Central Banks' extreme interventionist policies (whether direct money-printing or indirect subordination of existing risk-takers) has left an investing public with a very different risk-reward environment (and very different forecast distributions for future outcomes) as we pointed out earlier. As Matt King of Citigroup notes, the 'risk-on risk-off' environment is here to stay meaning the traditional safety of bonds now offers even less upside and more downside (thanks to subordination) and equities or higher-beta more upside (thanks to central banker puts under asset markets). This helps explain the portfolio-rebalancing effect of QE et al. However, this leads to a focus on high-beta momentum with a growing chasm between price and value - and more likelihood of catastrophic loss when risk-goes-off (as liquidity spigots are closed however temporarily). Efficient frontiers are now not so efficient with marginal returns now perceived as accelerating for incremental risk-taking as the Fed has your back. This means market-cap weighted indices will naturally favor the highest-beta (much more volatile) names that will suffer the most when risk re-appears - so focus on equal-weighted or fundamental-weighted indices for risk-balanced-return. Trying to be long the tails is key as central bankers repress normal investors away from core safety leaving behind the precipice of over-invested, over-risk-stuffed momentum chasers holding the bag.
Let's get it all out there. America's dirty laundry that is. Our family secrets. The skeletons in the closet. The goal is to create a list of the many and numerous ways in which our country is deluding itself into believing we are the greatest, smartest, most innovative, freedom loving country that ever was. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some unpatriotic ne'er do well. I love what the Founding Fathers of our country set out to accomplish, faults and all. I love it so much, I was willing to put my life on the line for this country by serving in a US Marine Corps special forces unit for 8 years (your move armchair patriot). But we have drifted so far from the original concepts, I believe our current central planning apparatus more closely resembles the USSR than what most people think is the USA. So I'm going to kick this list off but in no way do I intend this to be exhaustive.
Uncle Sam's bills of almost $4tn per year relative to his income of just over $2tn means that he does what most American's do - he borrows money - and it is this simple fact that underpins the reasoning that there is no painless way out of the mountain of debt that we have amassed over the last few decades. While none of this is new, the straightforward nature of this video's message makes it hard to argue, from anything other than an ivory tower, that this supposed self-sustaining print-and/or-borrow-fest can go on forever. Paying off your mortgage with your credit card remains the clearest analogy of what is occurring and while the Mutually Assured Destruction case is made again and again for why the analogous credit-card-providers will never halt our limit, it seems increasingly clear that the fiat money fiasco has switched regimes to chaos rather than the apparent nominal calmness of the great moderation.
As the mainstream media gets over-run with 'buy-the-dippers' and 'healthy retracement' protagonists with the S&P down a monstrous 1.5% from its highs, it is perhaps worth noting (h/t Doug Kass) that Europe's broad equity market index is now down over 5% from it's peak two weeks ago (as is the UK's FTSE index). In yet another echo of last year's liquidity-fueled spurt-and-slump, European equity markets (along with US and European credit markets as we have already noted) are sending a warning signal that trouble may lay immediately ahead for US equities. The Euro-Stoxx index has just crossed below its 100DMA for the first time in over 4 months having dropped over 4% on the last two days. Add to this size of margin debt (as we noted earlier) and the ultra-low levels of cash at equity mutual funds and what is now the largest drop since the rally began (an incredible fact that we have hardly dropped more than 2% peak to trough in five months in Cembalest's sweet serenity) may well mean more pain is to come.
Earlier today, we remarked on the story of a 77-year old Greek, now identified as Dimitris Christoulas, who at around 9 am took his life in the middle of Athens' central Syntagma Square with a bullet to his head. His full suicide note has been released. The note, presented below, ends in a solemn call to arms to "hang the traitors of this country."
Yesterday, Goldman's Jan Hatzius, piggybacking on what has now become a prevalent belief among Wall Street economists following a "leak" from the WSJ's Jon Hilsenrath, predicted that the FOMC minutes would hint at more easing, in the form of "sterilized" interventions, or in other words, an extension of Operation Twist. There is, however, one problem with this analysis. It is total BS, for a simple reason that for every bond on the long end that the Fed buys (and it has bought a whopping 91% of the 20-30 year gross Treasury issuance), it has to sell one in the 3 Month - 3 Year maturity interval. And therein lies the rub. As Bank of America shows below, at the end of Twist in June there will be just 2 months worth of Treasurys available for sale. What could fix this? Well, instead of ZIRP until 2014, Bernanke could say the Fed would keep rates at zero until 2016 or even 2018, and proceed to sell all Fed holdings in the 3 month - 5 year or 3 month - 7 year intervals. This however, would make the entire bond curve an epic farce, shifting the belly to beyond the 10 year point, and in the process blowing up the MBS market due to total collapse of traditional convexity heding strategies. Which we don't think is likely unless the world is coming to an end. In other words, anyone hoping that Twist will be extended, is wrong, and in turn it means that any real option for the Fed's NEW QE will be the outright monetization (aka LSAP) of either USTs or MBS, ala QE1 and QE2.
We have been warning of the uncomfortable current similarities to last year's (and for that matter cycle after cycle) high-yield credit underperformance / lagging behavior 'canary-in-the-coalmine' relative to the exuberant equity market for a month now. Now, Bank of America provides - in two succinct charts - the fundamental underpinning of this grave concern as across the high-yield credit universe revenues are not catching up with costs - creating significant margin pressures - and at the end of the day, a market that cares more for cash flow sustainability than the latest headline or quarter EPS upgrade from some sell-side pen-pusher is waving a red-flag as margins are the lowest they have been since March 2009 and is falling at a much faster clip than in the fall of 2008 as the reality of money-printing comes home to roost. And just to add salt to this fundamental wound, technicals are starting to hurt as supply picks up and 'opportunistic' issuance turns notably heavy - perhaps helping to explain how the ongoing inflows have been unable to push prices further up in the US. Lastly European high yield is trading tick-for-tick with sovereign risk still - as it has since the middle of last year and so as LTRO-funded carry fades, we would expect it to underperform - especially as austerity slows growth.
In the past we have jokingly discussed the creation of a Death Star as the way the world can save itself by printing an almost infinite amount of money to support growth. As almost everyone, especially the MMT crowd it seems, can plainly see, if printing some money is good (well it must be, markets are up) then printing more money must be better, right? Well, no (as we discussed in detail here). There are unintended consequences and as we pointed out recently, we are already seeing less and less effervescence in the real economy from QE's impact and the spectre of the inflationary pressures that implicitly limit the 'benefit' of this action is nowhere more painful than in energy prices (and in fact the price of anything in relative limited supply as opposed to cash which is printed daily). Professor Antony Davies, of Duquesne, takes this subtle concept to task in this exceptionally straightforward 206-second video on money as an IOU and its solution to the caveman's ills providing the background for why money's inherent value is relinquished once it becomes printed en masse. Printing more money doesn't make more goods and services appear, simply spreads the value of the existing goods and services among a larger number of dollars - this is inflation. Our wealth comes not from money but from the goods and services that money buys. Q.E.D.
As so often happens, every time there is a ramp in the stock market, especially one which is not accompanied by retail buying, those who are buying, are forced to do so on increasingly more margin, as there is only so much cash in the market without booking actual profits. Sure enough, as of the end of February, margin debt was $289 billion, the highest since July 2011, while Net Free Credit (Free Credit Cash plus Credit balances in margin accounts less Margin Debt) of negative $33 billion (meaning investors have negative net worth) was the lowest also since July. What does this mean? Simply said, that if the cross asset rout continues, which means bonds yesterday, and stocks and commodities today, the margin calls will once again resume, as they used to in the fall of 2011, leading to a toxic liquidation spiral, pushing prices even lower. So in keeping with the times, and sticking heads in the sand, watch out for that 3pm call from your repo desk. Best idea would be to just let it go through to voicemail.
Today’s Spanish auction results were, in a word, awful. Not just higher yields, but a terrible bid-to-cover and perhaps even worse; all of the funding could not be accomplished. The effects of the LTRO are rapidly diminishing as the money has now generally been utilized and the national banks of a nation can no longer support the funding needs of the countries in the periphery. We have reached the turn here and I predict much higher yields to come now for the troubled nations in Europe including Italy. What could be accomplished by liquidity has been accomplished but solvency problems cannot be cured by liquidity alone and that lesson is about to be re-learned again.
Unlike yesterday's modest manufacturing ISM beat, today's follow up March Services ISM is out at 56.0, reverting back to the Schrodinger theme so prevalent these days, missing the consensus of 56.8, and down from 57.3 in February, posting the first sequential decline since September 2011, and the first miss to expectations in 4 months. The core New Orders indicator was down from 61.2 to 58.8, still above 50 for 32 consecutive months. The backlog of new orders also dropped from 54.5 to 52.5 Amusingly, despite every energy commodity surging, the Prices index in March somehow posted a miraculous drop from 68.4 to 33.9. The only series that was contracting, and unchanged at 49.5, was supplier deliveries, even as inventories increased once again, from 53.4 to 54.0. And if the ADP report was enough to give traders a headache whether or not more QE is coming, today's final economic data point, refutes the latest jobs strength ahead of the NFP, once again leaving everyone into the dark as to the Chairman's true intentions.
How the self-described 'mighty' have fallen. It was a month ago when we first heard of this mysterious British FX trader who dropped $300k in a Liverpudlian nightclub on a bottle of champagne that weighed more than the models he was 'dating' that night. The 'talented, charismatic, and likable' Alex Hope has been arrested by London's Financials Services Authority (FSA) in connection with an investigation into a suspected unauthorized FX trading scheme. As City A.M reports this morning, Hope's publicist confirms he is the 23 year old in question - though he 'obviously' denies all allegations. The schadenfreude on London's FX 'trading' desks (as opposed to bucket-shop retail-mauling FX 'brokerage' shops) is palpable from what we hear as 'it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy' echoes off the City's pub ceilings. As yet no charges have been filed - we await with baited breath for the sad truth to be outed.
Everyone's favorite stock pitchman, Bob Pisani, who lately apparently has the capacity to learn just one line and just regurgitate it ad nauseam, was on CNBC earlier screaming how gold is down because the US is so much better than the world, when in reality gold is once again being sold to fund early margin calls (yes, institutionals are that levered right now). As for the US decoupling story, which time after time is dragged out, only to be shelved once the impact of trillions in liquidity fades, and which is never different this time, here is none other than Bank of America explaining to the likes of Pisani why "the US economy is likely to prove a faulty engine of global growth." Read - no decoupling, despite what the market may be trying to say. And yes, the market, and especially the Russell 2000 is never the economy.