A year which showed that central planning works (for the fifth year in a row and probably can continue to "work" at least a little longer - in the USSR it surprised everyone with its longevity before it all came crashing down), is drawing to a close. This is what has happened so far on the last trading session of 2013. As market participants head in to the New Year period, volumes are particularly thin with closures being observed across Europe with only the CAC, IBEX and FTSE 100 trading out of the major European indices, with German, Switzerland, Italy and the Nordic countries are already closed. The FTSE and CAC are both trading in the green with BP leading the way for the FTSE earlier in the session after reports the Co. have asked a federal appeals court to block economic loss payments in its settlement of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. European stocks rise, with real estate, travel & leisure leading gains. Retail shares underperform as Debenhams slumps following its IMS. A number of major markets will close early today. The euro falls against the dollar. Fixed income market are particularly quiet with the Eurex being shut. Whilst Gilts are seen down this morning following on from yesterday’s short-covering gains.
Not satisfied with paying less taxes than his secretary, it seems Warren Buffett has decided that his employees should also pay more for their healthcare. His latest acquisition, Heinz, has recently announced a very significant cut in retiree health benefits. Of course, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Heinz is not admitting this is due to Obamacare but the company is not alone with 60% of employers considering changes through 2013. In an effort to cope with the uncertainty of ongoing health payments, companies have chosen (potentially smaller) lump-sum benefits, leaving the employee to fund the rest. As one reitree noted, "I feel that they should stand behind the moral obligation of the preceding owners of this company and maintain the program," but, keeping promises does not seem to be the norm these days.
The Federal Reserve's balance sheet is set to exceed a whopping $4 trillion today, prompting warnings its ultra loose monetary policies are inflating asset price bubbles and will lead to a devaluation of the dollar and signifigant inflation in the coming years.
There are multiple signs of a top forming. And even stock bulls are sitting on cash. What's next?
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...
Valuations still matter. Assuming that one is 'investing' as opposed to 'speculating', initial valuation (i.e. the price you pay for the investment) remains the single most important characteristic of whatever one elects to buy. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, “initial valuation” in the US stock market is at a level consistent with very disappointing subsequent returns, if the history of the last 130 years is any guide. Without fail, every time the US market has traded on a cyclically-adjusted P/E (CAPE) ratio of 24 or higher over the past 130 years, it has been followed by a roughly 20 year bear market... but there are plenty of other fish to fry...
Once Gold was no longer pegged to world currencies there was only a single period in which stocks outperformed the precious metal. That period was from 1997-2000 during the height of the Tech Bubble (the single biggest stock market bubble in over 100 years).
Economics is all about making rational decisions given some set of likes and dislikes. It doesn’t presume to tell you what you should like or dislike, and it assumes that you do in fact know what you like or dislike. Or at least that’s what economic theory used to proclaim. Today economic theory is used as the intellectual foundation for a political stratagem that goes something like this: you do not know what you truly like, and in particular you do not know your economic self-interest, but luckily for you we are here to fix that. This is the common strand between QE and Obamacare. The former says that you are wrong to prefer safety to risk in your investments, and so we will fix that misconception of yours by making it extremely painful for you not to take greater investment risks than you would otherwise prefer. The latter says that you are wrong to prefer no health insurance or a certain type of health insurance to another type of health insurance, and so we will make it illegal for you to do anything but purchase a policy that we are certain you would prefer if only you were thinking more clearly about all this.
- JPMorgan $13 Billion Mortgage Deal Seen as Lawsuit Shield (BBG)
- J.P. Morgan Is Haunted by a 2006 Decision on Mortgages (WSJ)
- World powers, Iran in new attempt to reach nuclear deal (Reuters)
- Keystone Foes Seek to Thwart Oil Sands Exports by Rail (BBG) - mostly Warren Buffet?
- How Would Fed Deal With Debt Ceiling Crisis? Look to Minutes for Clues (Hilsenrath)
- Anything to prevent the loss of prop trading: 'Volcker Rule' Faces New Hurdles (WSJ)
- BOE Sees Case for Keeping Record-Low Rate Beyond 7% Jobless (BBG)
- Obama Backs Piecemeal Immigration Overhaul (WSJ)
- Abenomics Seen Cutting Japan Bad-Loan Costs to 2006 Low (BBG)
It’s almost never openly admitted in public, but the reality is that few if any investors actually beat the market in the long-term. The reason for this is that most of the investment strategies employed by investors (professional or amateur) simply do not make money.
The third stage of bull markets, the mania phase, can last longer and go farther that logic would dictate. However, the data suggests that the risk of a more meaningful reversion is rising. It is unknown, unexpected and unanticipated events that strike the crucial blow that begins the market rout. Unfortunately, due to the increased impact of high frequency and program trading, reversions are likely to occur faster than most can adequately respond to. This is the danger that exists today. Are we in the third phase of a bull market? Most who read this article will say "no." However, those were the utterances made at the peak of every previous bull market cycle.
We have seen a confluence of events that suggests we may be reaching the terminal point of the financial markets merry-go-round – that point just before the ride stops suddenly and unexpectedly and the passengers are thrown from their seats. Having waited with increasing concern to see what might transpire from the gridlocked US political system, the market was rewarded with a few more months’ grace before the next agonising debate about raising the US debt ceiling. There was widespread relief, if not outright jubilation. Stock markets rose, in some cases to all-time highs. But let there be no misunderstanding on this point: the US administration is hopelessly bankrupt. (As are those of the UK, most of western Europe, and Japan.) The market preferred to sit tight on the ride, for the time being.
As we enter into the two final months of the year, it is also the beginning of the seasonally strong period for the stock market. It has already been a phenomenal year for asset prices as the Federal Reserve's ongoing liquidity programs have seemingly trumped every potential headwind imaginable from Washington scandals, potential invasions, government shutdowns and threats of default. This leaves us with four things to ponder this weekend revolving around a central question: "Does the Fed's Q.E. programs actually work as intended and what are the potential consequences?"
- How much does QE contribute to the growing inequality of wealth in this country and what are the risks this creates?
- How much systemic risk does the Fed create by becoming what Warren Buffett termed “the greatest hedge fund in history”?
- How might the Fed’s expanded balance sheet and its failure to even begin to “normalize” monetary policy four years into the recovery limit its flexibility to deal with the next recession or crisis?
Bernanke couldn’t stomach this kind of deleveraging. The reason is simple: those who have accumulated great wealth as a result of this system are highly incentivized to keep it going. Bernanke doesn’t talk to you or me about these things. He calls Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan.