A city boy, Kenny, moved to the country and bought a donkey from an old farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day.
The next day the farmer drove up and said: “Sorry son, but I have some bad news. The donkey died.”
Kenny replied, “Well then, just give me my money back.”
The farmer said, “Can’t do that. I went and spent it already.”
Kenny said, “OK, then just unload the donkey.”
The farmer asked, “What ya gonna do with him?”
Kenny: “I’m going to raffle him off.”
Farmer: “You can’t raffle off a dead donkey!”
Kenny: “Sure I can. Watch me. I just won’t tell anybody he is dead.”
A month later the farmer met up with Kenny and asked, “What happened with that dead donkey?”
Kenny: “I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at $2 a piece and made a profit of $998.00.”
Farmer: “Didn’t anyone complain?”
Kenny: “Just the guy who won. So I gave him his $2 back.”
Kenny grew up and eventually became the chairman of *****
(USA.watchdog) Bo Polny: “In the last interview, I gave you a time point, and I am going to give it to you again. This time point is incredible, and it is a Biblical calculation.
I am waiting to see what happens at this time point because it is supposed to be a truly epic time point, and that time point is April 21, 2020.
It’s a time point where the world changes, one system comes to an end or something really obvious happens. So, coming into the month of May, we have this new time point or this new era.”
Polny says all his work is based on Biblical cycles. He goes through the last 7,000 years with a powerful PowerPoint presentation that culminates with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and predicts a time window for his return in the not-so-distant future. Polny also says his charts say the bottom is going to be ugly for the so-called long term investors. Polny says, “What it points to is a market drop that keeps falling. The potential target is 5,000 to 5,050 range for the DOW, and the time point for this comes at the end of the year 2022.”
Polny also says the U.S. dollar has topped and is going lower. Bo says, “I looked at a chart recently, and the dollar has a double top. It has not made new highs in a long time. It has just been sitting there. A lot of times with market events, you see the dollar move down with the stock market. (The dollar was down big time on Friday 3/27/2020. It lost more the 1% on a day the DOW lost more than 900 points.) So, that is unusual. The dollar moved with the stock market, and gold did not go anywhere. Gold was steady.”
Bo says, “The people in control of this system will try to stop the fall, and they will fail. For that reason, point E (15,000 on the DOW) is coming. . . . They will try to stop it, and they will fail. Look what’s happening. What we have seen in March was a crash. . . . We have not seen is a plunge. The plunge comes in April.”
There is lots more in this hour long interview, including a free 30 page PowerPoint presentation on the 7,000 year cycle that started in the days of Adam and Eve. Join Greg Hunter of USAWatchdog.com as he goes One-on-One with analyst Bo Polny of Gold 2020Forecast.com.
PowerPoint associated with the video presentation:
Back in December, someone in China made bat soup (at least according to the officially accepted narrative that doesn’t get you banned on Facebook, Twitter, etc), and the rest is history: in the next three months, the global equity market has lost $24 trillion in value, more than the $22 trillion in US GDP. And here is a staggering chart from BofA putting the crash of 2020 in its historic context: in the past month, the US stock market has crashed faster than both the Great Depression and Black Monday, and in terms of the total draw down, the crash of 2020 is now worse than 1929 and is fast approaching 1987.
Below, courtesy of BofA CIO Michael Hartnett, are several other stunning observations on the Crash of 2020:
- Calls for Fed corporate bond buying, New Deal fiscal policies, new Plaza Accord to stabilize US$, closure of stock exchange coincide with week of Wall St devastation.
- Peak-to-trough crash in global equity market cap = $24tn (c/o US GDP = $22tn).
- Monday’s 12.0% drop Dow Jones = 3rd largest crash all-time (c/o -20.5% Oct 19th 1987, -12.9% Oct 28th 1929 – Chart 2).
- Liquidation of “safe havens” e.g. gold & US Treasuries (TLT ETF sank 20% after oil shock); epic US$ surge reflects funding pressure of excess US$-denominated debt & zero liquidity.
- Leverage in bond & stocks savaged (see REM, PFF, EMB, homebuilders like TOL – Chart 3); bond yields rise + bank stocks fall = classic sign of deflationary bear market.
- Feral Wall St means vicious bear market rallies…WTI oil surged 24% today.
- Stock exchange has closed just 4 occasions: 1914 & WW1, 1933 bank holiday, 1963 Kennedy assassination, 2001 9/11.
- Global “lockdown” on movement people, goods, services unprecedented but note June 1930 passage of protectionist Smoot-Hawley bill saw US stocks -16.5% in one month.
- Policy panic: 42 rate cuts since Feb 1st (note was 36 cuts in 2 months following Lehman); average COVID-19 rate cut has been 70bps; massive global central bank liquidity promised with no upper bound; $2.4tn in global fiscal stimulus (2.7% of GDP) in public aid, loan & income commitments (rises to $3.7tn with US Treasury/Senate proposals = 4.2% global GDP); acceleration toward yield curve control, UBI, MMT, industrial intervention…utterly unprecedented stimulus & intervention that will ultimately cause higher inflation expectations.
- Macro: BofA economists & strategists slash GDP & EPS forecasts (Chart 11).
- Note US GDP = $22tn, consumption $15tn so 20% drop in income & spending in 2-month period means GDP -$750bn, US consumption -$500bn.
- Big pressure on corporate sector not to raise prices, cut employment…EPS takes Q2/Q3 strain.
- 2020 SPX EPS of $140 (-20%) generates SPX 2100 on historic mean 15X multiple, SPX 1700 on 12X policy-failure multiple, 2400 on 17X “some policy success” multiple (see Chart 12).
- The “big stuff” will signal virus/recession/default fully-priced…volatility, Treasury yield, credit spreads, oil key.
- The Reckoning: big shocks, big tops, many big political & social changes ahead…localization of supply, relationship with China, new inflationary era, using technology to “live” without human interaction, geopolitical instability of Middle East/Africa, end of era of PE, buybacks, financial engineering, comeback of active vs passive investing.
- Q2 Strategy: aftershocks likely but assets with growth (tech), quality (best of breed stocks), yield (credits with fortress balance sheets) favored.
- Q2 Tactics: policy makers winning “Intervention vs. Deleveraging” war; small cap, cyclicals, oil, banks…bear market rally plays.
Good luck to everyone.
It was definitely a ‘deer’ day…
Stocks down, Bonds down, credit down, gold down, oil down, copper down, crypto down, global systemically important banks down, and liquidity down…
Today was the worst day for a combined equity/bond portfolio… ever…
We just witnessed a global collapse in asset prices the likes we haven’t seen before. Not even in 2008 or 2000. All these prior beginnings of bear markets happened over time, relatively slowly at first, then accelerating to the downside.
This collapse here has come from some of the historically most stretched valuations ever setting the stage for the biggest bull trap ever. The coronavirus that no one could have predicted is brutally punishing investors that complacently bought into the multiple expansion story that was sold to them by Wall Street. Technical signals that outlined trouble way in advance were ignored while the Big Short 2 was already calling for a massive explosion in $VIX way before anybody ever heard of corona virus.
Worse, there is zero visibility going forward as nobody knows how to price in collapsing revenues and earnings amid entire countries shutting down virtually all public gatherings and activities. Denmark just shut down all of its borders on Friday, flight cancellations everywhere, the planet is literally shutting down in unprecedented fashion.
Last week was a central bank induced bear trap.
Look forward to huge trading opportunities, long and short, in the weeks and months ahead, while markets sort out what happened.
… and then there’s that virus
It’s absolutely stunning how the Fed/ECB/BoJ injected upwards of $1.1 trillion into global markets in the last quarter and cut rates 80 times in the past 12 months, which allowed money-losing companies to survive another day.
The leader of all this insanity is Telsa, the biggest money-losing company on Wall Street, has soared 120% since the Fed launched ‘Not QE.’
Tesla investors are convinced that fundamentals are driving the stock higher, but that might not be the case, as central bank liquidity has been pouring into anything with a CUSIP.
The company has lost money over the last 12 months, and to be fair, Elon Musk reported one quarter that turned a profit, but overall – Tesla is a black hole. Its market capitalization is larger than Ford and General Motors put together. When you listen to Tesla investors, near-term profitability isn’t important because if it were, the stock would be much lower.
The Wall Street Journal notes that in the past 12 months, 40% of all US-listed companies were losing money, the highest level since the late 1990s – or a period also referred to as the Dot Com bubble.
Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida, provided The Journal with a chart that shows the percentage of money-losing IPOs hit 81% in 2018, the same level that was also seen in 2000.
The Journal notes that 42% of health-care companies lost money, mostly because of speculative biotech. About 17% of technology companies also fail to turn a profit.
A more traditional company that has been losing money is GE. Its shares have plunged 60% in the last 42 months as a slowing economy, and insurmountable debts have forced a balance sheet recession that has doomed the company.
Data from S&P Global Market Intelligence shows for small companies, losing money is part of the job. About 33% of the 100 biggest companies reported losses over the last 12 months.
Among the smallest 80% of companies, there has been a notable rise in money-losing operations in the last three years.
“The proportion of these loss-making companies rose after each of the last two recessions and didn’t come down again afterward. The story should be familiar by now: Many small companies are being dominated by the biggest corporates, squeezing them out of markets and crushing their ability to invest for growth,” The Journal noted.
And while central bank liquidity has zombified companies, investors are already starting to make a mad dash out of trash into companies that turn a profit ahead of the next recession.
There was a period of about two months when some of the more confused, Fed sycophantic elements, would parrot everything Powell would say regarding the recently launched $60 billion in monthly purchases of T-Bills, and which according to this rather vocal, if always wrong, sub-segment of financial experts, did not constitute QE. Perhaps one can’t really blame them: after all, unable to think for themselves, they merely repeated what Powell said, namely that
“growth of our balance sheet for reserve management purposes should in no way be confused with the large-scale asset purchase programs that we deployed after the financial crisis. Neither the recent technical issues nor the purchases of Treasury bills we are contemplating to resolve them should materially affect the stance of monetary policy. In no sense, is this QE.“
As it turned out, it was QE from the perspective of the market, which saw the Fed boosting its balance sheet by $60BN per month, and together with another $20BN or so in TSY and MBS maturity reinvestments, as well as tens of billions in overnight and term repos, and soared roughly around the time the Fed announced “not QE.”
And so, as the Fed’s balance sheet exploded by over $400 billion in under four months, a rate of balance sheet expansion that surpassed QE1, QE2 and Qe3…
… stocks blasted off higher roughly at the same time as the Fed’s QE returned, and are now up every single week since the start of the Fed’s QE4 announcement when the Fed’s balance sheet rose, and are down just one week since then: the week when the Fed’s balance sheet shrank.
The result of this unprecedented correlation between the market’s response to the Fed’s actions – and the Fed’s growing balance sheet – has meant that it gradually became impossible to deny that what the Fed is doing is no longer QE. It started with Bank of America in mid-November (as described in “One Bank Finally Admits The Fed’s “NOT QE” Is Indeed QE… And Could Lead To Financial Collapse“), and then after several other banks also joined in, and even Fed fanboy David Zervos admitted on CNBC that the Fed is indeed doing QE, the tipping point finally arrived, and it was no longer blasphemy (or tinfoil hat conspiracy theory) to call out the naked emperor, and overnight none other than Deutsche Bank joined the “truther” chorus, when in a report by the bank’s chief economist Torsten Slok, he writes what we pointed out several weeks back, namely that
“since QE4 started in October, a 1% increase in the Fed balance sheet has been associated with a 1% increase in the S&P500, see chart below.”
Not that DB has absolutely no qualms about calling what the Fed is doing QE4 for the simple reason that… it is QE4.
The chart in question, which is effectively the same as the one we created above, shows the weekly change in the Fed’s balance sheet and the S&P500 as a scatterplot, and concludes that all it takes to push the S&P higher by 1% is to grow the Fed’s balance sheet by 1%.
And just to underscore this point, the strategist points out that such a finding is “consistent with this new working paper, which finds that QE boosts stock markets even when controlling for improving macro fundamentals.” Which, of course, is hardly rocket science – after all when you inject hundreds of billions into the market in months, and this money can’t enter the economy, it will enter the market. The result: the S&P trading at an all time high in a year in which corporate profits actually decreased and the entire rise in the stock market was due to multiple expansion.
In short: the Kool Aid is flowing, the party is in full force and everyone has to dance, because the Fed will continue to perform QE4 at least until Q2 2020. Which reminds us of what we wrote last week, namely that another big bank, Morgan Stanley, has already seen through the current melt up phase, and predicts the “Melt-Up Lasting Until April, After Which Markets Will “Confront A World With No Fed Support“.”
The Fed, reportedly, took action in 2019 – with its massive flip-flop, cutting rates drastically and expanding its balance sheet at the fastest pace since the financial crisis – in order to ‘fix’ the yield curve which had dropped into the media-terrifying inverted state… but what investors (and The Fed) appear to have forgotten (or choose to ignore) is that it is now much more concerning.
The last few months have seen the yield curve steepen dramatically, up 35bps from August’s -5bps spread in 2s10s to over 30bps today – the steepest since October 2018…
That is great news, right? No more recession risk, right?
While investors buy stocks with both hands and feet, we take a look at how risk assets perform after the curve flattens and/or inverts. According to back tests from Goldman, while risky assets in general can have positive performance with a flat yield curve, risky asset performances tend to be lower. This is consistent with Goldman’s base case forecast combining low (but positive) returns from here given the lack of profit growth and a less favorable macro backdrop.
What is far more notable, as ZeroHedge showed most recently last July, is that since the mid-1980s, significant stock draw downs (i.e. market crashes) began only when term slope started steepening after being inverted.
And remember, the yield curve’s forecasting record since 1968 has been perfect: not only has each inversion been followed by a recession, but no recession has occurred in the absence of a prior yield-curve inversion. There’s even a strong correlation between the initial duration and depth of the curve inversion and the subsequent length and depth of the recession.
So, be careful what you wish for… and celebrate; because as history has shown, the un-inverting of the yield curve is when the recessions start and when the markets begin to reflect reality.
The US stock market is retesting its all-time highs at record valuations yet again. We strongly believe it is poised to fail. The problem for bullish late-cycle momentum investors trying to play a breakout to new highs here is the oncoming freight train of deteriorating macro-economic conditions.
US corporate profit growth, year-over-year, for the S&P 500 already fully evaporated in the first quarter of 2019 and is heading toward outright decline for the full year based on earnings estimate revision trends. Note the alligator jaws divergence in the chart below between the S&P 500 and its underlying expected earnings for 2019. Expected earnings for 2019 already trended down sharply in the first quarter and have started trending down again after the May trade war escalation.
2, 3 and 5-Year Treasury Yields All Drop Below The Fed Funds Rate
Things are getting increasingly more crazy in bond land, where moments ago the 2Y Treasury dipped below 2.40%, trading at 2.3947% to be exact, and joining its 3Y and 5Y peers, which were already trading with a sub-2.4% handle. Why is that notable? Because 2.40% is where the Effective Fed Funds rate is, by definition the safest of safe yields in the market, that backstopped by the Fed itself. In other words, for the first time since 2008, the 2Y (and 3Y and 5Y) are all trading below the effective Fed Funds rate.
That the curve is now inverted from the Fed Funds rate all the way to the 5Y Treasury position suggests that whatever is coming, will be very ugly as increasingly more traders bet that one or more central banks may have no choice but to backstop risk assets and they will do it – how else – by buying bonds, sending yields to levels last seen during QE… i.e., much, much lower.
While the Fed has been engaging in quantitative tightening for over a year now in an attempt to shrink its asset holdings, it still has over $4.1 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet, and as a result of the spike in yields since last summer, their massive portfolio has suffered substantial paper losses which according to the Fed’s latest quarterly financial report, hit a record $66.453 billion in the third quarter, raising questions about their strategy at a politically charged moment for the central bank, whose “independence” has been put increasingly into question as a result of relentless badgering by Donald Trump.
What immediately caught the attention of financial analysts is that the gaping Q3 loss of over $66 billion, dwarfed the Fed’s $39.1 billion in capital, leaving the US central bank with a negative net worth…
… which would suggest insolvency for any ordinary company, but since the Fed gets to print its own money, it is of course anything but an ordinary company as Bloomberg quips.
It’s not just the fact that the US central bank prints the world’s reserve currency, but that it also does not mark its holdings to market. As a result, Fed officials usually play down the significance of the theoretical losses and say they won’t affect the ability of what they call “a unique non-profit entity’’ to carry out monetary policy or remit profits to the Treasury Department. Indeed, confirming this the Fed handed over $51.6 billion to the Treasury in the first nine months of the year.
The risk, however, is that should the Fed’s finances continue to deteriorate if only on paper, it could impair its standing with Congress and the public when it is already under attack from President Donald Trump as being a bigger problem than trade foe China.
Commenting on the Fed’s paper losses, former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh told Bloomberg that “a central bank with a negative net worth matters not in theory. But in practice, it runs the risk of chipping away at Fed credibility, its most powerful asset.’’
Additionally, the growing unrealized losses provide fuel to critics of the Fed’s QE and the monetary operating framework underpinning them, just as central bankers begin discussing the future of its balance sheet. And, as Bloomberg cautions, the metaphoric red ink also could make it politically more difficult for the Fed to resume QE if the economy turns down.
“We’re seeing the downside risk of unconventional monetary policy,’’ said Andy Barr, the outgoing chairman of the monetary policy and trade subcommittee of the House Financial Services panel. “The burden should be on them to tell us why this does not compromise their credibility and why the public and Congress should not be concerned about their solvency.’’
Of course, the culprit for the record loss is not so much the holdings, as the impact on bond prices as a result of rising rates which spiked in the summer as a result of the Fed’s own overoptimism on the economy, and which closed the third quarter at 3.10% on the 10Y Treasury. Indeed, with rates rising slower in the second quarter, the loss for Q3 was a more modest $19.6 billion.
And with yields tumbling in the fourth quarter as a result of the current growth and markets scare, it is likely that the Fed could book a major “profit” for the fourth quarter as the 10Y yield is now trading just barely above the 2.86% where it was on June 30.
Meanwhile, the Fed continues to shrink its bond holdings by a maximum of $50 billion per month, an amount that was hit on October 1, not by selling them, which could force it to recognize but by opting not to reinvest some of the proceeds of securities as they mature.
The Fed is expected to continue shrinking its balance sheet at rate of $50BN / month until the end of 2020 (as shown below) unless of course market stress forces the Fed to halt QT well in advance of its tentative conclusion.
In any case, the Fed will certainly never return to its far leaner balance sheet from before the crisis, which means that it will continue to indefinitely pay banks interest on the excess reserves they park at the Fed, with many of the recipient banks being foreign entities.
Barr, a Kentucky Republican, has accurately criticized that as a subsidy for the banks, one which will amount to tens of billions in annual “earnings” from the Fed, the higher the IOER rate goes up. He is not alone: so too has California Democrat Maxine Waters, who will take over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee in January following her party’s victory in the November congressional elections.
* * *
Going back to the Fed’s unique treatment of losses on its income statement and its under capitalization, in an Aug. 13 note, Fed officials Brian Bonis, Lauren Fiesthumel and Jamie Noonan defended the central bank’s decision not to follow GAAP in valuing its portfolio. Not only is the central bank a unique creation of Congress, it intends to hold its bonds to maturity, they wrote.
Under GAAP, an institution is required to report trading securities and those available for sale at fair or market value, rather than at face value. The Fed reports its balance-sheet holdings at face value.
The Fed is far less cautious with the treatment of its “profits”, which it regularly hands over to the Treasury: the interest income on its bonds was $80.2 billion in 2017. The central bank turns a profit on its portfolio because it doesn’t pay interest on one of its biggest liabilities – $1.7 trillion in currency outstanding.
The Fed’s unique financial treatments also extends to Congress, which while limiting to $6.8 billion the amount of profits that the Fed can retain to boost its capital has also repeatedly “raided” the Fed’s capital to pay for various government programs, including $19 billion in 2015 for spending on highways.
Still, a negative net worth is sure to raise eyebrows especially after Janet Yellen said in December 2015 that “capital is something that I believe enhances the credibility and confidence in the central bank.”
* * *
Furthermore, as Bloomberg adds, if it had to the Fed could easily operate with negative net worth – as it is doing now – like other central banks in Chile, the Czech Republic and elsewhere have done, according to Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income. That said, questionable Fed finances pose communications and mostly political problems for Fed policymakers.
As for long-time Fed critic and former Fed governor, Kevin Warsh, he zeroed in on the potential impact on quantitative easing.
“QE works predominantly through its signaling to financial markets,’’ he said. “If Fed credibility is diminished for any reason — by misunderstanding the state of the economy, under-estimating the power of QE’s unwind or carrying a persistent negative net worth — QE efficacy is diminished.’’
The biggest irony, of course, is that the more “successful” the Fed is in raising rates – and pushing bond prices lower – the greater the un-booked losses on its bond holdings will become; should they become great enough to invite constant Congressional oversight, the casualty may be none other than the equity market, which owes all of its gains since 2009 to the Federal Reserve.
While a central bank can operate with negative net worth, such a condition could have political consequences, Tobias Adrian, financial markets chief at the IMF said. “An institution with negative equity is not confidence-instilling,’’ he told a Washington conference on Nov. 15. “The perception might be quite destabilizing at some point.”
That point will likely come some time during the next two years as the acrimonious relationship between Trump and Fed Chair Jerome Powell devolves further, at which point the culprit by design, for what would be the biggest market crash in history will be not the Fed – which in the past decade blew the biggest asset bubble in history – but President Trump himself.
One week after even the IMF joined the chorus of warnings sounding the alarm over the unconstrained, unregulated growth of leveraged loans, and which as of November included the Fed, BIS, JPMorgan, Guggenheim, Jeff Gundlach, Howard Marks and countless others, we reported that investors had finally also joined the bandwagon and are now fleeing an ETF tracking an index of low-grade debt as credit spreads blow out and cracks appeared across virtually all credit products.
Specifically, we noted that not only had the $6.4 billion Invesco BKLN Senior Loan ETF seen seven straight days of outflows to close out November, with investors pulling $129 million in one day alone and reducing the fund’s assets by 2% to the lowest level in more than two years, but over 800 million has been pulled in last current month, the biggest monthly outflow ever as investors are packing it in.
Fast forward to today, when another major loan ETF, the Blackstone $2.9BN leverage-loan ETF, SRLN, just suffered its largest ever one-day outflow since its 2013 inception.
Year to date, the shares of this ETF backed by the risky debt have dropped 2.6%, hitting their lowest level since February 2016; the ETF’s underlying benchmark, the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index, has also been hit recently and is down 2.3% YTD, effectively wiping out all the cash interest carry generated YTD and then some.
BLKN and SRLN aren’t alone: investors have pulled over $4 billion from leveraged loan funds in the three weeks ended Dec. 5, the largest cash bleed in almost four years for such a period, according to Lipper data.
“The price action in the ETF hasn’t warranted investors to justify keeping it on to collect the monthly coupon it pays,” said Mohit Bajaj, director of exchange-traded funds at WallachBeth Capital. “The risk/reward hasn’t been there compared to short-term treasury products like JPST,” he added, referring to the $4.2 billion JPMorgan Ultra-Short Income ETF, which hasn’t seen a daily outflow since April 9.
Analysts have pointed to widening credit spreads and the fact that loan ETFs have floating-rate underlying instruments, assets that become less attractive than fixed-rate ones should the Fed skip its March rate hike, which after Powell’s latest dovish turn and today’s weak payrolls may – or may not – happen.
The ongoing loan ETF puke comes at a time when both US investment grade and junk bond spreads have blown out, while yields spiked to a 30-month high this month. In November, investment grade bonds suffered their worst year in terms of total returns since 2008 and December isn’t looking much better. Meanwhile in high yield, junk bonds yields just had their biggest one-day jump since April.
According to a note from Citi strategists Michael Anderson and Philip Dobrinov, leveraged loans in the U.S. may no longer be the “star performer” amid a potential pause in rate hikes by the Fed, while the recent redemption scramble has caused ETFs to offload better quality loans to raise cash, according to the Citi duo. That’s despite leveraged loan issuance being at its highest since 2008 largely as a result of insatiable CLO demand.
If investors are, indeed, unloading to raise cash, Anderson and Dobrinov write “this is a bearish sign, particularly if outflows persist and managers eventually turn to deep discount paper for cash. Furthermore, as we get closer to the end of the Fed’s hiking cycle, we expect further outflows as traditional fixed-rate credit products become more in vogue.”
Incidentally the behavior described by Citi’s strategists, in which ETF administrators first sell high quality paper then shift to deep discount holdings, was one of the catalysts that hedge fund manager Adam Schwartz listed three weeks ago as a necessary condition for credit ETFs to enter a “death spiral.” And with virtually everyone – including the Fed, BIS and IMF – all warning that the next crisis will begin in the leverage loan sector, the question to ask is “has it begun“?
One answer comes from the primary market, and it hardly reassuring.
As we discussed last week, while the leveraged-loan party isn’t quite over, jitters around the world have made lenders and investors less willing to give loans to heavily indebted companies, with numerous loan offerings getting pulled and lenders are demanding – and getting – sweeter terms.
As Bloomberg reports, on Tuesday JPMorgan had to slash the price on a $210 million loan to 93 cents on the dollar from par to sweeten investor demand and help finance a private jet takeover. Specifically, JPMorgan offloaded loans financing the takeover of XOJET at 93 cents on the dollar, one of the steepest discounts seen in the leveraged loan market this year. And with the market on the verge of freezing, the size of the deal was cut by $70 million from the originally targeted amount.
In Europe, the market appears to have already locked up, as three loans were scrapped over the last two weeks, victims of the Brexit tensions gripping the UK. To wit, movie theater chain Vue International withdrew a 833 million pound-equivalent ($1.07 billion) loan sale. While the deal was meant to mostly refinance existing debt, around 100 million pounds was underwritten to finance the company’s acquisition of German group CineStar.
Last week more deals were pulled when diversified manufacturer Jason Inc. became at least the fourth issuer to scrap a U.S. leveraged loan. Additionally, Perimeter Solutions also pulled its repricing attempt, Ta Chen International scrapped a $250MM term loan set to finance the company’s purchase of a rolling mill, and Algoma Steel withdrew its $300m exit financing. Global University System in November also dropped its dollar repricing.
Fears of a slowing global economic growth even as rates continue to rise, combined with anxiety over trade talks between the U.S. and China, reluctance to take risk before year end and the recent rout in credit products, have all led to a widespread fear across markets; investors are also concerned about higher interest rates weighing on corporate profits. These fears are spreading across credit markets, from investment-grade debt to junk bonds.
“No one thinks this is the big one,” said Richard Farley, chair of the leveraged finance group at Kramer Levin told Bloomberg. “But on the fear to greed continuum we have definitely moved closer to fear.”
The fear has resulted in the S&P/LSTA leverage loan price index tumbling to a two year low.
The sharp shift in sentiment has been remarkable: for most of 2018, investors couldn’t get enough of floating-rate products like leveraged loans based on the assumption that they will fare better in a rising-rate environment. As a result of blistering demand, companies were able to sell new debt with virtually no covenant protections and higher leverage, triggering warnings about deteriorating standards from regulators and bond graders in recent months (see above).
And, in the aftermath of Chair Powell infamous Oct 3 speech which sent risk assets tumbling and tightened financial conditions, leveraged loan price indexes in Europe and the U.S. have dropped to their lowest level in over two years, while nearly all of the loans outstanding are now trading below their face value. According to JPM, the percentage of loans trading above face value has dropped to just 3.9%, a 29-month low, down from 65.4% in early October. This suggests that virtually all leverage loan investors are now underwater on a total return basis.
* * *
With the leveraged loan market freezing up – and potentially entering a death spiral – the recent weakness has raised concerns that other debt sales currently in the works may be sold at discounts that are so deep underwriters may have to book a loss, if they can be sold at all. This is precisely what happened in late 2007 and early 2008 when underwriters found themselves with pipelines of debt sales that sudden got blocked, and were forced to take massive haircuts to keep the credit flowing.
Still, optimists remain: “The downdraft in loans has been very orderly thus far,” said Chris Mawn, head of the corporate loan business at investment manager CarVal Investors. “We anticipate most managers will keep buying in this market trying to be opportunistic and those who don’t have to sell will just hold.”
Of course, speaking of flashbacks to 2007/2008 it was just this kind of investor optimism that died last…
The Smart Money Flow Index, measuring the movement of the Dow in two time periods: the first 30 minutes and the last hour, has just declined AGAIN.
The Smart Money Flow Index, like the DJIA, has been around for decades. But it has just fallen to the lowest level since 1995.
Is the asset bubble starting to burst? Or is it just one lone indicator getting sick?
New Home Sales (SAAR) in September plunged to their lowest since Dec 2016, crashing 5.5% MoM (and revised dramatically lower in August)… Maybe Trump has a point on Fed rate hikes?
Remember this is the first month that takes the impact of the latest big spike in rates – not good!
This is a disastrous print:
August’s 629k SAAR was revised drastically lower to 585k and September printed 553k (SAAR) massively missing expectations of 625k (SAAR) – plunging to the weakest since Dec 2016…
That is a 13.2% collapse YoY – the biggest drop since May 2011
The median sales price decreased 3.5% YoY to $320,000…
New homes sales were down across all regions … except the midwest.
As the supply of homes at current sales rate rose to 7.1 months, the highest since March 2011, from 6.5 months.
The decline in purchases was led by a 40.6 percent plunge in the Northeast to the lowest level since April 2015 and 12 percent drop in the West.
70% Of S&P 500 Stocks Are Already In A Correction
Spooked by fears about peak profits, the slowing Chinese economy, Trump’s tariffs, ongoing political turmoil in the UK and Italy, and ongoing jitters among systematic, vol-targeting funds, on Tuesday the S&P tumbled as much as 2.34% in early trade – a drop which almost wiped out all gains for the year – before paring losses and closing only -0.55% lower. The drop pushed the S&P’s decline from its September highs to 6.5%, two-thirds on the way to a technical correction.
However the relatively stability at the index level has masked turmoil among individual names where some 1,256 stocks hit 52-week lows, while only 21 establishing new highs.
More concerning, and a testament to the tech-heavy leadership of the market concentrated amid just a handful of stocks, is that while the broader S&P 500 index has yet to enter a correction, more than three quarters of all S&P stocks – or 353 – have already fallen more than 10% from their highs. Worse, of those, more than half 179 have already fallen by 20% or more from their highs, entering a bear market.
The reason why the broader index has so far avoided a similar fate is because Apple, whose $1 trillion market value makes it by far the most heavily weighted stock within the S&P 500, has fallen only 4.6% from its October 3 record high. That has helped the S&P 500 itself stay out of correction territory.
Broken down by sector, the S&P 500 materials index – the closest proxy of Chinese economic growth – has fared the worst in October, leaving it down 19% from its 52-week highs, with the utilities index is the outperformer, down just 5 percent.
At the individual level, among the bottom 10 S&P 500 performers, are names likes Wynn Resorts and Western Digital, both highly exposed to China. Nektar Therapeutics and Newell Brands are also among the S&P 500’s worst performers.
Taking a step back, despite its relative resilience, the S&P 500 is still on track for its worst month since August 2015, while most global equities are down for the year. North America is still the best performing region with 67% of the six countries having benchmark equities trading higher on the year in US dollar terms, according to Deutsche Bank. In EMEA, only 23% of countries are up, and only 6% of countries in the European Union (in USD). In South American (6 countries) and Asia (18), not a single country has a positive return in USD terms this year.
One day later, and despite widespread call for an imminent market bounce, traders remain completely ambivalent as today’s market cash open action shows:
- Half of S&P 500 stocks rising, half falling
- 5 of 11 S&P 500 groups rising, 6 falling
- 15 DJIA stocks rising, 15 falling
Meanwhile, the Nasdaq has a more negative tone with decliners outpacing advancers. In other words, as Bloomberg’s Andrew Cinko writes, “there’s no follow through on either the upside or the downside after yesterday’s epic rebound. At this moment, he who hesitates isn’t lost, in fact, he’s got a lot of company as stock market pundits engage in verbal duel over where we go from here.”
For those looking for key market inflection points, BMO’s Brad Wishak highlights a divergence that was a key tell for recent market action, and may portend even more pain in the coming weeks.
According to Wishak, one place that telegraphed the recent market turmoil was the venerable New York Stock Exchange: the NYSE is the worlds largest stock exchange by market cap (21 trillion) yet “seems to get very little main stream attention for reasons I’ll never understand.”
And, Wishak adds, “when the largest stock exchange in the world throws up a few negative divergences, I want to listen” for the following three reasons:
- While the other major indices are hugging their 200 dma, the NYSE is firmly through it
- Additionally, the 2018 Channel trend line support broken
- But the biggest tell for me took place in September….while all the other majors were marking fresh all time highs, the largest exchange in the world wasn’t even close to confirming ….this doesn’t happen often………another one for the radar
Rand sinks as South Africa enters recession in second quarter
Developing-nation currencies set for lowest since May 2017
Emerging markets sold off anew Tuesday as South Africa entered a recession and Indonesia’s rupiah joined currencies from Turkey to Argentina in tumbling toward record lows, reinforcing concern that contagion risks are too big to ignore.
MSCI Inc.’s index of currencies dropped for a fifth time in six days, set for the lowest close in more than a year. The rand led global declines as data showed the economy fell into a recession last quarter. Turkey’s lira slid on worry the central bank will disappoint investors at its rate meeting next week, while the Argentine peso slumped to a record and Indonesian rupiah sank to the lowest in two decades even after the central bank intensified its fight to protect it.
The dollar extended its advance to a fourth day as Donald Trump threatened to ramp up a trade dispute with China with an announcement of tariffs on as much as $200 billion in additional Chinese products as soon as Thursday. As U.S. rates rise, investor fears over idiosyncratic risks in emerging markets have climbed, including Argentina’s fiscal woes, Turkey’s twin deficits, Brazil’s contentious elections and South Africa’s land-reform bill.
Meantime, the dollar is winning by default, according to Kit Juckes, a global strategist at Societe Generale SA.
“There’s not much to make me think the dollar should be going up, but there’s plenty to make me nervous about other currencies,” Juckes said. “The dollar is very strong and lacking rate support, but other currencies are worse.”
Here’s what other analysts are saying about the latest in emerging markets:
It’s Not Enough
Tsutomu Soma, general manager for fixed-income trading at SBI Securities Co. in Tokyo:
- “The measures announced by Argentina and Turkey are probably not enough to lead to a significant improvement in their fundamentals”
- “Contagion risks to other emerging markets are growing especially as the Fed tightens”
‘Set to Suffer’
Michael Every, head of Asia financial markets research at Rabobank in Hong Kong:
- “Emerging-market FX are set to suffer almost regardless of what they do, the only issue is how much”
- The dollar will remain on the front foot against emerging markets as long as the U.S. continues to raise rates and boost fiscal spending while keeping the trade war fears on the radar
Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM:
- “Emerging market currencies could be destined for further pain if the turmoil in Turkey and Argentina intensifies”
- “The combination of global trade tensions, a stabilizing U.S. dollar and prospects of higher U.S. interest rates may ensure EM currencies remain depressed in the short to medium term”
‘A Penny Short’
Stephen Innes, head of Asia Pacific trading at Oanda Corp. in Singapore:
- Argentina’s measures are “likely a day late and a penny short”
- “These moves are a step in the right direction, but they’re unlikely to be convincing enough to remove currency speculators from the driver’s seat. I guess it’s all down the IMF’s ‘White Knight’ to the rescue. However, we are getting into the realm of unquantifiability which makes the market utterly untradable”
Masakatsu Fukaya, an emerging-market currency trader at Mizuho Bank Ltd.:
- Contagion risks from Argentina and Turkey are growing for other emerging markets and economies with weak fundamentals such as those with current-account deficits and high inflation rates
- Currencies of countries such as Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa have been among most vulnerable
- The Fed’s rate increases and trade frictions means the underlying pressure on emerging currencies is for a further downward move
— With assistance by Tomoko Yamazaki, Yumi Teso, Lilian Karunungan, and Ben Bartenstein
Emerging market chaos is now front page news.
American corporations are simply raking in profits. Some are so bloated and cash-rich they literally can’t figure out what to do with it all. Apple, for instance, is sitting on nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars — and that’s down a bit from earlier this year. Microsoft and Google, meanwhile, were sitting on “only” $132 billion and $63 billion respectively (as of March this year).
However, American corporations in general are taking those profits and kicking them out to shareholders, mainly in the form of share buybacks. These are when a corporation uses profits, cash, or borrowed money to buy its own stock, thus increasing its price and the wealth of its shareholders. (Big Tech is doing this as well, just not fast enough to draw down their dragon hoards.) As a new joint report from the Roosevelt Institute and the National Employment Law Project by Katy Milani and Irene Tung shows, from 2015 to 2017 corporations spent nearly 60 percent of their net profits on buybacks.
This practice should be banned immediately, as it was before the Reagan administration.
The most immediately objectionable consequence of share buybacks is they come at the expense of wages. Milani and Tung calculate that if buybacks spending had been funneled into wage increases, McDonald’s employees could get a raise of $4,000; those at Starbucks could get $8,000; and those at Lowes, Home Depot, and CVS could get an eye-popping $18,000.
Some economists are skeptical of this reasoning, arguing that wages are set according to labor market conditions. But if you set aside free market dogmatism, it is beyond obvious that this sort of behavior is coming at workers’ expense. Wall Street bloodsuckers are not at all subtle about it, screaming bloody murder and tanking stocks every time a public company proposes paying workers instead of shareholders. Indeed, it provides a highly convincing explanation for something that has been puzzling analysts for months: the situation of wages continuing to stagnate or decline while unemployment is at 4 percent. The answer is that wages are low in large part because the American corporate structure has been rigged in favor of shareholders and executives.
This raises an objection: What about dividends? (These are payments made directly to shareholders, as opposed to buying stock to increase their price.) Wouldn’t banning buybacks just lead to increased dividends?
It might. But buybacks are worse, for three reasons. First, selling shares is generally counted as capital gains, which are usually (though not always) taxed at a much lower rate than dividend payments. Secondly, where dividends are regular occurrences, buybacks happen at erratic intervals, making it easier for huge payments to slip by unnoticed.
More importantly, share buybacks incentivize corporate short-termism and Wall Street predation. Making a quick buck at the expense of the underlying corporate enterprise is easy: simply pressure the company into spending all its money on buybacks — or more than all; Milani and Tung find the restaurant industry spent 136 percent of profits on buybacks from 2015-17, through cash and borrowing — then sell the stock once the price pops up. Money that might have gone into badly-needed investment or debt repayment is now in your pocket, and if the enterprise collapses later, who cares? Not your problem — you’re already on to the next victim.
Dividends, by contrast, are a lot more amenable to the value investor who wants the company to succeed over the long term. In general, banning buybacks will make it somewhat harder for corporations to be turned into a wealth funnel for the top 1 percent.
That said, dividends payments are also out of control — enabled by low top marginal tax rates and special loopholes, plus a powerless working class — and should be wrenched down as well. Banning buybacks should be considered the first step in reining in the outrageous abuse of the American corporate form, not a panacea.
Before about 2005, postwar corporate profits had never reached 9 percent of GDP (save for a couple quarters in the early 1950s). Immediately after the financial crisis, they bounced back up to that level, where they remain to this day.
This is a social crisis for the United States. Having an economy rigged to suck the wealth out of society and place it in the pockets of a tiny, already ultra-wealthy minority is an extremely risky situation for a democratic state. We need big, aggressive moves to club down corporate profits, and start directing that money back into the country as a whole. Banning buybacks is a simple and straightforward way to get started.
Two weeks ago, Goldman made a surprising finding: as of July 1, just one stock alone was responsible for more than a third of the market’s YTD performance: Amazon, whose 45% YTD return has contributed to 36% of the S&P 3% total return this year, including dividends. Goldman also calculated that the rest of the Top 10 S&P 500 stocks of 2018 are the who’s who of the tech world, and collectively their total return amounted to 122% of the S&P total return in the first half of the year.
And another striking fact: just the Top 4 stocks, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Netflix have been responsible for 84% of the S&P upside in 2018 (and yes, these are more or less the stocks David Einhorn is short in his bubble basket, which explains his -19% YTD return).
Now, in a review of first half performance, Bank of America has performed a similar analysis and found that excluding just the five FAANG stocks, the S&P 500 return in H1 would have been -0.7%; Staples (-8.6%) and Telco (-8.4%) were the worst.
FAANGs aside, here are the other notable sector observations about a market whose leadership has rarely been this narrow:
- Only three sectors outperformed in the 1H (Discretionary, Tech and Energy). Meanwhile, Staples and Telecom were the worst-performers in the 1H.
- Energy staged the biggest comeback in 2Q to become the quarter’s best-performing sector after turning in among the worst returns in 1Q.
- Industrials and Financials notably underperformed in June, the 2Q, and the 1H while Discretionary and Energy outperformed in all three.
Looking at the entire first half performance, tech predictably was the biggest contributor to the S&P 500’s 1H gain, contributing 2.6ppt or 98% of the S&P 500’s 2.6% total return.
The broader market did ok: trade tensions, negative headlines, and the slow withdrawal of Fed liquidity contributed to volatility’s return in June and earlier in February, but the S&P 500 still ended 2Q +3.4% and the 1H +2.6%, outperforming bonds and gold.
The Russell 2000 led the Russell 1000 by 4.9ppt in the 1H as small caps may have benefitted from expectations of a stronger US economy, a strong USD and the sense that smaller more domestic companies are shielded from trade tensions (where we take issue with this notion). However, mega-caps also did well: the “Nifty 50” largest companies within the S&P 500 beat the “Not-so-nifty 450” in the 2Q and the 1H. Non-US performed worst.
Some additional return details by asset class:
- US stocks outperformed most other asset classes in the 1H, including bonds, cash, and gold.
- Within equities, the US was the only major region to post positive returns, outperforming non-US equities by 6.1ppt in US dollar terms in the 1H.
- Amid concerns over global growth, a stronger dollar and trade, coupled with a strong US economic backdrop, small caps outperformed large caps in the 1H.
- Megacaps also did well: the “Nifty 50” mega-caps within the S&P 500 beat the “Other 450” stocks in 2Q and the 1H.
Performance by quant groups:
- Growth factors were the best-performing group in the 1H (+6.7% on average), leading Momentum/Technical factors (the second best-performing group) by 1.7ppt while Value factors were among the weakest.
- Despite the macro risks, the best way to make money was to stick to the fundamentals and own stocks with the highest Upward Estimate Revisions (+12.4% in the 1H), a Growth factor.
- Low Quality (B or worse) stocks beat High Quality (B+ or better) stocks in June, 2Q and the 1H. But both the lowest and highest quality stocks outperformed the rest of the market in all three periods.
The Russell 1000 Growth Index beat the Russell 1000 Value Index by 9ppt in the 1H, on track to exceed last year’s 17ppt spread. Growth factors were the best-performing group in the 1H (+6.7% on avg.), followed by Momentum factors. But Momentum broke down in June, and June saw the 56th worst month out of 60, -1.4 standard deviations from average returns.
What About Alpha?
Unfortunately for active managers, BofA notes that while pair-wise correlations remain lows, alpha remained scarce. The average pairwise correlation of S&P 500 stocks rose sharply in 1Q with the increased volatility which typically hurts stock pickers, but quickly came down below its long-term average of 26% in 2Q. However, performance dispersion (long-short alpha) continues to trail its long-term average.
What does this mean for active managers? According to BofA, never has the herding been this profound: since the bank began to track large cap fund holdings in 2008, managers have been increasing their tilts towards expensive, large, low dividend yield and low quality stocks. And today, their respective factor exposure relative to the S&P 500 is near its record level.
This is a risk because as we discussed recently, the threat is that as a result of an adverse surprise, “everyone” would be forced to sell at the same time. As BofA notes, “positioning matters more than fundamentals in the short-term, and this has been especially true around the quarter-end rebalancing. Since 2012, a long-short strategy of selling the 10 most overweight stocks and buying the 10 most underweight stocks by managers over the 15 days post-quarter-end would have yielded an average annualized spread of 90ppt, 15x higher than the average annualized spread of 6ppt over the full 90 days.”
Keep an eye on the first FAANG today when Netflix reports after the close.
Is Tesla The New Theranos?
I originally started following Tesla as I felt it was a structurally unprofitable business nearing a cash crunch as hundreds of competing products were about to enter the market.
As I’ve studied Tesla more closely, I’ve come to realize that Elon Musk appears to be running a Ponzi Scheme disguised as an auto-manufacturer; where he has to keep unveiling new products, many of which will never come to market, in order to raise new capital (equity/debt/customer deposits) to keep the scheme alive. The question has always been; when will Tesla collapse?
Tesla’s Bullshit Conversion Cycle is the key financial metric underlying this scheme (from @ProphetTesla)
As part of my research on Tesla, I decided to read Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, the journalist who first uncovered the Theranos fraud. It is the story of how Elizabeth Holmes created Theranos and then lurched between publicity events in order to raise additional capital and keep the fraud going, despite the fact that the technology did not work. The key lesson from Theranos for determining when a fraud will implode is that there are always idiots willing to put fresh money into a well marketed fraud – so you need a catalyst for when the funding dries up.
The other salient fact was that most senior employees actually knew that something wasn’t quite right, but feared losing their jobs or getting sued if they did anything about it. Therefore, employee turnover was off the charts but no one was willing to risk their career by saying anything publicly. However, when Theranos started risking customers’ lives, the secret got out pretty fast. This is because most people are inherently ethical – especially when they know that their employer is doing something immoral, like releasing flawed lab results to sick patients. Eventually, some employees felt compelled to become whistle-blowers and started to reach out to journalists and regulators. This started a cascading event.
First, one intrepid journalist took the career risk to write about the Theranos fraud. Then other whistle-blowers felt emboldened to step forward and contact this first journalist, as they also wanted their story told – especially as they had already reached out to government regulators who were too scared to investigate a politically powerful company.
Once a few good articles had been written about Theranos, the dam broke open and the feeding frenzy began. Other journalists, smelling page-clicks rapidly descend on Theranos; more workers spoke out, more incriminating evidence came to light and then there was a sense of voter outrage. Finally, the regulators who were first contacted by the whistle-blowers many months previously, felt compelled to act – at which point the fraud collapsed and the money spigot shut off.
Executives Fleeing Tesla Is A True Bull Market “Up And To The Right”
We’ve already seen the mass exodus of senior Tesla executives. When they say they “want to spend time with their family,” it really means they “want to spend less time in prison.” Next, we have the first whistle-blowers—there will be MANY more. Currently there are at least 3 different ones feeding information to journalists. Using past frauds as a guide, once we get to this point of the media cycle, the fraud usually unravels pretty fast. Given the perilous state of Tesla’s finances, they are in urgent need of new capital. The question is; who would want to invest new capital when Tesla is now admitting to knowingly selling cars without testing the brakes in order to hit some arbitrary one week production target? When a company admits that it will sacrifice vehicle quality and even risk killing its customers to win a twitter feud and start a short squeeze, regulators must step in. The question is; what else has Tesla done illegally to hit its targets? We know that Tesla long ago passed over the ethical threshold of selling faulty products that have killed people—what other allegations will soon come to light? Elon Musk demanded that Tesla stop testing brakes on June 26. Doug Field, chief engineer, resigned on June 27. Is this a coincidence? Of course not—Doug Field doesn’t want to be responsible for killing people. I think Tuesday’s article will speed up the pace of Tesla’s bankruptcy quite dramatically and I purchased some shorter dated puts after reading it.
Tesla is the fluke stock-promote that found a way to address society’s fascination with ‘green technology’ and the ‘next Steve Jobs.’ Elon Musk eagerly stepped into the role of mad scientist and investors gave him a free pass. It now increasingly seems that everything he’s done for the past few years was simply designed to keep the share price up, keep the dream alive and raise more capital – as opposed to creating shareholder value. Along the way, customer safety has been ignored in order to hit production targets and appease the stock market. In addition to not testing brakes, a recent whistle-blower has accused Tesla of installing over 700 dangerously defective batteries into Model 3 vehicles.
I suspect there will be many more allegations as whistle-blowers come out of the woodwork. It really is the Theranos of auto makers. I suspect it will all end soon. Theranos and Enron both collapsed within 90 days of the journalists getting up to speed. The reporters now know the right questions to ask and Tesla will be out of cash by the time they are all answered.
Stock Promotion In Overdrive Lately. What’s Elon Trying To Distract People From?
Besides, Elon Musk isn’t even all that innovative. Hitler already tried this same automotive customer deposit scam 80 years ago (From Wages of Destruction)
“Short-Tempered” Musk Reportedly “Snapped” At Staff Working 12-Hour Shifts In Model 3 “Production Hell” Week
The conditions at Tesla’s production facility leading up to meeting its Model 3 production goal have been reported as nothing short of hellish as Elon Musk “barked” at employees working 12 hour shifts, bottlenecking other parts of the company’s production and reportedly causing concern by employees that the long hours and strenuous environment would cause even more workplace injuries and accidents.
bear skeptic Albert Edwards is best known for one thing: predicting that the financial world will end in a deflationary singularity, one which will send yields in the US deep in the negative, and which he first dubbed two decades ago as the “Ice Age.” He is also known for casually and periodically forecasting – as he did a few weeks ago in an interview with Barrons – that the S&P will suffer a historic crash, one which will send it back under the March 2009 low of 666.
In this context, a couple of recent events caught Edwards’ attention.
First, speaking of the above mentioned Barron’s interview, Edwards was taken aback by one commentator who took the SocGen strategist to task for his relentless bearishness. Indirectly responding to the reader, in his latest letter to clients Edwards writes that “its good to have a little humility in this business because its so darn humiliating when forecasts are proved wrong. And the bolder the forecast, the more humiliating it is!” He continues:
That is one reason why most commentators on the sell-side never stray too far from consensus. When I was an avid consumer of sell-side research some 30 years ago, there was one thing about the macro sell-side that I truly marvelled at namely the analysts ability to totally reverse a view and pretend that had been their view all along! In the days before the internet and email, I had to rifle through our storage cupboards to find the evidence of what were often 180 degree handbrake turns. In the internet age, there is no hiding any more.
One of the most leveling experiences at the end of an article or interview about my thoughts is to scroll down and read some of the readers comments. In my case, they often marvel that I am still in any sort of employment at all! Some are witty and make me smile - like the one below in response to a recent interview I did with Barrons.
Edwards refers to the comment titled “Prescient as a Broken Clock?” authored by one Gordon Gould from Boulder, Colorado who writes:
“Barron’s notes that Société Générale’s Albert Edwards is a permabear (“S&P 500 Could Still Test 2009 Lows,” Interview, April 7). However, your readers would surely like to know how some of his previous calls have turned out. A quick Google search revealed that nearly five years ago, Edwards called for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to hit 450 and gold to exceed $10,000. While even a broken clock is correct twice a day, perhaps in Edwards’ case, we’re talking about a broken calendar on Saturn, which takes about 29 years to orbit the sun.”
Albert summarizes his response to this comment eloquently, using just one word: “ouch.” Hit to his pride aside, Albert asks rhetorically “Where did it all go so wrong?” and explains that in the Barrons interview, “I explain why in my Ice Age thesis I still expect US equity prices to fall to new lows in the next recession.” To be sure, this is familiar to ZH readers, as we highlight every incremental piece from Edwards, because no matter if one agrees or disagrees, he always provides the factual backing to justify his outlook, gloomy as it may be.
He explains as much:
I always expected the equity markets day of reckoning to come in a recession with equity valuations falling to lower lows than in the two previous cyclical bear market bottoms in 2001 and 2009. If I am right, the next recession will see a lower level than the forward PE of 10.5x in March 2009. A forward PE of 7x and a 30% decline in forward earnings would take the market to new lows as part of a long-term secular valuation bear market (which began in 2001). Then the stratospheric rise in the market over the past few years will be seen as just a temporary aberration fuelled by QE.
The moment of truth for my strategic Ice Age view will come when we know how far the equity bear market will fall in the next recession, or conversely whether the bond bull market will continue with 10y US yields, for example, falling into negative territory.
And yet, here we are a decade into central planning, and global stocks are just shy of all time highs. How come?
If I were to identify the major error that led me to be too bearish on equities, it would not be the inflationary impact of QE on asset prices. What I got wrong is that after the end of the Great Moderation, which saw an extended period of economic expansion from Dec 2001 to Dec 2007 as well as low financial volatility, triggering rampant credit growth I expected economic volatility to return to normal. The lesson from Japan I told clients was that once their Great Moderation died in 1990, the economic cycle returned to normal amplitude as private credit growth could no longer be induced to keep it going. Thus I expected that after the 2008 economic debacle the US economic cycle would return to normality and for recessions to become much more frequent events as they were in Japan after 1990. And as in Japan, I expected each rapidly arriving recession would take equity valuations down to new lower lows. After 2008, I expected the US economic recovery to quickly fall back into recession and the cyclical bull run in equities to be surprisingly short-lived. How wrong I was!
Indeed, because as Bank of America observed recently, every time the stock market threatened to tumble, central banks would step in: that, if anything, is what Edwards failed to anticipate. The rest is merely noise:
Despite the economy flirting with outright recession on a couple of occasions, this current recovery has endured to the point where we now have enjoyed the second longest economic cycle in US history. We have not returned to normal economic cycles as I had expected. QE has helped this, one of the most feeble economic recoveries in history, to also hobble into the record books for its length!
To be sure, Edwards will eventually get the last laugh as the constant, artificial interventions assure that the (final) crash will be unlike anything ever experienced: “a recession delayed is ultimately a recession deepened as more and more credit excesses have built up, Minsky-like, in the system.”
Then again, will it be worth having a final laugh if the S&P is hovering near zero, the fiat system has been crushed, modern economics discredited, and life as we know it overturned? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, for now however, Edwards has to bear the cross of his own forecasting indignities:
… having stepped away from the crazed run-up in equity prices, my reputation for calling the equity market correctly has been severely dented, if it is not actually in tatters. I know that.
Still, it’s not just Edwards. As the strategist notes, increasingly wiser heads than I, who did not leave the equity party early, are suggesting a top might be close. He then goes on to quote Mark Mobious who we first referenced earlier this week:
The renowned investor Mark Mobius is also getting nervous. The Financial Express reports that “After Jim Rogers recently warned of the ‘biggest crash in our lifetimes,’ veteran investor and emerging markets champion Mark Mobius warns of a severe stock market correction. “I can see a 30% drop. The market looks to me to be waiting for a trigger to tumble.” He then goes on in the article to cite some possible triggers.
To be fair, there are plenty of others who have recently and not so recently joined Edwards in the increasingly bearish camp (among them not only billionaire traders but economists and pundits like David Rosenberg and John Authers), although one thing missing so far has been the catalyst that will push the world out of its centrally-planned hypnosis and into outright chaos. Now, Edwards believes that this all important trigger has finally emerged:
Perhaps the greatest near-term threat to the stability of the equity markets is seen as the recent surge in bond yields, which are now testing the critical 3% technical level.
As this is so important, I want to repeat verbatim what our own Stephanie Aymes says on this point. She says, referring to the front page chart, the 10Y UST is marching towards the major support (price) of 3.00%/3.05% consisting of the multi-decade channel, 2013-2014 lows, and the 61.8% retracement of the 2009-2016 uptrend. Moreover, this is also the confirmation level of the multi-year Double Top, which if confirmed, would act as a catapult towards the 2-year channel limit at 3.33%/3.43%, and perhaps even towards 2009-2011 levels of 3.77%/4.00%, also the 50% retracement of the 2007-2016 up-cycle. The Monthly Stochastic indicator continues to withstand a pivotal decadal floor (blue line in chart) which emphasizes the relevance of the 3.00%/3.05% support.
So with everyone chiming in on the significance of the 3% breach in the 10Y, here is Edwards:
“Let me translate: 3% resistance is very strong but if broken, there is big trouble afoot!“
The irony, of course, is that yields blowing out is precisely the opposite of an Ice Age, although to Edwards the implication is simple: once stocks tumble, it will force the Fed to return to active management of markets and risk, and launch the next Fed debt monetization program which will culminate with the end of the current economic paradigm, and Edwards’ long anticipated collapse in risk assets coupled with the long-overdue arrival of the Ice Age.
Or maybe not, as Edwards’ parting words suggest:
I think, like Mark Mobius, that equities are looking for an excuse to sell off and the current rally may abruptly end for any number of reasons. Although I personally do not think it likely that US bonds can break much above 3%, if at all, I discount nothing given the clear end of cycle cyclical pressures that have built up. But if I am wrong on bonds and we have seen the end of the bond bull market, after having been wrong on equities, maybe it is time to think hard on what the Barrons correspondent said and take a sabbatical – maybe on Saturn.
And while we commiserate with Albert’s lament, it could certainly be worse: have you heard of Dennis Gartman?
Over the weekend, ZH looked at the notional amount of non-financial Libor-linked debt (so excluding the roughly $200 trillion in floating-rate derivatives which have little practical impact on the real world until there is a Lehman-like collateral chain break, of course at which point everyone is on the hook), to see what the real-world impact of the recent blow out in 3M USD Libor is on the business and household sector.
To this end, JPM calculated that based on Fed data, there is a little under $8 trillion in pure Libor-related debt…
… and that a 35bps widening in the LIBOR-OIS spread could raise the business sector interest burden by $21 billion. As we wondered previously, “whether or not that modest amount in monetary tightening is enough to “break” the market remains to be seen.”
In other words, unless the Fed – and JPMorgan – have massively miscalculated how much floating-rate debt is outstanding, and how much more interest expense the rising LIBOR will prompt, the ongoing surge in Libor and Libor-OIS, should not have a systemic impact on the financial system, or economy.
What about at the corporate borrower level?
In an analysis released on Monday afternoon, Goldman’s Ben Snider writes that while for equities in aggregate, rising borrowing costs pose only a modest headwind, “stocks with high variable rate debt have recently lagged in response to the move in borrowing costs.”
Goldman cautions that these stocks should struggle if borrowing costs continue to climb – which they will unless the Fed completely reverses course on its tightening strategy – amid a backdrop of elevated corporate leverage and tightening financial conditions.
Indeed, while various macro Polyannas have said to ignore the blowout in both Libor and Libor-OIS because, drum roll, they are based on “technicals” and thus not a system risk to the banking sector (former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan once called the Libor-OIS “a barometer of fears of bank insolvency”), what they forget, and what Goldman demonstrates is what many traders already know well: the share prices of companies with high floating rate debt has mirrored the sharp fluctuation in short-term borrowing costs. This is shown below in the chart of 50 S&P 500 companies with floating rate bond debt (i.e. linked to Libor) amounting to more than 5% of total.
Here are some details on how Goldman constructed the screen:
We exclude Financials and Real Estate, and the screen captures stocks from every remaining sector except for Telecommunication Services. So far in 2018, as short-term rates have climbed, these stocks have lagged the S&P 500 by 320 bp (-4% vs. -1%). The group now trades at a 10% P/E multiple discount to the median S&P 500 stock (16.0x vs. 17.6x). These stocks should struggle if borrowing costs continue to climb, but may present a tactical value opportunity for investors who expect a reversion in spreads. The tightening in late March of the forward-looking FRA/OIS spread has been accompanied by a rebound of floating rate debt stocks and suggests investors expect some mean-reversion in borrowing costs.
Goldman also notes that small-caps generally carry a larger share of floating rate debt than do large-caps, which may lead to a higher beta for the data set due to size considerations.
In any event, the inverse correlation between tighter funding conditions (higher Libor spreads) and the stock under performance of floating debt-heavy companies is unmistakable.
Finally, traders who wish to hedge rising Libor by shorting those companies whose interest expense will keep rising alongside 3M USD Libor, in the process impairing their equity value, here is a list of the most vulnerable names.
“They’re burning the furniture to heat the house”
Money manager Michael Pento says the biggest unreported story is the skyrocketing interest rate of LIBOR. What’s that? Pento explains, “LIBOR, and people don’t understand or talk about it, is the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate. This rate has gone from 0.3% at the end of 2015 to 2.3% today. The London Inter-Bank Offered Rate is the rate that is applied to $370 trillion of loans and derivatives and loans, from credit cards, to student loans, to auto loans are priced off of LIBOR. . . That is the biggest reason why the stock market is rolling over because the cost of borrowing money. . . is going up very, very sharply. . . All of this is going to hit a crescendo in October of 2018.” Pento Says gold prices are going way up because the Fed will no be able to raise interest rates.
Only one thing matters in bubble markets: sentiment
Yesterday saw Jerome Powell sworn into office as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve, replacing Janet Yellen. Looking at the sea of red across Monday’s financial markets, Mr. Powell is very likely *not* having the sort of first day on the job he was hoping for…
Jerome H. Powell, new Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Also having a rough start to the week is anyone with a long stock position or a cryptocurrency portfolio.
The Dow Jones closed down over 1,200 points today, building off of Friday’s plunge of 666 points. The relentless ascension of stock prices has suddenly jolted into reverse, delivering the biggest 2-day drop stocks have seen in years.
But that’s nothing compared to the bloodletting we’re seeing in the cryptocurrency space. The price of Bitcoin just broke below $7,000 moments ago, now nearly two-thirds lower from its $19,500 high reached in mid-December. Other coins, like Ripple, are seeing losses of closer to 80% over the same time period. That’s a tremendous amount of carnage in such a short window of time.
And while stocks and cryptos are very different asset classes, the underlying force driving their price corrections is the same — a change in sentiment.
Both markets had entered bubble territory (stocks much longer ago than the cryptos), and once they did, their continued price action became dependent on sentiment much more so than any underlying fundamentals.
The Anatomy Of A Price Bubble
History is quite clear on how bubble markets behave.
On the way up, a virtuous cycle is created where quick, out sized gains become the rationale that attracts more capital into the market, driving prices up further and even faster. A mania ensues where everyone who missed out on the earlier gains jumps in to buy regardless of the price, desperate not to be left behind (this is called fear of missing out, or “FOMO”).
This mania produces a last, magnificent spike in price — called a “blow-off” top — which is then immediately followed by an equally sharp reversal. The reversal occurs because there are simply no remaining new desperate investors left to sell to. The marginal buyer has suddenly switched from the “greater fool” to the increasingly cautious investor.
Those sitting on early gains and looking to cash out near the top start selling. They don’t mind dropping the price a bit to get out. So the price continues downwards, spooking more and more folks to start selling what they have. Suddenly, the virtuous cycle that drove prices to their zenith has now metastasized into a vicious cycle of selling, driving prices lower and lower as panicking investors give up on their dreams of easy riches and increasingly scramble to limit their mounting losses.
In the end, the market price retraces nearly all of the gains made, leaving a small cadre of now-rich early investors who managed to get out near the top, and a large despondent pool of ‘everyone else’.
We’ve seen this same compressed bell-curve shape in every major asset bubble in financial history:
And we’re seeing it play out in real-time now in both stocks and cryptos.
The Bursting Crypto Bubble
It’s amazing how fast asset price bubbles can pop.
Just a month ago, the Internet was replete with articles proclaiming the new age of cryptocurrencies. Every day, fresh stories were circulated of individuals and companies making overnight fortunes on their crypto bets, shaking their heads at all the rubes who simply “didn’t get” why It’s different this time.
Here at PeakProsperity.com the demand for educational content on cryptocurrencies from our audience rose to a loud crescendo.
We did our best to provide answers as factually as we could through articles and webinars, though we tried very hard not to be seen as encouraging folks to pile in wantonly. A big reason for this is we’re more experienced than most in identifying what asset bubbles look like.
After all, we *are* the ones who produced Chapter 17 of the The Crash Course: Understanding Asset Bubbles:
To us, the run-up in the cryptocurrencies seen over 2017 had all the classic hallmarks of an asset price bubble — irrespective of the blockchain’s potential to unlock tremendous long-term economic value. Prices had simply risen way too far way too fast. Which is why we issued a cautionary warning in early December that concluded:
So, if you’ve been feeling like the loser who missed the Bitcoin party bus, you’ve likely done yourself a favor by not buying in over the past few weeks. It is highly, highly likely for the reasons mentioned above that a painful downwards price correction is imminent. One that will end in tears for all the recent FOMO-driven panic buyers.
And now that time has shown this warning to have been prescient in both its accuracy and timeliness, we can clearly see that Bitcoin is following the classic price trajectory of the asset price bubble curve. The chart below compares Bitcoin’s current price to that of several of history’s most notorious bubbles:
This chart (which is from Feb 2, so it doesn’t capture Bitcoin’s further decline below $7k) shows that Bitcoin is now about 2/3 of its way through the bubble life-cycle, and about half-way through its fall from its apex.
Projecting from the paths of previous bubbles, we shouldn’t be surprised if Bitcoin’s price ends up somewhere in the vicinity of $2,500-$3,000 by the time the dust settles.
Did The Stock Market Bubble Just “Pop”?
Despite the extreme drop in the stock market over the past two days, any sort of material bubble retracement has yet to begin — which should give you an appreciation of how overstretched its current valuation is.
Look at this chart of the S&P 500 index. Today’s height dwarfs those of the previous two bubbles the index has experienced this century.
The period from 2017 on sure looks like the acceleration seen during a blow-off top. If indeed so, does the 6% drop we’ve just seen over the past two trading days signify the turning point has now arrived?
Crazily, the carnage we’ve seen in the stock market over the past two days is just barely visible in this chart. If indeed the top is in and we begin retracing the classic bubble curve, the absolute value of the losses that will ensue will be gargantuan.
If the S&P only retraces down to the HIGHS of its previous two bubbles (around 1,500), it would need to fall over 43% from where it just closed today. And history suggests a full retracement would put the index closer to 750-1,000 — at least two-thirds lower than its current valuation.
How Spooked Is The Herd?
As a reminder, bubbles are psychological phenomena. They are created when perception clouds judgment to the point where it concludes “Fundamentals don’t matter”.
And they don’t. At least, not while the mania phase is playing out.
But once the last manic buyer (the “greatest” fool) has joined the party, there’s no one left to dupe. And as the meteoric price increase stops and then reverses, the herd becomes increasingly skittish until a full-blown stampede occurs.
We’ve been watching that stampede happen in the crypto space over the past 4 weeks. We may have just seen it start in the stock markets.
How much farther may prices fall from here? And how quickly?
History gives us a good guide for estimating, as we’ve done above. But the actual trajectory will be determined by how spooked the herd is.
For a market that has known no fear for nearly eight years now, a little panic can quickly escalate to an out-of-control selling frenzy.
Want proof? We saw it late today in the complete collapse in XIV, the inverse-VIX (i.e. short volatility) ETN that has been one of Wall Street’s most crowded trades of late. It lost over 90% of its value at the market close:
The repercussions of this are going to send seismic shock waves through the markets as a tsunami of margin calls erupts. A cascading wave of sell-orders that pushes the market further into the red at an accelerating pace from here is a real possibility that can not be dismissed at this point.
Those concerned about what may happen next should read our premium report Is This It? issued over the past weekend.
In it, we examine the congregating perfect storm of crash triggers — rising interest rates, a fast-weakening dollar, a sudden return of volatility to the markets after a decade of absence, rising oil prices — and calculate whether the S&P’s sudden 6% rout is the start of a 2008-style market melt-down (or worse).
Make no mistake: these are sick, distorted, deformed and liquidity-addicted bubble markets. They’ve gotten entirely too dependent on continued largess from the central banks.
That is now ending.
After so many years of such extreme market manipulation finally gives way, the coming losses will be staggeringly enormous.
The chief concern of any prudent investor right now should be: How do I avoid being collateral damage in the coming reckoning?
Source: Peak Prosperity
It is safe to say that one of the most popular, and important, charts of 2017, was the one showing the ongoing and projected decline across central bank assets, which from a record expansion of over $2 trillion in early 2017 is expected to turn negative by mid 2019. This is shown on both a 3- and 12-month rolling basis courtesy of these recent charts from Citi.
The reason the above charts are key, is because as Citi’s Matt King, DB’s Jim Reid, BofA’s Barnaby Martin and countless other Wall Street commentators have pointed out, historically asset performance has correlated strongly with the change in central bank balance sheets, especially on the way up.
As a result, the big question in 2017 (and 2018) is whether risk assets would exhibit the same correlation on the way down as well, i.e. drop.
We can now say that for credit the answer appears to be yes, because as the following chart shows, the ongoing decline in CB assets is starting to have an adverse impact on investment grade spreads which have been pushing wider in recent days, in large part due to the sharp moves in government bonds underline the credit spread.
And, what is more important, is that investors appear to have noticed the repricing across credit. This is visible in two places: on one hand while inflows into broader credit have remained generally strong, there has been a surprisingly sharp and persistent outflow from US high yield funds in recent weeks. These outflows from junk bond funds have occurred against a backdrop of rising UST yields, which recently hit 2.67%, the highest since 2014, another key risk factor to credit investors.
But while similar acute outflows have yet to be observed across the rest of the credit space, and especially among investment grade bonds, JPM points out that the continued outflows from HY and some early signs of waning interest in HG bonds in the ETF space in the US has also been accompanied by sharp increases in short interest ratios in LQD (Figure 13), the largest US investment grade bond ETF…
… as well as HYG, the largest US high yield ETF by total assets,
This, together with the chart showing the correlation of spreads to CB assets, suggests that positioning among institutional investors has turned markedly more bearish recently.
Putting the above together, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a big credit-quake is imminent, and Wall Street is already positioning to take advantage of it when it hits.
So what about stocks?
Well, as Citi noted two weeks ago, one of the reasons why there has been a dramatic surge in stocks in the new years is that while the impulse – i.e., rate of change – of central bank assets has been sharply declining on its way to going negative in ~18 months, the recent boost of purchases from EM FX reserve managers, i.e. mostly China, has been a huge tailwind to stocks.
This “intervention”, as well as the recent retail capitulation which has seen retail investors unleashed across stock markets, buying at a pace not seen since just before both the 1987 and 2008 crash, helps explain why stocks have – for now – de-correlated from central bank balance sheets. This is shown in the final chart below, also from Citi.
And while the blue line and the black line above have decoupled, it is only a matter of time before stocks notice the same things that are spooking bonds, and credit in general, and get reacquainted with gravity.
What happens next? Well, if the Citi correlation extrapolation is accurate, and historically it has been, it would imply that by mid-2019, equities are facing a nearly 50% drop to keep up with central bank asset shrinkage. Which is why it is safe to say that this is one time when the bulls will be praying that correlation is as far from causation as statistically possible.
… age makes absolutely no difference
We present some somber reading on this holiday season from Macquarie Capital’s Viktor Shvets, who in this exclusive to ZH readers excerpt from his year-ahead preview, explains why central banks can no longer exit the “doomsday highway” as a result of a “dilemma from hell” which no longer has a practical, real-world resolution, entirely as a result of previous actions by the same central bankers who are now left with no way out from a trap they themselves have created.
* * *
“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world” – Chaos Theory.
There is a good chance that 2018 might fully deserve shrill voices and predictions of dislocations that have filled almost every annual preview since the Great Financial Crisis.
Whether it was fears of a deflationary bust, expectation of an inflationary break-outs, disinflationary waves, central bank policy errors, US$ surges or liquidity crunches, we pretty much had it all. However, for most investors, the last decade actually turned out to be one of the most profitable and the most placid on record. Why then have most investors underperformed and why are passive investment styles now at least one-third (or more likely closer to two-third) of the market and why have value investors been consistently crushed while traditional sector and style rotations failed to work? Our answer remains unchanged. There was nothing conventional or normal over the last decade, and we believe that neither would there be anything conventional over the next decade. We do not view current synchronized global recovery as indicative of a return to traditional business and capital market cycles that investors can ‘read’ and hence make rational judgements on asset allocations and sector rotations, based on conventional mean reversion strategies. It remains an article of faith for us that neither reintroduction of price discovery nor asset price volatility is any longer possible or even desirable.
However, would 2018, provide a break with the last decade? The answer to this question depends on one key variable. Are we witnessing a broad-based private sector recovery, with productivity and animal spirits coming back after a decade of hibernation, or is the latest reflationary wave due to similar reasons as in other recent episodes, namely (a) excess liquidity pumped by central banks (CBs); (b) improved co-ordination of global monetary policies, aimed at containing exchange rate volatility; and (c) China’s stimulus that reflated commodity complex and trade?
The answer to this question would determine how 2018 and 2019 are likely to play out. If the current reflation has strong private sector underpinnings, then not only would it be appropriate for CBs to withdraw liquidity and raise cost of capital, but indeed these would bolster confidence, and erode pricing anomalies without jeopardizing growth or causing excessive asset price displacements. Essentially, the strength of private sector would determine the extent to which incremental financialization and public sector supports would be required. If on the other hand, one were to conclude that most of the improvement has thus far been driven by CBs nailing cost of capital at zero (or below), liquidity injections and China’s debt-fuelled growth, then any meaningful withdrawal of liquidity and attempts to raise cost of capital would be met by potentially violent dislocations of asset prices and rising volatility, in turn, causing contraction of aggregate demand and resurfacing of disinflationary pressures. We remain very much in the latter camp. As the discussion below illustrates, we do not see evidence to support private sector-led recovery concept. Rather, we see support for excess liquidity, distorted rates and China spending driving most of the improvement.
We have in the past extensively written on the core drivers of current anomalies. In a ‘nutshell’, we maintain that over the last three decades, investors have gradually moved from a world of scarcity and scale limitations, to a world of relative abundance and an almost unlimited scalability. The revolution started in early 1970s, but accelerated since mid-1990s. If history is any guide, the crescendo would occur over the next decade. In the meantime, returns on conventional human inputs and conventional capital will continue eroding while return on social and digital capital will continue rising. This promises to further increase disinflationary pressures (as marginal cost of almost everything declines to zero), while keeping productivity rates constrained, and further raising inequalities.
The new world is one of disintegrating pricing signals and where economists would struggle even more than usual, in defining economic rules. As Paul Romer argued in his recent shot at his own profession, a significant chunk of macro-economic theories that were developed since 1930s need to be discarded. Included are concepts such as ‘macro economy as a system in equilibrium’, ‘efficient market hypothesis’, ‘great moderation’ ‘irrelevance of monetary policies’, ‘there are no secular or structural factors, it is all about aggregate demand’, ‘home ownership is good for the economy’, ‘individuals are profit-maximizing rational economic agents’, ‘compensation determines how hard people work’, ‘there are stable preferences for consumption vs saving’ etc. Indeed, the list of challenges is growing ever longer, as technology and Information Age alters importance of relative inputs, and includes questions how to measure ‘commons’ and proliferating non-monetary and non-pricing spheres, such as ‘gig or sharing’ economies and whether the Philips curve has not just flattened by disappeared completely. The same implies to several exogenous concepts beloved by economists (such as demographics).
The above deep secular drivers that were developing for more than three decades, but which have become pronounced in the last 10-15 years, are made worse by the activism of the public sector. It is ironic that CBs are working hard to erode the real value of global and national debt mountains by encouraging higher inflation, when it was the public sector and CBs themselves which since 1980s encouraged accelerated financialization. As we asked in our recent review, how can CBs exit this ‘doomsday highway’?
Investors and CBs are facing a convergence of two hurricane systems (technology and over-financialization), that are largely unstoppable. Unless there is a miracle of robust private sector productivity recovery or unless public sector policies were to undergo a drastic change (such as merger and fiscal and monetary arms, introduction of minimum income guarantees, massive Marshall Plan-style investments in the least developed regions etc), we can’t see how liquidity can be withdrawn; nor can we see how cost of capital can ever increase. This means that CBs remain slaves of the system that they have built (though it must be emphasized on our behalf and for our benefit).
If the above is the right answer, then investors and CBs have to be incredibly careful as we enter 2018. There is no doubt that having rescued the world from a potentially devastating deflationary bust, CBs would love to return to some form of normality, build up ammunition for next dislocations and play a far less visible role in the local and global economies. Although there are now a number of dissenting voices (such as Larry Summers or Adair Turner) who are questioning the need for CB independence, it remains an article of faith for an overwhelming majority of economists. However, the longer CBs stay in the game, the less likely it is that the independence would survive. Indeed, it would become far more likely that the world gravitates towards China and Japan, where CB independence is largely notional.
Hence, the dilemma from hell facing CBs: If they pull away and remove liquidity and try to raise cost of capital, neither demand for nor supply of capital would be able to endure lower liquidity and flattening yield curves. On the other hand, the longer CBs persist with current policies, the more disinflationary pressures are likely to strengthen and the less likely is private sector to regain its primacy.
We maintain that there are only two ‘tickets’ out of this jail. First (and the best) is a sudden and sustainable surge in private sector productivity and second, a significant shift in public sector policies. Given that neither answer is likely (at least not for a while), a coordinated, more hawkish CB stance is akin to mixing highly volatile and combustible chemicals, with unpredictable outcomes.
Most economists do not pay much attention to liquidity or cost of capital, focusing almost entirely on aggregate demand and inflation. Hence, the conventional arguments that the overall stock of accommodation is more important than the flow, and thus so long as CBs are very careful in managing liquidity withdrawals and cost of capital raised very slowly, then CBs could achieve the desired objective of reducing more extreme asset anomalies, while buying insurance against future dislocation and getting ahead of the curve. In our view, this is where chaos theory comes in. Given that the global economy is leveraged at least three times GDP and value of financial instruments equals 4x-5x GDP (and potentially as much as ten times), even the smallest withdrawal of liquidity or misalignment of monetary policies could become an equivalent of flapping butterfly wings. Indeed, in our view, this is what flattening of the yield curves tells us; investors correctly interpret any contraction of liquidity or rise in rates, as raising a possibility of more disinflationary outcomes further down the road.
Hence, we maintain that the key risks that investors are currently running are ones to do with policy errors. Given that we believe that recent reflation was mostly caused by central bank liquidity, compressed interest rates and China stimulus, clearly any policy errors by central banks and China could easily cause a similar dislocation to what occurred in 2013 or late 2015/early 2016. When investors argue that both CBs and public authorities have become far more experienced in managing liquidity and markets, and hence, chances of policy errors have declined, we believe that it is the most dangerous form of hubris. One could ask, what prompted China to attempt a proper de-leveraging from late 2014 to early 2016, which was the key contributor to both collapse of commodity prices and global volatility? Similarly, one could ask what prompted the Fed to tighten into China’s deleveraging drive in Dec ’15. There is a serious question over China’s priorities, following completion of the 19th Congress, and whether China fully understands how much of the global reflation was due to its policy reversal to end deleveraging.
What does it mean for investors? We believe that it implies a higher than average risk, as some of the key underpinnings of the investment landscape could shift significantly, and even if macroeconomic outcomes were to be less stressful than feared, it could cause significant relative and absolute price re-adjustments. As highlighted in discussion below, financial markets are completely unprepared for higher volatility. For example, value has for a number of years systematically under performed both quality and growth. If indeed, CBs managed to withdraw liquidity without dislocating economies and potentially strengthening perception of growth momentum, investors might witness a very strong rotation into value. Although we do not believe that it would be sustainable, expectations could run ahead of themselves. Similarly, any spike in inflation gauges could lift the entire curve up, with massive losses for bondholders, and flowing into some of the more expensive and marginal growth stories.
While it is hard to predict some of these shorter-term moves, if volatilities jump, CBs would need to reset the ‘background picture’. The challenge is that even with the best of intentions, the process is far from automatic, and hence there could be months of extended volatility (a la Dec’15-Feb’16). If one ignores shorter-term aberrations, we maintain that there is no alternative to policies that have been pursued since 1980s of deliberately suppressing and managing business and capital market cycles. As discussed in our recent note, this implies that a relatively pleasant ‘Kondratieff autumn’ (characterized by inability to raise cost of capital against a background of constrained but positive growth and inflation rates) is likely to endure. Indeed, two generations of investors grew up knowing nothing else. They have never experienced either scorching summers or freezing winters, as public sector refused to allow debt repudiation, deleveraging or clearance of excesses. Although this cannot last forever, there is no reason to believe that the end of the road would necessarily occur in 2018 or 2019. It is true that policy risks are more heightened but so is policy recognition of dangers.
We therefore remain constructive on financial assets (as we have been for quite some time), not because we believe in a sustainable and private sector-led recovery but rather because we do not believe in one, and thus we do not see any viable alternatives to an ongoing financialization, which needs to be facilitated through excess liquidity, and avoiding proper price and risk discovery, and thus avoiding asset price volatility.
The majority of middle class wealth is locked up in unproductive assets or assets that only become available upon retirement or death.
One of Charles Hugh Smith’s points in Why Governments Will Not Ban Bitcoin was to highlight how few families had the financial wherewithal to invest in bitcoin or an alternative hedge such as precious metals.
The limitation on middle class wealth isn’t just the total net worth of each family; it’s also how their wealth is allocated: the vast majority of most middle class family wealth is locked up in the family home or retirement funds.
This chart provides key insights into the differences between middle class and upper-class wealth. The majority of the wealth held by the bottom 90% of households is in the family home, i.e. the principal residence. Other major assets held include life insurance policies, pension accounts and deposits (savings).
What characterizes the family home, insurance policies and pension/retirement accounts? The wealth is largely locked up in these asset classes.
Yes, the family can borrow against these assets, but then interest accrues and the wealth is siphoned off by the loans. Early withdrawals from retirement funds trigger punishing penalties.
In effect, this wealth is in a lock box and unavailable for deployment in other assets.
IRAs and 401K retirement accounts can be invested, but company plans come with limitations on where and how the funds can be invested, and the gains (if any) can’t be accessed until retirement.
Compare these lock boxes and limitations with the top 1%, which owns the bulk of business equity assets. Business equity means ownership of businesses; ownership of shares in corporations (stocks) is classified as ownership of financial securities.
Assets either produce income (i.e. they are productive assets) or they don’t (i.e. they are unproductive assets). Businesses either produce net income or they become insolvent and close down. Family homes typically don’t produce any income (unless the owners rent out rooms), and whatever income life insurance and retirement funds produce is unavailable.
This is the key difference between financial-elite wealth and middle class wealth: the majority of middle class wealth is locked up in unproductive assets or assets that only become available upon retirement or death.
The income flowing to family-owned businesses can be spent, of course, but it can also be reinvested, piling up additional income streams that then generate even more income to reinvest.
No wonder wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top 5%: those who own productive assets have the means to acquire more productive assets because they own income streams they can direct and use in the here and now without all the limitations imposed on the primary assets held by the middle class.
The “cash on the sidelines” myth is officially dead.
Recall that at the end of July, we reported that in its Q2 earnings results, Schwab announced that after years of avoiding equities, clients of the retail brokerage opened the highest number of brokerage accounts in the first half of 2017 since 2000. This is what Schwab said on its Q2 conference call:
New accounts are at levels we have not seen since the Internet boom of the late 1990s, up 34% over the first half of last year. But maybe more important for the long-term growth of the organization is not so much new accounts, but new-to-firm households, and our new-to-firm retail households were up 50% over that same period from 2016.
In total, Schwab clients opened over 350,000 new brokerage accounts during the quarter, with the year-to-date total reaching 719,000, marking the biggest first-half increase in 17 years. Total client assets rose 16% to $3.04 trillion. Perhaps more ominously to the sustainability of the market’s melt up, Schwab also adds that the net cash level among its clients has only been lower once since the depths of the financial crisis in Q1 2009:
Now, it’s clear that clients are highly engaged in the markets, we have cash being aggressively invested into the equity market, as the market has climbed. By the end of the second quarter, cash levels for our clients had fallen to about 11.5% of assets overall, now, that’s a level that we’ve only seen one time since the market began its recovery in the spring of 2009.
While some of this newfound euphoria may have been due to Schwab’s recent aggressive cost-cutting strategy, it is safe to say that the wholesale influx of new clients, coupled with the euphoria-like allocation of cash into stocks, means that between ETFs and other passive forms of investing, as well as on a discretionary basis, US retail investors are now the most excited to own stocks since the financial crisis. In a confirmation that retail investors had thrown in the towel on prudence, according to a quarterly investment survey from E*Trade, nearly a third of millennial investors were planning to move out of cash and into new positions in the second half of 2017. By comparison, only 19% of Generation X investors (aged 35-54) were planning such a change to their portfolio, while 9% of investors above the age of 55 had plans to buy in.
Furthermore, according to a June survey from Legg Mason, nearly 80% of millennial investors plan to take on more risk this year, with 66% of them expressing an interest in equities. About 45% plan to take on “much more risk” in their portfolios.
In short, retail investors – certainly those on the low end which relies on commodity brokerages to invest – are going “all in.”
This was also confirmed by the recent UMichigan Consumer Survey, according to which surveyed households said there has – quite literally – never been a better time to buy stocks.
What about the higher net worth segment? For the answer we go to this morning’s Morgan Stanley earnings call, where this exchange was particularly notable:
Question: Hey good morning. Maybe just on the Wealth Management side, you guys had very good growth, sequential growth in deposits. There’s been some discussion in the industry about kind of a pricing pressure. Can you discuss where you saw the positive rates in Wealth Management business and how you’re able to track, I think, about $10 billion sequentially on deposit franchise?
Answer: Sure. I think, as you recall, we’ve been talking about our deposit deployment strategy for quite sometime, and we’ve been investing excess liquidity into our loan product over the last several years. In the beginning of the year, we told you that, that trend would come to an end. We did see that this year. It happened a bit sooner than we anticipated as we saw more cash go into the markets, particularly the equity markets, as those markets rose around the world. And we’ve seen cash in our clients’ accounts at its lowest level.
In other words, when it comes to retail investors – either on the low, or high net worth side – everyone is now either all in stocks or aggressively trying to get there.
Which reminds us of an article we wrote early this year, in which JPM noted that “both institutions and hedge funds are using the rally to sell to retail.” Incidentally, the latest BofA client report confirmed that while retail investors scramble into stocks, institutions continue to sell. To wit:
Equity euphoria continues to remain absent based on BofAML client flows. Last week, during which the S&P 500 climbed 0.2% to yet another new high, BofAML clients were net sellers of US equities for the fourth consecutive week. Large net sales of single stocks offset small net buys of ETFs, leading to overall net sales of $1.7bn. Net sales were led by institutional clients, who have sold US equities for the last eight weeks; hedge funds were also (small) net sellers for the sixth straight week. Private clients were net buyers, which has been the case in four of the last five weeks, but with buying almost entirely via ETFs. Clients sold stocks across all three size segments last week.”
The best way to visualize what BofA clients, and especially institutions, have been doing in 2017 is the following chart:
Meanwhile, a familiar buyer has returned: “buybacks by corporate clients picked up as US earnings season kicked off, with Financials buybacks continuing to dominate this flow.”
And just like during the peak of the last bubble, retail is once again becoming the last bagholder; now it is only a question of how long before the rug is pulled out. For now, however, enjoy the Dow 23,000.
“The markets in a panic are like a country during a coup, and seen in retrospect that is how they were that day,” wrote a young Salomon bond salesmen named Michael Lewis, of the chaos he witnessed. “One small group of people with its old, established way of looking at the world is hustled from its seat of power.”
As Bloomberg details, most of the people willing to share their memories count themselves as winners who seized the moment as an opportunity not only to make money, but also to insert themselves in the new financial order – Paul Tudor Jones, Stanley Druckenmiller, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Their story, and the story of Black Monday, is the birth story of modern financial markets – a wild ride of shock, angst, and, for some, glory.
In the weeks before Black Monday, a few investors spotted patterns that gave them pause.
The most confident were Paul Tudor Jones and Peter Borish, young partners at a small hedge fund in Lower Manhattan. In a prescient Sept. 24 note to investors, Jones even signed off with “caveat emptor” – buyer beware.
PETER BORISH, head of research at Tudor Investment Corp. and Paul Tudor Jones’ No. 2:
We were tracking exponential moves in the equity market. The main one was the equity move in the 1920s, and the market in 1987 looked almost identical. The week before Black Monday, the technical and fundamentals aligned, and so we thought Monday would be the day.
ALLAN ROGERS, head of government bond trading at Bankers Trust Co.:
In the first half of 1987, the bond and stock markets diverged for seven months. Bonds went straight down, equities straight up. These sorts of divergences always get my attention. In August and September, I persuaded management to cover all of our hedged short positions in sovereign fixed income, and we built up a long position in notes and bonds.
MICHAEL LEWIS, bond salesman at Salomon Brothers:
A week or two before Black Monday, Salomon announced job cuts. They chopped a few departments, including the municipal and money-market groups. It felt ill-considered and rushed. Nobody completely understood why.
Nippon Tel, the Japanese telephone company, was going to do an IPO in mid-August. I thought that would pull money from other segments of the equity market. In early October there was another IPO, which I think was a very large British company. These IPOs were a big deal to me, because the main thing I pay attention to is changes in global money flow.
Many people thought that Japan would crash before the U.S., because Japan was more extended on fundamentals; they would be long U.S. and short Japan. We looked at the 1920s, and it was Britain, the older bull market, that went first. So we said, “No, the old goes first, because people have more hope on the new.” By the way, Japan didn’t go until 1989.
STANLEY DRUCKENMILLER, founder of Duquesne Capital Management, who was also running several funds for Jack Dreyfus’s mutual fund company:
On Friday I placed a bet that U.S. stocks would rally, on the thinking that the week’s 9 percent decline in the Dow had been overdone. Over the weekend, after studying trading charts and talking to Jack, I knew I was wrong.
While Druckenmiller considered his options that weekend, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury James Baker III told his German counterparts: “Either inflate the mark or we’ll devalue the dollar.”
PAUL TUDOR JONES, founder of Tudor Investment Corp.:
When Baker threatened a devaluation of the dollar over the weekend, it was apparent the Acapulco cliff dive was on for Monday.
JIM LEITNER, Bankers Trust FX trader:
During the day, the noise level in the trading room got quite ferocious. The chairman of the bank, who at one point had been a trader, walked onto the trading floor and stood behind my chair, which was a first.
I remember walking from the 41st floor down to the 40th floor. The 41st floor was this cathedral of bonds, and then you walked down to 40 and were in this cramped, low-ceiled, dark place that was the equity department, with a lot of guys who were named Vinny and Tommy and Donny. They’d been around forever, and they had Brylcreem in their hair and big guts and they smoked too much and they were lovable. And they were all going through this visceral animal experience. People were screaming and going absolutely crazy in ways I’d never seen before. It was the first time in my career at Salomon Brothers where I was actually interested in standing beside the equity department and watching these people do their job.
There was red everywhere, and all I could think about was how cornered the portfolio insurers were.
HOWARD MARKS, head of the high?yield bond department at Trust Company of the West:
Portfolio insurance convinced people that they could somehow own more stocks without increased risk, which is fanciful. And like all silver bullets, it didn’t work.
HARLEY BASSMAN, mortgage trader at Merrill Lynch & Co.:
As a mortgage trader, I was watching stocks in what seemed like an out-of-body experience—and yes, I was thinking 1929.
The friends and counterparties I was speaking with were gripped with complete fear.
BLAIR HULL, managing partner of Hull Trading Co., a Chicago-based market-making firm specializing in options:
The 1987 crash is the only time I’ve ever seen the market makers scared to death.
I canceled my meetings and went to a friend’s office. The few times I tried to enter orders, I couldn’t get through. The structure of the market was dependent on these technologies that were voluntary. I was trying to cover my shorts and a buyer is what they were looking for, but people were not picking up the phones. So basically I sat on my hands, which turned out to be the right thing to do.
I check into my hotel, and there’s all kinds of security. I asked what was going on: Alan Greenspan and Margaret Thatcher were both checked in as guests. I get to my room and I’m trying to call New York, but I can’t get through. I had to go to another friend’s office, because the Fed chief and his staff had basically subverted the hotel switchboard.
We were concerned about a lot of the counterparties and their liquidity, so the best place to be was in fixed-income futures, because if worse came to worst, we could always take delivery of the bonds.
Greenspan lands in Dallas, and the story is that when he got off the plane he asked where the market ended up. The response was “Five oh eight” and Greenspan replied: “Oh, good, it had a nice rally.” He thought it was 5.08. He had only been in office since August, so I think he was a bit of a deer in the headlights.
I was so scared that I got $10,000 out of the bank, took it home, and stored it in the rafters. When I moved out, I forgot that I’d stashed the money. I think it’s still there.
I was feeling guilty about our success. I thought we were going into the Great Depression.
I had 1929 on my mind. Paul and I were concerned about our friends and people who were struggling that day.
* * *
And here is Paul Tudor Jones’ infamous live interview as the dust settled…
So what was learned from the Crash of ’87? Not much in my opinion.
As John S Lyons summed up perfectly, for starters, the laws of human nature have yet to be repealed. Additionally, high frequency trading is today’s version of program trading. Only now, instead of transmitting an order through a stock broker, who sends it to a floor broker, who give it to a trader, who takes it to a specialist at the post where the stock in question is trading, high frequency computer generated orders are automatically entered at the behest of complex algorithms and are executed and reported back in milliseconds. Witness the May of 2010 “flash crash” where the market lost about 1000 points and then mostly recovered all within 15 minutes.
In summary, risk cannot be removed from the stock market. The Crash of ’87 affected everyone. Crashes will occur again. Wear a seat belt!
* * *
Could never happen again …
It’s over for tech start-ups — just look at today’s earnings reports
- Blue Apron and Snap had disappointing earnings reports on Thursday.
- Both companies have been targeted by one of the Big Five — Blue Apron by Amazon, Snap by Facebook.
- Start-ups and investors should look to the margins, or prepare to face the tech giants.
Two newly public tech companies reported earnings on Thursday, and both were ugly for their investors.
Meal-kit preparer Blue Apron missed earnings expectations by a wide margin in its first earnings report since going public in late June. It reported a 47 cent per share loss instead of the expected 30 cent loss, blaming high customer acquisition costs and staffing a new distribution plant in New Jersey.
The stock dropped 17 percent and is now trading at about half its IPO price.
The stock dropped about 17 percent after hours. It’s now off about 33 percent from its IPO price.
Blue Apron and Snap have a lot in common. They’re consumer focused. They have devoted followers. They’re losing money hand over fist.
And both were targeted directly and aggressively by two of tech’s biggest companies.
Between the time Blue Apron filed for its intial public offering, on June 1, and when it went public, on June 28, Amazon announced that it was buying Whole Foods. The speculation that Amazon would use the purchase to improve its home delivery service sent demand for Blue Apron’s IPO down, and the company slashed its IPO range from $15-$17 down to $10-$11.
Then, reports emerged that Amazon had already launched a meal kit, which was on sale in Seattle.
In the case of Snap, it was Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and company had been fighting to blunt Snap’s growth ever since its co-founder, Evan Spiegel, rejected his buyout offer in 2013. It began to see progress with the launch of Instagram Stories in August 2016, which duplicated Snapchat’s own Stories feature. Over the next year, it gradually copied nearly every major Snapchat feature in its own products.
Less than a year after launch, Instagram Stories has 250 million daily users and is growing at a rate of around 50 million every three months. Snap has 173 million and grew only 7 million during the quarter.
The experiences of these companies are discouraging for start-up investors and founders who dream of someday creating an Amazon or Facebook of their own.
The five big tech companies — Alphabet (Google), Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft — have attained unprecedented wealth and power, with trillions of dollars in combined market value and tens of billions of dollars in free cash flow.
They also need to satisfy Wall Street’s appetite for growth, which means they have to get new customers or earn more money from existing customers, quarter after quarter, year after year. One way to do that is to expand into new markets.
They’ll gladly outspend their smaller competitors on product development and hiring while undercutting them on price.
That doesn’t mean curtains for Blue Apron or Snap. Both companies could come up with a leapfrog innovation that catapults them (for a while). Young nimble companies overtake older and slower companies all the time — that’s how the Big Five started. Microsoft disrupted IBM. Google and Apple disrupted Microsoft. And so on.
But companies and tech investors need to be wise about the risks of betting on upstarts that are going up against these giants.
If you hope to make money through online advertising, you’ll be challenging Google and Facebook. If you’re doing anything in e-commerce, logistics or delivery, you’ll run into Amazon. In cloud computing, get ready to see Amazon, Microsoft and Google. If you’re building hardware, Apple likely stands in the way.
It might be better to focus on the niches that the Big Five don’t yet dominate. Their health-care efforts are still in early stages, and none is playing heavily in financial tech, drones or robotics. Microsoft’s power in enterprise software is blunted to some degree by other old giants like IBM, Oracle and SAP, plus newer players like Salesforce.
It’s always been hard to build a successful start-up. With the increasing dominance of the Big Five, it’s harder than ever.
Equity bears hunting for excess in the stock market might be better off worrying about bond prices, Alan Greenspan says. That’s where the actual bubble is, and when it pops, it’ll be bad for everyone.
“By any measure, real long-term interest rates are much too low and therefore unsustainable,” the former Federal Reserve chairman said in an interview. “When they move higher they are likely to move reasonably fast. We are experiencing a bubble, not in stock prices but in bond prices. This is not discounted in the marketplace.”
While the consensus of Wall Street forecasters is still for low rates to persist, Greenspan isn’t alone in warning they will break higher quickly as the era of global central-bank monetary accommodation ends. Deutsche Bank AG’s Binky Chadha says real Treasury yields sit far below where actual growth levels suggest they should be. Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, says it’s only a matter of time before inflationary pressures hit the bond market.
“The real problem is that when the bond-market bubble collapses, long-term interest rates will rise,” Greenspan said. “We are moving into a different phase of the economy — to a stagflation not seen since the 1970s. That is not good for asset prices.”
Stocks, in particular, will suffer with bonds, as surging real interest rates will challenge one of the few remaining valuation cases that looks more gently upon U.S. equity prices, Greenspan argues. While hardly universally accepted, the theory underpinning his view, known as the Fed Model, holds that as long as bonds are rallying faster than stocks, investors are justified in sticking with the less-inflated asset.
Right now, the model shows U.S. stocks at one of the most compelling levels ever relative to bonds. Using Greenspan’s reference of an inflation-adjusted measure of bond yields, the gap between the S&P 500’s earnings yield of 4.7 percent and the 10-year yield of 0.47 percent is 21 percent higher than the 20-year average. That justifies records in major equity benchmarks and P/E ratios near the highest since the financial crisis.
If rates start rising quickly, investors would be advised to abandon stocks apace, Greenspan’s argument holds. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Economist David Kostin names the threat of rising inflation as one reason he isn’t joining Wall Street bulls in upping year-end estimates for the S&P 500.
While persistently low inflation would imply a fair value of 2,650 on the benchmark gauge, the more likely case is a narrowing of the gap between earnings and bond yields, Kostin says. He is sticking to his estimate that the index will finish the year at 2,400, implying a drop of about 3 percent from current levels.
That’s no slam dunk, as stocks have proven resilient to bond routs so far in the eight-year bull market. While the 10-year Treasury yield has peaked above 3 percent just once in the past six years, sudden spikes in yields in 2013 and after the 2016 election didn’t slow stocks from their grind higher.
Those shocks to the bond market proved short-lived, though, as tepid U.S. growth combined with low inflation to keep real and nominal long-term yields historically low.
That era could end soon, with the Fed widely expected to announce plans for unwinding its $4.5 trillion balance sheet and central banks around the world talking about scaling back stimulus.
“The biggest mispricing in our view across asset classes is government bonds,’’ Deutsche Bank’s Chadha said in an interview. “We should start to see inflation move up in the second half of the year.”
Nasdaq has issued a market-wide trading halt amid what appears to be a “glitch” that sent a number of the largest Nasdaq-listed stocks to crash or spike to exactly $123.47 per share.
This move crashed the value of companies including Amazon and Apple, sparked chaos in Microsoft, while sending Zynga rocketing up more than 3000%.
On the eve of the US Independence Day holiday and in after-hours trading, The FT reports that market data show that companies such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, eBay and Zynga were repriced at $123.47.
The Bloomberg data terminal listed either “market wide circuit breaker halt — level 2” or “volatility trading pause” on all the stocks affected.
The glitch did not affect any market trading, including after hours.
The mysterious reset to $123.47 per share meant that Amazon in theory saw its share price marked down 87.2 per cent…
while shares in Apple fell 14.3 per cent…
But Nasdaq-listed Microsoft had jumped 79.1 per cent — which would value the company at nearly $1tn…
As Bloomberg reports, the apparent swings triggered trading halts in some securities, according to automatically generated messages. The halts are a mechanism exchanges use to limit the impact of particularly volatile sessions. A system status alert on Nasdaq’s website said that systems were operating normally at 8:23 p.m. ET. After-market hours on Nasdaq typically last from 4 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
In a statement, Nasdaq said the glitch was related to “improper use of test data” sent out to third party data providers, and said it was working to “ensure a prompt resolution of this matter”. In cases of any clearly erroneous data, trades made are cancelled.
As a reminder this is not the first time ‘glitches’ have occurred on holidays… remember gold on Thanksgiving 2014.
It’s not over…
Felix Zulauf (via Barron’s round table)
Do you have any specific investment picks for the second half?
I don’t. Investors should tighten risk-management strategies to their portfolios. I expect the FANG stocks and the Nasdaq to have a big selloff. They could easily fall 30% or 40%. But I don’t want to end my Roundtable career on a bearish note. [Zulauf announced at the January Roundtable that he is “retiring” from the panel after this year.]
Once the bear market is over and the recession or economic crisis passes, stocks will go up again.
FANG Stocks just took out Friday’s flash-crash lows…