Early weakness and volatility was entirely suppressed once European markets closed and stocks traded in a shockingly low range amid dreadfully low volume. All the major indices closed red with the Russell underperforming (and Nasdaq outperforming) as stocks tracked (more loosely than normal) with AUDJPY once again. Treasuries ended the day very modestly lower in yield (30Y unch, rest -1bps). The USD traded modestly higher all day led by weakness in GBP and AUD (as JPY ended unch). Gold closed unchanged as copper (China), oil, and silver slipped. Credit markets remain skeptical and VIX closed higher on the day, despite the late-day ramp efforts to get the S&P 500 green - which failed.
The Turkish Lira is tumbling this morning (+150pips at 2.22); rapidly devaluing back towards pre-emergency-rate-hike levels and Turkish bond yields have surged back to levels seen in mid-2009. The driver appears to be the release of several political prisoners, suggesting the President is starting to lose control and given that 'political stability' is the key factor for many of these EM debt markets. The government, however, remains adamant that an "operation" by some institutional holders of lira bonds to "threaten" Turkey's economy started after the probe into government corruption began in mid-December.
There probably isn’t a more over-used phrase thrown across the media landscape than, “It’s different this time.” One can’t look at the financial markets, the political stage, and more without shaking ones head. Nothing seems to make sense. Yet if one wants to lazily answer, “It’s different this time.” Things become crystal clear. Water now seems to run uphill. The definition of words no longer mean what they once did. (we’re still marveling on what is – is) Free society means the loss of only a few freedoms per year, as opposed to everything at once. Work is a bad thing however, if someone else goes to work and pay for your things – then that’s good. You can keep your plan if you like your plan – but if we don’t like it – well – you can’t. The Federal Reserve would never monetize the debt – however if you’re a preferred dealer in the QE (quantitative easing) program – they’ll do it for you. These precarious times leave many scratching their heads. Expressed another way, When everyone is on the band wagon – except the band. You had better take notice.
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."
A near-term outlook for the dollar against the major foreign currencies.
As Bill Clinton once famously stated; "What is....is" and while the current market "IS" within a bullish trend currently, it doesn't mean that this will always be the case. This is why, as investors, we must modify Clinton's line to: "What is...is...until it isn't." That thought is the foundation of this weekend's "Things To Ponder." In order to recognize when market dynamics have changed for the worse, we must be aware of the risks that are currently mounting.
The world and their pet rabbit was convinced yesterday that today's jobs number was both the most-important-number-in-the-world and didn't matter (because whether it beat or missed it was bullish for stocks). Seconds after the release that appeared to be true as JPY instantly dragged stocks to record highs (and the USD up and bonds and gold down). However, trumped by confirmation that the taper is continuing, Gazprom warnings, Lavrov threats, and finally reports of a Russian invasion, stocks leaked lower to Tuesday's ramp-day closing levels. Thanks to some last-minute JPY and VIX banging, S&P closed green for the 15th of last 16 NFPs. Despite intraday volatility, the USD ended the week unchanged, gold +1%, silver -1.5% and Treasuries +14bps or so (its worst week in 6 months!). Credit markets continue to be non-believers (with the high-yield bond ETF plunging this week). Critically, after last night's default in China, Iron Ore and Copper futures were crushed and we suspect Sunday night's Asia open could see more fireworks.
While the volatility of Bitcoin has been considerable, perhaps merely reflective of the early days of a revolution, the fact that the "value experts" at the Fed have pronounced:
- *DUDLEY SAYS BITCOIN 'IS NOT VERY GOOD STORE OF VALUE'
- *DUDLEY SAYS 'U.S. DOLLAR WINS' OVER BITCOIN ACROSS MANY METRICS
..raised an eyebrow or two on our furrowed brows. We thought a look at the following two charts since the inception of Bitcoin and the inception of the Fed would help clarify "value" stability...
Today's nonfarm payroll number is set to be a virtual non-event: with consensus expecting an abysmal print, it is almost assured that the real seasonally adjusted number (and keep in mind that the average February seasonal adjustment to the actual number is 1.5 million "jobs" higher) will be a major beat to expectations, which will crash the "harsh weather" narrative but who cares. Alternatively, if the number is truly horrendous, no problem there either: just blame it on the cold February... because after all what are seasonal adjustments for? Either way, whatever the number, the algos will send stocks higher - that much is given in a blow off top bubble market in which any news is an excuse to buy more. So while everyone is focused on the NFP placeholder, the real key event that nobody is paying attention to took place in China, where overnight China’s Shanghai Chaori Solar defaulted on bond interest payments, failing to repay CNY 89.9mln (USD 14.7mln), as had been reported here extensively previously. This marked the first domestic corporate bond default in the country's history - indicating a further shift toward responsibility and focus on moral hazard in China.
UPDATE: It's happened - China has suffered its first domestic corporate bond default as Chaori fails to meet interest payments on schedule and rather more surprisingly failed to receive a last-minute mysterious or otherwise bailout...
*CITIC BANK WON'T HELP CHAORI MAKE INTEREST PAYMENT: 21ST HERALD
Ever since the specter of the first real domestic default on a Chinese corporate bond hovered over the markets, the Chinese credit markets have been leaking lower. The last 3 days have seen the biggest drop in Chinese credit markets in almost 4 months. That situation, wistfully occurring half way around the world while US equity markets press on to ever more exuberant (and ignorant) heights, meant at least 3 other Chinese firms pulled their bond issues today and, as Reuters reports, has "triggered widespread upheaval in the bond market." Banks are awash with liquidity (as indicated by low repo/SHIBOR rates) but clearly unwilling to lend and external investors are now running scared.
Must be the weather... Initial jobless claims swung from the worst in 2014 last week to the best in over 3 months this week, with a 323k print (well below the 336 expectation). No states estimated claims this week but even the Labor Department suggests the series' volatility is "coinciding" with winter storms. Overall claims dropped 8,000 to 2.91 million on the week but it is clear the descending trend is over for this series - which fits with ADP and ISM Services weakness.
Premier Li Keqiang delivered his first government work report at the opening of the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting last night. The new government promises to speed up reform, manage debt risks, fight pollution, and yet maintain 7.5% economic growth all at the same time but as SocGen'sWei Yao warns, this is going to be nothing if not challenging. Maybe mindful of a potential miss, Yao points out that policymakers seem to give themselves a small degree of flexibility by using new phrases like “a reasonable range for the growth rate” and “the growth target is
flexible”. Mission intractible or mission impossible?
The word “tantrums” referenced in the title was the paper’s attempt to explain adverse market reactions, e.g., last year’s reaction from ‘taper-talk’. The authors stated that risk premiums can jump quickly, simply because non-bank market participants (read: mutual funds) are motivated by their peer performance rank. The authors had 3 subsequent conclusions: 1) the relative peerperformance race causes momentum in return; 2) return chasing can reverse sharply; and 3) changes in the stance of monetary policy can trigger heavy fund inflows and outflows. These conclusions partially explain (empirically) the herd mentality and momentum in recent years behind tight credit spreads and elevated equity prices. Investors are so fearful of missing the upside and underperforming peers that they frantically scramble to remain ahead of them (i.e., seek risk). However, the conference and paper suggests that there is a threshold point during the Fed’s attempt to normalize policy where the tide reverses and investors join in a selloff in a race to avoid being left behind. This is why I’ve been calling it the greater fool theory. The most surprising part of the conference was Rubin’s keynote speech. Rather than speak about Washington’s messy politics or such, he basically gave a speech that criticized and questioned Fed policy.
Most people, even most people in the C-suite of money center banks (the prime candidates for disintermediation), still have no clue as to what the promises, prospects & risks of Bitcoin are. Well, as UltraCoin launches into beta, these become crystal clear!
With the world still on edge over developments in the Ukraine, overnight newsflow was far less dramatic than yesterday, with no "bombshell" uttered at today's Putin press conferences in which he said nothing new and simply reiterated the party line and yet the market saw it as a full abdication, he did have some soundbites saying Russia should keep economic issues separate from politics, and that Russia should cooperate with all partners on Ukraine. Elsewhere Gazprom kept the heat on, or rather off, saying Ukraine recently paid $10 million of its nat gas debt, but that for February alone Ukraine owes $440 million for gas, which Ukraine has informed Gazprom it can't pay in full. Adding the overdue amounts for prior months, means Ukraine's current payable on gas is nearly $2 billion. Which is why almost concurrently Barosso announced that Europe would offer €1.6 billion in loans as part of EU package, which however is condition on striking a deal with the IMF (thank you US taxpayers), and that total aid could be as large as $15 billion, once again offloading the bulk of the obligations to the IMF. And so one more country joins the Troika bailout routine, and this one isn't even in the Eurozone, or the EU.