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Marc Faber Warns “Insiders Are Selling Like Crazy… Short US Stocks, Buy Treasuries & Gold” | Zero Hedge
Beginning by disavowing Mario Gabelli of any belief that rising stock prices help ‘most’ people (“Fed data suggests half the US population has seen a 40% drop in wealth since 2007“), Marc Faber discusses his increasingly imminent fears of the markets in this recent Barron’s interview.
Quoting Hussman as a caveat, “The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. There’s no calling the top,” Faber warns there are a lot of questions about the quality of earnings (from buybacks to unfunded pensions) but “statistics show that company insiders are selling their shares like crazy.”
His first recommendation – short the Russell 2000, buy 10-year US Treasuries (“there will be no magnificent US recovery”), and miners and adds “own physical gold because the old system will implode. Those who own paper assets are doomed.”
Faber: This morning, I said most people don’t benefit from rising stock prices. This handsome young man on my left said I was incorrect. [Gabelli starts preening.] Yet, here are some statistics from Gallup’s annual economy and personal-finance survey on the percentage of U.S. adults invested in the market. The survey, whose results were published in May, asks whether respondents personally or jointly with a spouse have any money invested in the market, either in individual stock accounts, stock mutual funds, self-directed 401(k) retirement accounts, or individual retirement accounts.Only 52% responded positively.
Gabelli: They didn’t ask about company-sponsored 401(k)s, so it is a faulty question.
Faber: An analysis of Federal Reserve data suggests that half the U.S. population has seen a 40% decrease in wealth since 2007.
In Reminiscences of a Stock Operator [a fictionalized account of the trader Jesse Livermore that has become a Wall Street classic], Livermore said, “It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It was always my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight.” Here’s another thought from John Hussmann of the Hussmann Funds: “The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. There’s no calling the top, and most of the signals that have been most historically useful for that purpose have been blaring red since late 2011.”
I am negative about U.S. stocks, and the Russell 2000 in particular. Regarding Abby’s energy recommendation, this is one of the few sectors with insider buying. In other sectors, statistics show that company insiders are selling their shares like crazy, and companies are buying like crazy.
Zulauf: These are the same people.
Faber: Precisely. Looking at 10-year annualized returns for U.S. stocks, the Value Line arithmetic index has risen 11% a year. The Standard & Poor’s 600 and the Nasdaq 100 have each risen 9.4% a year. In other words, the market hasn’t done badly. Sentiment figures are extremely bullish, and valuations are on the high side.
But there are a lot of questions about earnings, both because of stock buybacks and unfunded pension liabilities. How can companies have rising earnings, yet not provision sufficiently for their pension funds?
Good question. Where are you leading us with your musings?
Faber: What I recommend to clients and what I do with my own portfolio aren’t always the same. That said, my first recommendation is to short the Russell 2000. You can use the iShares Russell 2000 exchange-traded fund [IWM]. Small stocks have outperformed large stocks significantly in the past few years.
Next, I would buy 10-year Treasury notes, because I don’t believe in this magnificent U.S. economic recovery. The U.S. is going to turn down, and bond yields are going to fall. Abby just gave me a good idea. She is long the iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF, so I will go short.
What are you doing with your own money?
Faber: I have a lot of cash, and I bought Treasury bonds.
Faber: I have no faith in paper money, period. Next, insider buying is also high in gold shares. Gold has massively underperformed relative to the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000. Maybe the price will go down some from here, but individual investors and my fellow panelists and Barron’s editors ought to own some gold. About 20% of my net worth is in gold. I don’t even value it in my portfolio. What goes down, I don’t value.
Which stocks are you recommending?
Faber: I recommend the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF [GDXJ], although I don’t own it. I own physical gold because the old system will implode. Those who own paper assets are doomed.
Zulauf: Can you put the time frame on the implosion?
Faber: Let’s enjoy dinner tonight. Maybe it will happen tomorrow.
There is a colossal bubble in assets. When central banks print money, all assets go up. When they pull back, we could see deflation in asset prices but a pickup in consumer prices and the cost of living. Still, you have to own some assets. Hutchison Port Holdings Trust yields about 7%. It owns several ports in Hong Kong and China, which isn’t a good business right now. When the economy slows, the dividend might be cut to 5% or so. Many Singapore real-estate investment trusts have corrected meaningfully, and now yield 5% to 6%. They aren’t terrific investments because property prices could fall. But if you have a negative view of the world, and you think trade will contract, property prices will fall, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury will drop, a REIT like Hutchison is a relatively attractive investment.
Faber: The outlook for property in Asia isn’t bad because a lot of Europeans realize they will need to leave Europe for tax reasons. They can live in Singapore and be taxed at a much lower rate. Even if China grows by only 3% or 4%, it is better than Europe. People are moving up the economic ladder in Asia and into the middle class.
Are you bullish on India?
Faber: I am on the board of the oldest India fund [the India Capital fund]. The macroeconomic outlook for India isn’t good, but an election is coming, and the market always rallies into elections.The leading candidate is pro-business. He is speaking before huge crowds.
In dollar terms, the Indian market is still down about 40% from the peak, because the currency has weakened. In the 1970s, stock market indexes performed poorly and stock-picking came to the fore. Asia could be like that now. It is a huge region, and you have to invest by company. Some Indian companies will do well, and others poorly. Some people made 40% on their investments in China last year, but the benchmark index did poorly.
I like Vietnam. The economy has had its troubles, and the market has seen a big decline. I want you to visualize Vietnam. [Stands up, walks to a nearby wall, and begins to draw a map of Vietnam with his hands.] Here’s Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, the border with China, and the Mekong River. And here in the middle, on the coast, is Da Nang.
Faber: I recommend shorting the Turkish lira. I had an experience in Turkey that led me to believe that some families are above the law. When I see that in an emerging economy, it makes me careful about investing.
Each quarter the Fed releases their assessment of the economy along with their forward looking projections for three years into the future. (See Fed Projections Myth Vs. Reality for the September analysis) I started tracking these projections beginning in early 2011 and comparing the Fed’s forecasts with what eventually became reality. The problem has, and continues to be, is that their track record for forecasting has been left wanting. The reality is, however, is that the Federal Reserve simply cannot verbally state what they really see during each highly publicized meeting as it would roil the markets. Instead, they use their communications to guide the markets expectations toward reality in the hopes of reducing the risks of market dislocations.
The most recent release of the Fed’s economic projections on the economy, inflation and unemployment continue to follow the same previous trends of weaker growth, lower inflation and a complete misunderstanding of the real labor market.
When it comes to the economy, the Fed has consistently overstated economic strength. Take a look at the chart and table. In January of 2011, the Fed was predicting GDP growth for 2013 at 4.0%. Actual real GDP (inflation adjusted) is currently estimated at 2.0% for the year or a negative 50% difference. The estimates at that time for long run economic growth was 2.7% which has now fallen to 2.15% and was guided down from 2.3% in September and 2.5% in June.
We have been stating repeatedly over the last 2 years that we are in for a low growth economy due to the debt deleveraging, deficits and continued fiscal and monetary policies that are retardants for economic prosperity. The simple fact is that when an economy requires more than $5 of debt to provide $1 of economic growth – the engine of growth is broken.
As of the latest Fed meeting the forecast for 2014 and 2015 economic growth has been revised down to just 2.9% and 2.8% respectively as the realization of a slow-growth economy is recognized. However, the current annualized trend of GDP suggests growth rates in the next two years could likely be lower than that.
With more than 48 months of economic expansion behind us; this current expansion is longer than the historical average. Economic data continues to show signs of weakness, despite intermittent pops of activity, and the global economy remains drag on domestic exports. With higher taxes, government spending cuts and the debt ceiling debate looming the fiscal drag on the economy could be larger than expected.
What is very important is the long run outlook of 2.15% economic growth. That rate of growth is not strong enough to achieve the “escape velocity” required to substantially improve the level of incomes and employment that were enjoyed in previous decades.
The Fed’s new goal of targeting a specific unemployment level to monetary policy could potentially put the Fed into a box. Currently, the Fed sees 2014 unemployment falling to 6.45% and ultimately returning to a 5.6% “full employment” rate in the long run. That long run rate was adjusted higher from the June meeting. The issue with this “full employment”prediction really becomes what the definition of “reality” is.
Today, average Americans have begun to question the credibility of the BLS employment reports. Even Congress has made an inquiry into the data collection and analysis methods used to determine employment reports. Since the end of the last recession employment has improved modestly. However, that improvement, as shown in full-time employment to population ratio chart below, has primarily due to increases in temporary and lower wage paying positions. More importantly, where the Fed is concerned, the drop in the unemployment rate has been due to a shrinkage of the labor pool rather than an increase in employment.
While the unemployment “rate” is declining, it is a very poor measure from which to benchmark the health of the economy. The drop in unemployment is primarily due totemporary hires, labor hoarding and falling labor participation rates. Real full-time employment as a percentage of the working population shows that employment has only marginally increased since the financial crisis. The drop in jobless claims does not necessarily represent an increasing employment picture but rather labor hoarding by companies after deep levels of employment reductions over the past 4 years.
InflationWhen it comes to inflation, and the Fed’s outlook, the debate comes down to what type of inflation you are actually talking about. The table and chart below show the actual versus projected levels of inflation.
The Fed significantly underestimated official rates of inflation in 2011. However, in 2012 and 2013 their projections and reality became much more aligned. Unfortunately, inflation has fallen well below target levels of 2% which is weighing on economic growth. The Fed’s greatest economic fear is deflation and the current drop in annual rates of inflation will keep pressure on the Fed to continue to accommodative policy active for longer than most expect.
However, for the average American the inflation story is entirely different. Reported inflation has little meaning to the consumer as the real cost of living has risen sharply in recent years. Whether it has been the cost of health insurance, school tuition, food, gas or energy – these everyday costs have continued to rise substantially faster than their incomes. This is why personal savings rates continue to fall, and consumer credit has risen, as incomes remain stagnant or weaken. It is the rising “cost of living” that is weighing on the American psyche, and ultimately, on economic growth.
While the FOMC is vastly hopeful that the current economic improvement will be sustained; rising deflationary pressures, weak global growth rates and stagnant wages pose major headwinds. The problem is that the current proposed policy is an exercise in wishful thinking. While the Fed blames fiscal policy out of Washington; the reality is that monetary policy does not work in reducing real unemployment or interest rates. However, what monetary policy does do is promote asset bubbles that are dangerous; particularly when they are concentrated in the riskiest of assets from stocks to junk bonds.
The problem that the Fed will eventually face, with respect to their monetary policy decisions, is that effectively the economy could be running at “full rates” of employment but with a very large pool of individuals excluded from the labor force. Of course, this also explains the continued rise in the number of individuals claiming disability and participating in the nutritional assistance programs. While the Fed could very well achieve its goal of fostering a “full employment” rate of 6.5%, it certainly does not mean that 93.5% of working age Americans will be gainfully employed. It could well just be a victory in name only
With the Fed committed to continuing its Large Scale Asset Purchase program (Quantitative Easing or Q.E.), and deploying specific performance targets, the question of effectiveness looms large. Bernanke has been quite vocal in his testimonies over the last year that monetary stimulus is not a panacea. In his most recently statement, Bernanke specifically stated that “fiscal policy is restraining economic growth.”
However, the recent improvements in employment and economic activity allowed the FOMC to begin “tapering” their current rate of asset purchases from $85 to $75 billion per month.
“…the Committee sees the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions over that period as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions, the Committee decided to modestly reduce the pace of its asset purchases.”
The problem for the Federal Reserve currently is that there are very few policy tools left, and the economic effectiveness of continued artificial stimulation is clearly waning. Lower mortgages rates, interest rates and excess liquidity served well in priming the pumps of the real estate and financial markets when valuations were extremely depressed. However, four years later, stock valuations are no longer low, earnings are no longer depressed and the majority of real estate related activity has likely been completed. More importantly, the recent surge in leverage and asset prices smacks of an asset bubble in the making.
Reminiscent of the choices of Goldilocks – the reality is that the Fed’s estimates for economic growth in 2013 was too hot, employment was too cold and inflation estimates were just about right. The real unspoken concern should be the continued threat of deflation and what actions will be available when the next recession eventually comes.
This country will die. History will record the cause as due to an event worse than the Great Depression. That diagnosis will be wrong.
Economies do not die except when they are murdered. Free markets are self-equilibrating, healing themselves unless they are prevented from doing so.
The very purpose of government intervention is to produce outcomes that otherwise would not occur. Intervention is always an attempt to overcome the natural equilibrium at which an economy would settle. Its very purpose is to thwart the intentions of individuals who make up the economy. Intervention is intended to alter the natural healing process.
Every so-called “economic” problem can be traced back to prior political intervention(s). Political actions deemed necessary today result from damages inflicted by prior government interventions.
Damages and distortions are cumulative. Once begun, politicians are unable/unwilling to stop intervening as the pain of allowing the economy to return to equilibrium increases with each intervention. Eventually an economy’s ability to grow and recuperate is impaired:
- Prices become inflated and distorted by liquidity and regulatory interventions. They no longer reflect true supply and demand.
- Capital is mis-allocated as a result of false interest rate signals. Eventually this capital is seen as unprofitable and is abandoned.
- Cheap lending and low lending standards encourage imprudent and eventually unsustainable levels of debt.
These distortions decrease an economy’s efficiency. General economic metrics like GDP eventually grow more slowly as a result, prompting calls for more political intervention. Eventually the distortions and disincentives grow to a point where standards of living and economies stagnate and then retrogress.
These relationships are as old as civilization itself. Politicians know, but they find it politically advantageous to ignore. The political class believes itself to be superior and entitled. They consider themselves to be above the law. For them, citizens are sources of plunder, to be exploited so that they may hold onto power and wealth.
The economic crisis is coming. It will occur because feckless, venal “leaders” consider the personal cost of stopping their actions to be greater than continuing. That may be true for them, but it is not true for the country.
Sadly, much of the electorate is as corrupt as the political class as Angelo M. Codevilladiscusses below. The economic collapse is inevitable. It may also be deserved.
Democracy has no cure for a corrupt demos. Politicians’ misdeeds taint them alone, so long as their supporters do not embrace them. But when substantial constituencies continue to support their leaders despite their having broken faith, they turn democracy’s process of mutual persuasion into partisan war.
Consider: In 1974 President Richard Nixon lied publicly and officially to cover up his subordinates’ misdeeds. His own party forced him to resign. In 1998 President Bill Clinton lied under oath in an unsuccessful attempt to cover up his own. But his party rallied around him and accused his accusers. In 2013 President Barack Obama lied publicly and officially to secure passage of his most signature legislation. But when the lies became undeniable, his party joined him in maintaining that they had not been lies at all.
The point is that Nixon’s misdeeds harmed no one but himself because no one excused them. But Clinton’s and Obama’s misdeeds contributed to the corruption of American democracy because a substantial part of the American people chose to be partners in them.
The difference between the mentalities of Republicans circa 1974 and of Democrats twenty-five and forty years later is the difference between a society before and after democratic corruption. Forty years ago, just as in our time, the President of the United States headed a coalition of groups with material and ideological interest in his Administration. But, back then, the beneficiaries of power were willing enough to subordinate their interests to the greater good of maintaining the bounds of democratic partisanship. In our time, however, the constituents of Democratic Administrations so identify their own status and benefits with “the greater good” that the very notion of bounds to their own partisanship makes no sense.
Today’s Democrats argue that, some deceptive language aside, President Obama had every right to implement his view of medical care for America, as well as other things, because he was elected twice having promised something of the sort. But, in 1974, Republicans could have argued that Nixon had been elected twice, the second time by the largest margin in US history, specifically to undo the 1960s. In fact, Nixon’s lies about what he knew of his subordinates’ misdeeds were entirely irrelevant to the purpose for which he had been elected. Why should the Republican constituencies who had worked so hard have given up on the Nixon Administration? Why did Barry Goldwater, Mr. conservative himself, go to the White House to tell Nixon he had to resign?
Quite simply because he knew – everyone seemed to know, then – that respect for the truth is what enables a democratic society that resolves its differences by mutual persuasion, and that absent that respect society devolves into civil war. Nixon’s lie had not imperiled the workings of American government. But it had transgressed the essential principle. Thenceforth, no one could take him at his word. All would have to regard him as acting for himself or his party, alien to the rest. And if his party stuck with him, the rest of America would have to regard that party as alien.
Bill Clinton’s 1998 lie under oath, and then on national television proved so by DNA analysis of his own sperm, placed him precisely in Nixon’s position. But his party, by sticking with him, reversed the essential principle to which the Republicans of 1974 had adhered. Its constituencies had worked hard to reverse Ronald Reagan’s 1980s. They had raised taxes, institutionalized abortion, and vastly expanded government. By this time, they had convinced themselves that the rest of America is composed of inferior people. Why should they have jeopardized their position just because their man had fellatio in the Oval Office and lied about it?
Thus by placing their own material and ideological interests above the truth, the Democrats took upon themselves a license to lie – not just about personal matters, which was their argument at the time – but about whatever might serve their purpose.
Obama’s premeditated, repeated, nationally televised lies about the “Affordable Care Act” are integral, indeed essential, to his presidency and to the workings of the US government. The outcome of two national elections depended on it.
Even more significant is his contention that he never said what he said, and that what he said was true anyhow. In interpersonal relations, such a contention is an insult that makes civility impossible; because to continue to treat with someone who makes such affronts is self-degradation of which few are capable. In political life, such an insult is a declaration of war.
The deadly problem is that Barack Obama is not just an individual, nor even the head of the US government’s executive branch. He is the head of the party to which most government officials belong, the party of the media, of the educational establishment, of big corporations – in short of the ruling class. That class, it seems, has so taken ownership of Obama’s lies that it pretends that those who are suffering from the “Affordable Care Act” don’t really know what is good for them, or that they are perversely refusing to suffer for the greater good.
This class, in short, has placed itself as far beyond persuasion as Obama himself. Democracy by persuasion having become impossible, we are left with democracy as war.
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