is now double the official rate of 5.22 Pesos per USD. This implicit 50% devaluation comes amid the growing realization that there is no savings option to maintain the purchasing power of the peso in the context of sustained high inflation (no matter what the officials say) and negative real interest rates. The government is not amused, suggesting the devaluation won't happen (just as Mexico did right up until the day before they devalued), "those who seek to make money at the expense of devaluations must wait for another government." Perhaps the government should be careful with their threats? And of course, this could never happen in the US or Japan, right?
Critics of Japanese policy worry about its potential failure, here is a discussion of what happens if it succeeds.
Last week's plunge in wholesale sales (and "completely involuntary" surge in inventories) has Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg greatly concerned that current quarter real GDP will be very close to stall speed. However, as he notes, "either Mr. Market has yet to figure this out or simply doesn't care any more because of the well ingrained belief that the 'Fed has my back'." When even the Fed is pimping stocks as cheap, he explains, you know what is dominating the thought process of the central bank's targeting - "they say unemployment rate, but they really mean the S&P 500." The 'wealth effect', however, only benefits a chosen few and as Rosie illustrates, an historically low 52% of American households have any money invested in the stock market (based on a recent Gallup poll) - which merely spurs the 'bulls' to argue that the Fed has to be more aggressive...
The financial and other markets do not seem to reflect the reality of subdued growth is how Hoisington Investment's Lacy Hunt describes the current environment. Stock prices are high, or at least back to levels reached more than a decade ago, and bond yields contain a significant inflationary expectations premium. Stock and commodity prices have risen in concert with the announcement of QE1, QE2 and QE3. Theoretically, as well as from a long-term historical perspective, a mechanical link between an expansion of the Fed's balance sheet and these markets is lacking. It is possible to conclude, therefore, that psychology typical of irrational market behavior is at play. As Lance Roberts notes, Hunt suggests that when expectations shift from inflation to deflation, irrational behavior might adjust risk asset prices significantly. Such signs that a shift is beginning can be viewed in the commodity markets. "Debt is future consumption denied," and regardless of the current debate - Reinhart and Rogoff were right. Simply put, "the problems have not been solved, they have merely been contained."