Is it us? Today felt very nervous. The equal narrowest range in S&P 500 e-mini futures (ES) in over 3 months along with dismally low volume and even worse average trade size as we peaked over July 5th's swing high and fell back. Aside from the farcical trading in the big Dow supporting stocks that we just noted, most asset classes traded along with stocks - in a very narrow range. The big movers were oil - up over $92 - on Israel-Iran tensions (among other things) and the major financials - which in general have retraced all of their post-EU Summit euphoria now (with MS breaking down 6% today). EURUSD did its by no standard dip and rip through the US open to EU close and ended the day unchanged. Treasuries limped a little higher in yield (~1-2bps). VIX plummeted to 15.45% (zero premium to realized vol), down 0.75vols - its lowest close in over 3 months - but this was not enough to provide any more juice for stocks which meandered, ending fractionally higher. Gold and Silver slithered sideways - with a very modest upward bias as Copper was helplessly led a little higher by Oil's exuberance and a slight limp lower in the USD on the day as the AUD extends its gain to 2% on the week against the greenback. We can't help but reflect on this chart as we see a retest on low volume and low average trade size following the very same path as last year. For now, complacency rules.
Market-top economics could be an entire university course, if people cared enough about such phenomena. Most only consider the signs of a market top months or years after a crash when some unyielding economics researcher puts the pieces together. As human-beings we have developed an uncanny ability to rationalize what we know to be bad news and convince ourselves, "This time is different," despite the fact that it usually never is. In a previous article we provided analysis on economic/equity decoupling (cognitive dissonance) and showed that the economy as we know it cannot persist--we are either due for a literal gap-up in leading economic conditions, or we are due for a serious correction in US equities. With today's 5.4% slip in existing home-sales, let's go with the latter.
The world's largest hedge fund is not as sanguine about the hope that remains in the markets today. The firm's founder, Ray Dalio, who has written extensively on the good, bad, and ugly of deleveragings, sounds a rather concerned note in his latest quarterly letter to investors as the "developed world remains mired in the deleveraging phase of the long-term debt cycle" and has spread to the emerging world "through diminished capital flows which have weakened their growth rates and undermined asset prices". Between China, Europe, and the US, which he discusses in detail, he sees the lack of global private sector credit creation leaving the world's economies highly reliant on government support through monetary and fiscal stimulation. The breadth of this slowdown creates a dangerous dynamic because, given the inter-connectedness of economies and capital flows, one country's decline tends to reinforce another's, making a self-reinforcing global decline more likely and a reversal more difficult to produce. After discounting a relatively imminent return to normalcy in early 2011, markets are now pricing in a meaningful deleveraging for an extended period of time, including negative real earnings growth, negative real yields, high defaults and sustained lower levels of commodity prices. Lastly he believes the common-wisdom - that the Germans and the ECB will save the day - is misplaced.
For investors, the continued increases in profitability, at the expense of wages, is very finite. It is revenue that matters in the long term - without subsequent increases at the top line; bottom line profitability is severely at risk. The stock market is not cheap, especially in an environment where interest rates are artificially suppressed and earnings are inflated due to "accounting magic." This increases the risk of a significant market correction particularly with a market driven by "hopes" of further central bank interventions. This reeks of a risky environment, which can remain irrational longer than expected, that will eventually revert when expectations and reality collide.
As we warned yesterday, the curse of the inverse correlation between CNBC appearances and investment performance has struck once again. The rumor is true as everyone's favorite knife-catching, Buffett-following, leveraged beta fund manager Whitney Tilson has split from his 'colleague' Glenn Tongue who has gone off to run his own 'unencumbered' fund. As the full letter below (h/t DealBreaker) explains, he couldn't be more optimistic about T2's future (so this is a good thing then?) and have no fear since he sees 'a target rich environment' as he has already picked up some 'low hanging fruit'. We wait with bated breath for the next letter...
Most of you that are taking the time to read this have already experienced some level of "waking up" over the past several years or longer. Most of you have also probably felt from time to time that the knowledge you possess is a burden and have fully appreciated the meaning of "ignorance is bliss." We know this because we have felt these very same emotions at times. The most important thing to remember; however, is that we are just awake individuals within a wave or cycle of awakening. There were those that came before us and there will be many, many more to come after us. Most importantly, once you are truly awakened you never go back to sleep.
Hidden under the covers of this morning's already dismal headline print in the Philly Fed data was a considerably worse than expected employment sub-index. Historically this has correlated highly with the non-farm payroll print and suggests (albeit correlation is not causation but gathering real evidence of a slowdown is) that we are heading for a negative print in the next employment report.
In the U.S. economy, the driplines are debt-based spending and leverage. Thanks to endless intervention and manipulation, the economy is now totally dependent on massive debt-based spending and increased leverage for its "growth." The person or business that becomes dependent on welfare loses resiliency and resourcefulness. To the degree that economies become dependent on debt and leverage just like individuals and companies become dependent on welfare, entire economies lose their resilience and resourcefulness. A healthy forest offers another apt analogy. A healthy temperate-region forest depends on occasional forest fires to clear out deadwood and refertilize the depleted soil with ashes. In suppressing all fires--what we might call "stress" and feedback-- management virtually guaranteed that when the forest was eventually set ablaze by a random lightning strike, the resulting fire would be catastrophic because the deadwood had been allowed to pile far higher than Nature would have allowed. The "managers" of the economy have let a couple hundred billion dollars in bad debt burn, and they think the $15 trillion economy is now restored to health. Writing off a couple hundred billion is like letting a few acres of grassland around the parking lot burn and reckoning you've cleared the entire forest of deadwood. The buildup of deadwood--fraud, impaired debt, leverage, bogus accounting, malinvestments, promises that cannot possibly be met and the multiple pathologies of crony capitalism--continues apace, untouched by Federal Reserve intervention. Masking risk and suppressing feedback do not restore resiliency or vitality; they cripple the system's ability to respond to reality.
By now it should be more than clear that the entire hope-based, short-squeeze driven, algo-mediated rally is the result of the last traces of hope: with the US economy openly in free-fall mode, housing supported only by once again increasing shadow inventory (and even that myth is starting to falter following today's existing home sales update), corporate profits just barely holding in as a result of the last possible cuts into the bone via personnel terminations now that YoY revenue numbers have once again sloped lower and the corporate growth cycle has turned, there is little sustaining the market aside from the mysterious seller of endless vol, which could be well, anyone, and some quiet prayer that China may step in and once again, like back in 2009, be the marginal economic dynamo that restarts the global economy one more time. It would do that in the conventional way, of course: by easing as much as it possibly can. There is, however, one problem with this: food prices. As everyone knows the product the PBOC pays more attention to than anything else is food: pork, soy, corn, etc., and particularly food prices. Because if there is one thing that can cause social upheavals in the world's most populous country, it is a rerun of the spring of 2011 when as a result of global easing, we saw not only the Arab Spring, but violent flare ups throughout China. Which brings us to today's topic: black swans. Deep fried black swans. As UBS explains the record drought that has gripped America may well have far-reaching implications beyond just the price of corn in the US. If, indeed, adverse US climatic conditions spread, and it appears they already have as "the monsoon season, which is critical for that country’s agricultural production, is 22% below normal conditions for the year" it means that Asian food prices will broadly be the next commodity sector to go sky high, and with that kill any hope of either an RRR cut, or an outright reduction in the PBOC's Interest Rate.
Sometimes you just have to laugh, and with the ongoing debacle of Liebor - it's even more true as now the Swiss hedge fund community is dragged into the miasma - or else you'll cry. As the conspiracy theories morph into conspiracy fact, who better to explain that LIBOR is not the "mythical half wild-bore, half lion that was rumored to have killed Achilles' brother Jimmy" but is the "benchmark for all money-lending on errr, let's say Earth", than The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. From the concrete evidence that banks deliberately manipulated the world's most important interest rate - for the good of themselves. As Jon says, "never trust anything that rhymes with wankers". How did they do it? and what will the fallout be?
The latest development in yesterday's Bulgarian bus bomb explosion, is the identification of the alleged bomber. According to Times of Israel he is Mehdi Ghezali, "reportedly a Swedish citizen, with Algerian and Finnish origins. He had been held at the US’s Guantanamo Bay detainment camp on Cuba from 2002 to 2004, having previously studied at a Muslim religious school and mosque in Britain, and traveled to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. He was also reportedly among 12 foreigners captured trying to cross into Afghanistan in 2009."
For the sixth day-in-a-row, a rather interesting price action has occurred in the most liquid FX pair in the world. Each day we see EURUSD crumble rapidly into the US day-session open, only to recover rapidly as the European market closes. These are not 10pip swings. These are 40-100pip gaps! What is going on? Its unclear for sure but we suspect some large entity is helping the market out with its dire need for European banks to repatriate their EUR to cover collateral and liquidity needs (remember we are seeing ECB margin calls rising and at these levels LCH will for sure be raising collateral on the very bonds that the most risky banks own). In other words, someone stomps on the USD bid (lowers the price of EURUSD) - which everyone loves as it correlates so highly with lower implied vol and higher stock prices - which gives the European banks a better (lower) rate of exchange to get out of their USD into the much needed EUR - and hence the flood comes in and we revert back to pre-day-session levels. Another conspiracy?
In his testimony over the last two days, Bernanke has listed the 'fiscal cliff' as one of the two greatest risks to the US economy, along with the situation in Europe, and urged Congress to enact 'earlier rather than later' a plan that achieves 'short-term and long-term objectives,' with the primary short-term objective to adjust the timing of the near-term fiscal contraction "to allow the recovery a little more space to continue." . However, like us, Goldman believes that resolving the two key issues - the fiscal cliff and the need to raise the debt limit - will be more difficult than it was last year, for three reasons: (1) the "easiest" options to lower the deficit have already been adopted, so the remaining options touch more controversial areas than those enacted last year; (2) some members of both parties have indicated that they regret the agreements reached in 2010 and 2011, implying less willingness to compromise this year, and (3) both parties appear to be contemplating strategies that involve allowing most or all of the policies to change at year end, as a means to achieving their ultimate policy goal. Stunning! Sure enough, as debate on the fiscal cliff gets underway in earnest, the tone of rhetoric has predictably worsened. We suspect the only way they will ever agree is after the market makes it clear that any other path is unacceptable.
While it seems like everyone 'wants' the housing recovery to be real and organic (and not simply a reflection of limited supply and P.E. investor interest in scraping up the lowest fruit - they have to earn their commish after all), even the NAR couldn't put lipstick on this morning's pig of an existing home sales number. The biggest drop MoM in 16 months and the largest miss to expectations in 24 months is hardly the stuff of a solid foundation for the renaissance of the American Dream. CNBC's Diana Olick speaks the truth on the distressed supply drying up (despite Liesman's efforts to ignore it).