Two quarters ago it was the muni implosion, last quarter it was sovereigns blowing up (again). Now, it's oil, and the stench of out of control inflation sending precious metals to daily all time record highs, that is keeping Wall Street up at night (yet doing nothing than seemingly providing one after another "buy the dip" opportunity). Every quarter the prevailing investing and spec opinion focuses on one key bogeyman in the wall of worry and refuses to let go, even as, or particularly because of, the Fed, in conjunction with the HFT-controlled market, sells vol to the point where everyone pretends risk is under control. Of course, it isn't, and neither the muni crisis has gone away, nor the threat of sovereign insolvency, nor pervasive inflationary threats (just buy gas in Europe). However, the fact that the Fed systematically takes on one conventional wisdom risk factor after another, and sells into every vol rally, almost certainly via curve exposure, but arguably via equity volatility indices as well (see thought by Artemis Capital on the subject), masks the symptom of an underlying systemic collapse until the market focuses on the next hotspot, which the Fed may or may not be able to resolve. And since we have finally moved on the biggest Fed artifact of all: inflation (and rampant one at that), the Fed's ability to extend and pretend the inevitable correction that needs to happen to push oil down to sub-$100 may be now coming to an end.
While stocks seemed in a world of their own today relative to Treasuries, FX carry, PMs, oil, and even the USD, they managed to make solid gains amid above average volume following a series of dismal macro prints this morning. Credit outperformed but we outline why the velocity of moves may slow a little here.
Stocks ended the day higher, though off their highs, handily outperforming the HY and IG credit markets as the FX and PM markets exploded in the afternoon around Bernanke’s press conference. Divergence between high and low quality credit and equity suggests releveraging is starting to be priced in.
Headlines will crow of the strength in equities and credit today. However, the lack of high beta participation in credit, the underperformance of financials, and the clear continuation of the somewhat more risk-averse up-in-quality trade in credit and equity markets remains a concern.
S&P futures managed to creep up to the pre-USA outlook change lows of early yesterday amid the lowest volume day in over two weeks and while HY and IG credit also managed gains on the day, we note some interesting shifts under the surface that should be considered less sanguine.
For all those who read the initial attempt at damage control from Jan Hatzius over the S&P warning yesterday, this follow up from Goldman's Alec Phillips will come as no surprise. To all those who may have missed the prompt note which came out after Mohamed El-Erian FT oped, the below will still not come as a surprise. Bottom line: "Although the US already appears to be on the edge of AAA territory by rating agency criteria and further deterioration of those measures seems likely, policy credibility is likely to be more important than the level of fiscal ratios at any given time. While enactment of major structural reforms to entitlement programs or the tax code look challenging in the next year, today’s announcement from S&P may on the margin increase the likelihood that Congress enacts one or more fiscal rules along with the increase in the debt limit, which we already viewed as a good possibility. The most likely change would be discretionary spending caps, which could apply for multiple years and would be difficult to undo once put in place. A second possibility is some version of the “failsafe” concept that President Obama proposed last week, which would require automatic reductions in spending and “tax expenditures” if by 2014 the debt to GDP ratio has not yet stabilized and is not projected to decline in the second half of the decade." Of course as those who followed our notes during the S&P conference call, to a rational man, none of the above would come as credible, therefore inevitably pushing the US to an AA handle by 2013. Of course, this little piece of theater is once again very much irrelevant in the grand scheme of things: by 2013 we will have much bigger issues on our hands.
Only a very few names managed gains in both equity and credit today (an interesting bunch - MAR, TOL, HOT, DHI, PEP, and SVU) as homebuilders were interestingly near the tope on the list of better performers in credit (which we suspect was related to the underperformance of the CMBX and ABX tranche markets as well as the higher beta exposure in some of the credit indices). Every sector was in agreement between credit and equity with a deteriorating move today as we note financials, leisure, and media were the worst beta-adjusted in credit relative to stocks on the day. Capital Goods, Utilities, and Consumer Noncyclicals performed the relative worst in stocks versus credit. The up-in-quality theme in credit is increasingly leaking into vol as we saw much less impact higher in vols in better-rated credits than in lower-rated credits. This was also the picture in credit though we did see the very highest rated names underperforming (financials?). This picture was somewhat different in equity-land where BB-rated and below names saw their stocks drop far less than A- rated and above names - once again we think this is to do with both financials dominating performance as well as the typical ratings/momentum correlation unwind.
Standard & Poors Cuts U.S. Outlook to Negative BECAUSE BOTH PARTIES KEEP THROWING MONEY AT ENDLESS WARS, ENDLESS BAILOUTS AND A PONZI FINANCIAL SYSTEMSubmitted by George Washington on 04/18/2011 13:20 -0400
Live blogging the S&P conference call. The Q&A session will be critical. A rather interesting one: "Did the Federal Reserve Board's program of quantitative easing contribute to your decision to revise the outlook to negative? Answer - No. We find that risks of deflation in the U.S. have lessened and that there are few indications that inflation expectations have become untethered. Although it will be challenging to sequence the unwinding of these operations while raising policy interest rates once the recovery has become firmly rooted, we believe that the credibility of monetary policy will continue to be a credit strength for the U.S."
Goldman's opinion on the S&P action took just a little longer than PIMCO to be distributed to clients: 108 minutes. Not surprisingly, after eagerly pushing rating agency opinions to clients buying CDOs from Goldman, the firm's economists are now eagerly trying to talk it down: "Clearly, the US fiscal situation is unsustainable unless a large,
multi-year fiscal tightening is implemented. However, there is no
information in today’s report about the fiscal situation that was not
already known. Academic research has generally found that rating agency
actions lag market pricing, rather than lead it. Any relevance of
today’s announcement is a) as a potential catalyst for renewed market
focus on these issues, particularly if the other agencies follow suit,
b) a signal of a nonzero probability of an outright ratings downgrade
over the next few years." And who was the research conducted by? Moody's? A Princeton Ph.D. academic? Yes, we know the country is screwed. But we can sure do without this condescending BS.
The negative outlook on our rating on the U.S. sovereign signals that we believe there is at least a one-in-three likelihood that we could lower our long-term rating on the U.S. within two years. The outlook reflects our view of the increased risk that the political negotiations over when and how to address both the medium- and long-term fiscal challenges will persist until at least after national elections in 2012. Some compromise that achieves agreement on a comprehensive budgetary consolidation program--containing deficit reduction measures in amounts near those recently proposed, and combined with meaningful steps toward implementation by 2013--is our baseline assumption and could lead us to revise the outlook back to stable. Alternatively, the lack of such an agreement or a significant further fiscal deterioration for any reason could lead us to lower the rating.
The same theme of the last few days remains in place with vol and CDS being derisked for lower quality names and relatively rerisked for higher quality names. Stocks were a much more mixed bag today with crossover names outperforming the high and low quality names on average. Financials (monolines aside) were the only sector in which equity and credit deteriorated together on average while equity outperformed credit in all the others (aside from Telecoms which saw slightly more spread compression than the equity moves would have assumed).
The same themes remain in place (equity to credit preference, up-in-quality credit, and rising dispersion or idiosyncratic risk), all of which warrant concern over equity levels. While earnings are supposedly the mother’s milk of stock prices (someone really smart told me that every day this year?), we are reminded that free cash flow is the real driver and profits are a levered result of GDP growth which is being downgraded lemming-like as we speak. While credit availability remains good for IG issuers, the potential for relevering (shareholder-friendliness) may be tainted if US CEOs continue to behave like Japanese CEO did in the 80s/90s – expecting lower than trend growth they hoarded and burned through cash. We like IG-HY decompression, HY 3s5s flatteners, Financials underperforming non-financials, and would remain fully hedged in The A-List for now. Our ETF Arb is stable and has more room for upside.
The deflating Dollar is the World's Reserve currency at 62% of all the money in the World and growing fast as Ben buys 'em as fast as Timmy can print them and then loans them out to the Banksters, who promptly lever that money 10:1 to buy commodities.
Contextually, today was interesting bottom-up with only 53% of names agreeing in terms of direction for credit and equity risk (dominated by 50% agreement that conditions deteriorated). 27% saw credit widen as equity rallied while 20% saw credit compress as equities sold off but at the sector level the picture was much more stable with most agreeing systemically worse today. Leisure, healthcare, and Consumer Cyclicals were the only divergent sectors with credit underperformance as equity managed gains (only just in the latter we note). While we saw a clear up-in-quality shift in single-name credit today ( a theme we have been suggesting recently), that was not the story in equities where higher quality names (BBB and above) actually underperformed on average those in the spec grade cohorts. Vol movements were in line with CDS once again with vol rising less for the better quality names and rising dramatically more for the lower quality names (with a particular emphasis on the crossover names in fact).