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G-20 Agrees To Grow Global Economy By $2 Trillion, Has No Idea How To Actually Achieve It | Zero Hedge
Apparently all it takes to kick the world out of a secular recession and back into growth mode, is for several dozen finance ministers and central bankers to sit down and sign on the dotted line, agreeing it has to be done. That is the take home message from the just concluded latest G-20 meeting in Syndey, where said leaders agreed that it is time to finally grow the world economy by 2% over the next 5 years.
The final G-20 communiqué announced its member nations would take concrete action to increase investment and employment, among other reforms. “We will develop ambitious but realistic policies with the aim to lift our collective GDP by more than 2 percent above the trajectory implied by current policies over the coming 5 years,” the G20 statement said.
Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, who hosted the meeting, sold the plan as a new day for cooperation in the G20.
“We are putting a number to it for the first time — putting a real number to what we are trying to achieve,” Hockey told a news conference. “We want to add over $2 trillion more in economic activity and tens of millions of new jobs.”
And to think all it took was several dozen of politicians sitting down for 2 days in balny Syndey and agreeing. So over five years after the start of the second great depression the G-20 has finally agreed and decided it is time to grow the economy: supposedly the reason there was no such growth previously is because the G-20 never willed it…
There is only one problem: the G-20 has absolutely no idea how to actually achieve its goal of boosting global output by more than the world’s eighth largest economy Russia produces in a year. Nor does it have any measures to prod and punish any laggards from this most grand of central planning schemes. From Reuters:
There was no road map on how nations intend to get there or repercussions if they never arrive. The aim was to come up with the goal now, then have each country develop an action plan and a growth strategy for delivery at a November summit of G20 leaders in Brisbane.
“Each country will bring its own plan for economic growth,” said Hockey. “Each country has to do the heavy lifting.”
Agreeing on any goal is a step forward for the group that has failed in the past to agree on fiscal and current account targets. And it was a sea change from recent meetings where the debate was still on where their focus should lie: on growth or budget austerity.
So who is the mastermind behind this grand plan? Why the IMF of course: “The growth plan borrows wholesale from an IMF paper prepared for the Sydney meeting, which estimated that structural reforms would raise world economic output by about 0.5 percent per year over the next five years, boosting global output by $2.25 trillion.”
The same IMF whose “forecasts” can best be summarized in the following chart (which will be revised lower shortly to account for all the snow in the Northeast US):
Aside from this idiocy, the other topic under boondoggle discussion was the fate of the taper, and specifically how emerging markets will (continue to) suffer should the Fed continue to withdraw liquidity. Here, once again, the developed nations won out, leaving the EMs, and particularly India’s Raghuram Rajan – who has been pleading for far more coordination between central banks in a time of globla tightening – high and dry.
- RBI’S RAJAN: POLICY TIGHTENING MUSTN’T UPSET GLOBAL ECONOMY
- RAJAN SAYS INFLATION IS HURTING GROWTH
- INDIA’S RAJAN SAYS BRINGING DOWN INFLATION BIGGEST CHALLENGE
- RAJAN: DEVELOPED, EM NATIONS AGREE ON NEED TO CALIBRATE POLICY
What inflation? As for coordination, here is what the G-20 did agree on: whatever Yellen says, goes:
Financial markets had been wary of the possibility of friction between advanced and emerging economies, but nothing suggested the meeting would cause ripples on Monday. “The text of the communiqué indicates that the standard U.S. line that what is good for the core of the world economy is good for all seems to have won out,” said Huw McKay, a senior economist at Westpac, noting there was nothing that could be taken as “inflammatory” about recent volatility in markets.
There was a nod to concerns by emerging nations that the Federal Reserve consider the impact of its policy tapering, which has led to bouts of capital flight from some of the more vulnerable markets.
“All our central banks maintain their commitment that monetary policy settings will continue to be carefully calibrated and clearly communicated, in the context of ongoing exchange of information and being mindful of impacts on the global economy,” the communiqué read. There was never much expectation the Fed would consider actually slowing the pace of tapering, but its emerging peers had at least hoped for more cooperation on policy.
Hockey said there had been honest discussions among members on the impact of tapering and that newly installed Fed Chair Janet Yellen was “hugely impressive” when dealing with them.
Indeed, in the three weeks that Yellen has been Chairmanwoman, she has been truly hugely impressive. It’s the next three years that may be more problematic.
The IMF’s woeful forecasting record, chronicled extensively before, has just taken yet another hit, following the latest flip flop on emerging markets. Try to spot the common theme of these assessments by the IMF.
IMF Chief economist Olivier Blanchard, April 11, 2011 (source):
“In emerging market economies, by contrast, the crisis left no lasting wounds. Their initial fiscal and financial positions were typically stronger, and the adverse effects of the crisis were more muted. High underlying growth and low interest rates are making fiscal adjustment much easier. Exports have recovered, and whatever shortfall in external demand they experienced has typically been made up through increases in domestic demand. Capital outflows have turned into capital inflows, due to both better growth prospects and higher interest rates than in the advanced economies. The challenge for most emerging market economies is thus quite different from that of the advanced economies—namely, how to avoid overheating in the face of closing output gaps and higher capital flows.”
IMF Chief economist Olivier Blanchard, July 9, 2013 (source):
“If you look country by country it seems to be specific . . . so in China it looks like unproductive investment, in Brazil it looks like low investment and in India it looks like policy and administrative uncertainty. But you wonder whether there is not something behind. I think behind this is a slowdown in underlying growth – not the cyclical component but just the average rate. It’s clear that these countries are not going to grow as fast as they did before the crisis.”
IMF Chief economist Olivier Blanchard, January 23, 2014 (source)
“Finally, we forecast that both emerging market and developing economies will sustain strong growth“
A few days later, EMs around the globe crashed, and central banks virtually everywhere had to step in to bail out their crashing currencies, and hit the tape with even more impressive verbal intervention every several hours.
Finally, today we get IMF economist Alejandro Werner, January 30, 2014 (source)
“Conditions in global financial markets will stay tighter than they were before the U.S. central bank’s “taper talk” in the first half of 2013, translating into higher international borrowing costs,particularly with the recent volatility in emerging markets…. sustained turbulence in emerging markets could tighten global financial conditions further…. Rebuilding fiscal buffers, and using monetary policy and flexible exchange rates to absorb shocks where possible, remains the order of the day.”
In other words, going from a forecast of “high underlying growth”, to “not going to grow as fast as they did”, to “sustain strong growth”, to violent EM crash, to “turbulence”, “volatility”, and urging EMs to “using monetary policy to absorb shocks”, what is clear is that nobody knows what is going on, nobody has any handle on the future of Emerging Markets, but let’s all just pretend that the MIT central-planners in control, are in control, and all shall be well.
Submitted by Ben Hunt of Epsilon Theory
It Was Barzini All Along
Tattaglia is a pimp. He never could have outfought Santino. But I didn’t know until this day that it was Barzini all along.
— Don Vito Corleone
Like many in the investments business, I am a big fan of the Godfather movies, or at least those that don’t have Sofia Coppola in a supporting role. The strategic crux of the first movie is the realization by Don Corleone at a peace-making meeting of the Five Families that the garden variety gangland war he thought he was fighting with the Tattaglia Family was actually part of an existential war being waged by the nominal head of the Families, Don Barzini. Vito warns his son Michael, who becomes the new head of the Corleone Family, and the two of them plot a strategy of revenge and survival to be put into motion after Vito’s death. The movie concludes with Michael successfully murdering Barzini and his various supporters, a plot arc that depends entirely on Vito’s earlier recognition of the underlying cause of the Tattaglia conflict. Once Vito understood WHY Philip Tattaglia was coming after him, that he was just a stooge for Emilio Barzini, everything changed for the Corleone Family’s strategy.
Now imagine that Don Corleone wasn’t a gangster at all, but was a macro fund portfolio manager or, really, any investor or allocator who views the label of “Emerging Market” as a useful differentiation … maybe not as a separate asset class per se, but as a meaningful way of thinking about one broad set of securities versus another. With the expansion of investment options and liquid securities that reflect this differentiation — from Emerging Market ETF’s to Emerging Market mutual funds — anyone can be a macro investor today, and most of us are to some extent.
You might think that the ease with which anyone can be an Emerging Markets investor today would make the investment behavior around these securities more complex from a game theory perspective as more and more players enter the game, but actually just the opposite is true. The old Emerging Markets investment game had very high informational and institutional barriers to entry, which meant that the players relied heavily on their private information and relatively little on public signals and Common Knowledge. There may be far more players in the new Emerging Markets investment game, but they are essentially one type of player with a very heavy reliance on Common Knowledge and public Narratives. Also, these new players are not (necessarily) retail investors, but are (mostly) institutional investors that see Emerging Markets or sub-classifications of Emerging Markets as an asset class with certain attractive characteristics as part of a broad portfolio. Because these institutional investors have so much money that must be put to work and because their portfolio preference functions are so uniform, there is a very powerful and very predictable game dynamic in play here.
Since the 2008 Crisis the Corleone Family has had a pretty good run with their Emerging Markets investments, and even more importantly Vito believes that he understands WHY those investments have worked. In the words of Olivier Blanchard, Chief Economist for the IMF:
In emerging market countries by contrast, the crisis has not left lasting wounds. Their fiscal and financial positions were typically stronger to start, and adverse effects of the crisis have been more muted. High underlying growth and low interest rates are making fiscal adjustment much easier. Exports have largely recovered, and whatever shortfall in external demand they experienced has typically been made up through an increase in domestic demand. Capital outflows have turned into capital inflows, due to both better growth prospects and higher interest rates than in advanced countries. … The challenge for most emerging countries is quite different from that of advanced countries, namely how to avoid overheating in the face of closing output gaps and higher capital flows. — April 11, 2011
As late as January 23rd of this year, Blanchard wrote that “we forecast that both emerging market and developing economies will sustain strong growth“.
Now we all know what actually happened in 2013. Growth has been disappointing around the world, particularly in Emerging Markets, and most of these local stock and bond markets have been hit really hard. But if you’re Vito Corleone, macro investor extraordinaire, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. Sure, you don’t like to see any of your investments go down, but Emerging Markets are notably volatile and maybe this is a great buying opportunity across the board. In fact, so long as the core growth STORY is intact, it almost certainly is a buying opportunity.
But then you wake up on July 9th to read in the WSJ that Olivier Blanchard has changed his tune. He now says “It’s clear that these countries [China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa] are not going to grow at the same rate as they did before the crisis.” Huh? Or rather, WTF? How did the Chief Economist of the IMF go from predicting “strong growth” to declaring that the party is over and the story has fundamentally changed in six months?
It’s important to point out that Blanchard is not some inconsequential opinion leader, but is one of the most influential economists in the world today. His position at the IMF is a temporary gig from his permanent position as the Robert M. Solow Professor of Economics at MIT, where he has taught since 1983. He also received his Ph.D. in economics from MIT (1977), where his fellow graduate students were Ben Bernanke (1979), Mario Draghi (1976), and Paul Krugman (1977), among other modern-day luminaries; Stanley Fischer, current Governor of the Bank of Israel, was the dissertation advisor for both Blanchard and Bernanke; Mervyn King and Larry Summers (and many, many more) were Blanchard’s contemporaries or colleagues at MIT at one point or another. The centrality of MIT to the core orthodoxy of modern economic theory in general and monetary policy in particular has been well documented by Jon Hilsenrath and others and it’s not a stretch to say that MIT provided a personal bond and a formative intellectual experience for a group of people that by and large rule the world today. Suffice it to say that Blanchard is smack in the middle of that orthodoxy and that group. I’m not saying that anything Blanchard says is amazingly influential in and of itself, certainly not to the degree of a Bernanke or a Draghi (or even a Krugman), but I believe it is highly representative of the shared beliefs and opinions that exist among these enormously influential policy makers and policy advisors. Two years ago the global economic intelligentsia believed that Emerging Markets had emerged from the 2008 crisis essentially unscathed, but today they believe that EM growth rates are permanently diminished from pre-crisis levels. That’s a big deal, and anyone who invests or allocates to “Emerging Markets” as a differentiated group of securities had better take notice.
Here’s what I think happened.
First, an error pattern has emerged over the past few years from global growth data and IMF prediction models that forced a re-evaluation of those models and the prevailing Narrative of “unscathed” Emerging Markets. Below is a chart showing actual Emerging Market growth rates for each year listed, as well as the IMF prediction at the mid-year mark within that year and the mid-year mark within the prior year (generating an 18-month forward estimate).
Pre-crisis the IMF systematically under-estimated growth in Emerging Markets. Post-crisis the IMF has systematically over-estimated growth in Emerging Markets. Now to be sure, this IMF over-estimation of growth exists for Developed Markets, too, but between the EuroZone sovereign debt crisis and the US fiscal cliff drama there’s a “reason” for the unexpected weakness in Developed Markets. There’s no obvious reason for the persistent Emerging Market weakness given the party line that “whatever shortfall in external demand they experienced has typically been made up through an increase in domestic demand.” Trust me, IMF economists know full well that their models under-estimated EM growth pre-crisis and have now flipped their bias to over-estimate growth today. Nothing freaks out a statistician more than this sort of flipped sign. It means that a set of historical correlations has “gone perverse” by remaining predictive, but in the opposite manner that it used to be predictive. This should never happen if your underlying theory of how the world works is correct. So now the IMF (and every other mainstream macroeconomic analysis effort in the world) has a big problem. They know that their models are perversely over-estimating growth, which given the current projections means that we’re probably looking at three straight years of sub-5% growth in Emerging Markets (!!) more than three years after the 2008 crisis ended, and — worse — they have no plausible explanation for what’s going on.
Fortunately for all concerned, a Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence has emerged over the past nine months, where it has become Common Knowledge that US monetary policy is responsible for everything that happens in global markets, for good and for ill (see “How Gold Lost Its Luster”). This Narrative is incredibly useful to the Olivier Blanchard’s of the world, as it provides a STORY for why their prediction models have collapsed. And maybe it really does rescue their models. I have no idea. All I’m saying is that whether the Narrative is “true” or not, it will be adopted and proselytized by those whose interests — bureaucratic, economic, political, etc. — are served by that Narrative. That’s not evil, it’s just human nature.
Nor is the usefulness of the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence limited to IMF economists. To listen to Emerging Market central bankers at Jackson Hole two weeks ago or to Emerging Market politicians at the G-20 meeting last week you would think that a great revelation had been delivered from on high. Agustin Carstens, Mexico’s equivalent to Ben Bernanke, gave a speech on the “massive carry trade strategies” caused by ZIRP and pleaded for more Fed sensitivity to their capital flow risks. Interesting how the Fed is to blame now that the cash is flowing out, but it was Mexico’s wonderful growth profile to credit when the cash was flowing in. South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, gave an interview to the FT from Jackson Hole where he bemoaned the “inability to find coherent and cohesive responses across the globe to ensure that we reduce the volatility in currencies in particular, but also in sentiment” now that the Fed is talking about a Taper. Christine Lagarde got into the act, of course, calling on the world to build “further lines of defense” even as she noted that the IMF would (gulp) have to stand in the breach as the Fed left the field. To paraphrase Job: the Fed gave, and the Fed hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Fed.
The problem, though, is that once you embrace the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence to “explain” recent events, you can’t compartmentalize it there. If the pattern of post-crisis Emerging Market growth rates is largely explained by US monetary accommodation or lack thereof … well, the same must be true for pre-crisis Emerging Market growth rates. The inexorable conclusion is that Emerging Market growth rates are a function of Developed Market central bank liquidity measures and monetary policy, and that all Emerging Markets are, to one degree or another, Greece-like in their creation of unsustainable growth rates on the back of 20 years of The Great Moderation (as Bernanke referred to the decline in macroeconomic volatility from accommodative monetary policy) and the last 4 years of ZIRP. It was Barzini all along!
This shift in the Narrative around Emerging Markets — that the Fed is the “true” engine of global growth — is a new thing. As evidence of its novelty, I would point you to another bastion of modern economic orthodoxy, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), in particular their repository of working papers. Pretty much every US economist of note in the past 40 years has published an NBER working paper, and I only say “pretty much every” because I want to be careful; my real estimate is that there are zero mainstream US economists who don’t have a working paper here.
If you search the NBER working paper database for “emerging market crises”, you see 16 papers. Again, the author list reads like a who’s who of famous economists: Martin Feldstein, Jeffrey Sachs, Rudi Dornbusch, Fredric Mishkin, Barry Eichengreen, Nouriel Roubini, etc. Of these 16 papers, only 2 — Frankel and Roubini (2001) and Arellano and Mendoza (2002) — even mention the words “Federal Reserve” in the context of an analysis of these crises, and in both cases the primary point is that some Emerging Market crises, like the 1998 Russian default, force the Fed to cut interest rates. They see a causal relationship here, but in the opposite direction of today’s Narrative! Now to be fair, several of the papers point to rising Developed Market interest rates as a “shock” or contributing factor to Emerging Market crises, and Eichengreen and Rose (1998) make this their central claim. But even here the argument is that “a one percent increase in Northern interest rates is associated with an increase in the probability of Southern banking crises of around three percent” … not exactly an earth-shattering causal relationship. More fundamentally, none of these authors ever raise the possibility that low Developed Market interest rates are the core engine of Emerging Market growth rates. It’s just not even contemplated as an explanation.
Today, though, this new Narrative is everywhere. It pervades both the popular media and the academic “media”, such as the prominent Jackson Hole paper by Helene Rey of the London Business School, where the nutshell argument is that global financial cycles are creatures of Fed policy … period, end of story. Not only is every other country just along for the ride, but Emerging Markets are kidding themselves if they think that their plight matters one whit to the US and the Fed.
Market participants today see Barzini/Bernanke everywhere, behind every news announcement and every market tick. They may be right. They may be reading the situation as smartly as Vito Corleone did. I doubt it, but it really doesn’t matter. Whether or not I privately believe that Barzini/Bernanke is behind everything that happens in the world, I am constantly told that this is WHY market events happen the way they do. And because I know that everyone else is seeing the same media explanations of WHY that I am seeing … because I know that everyone else is going through the same tortured decision process that I’m going through … because I know that everyone else is thinking about me in the same way that I am thinking about them … because I know that if everyone else acts as if he or she believes the Narrative then I should act as if I believe the Narrative … then the only rational conclusion is that I should act as if I believe it. That’s the Common Knowledge game in action. This is what people mean when they say that a market behavior of any sort “takes on a life of its own.”
For the short term, at least, the smart play is probably just to go along with the Barzini/Bernanke Narrative, just like the Corleone family went along with the idea that Barzini was running them out of New York (and yes, I understand that at this point I’m probably taking this Godfather analogy too far). By going along I mean thinking of the current market dynamic in terms of risk management, understanding that the overall information structure of this market is remarkably unstable. Risk-On / Risk-Off behavior is likely to increase significantly in the months ahead, and there’s really no predicting when Bernanke will open his mouth or what he’ll say, or who will be appointed to take his place, or what he or she will say. It’s hard to justify any large exposure to public securities in this environment, long or short, because all public securities will be dominated by this Narrative so long as everyone thinks that everyone thinks they will be dominated. This the sort of game can go on for a long time, particularly when the Narrative serves the interests of incredibly powerful institutions around the world.
But what ultimately saved the Corleone family wasn’t just the observation of Barzini’s underlying causal influence, it was the strategy that adjusted to the new reality of WHY. What’s necessary here is not just a gnashing of teeth or tsk-tsk’ing about how awful it is that monetary policy has achieved such behavioral dominance over markets, but a recognition that it IS, that there are investment opportunities created by its existence, and that the greatest danger is to continue on as if nothing has changed.
I believe that there are two important investment implications that stem from this sea change in the Narrative around Emerging Markets, which I’ll introduce today and develop at length in subsequent notes.
First, I think it’s necessary for active investors to recalibrate their analysis towards individual securities that happen to be found in Emerging Markets, not aggregations of securities with an “Emerging Markets” label. I say this because in the aggregate, Emerging Market securities (ETF’s, broad-based funds, etc.) are now the equivalent of a growth stock with a broken story, and that’s a very difficult row to hoe. Take note, though, the language you will have to speak in this analytic recalibration of Emerging Market securities is Value, not Growth, and the critical attribute of a successful investment will have little to do with the security’s inherent qualities (particularly growth qualities) but a great deal to do with whether a critical mass of Value-speaking investors take an interest in the security.
Second, there’s a Big Trade here related to the predictable behaviors and preference functions of the giant institutional investors or advisors that — by size and by strategy — are locked into a perception of Emerging Market meaning that can only be expressed through aggregations of securities or related fungible asset classes (foreign exchange and commodities). These mega-allocators do not “see” Emerging Markets as an opportunity set of individual securities, but as an asset class with useful diversification qualities within an overall portfolio. So long as market behaviors around Emerging Markets in the aggregate are driven by the Barzini/Bernanke Narrative, that diversification quality will decline, as the same Fed-speak engine is driving behaviors in both Emerging Markets and Developed Markets. Mega-allocators care more about diversification and correlations than they do about price, which means that the selling pressure will continue/increase so long as the old models aren’t working and the Barzini/Bernanke Narrative diminishes what made Emerging Markets as an asset class useful to these institutions in the first place. But when that selling pressure dissipates — either because the Barzini/Bernanke Narrative wanes or the mega-portfolios are balanced for the new correlation models that take the Barzini/Bernanke market effect into account — that’s when Emerging Market securities in the aggregate will work again. You will never identify that turning point in Emerging Market security prices by staring at a price chart. To use a poker analogy you must play the player — in this case the mega-allocators who care a lot about correlation and little about price — not the cards in order to know when to place a big bet.
In future weeks I’ll be expanding on each of these investment themes, as well as taking them into the realm of foreign exchange and commodities. Also, there’s a lot still to be said about Fed communication policy and the Frankenstein’s Monster it has become. I hope you will join me for the journey, and if you’d like to be on the direct distribution list for these free weekly notes please sign up at Follow Epsilon Theory.
Is this how it starts?
The third great market crash of the 21st century?
At Ben Bernanke’s perhaps final public appearance at the Brookings Institution on January 16th, the beginnings of the 2008-2009 financial crisis were linked to the issues of a French bank in the summer of 2007, an incident little noticed at that point in time.
This time around will it be the currency problems of frontier and emerging markets? The default of a Chinese trust fund, discussed in some detail here atForbes? Or something else altogether, totally hidden at the moment? Or nothing at all?
With U.S. equity markets suffering their deepest losses since 2012, there were plenty of disparate concerns to go around this past week.
These included the fear of the Fed’s tapering ultimate timing and impact, weakening China growth, those currency devaluation jitters, a lackluster U.S. earnings season, perceived overheated equity market valuations, and that China trust fund, to mention a few. There was also the end of week concern that the selling could feed upon itself, as those market-makers selling puts on indices and calls on the VIX could get squeezed and have to hedge next week with more S&P futures selling.
On the week, the Dow gave up -3.5%, finishing below 16,000 for the first time since mid-December. The S&P 500 lost -2.6%, closing below the key 1800 level at 1790. And the NASDAQ fared the best, down “only” -1.7%, helped by the relative strength of some of its high-fliers. Notably, the VIX popped close to +46%, ending the week just above 18, although still far below panic levels.
It is a bit iffy to reconstruct the true narrative of the week, as things seemed to get rolling to the downside on Monday evening. Influential Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath of the WSJ wrote of January FOMC tapering possibilities:
A reduction in the program to $65 billion a month from the current $75 billion could be announced at the end of the Jan. 28-29 meeting, which would be the last meeting for outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Coincidence or not, the next four trading days were all on the negative side of the ledger for the Dow, although the S&P hung in decently on Tuesday and Wednesday. But then China’s HSBC PMI numbers hit, indicating a drop in January to 49.6 from December’s final reading of 50.5, moving “below the 50 line which separates expansion of activity from contraction.” (Reuters).
This, combined with the currency devaluation news, with Venezuela, Argentina, and Turkey leading the headlines, seemed to fuel the overall“emerging market risk” theme which overwhelmed markets on Friday.
Not helping were some comments coming out of Davos. Larry Fink ofBlackRock BLK -3.95% said there was “too much optimism” in the markets. He added, according to Bloomberg , “The experience of the marketplace this past week is going to be indicative of this entire year. We’re going to be in a world of much greater volatility.”
This came on the heels of Goldman’s chief strategist, David Kostin, saying two weeks ago that market valuations are “lofty by almost any measure.”
But the real outlier came from Dr. Doom himself, NYU professor and head of Roubini Global Economics, Nouriel Roubini. Roubini seized on yet another global issue, tweeting:
@ Nouriel: “Japan-China war of words goes ballistic in Davos” and “A black swan in the form of a war between China & Japan?” along with various comments on the emerging market issues, saying, “Argentina currency crisis & contagion to other EM – on top of weak China PMI – suggests that some emerging markets are still fragile.”
The China/Japan “conflict” story was the shocker, and apparently goes back to some comments allegedly made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abewhich compared China/Japan tensions to those found between Germany and Britain prior to World War I. (CNBC) In an interview with Business Insider, Roubini called the events of last week “a mini perfect storm,” alluding to“weak data in China, fresh currency market turmoil in Argentina, and a worsening chaotic situation in the Ukraine.”
It is a bit amusing to note that while Mr. Roubini was serving on several panels at Davos, giving press interviews, and tweeting non-stop, he also found time (or one of his associates did) to post a ranking of “top Tweeters” from the World Economic Forum, showing himself in 5th place. (See Twitter imagehere.)
Let’s take a very quick look at a few of the other notable quotes from newsmakers this week:
–“I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol.” –President Obama in a New Yorker interview published last Sunday. The remark created a firestorm of controversy, including reportedly negative feedback from DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and many others. (Huffington Post)
–Apple is “one of the biggest ‘no-brainers’ we have seen in five decades of successful investing.” –Fund manager and legendary investor Carl Icahn, in continuing to tout AAPL’s undervaluation and push for stock buybacks by the company. Forbes also noted that Icahn grabbed headlines last week for now getting involved with eBay and urging a spinoff of its PayPal holding.
–“Gross: PIMCO’s fully engaged. Batteries 110% charged. I’m ready to go for another 40 years” –PIMCO’s Bill Gross tweeting after the highly visible and speculation-provoking departure of Mohamed El-Erian. Mr. El-Erian reportedly said in a letter to PIMCO employees, “The decision to step down from PIMCO was not an easy one.”
–“It’s a very juicy target.” –Andrew Kuchins, Russia Program Director for CSIS, in commenting on the terrorist threats at the Sochi Olympics and the need for extensive security and preparedness planning. (USA Today)
–“It’s so easy to enter, a caveman could do it.” –Warren Buffett, a bit jokingly, in announcing his company’s sponsorship of a $1 billion March Madness challenge along with Quicken. (Fox Sports) The simple idea is that an absolutely perfect bracket will produce the billion-dollar winner, but the offer includes also some twenty $100,000 winners for the best, if imperfect, brackets. There is also a charity angle, but at something like 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds (we have seen varying estimates all over the place) Berkshire is likely not facing too much risk here.
–“A lot of people got dead in that one.” –retired NYC detective and now security consultant/media celebrity Bo Dietl on the Don Imus program, commenting on the history of the Lufthansa “Goodfellas” robbery and this week’s arrests in the case.
–And in another high profile criminal case, famed lawyer Roy Black said of client Justin Bieber, “I’m not going to make any comments about the case except to say Mr. Bieber has been released on bond and we agreed that the standard bail would apply in this case.” (CBS Miami)
–“We’ve lost some of our consumer relevance.” –McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson in a call after client traffic comps greatly disappointed in the recent earnings release. This was the flipside of Netflix, which surged dramatically after their latest numbers and user figures, with NFLX stock up some 17% despite the terrible market week.
–“We believe POS malware will continue to grow.”–The FBI in a statement on the troubling hacking of Target and other retailers, which was revealed in far greater detail this week, including the hacking intrusion of Neiman Marcus. (Yahoo)
–“It was so awesome!” –ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, in a slightly hard to believe remark on the antics of Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman after last week’s NFC title game. Her initial real-time reaction to the interview seemed at odds with that statement, as she stood in utter disbelief in the post-game situation. (seattlepi.com)
Let’s close it out there, as all eyes will be on the opening of foreign equity markets tonight and the U.S. futures trading. Well, maybe not all eyes, as the Grammy Awards also kicks off this evening. But the really big event of the week will be President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Presidential senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer predicted in an email of the upcoming SOTU address, according to Bloomberg:
Pfeiffer: ‘Three words sum up the president’s message on Tuesday night: opportunity, action, and optimism. The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed.’ While Obama ‘will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way,’ Pfeiffer said he ‘will not wait for Congress’ to act on some of his goals.’
Have a good week!
Every time a TBTF bank releases its 10-Q, we head straight for the section, usually well over 100 pages in, that discloses the bank’s total profitable trading days.
This is what the most recent Bank of America 10-Q said on this topic:
The histogram below is a graphic depiction of trading volatility and illustrates the daily level of trading-related revenue for the three months ended September 30, 2013 compared to the three months ended June 30, 2013 and March 31, 2013. During the three months ended September 30, 2013, positive trading-related revenue was recorded for 97 percent, or 62 trading days, of which 69 percent (44 days) were daily trading gains of over $25 million and the largest loss was $21 million. These results can be compared to the three months ended June 30, 2013, where positive trading-related revenue was recorded for 89 percent, or 57 trading days, of which 67 percent (43 days) were daily trading gains of over $25 million and the largest loss was $54 million. During the three months ended March 31, 2013, positive trading-related revenue was recorded for 100 percent, or 60 trading days, of which 97 percent (58 days) were daily trading gains over $25 million.
In summary, so far in 2013, Bank of America lost money on 9 trading days out of a total 188.
Statistically, this result is absolutely ridiculous when one considers that the bulk of bank trading revenues are still in the form of prop positions disguised as “flow” trading to evade Volcker which means the only way a bank could make money with near uniform perfection is if it either i) consistently has inside information that it trades on or ii) it consistently front-runs its clients.
In related news, the only more absurd datapoint was JPMorgan’s announcement of how many trading day losses it had in the first nine months of 2013. For those who missed out succinct post on the matter, the answer was clear: zero. The absurdity becomes even clearer when one considers that in the pre-New Normal days, JPM had an almost normal profit/loss distribution in its trading days.
But back to Bank of America, where as we noted, the kind of trading result would only be possible if the bank was aggressively insider trading or just as aggressively frontrunning flow orders in its prop book (a topic we covered back in 2009 as relates to Goldman Sachs, and which the bank sternly rejected).
We now know that at least one of the two almost certainly happened after Reuters report from earlier today that it discovered on the FINRA BrokerCheck page of one of the bank’s former Managing Directors, Eric Beckwith, the following curious ongoing investigation:
WE UNDERSTAND THAT THE USAO (US Attorney Office) -WDNC IS INVESTIGATING WHETHER IT WAS PROPER FOR THE SWAPS DESK TO EXECUTE FUTURES TRADES PRIOR TO THE DESK’S EXECUTION OF BLOCK FUTURE TRADES ON BEHALF OF COUNTERPARTIES, AND WHETHER MR. BECKWITH PROVIDED ACCURATE INFORMATION TO THE CME IN CONNECTION WITH THE CME’S INVESTIGATION OF THE SWAPS DESK’S BLOCK FUTURES TRADING. WE ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT THE COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION IS CONDUCTING A PARALLEL INVESTIGATION INTO THE TRADING ISSUE.
More from Reuters:
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have both held investigations into whether Bank of America engaged in improper trading by doing its own futures trades ahead of executing large orders for clients, according to a regulatory filing.
The June 2013 disclosure, which Reuters recently reviewed on a website run by the securities industry regulator FINRA, sheds light on the basis for a warning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on January 8.
The warning, in the form of an intelligence bulletin to regulators and security officers at financial services firms, said that the FBI suspected swaps traders at an unnamed U.S. bank and an unnamed Canadian bank may have been involved in market manipulation and front running of orders from U.S. government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Only this time it’s different, because a quick check on the background of Beckwith shows that his expertise is not trading MBS but a different product entirely.
First, it goes without saying that Eric would promptly scrap his LinkedIn Profile as the following URL shows.
What Eric, however, was unable to delete was the mention of his name as the Bank of America contact for an “innovative new product created [by the CME and the banks] based on client demand” –Deliverable Interest Rate Swaps Futures, or as some call them Deliverable Interest Rate Products.
What is this newly promoted product, and why is there demand for it? This is what the CME had to say about the benefits of “DIRPs” (even though the technical acronyms is DSFs):
- Capital efficient way to access interest rate swap exposure
- Flexible execution via CME Globex, Block trades, EFRPs and Open Outcry
- Allows participants to trade in an OTC manner:
- Ability to block calendar spreads
- Lower block thresholds and longer reporting times
- No block surcharges
But, as in the case of CDS, and all other novel products, the main reason for DIRPs is simple: an even lower margin requirement compared to Interest Rate Swaps and Treasury Futures (margined together), allowing one to express a position, or better, manipulate the market in Interest Rate products, using the least amount of margin (initial capital) possible.
The following chart explains just this:
Bottom line: if you want to manipulate Treasurys in a reflexive market, where the derivatve almost always drives the price of the underlying (as perhaps explained best by none other than the then-member of the Fed Dino Kos), this is the best product as you get even more firepower for your buck.
Only in this case, anyone trading with the Bank of America DIRPs desk was apparently also being frontrun on a consistent basis.
We are relatively comfortable with alleging that BofA did indeed allow this to happen (whether it neither admits nor denies guilt at the end of the day), because a few weeks after the notice appears in Beckwith’s Brokercheck profile on June 14,2013, he promptly “left” Bank of America in July as Reuters reports: not exactly the course of action an innocent man would take.
In other words, while Reuters is focused on the Fannie and Freddie frontrunning angle, it appears the frontrunning activity spread substantially to involve the entire Treasury curve as well!
So while HFTs frontrun all equity retail trades in open markets, major banks frontrun all institutional block equity orders in their own dark pools, we find out that bankers also just happen to frontrun clients in “you name it” over the counter product, where the only reason to be involved is to take advantage of the low margin – something JPM’s CIO did quite aggressively and quite well until it blew up of course.
But the best news: we finally know how it is possible that every bank reports quarter after quarter of near uniform trading perfection and close to zero trading day losses.
Finally, our question for the regulators: in a Volcker world in which banks are supposedly not allowed to trade ahead of their clients, why are banks, well, trading ahead of their clients!?
* * *
Appendix 1 – the CMEs overview of Deliverable IR Swap Futures
Appendix 2 – Eric Beckwith’s Brokercheck profile
(Reuters) – A full-scale flight from emerging market assets accelerated on Friday, setting global shares on course for their worst week this year and driving investors to safe-haven assets including U.S. Treasuries, the yen and gold.
U.S. stocks slumped, putting the benchmark S&P 500 on track for its worst drop since November 7 and pushing the index down 1.8 percent for the week. Concerns about slower growth in China, reduced support from U.S. monetary policy and political problems in Turkey, Argentina and Ukraine drove the selling.
The Turkish lira hit a record low. Argentina’s peso fell again after the country’s central bank abandoned its support of the currency.
The declines mirror moves from last June when developing country stocks fell almost 18 percent over about two months and hit global shares.
The broad nature of the selloff combines country-specific problems with the reality that reduced U.S. Federal Reserve bond buying reduces the liquidity that has in the past boosted higher-yielding emerging markets assets.
The Fed last month pared its monthly purchases of bonds by $10 billion to $75 billion. The U.S. central bank will hold a policy meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday and is widely expected to again pare its stimulus program.
“We expect the emerging market selloff to get worse before it starts getting better,” said Lorne Baring, managing director of B Capital Wealth Management in Geneva. “There’s definitely contagion spreading and it’s crossing over from emerging to developed in terms of sentiment.”
Activity was heavy in exchange-traded funds focused on emerging markets. The iShares Morgan Stanley EM ETF was the second-most active issue in New York trading, trailing only the S&P 500’s tracking ETF.
An MSCI index of emerging market shares fell as much as 1.6 percent. Since mid-October, the index has lost more than 9 percent. The MSCI all-country world equity index was down 1.6 percent.
Funds have continued to flee emerging market equities. In the week ended January 22, data from Thomson Reuters Lipper service showed outflows from U.S.-domiciled emerging market equity funds of $422.41 million, the sixth week of outflows out of the last seven.
Emerging market debt funds saw a 32nd week of outflows out of the last 35, with $200 million in net redemptions from the 250 funds tracked by Lipper.
“It’s just the final realization that they can’t continue to grow as an economy the same way they did before,” said Andres Garcia-Amaya, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds in New York. “It’s a combination of less liquidity for these countries that depended on foreign money and China kind of throwing some curve balls as well.”
The Turkish lira hit a record low of 2.33 to the dollar, even after the central bank spent at least $2 billion trying to prop it up on Thursday.
Turkey’s new dollar bond, first sold on Wednesday, fell below its launch price. The cost of insuring against a Turkish default rose to an 18-month high and Ukraine’s debt insurance costs hit their highest level since Kiev agreed a rescue deal with Russia in December.
Argentina decided to loosen strict foreign exchange controls a day after the peso suffered its steepest daily decline since the country’s 2002 financial crisis [ID:nL2N0KY0FC]. On Friday, it was down 2.8 percent.
On Wall Street shares sank.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 205.12 points, or 1.27 percent, at 15,992.23. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 24.93 points, or 1.36 percent, at 1,803.53. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 66.82 points, or 1.58 percent, at 4,152.05.
But in a signal that the selling may be overextended, investors were willing to pay more for protection against a drop in the S&P 500 on Friday than for three months down the road. The last time the spread between the CBOE volatility index and three-month VIX futuresturned negative was in mid- October, shortly after a 4.8 percent pullback in the S&P 500 opened the door to the last leg of the 2013 market rally.
European shares suffered their biggest fall in seven months. The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares closed down 2.4 percent at 1,301.34 points. The index has now erased all its gains for 2014, and is down 1.1 percent on the year.
Spain’s IBEX index, highly exposed to Latin America, was the worst-hit in Europe, falling 3.69 percent.
The dollar index was flat, a day after falling 0.9 percent against a basket of majorcurrencies, including the euro, yen, Swiss franc and sterling. That was its worst one-day performance in three months.
A flight to safety lifted currencies backed by a current account surplus, such as the Japanese yen and Swiss franc, and highly rated government bonds. German Bund futures rose and 10-year U.S. Treasury yields hit an eight-week low below 2.75 percent.
Gold traded close to its highest level in nine weeks and was poised for a fifth straight weekly climb as weaker equities burnished its safe-haven appeal. Spot gold rose to $1265.10, up from $1263.95.
(Reporting by Barani Krishnan; Additional reporting by Dan Bases and Toni Vorobyova; Editing by Nigel Stephenson, Nick Zieminski and Leslie Adler)
From Russ Certo, head of rates at Brean Capital
Two Roads Diverged
As we know, it has been a suspect week with a variety of earnings misses. Although I have been constructive on risk asset markets generally, equities anecdotally, as figured year end push for alpha desires could let it run into year end. New year and ball game can change quickly. Just wondering if a larger rotation is in order.
There is an overall considerable theme of what you may find when a liquidity tide recedes as most major crises or risk pullbacks have been precipitated by either combination of tighter monetary or fiscal policy. Some with a considerable lag like a year after Greenspan departed from Fed helm, or many other examples. I’m not suggesting NOW is a time for a compression in risk but am aware of the possibility, especially when Fed Chairs take victory laps, Bernanke this week. Symbolic if nothing more. Cover of TIME magazine?
I happen to think that 2014 is a VERY different year than 2013 from a variety of viewpoints. First, there appears to be a dispersion of opinion about markets, valuations, policy frameworks and more. This is a healthy departure from YEARS of artificiality. Artificiality in valuations, artificiality in market and policy mechanics and essentially artificiality in EVERY financial, and real, relationship on the planet based on central bank(s) balance sheet expansion and other measures intended to be a stop-gap resolution to tightening financial conditions, adverse expectations of economic activity, and the great rollover….of both financial and non-financial debt financing. Boy, what a week in the IG issuance space with over $100 billion month to date, maybe $35 billion on the week. Debt rollover on steroids.
Beneath the veneer of market aesthetics, I already see fundamental (and technical) relevance. This could be construed as an optimist pursuit or reality that markets are incrementally transcending reliance and/or dependence on the wings of central bank policy prerogatives. The market bird is trying to fly on its own with inklings of a return to FUNDAMENTAL analysis. A good thing, conceptually, and gradualist development of passing the valuation baton back to market runners. A likely major pillar objective of policy despite more than a few critics worried about seemingly dormant lurking imbalances created by immeasurable policy and monetary and fundamentally skewed risk asset relationships globally.
This exercise of summarization of ebb and flow and comings and goings of markets and policy naturally funnels a discussion to what stature of central bank policy currently or accurately exists? Current events. What is the accurate stage of policy?
I actually think this is a more delicate nuance than I perceive viewed in overall market sentiment. Granted, we have taken a major step for mankind, which is the topical engagement of some level of scope or reduction of liquidity provisioning,” not tightening.” Tip of the iceberg communique with markets to INTRODUCE the concept of stepping off the gas but not hitting the break. Reeks of fragility to me but narrative headed in right direction to stop medicating the patient, the global economy.
Some markets have logically responded in kind. The highest beta markets as either beneficiaries or vulnerable to monetary policy changes, the emerging markets, have reflected at least the optics of change with policy. More auditory than optics in hearing a PROSPECTIVE change in garbled Fedspeak. The high flyer currencies which capture the nominal flighty hot money flows globally affirmed the Fed message.
In literally the simplest of terms, the G7 industrialized, not peripheral; interest rate complex has simply moved the needle in form of +110 basis point higher moves in nominal sovereign interest rates. And there are a bevy of other expressions which played nicely and rightly conformed to the messages coming out of the central bank sandbox. But there are ALSO notable dichotomies, which send a different or even the opposite message.
I perceive a deviation in perception of message as some markets or market participants appear to be betting on taper or a return to normalcy in global growth or U.S. growth outcomes??? OR no taper, or conversely QE4 or whatever. Sovereign spreads have moved materially tighter vs. industrial and supposed risk free rates (Tsys, Gilts, Bunds) both last year and in the first three weeks of 2014. Something a new leg of QE would represent, not a taper. A different year!!!
There have been VERY reliable risk asset market beta correlations over the last 5 years and sovereign or peripheral spreads have been AS volatile and correlated as any asset class. These things trade like dancing with a rattle-snake. Greece, Spain, France etc. They can bite you with fangs. They have been meaningfully more correlated to high yield spreads and yields and to central bank balance sheet expansion as nearly any asset class. So, the infusion of central bank liquidity into markets has seen “relief” rallies in peripherals and one would think the converse would be true as well. The valuations have represented the flavor and direction of risk on/risk off or liquidity on/liquidity off reliably for many months/years.
But I THOUGHT markets were deliberating tapering views and expressions as validated by some good soldier markets BUT that is not necessarily what the rally in riskiest of sovereign “credits” is suggesting. The complex seems to be decoupling with Fed balance sheet correlation and message. Some are OVER 100 standard deviations from the mean! They are rich and could/should be sold. Especially if one was to follow the obvious correlation with the direction of central bank as stated.
But look to other arena’s like TIPS breakevens which also have been correlated with liquidity and risk on/off and central bank balance sheet expansion. Correlated to NASDAQ, HY, peripherals and the like. BUT this complex COUNTERS what peripherals are doing. They haven’t shown up to the punch bowl party yet. Not invited. This is a departure of markets that have largely and generally been in synch from a liquidity and performance correlation view.
Like gold and silver which got tattooed vis a vis down 35%+ performance last year MOSTLY, but not exclusively, due to perceptions of winds of central bank change. BUT even within a contrary, the fact that rallies in Spain, France, Greece, and Italy reflect more of central bank easing notions, the opposite of taper. In essence, the complex has gone batty uber-appreciation this year. Sure, many eyeball the Launchpad physical metals marginal stabilization no longer falling on a knife but the miner bonds and the mining stocks are string like bull with significant appreciation. This decidedly isn’t the stuff of taper which had the bond daddy’s romancing notions of 3% 10yr breaks, 40 basis point Green Eurodollar sell-offs, emerging market rinse, and upticks in volatility amongst other things.
Equity bourses appear to be changing hands between investors with oscillating rotations which mark the first prospective 3 week consecutive sell-off in a while. New year. This is taper light. Somewhere in between and further blurs the correlation metrics.
So, which is it? Are we tapering or not and why are merely a few global asset classed pointed out here, why are they deviating or arguably pricing in different central bank prospects or scenarios or outcomes?
I’m not afraid but I am intrigued as to the fact that there may some strong opinions within markets and I perceive a widely received comfortability with taper or tightening notions, negative leanings on interest rate forecasts, a complacency of Fed call if you will. And all of these hingings occur without intimate knowledge of the most critical variable of all, what Janet Yellen thinks? She has been awfully quiet as of late and there are many foregone conclusions or assumptions in market psyche without having heard a peep from the new MAESTRO.
Moreover, looking in the REAR view mirror within a week where multiple (two) Fed Governor proclamations, communicated and implicated notions which arguably would be considered radical in ANY other policy period of a hundred years. How to conduct “monetary policy at a ZERO lower bound (Williams) ” and “doing something as surprising and drastic as cutting interest on excess reserves BELOW zero (Kocherlakota).”
This doesn’t sound like no stinking taper? A tale of two markets. To be or not to be. To taper or not to taper. Two roads diverged and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Robert Frost.
Which is it? Different markets pricing different things. Right or wrong, the market always has a message; listen critically.
Primed for the Globalization Death Blow
All In At Dow Casino (Yes, again)
I will be the first to admit, that exactly five years ago near the depths of the post-Lehman collapse, I would have said that the probability of new stock market highs in five years was zero. Yet here we are, new stock market highs, new highs in margin debt, new highs in risky loans, new housing bubbles, new IPO speculation, new highs in global debt levels, new high in billionaires. It’s unbelievable. After the 1929 crash my grandparents’ generation never touched debt or stocks again in their entire lifetime. All of which means that this current generation didn’t learn one thing from 2008. Therefore what comes next will teach these amoral dumbfucks a lesson that they will never, ever, ever, forget.