It is perhaps worth reflecting on the smorgasbord of free advice given out by the talking-heads after last night's closing ramp proclaiming the dip to be bought and that everything was fixed once again. It was not. Stocks are making fresh cycle lows and the Nasdaq and Russell 2000 are both now below the 200-day moving-average and appraoching the 10% (correction) from their highs. 10Y is back under 2.6% and the 30Y yield is back at 10-month lows... which perhaps explains why "growth" stocks are back at 7-month lows versus "value" stocks...
U.S. stocks are like a duck, floating on a quiet pond – calm above the surface, but lots of furious churning invisible to the naked eye. The S&P 500 looks like it will end the first quarter within a hair of the 1848 level where it started the year, but that doesn’t mean everything else is all stasis and light. Today we offer up a quick ‘Top 10’ list of surprises from the last 90 days. Gold, for example, is back from the grave, up 7.3%. So is an imperial Russia, with the biggest land grab since the building of the Berlin Wall. Mutual fund flows are ahead of exchange traded funds by a factor of 5:1. And most of those ETF inflows are into bond funds, not the “Great Rotation” we all expected into stocks. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yields all of 2.67%, and bonds have bested U.S. stocks consistently in 2014. First quarter 2014 may not have been a long trip, but it certainly has been strange.
One of the bigger stories overnight is Hilsenrath's latest communication from the Fed which once again simply paraphrases the status quo opinion, namely which is that the Fed will taper by another $10 billion on January 29, reducing the total monthly flow to $65 billion. "The Federal Reserve is on track to trim its bond-buying program for the second time in six weeks as a lackluster December jobs report failed to diminish the central bank's expectations for solid U.S. economic growth this year, according to interviews with officials and their public comments." Of course, should the Fed not do that, as the Hilsenrath turned to Hilsen-wrath after all those Taper rumors in September ended up being one giant dud, one can once and for all completely ignore the WSJ reporter, who will have lost all his Fed sources and is now merely an echo chamber of consensus. What is notable is that the result of the latest mouthpiece effort, the USD is stronger, which means USDJPY is higher, which means US equity futures are flying.... on less QE to be announced. We eagerly await for this particular correlation pair to finally flip. The other big story, of course, is the already noted well-telegraphed in advance PBOC liquidity injection ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and ahead of a potential January 31 Trust default which will certainly shake the foundations of the Chinese shadow banking system to the core. Not helping nerves was last night's announcement by Zhang Ming, a researcher and director of the international investment department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that "trusts and shadow banking will see defaults this year, and this is a good thing." Let's circle back in 6 months to see just how good it is.
Tthrough October 31, the average hedge fund has returned a paltry 6%, 75% below the return of the S&P 500 and the average mutual fund. And while the traditional retort: "hedge funds aren't supposed to outperform the market but to hedge downside risk" is always at the ready, the retort to that retort is that as long as Mr. Yellen is Chief Risk Officer for the S&P, and the Federal Reserve is engaged in QE and otherwise generating a "wealth effect", which according to many will be in perpetuity or until the Fed finally and mercifully is abolished, the purpose behind the existence of hedge funds is simply no longer there as the Fed will never again voluntarily allow the kind of market drop that would make the existence of hedge funds meaningful.
Curious which were the best and worst performing asset classes for the month of October? Deutsche Bank explains.
Succinctly summarizing the weekly bull/bear recap, positive and negative news, data, and market events of the week...
It was overall a fairly dismal month for most assets as Deutsche's Jim Reid notes sentiment was weighed down by a) ongoing tapering fears, b) a further shakeup in EM assets and currencies, and later during the month c) the escalating tension in Syria. Clearly returns in fixed income and the broader emerging market space were tapered down further by tapering concerns but DM equities were also not immune to the softer risk backdrop. The biggest loser in August were EM bonds, followed by Wheat and the S&P 500. The biggest gainer in Auguest was Silver followed by Brent crude and Chinese stocks.
Here are the best and west performing hedge funds so far in 2013. We hardly find it surprising that the woefully named Keynesian Leveraged Quantitative Strategies, which has gotten every part of its name wrong, is among the worst alpha (and amusingly beta) generators so far in 2013.
That hedge funds as a whole have been underperforming the S&P500 not only in 2013 but in the past five years is well-known to most. This trend continued into the second half when, as Goldman calculates, the average hedge fund has returned only 4.1%, or an 80% underperformance compared to the S&P500's 20% through August 9. This is a marked deterioration compared to the 65% underperformance the last time we made this comparative observation in May. Some of the other more surprising observations: YTD, 25% of hedge funds have generated absolute losses and fewer than 5% of hedge funds has outperformed the S&P 500 or the average large-cap core mutual fund. 2 and 20 anyone?
For all those curious why all real money managers (and not those who spend 18 hours a day on the modern day Yahoo Finance known as Twitter, "trading" with monopoly money while selling $29.95 newsletters) are furious at what Bernanke and company are doing as shown in the most recent Ira Sohn conference, we present the chart below from Goldman which confirms what most have already known: the Federal Reserve has made hedge funds a thing of the past, whose investors are sure to keep underperforming the S&P until the moment when it all goes tumbling down.
It may seem uncharitable to note that only 0.4% - that's 4/10th of 1% - of mutual fund managers outperform a plain-vanilla S&P 500 index fund over 10 years, but that is being generous: by other measures, it's an infinitesimal 1/10th of 1%. So what do we get for investing our capital in mutual funds and hedge funds? The warm and fuzzy feeling that we've contributed the liquidity needed to grease a monumental skimming operation. Ten out of 10,000 is simply signal noise; in effect, nobody beats an index fund. The entire financial management industry is a rentier arrangement: they skim immense profits and return no productive yield at all.
There is one problem with relentlessly ramping markets (whether due to four years of liquidity injections by the Fed, or due to four years of liquidity injections by the Fed) - they make all those who by definition have to be hedged, seem stupid by comparison. In this case, this means that for the fifth year in a row, the vast majority of brand name hedge funds are once again underperforming the S&P, even though most of them have shifted to the highest net long exposure in history, while charging their increasingly more angry investors 2 and 20 for the privilege of underperforming the most micromanaged asset of all - the S&P500, and its unpaid portfolio manager, Ben Bernanke. And while there are three certain things in life: death, taxes and Paulson being one of the worst performers in the world (perhaps he is moving to Puerto Rico not to avoid paying taxes but to escape furious LPs), as he indeed is for the third year running what is most surprising is that through the middle of March, according to HSBC, every single brand name hedge funds is once again underperforming the S&P.
We noted yesterday the growing disconnect between stocks and credit - today saw stocks start to play catch-down. High-yield credit (specifically HYG - the bond ETF) has fallen four days in a row - its biggest four day plunge in over 2 months (with today's drop the biggest single-day drop in almost 4 months) amid mega volume. VIX (another notable disconnect) continued to push higher (above 14% for the first time in 3 weeks). Treasuries had been leaking higher in yield on the week (30Y +8bps as FOMC hit) but slid lower as the post-FOMC day wore on. The USD weakness (led by significant strength in CHF and EUR) supported precious metals (and commodities broadly) but not stocks. Silver are up almost 3% on the week (and Gold outperforming USD's implied shift). Homebuilders faded from the open with all the QE-sensitive sectors (Materials, Energy, and Discretionary) all red on the week now. It would appear that bonds recoupling (higher in yield) with stocks was the end of the catalyst for this run higher for now as divergences are appearing everywhere. S&P futures end the day red on the week, on large average trade size and volume.
While the overnight session has been relatively quiet, the overarching theme has been a simple one: currency warfare, as more of the world wakes up to what the BOJ is doing and doesn't like it. The latest entrants in global warfare: Taiwan, whose central bank overnight said it would step in the FX market if needed, then Thailand, whose currency was weakened on market adjustment according to Prasarn, and of course South Korea, where the BOK said that global currency war spreads protectionism. Last but not least was China which brought out the big guns after the PBOC deputy governor Yi Gang "warned on currency wars." To wit: "Quantitative easing for developed economies is generating some uncertainties in financial markets in terms of capital flows,” Yi, who is also head of China’s foreign-exchange regulator, told reporters. “Competitive devaluation is one aspect of it. If everyone is doing super QE, which currency will depreciate?” “A currency war, a series of tit-for-tat competitive devaluations, would trigger trade protection measures that would damage global trade and therefore growth globally,” said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in Hong Kong, who previously worked for the World Bank. “That would not be good for any country with a stake in the global economy.” Which brings us to the fundamental question - if everyone eases, has anyone eased? And is there such a thing as a free lunch when central banks simply finance global deficits while eating their soaring stock market cake too? The answer, of course, is no, but we will cross that bridge soon enough.