Chris Mayer: No Big Theme in US Stocks, Just “Special Situations and Quirky Opportunities” (Sprott’s Thoughts)Submitted by Sprott Money on 03/07/2015 07:16 -0400
There’s a big macro theme playing out in Europe – a once soft economic environment that allowed lots of inefficiency is becoming tougher and forcing companies to restructure, says Chris Mayer, author of Capital & Crisis and Mayer’s Special Situations.
The news this week of China's largest corporate bankruptcy - Haixin Iron & Steel Group - amid crashing iron ore and steel prices was followed by analysts noting it "will be followed by others," as the major flaw of producers of iron ore, the most traded commodity after oil, is they tend to be "over-bullish." Distressed debt funds are starting to circle in preparation for what they expect to be a bloodbath as Bloomberg reports, bad debts in China are well underestimated because authorities persist in propping up weak companies and bailing out local investors, according to DAC Management, "we've yet to see it because if you look at corporate defaults, they keep getting covered by the government. At some point, they can’t cover every single one." Most worryingly though, as KPMG points out, "when you see restructuring advisers getting hired by SOEs... you know it's coming."
There is a war being conducted out there in the financial markets. A war between debtors and creditors, between governments and taxpayers, between banks and depositors, between the errors of the past and the hopes of the future. How can investors end up on the winning side ? History would seem to have the answers. We would argue today that central bank bubble-blowing has made the entire market high-risk, with a broad consensus that with interest rates at 300-year lows and bonds hysterically overpriced and facing the prospect of interest rate rises to boot, stocks are now "the only game in town". If history is any guide, the identity of the losers seems to be self-evident.
In investing sometimes dead makes more sense than alive...
As part of the SEC's consent order with Harbinger's Phil Falcone, we learned that in addition to the previously well-known stuff Falcone was engaging in (using the fund as his taxpaying piggybank, giving preferential gating terms to "friends and family", etc), perhaps what really scuttled the once legendary hedge fund manager is what ended up being an outright war with Goldman, when back in 2006 Harbinger tried to not only take the other side of a short bet put on by Goldman, but literally squeezed Goldman and its clients into absolutely misery with the result millions in profit to Falcone and unknown losses to Goldie. And as one knows, you never fight Goldman and win, without ultimately losing everything.
SEC SAYS FALCONE CONSENTS TO BAN FROM ASSOCIATION WITH ANY BROKER, DEALER, INVESTMENT ADVISER, OTHER ENTITIES, WITH RIGHT TO REAPPLY AFTER FIVE YEARS
Many high profile investors, economists and companies got burned during China's recent woes. We look at the errors they made and what you can learn from them.
- Obama Says Bernanke Fed Term Lasting ‘Longer Than He Wanted’ (Bloomberg)
- Merkel Critical Of Japan's Credit Policy In Meeting With Abe (Nikkei)
- China Wrestles With Banks' Pleas for Cash (WSJ)
- Biggest protests in 20 years sweep Brazil (Brazil)
- Pena Nieto Confident 75-Year Pemex Oil Monopoly to End This Year (Bloomberg)
- G8 leaders seek common ground on tax (FT)
- Putin faces isolation over Syria as G8 ratchets up pressure (Reuters)
- Former Trader Is Charged in U.K. Libor Probe (WSJ) - yup: it was all one 33 year old trader's fault
- Draghi Says ECB Has ‘Open Mind’ on Non-Standard Measures (BBG)
- Loeb Raises His Sony Stake, Drive for Entertainment IPO (WSJ)
Sweeping changes are taking place at the state level as pension trustees and legislatures push for higher monthly contributions to pension plans, a later retirement age and lower annual cost-of-living adjustments for current and retired workers. Unions (those that don't make Twinkles, in any event), are making the concessions because they can see the future absent shared sacrifice — the termination of defined benefit plans in favour of defined contribution plans. Be that as it may, employee contributions are going up — a de facto tax hike. And this will work directly against any upturn in consumer spending when you consider that the state and local government sector employ nearly 20 million people or 15% of the national job pie. So we will have less government, fewer entitlements and more whisperings that it isn't just the $250,000+ high-income households that are going to experience tax increases and diminished disposable income growth. This is shared sacrifice. To think that the nation could have ever gone to war in Iraq and in Afghanistan under the Bush regime, putting our troops at great risk not to mention the emotional scars on their families, while here at home civilians would be allowed to enjoy tax cuts and a debt-financed consumption binge.... One has to wonder what events could provide positive momentum to GDP growth, push corporate earnings to record highs as the consensus predicts as early as next year, or generate any lasting inflation, for that matter. It's the people that make these pricing decisions. Businesses can only price up to what consumers are willing to pay. It is households that determine whether or not we have inflation, not some bureaucrat in Washington who believes he has control over some printing press.
The BOJ pioneered QE in March 2001, with two objectives. The first was to eliminate deflation, which took hold in the mid-1990s; and the second was to shore up Japan’s fragile financial system. Did it work? Yes, for the second objective - the BOJ arguably bought time for banks tied up in NPL disposal; but, unfortunately, QE was not successful in combating deflation. The BOJ’s intended policy transmission mechanism was so-called portfolio rebalancing. Ideally, the buildup in banks’ deposits at the BOJ that earned no return (but carried zero risk) should have prompted banks to seek higher returns (with higher risk) and thus increase their lending. But portfolio rebalancing did not kick in for several reasons; most of which are the same as are occurring in the US currently. More fundamentally, however, Japan's demographics hindered any hopes of a capex-driven recovery - and policy can do little to affect that. While the US faces a less dismal demographic picture, the Japanese experience highlights that other policies (as Bernanke himself admits) are required for any sustained benefit in the real economy.
Lately, it has become particularly fashionable to bash private equity, especially among those workers in the employ of the state. The argument, in as much as capitalism can be summarized in one sentence, is that PE firms issue excess leverage, making bankruptcy inevitable (apparently those who buy the debt are unaware they will never get their money back), all the while cutting headcount to maximize cash flow (apparently the same PE firms don't realize that their investment will have the greatest terminal value to buyer if it has the highest possible growth potential, which means revenue and cashflow, which means proper CapEx investment, which means streamlined income statement, which means more efficient workers generating more profits, not less). The narrative ultimately culminates with some variation on a the theme that PE firms are responsible for offshoring jobs. While any of the above may be debated, and usually is especially by those who have absolutely no understanding of finance, one thing is certain: when it comes to bashing PE, America's public workers should be the last to have anything negative to say about Private Equity, and the capital markets in general. Why? Because when it comes to fulfilling those promises of a comfortable retirement with pensions and benefits paying out in perpetuity, always indexed for inflation, and otherwise fulfilling impossible dreams, who do America's public pension fund administrators go to? The very same private equity firms that have suddenly become outcast number 1.
Game Over for the once high flying hedge fund manager: "“Today’s charges read like the final exam in a graduate school course in how to operate a hedge fund unlawfully,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement."