Today you can’t go 10 minutes without tripping over an investment manager using the phrase “Minsky Moment” as shorthand for some Emperor’s New Clothes event, where all of a sudden we come to our senses and realize that the Emperor is naked, central bankers don’t rule the world, and financial assets have been artificially inflated by monetary policy largesse. Please. That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
It seems shorts keep covering and the Chinese keep buying (through Belgium of course - as they sell CNY, buy USD, and grab the extra yield on Treasuries). Despite stocks relative stability, 10Y yields have just hit 2.40% for the first time in over 11 months (as USDJPY broke down). It seems this morning's dismal GDP print was just enough to confirm the growth/inflation slowing meme (in bond investors' minds) and the yield curve is flattening even further...
Wednesday is not Tuesday (except for Trannies). Some early weakness in stocks was bid mindlessly back to its highs even as 10Y bond yields kept tumbling to 11-month lows and oil and copper rolled over. VIX ended the day higher (again) ignoring the exuberance in the light volume equity market. 10Y yields dropped to 2.43% - its best day in 5 months (breaking last October's key support). The yield curve flattened dramatically with 2s30s at its tightest in a year. The USD was bid (led by GBP weakness) buy JPY's volatility is what ran the stock show today. Gold and silver fell further as did WTI crude (back under $103). The S&P 500 is now around 60 points rich to 10Y bond yields (and the world is still short bonds); credit spreads are well off their tights and VIX isn't falling; breadth is weakening and so is volume... but apart from that... BTFATH. A late-day selling frenzy took the shine off the CNBC headlines with stocks closing red.
Could this be the last straw?
A steep yield curve induces investors to borrow at cheap shorter rates and buy riskier assets to earn a spread. Party on while the Fed provides the punch bowl. Maybe this time the volatility will come even before the Fed eases off the pedal?
30Y US Treasury yields have retraced more than 50% of the Taper Tantrum and weak data this morning once again pressures yields to new lows. 10Y now trades 2.5009%, 30Y breaks to fresh 11-month lows at 3.31% as the yield curve is flattening notably once again. European peripheral bonds are having their worst day in a year (as we noted earlier) and US and European equity markets are stumbling.
In this brave new centrally-planned world, where bad is good, very bad is very good, and everything is weather adjusted, Japan's blistering GDP report last night, printing at 5.9% on expectations of 4.3% was "bad" because it means less possibility for a boost in QE pushing futures lower, while the liquidity addicts were giddy with the GDP miss in Europe where everyone except Germany missed (as for the German beat, Goldman's crack theam of economic climatologists, said it was due to the weather), and the Eurozone as a whole came at 0.2%, half the forecast 0.4%, which in turn allowed futures to regain some of the lost ground.
That greatest contrarian indicator in the history of finance, Tom Stolper (arguably even better than Dennis Gartman), may no longer be at Goldman but his muppet-crushing spirit lives on. With Bund (and Treasury) yields tumbling to lows not seen since mid 2013, adding insult to injury, and accelerating the short squeeze, here is Goldman's Francesco Garzarelli with "Trade Update: Close Trade recommendation selling short Euro Bund June 14 futures (RXM4), for a potential loss of 2%."
Cruising through earnings, it is now time to revisit certain indicators that speak to the underlying health of the economy and that of the US equity and Treasury bond market.
In this difficult market, and confusing - for traders, and everyone else - environment, what are the three main questions posed by Goldman's clients had? According to David Kostin, "Three questions dominated our investor dialogue this week given the lack of meaningful data releases.
- Interest rates: The recent decline in ten-year US Treasury yields to 2.6%, the forward path of interest rates, and implications for equity valuation;
- Capex: the outlook for corporate capital spending in 2014; and
- Rotation: The potential for the momentum drawdown of the past two months to reverse and vault high expected sales growth companies back into a market leadership position.
The long-bond yield is now up 10bps on the week (and 5Y -4bps) leaving the yield curve steepening by its most in 20 months. Thanks to a handy - we don't need no stinking protection - VIX slam, US equity markets have recovered to highs of the day as the buying panic of yesterday is replayed once again.
With everyone and their mom confused at how bonds can rally when stocks (the ultimate arbiter of truthiness) are also positive, we have seen Deutsche confused (temporary technicals), Bloomberg confirm the shortage, and BofA blame the weather (for a lack of bond selling). Today, we have two more thoughtful and comprehensive perspectives from Gavekal's Louis-Vincent Gave (on why yields are so low) and Scotiabank's Guy Haselmann (on why they' stay that way).
Bank of America, whose stubborn, and quite abysmal "short Treasurys" call, has been one of the worst sellside trade recos in recent history and cost investors countless losses, has an update. Only instead of doing a mea culpa and finally admitting it was wrong, the bailed out bank has decided to provide humor instead. Namely it too has joined the ranks of countless others providing an "explanation" (or in its case, an "excuse") for the relentless bond bid. The punchline: "cold weather."
I do have a heightened sense of alertness to what may be in store should the hubris of the current market run fail to permeate into forecasts and expectation announcements over the coming months.
The risky borrowing indicators are troubling. They show that we’ve reverted to old habits of borrowing far more than we can fund with non-money savings. At almost 10% of GDP in 2013, risky borrowing is higher than in all but the early 1970s and middle part of the last decade. This tells us that we’re accumulating risk at a rapid clip, although not for as long as in those earlier episodes. (Yet.) Worse still, policymakers and mainstream economists are unperturbed, failing to acknowledge that some types of financing are riskier than others. It’s as if we’re stuck at a 1970s Pepsi Challenge booth, watching people debate cola tastes with no mention of health risks. With ample evidence of these risks, how can this be? One theory is that the current generation of mainstream economists staked their careers on the soda business, filling resumes with research on topics such as sweetness and carbonation, but nothing on health. It’s just too big a step for them to acknowledge that the old research is unhelpful and the resumes hollow. We can only hope that the unpopular, long-term thinkers who are willing to take that step become more influential over time. In the meantime, keep an eye on the sources of financing and, in particular, the three indicators of risky borrowing discussed below.