A funny thing happens when there is only one driver of economic market growth, any chance of intelligent fact-based, logic-induced, fundamental-biased investing becomes reduced to the rubble of momentum-chasing leveraged beta. No matter how much your 2-and-20 taking manager explains his 'process', the charts below show that the thundering herd of 'dumb' money that used to be so useful in identifying the extremes of market hubris and dysphoria appear to have overwhelmed the world of 'smart' money. Hedge funds have never been more net long US equities; hedge fund returns have never been more correlated to the market; hedge funds have never produced so little alpha; and hedge funds are as leveraged to this beta as they were at the top in 2007. This will not end well...
The uncertainty about when the Fed will begin tapering its programme of asset purchases has increased volatility, both pushing and pulling on global financial markets. “at this juncture, the markets are more concerned about tapering than about weak [US and global] growth,” says MIG Bank’s Chief Economist, Luciano Jannelli.
- National Security Advisor Tom Donilon resigning, to be replaced by Susan Rice - Obama announcement to follow
- Japan's Abe targets income gains in growth strategy (Reuters), Abe unveils ‘third arrow’ reforms (FT) - generates market laughter and stock crash
- Amazon set to sell $800m in ads (FT) - personal tracking cookie data is valuable
- 60 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track (BBG) and yet have rarely been more optimistic
- Jefferson County, Creditors Reach Deal to End Bankruptcy (BBG)
- Turks clash with police despite deputy PM's apology (Reuters)
- Rural US shrinks as young flee for the cities (FT)
- Australia holds steady on rate but may ease later (MW)
- The Wonk With the Ear of Chinese President Xi Jinping (WSJ)
- Syrian army captures strategic border town of Qusair (Reuters)
The airwaves are full of stories of economic recovery. One trumpeted recently has been the rapid recovery in housing, at least as measured in prices. The problem is, a good portion of the rebound in house prices in many markets has less to do with renewed optimism, new jobs, and rising wages, and more to do with big money investors fueled by the ultra-cheap money policies of the Fed. It seems entirely wrong that the Fed bailed out big banks and made money excessively cheap for institutions, and that this is being used to price ordinary people out of the housing market. Said another way, the Fed prints fake money out of thin air, and some companies use that same money to buy real things like houses and then rent them out to real people trying to live real lives. At the same time, we are also beginning to see the very same hedge funds that have re-inflated these prices slink out of the market now that the party is kicking into higher gear – all while new buyers are increasingly having to abandon prudence to buy into markets where the fundamentals simply aren't there to merit it. Didn't we just learn a few short years ago how this all ends?
Perhaps there is a reason why Morgan Stanley is 'giving up' on its fixed income business. It seems, yet again Morgan Stanley has hired an ex-Goldman Sachs criminal opportunistic trader. Glenn Hadden, the very head of interest rate trading at Morgan Stanley, has been found guilty of engaging in trading that violated CME rules in Treasury futures on December 19th 2008 - while was employed by Goldman Sachs. While Goldman faces a $875,000 slap on the wrist, Hadden, somewhat remarkably will face a mere $80,000 fine and the wonderfully timed (given the summer doldrums) 10-day suspension from trading. Doing God's work wherever they trade... that'll teach him! And now, back to Glenn manipulating buying and selling the 10 Year.
Just three weeks ago we noted Apollo Group's Leon Black's comment that his firm was "selling everything not nailed down," and that he sees "the market is pricey... in our view, priced for perfection." It seems he is not alone in the 'buy-low-sell-high' crowd. If wonderful times are ahead for U.S. financial markets, then why is so much of the smart money heading for the exits? Does it make sense for insiders to be getting out of stocks and real estate if prices are just going to continue to go up?
- Record unemployment, low inflation underline Europe's pain (Reuters)
- The ponzi gets bigger and bigger: Spanish banks up sovereign bond holdings by more than 10% (FT)
- California Lawmakers Turn Down Moratorium on Fracking (BBG)
- China’s Growing Ranks of Elderly Beset by Depression, Study Says (BBG)
- Tokyo Prepares for a Once-in-200-Year Flood to Top Sandy (BBG)
- Morgan Stanley Cutting Correlation Unit Added $50 Billion (BBG)
- IMF warns over yen weakness (FT)
- Rising radioactive spills leave Fukushima fishermen floundering (Reuters)
- India records slowest growth in a decade (FT)
- South China Sea tension mounts near Filipino shipwreck (Reuters)
- OECD cuts economic forecasts as eurozone drags on growth (FT)
- Switzerland frees banks to settle U.S. tax evasion cases (Reuters)
- U.S. Says Firm Laundered Billions (WSJ)... no, it's not HSBC, also: Free Corzine!
- Ardent conservative Bachmann to not seek re-election to Congress (Reuters)
- Russia faults U.S. over 'odious' Syria rights resolution (Reuters)
In the New Normal, where fundamentals ceased to matter some time around March 2009 when Bernanke decided to nationalize first the bond, then the stock market, and soon, every other "market", stuff like "data" is largely meaningless. However, for those who are still curious how the cash flow in the biggest corporate market - that of America - looks like, instead of merely chasing the latest trend or looking for a heatmap break out, here it is. Using Factset data for the 1500 largest stocks (ex fins), Morgan Stanley has broken down the world's biggest Income Statement by line item (and by sector). The results are as follows.
"The last 36 hours have perhaps been evidence as to what might happen if stimulus is withdrawn before the global recovery has been cemented and what might happen if Japan makes mistakes along the way to their attempted new dawn. With the Chinese data still ambiguous, Europe still in recession, Japan in the very early stages of a growth experiment and with the US recovery still historically very weak one has to say that liquidity has been the main market fuel in recent months. So central banks have to tread carefully and the Fed tapering talk and the BoJ's seemingly benign neglect policy towards JGBs has had the market fretting." - Deutsche Bank
Today saw the largest high to low drop intraday (down over 2.3%) in the S&P 500 for five weeks as it fell back to the 'Tepper Top'. Volume was the 3rd highest of the year. As expected, high-beta muppets were hurt most; Trannies were the worst performer in the major equity indices (down 1.6% on the day and 2.5% from the Bernanke highs early on); homebuilders dropped 3.7% from their earlier highs, and Morgan Stanley slumped 4% from its earlier highs. VIX (up most in 5 weeks at 14.0%) and credit markets (biggest widening in 4 weeks and HYG dropped by its most in 6 months from its intraday highs) saw major weakness (extending the bearish divergence with stocks). The USD rallied back to unchanged on the week and commodities slipped lower (gold and silver end the day slightly higher on the week). What's so special about today? The S&P 500 dividend yield just equilibrated with the 10Y yield for the first time since April 2012... where would you rather 'reach for yield'...
- IMF Tells Central Europe to Spend More (WSJ)
- Tornadoes Blast Oklahoma (WSJ)
- Frenetic search for survivors as 91 feared dead in tornado-hit Oklahoma (Reuters)
- JPMorgan investors on edge over vote on Dimon; what if they win? (Reuters)
- Wealthy bank depositors to suffer losses in EU law (Reuters)
- Yen Slips as Amari Backtracks (BBG)
- Japan Ready for More Yen Weakness Despite Recent Comments (WSJ)
- IRS officials back on Capitol Hill hot seat over targeting (Reuters)
- Li Keqiang pledges China boost to India trade (FT)
- Europe's Recession Sparks Grass-Roots Political Push (WSJ)
- Obama and Xi to meet in effort to calm growing US-China rivalry (FT)
- Berlin plans to streamline EU but avoid wholesale treaty change (FT)
- France must reform or face punitive measures - EU's Oettinger (Reuters)
Much has been made of equity inflows this week (though we note a significant outflow from high-yield bond funds - just as risk-on in its nature) and once again the money-on-the-sidelines fallacy is hawked at every opportunity. Two critical aspects are important to get past this 'fact' as some positive driver. First, money does not 'enter' the market, it is swapped (e.g. Person A's cash is used to buy shares from Person B; after the transaction the roles are swapped with Person B holding cash on the sidelines and Person A holding shares); and secondly, as Morgan Stanley's Gerard Minack notes, despite all the disclaimers – retail flows assume that past performance is a good guide to future outcomes. Consequently money tends to flow to investments that have done well, rather than investments that will do well.