The crowds are slowly starting to fill up Times Square, and despite the imminent countdown to New Year’s, Washington still has not conjured up a resolution to avoid the fiscal cliff. Over the prior two months we have leveraged game theory, Venn diagrams, option “greeks,” and basic investor psychology as tools to decipher the ultimate path of the crisis and subsequent market reaction. Alas, regardless of all the analysis we and countless others have supplied; the short, intermediate, and long term prospects for stocks rest exclusively on headlines. More poignantly, the fate of the U.S. economy, global equities, and net incomes for hundreds of millions now depend upon the decision making of a group so small, its numbers can be counted with one hand.
While many believe that with the output gap so wide that inflation is not an immediate threat, longer-term, as UBS notes, excessive money printing could indeed generate inflation and that inflation expectations are unusually volatile and could quickly be dislodged. This inflation hedges are a very valid concern. An oft-cited reason for owning stocks is that they have an implicit inflation hedge, however, just as with many market myths, UBS finds that, in fact, equities do not look like a compelling hedge against rising inflation. Indeed, they provide an appropriate hedge to rising inflation only in a limited number of cases. In short, equities provide only a partial hedge – one which works only for small positive inflation shocks.
By now there can be no doubt that due to Bernanke et al's endless intervention in any and all capital markets, the "market" is no longer a mechanism that discounts the future in any way. In fact, instead of predicting the future, all the market has become is a backward looking race in which collocated algos respond to historical data - flashing red headlines - and attempt to out run each other in who can buy or sell more free for all, knowing full well at least one other greater fool will be behind them to pick up the pieces. Sadly, fundamentals as a driver to valuaton no longer exist. But such is life under central planning. Yet there is one thing that the market responds to - it is politicians and the uncertainty that political risk brings with it. This certainly includes that most political of organizations, the Federal Reserve, whose stimulative intervention into capital markets two months before the presidential elections was without precedent. Yet even here, the market has managed to decouple from reality, and is trading at level far greater than what political uncertainty risk implies. As the chart below from Citi's Matt King shows, a correlation between BBB spreads and a broader proprietary uncertainty index, there is currently a roughly 50% political risk premium that is not being priced into stocks.
Citi's Robert Buckland explains: If policymakers really do want to encourage stronger economic growth (and especially higher employment) then we would suggest that they take a closer look at the equity market's part in driving corporate behaviour. Despite high profitability, strong balance sheets and ultra-low interest rates, any stock market observer can see daily evidence of why the listed sector is unlikely to kick-start a meaningful acceleration in the global economy. A recent Reuters headline says it all: "P&G Plans to Cut More Jobs, Repurchasing More Shares". If anything, low interest rates are increasingly part of the problem rather than the solution. Perversely, they may be turning the world's largest companies into capital distributors rather than investors.
Senator Reid’s frustration that progress had stalled as he blamed the Republicans for not bargaining fairly in trying to iron out a compromise signaled to Speaker Boehner that the Democrats will play hardball as well. However, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article, via quotes from Erskine Bowles, claimed the White House will be flexible when proposing a raise to the top marginal tax rate. This perceived increase in the probability of a near term accord appropriately rallied stocks aggressively. We question why Mr. Obama would leak his best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) so early in the process, for classic bargaining strategy suggests keeping that information close to the vest as long as possible. Complicating matters, Mr. Obama declared a preference to strike a deal by Christmas which approximates the Friday, December 21 “zero barrier”. Ironically, if the Republicans acquiesce to yesterday’s posturing by Mr. Bowles, then the likelihood of a Moody’s and/or Fitch downgrade rises, for the ratings agencies would almost assuredly be disappointed by a lower than anticipated level of incremental revenues.
The S&P 500 achieved its anticipated 4-5% bounce off the recent 7-10% pullback, most of it accomplished in a very light holiday trading week. Much of the gains were attributed to overly effusive optimism over the prospects of resolving the fiscal cliff. Ironically, with Washington abandoned the past ten days for Thanksgiving, we have not heard anything substantive on the negotiations since Senator Reid and Speaker Boehner spoke jointly on the White House Lawn on November 16. The returns in equities that resulted from this perceived positive outlook has likely run its course as the blue chip index has regained the levels from the morning after the Election. Certainly, the mundane increases in open interest for the futures and the outperformance by the blue chips versus smaller capitalization names on a beta adjusted basis hint at such vacuous motivation for the upward move.
Several weeks ago, when sharing his latest outlook at the Economist's Buttonwood gathering, Hugh Hendry had this to say about gold miners: "I am long gold and I am short gold mining equities. There is no rationale for owning gold mining equities. It is as close as you get to insanity. The risk premium goes up when the gold price goes up. Societies are more envious of your gold at $3000 than at $300. And there is no valuation argument that protects you against the risk of confiscation.” For those confused, what he means is quite simple: the higher the price of gold goes, the greater the temptation of those extracting it (usually mined in various locales where worker satisfaction with labor conditions is less than stellar - see recent events in South Africa) to strike and demand higher wages (i.e., lower EPS), or of host government to nationalize it. The end outcome is a collapse in the extracting miner's cash flows and profitability, if not outright liquidation. The paradox is that the fewer actual global miners in operation, the better for the price of the actual hard commodity, as less supply means lower price, means greater probability of more miners suffering the same fate, means even higher gold price and so on. But back to the topic of gold miners. Below, for those still confused, is a simple story courtesy of the BBC in 10 pictures, summarizing the bitter dispute over Kyrgyzstan's gold production.
I was a super bull of long-term bonds. I stated my case over 3 years ago with a yield target on 30-year maturities of 2.5%. Back then, the timing and structure looked right for another run to new highs. Discussions about hyperinflation were premature.
One of the most commonly cited 'bullish' memes for stocks is the so-called Fed Model (or Equity Risk Premium) or more simply - the fact that earnings yields are not catching up to Treasury yields (i.e. why put your money in government bonds at such low rates when there is a smorgasbord of yummy equities with 'attractive' dividend yields). There are three key problems with this perspective: 1) No concept of 'risk' is imbibed in this return-based differential (as we have discussed before here and here); 2) Longer-term historical context is critical (as we discussed here - must read); and most importantly 3) Financial Repression breaks the 'Fed Model'. As Barclays shows in the following three charts (and we pointed out recently) normalization of the equity risk premium will not occur until Financial Repression ends. Brings a whole new meaning to 'Don't Fight The Fed' eh?
We expect a return to a skittish environment in markets. We are confident in my prediction for the course of the economy by leveraging simple game theory in handling the upcoming crisis as Congress returns for its lame duck session. “Compromise” reflects a decision from either side that each find unpalatable. Both President Obama and Speaker Boehner would rather shove two sticks in their eyes than move from their hardened stance despite some of the recent rhetoric in favor of bargaining in good faith. As long as the loss of utility from both sides’ digging in their heels is more favorable than conceding to the preferences from those across the aisle, then the game arrives at a Prisoner’s Dilemma. the above matrix concludes that the fiscal cliff virtually guarantees an aggressive selloff for equities until the stop loss for the Democrats and Republicans has been triggered. For example, if the clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve with the blue chip index at or near its September peak, each faction would feel comfortable standing up to the other well into January.
On October 21st, 2012, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote a note titled “IMF’s epic plan to conjure away debt and dethrone bankers”, on UK’s The Telegraph. The article presented the International Monetary Fund’s working paper 12/202, also titled “The Chicago Plan revisited“. I will begin the discussion on this working paper with two disclosures: a) my personal portfolio would profit immensely if the Chicago Plan, as presented by the IMF’s working paper 12/202, was effectively carried out in the US. The reason I write today, however, is that to me, it is more important to ensure that my children live and grow in a free and prosperous world, and b) I have not read the so called Chicago Plan, as originally proposed by H. Simmons and supported by I. Fisher. My comments are on what the IMF working paper tells us that the Chicago Plan proposed, without making any claim on the original plan.
The Fed sees the need to reduce interest rates as it takes over the US Treasury and MBS markets; but the ECB's actions are more aimed at reducing divergences between peripheral nations and the core. As SocGen notes, it remains unclear how and when the Fed would exit this situation and in Europe, bond market volatility remains notably elevated relative to the US and Japan as policy action absent a political, fiscal, and banking union remains considerably less potent.
Hugh Hendry: "I Have No Idea Where The Stock Market Is Going To Be"... But "I Am Long Gold And Short The S&P"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 10/25/2012 14:51 -0400
Hugh Hendry: "I have resigned from the professional undertaking of coin flipping. I am not here to tell you where gold’s going to be. I have no idea. That’s my existentialism. I am a student of uncertainty, I have no idea where the stock market is going to be. So when I am creating trades in my portfolio for my clients, I am agnostic. I just want to enhance the probability that I make money come what may."
Greg Smith's 15 minutes of fame has come and gone, but the muppet crushing at Goldman is only starting to ramp up, courtesy of the man who singlehandedly has made sure Goldman's FX prop trading team should be the most profitable one in the entire universe by simply doing the opposite of what Goldman's clients do. As a reminder, sent out at 5 pm yesterday, as we alerted our Twitter followers: "Go long EUR/CAD on further risk premium compression in the EUR and a more dovish BoC... We recommend going long EUR/CAD at a current level of 1.296 with an initial target of 1.37 and a stop on a London close below 1.26." Big Oops (see chart). Then again, after Stolper epic failure to Impala the muppets on his last EURUSD trade reco, it is great to see him back to 0.000 batting form.
IBM weighed on the Dow - much to the chagrin of the mainstream media - but if they'd replaced IBM with AAPL things would have been just as ugly (if not worse). The tech-darling dumped after trying to ramp in the last hour and once again failing at VWAP on heavy volume as the big boys exited. S&P futures auctioned up to QEtc. spike levels and were unable to get through but still had a solid day. Interestingly, while today was an 'uncorrelated' day across risk assets, the rise in Treasury yields, rise in stocks, drop in Gold, and drop in USD has brought them all back together in sync post-QEtc. - from here who knows? Credit markets tracked equities generally - but HYG and LQD saw major volume spikes early on this morning (looked like HYG sells and LQD buys). VIX limped sideways most of the day - falling 0.14vols to 15.08% (though for the year remains on average at a high premium to realized). The USD is down 0.85% for the week with EUR back above 1.31 and only JPY weaker vs USD among the majors.