The bond king is pissed:
GROSS: Fed’s secret Email list bothers no one it seems.I’ll give up my rant but remember it please.
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) April 11, 2013
Wondering why the Italian bond market has been stable and "improving" in recent months, with yields relentlessly dropping as a mysterious bidder keeps waving it all in despite the complete political void in the government and what may be months of uncertainty for the country, and despite both PIMCO and BlackRock recently announcing they are taking a pass on the blue light special offered by BTPs? Simple. As the Bank of Italy reported earlier today, total holdings of Italian bonds by Italian banks hit an all time record of €351.6 billion in February.
Am I a great investor? No, not yet. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s “Jake” in The Sun Also Rises, “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” But the thinking so and the reality are often miles apart. When looking in the mirror, the average human sees a six-plus or a seven reflection on a scale of one to ten. The big nose or weak chin is masked by brighter eyes or near picture perfect teeth. And when the public is consulted, the vocal compliments as opposed to the near silent/ whispered critiques are taken as a supermajority vote for good looks. So it is with investing, or any career that is exposed to the public eye. The brickbats come via the blogs and ambitious competitors, but the roses dominate one’s mental and even physical scrapbook. In addition to hope, it is how we survive day-to-day. We look at the man or woman in the mirror and see an image that is as distorted from reality as the one in a circus fun zone.
As the holiday weekend starts and quarter ends, what better time is there to go out on a new S&P 500 Index high? The new high was in the cards.
One thing bulls should worry about is a report that pension plans may rebalance as much as $29-35 billion out of stocks to bonds and other assets with the quarter end. We’ll see how that works this coming week.
The underlying question in Bill Gross' latest monthly letter, built around Jeremy Stein's (in)famous speech earlier this month, is the following: "How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values?" He then proceeds to provide a very politically correct answer, which is to be expected for the manager of the world's largest bond fund. Our answer is simpler: We know there is an irrational exuberance asset bubble, because the Fed is still in existence. Far simpler.
To say that Germany does not love Silvio Berlusconi would be an understatement. But not even we thought European "democracy" would stoop so low as to tell Italians not to bring Bunga back or else. As Reuters reports, the German president of the European Parliament, once compared to a Nazi concentration camp guard by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, warned Italians on Thursday not to back the scandal-ridden media tycoon at the ballot box. Martin Schulz is the latest in a line of German politicians to express fears about a possible Berlusconi comeback largely due to worries he will halt Rome's reform drive that has helped to lift investor confidence in the euro zone. "Silvio Berlusconi has already sent Italy into a tailspin with irresponsible behavior in government and personal escapades," Schulz was quoted as saying in German daily Bild.
When even a "bond king" says the stock market is broken, is it not time for "the retail investor is coming back" cheerleaders to finally throw in the towel?
Gross: After open, stock mkt doesn’t move ‘til close. Very strange. Fast trades clipping .01’s but little risk taking. New form capitalism
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) February 14, 2013
Back in November 2011, when the ECB did its damnedest to make sure Silvio Berlusconi resigned and never came back (it succeeded in the first, but is failing in the second as the Berlusconi block is rapidly rising in the polls two weeks ahead of the Italian elections and is now one margin of error away from the frontrunning Democratic Party) the central bank knew the Bunga Bunga PM would be bad news for the status quo - a fixed exchange status quo which as we showed in an earlier post, is there merely to enrich the rich, and impoverish the poor. The reason is that Sylvio has always refused to play ball with the banker oligarchy, whose survival depends first and foremost on the perpetuation of the EUR (as a collapse of the Eurozone means all reflation and DJIA 36,000 bets are off), and where every hint of a weakening of the Eurozone is to be eliminated at inception. Which is why news that Belusconi's coalition ally in the parliamentary election - Roberto Maroni, head of the Northern League, has suggested the creation and use of a local currency in northern Italy as an "alternative" to the Euro will hardly be seen as favorable by Europe's technocratic overlords for whom any initiative to structurally destabilize and weaken the European currency has to be crushed at the roots.
Slowly things in Europe are starting to go bump in the night again, with the EURUSD down some 150 pips from Friday's multi-year 1.37 high, Spanish bond yields spiking 20 bps to over 5.41%, back over the declining 50 DMA, Italian BTPs getting slammed up some 10 bps to 4.42%, as both Spanish and Italian stocks are sharply down on the day, by 1.2% and 1.9% respectively, following yet another Monte Paschi halt lower earlier in trading. The reason goalseeked by the media for today's weakness is signs of upcoming "political turmoil", namely the escalating Monte Paschi incident out of Italy, which we have been following closely, as well as the Spanish graft scandal, in which the ruling PP party and Mariano Rajoy have been implicated in massive kickbacks, and which may cost Rajoy his leadership at this pace. Of course, none of the data above is new, and neither is France's Moscivi repeating for the second time in a week that the EUR has risen far too high, and to call it catalytic is very naive, but it merely goes to show how the manipulated market decides when and if to actually follow the newsflow. As a result, US futures are pointing to a mildly lower opening, which however may reverse quickly once today's $2.75-$3.5 billion POMO kicks in. Of course, if the Italian political turmoil drags Draghi further into the mud, all bets are suddenly off about Europe being "fixed."
Our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic – it is running out of energy and time. When does money run out of time? The countdown begins when investable assets pose too much risk for too little return; when lenders desert credit markets for other alternatives such as cash or real assets.
It is a well-known phenomenon that quiet markets, low volatility and a lack of visible risks on the horizon can lead to complacence and increasingly dangerous, leveraged positions. In doing so, these market conditions set the stage for the next cycle of deleveraging and losses. What has also become apparent is a predictable behavioral response to this cycle: when the markets experience large losses, tail risk hedging comes back into fashion; on the other hand, when markets are quiet, investors can quickly forget the pain suffered during prior crises. As PIMCO's Vineer Bhansali points out, the current hedging characteristics are comparable to 1/15/2008, right before the crisis. He adds that, for many investors, it paid to have tail hedges then. If investors believe we are still investing in a dangerous, potentially even more dangerous, environment, they should consider hedging; adding that in their view, tail hedging is not just a trade, but an asset allocation decision for robust portfolio construction. In this light, today’s valuation levels make it easy to be countercyclical and add to tail hedges. Perhaps today's VIX-SPX decoupling is the first sign?
The ex-back of the envelope TARP calculation "chump" become wood-chopper, turned equity portfolio manager has gone full circle and decided his time is better spent serving the public good once again. As the WSJ reports, Neel Kashkari is considering running for office in California. The napkin-laden chrome-dome has seen his funds suffer from spotty performance since their launch - all underperforming the benchmarks. We can't help but think the timing of his announcement odd given his love affair with Apple and tonight's collapse but that would be harsh judgment on the always self-denigrating 39 year-old. Of course, we will hear the impressive nature of him leaving a well-paid job to run for office as his patriotism runs wild; we are less 'believer'. Still, managing to have your name turned into a noun and a verb is no easy task...
Whether the repatriation of only some 20% of Germany's gold reserves from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Banque of Paris back to Frankfurt manages to allay German concerns remains in question. Especially given that the transfer from the Federal Reserve is set to take place slowly over a seven year period and will only be completed in 2020. The German Precious Metals Association and Germany's ‘Repatriate Our Gold’ campaign said that the move by the Bundesbank did not negate the need for a full audit of Germany's gold. They want this to take place in order to protect against impairment of the gold reserves through leases and swaps. Indeed, they have called for independent, full, neutral and physical audits of the gold reserves of the world's central banks and the repatriation of all central bank gold - the physical transport of gold reserves back into the respective sovereign ownership countries. It seems likely that we may only have seen another important milestone in the debate about German and global gold reserves.
In this piece, I re-examine what many economists call "financial repression" and I find it to be sorely lacking as a description of what is happening. I also look at a related concern about the loss of central bank independence. Color me skeptical.
Gross: Report claims Germany moving gold from NY/Paris back to Frankfurt. Central banks don’t trust each other?
— PIMCO (@PIMCO) January 15, 2013