The trend continues: as has pointed out here every month for the past five months, Pimco's Bill Gross continues to layer into the "NEW QE" trade, only this time he is making it more clear than ever that he is certain that the Fed will have no choice but to monetize Mortgage Backed Securities. Indeed, in March the firm added another 100 bps in its MBS exposure, bringing the total to 54% of total, or a record $134 billion of the fund's $253 billion in AUM. And while before Gross would buy MBS and TSYs pari passu, that is no longer the case. In fact in March, Gross dumped the most Treasurys since February 2011, cutting his net exposure from 38% to 32%, and likely is in part or whole responsible for the big bond dump in the middle of March, now long forgotten (that or he merely piggybacked on the negative sentiment: April holdings will be indicative of that). Other notable shifts: Gross continues to sell European sovereign exposure, with Non-US Development holdings down to 6%, the lowest since April 2011, and surprisingly even cutting Investment Grade holdings to just 14%, the lowest since October 2008: is Gross smelling a bond bubble (in both IG and HY) and is getting out while the getting is good? Sure looks like it.
We all know that central banks and governments have been actively intervening in markets since the 2007 subprime mortgage meltdown destabilized the leveraged-debt-dependent global economy. We also know that unprecedented intervention is now the de facto institutionalized policy of central banks and governments. In some cases, the financial authorities have explicitly stated their intention to “stabilize markets” (translation: reinflate credit-driven speculative bubbles) by whatever means are necessary, while in others the interventions are performed by proxies so the policy remains implicit. All through the waning months of 2007 and the first two quarters of 2008, the market gyrated as the Federal Reserve and other central banks issued reassurances that the subprime mortgage meltdown was “contained” and posed no threat to the global economy. The equity market turned to its standard-issue reassurance: “Don’t fight the Fed,” a maxim that elevated the Federal Reserve’s power to goose markets to godlike status. But alas, the global financial meltdown of late 2008 showed that hubris should not be confused with godlike power. Despite the “impossibility” of the market disobeying the Fed’s commands (“Away with thee, oh tides, for we are the Federal Reserve!”) and the “sure-fire” cycle of stocks always rising in an election year, global markets imploded as the usual bag of central bank and Sovereign State tricks failed in spectacular fashion.
Here’s something you don’t see every day: Banks in Vietnam will actually pay YOU to store your gold in one of their safe deposit boxes. I was pretty surprised to find this out for myself; neither Simon nor I have seen it anywhere else in the world except here. This is actually how banking used to be. The original bankers were goldsmiths– big burly guys who worked with gold on a daily basis. They had the security systems already established, and, for a fee, they were willing to let you park your gold in their safes. Eventually, goldsmiths got into the moneylending business; instead of charging a security fee, they would pay depositors a rate of interest for the right to loan out the gold at a higher rate of interest. Goldsmiths’ reputations lived and died based on the quality of their loan portfolios, and their consistency of paying back depositor savings. Today that’s all but a footnote in history. Except in Vietnam.
We have been pointing to the 'changes' that are evident in the high yield credit market (bonds, credit derivatives, and ETFs) for a few weeks now. The fall in the high-yield bond advance-decline line (and up-in-quality rotation); the decompression of HY credit spreads; and the lack of share creation, discount to NAV, and underperformance of JNK/HYG; but these canaries-in-the-coalmine pale in comparison to the massively over-crowded nature of the high-yield credit protection bullish positioning among arguably levered market participants. As Morgan Stanley notes: "US High Yield Investors Are 'Full Overweight'". Remember large crowds and small doors are no fun.
ES (the S&P 500 e-mini futures contract) tested up to its 50DMA and rejected it early in the day (after some rhetorical enthusiasm from the ECB's new French contingent - surprise!). The 10pt rally in ES overnight into the open was the best levels of the day as we slid lower (within a small range) for the rest of the day making its initial lows around the European close and retesting (lower lows) into the US day session close. NYSE and ES volumes were about average (well below yesterday) as Stocks and HY credit underperformed IG credit (with HYG having a good day - after closing at a discount to NAV last night). The Beige Book took the shine off the day as hopes of QE3 faded (remember its the flow not the stock that counts) and that is when stocks began to leak lower - especially energy, financials, materials, and industrials. FX markets were relatively quiet (aside from Jim O'Neill's comments on the SNB which shook swissy) as the USD closed marginally lower helped by strength in EUR and GBP. AUD lost ground after the European close and JPY strengthened (derisking) which likely dragged on US stocks. The modest move in USD was echoed in commodities (apart from WTI where we broke above $103 and Brent-WTI compressed significantly - not forgetting the $1 handle on Nattie) as Gold and Silver largely went sideways all day with some weakness in Copper. Treasuries leaked higher in yield for much of the morning then stabilized after the European close as the long-end underperformed (steepening). VIX closed back above 20% (though lower from the close) having drifted from below 19% near the open - we haven't closed above 20% two-days-in-a-row since 1/18.
Biggest Weekly Stock Outflow Of 2012 Proves Retail Is No Longer Dumb Money; And Nobody Listens To GoldmanSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 04/11/2012 16:17 -0400
For the 7th consecutive week retail investors not only refuse to chase the bouncing ball, but to listen to former titans of finance, such as Goldman Sachs who on March 21 told everyone to get out of bonds and into stocks (a trade which has since been unwound for all practical aspects). Since then, as well as before then, we have seen relentless outflows from equities to the tune of $10 billion, while allocating cash precisely to bonds, as taxable bond funds saw $20 billion in inflows over the same time period. What is more notable is that despite the liquidity driven rally, one which everyone now understands is 100% fake and central bank driven, retail never got fooled and refused to be the dumb money for the duration of the "rally" - and now that the rally topped, and stocks are sliding back down, retail investors pulled out the biggest one week amount, or $4.3 billion, in the week ended April 4, from domestic equity funds per ICI. And now with every passing day, Primary Dealers - facing the prospect of no dumb money coming in to buy up the hot grenades in inventory, and with the Fed waiting until later in the year before re-entering the market in an election year, may have no choice but to sell. As usual, the first to sell, wins.
The risk of the 30 most systemically important financial institutions (SIFI) in the world has risen over 30% in the last three weeks as the effects of LTRO fade and encumbrance becomes the new reality. This less-manipulated, government-bank-reacharound-driven bond-market sense of reality has retraced almost 40% of its improvement from its peak last November at 311bps to its best level mid-March at 171bps. The current 226bps level is extremely elevated and as one would expect is dominated by European and US banks (with US banks on average trading wider than Europeans - which may surprise many but Europeans dominate the worst names - most specifically the Spanish banks).
When building a house in Spain a substantial part of the cost now involves paying people 'off-grid' or 'under the table'. This seems endemic and we imagine is partially historic but IF it is increasing in extent as a result of the financial crisis it is an important trend. Extrapolating this trend out to the whole population, one suddenly realizes that the private sector could be slowly going 'off-grid', further starving governments of revenue and thus the means of the economy’s and therefore the government’s recovery. The downward spiral will continue until eventually social unrest will rise to the point where there will be a “European spring”. One country will ditch the Euro and/or their cumulative debt holdings and/or move back to their own currency. The pain of action will be less than the pain of in-action. So here we sit watching a couple of PIGS not trying consciously to fly but flapping their baby wings anyway. We watch on, content in the knowledge that PIGS can’t fly… Until, that is, the first one takes flight.
Here come the headlines from the beige anachronism:
- FED SAYS ECONOMY EXPANDED AT MODEST TO MODERATE PACE IN MARCH
- FED SAYS MANUFACTURERS CONCERNED ABOUT RISING PETROLEUM PRICES
- FED: HIRING WAS STEADY OR SHOWED MODEST GAINS IN MOST DISTRICTS
- FED SAYS `UPWARD PRESSURE ON WAGES WAS CONSTRAINED'
- SOME FED DISTRICTS SAY RISING GAS PRICES MAY INHIBIT CONSUMERS
Where is the beige app? or beige pdf straight to kindle? What is this - book thing? Anyway no QE on the horizon based on this.
No, not the kind you actually use in your car. The other kind: that which Europe would kill to be able to get at even a 500% higher price. From a peak at $15.78 in Q4 2005, Natural Gas (front-month futures) has now fallen to a lowly $1 handle for the first time since Q1 2002 on its way perhaps to its all-time low of $1.02 in Q1 1992.
The Fed's currency swap with the ECB is nothing more than a covert bailout for European banks. Philipp Bagus of Mises.com explains how the USD-funding crisis occurred among European banks inevitably leading to the Fed assuming the role of international lender of last resort - for which US taxpayers are told to be lucky happy since this free-lunch from printing USD and sending them overseas provides an almost risk-free benefit in the form of interest on the swap. Furthermore, the M.A.D. defense was also initiated that if this was not done, it would be far worse for US markets (and we assume implicitly the economy). The Fed's assurances on ending the bailout policy should it become imprudent or cost-benefits get misaligned seems like wishful thinking and as the EUR-USD basis swap starts to deteriorate once again, we wonder just how long before the Fed's assumed role of bailing out the financial industry and governments of the world by debasing the dollar will come home to roost. As Bagus concludes: "Fed officials claim to know that the bailout-swaps are basically a free lunch for US taxpayers and a prudent thing to do. Thank God the world is in such good hands." and perhaps more worryingly "The highest cost of the Fed policy, therefore, may be liberty in Europe" as the Euro project is enabled to play out to its increasingly centralized full fiscal union endgame.
The second bond auction of the week prices uneventfully, with the Treasury selling $21 billion of 10 Years at a yield of 2.043%, better than the 2.045% When Issued, and better than last month's 2.08%. Yet keep in mind that inbetween the March auction and today, the 10 year hit nearly 2.40%, so don't let the apparently stability give the impression that there is no volatility under the surface. Unlike the yield, the Bid To Cover dropped from last month's 3.24 to 3.08, which while week for recent auctions was just below the TTM average of 3.12. What is of note is that Dealers had to once again take down more than half the auction, or 50.5%, with the last time there was more than a 50% takedown being back in November 2011. Of the balance 11% went to Direct, and the remainder or 38.5% to Indirects. Overall, a quiet auction and now we just have tomorrow's $13 billion 30 Years to look forward to as total US debt approaches the $15.7 trillion milestone next on its way to the $16.3 trillion debt ceiling breach in 6 months. In the meantime enjoy fixed coupon bonds: for in one month, the FRN cometh.
Back in June 2011, Zero Hedge first pointed out something very troubling: the labor share of national income had dropped to an all time low, just shy of 58%. This is quite an important number as none other than the Fed noted few years previously that "The allocation of national income between workers and the owners of capital is considered one of the more remarkably stable relationships in the U.S. economy. As a general rule of thumb, economists often cite labor’s share of income to be about two-thirds of national income—although the exact figure is sensitive to the specific data used to calculate the ratio. Over time, this ratio has shown no clear tendency to rise or fall." Yet like pretty much every other relationship in the new normal, this rule of thumb got yanked out of the socket, and the 66% rapidly became 58%. This troubling shift away from the mean prompted David Rosenberg to say that "extremes like this, unfortunately, never seem to lead us to a very stable place." Which is why we are happy to note that as of last quarter, the labor share of income has finally seen an uptick, and while certainly not back at its old normal, has finally started to tick up, which leads us to ask: have we passed the moment of peak Marxism of this particular period in US history?
Despite the eloquence of our taxer-in-chief, the facts, as noted by Professor Antony Davies in this clip, are that whether you raise or lower taxes at the highest-marginal or average tax rate, the share of the GDP pie that government gets to take out of our pockets remains stubbornly flat at around 17-18%. It seems growing the pie may be a more attractive approach than raising taxes but then how would that play in an election year with below trend growth and stagnant income.