In the first of three interviews with Merryn Somerset Webb, Hugh Hendry, manager of the Eclectica Fund, talks about what it takes to be a good hedge fund manager – and how he learned to stop worrying and love central banks. As he notes, the world is "guilty of the misconstruing of a bull market in equities, for what is actually the ongoing degradation in the soundness of the fiat monetary system."
"My premise hasn’t really changed since I published my paper explaining why I had become more constructive towards risk assets this time last year. That is to say, the structural deficiency of global demand continues to radicalise the central banking community. I believe they are terrified: the system is so leveraged and vulnerable to potentially systemic price reversals that the monetary authorities find themselves beholden to long only investors and obliged to support asset prices. However, I clearly confused everyone with my choice of language. What I should have said is that investors are perhaps misconstruing rising equity prices as a traditional bull market spurred on by revenue and earnings growth, and becoming fearful of a reversal, when instead the persistent upwards drift in stock markets is more a reflection of the steady erosion of the soundness of the global monetary system and therefore the rise in stock prices is something that is likely to prevail for some time."
Having infamously "thrown in the bearish towel" late last year (must read), Hugh Hendry's Eclectica fund has not enjoyed the kind of money-printing melt-up euphoria he had hoped for in 2014. According to his August letter to investors, the fund is -10.9% year-to-date, shrinking the firm's performance since inception to a mere +0.7%. His positions are intriguing but his commentary can be summed with this sentence alone, "when central banks are actively pursuing a goal of higher prices the most rational course is to tenaciously remain invested in equities." And so he is...
With everyone focusing on the "Holy Grail" deal between Russia and China, and debating who got the upper hand in the 30 year price delivery arrangement, a just as notable story is that quietly overnight Goldman's China team just took China to the cleaners. In a flurry of reports covering everything from Chinese banks to property developers to the Chinese, Goldman effectively mirrored what Hugh Hendry said several years ago when he correctly concluded that China is drowning in overcapacity, and concluded that a "two year property downcycle is imminent."
We have bad news for hedge funds who, like Hugh Hendry in December of last year, threw fundamentals and caution to the wind and, with great reservations, jumped into this momo bandwagon in which mere buying beget more buying until nobody knew why anyone bought in the first place... and then everything crashed, leading to the worst day for hedge funds in a decade: according to Goldman's David Kostin, whose job is to be a cheerleader for the intangible "wealth effect" leading to all too tangible Goldman bonuses: "The stock market will likely recover during the next few months... but not momentum stocks."
In the aftermath of the recent Wall Street Journal profile piece that, rather meaninglessly, shifted attention to Bill Gross as quirky manager (who isn't) to justify El-Erian's departure and ignoring Bill Gross as the man who built up the largest bond fund in the world, the sole head of Pimco was eager to return to what he does best - thinking about the future and sharing his thoughts with one of his trademark monthly letters without an estranged El-Erian by his side. He did that moments ago with "The Second Coming" in which the 69-year-old Ohian appears to have pulled a Hugh Hendry, and in a letter shrouded in caveats and skepticism, goes on to essentially plug "risk" assets. To wit: "As long as artificially low policy rates persist, then artificially high-priced risk assets are not necessarily mispriced. Low returning, yes, but mispriced? Not necessarily.... In plain English – stocks, bonds and other “carry”-sensitive assets would outperform cash."
Having thrown in his bearish towel in December, the self-proclaimed "last bear standing" has had a tough January. His plan, to "just be long pretty much anything" appears to have back-fired (for now) as Eclectica reports a 3.6% loss in January - the worst month since the Fund's inception. His largest loss was on a long Japan theme (leveraged) and that was somewhat offset by gains in his short emerging markets and short China themes. It appears nothing hs changed from Hendry's December perspective of the inexorable melt-up in developed markets thanks to central bank largesse (247% of NAV exposed to stocks) though he does note "renewed turmoil" which, we suppose, merely supports his thesis longer term.
SocGen's Albert Edwards, who refuses to pull a Hugh Hendry and to "stop looking at himself in the mirror", remains one of the few coherent realists in a world where soaring nominal asset prices have managed to confuse virtually every pundit into believing central bank balance sheet and stock market expansion means an economic recovery. Today he shares the one chart which as he says "the importance of which we cannot emphasise enough", and which he believes highlights the biggest risk equity investors - hypnotized by the Fed's H.4.1 weekly statement and its weekly record high balance sheet - take when they put all their faith in the Bernanke/Yellen grand behavioral experiment.
While fundamentals remain, for now, as useful as useful as having the only phone in the world; we demur to BofAML's technical analysis team for their short-term trading focus across various asset classes. In light of the only thing that matters, the Fed balance sheet (as Hugh Hendry so eloquently explained), BAML warns "beware the bear trap" in stocks...
For practitioners of Schadenfreude, seeing high-profile investors losing their shirts is always amusing. But for the true connoisseur, the finest expression of the art comes when a high-profile investor identifies a bubble, perhaps even makes money out of it, exits in time – and then gets sucked back in only to lose everything in the resultant bust. An early example is the case of Sir Isaac Newton and the South Sea Company... but there are much more recent examples that may prove just as disastrous...
Since fundamentals have been irrelvant for years, the only possible (short-term) guide in a market in which the only thing that does matter is the Fed's balance sheet, are trends (as Hugh Hendry put it so appropriately) here are some technical trade ideas from Bank of America, on the EURUSD, Treasurys, the S&P500 and WTI.
"Just be long. Pretty much anything. So here’s how I understand things now that I am no longer the last bear standing. You should buy equities if you believe many European banks and their sovereign paymasters are insolvent. You should buy shares if you put a higher probability than your peers on the odds of a European democracy rejecting the euro over the course of the next few years. You should be long risk assets if you believe China will have lowered its growth rate from 7% to nearer 5% over the course of the next two years. You should be long US equities if you are worried about the failure of Washington to address its fiscal deficits. And you should buy Japanese assets if you fear that Abenomics will fail to restore the fortunes of Japan (which it probably won’t). Hey this is easy… And then it crashed"
- Hugh Hendry
Everyone knows "you never go bull retard," but it seems Eclectica's Hugh Hendry, the hardiest of hardy Scots, has accepted that there is only one way for this farce to end. As Investment Week reports, the bear-turned-bull has bought 3D printing stocks as a play on trend-driven, QE-fuelled equity markets, and said the rise in the valuation of Bitcoin amounts to “the same thing”. Perhaps summing up the "trend-driven, QE-fueled" new normal better than anyone, Hendry added:"I say to my team 'don't tell me the valuations, it is trending'... This is the environment where Bitcoin could go to $1m. There is no qualitative reason, but it is trending. If I could own Bitcoin, I would. It gets worse: Hendry is now chasing the biggest momentum trend of all, that of Bitcoin, which he now "expects" to rise to $1 million! As for his hedge - don't laugh - 3D printing stocks... Sigh. We suspect, as he noted previously, he will be avoiding mirrors even more now. And yes, that this whole series now reeks of an Onion viral marketing campaign, is clear to everyone. Although sadly, we fear it is all too sincere, and a sad consequence of what happens when Bernanke's centrally-planned markets crush one after another talented asset manager and leave the E-Trade momo babies in charge.
A world, in which former permabears David Rosenberg, Jeremy Grantham and now Hugh Hendry have thrown in the towel and gone bull retard, and where none other than the Chief Investment Officer of General Re-New England Asset Management - a company wholly-owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has issued one of the direst proclamations about the future to date and blasts the Fed's role in creating the biggest mess in financial history, is truly upside down...
Faith in the current system is as high as it has ever been, and folks don't want to hear otherwise. If you're one of those people who thinks it prudent to have intelligent discussion on some of these risks -- that maybe the future may turn out to be less than 100% awesome in every dimension -- you're probably finding yourself standing alone at cocktail parties these days. A helpful question to ask yourself is: if I could talk to my 2009 self, what would s/he advise me to do? Don't put yourself in a position to relearn that lesson so soon after the last bubble. Exercise the wisdom to look like an idiot today.