Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 6:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giotto Legend of St Francis, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo c.1297-1299

 

You are not an investor. One can only be an investor in functioning markets. There have been no functioning markets since at least 2008, and probably much longer. That’s when central banks started purchasing financial assets, for real, which means that is also the point when price discovery died. And without price discovery no market can function.

You are therefore not an investor. Perhaps you are a cheat, perhaps you are a chump, but you are not an investor. If we continue to use terms like ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ for what we see today, we would need to invent new terms for what these words once meant. Because they surely are not the same thing. Even as there are plenty people who would like you to believe they are, because it serves their purposes.

Central banks have become bubble machines, and that is the only function they have left. You could perhaps get away with saying that the dot-com bubble, maybe even the US housing bubble, were not created by central banks, but you can’t do that for the everything bubble of today.

The central banks blow their bubbles in order to allow banks and other financial institutions to first of all not crumble, and second of all even make sizeable profits. They have two instruments to blow their bubbles with, which are used in tandem.

The first one is asset purchases, which props up the prices for these assets, through artificial demand. The second is (ultra-) low interest rates, which allows for more parties -that is, you and mom and pop- to buy more assets, another form of artificial demand.

The most important central bank-created bubble is in housing, if only because it facilitates bubbles in stocks and bonds. Home prices in many places in the world have grown much higher than either economic growth or homebuyers’ wages justify.

In many instances they have even caused a feeding frenzy, where people are so desperate to either have a place to live or not miss out on profits that they’ll pay any price, provided rates are low enough for them to get a loan approved.

As I said a few weeks ago in Our Economies Run on Housing Bubbles, the housing bubbles created in this way are essential in keeping our economies going, because it is through mortgages -loans in general- that money is created in these economies.

If this money creation machine would stop, so would the economies. Home prices would come down to more realistic levels, but there still wouldn’t be anyone to buy them, so they would sink further. That, too, is called price discovery. For which there is a bitter and urgent need.

The Fed is an outlier in the central bank system, in that it no longer buys up too many assets. But other central banks have duly taken over. Indeed, Tyler Durden observes today via Bank of America that BoJ and ECB have bought more assets so far in 2017 than central banks ever have before. One may wonder at what point the term ‘asset’ will lose its rightful meaning to the same extent that ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ have:

A quick, if familiar, observation to start the day courtesy of Bank of America which in the latest overnight note from Michael Hartnett notes that central banks (ECB & BoJ) have bought $1 trillion of financial assets just in the first four months of 2017, which amounts to $3.6 trillion annualized, “the largest CB buying on record.” As Hartnett notes, the “Liquidity Supernova is the best explanation why global stocks & bonds both annualizing double-digit gains YTD despite Trump, Le Pen, China, macro…”

A recent graph from Citi and Haver illustrated it this way:

 

 

Note the rise in central bank balance sheets before 2008. There’s nothing innocent about it.

As an aside, I like this variation from the Twitter account of “Rudy Havenstein”, which came with the comment:

Here is a chart of the well being of the American middle-class and poor over the same period.

 

 

The Fed tries to become even more of an outlier among central banks, or at least it seems to discuss ways of doing this. Now, I don’t know what is more stunning, the fact that they go about it the way they do, or the lack of anger and bewilderment that emanates from the press and other voices -nobody has a clue what a central bank should be doing-, but the following certainly is ‘something’:

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes. Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.

The Fed-created bubbles in stocks, bonds, housing, what have you, have propped up these ‘market players’, which wouldn’t even be ‘market players’ anymore if they hadn’t. That would have made for a much saner world. These people are not ‘investors’ any more either, by the way, and they’re not the chumps either; they are the cheats, the profiteers. At your expense.

Now, with the new capital they have, courtesy of the Fed and other central banks only, certainly not their own intelligence or timing or knowledge, they get calls from Yellen and other Fed people about what the Fed can do for them this time. Yellen et al are afraid that if the Fed starts selling, the so-called ‘market players’ will too. Of course they will.

The bubble created by artificial demand cannot be allowed to burst all at once, it has to be done “gradual and predictable.” As if that is possible, as if the Fed controls the bursting of bubbles it has itself created. And Yellen is not going to call you or me, she could not care less; she’s going the call the pigs she fattened up most. The Fed is more than anything a bunch of academics, seduced exclusively by textbook theories that are shaky at best, to transfer wealth to the most sociopathic and hence seductive financial predators, at everyone else’s expense.

And that expense is humongous. At the same time that the Fed and the rest of the world’s central banks fattened their balance sheets as seen in the graph above, this is what happened to US debt vs GDP:

 

 

The Fed bubbles, intended to keep market players whole, are blown at the expense of the real economy. Imagine if all those $20 trillion and counting in central banks’ bubble blowing would have been used to prop up Main Street instead of Wall Street; everybody would have been better off except for the ‘investors’ who are not even real investors.

The problem is, the Fed has no control over its own bubbles. It may or may not devise ways to ‘deflate’ its balance sheet, but the bubbles that balance sheet gave birth to cannot be deflated in the same way. If the Fed did have ‘bubble control’, it would have chosen to keep both the stock markets (S&P) and housing prices at a much lower level, with only a gradual increase. That would have given the impression that things were still doing sort of fine, without adding the risk -make that certainty- that the while shebang would blow up. But once’s the genie’s out of the bubble…

The academics must have missed that part. In the end the Fed works for banks and affiliated ‘industries’, not for people. Even -or especially- those people that like to think of themselves as ‘investors’. Today, in the process, America’s central bank is actively destroying American people. And while the Fed’s operatives may know this or not, the people certainly don’t. They think they’re making fat profits in either stocks or housing. And they are the lucky ones; most Americans are simply drowning.

A great representation of all that’s wrong in this comes courtesy of this Lance Roberts graph. A chilling illustration of the price you pay for setting S&P records.

 

 

These days, every rising asset price, every single bubble, comes at the expense of enormous increases in debt. And there are still people who wish to claim that this is not a bubble. That it is OK to get into deep debt to purchase a home, or stocks, with leverage: can’t miss out on those rates! And sure, that is still true in theory; all you have to do is get out in time. If only the Fed can get out in time, if only you can get out in time.

‘Getting out in time’ is bubble territory by definition. It’s not investing. Investing is buying an interest in something that you expect to do well, something that you think may be successful in benefiting society in such a way that people will want to own part of it. As I write down these words, I can’t help thinking of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, simply because it is so obvious but already feels so outdated.

I’m thinking also of Uber and Airbnb and Tesla and so many other ‘innovative’ ideas. All seemingly thriving but only because there’s so much excess cash sloshing around courtesy of Bernanke and Yellen and Draghi, looking for a next bubble to ‘invest’ in. Ideas that apparently have no trouble raising another $1 billion or $10 billion ‘investment’, in the same way that the Tulip Bubble had no such trouble, or the South Sea or Dot.Com ones.

Good luck with all that, but you’ve been warned, you’re hereby on notice. The odds that you’ll be able to ‘get out in time’ are vanishingly small. And even if you do, most others just like you won’t. And neither will the Fed academics. They have the most so-called ‘money’ at their disposal, and the least sense of what to do with it. But they have their advisers in the private banking industry to tell them all about where to put it: in one bubble or another; anywhere but the real economy.

Have I mentioned yet that all these start-ups and other bubbles are being launched into a rapidly shinking economy? Or you don’t think it is shrinking? Look, there would be no need for the Fed to blow bubbles if the economy were doing fine. And if so, they wouldn’t. Even academics have an innate sense for risk overdose.

C’mon, you’re not an investor. And perhaps you won’t even end up a loser, though the odds on that are slim, but one thing’s for sure. You are a character in an epic poem about losers.

 

 

Mar 192015
 
 March 19, 2015  Posted by at 1:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


John M. Fox National Peanut Corp. store on Broadway, NY 1947

Let’s start with defining what an ‘investor’ really is. A reasonable definition of an investor seems to be ‘someone who puts money into risk bearing assets that promise to produce financial gains through – increased – productivity’.

If we can agree on that, then furthermore I think we can all agree that investors need markets. And not only that, but they need functioning markets. What defines ‘functioning’ here is that ‘investors’ need to be able to discern what the value is of the assets they have already purchased and/or are thinking of purchasing in the future.

But we haven’t had any functioning markets since at least 2008. There is no price discovery left, nobody knows the actual value of anything anymore, and ‘traders’ pour money into all sorts of ‘assets’ without having one single clue as to what they are really worth. They don’t even care about the real value of the ‘assets’ they purchase. They don’t have to, because the game’s so obviously rigged and distorted.

There is no risk left in the assets, productivity – i.e. the added value – has long since ceased to be an issue, and that leaves financial gains as the only point of our definition above. But that must of necessity also mean that whoever trades in these non-functioning markets – preferably with ‘money’ borrowed on the cheap -, is not an investor.

So what are the people who do trade, while still calling themselves investors? Are they then mere ‘traders’? That doesn’t quite seem to fit.

What are they then? It may sound a bit harsh to claim they are all just plain grifters, but maybe that’s not too far off the truth after all.

One might conclude, when looking at the excessive attention ‘everyone’ paid yet again today to Janet Yellen and the Fed, waiting breathlessly to see if she utters the word ‘patience’, that those people who call themselves ‘investors’ are not even grifters, they’re nothing but yet another group of lazy bums waiting for government – and/or central bank – hand-outs.

Just much bigger hand-outs than people receive who are on foodstamps (and now you know where that much maligned inequality comes from). But they’re still hand-outs.

Nobody puts money into worthy (for lack of a better term), innovative, productive projects anymore, everyone just waits for what the Fed says and plays it safe (hand-outs). The Fed has thus eroded the investment world, and indeed the entire investment market model.

And that will come back to bite everyone. There is no more money flowing into any ‘worthy’ initiatives, it’s all going into whatever makes most money fastest, screw – increased – productivity. And since price discovery no longer exists, worthy initiatives will receive funding only through some freak accident (like a billionaire with Alzheimer’s), not by design, not through the inherent benefits of the investment model. Which is all but dead.

This cannot but have far reaching consequences, because we no longer have a model in which the best and brightest and hardest working amongst us can and will get funding to build their dreams. All money goes into either ‘Tech Boom The Sequel’, or is spent betting against whatever trend looks fit to fall first. Or a combination of the two.

The smarter amongst you, and I have to doubt that there are too many, will understand that the Fed ‘protection racket’ that has existed for years, is about to come to an end. It’s you against Wall Street now, and most of you don’t stand a chance in that arena.

A rate hike, any rate hike, or two, is the (re-)start of price discovery, at a time when everyone is ‘invested’ in ‘assets’ for which price discovery was never even considered at the time of purchasing. How fast can you unload? Who’s going to be the buyer? Are there enough fools greater than you left?

Maybe I should feel better knowing how much y’all stand to lose soon, but I don’t, because I also know how much everyone else stands to lose who already don’t have anything but debt. Emerging markets are going to get obliterated, all sorts of funds and levels of government, domestic and abroad, are going to get crushed – resulting in more services getting cut for the poor -, and so, whether you like it or not, are most Americans and Europeans who fancy calling themselves ‘investors’.

They’re not. They’re just a bunch of grifters and bums. They couldn’t (have) survive(d) in a marketplace that has actual price discovery. They couldn’t have borne the losses and recuperated. Not the way real investors do.

I found this a good and somewhat amusing summary of the feeling before Yellen’s speech today, as expressed yesterday via MarketWatch:

‘Hell Will Break Loose’ If Fed Loses Patience

It could go either way, according to the Fly from the iBankCoin blog, who spoke of extremes. “If we find out this Wednesday that [Janet Yellen] is not, in fact, patient, hell will break loose and 66 seals of hell will be broken — paving way for actual centaurs to roam, wall-kicking people in the faces with their hooves,” he wrote. “On the other hand, if Janet is patient and says so, we’re all going to make an absurd amount of money.”

Having a rigged, distorted system that fakes being a market and makes a bunch of grifters a lot of money, is not how you build a functioning society.

Oh, and you know what the worst thing of all is – if it can get any worse -? If the Fed and other central banks, post-2008, would have simply let the markets sort things out, most of the ‘money’ that has now been so horribly dislocated and mis-invested and debt-riddled, would never have existed in the first place.

The S&P would have been at 500 or so, bonds would have ‘normal’ prices and yields, actual investors would have taken their losses, and we would have had at least some sparks of brightness to look forward to. As things are, there’s only the headlights of that highspeed train coming at us from the other side of the tunnel.

Mar 122015
 
 March 12, 2015  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Kidwell’s Market on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC 1920

I think I’ll just give you a slew of quotes, and then you can figure out if you can figure out why I chose to call this the Yellen Massacre. Which consists, by the way, of two separate but linked parts, not quite the Siamese twin perhaps, but close. What links them is the upcoming Fed decision to raise interest rates, and the timing of the announcement of that decision. It will blow up both bond markets and a large swath of emerging markets. People keep saying ‘the Fed won’t do it’, or ask ‘why would they do it’, but arguably they’re already quite late. It must be half a year ago now that I wrote it would hike rates, and also told you why: Wall Street banks. First, here’s a fine little ditty published at Econmatters:

Six Days Until Bond Market Crash Begins

Early on Thursday morning, realizing this was going to be a robust selloff in equities, the ‘smart money’, i.e., the big banks, investments banks, hedge funds and the like, ran to the old staple of buying bonds hand over fist with little regard for the yield they are getting paid for stepping in front of the freight train of rate rises coming down the tracks.

Just six days away from the most important FOMC meeting in the last seven years, and another 300k employment report in the rear view mirror, this looks like an excellent place to hide for nervous investors who have far more money than they have grains of common sense. Newsflash for these investors, yes markets are over-valued, and you need to get out of Apple, and about 100 other high flying overpriced momentum stocks, but you can`t hide out in bonds this time.

That party is over, and next Wednesday`s FOMC meeting is going to make this point abundantly clear. There is no place to hide except cash. You should have thought about that before you gorged yourself on ZIRP to the point where you have pushed stocks and bonds to unsupportable price levels, and you keep begging for the Fed to stall just another six months, so you can continue to buy more stocks and bonds.

Well you have done an excellent job hoodwinking the Fed to wait until June, you should thank your lucky stars you have done such a good job manipulating the Federal Reserve; but just like the boy crying wolf, this strategy loses its effectiveness over time. Throwing another temper tantrum right before another important FOMC meeting hoping that Janet Yellen will be alarmed by these Pre-FOMC Selloffs to put off another six months the inevitable rate hike, this blackmail strategy has run its course.

The Fed is forced to finally start the Rate Hiking Cycle after 7 plus years of Recession era Fed policies by an overheating labor market. You knew this day was going to come, but most of you are still in denial. What the heck were you buying 10-year bonds with a 1.6% yield five months before a rate hike?? You only have yourself to blame for the 65 basis point backup in yields on that disaster of an “Investment”.

But really what were you thinking here?? That is the problem when the Fed has incentivized such poor investment decisions and poor allocation of capital to useful, growth oriented projects over the past 7 plus years of ZIRP that these ‘investors’ don`t think at all, they have become behaviorally trained ZIRP Crack Addicts!

They can cry over the strong dollar, have a couple of 300 point Dow Selloffs, scare monger over Europe or Emerging Market currencies, but the fact is that the due date has come on your stupidity. You bought all this crap, and now you have to sell it! Well too freaking bad, boo hoo, you shouldn’t have bought so many worthless stocks and bonds at unsustainable levels in the first place. [..]

The positioning for this inevitability is as poor as I have seen in any market. The carnage in the bond market is just going to be gruesome, the denial is so strong, the lack of historical perspective of what normal bond yields look like, and what a normalized economy represents where savers actually get paid to save money in a CD or checking account. The fact that the Fed has so de-sensitized investors to what a normalized rate economy and healthy functioning financial system looks like is probably one of the biggest drawbacks of ZIRP Methodology.

The Federal Reserve, and now the European Union have set the stage for the biggest collapse in bond markets that will make the sub-prime financial crisis look like a cakewalk.

One may question whether 6 days is carved in stone; maybe THE announcement will come the next meeting, not this one. But does it really matter? Yellen has created a narrative about the US economy, especially the (un)employment rate. About which yet another narrative has been created by the BLS, which refuses to count many millions of Americans as unemployed, for various reasons. And that leads to the article’s claim of ‘an overheating labor market’. The only way the US jobs market is overheating is that it seems to have created a huge oversupply of underpaid waiters, greeters and burger flippers.

But the narrative is now firmly in place, so Yellen and her stooges can claim they have no choice but to hike. Not just once, but three times this year, suggests Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the following very bleak read and weep portrait of the world today. In which he also describes how all of this plays out in sync with the soaring dollar, which will have devastating consequences around the world, starting in the poorer parts of the world (what else is new?).

Global Finance Faces $9 Trillion Stress Test As Dollar Soars

The report – “Global dollar credit: links to US monetary policy and leverage” – was first published by the Bank for International Settlements in January, but its biting relevance is growing by the day. It shows how the Fed’s zero rates and quantitative easing flooded the emerging world with dollar liquidity in the boom years, overwhelming all defences.[..]

Foreigners have borrowed $9 trillion in US currency outside American jurisdiction, and therefore without the protection of a lender-of-last-resort able to issue unlimited dollars in extremis. This is up from $2 trillion in 2000. The emerging market share – mostly Asian – has doubled to $4.5 trillion since the Lehman crisis, including camouflaged lending through banks registered in London, Zurich or the Cayman Islands. The result is that the world credit system is acutely sensitive to any shift by the Fed. “Changes in the short-term policy rate are promptly reflected in the cost of $5 trillion in US dollar bank loans,” said the BIS.

Markets are already pricing in such a change. The Fed’s so-called “dot plot” – the gauge of future thinking by Fed members – hints at three rate rises this year, kicking off in June. The BIS paper’s ominous implications are already visible as the dollar rises at a parabolic rate, smashing the Brazilian real, the Turkish lira, the South African rand and the Malaysian Ringitt, and driving the euro to a 12-year low of $1.06.

The dollar index (DXY) has soared 24pc since July, and 40pc since mid-2011. This is a bigger and steeper rise than the dollar rally in the mid-1990s – also caused by a US recovery at a time of European weakness, and by Fed tightening – which set off the East Asian crisis and Russia’s default in 1998. Emerging market governments learned the bitter lesson of that shock. They no longer borrow in dollars. Companies have more than made up for them.

“The world is on a dollar standard, not a euro or a yen standard, and that is why it matters so much what the Fed does,” said Stephen Jen, a former IMF official now at SLJ Macro Partners. He says the latest spasms of stress in emerging markets are more serious than the “taper tantrum” in May 2013, when the Fed first talked of phasing out quantitative easing. “Capital flows into these countries have continued to accelerate over recent quarters. This is mostly fickle money. The result is that there is now even more dry wood in the pile to serve as fuel,” he said. Mr Jen said Asian and Latin American companies are frantically trying to hedge their dollar debts on the derivatives markets, which drives the dollar even higher and feeds a vicious circle. “This is how avalanches start,” he said.

Companies are hanging on by their fingertips across the world. Brazilian airline Gol was sitting pretty four years ago when the real was the strongest currency in the world. Three quarters of its debt is in dollars. This has now turned into a ghastly currency mismatch as the real goes into free-fall, losing half its value. Interest payments on Gol’s debts have doubled, relative to its income stream in Brazil. The loans must be repaid or rolled over in a far less benign world, if possible at all.

You would not think it possible that an Asian sovereign wealth fund could run into trouble too, but Malaysia’s 1MDM state fund came close to default earlier this year after borrowing too heavily to buy energy projects and speculate on land. Its bonds are currently trading at junk level. It became a piggy bank for the political elites and now faces a corruption probe, a recurring pattern in the BRICS and mini-BRICS as the liquidity tide recedes and exposes the underlying rot.

BIS data show that the dollar debts of Chinese companies have jumped fivefold to $1.1 trillion since 2008, and are almost certainly higher if disguised sources are included. Among the flow is a $900bn “carry trade” – mostly through Hong Kong – that amounts to a huge collective bet on a falling dollar. Woe betide them if China starts to drive down the yuan to keep growth alive.

Manoj Pradhan, from Morgan Stanley, said emerging markets were able to weather the dollar spike in 2014 because the world’s deflation scare was still holding down the cost of global funding. These costs are now rising. Even Singapore’s three-month Sibor used for benchmark lending is ratcheting up fast. The added twist is that central banks in the developing world have stopped buying foreign bonds, after boosting their reserves from $1 trillion to $11 trillion since 2000.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) calculates that the oil slump has slashed petrodollar flows by $375bn a year. Crude exporters will switch from being net buyers of $123bn of foreign bonds and assets in 2013, to net sellers of $90bn this year. Russia sold $13bn in February alone. China has also changed sides, becoming a seller late last year as capital flight quickened. Liquidation of reserves automatically entails monetary tightening within these countries, unless offsetting action is taken. China still has the latitude to do this. Russia is not so lucky, and nor is Brazil. If they cut rates, they risk a further currency slide.

In short, Janet Yellen will go down into history as the person responsible for what may be the biggest economic crash ever, or at least delivering the final punch of the way into it, a crash that will make the rich banks even much richer. And there is not one iota of coincidence in there. Yellen works for those banks. The Fed only ever held investors’ hands because that worked out well for Wall Street. And now that’s over. Y’all are on the same side of the same trade, and there’s no profit for Wall Street that way.