Howard Marks once wrote that being a "contrarian" is a lonely profession. However, as investors, it is the downside that is far more damaging to our financial health than potentially missing out on a short term opportunity. Opportunities come and go, but replacing lost capital is a difficult and time consuming proposition. So, the question that we will "ponder" this weekend is whether the current consolidation is another in a long series of "buy the dip" opportunities, or does "something wicked this way come?" Here are some "words of caution" worth considering in trying to answer that question.
30Y yields are now over 10bps below post-Yellen spike highs as growth-hope-driven US equities were monkey-hammered in another pump-and-dump deja vu day - with one difference - no late-day bounce to provide solace for the bulls. The Nasdaq and Russell 2000 are down over 3.5% from Yellen; Biotechs broke to new lows (down over 14% and below the 100DMA); momo names were slammed (FB) as King IPO's and lost over 15% on the day. The Nasdaq and Russell have joined the Dow in the red year-to-date, S&P and Trannies barely positive. The USD lost ground on the day after early strength. Gold, silver, and copper fell notably. VIX jumped from 2-month lows to back over 15%. USDJPY was sin charge all day - and broke below the key 102 level into the close.
Not only is it deja vu all over again (again) but our warning this morning of reality of a virtual reality world coming unglued is all too real. Biotechs and Momos are at the lows of the day; Nasdaq and Russell 2000 are now down 3% post-Yellen and all major indices (including the IBM-sponsored Dow) are now in negative territory post-Yellen. Financials, ahead of tonight's CCAR, are also fading fast (catching down to their credit counterparts). Of course, it's all about USDJPY... (oh sorry - fun-durr-mentals)
In the land of the free and the home of the entitled, the sad (but true) nature of income inequality's inexorable rise in the past few years has a somewhat more startling impact on the future. With work being punished for the marginal employee and the wealth effect concentrated in the hands of the great and good, the following two charts show clearly the sad fact that those who need to save for the future the most don't (and likely can't) and those with all the income save the most (and thus 'spend' the least). As we noted previously, the rich have the assets and the poor have the debt (and debt is not wealth).
Once European markets closed, US equity markets gave up any correlation with JPY crosses and began to fade. After bouncing off early Nasdaq-Biotech-driven lows, a ramp of AUDJPY saved the European close but that was it. There does not appear to be any news catalyst to drive this dump as Quad-witching pumps are unwound. The S&P 500 and Russell 2000 jooin the Trannies and Nasdaq in the red from the FOMC statement.
The Fed and the other major central banks have been planting time bombs all over the global financial system for years, but especially since their post-crisis money printing spree incepted in the fall of 2008. Now comes a new leader to the Eccles Building who is not only bubble-blind like her two predecessors, but is also apparently bubble-mute. Janet Yellen is pleased to speak of financial bubbles as a “misalignment of asset prices,” and professes not to espy any on the horizon. Actually, the Fed’s bubble blindness stems from even worse than servility. The problem is an irredeemably flawed monetary doctrine that tracks, targets and aims to goose Keynesian GDP flows using the crude tools of central banking. Not surprisingly, therefore, our monetary central planners are always, well, surprised, when financial fire storms break-out. Even now, after more than a half-dozen collapses since the Greenspan era of Bubble Finance incepted in 1987, they don’t recognize that it is they who are carrying what amounts to monetary gas cans.
With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
According to Goldman, the median company’s EV/sales ratio is now the highest in 35 years, surpassing even the dot com bubble.
Smith & Wesson’s earnings report gave renewed momentum to a rally in gun-making stocks, which began amid a debate about firearms that followed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting 15 months ago. As Bloomberg notes, many gun enthusiasts have stocked up on weapons to avoid potential restrictions in response to the Sandy Hook incident, the second-deadliest mass killing at a school in U.S. history, and that has driven stocks like Sturm Ruger to handily outperform even the highest of high-beta momo indices like the Russell 2000. SWHC was up 16% after earnings - its biggest gain since the shooting - as it beat expectations once again.
Stocks saw their lowest range day of the year so far today - and one of the lowest volume days - with today's laggard yesterday's big winner Russell 2000. Financiasls surged today and Energy dropped to worst performer on the year. Treasuries drifted sideways to very modestly lower in yield even as the USD weakened (led by AUD, CAD, and GDP strength). USDJPY and stocks were generally well coupled once again. Gold and silver leaked higher but today's biggest mover was WTI crude which tumbled back to around $101 (-1.4% on the week). High yield credit spreads flatlined with late weakness but HYG (the HY bond ETF) was notably weak all day. A late-day VIX smackdown tried to take the S&P cash into the green (mission accomplished) and new record highs - but it failed. Not exactly the high conviction, break to new highs push so many had hoped for as everyone eyes Friday's NFP (and ignores today's weak ADP and ISM Services - and weak China's Composite PMI).
It would appear the BFTATH mentaility has morphed into a BTFICBMD perspective as the "market" shrugs off an 'apparently expected' ICBM launch to soar to new record highs with the best day in stocks for months (if not years). USDJPY was in charge intraday as 102 was flushed through (with JPY's biggest drop in 2 months) and dragged stocks (led by the "most-shorted") non-stop. Equity volumes were 20-30% below yesterday's. The USD was relatively unmoved on the day (modestly higher oddly on a risk-on day). Gold and oil prices slipped (but remain in the green on the week) as Silver slipped into the red. Copper rallied. Treasury yields surged 6-8bps (the biggest jump in 4 months) as 2s10s steepened 6bps. VIX was cracked 2 vols lower to 14%. The S&P closed at 1873, just 27 points shy of Goldman's 2014 year-end target.
Volume is around 35% below yesterday's pro-rata but none of that matters. The S&P 500 is at record highs but it is the "most shorted" and most notably the Russell 2000 that is just exploding higher with a massive gap. Up over 3% on the day, smashing to new record highs, this is the best day in over 26 months. This is the biggest rise in stocks since October 2011 (when global central banks came to a co-ordinated rescue). Bear in mind that the Fed already noted small-cap multiples were over-extended (5% below here)... but BTFATH anyway.
While The Russell 2000 briefly regained positive territory for 2014 (up 1.5% on the week), the Dow, S&P, and Trannies ended the shortened and low volume week practically unchanged (and the Dow -2.6% YTD). Treasury yields oscillated as bad-news-good-news played out but ended the week practcically unchanged (10Y -1bps, 5Y +1bps). The USD drifted lower today to end the week very modestly positive (+0.1%) as EUR strangeth dominated JPY and CAD weakness). VIX went higher all week (admittedly OPEX-impacted) as underlying stocks remained bid. Credit markets ended the week wider than they opened on Tuesday (despite equity strength). Depsite the USD, commodities rose on the week with Silver and WTI crude up almost 2% and gold up 0.5%. For an options-expiration day, today's volume was very weak. And 2014's best performing S&P 500 sectors... Healthcare and Utilities.
In a world in which there is no risk, only return (thank you Federal Reserve Risk Management LLC), hedge funds - used to generating Profits just by sitting on legacy positions - see no need to reallocate their portfolios. Nowhere was this more evident than in the position turnover in Q4. As Goldman calculates, total asset turnover in Q4 dropped to 28% - a new all time low. In fact, the only increase in turnover, either buying or selling, was in the tech and infotech spaces. Everything else saw an unprecedented buyers and sellers strike.
Headlines will suggest that today's rally was due to the beat in US PMI (a data item that doesn't even rank on Bloomberg's scale of economic importance) and chose to ignore the misses (macro and micro) in everything else (which must be weather-related), the facts are different - it was simply an AUDJPY-inspired almost perfect correlation levitation from the post-China-PMI miss lows - more China QE to come. Having decoupled from USDJPY overnight, today's melt-up in stocks recoupled the all-important fun-durr-mental pair and lifted the Russell 2000 back to unchanged for 2014. With OPEX tomorrow, VIX was noisy and remains bearishly divergent from stocks (though was offered today). Credit markets lifted with stocks. Treasury yields rose back to modestly higher on the week. Gold and silver rose on the day starting from the China PMI miss (as did the USD with most of the majors losing ground against it). US Macro hits fresh 6-month lows.