We have been warning for a while that not only is the high-yield credit market sending a warning but that it is critical for equity investors to comprehend why this is such bad news. This week has seen exuberant equity markets start to catch down to high-yield's warning but today's surge in HY credit spreads to six month wides is a rude awakening. Between outflows, a huge wall of maturities (and no Fed liquidity), and corporate leverage, the reach-for-yield just became an up-in-quality scramble. HY spreads are over 70bps wider than cycle tights implying the S&P 500 should be around 1775. When the easy-money-funded buyback party ends, will you still be dancing?
As we have discussed numerous times, the dash-for-trash in US equities has been insatiable as any and every consequence of screwing up is slowly removed from capitalism (and capital markets). As Goldman's David Kostin notes, companies with weak balance sheets have outperformed peers with strong balance sheets by 49 percentage points during the past two years (89% vs. 40%) with realized volatility of just 7%. Although the trend is daunting - to say the least - Goldman believes it will continue for three reasons...
"You’re picking up pennies on a train track. You are not getting paid much but you are sure that there will be a very negative surprise at some point. The risk / reward profile is as bad as ’07." - Portfolio manager speaking to Citigroup
Despite two desperate attempts to juice stocks overnight via JPY, US equities opened red and got redder. The selling climaxed when Europe closed and stocks rallied handsomely "off the lows" proving Tepper wrong and the rest of CNBC right (right?) The S&P ramped back up perfectly to VWAP (thank you Michelle) as 330ET BTFD'ers ensured it closed back above the all-important 50-day-moving-average. The Dow did not bounce like its higher-beta short-squeezing cousins and dropped back into the red for 2014. Away from stocks, bonds just kept rallying - but everyone said that couldn't happen - to new multi-month low yields for 10Y and 30Y (-13bps on the week). Commodities lost ground with gold back under $1300 as the USD ripped and dipped to close unchanged on the day. VIX popped back over 13 with its biggest rise in 5 weeks.
Goldman Reveals "Top Trade" Reco #5 For 2014: Sell Protection On 7-Year CDX IG21 Junior Mezzanine TrancheSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/03/2013 08:22 -0400
If the London Whale trade was JPM selling CDS in tranches and in whole on IG9 and then more, and then even more in an attempt to corner the entire illiquid IG9 market and then crashing and burning spectacularly due to virtually unlimited downside, Goldman's top trade #5 for 2014 is somewhat the opposite (if only for Goldman): the firm is inviting clients to sell CDS on the junior Mezz tranche (3%-7%) of IG21 at 464 bps currently, where Goldman "would apply an initial spread target and stop loss of 395bp and 585bp, respectively. Assuming a one-year investment horizon, the breakeven spread on this trade is roughly 554bp (that is, 90bp wider than where it currently trades)." In other words, Goldman is going long said tranche which in an environment of record credit bubble conditions and all time tights across credit land is once again, the right trade. Do what Goldman does and all that...
Overnight repo rates are spiking once again in early trading as the typically smaller banks that are more desperate bid aggressively for whetever liquidity they can find. 5Y Chinese swap rates have also reached a record high as the Yuan reaches its highest since Feb 2005. Chinese authorities are clearly stepping up the rhetoric:
- *CHINA SHADOW-FINANCE RISKS WILL SPREAD TO BANKS, FANG SAYS
- *VERY BIG CHANCE ONE OR TWO SMALL CHINA BANKS WILL FAIL: FANG
- *SOME CHINA TRUST INVESTMENT FIRMS MAY FAIL, SELL ASSETS: FANG
- *CHINA MUST PLAN FOR BANK-FAIL SCENARIOS TO MANAGE RISKS: FANG
- *CHINA NEEDS TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO CORPORATE LEVERAGE: HU
The gambit between the PBOC's liqudity provision and the growing dependence on their "spice" is clear - the question is, of course, will banks send a message (via the markets) to the PBOC or will they self-select (on first-mover's advantage) eradicating the weakest.
"We're Stuck In An Escher Economy Until The Existing Structure Collapses And Is Rebuilt On Stronger Principles"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 11/09/2013 13:26 -0400
1. Even if the economy returns to full employment under existing policies, it won’t remain there after (and if) interest rates normalize.
2. Based on today’s debt and valuation levels (charts 8-9, for example), rising interest rates will have an even harsher effect than suggested by the 60 year history
3. Contrary to the establishment’s “sustainable recovery” narrative, the most plausible outcomes are: 1) interest rates normalize but this triggers another bust, or 2) interest rates remain abnormally low until we eventually experience the mother of all debt/currency crises.
We’re stuck in an Escher economy (see below), thanks to the impossibility of the establishment economic view, and this will remain the case until the existing structure collapses and is rebuilt on stronger policy principles.
Over the weekend, we humbly suggested that the dream of ongoing US equity market multiple expansion may be over. It would appear SocGen not only agrees but finds current valuations very stretched. On the basis of Price-to-Book (valuation) and return-on-equity (profitability), the US equity market is extremely 'expensive'; and "hoping" for further expansion on the RoE to save the day is whimsical given the limits to leverage. Still, despite Obama's sell signal, it appears from today's open that the BTFATH crowd remains alive and well.
If the Fed was worried about 'froth' in the markets earlier in the year, then this chart should have them panicking. Of course, as Jim Bullard noted Friday, there is no bubble because everyone knows there is no bubble but judging by the massive surge in covenant-lite loan issuance, there is a bubble in forced demand for leveraged loans. At $188.7 billion, the 2013 issuance of these highly unsafe loans (which have seen huge inflows since the Fed started talking taper back in May) is almost double that of the peak of the last credit bubble in 2007 and is five times the size of 2012 YTD issuance at this time. As Reuters notes, Covenant-lite loans used to be reserved for stronger companies and credits, but are now so common in the U.S. leveraged loan market that investors are becoming wary of some credits with a full covenant package. With corporate leverage at all-time highs, what could go wrong?
In what is unbelievable hypocrisy and re-writing of history based on 20/20 hindsight, Bullard, in responding to a question of asset bubbles, explained that while all Fed members are "concerned about asset bubbles," they do not see one now. His reasoning is so cognitively dissonant as to be almost comedic:
- *BULLARD SAYS TECH BUBBLE, HOUSING BUBBLE WERE BOTH `NO SECRET'
- "Bubbles Of The Past Were Gigantic And Obvious... Not Now"
So there it is - because the St. Louis Monday-Morning-Quarterbacker can now so clearly see the previous epic bubbles (which the Fed did not see and merely pumped even higher) were obvious and one is not obvious now (unless you actually take a minute or two to consider forward earnings growth and margin expectations in light of lower deficits, unemployment, and global growth; high-yield credit spreads; primary issuance levels; and the fact that corporate leverage is at record highs).
The froth is back. As we noted yesterday, corporate leverage has never been higher - higher now than when the Fed warned of froth, and as the BIS (following their "party's over" rant 3 months ago) former chief economist now warns, "this looks like to me like 2007 all over again, but even worse." The share of "leveraged loans" or extreme forms of credit risk, used by the poorest corporate borrowers, has soared to an all-time high of 45% - 10 percentage points higher than at the peak of the crisis in 2007. As The Telegraph reports, ex-BIS Chief Economist William White exclaims, "All the previous imbalances are still there. Total public and private debt levels are 30pc higher as a share of GDP in the advanced economies than they were then, and we have added a whole new problem with bubbles in emerging markets that are ending in a boom-bust cycle." Crucially, the BIS warns, nobody knows how far global borrowing costs will rise as the Fed tightens or “how disorderly the process might be... the challenge is to be prepared." This means, in their view, "avoiding the tempatation to believe the market will remain liquid under stress - the illusion of liquidity."
If Fed governor Jeremy Stein had concerns about a resurgent credit bubble in February when he wrote his warning about "Overheating in Credit Markets: Origins, Measurement, and Policy Responses" then he should certainly not look at the bubbly ferocity that is taking place in the bond world just half a year after his letter failed to make any dent in the yield-chasing animal spirits.
A steady rise in leverage in recent years means Corporate Asia now has the most leveraged balance sheets globally. As Morgan Stanley's Viktor Hjort notes, with Fed liquidity anticipated to slow, now the cycle turns more adverse. Asian corporate balance sheets face a combination of slower growth and higher funding costs. Slower economic growth is putting downward pressure on earnings growth and rising real rates is putting upward pressures on funding costs turning bad macro into even tougher micro. Asian banks are tightening lending standards in their procyclical way but Asian credit markets are facing a fundamental environment that for many corporate borrowers will feel like a recession.
The rapid pace of China credit expansion since the Global Financial Crisis, increasingly sourced from the inherently more risky and less transparent "shadow banking" sector, has become a critical concern for the global markets. From the end of 2008 until the end of 2013, Chinese banking sector assets will have increased about $14 trillion. As Fitch notes, that's the size of the entire US commercial banking sector. So in a span of five years China will have replicated the whole US banking system. What we're seeing in China is one of the largest monetary stimuli on record. People are focused on QE in the US, but given the scale of credit growth in China Fitch believes that any cutback could be just as significant as US tapering, if not more. Goldman adds that China stands to lose up to a stunning RMB 18.6trn/$US 3trn. should this bubble pop. That seems like a big enough number to warrant digging deeper...
Curious how Abenomics is progressing six months after its announcement? These charts courtesy of Diapason should provide a convenient status update.