Category Archives: Asset Classes

Miagra

Apparently I was wrong to say the EU officials weren’t talking about the African fertility crisis:

“The biggest migration movements are still ahead: Africa’s population will double in the next decades. A country like Egypt will grow to 100 million people, Nigeria to 400 million. In our digital age with the internet and mobile phones, everyone knows about our prosperity and lifestyle.” — German Development Minister Gerd Müller.

“Young people all have cellphones and they can see what’s happening in other parts of the world, and that acts as a magnet.” — Michael Møller, Director of the United Nations office in Geneva.

“If we do not manage to solve the central problems in African countries, ten, 20 or even 30 million immigrants will arrive in the European Union within the next ten years.” — Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament

Extreme Crazy

I was going to say Peak Crazy, but we all know things can always get crazier. Some things that spring to mind.

Political craziness: Mob violence on left and right, blatant defiance of federal law by city politicians, attempts to rewrite or at least deny history, demonization of Trump, Putin and anybody associated with them, and so on. Immigration in Europe – it’s that 4.7 kids per woman in Africa that nobody dares to talk about. Not to mention the crazy fat kid.

Fiscal craziness: Federal funding of runaway price increases, notably in university tuition, prescription drugs but also many other subsidized goods and services. Gross under-funding of state and local pension schemes even under ludicrous assumptions about future returns.

Monetary craziness: Central banks threatening to tighten but pumping away, consumer credit at record highs in US and elsewhere (Canada, that’s you I’m talking about with highest household debt in the world), government deficits keep growing. Subprime crdiet still gowing while defaults rise. Most of all, ICOs. People pouring money into blockchain-based tokens. Really?

Market craziness: Housing bubbles in China, Canada, Australia, UK and some US cities. Massive (record) risky speculation in many markets – short vol, long crude for example. Setups (risk parity) similar to portfolio insurance (remember 1987?).

I could go on. But I won’t. I’m just grumbling while I wait.

Portfolio Insurance

A strategy called portfolio insurance, which nowadays we would call a form of dynamic hedging, is widely blamed for the 1987 crash. This strategy, in effect, creates a ‘stop-loss order’ that gets larger in size and closer to the current market price as volatility gets lower.

The combination of shorting volatility, option hedging and risk-parity strategies sets up a very similar situation. Make hay while the sun shines, but thunderstorms are likely.

RuhRoh

P&G is one of the most sophisticated advertisers in the world. You have to be, to sell soap.

Tired of paying for “bot”-clicks and poorly placed ads, P&G cut over $100 million out of its digital advertising spend in the fourth quarter, and nothing happened.

As P&G CFO Jon Moeller said on the recent earnings call: “We didn’t see a reduction in the growth rate… What that tells me is that that spending that we cut was largely ineffective.”

This should be a warning to the advertising companies – Google, Facebook, etc.

Edit: During the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed reportedly asserted that some 60% of online traffic is “bots”.

Illinois And The Tsunami

Apparently the standoff between Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan continues. As it should. Madigan’s willingness to dispense unfunded largesse to his supporters is largely responsible for the state’s financial woes. Today also the state was ordered by a Federal court to pay its backlog of Medicaid bills, which will be interesting as the state is already cash flow negative.

However the biggest issue is the unfunded state employee pension obligations. This article from Bloomberg contains a nice graphic ostensibly showing the funding levels of most states (no data for California? Really? just check this blog)

These reported funding levels are a cruel joke. These funds continue to assume 7-8% returns, despite the fact that they have not achieved them for years. Just look at the column showing the decline in funding ratio from 2014 to 2015. Not only are the assumptions high, but they are for long-term averages, so that they adjust future return estimates higher to compensate for below-average realized returns. John Hussman’s work shows more or less zero returns for the next 12 years, with the high likelihood that there will be a major drawdown in that period. Drawdowns are lethal to pension funds because the payment of benefits continues, sapping the capital base and making recovery to previous levels nearly impossible.

Pension funds used to invest in bonds. The trustees would meet once a quarter, review the actuarial forecast of liabilities and approve adjustment of the laddered bond portfolio’s maturities to exactly meet the liability schedule. Then there would be lunch and golf. The future returns would be locked in and the contributions needed to fund the bond portfolio would be obtained from the sponsor. Everyone got to sleep at night.

Then Wall Street decided that pension funds had a lot of money, and not enough was being siphoned off into Wall Street pockets. So the sales force went out, armed with charts showing that stocks had historically offered higher returns than bonds. Higher returns mean that less contributions would be needed, so fund sponsors bought the pitch. Yes, stocks have offered higher returns but for a reason – much higher risk. Well, we’ll just assume a long-term average return and surely it will average out. GLWT.

Unexpected Outcome

People seem to be surprised that the Fed’s rate hikes have resulted in rates declining. Really? It seems pretty clear that the Fed’s outlook is at odds with reality, and that rates are responding to the real outlook, which is that Fed rate hikes are a negative for an economy that is already tanking.

Fed Folly

Lacy Hunt from Hoisington Management.

Hubris

Janet Yellen today:

“Will I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? No, probably that would be going too far. But I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will.”

Seriously? If nothing else, the coming pension tsunami virtually guarantees it. It is truly scary that this powerful person seems to live in an alternate universe.

GLWT.

Nothing To See Here

I just saw that Charles Schwab, the brokerage company, in April announced that the number of new accounts increased 44% y/y in 1Q2017 as individuals were opening up stock trading accounts at the fastest pace the company has seen in 17 years.

Actually the company called them individual investors but I can’t stomach calling anyone trading stocks at these prices an investor.

A more recent announcement from the company showed new accounts in May at 115,000, up 42% from the prior-year month and the sixth consecutive month of 100,000+ growth.

Whoopee! Oh, and 17 years ago, that would be…?

Dreaming

FANG is so over. Now it is FANTASIA (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Tesla, Alphabet, SalesForce, Intel, and Apple)