The number of employees across the firms of the broad-based Russell 2000 equity index has collapsed by more than half from its peak. The price of that index, in the same period, has risen 137%. Can you spot when the index 'price' disconnected from economic reality?
Of course, we are sure the chart will be dismissed as meaningless for some "demographic" or "cyclical" reason and we should not worry, just BTFATH, of course.
"It's only a question of time before the central banks lose control," David Stockman warns a shocked CNBC anchor, "and a panic sets in when people realize that these values are massively overstated." The outspoken author of The Great Deformation rages "the Fed is exporting its lunatic policies worldwide." If one cares to look, Stockman adds, "there are bubbles everywhere," citing Russell 2000 valuations of 75x LTM earnings as an example, "that makes no sense. It's up 43% in the last year, but earnings of the Russell 2000 companies have not increased at all." This is dangerous, he strongly cautions, "I haven't seen too many bubbles in history" that haven't ended violently.
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!
It's one thing to fade broad Goldman trade recommendations (and thus trading alongside Goldman and against muppets). It is, however, a gift from god when such a trade comes from none other than the greatest (once again, if you bat 0.000 or 1.000 on Wall Street you are great in both cases) FX strategist of all time: Goldman's Tom Stolper, whose fades over the past 5 years have generated over 20,000 outright pips. So what does Stolper see? "All told, there are a number of reasons why the Canadian Dollar has scope to weaken. Some of these have been a factor for some time but the notable weakening in the external balance, the gradual shift in the BoC communication and the prospect of Fed tapering and the associated risks all suggest that 2014 may be the year when the CAD weakens more materially after many years in narrow trading ranges. In line with our recently changed forecasts, we expect $/CAD to rally to 1.14 on a 12-month basis, with a stop on a close below 1.01. This would imply a potential return of 7% including carry." So one Goldman 2014 Top Trade generates a total return of 7% in 12 months - and one should do this why when one can make 7% in the Russell 2000 at its current daily pace of increase of 1.0% in one week. That said, the only question is: 1.01 in how many days?
The S&P 500 has now managed the longest weekly winning streak (7 weeks) since May 2007 (when it managed a 9% gain). Off the recent lows, the current run is an impressive 9.6% (for the S&P) with Trannies up 12.5% in the same period. (we hesitate to mention that May 2007's run-up was halted by the first of the structured credit funds imploding) On the week, Trannies and NASDAQ ended back practically unch, Russell 2000 outperformed but the afternoon melt-up in stocks (on the back of more shorts being squeezed) held the S&P above 1,800 close for the first time ever. Bonds rallied (recovering a lot of their mid-week losses), the USD was offered in general (led by EUR strength) but AUD's 2% loss was notable. VIX was manhandled to 12.25% into the close to maintain the headline-grabbing 1,800 as gold and silver clung to their lows.
"Bubbles are breaking out everywhere," exclaims outspoken former-insider David Stockman in this brief FoxTV clip, warning that "its like 2007/2008 all over again." Of course, we have heard 'bubble' talk before but Stockman steps methodically from the broad market (exposing the incredible numbers behind the Russell 2000) to junk bonds (and the record-breaking issuance and risk ignorance) and Fannie Mae (as an example of the idiocy). Crucially, Stockman explains to Neilo Cavuto who tempers the bubble-talk with aggregate measures, "bubbles don't form at the heart of the Dow, they form on the speculative periphery of the economy and work their way in," - something that is very evident in today's market.
My personal guess is that the U.S. market, especially the non-blue chips, will work its way higher, perhaps by 20% to 30% in the next year or, more likely, two years, with the rest of the world including emerging market equities covering even more ground in at least a partial catch-up. And then we will have the third in the series of serious market busts since 1999 and presumably Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen, et al. will rest happy, for surely they must expect something like this outcome given their experience. And we the people, of course, will get what we deserve. We acclaimed the original perpetrator of this ill-fated plan – Greenspan – to be the great Maestro, in a general orgy of boot licking. His faithful acolyte, Bernanke, was reappointed by a democratic president and generally lauded for doing (I admit) a perfectly serviceable job of rallying the troops in a crash that absolutely would not have occurred without the dangerous experiments in deregulation and no regulation (of the subprime instruments, for example) of his and his predecessor’s policy. At this rate, one day we will praise Yellen (or a similar successor) for helping out adequately in the wreckage of the next utterly unnecessary financial and asset class failure. In the meantime investors should be aware that the U.S. market is already badly overpriced. This market is already no exception, but speculation can hurt prudence much more and probably will. Ah, that’s life. And with a Fed like ours it’s probably what we deserve.
With Ben Bernanke's tenure closing, many financial TV pundits delight in touting the stellar performance of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman with just a couple months left in his term. Before the re-writers of history begin spinning performance, we thought why not compare Mr. Bernanke against all the other Federal Reserve Chairman to determine which Chairman deserves recognition. Bernanke's overall score across all factors was the lowest (let the spin begin counterfactualists). The data suggests that Mr. Bernanke ranks last in performance between the two mandates since 1948. Quite an accomplishment considering what events transpired during the last 60+ years; Korea & Vietnam, Oil Shock, high interest rates, etc...
Many have likened the ETF structure of today to the CDO structure of the last bubble as the potential catalyst for accelerating moves in risk markets. If that is the case, then the collapse in the shares outstanding of the massively popular and liquid Russell 2000 ETF IWM will likley make some ask WTF?
To many institutional investors, buying the Russell 2000 is merely the highly levered bet with which the bulk of institutions (recall that almost all hedge funds, and a majority of mutual funds, are underperforming the S&P for a 5th consecutive year) seek to make up for losses in their portfolios by chasing high (and even higher with leverage) beta. Which is why as the next chart below shows, in a furious scramble to catch up by year end, the institutional Russell net futures (i.e. levered) positioning just hit a record high: the biggest investors are now all-in the smallest names. So is the massively overbought small cap sector due for a correction? With these manipulated, centrally-planned markets, nobody has any idea. However, for those who have once again bet all in, which just happens to be most plain vanilla dumb money, it may be time to reevaluate.
Remember the main reason why the Fed should have tapered, namely the illiquidity in the bond market it is creating with its feverish pace of collateral extraction, and conversion of quality collateral into 500x fwd P/E dot com dot two stocks? Here to put it all in context is Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann: "Through its QE policy, the Fed buys $3 of mortgages for every $1 of origination. The consequence is that secondary mortgage market liquidity has been decimated: it is as bad as when Bear Stearns failed." That's just MBS for now. However, since the Fed has refused and refuses to taper, the same liquidity collapse is coming to Treasury's first, then corporates, then ETFs, then REITs and everything else that the Fed will eventually monetize. Just like the BOJ.
As we pointed out a month ago (and initially over a year ago) in this completely broken, levered-beta, mad dash for yield market, the only alpha-generating strategy that even remotely works, is to be long the most shorted stocks. This was confirmed based on the return of the S&P vs the "most shorted sotcks" - a trade we first suggested in September 2012 - demonstrated by the chart below. Amusingly, as part of the trading basket of only stocks worth owning, i.e., the most shorted ones on the Russell 2000, where the beta is by far the highest, the top stock listed, the one with the highest short interest as a percentage of the total float, was none other than Blyth, Inc., as per the chart from one month ago. According to the latest Bloomberg data, since then the short interest only rose even more, hitting an unprecedented 82.79% of all shares in the float held short. Well, overnight a lot of shorts suddenly screamed out in terror and were suddenly silenced, not to mention carted out feet first, when none other than the most shorted Rusell 2000 stock received an unsolicited takeover proposal valuing the stock at $16.75/share.
With US Macro slumping to 3-month lows, is it any surprise that markets everywhere traded with a decidedly Taper-off confidence this week. USD was sold (-0.6% on the week) though commodity currencies (CAD/AUD) were sold also. Stock 'traders' bought every dip, lifting the Russell 2000 for the 8th straight week (first time since 2003). Gold completed its best 2-weeks (+6.4%) in 23 months. Treasuries have been very quiet since Tuesday, ending the week 5-8bps lower in yield. Growth hope faded as Copper (-1%) and Oil (-3%) fell on the week and earnings overall tumbled. Of course, it wouldn't be Friday if we didn't melt-up into the close (helped by a VIX slammer) and sure enough the S&P tagged its all-time highs as panic buying ensued with just minutes left in the week. Headlines will crow of new all-time-highs for the S&P (but credit remains a non-believer, not buying the rip).
Alan Greenspan is out pitching his news book. We explained the miracle of revisionist history and questioned the sanity of anyone buying this 'guide to economic forecasting' earlier in the week, but in his appearance this morning on CNBC, the "maestro" did a great job explaining just how flawed his own logic was (without our help). He explains (sadly reflective of the current clairvoyance of Jim Bullard) that, speaking for himself and his FOMC colleagues, "all of us knew there was a bubble," though failing to admit to being the progenitor, "but we badly missed the timing." But, perhaps summing up the mantra of his ilk better than any other sentence, Greenspan concludes, "a bubble in and of itself does not give you a crisis..." adding, during a later Bloomberg TV clip, "I missed certain forecasts, you don’t apologize for that... We are not omniscient. I am a human being."
The high-beta honeys were not amused (despite another melt-up in NFLX into earnings) as the Russell 2000 underperformed (-0.25% on the day). The Dow and S&P ended practically unch, Nasdaq bid (helped by AAPL ahead of the product news tomorrow) and Trannies closed their highs of the day exuberating all the way... Treasury yields rose 2-3bps (steepening). FX was quiet with the USD very slightly higher (helped by JPY weakness) but AUDJPY was in charge of S&P 500 trading today. Oil dropped 1.6% closing back under $100 (first time in over 3 months) and Silver rallied 1.3%. Hedgers were active (6though clearly the selling was limited) as credit spreads and volatility markets saw protection buyers active.