The day when the Fed will begin the unwind of its latest QE program (for the fourth time) has finally arrived (as has the day when an impeachment committee will vote whether to ban Berlusconi from public office, but understandably that is getting far less press). In a few short hours the answer to all those questions of whether and how much of the taper was priced in, will be revealed. But while the Taper discussions will dominate the airwaves, as they have for the past five months, there actually were some news in the world that had nothing to do with the US Politburo in charge of capital markets and the US economy, located in the Marriner Eccles building. Here is a brief summary.
While the only market moving event of note had nothing to do with the economy (as usual), and everything to do with the Fed's potential propensity to print even more dollars and inject even more reserves into the stock market (now that Summers the wrongly perceived "hawk" is out) some other notable events did take place in the Monday trading session. Of note: while India's August inflation soared far higher than the expected 5.7%, rising to 6.1% from 5.79% (making life for the RBI even more miserable, as it is fighting inflation on one hand, and a lack of liquidity on the other), in Europe inflation decelerated to 1.3% from 1.6% in July driven by a drop in energy prices, while core inflation was a tiny 1.1%. In a continent with record negative loan growth this is to be expected. Additionally, as also reported, Merkel appears to be positioned stronger ahead of this weekend's Federal election following stronger results for her CDU/CSU, if weaker for her broader coalition. In Libya, oil protesters said they would continue stoppages at oil terminals until their demands are met in yet another startling outcome for US foreign intervention. Finally, some headline on Syria noted a Kerry statement "will not tolerate avoidance of a Syria deal", while Lavrov observed that it may be time to "force Syria opposition to peace talks." And one quote of the day so far: "Don't want market to become excessively exuberant" from the ECB's Mersch- just modestly so?
To say that bonds are under pressure would be an understatement. Over the last few months, sentiment about fixed income has flipped dramatically: from a favored investment destination that is deemed to benefit from exceptional support from central banks, to an asset class experiencing large outflows, negative returns and reduced standing as an anchor of a well-diversified asset allocation. Similar to prior periods, history will regard the ongoing phase of dislocations in the bond market as a transitional period of adjustment triggered by changing expectations about policy, the economy and asset preferences – all of which have been significantly turbocharged by a set of temporary and ultimately reversible technical factors. By contrast, history is unlikely to record a change in the important role that fixed income plays over time in prudent asset allocations and diversified investment portfolios – in generating returns, reducing volatility and lowering the risk of severe capital loss. Understanding well what created this change is critical to how investors may think about the future.
Jitters from Syria still abound, as confirmed by reports from the Israeli army that two shells had hit the Southern Golan region. Despite the reports that the shelling appeared to be errant, WTI remains near session highs as markets remain sensitive ahead of the meeting between US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva over the next two days. Buying of the 10Y is also prevalent and the yield on the benchmark bond was has dropped below 2.90%, or at 2.88% at last check. Today's key economic news in the US session will be the weekly claims report, the Fed buying 10 Year bonds at 11 am followed by the Treasury selling 30 Year bonds at 1 pm (this follows the Fed buying 30 Year bond yesterday: yes ironic).
The conflict in Syria is very complex, given the country’s diverse ethnic mix and the influence of foreign powers. This implies a high risk of a further dramatic escalation of the conflict, with negative spillovers into the broader region. Short term, UBS notes that the response of the Assad regime to a potential military strike will be crucial, while a key question for the medium term will be whether state structures can be preserved in Syria, so that contagious chaos can be avoided. UBS sees the impact on the international economy comes mainly via risk appetite and oil prices. Should the conflict be contained, the global economic fallout should be limited. However, the worst-case scenario of a regional spread of hostilities, involving Iran, Israel or the GCC, would be a lot more damaging.
If ever there was an investor reaction that summed up just how much the Federal Reserve has broken the markets it was yesterday morning's post-dismal-jobs-report surge. As John Phelan notes, we now appear to be in a position where the interests of financial markets are precisely at odds with the interests of the rest of the economy; where the good news for us is bad news for them and bad news for us is good news for them. The one way bet of the Greenspan Put maintained, so far, by Ben Bernanke, has created a market of monetary-punch-drunk liquidityholics. On its 100th birthday the Federal Reserve has the tricky task of sneaking the punch bowl out of the party, a task it seems they’ll struggle to manage without starting a riot. They may have printed themselves into a corner.
Ahead of tomorrow's all-important facade of the NFP print, US equity markets traded on very low volume in the 2nd narrowest range in 6 months. Sectors were a litte more disprsed with rate-sensitive names hurt and Utes underperforming. The real story of the day was the "Taper-On" trades in Treasuries, precious metals, and the USD. The belly of the Treasury curve smashed another 10-11bps higher (now up 21bps from Friday's pre-Obama speech) as the 10Y trod water at 2.98% from the European close only to jump up to 2.99% into the close. As we crossed the US open, gold and silver were summarily punched lower, down 1-2% on the week as the USD surged following Draghi's chatter and better macro data this morning. Credit markets were decidely more nervous going into the close than stocks. Gold and the S&P 500 are now exactly equal with each other and unchanged from the 6/18 FOMC "Taper" moment (and Silver is up 7%).
In a sense the markets are experiencing a "Vietnam Moment" where we all believed what we were told and we all accepted the official headlines until the day came when we found out we had been flimflammed and you know the results of that fiasco. We believe that the markets are quite close to a shift in psychology where people and institutions alike no longer blindly accept the stories as told.
1:1 In the beginning, Ben Bernanke hath said, let there be liquidity.
1:6 And so each among them sayeth the following benediction: “May the Fed bless you and keep you; may the Fed extend its balance sheet to shine upon you; and may the Fed lift up asset prices and protect you from harm”
Still confused what that fateful FOMC day just three weeks away from today may bring, in the aftermath of a Jackson Hole symposium which was mostly focused on the adverse side effects of Quantiative Easing and the proper sequencing of unwinding the Fed's nearly $4 trillion balance sheet? Here is the explanation straight from the firm whose chief economist has dinners with none other than the Fed shadow Chairman, Bull Dudley, on a frequent basis. To wit: "First, we expect Fed officials to adjust the “mix of instruments” somewhat away from QE towards forward guidance at the September meeting, which appears to be an appropriate strategy in light of these results. Second, we expect that the FOMC will focus most if not all of the tapering on Treasury purchases rather than (current coupon) MBS purchases, consistent with the evidence that the latter are more effective in lowering mortgage rates and easing financial conditions." So: $10-15 billion reduction in TSY monetization announced in September, enacted in October, and a seismic shift in FOMC communication away from actual intervention to promises of such, aka forward guidance. Judging by the recent track record of "forward guidance" so far, the global market volatility exhibited so far may well be just a walk in the park compared to what is coming.
While many begrudge the rise in interest rates and their concomittant tightening of financial conditions, Nomura's George Concalves notes that the move has been a "blessing in disguise" for most long-only bond investors. Insurance companies and pension-funds, who need 'yield' to cover long-term liabilities, have been underweight since the Fed began Operation Twist (on the basis of the yield became too compressed) but the recent sell-off in Treasuries (which does not reflect any asset-allocation or great rotation since stocks have been just as weak) enabled these funds to put money to work. This helps to explain the very notable flattening in the yield curve (5s30s -17bps in the last week) as duration extension is more economically attractive. Concalves suggests Taper fears are overdone and that should rates back up another 25bps, there is more dry-powder to put to work in bonds.
Deutsche: "Either The Central Banks Lose Credibility Soon Or The Markets Have Overstretched Themselves"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/19/2013 09:46 -0400
Some unpleasant observations from Deutsche Bank below for fans of either central planning and/or risk assets, as having one's cake and eating it too is no longer an option, and one or the other is finally set to snap. To wit: "Yield curves are very steep suggesting a challenge to central bank guidance credibility is at a tipping point. Either the data really are strong and the central banks lose credibility soon or the markets have overstretched themselves, allowing for a partial recovery in lower rates." A "tweeted out" Bill Gross is praying to the Newport gods it's the latter.
A recent survey of asset managers globally, managing USD 27.4 trillion between them, found that 78% of defined-benefit plans would need annual returns of at least 5% per year to meet their commitments, while 19% required more than 8%, "a target of 5% per year can be reached but only by using leverage, shorting, and derivavtives." And sure enough, as Deutsche Bank (DB) reports, in short, investors have rarely been more levered than today! According to DB, a MoM change in NYSE margin debt >10% has to be taken as a critical warning signal as there are astonishing similarities in the sequence of events among all crises. As the S&P 500 just hit a new all-time high, investors might want to ask themselves when it is a good time to become more cautious – yesterday, in our view. Simply put, the higher margin debt levels rise, the more fragile the underlying basis on which prices trade; with even a less severe sell-off in equities capable of triggering a collapse.
The JGB market was completely unfazed by the news that the prime minister’s office was reconsidering the planned consumption tax hike. While the tax hike is unlikely to be changed; in BNP's view, the market’s lack of response to tail risk looks like proof that its function has been impaired by the BoJ’s massive buying. Even if the Abe regime is opting for financial repression to reduce the public debt, however, BNP warns that some degree of fiscal reform is needed to control the long-term interest rate. If the unfazed market is deemed to mean that fiscal reforms can be shelved without fear of a bond-yield spike as long as massive BoJ buying continues, serious problems could ensue.
From Bill Gross: "Capitalism depends on the successful offering and capture of carry in its multiple forms. If capitalism is faltering (recession) in developed/developing economies and yields are close to the zero bound, then portfolios should have less carry than before. If prospects are mediocre, portfolios should be overweight carry. If prospects are very bright, they should again be underweight bond carry. If we can be mindful of this, and accurately forecast it, we will be successful. This may be the most important conceptual change I have ever written about in an Investment Outlook. Readers who have stuck with this Outlook at least to this point have a scoop, if not a magic feather."