This week’s market reaction to Fed chair Janet Yellen’s Humphrey Hawkins testimony – which was initially perceived as hawkish – provided another highlight of just how nervous investors have become about the risk of tighter monetary policy, post the very strong June payrolls report. As BofA warns, the current pace of jobs creation mirrors what forced the Fed’s hand in the 1994 rate hiking cycle, which led to lower stocks and wider credit spreads. Simply put, as the indicator of just how insane "markets" have becomes, rapidly improving job growth (as fallacious as it is under the surface) means BOFA thinks that hedges should be set and long positions in risky assets reduced.
For the past several weeks it felt as if Bank of America's chief technician, MacNeill Curry (or at least his clients) had an infinite balance sheet to fund relentless P&L losses, resulting from his daily recommendation to short the 10 Year, which contrary to the best wishes of the Fed and the sellside penguins constantly refused to go lower and validate the "economy is getting better" thesis. Today, even his TBTF balance sheet finally ran out, and moments ago he finally capitulated, and was stopped out on his TYU4 short.
Goldman Sachs, like most of the mainstream economists believes today's FOMC statement will likely be "broadly neutral" with no indication of sooner rate rises than expected (despite what we have noted as the timing not being better), some modest upgrades to the economic outlook (to keep the "everything's good and you don't need us anymore" meme alive), and continued taper at the same pace (with maybe some acknowledgemnet of the transitory pop in inflation). UBS, on the other side, suggests there is a chance of some FOMC surprises with Janet Yellen pulling a semi-Carney as Citi's Steven Englander has previously noted "the Fed needs more volatility in order to maintain its illusion of omnipotence."
The market is highly confident that it has a good handle on tomorrow’s FOMC meeting, despite the fact that several factors will require modification. There is high conviction that the Fed will not surprise the market, but rather take a “steady as she goes” approach that delivers a market consensus outcome. The reasons for this view are obvious and logical; however, such complacency breeds risk as well as opportunity, because the arguments for accelerating tapering to $15 billion (per month) are quite compelling.
One after another pundit has tried to explain the relentless bid for US Treasurys, and failed. First it was the March geopolitical shock, and the "capital outflows" from Russia that were supposedly entering the "safety" of US paper. Well, today Russian stocks just hit a bull market from the recent sell off (despite, or perhaps in spite of, Draghi's idiotic "estimate" of €160 billion in Russian capital outflows), however without a comparable move lower in the 10 Year, meaning it was not Russian capital reallocation that was pushing US Treasurys higher. Then, a new theory appeared, namely that pension funds, seeking to lock up equity upside, will "reverse rotate" out of stocks and into bonds. Judging by where US stocks are trading, they certainly did not rotate nearly enough, and now courtesy of Bank of America which parsed the latest Flow of Funds report, we learn that the in fact "buying of bonds by pension funds slowed down significantly in 1Q."
We have shown the surge in short positioning that CFTC exposes via its Commitment of Traders data that has begun to see some covering; but despite Citi's protestation that the recent rally in bonds 'must' have cleared out the short base and squared positions, the truth is - the Treasury market is dominated by more than just futures and institutional clients have not been this short Treasuries since 2006. As JPMorgan's Client Survey exposes, as of the end of last week, active clients were adding to shorts... which could be a problem as the last time all clients were this net short, bond yields collapsed in the next few months...
UPDATE: *NYSE REVIEWING TRADES FOR 'AOL,' 'NBR,' 'MPC,' 'LO,' 'CNQ' FROM 3:49:00PM-3:51:00PM ET
By now it is clear to everyone that the market is rigged, manipulated and broken. But this rigged, manipulated and broken? Honestly, we don't know, hence our question: is this now "normal" or are these just the death throes of a "market" busted beyond all repair?
On a closing price basis, the trading range for the US 10 year note since January 24th has been 22 basis points which is the narrowest in that length of time in over 30 years. Often times, narrow trading ranges act like coiled springs. The longer markets stay in those ranges the greater the pressure builds. Tight ranges over longer time periods cause ever-more-powerful movements once the ranges break. Over the next two weeks, there are multitudes of events and economic data which could set the tone of trading for the next several months and potentially provide the catalyst necessary for markets to break out of ranges.
Japanese data (double) miss, check! Chinese data miss, check! US data miss, check! Investor trust in US equity at record lows, check! All-time record highs for US equities - you betcha! Stocks broadly pumped and dumped once again today but the start-of-the-month exuberance over April's seasonality was enough to leave gains that accelerated into the close as the long-bond sold off and short-end rallied (biggest 2-day steepening in 5 months). USDJPY was in charge for much of the day but when it went limp in the last hour, it was VIX-clubbing time (to 10-week lows ahead of the ECB and NFP?) Oil prices slumped intraday (back below $100) as gold slipped but copper and silver flatlined. Wondering what fueled today's panic buying spree? "Most shorted" stocks tripled the market's performance on the day...
Once again there has been little fundamental news or economic data this morning in Europe with price action largely driven by expiring option contracts. In terms of key events, Putin says Russia should refrain from retaliating against US sanctions for now even as Bank Rossiya discovered Visa and MasterCard have stopped servicing its cards, and as Putin further added he would have his salary sent to the sanctioned bank - the farce will go on. Continuing the amusing "rating agency" news following yesterday's policy warning by S&P and Fitch on Russian debt (was that a phone call from Geithner... or directly from Obama), Fitch affirmed United States at AAA; outlook revised to stable from negative, adding that the US has greater debt tolerance than AAA peers. Perhaps thje most notable move was in Chinese stocks which rallied overnight after major domestic banks said to have stopped selling trust products which were blamed for encouraging reckless borrowing and diluted credit standards. Speculation of further stimulus and the potential introduction of single stock futures also helped the Shanghai Comp mark its biggest gain of 2014 closing up 2.7%.
On September 26, when we wrote "As US Default Risk Spikes To 5-Month High, Here Is How To Trade The Debt Ceiling Showdown", we suggested a simple 1M/1Y Bill flattener, which has since resulted in a massive profit to those who put on the trade with appropriate leverage, leading to the steepest outright inversion the short-end curve has seen on record. For those who engaged in this trade, it may be time to book profits and move on, as the risk of a negative catalyst - a shutdown/debt ceiling resolution - gets higher with every passing day that we move closer to the October 17 X-Date. However, those who wish to remain engaged in the short end of the bond market where the highest convexity to the daily newsflow can be found, one possible alternative trade is to shift away from cash markets, and into shadow banking, via the repo pathway.
Another day, another shut government and 1-month T-Bills have surged another 6bps to 18.5bps. Those who read our suggestion from Sept 26 to hedge the political stupidity and debt ceiling debate and put on the 1M1Y flattener have seen the fastest plunge and inversion (to negative!) in the curve since early 2009. Despite the relative calm in repo markets, which is likely due to expectations that any technical default will be for a minim al length, the short-term bills most likely to be affected (the 10/31/13 T-Bills) are seeing the largest daily deterioration yet as traders exit and price in the possibility of missed payment. 1Y USA CDS has spiked by a massive 26bps to 65bps, higher than during the Lehman crisis and second only to Summer 2011.
It would appear that Warren Buffett's reassurance this morning that crossing the debt ceiling won't be so bad (trumpeted by any and all equity pitch men since) is being entirely ignored by the bond market. 1-month Treasury bill yields are soaring this morning - up 5bps at 12.5bps now (having touched 16bps - the highest yield in almost 3 years and notably higher than during the 2011 debt ceiling debacle). 1Y USA CDS are also up 3bps at 38.5bps this morning - notably inverted still. Of course, equity markets are surging back to open green for retail investors ignoring Obama's warning last night and Lew's "default has potential to be catastrophic" note this morning. In the meantime, the 1M1Y flattener trade we suggested goes from strength to strength as an indicator of market stress.
Earlier in the week we noted the spike in the cost of protecting against a technical default on US Treasuries. While well below "record" wides of 2011, a very interesting event has occurred. The cost of 1Y protection has surged higher than the 5Y protection - something we have only seen in the summer of 2011. However, this time it's different as the inversion is even greater than in 2011 - although not the most liquid instrument in the world - implying a greater chance (albeit a small probability) of a postponed payment in US Treasuries. As we noted previously, there is a way to trade this away from CDS-land.
As we head for the fateful FOMC announcement on September 18, US data have continued to moderate. Accordingly, the consensus seems to be converging on a $10-15 billion initial reduction in monthly purchases (mostly focused on the Treasury side and less so on MBS) with any 'tightening' talk tempered by exaggerated forward-guidance discussions and the potential to drop thresholds to appear more easy for longer, since as CS notes, assuming Fed policymakers have learned anything in the last four months, they must know that the markets view “tapering” as “tightening,” even though they themselves for the most part do not. Thus, they are going to need to sugar-coat the message of tapering somehow. But as UBS notes, political risks have grown and there is little clarity on the Fed's thinking about the housing market. This leaves 3 crucial surprise scenarios for the FOMC "Taper" outcome.