While some are shocked by Calpers' decision to abandon hedge funds as an investment class (the first of many such "exits"), there really should be no surprise here. As we have said year after year after year (and so on), it was only a matter of time before limited partners said "enough" and stopped paying 2 and 20 to overpaid asset managers in a world in which central banks have "guaranteed" there is no longer any risk, just to underperform the market for a whopping 6 years in a row now. And to showcase where Calpers decision came from here are just two charts.
Just 2 months ago, the illustrious muppet catchers at Goldman Sachs stated that both stocks were 30-45% overvalued but lifted its year-end target in what we subjectively described as 'moronic drivel'. Then, 2 short weeks after that 'upgrade', the same thought-provoking sell-side strategist downgraded stocks on the basis that a 'sell-off in bonds could lead to short-term weakness in stocks'. Now, with the S&P 500 closing at new record highs on the worst employment data of the year, Goldman is at it again - upgrading equities to overweight for the next 3 months, rolling index targets forward, and piling investors into high-yield credit. Welcome to muppetville...
It seems like it was only yesterday when Goldman was predicting either two-thirds chance of a 10% correction in stocks, said that the S&P is either 30% or 45% overvalued relative to its historical value, or warned about a market slide when it downgraded the S&P500 "to neutral over 3 months as a sell-off in bonds could lead to a temporary sell-off in equities." Alas, that was the old Goldman: the one which still considered the impact of fundamentals in a centrally-planned world. The new one is far more pragmatic for the New Normal times, and overnight David Kostin, who has consistently fluctuated on either his year end S&P500 price target in 2014, or the justification for getting there (first higher bonds yields, then lower), came out with his latest thesis why now is the time to own stocks. Naturally, his catalysts have nothing to do with actual fundamentals, and instead all focus on the three only relevant metrics of the new normal: beta, momentum and career risk, which can be summarizes as follows: buy stocks because Hedge Funds suck.
Superficially, there are two amusing observations to make about a New Normal in which the S&P, courtesy of its Chief Risk Officers Yellen, Draghi and Kuroda, continues to vastly outperform virtually all hedge funds for a 6th year running: the first is that one of the very few funds in our universe which is doing better than the broader market is named Tulip Trend Fund, which in itself speaks volumes, while the other fund that is creating outsized "alpha" is Bill Ackman's Pershing Square, which has made the bulk of its gains on the back of the Allergan deal where he frontran the investing public, knowing full well Valeant would make a hostile bid, a transaction which the SEC better strike as illegal or else the farce of a market will get even more farcical.
If last week's disappointing global economic data, that saw Brazil added to the list of countries returning to outright recession as Europe Hamletically debates whether to be or not to be in a triple-dip, was enough to push the S&P solidly above 2000, even if on a few hundreds ES contracts (traded almost exclusively between central banks), then the overnight massacre of global manufacturing PMIs - when not one but both Chinese PMIs missed spurring calls for "more easing" and pushing the SHCOMP up 0.83% to 2,235.5 - should see the S&P cross Goldman's revised year end target of 2050 (up from 1900) sometime by Thursday (on another few hundreds ES contracts).
Despite Mario Draghi and Janet Yellen's (repeat) attempt to steal the show today, the first when the ECB reports its monetary decision (with zero real chance of announcing any change in policy considering all the furious, and failed, attempts to jawbone the Euro lower) as it faces the dilemma of deflationary pressure, record low bond yields and interest rates at record lows coupled with an export crushing Euro just shy of 1.40, and a practical impossibility to conduct QE even as the hawks jawbone a "potential" European QE to death, while Janet Yellen conducts the second part of the congressional testimony this time before the Senate Budget Committee where she will again, say nothing at all, it appears the world will be focused on Russia once again after the latest 24 hour "de-escalation" gambit is now once again dead and buried and on top of it is Putin waving a "come launch a nuclear attack at me, bro" flag.
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?