“If you run out of chips, you are out of the game.”
"The market is manic depressive and it swings from seeing only the positives to seeing only the negatives," notes the world’s biggest distressed-debt investor, Howard Marks, but for now, as Bloomberg reports, the extremes (in risk pricing and sentiment) that usually signal opportunity (or capitulation) are not present. As Guggenheim's Scott Minerd warns, "wholesale panic" is what's needed before the market turns, and as RBS notes, "1,800 might come pretty quick."
Ever since it started making complicated bets against some leveraged ETFs, Miller’s Catalyst Macro Strategies Funds has since grown from $500,000 in assets at the start of the year to about $170 million. It achieved a more than 50 percent return this year, placing it far ahead of its competitors.
"Security prices are not low. I wouldn’t say high, but full. So people are thinking cautiously but they’re acting bullish and they’re behaving in a pro-risk fashion. While investor behavior hasn’t sunk to the depths seen just before the crisis, in many ways I feel it has entered the zone of imprudence... The market is not an accommodating machine. It will not go where you want it to go just because you need it to go there."
Because when your year-end bonus depends on you not seeing it coming, you don't.
In the end, we are just human. Despite the best of our intentions, it is nearly impossible for an individual to be devoid of the emotional biases that inevitably lead to poor investment decision making over time. This is why all great investors have strict investment disciplines that they follow to reduce the impact of human emotions. Take a step back from the media and Wall Street commentary for a moment and make an honest assessment of the financial markets today. Does the current extension of the financial markets appear to be rational? Are individuals current assessing the "possibilities" or the "probabilities" in the markets?
First The Bank of Japan destroyed the Japanese bond market, and then, back in May we warned that The Bank of Japan had 'broken' the stock market. Now, it appears the all too obvious consequences of being the sole provider of buying power in an antirely false market are coming home to roost as Nomura reports the "temporary suspension" of new orders for 3 leveraged ETFs - the largest in the world - citing "liquidity of the underlying Nikkei 225 futures market."
The current surge in deflationary pressures is not just due to the recent fall in oil prices, but rather a global epidemic of slowing economic growth. While Janet Yellen addressed this "disinflationary" wave during her post-meeting press conference, the Fed still maintains the illusion of confidence that economic growth will return shortly. Unfortunately, this has been the Fed's "Unicorn" since 2011 as annual hopes of economic recovery have failed to materialize.
- Compare: S&P 500 Futures Advance After U.S. Stocks Ignored Global Rally (BBG)
- And contrast: Global Stock Rally Grinds to a Halt (BBG)
- And be very confused: Global Stocks Lower on U.S. Interest Rate Uncertainty (WSJ)
- Hilsenrath: Fed Wavers on September Rate Rise (WSJ)
- Time for more QE: Abe Adviser Says Next Month Good Opportunity for BOJ Easing (BBG)
- Brazil downgraded to junk rating by S&P, deepening woes (Reuters)
- Kiwi dollar tumbles after New Zealand cuts interest rates (Reuters)
"In theory, investors can exit an open-ended mutual fund or an ETF at will. But the growing popularity of these funds forces them to invest in an ever larger share of less liquid bonds. If everyone wants to exit at once, prices could fall very far, very fast. A lucky few may get out in time. Others will probably get trampled."
During Monday's flurry of tripped circuit breakers and flash crashing mayhem, ETF investors learned the hard way that Howard Marks was precisely correct when he warned that ETFs "can't be more liquid than the underlying and we know the underlying can become highly illiquid." The question now, is whether subsequent flash crashes will trigger even more spectacular divergences between fair value and ETF unit prices on the way to proving, once and for all, that ETFs may indeed be the new financial weapons of mass destruction.
A new academic study from researchers at Stanford, UCLA, and the Arison School of Business in Israel suggests that ETFs are contributing to a lack of liquidity for the stocks they hold. Essentially, the argument is that increased ETF ownership leads to wider bid-asks, less analyst coverage, and higher correlations with broad market moves.
"If investors want complete safety, they can't get much income, and if they aim for high income, they can't completely avoid risk. It’s much more challenging today with rates being suppressed by governments. This is one of the negative consequences of centrally administered economic decisions. People talk about the wisdom of the free market – of the invisible hand – but there’s no free market in money today. Interest rates are not natural."
Anyone trading the Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF should take a cue from Howard Marks and ask themselves the following question: can an ETF be more liquid than the assets it references?
"We have a problem with this, and that is central bank hubris. They now think that they are omnipotent, because, essentially the government has said we are going to pass over all control of the economy to the central banks, they say to everybody else including financial market participants that “you don’t know, you don’t understand, we have our models and they are right”. And that kind of hubristic approach is when you sow the seeds of your own destruction."