Category Archives: Fixed Income

Chunky Monkey

Thanks to zero hedge, of course.

Jawboning

Well Trump saw the market was down 300, more or less, so… he got on the wires and said that “China talks are going well” and he thinks “US will reach a trade deal with China.”

That’s a blatant attempt at jawboning the market higher. Of course the algos went berserk. What BS. But it shows how important he thinks the stock market is to electoral success, and that he will do “whatever it takes” to keep it up. Well until Tuesday’s close, anyway. After that he will likely be able to blame the Dems.

Meanwhile the ten-year is solidly above 3% and rising. Dems will need a miracle. Expect a panic soon.

Three More Days

Trump needs to hold this market together, if not continue the rally, for three more days, until the mid-term voting is concluded as the polls close on Tuesday of next week. More learned minds than mine have opined that the force behind the rally is short-covering by some large fund that is massively short gamma (e.g., has a short put position). Moi, I think that the explanation is more mundane and is closely related to Trump’s need to hold things together.

Supposedly the seasonality is positive after the mid-terms, but I have to wonder as the level of vituperation from the Dems would seem to bode ill for the political climate. The Dems seem to have no agenda but to oppose and/or impeach Trump and prove that Hillary was robbed. Time to move on, folks.

The employment report this morning included more than a hint of inflation, which is usually toxic to the stock market. Given the historically (hysterically?) extreme level of valuation, risk is off the charts.

Be careful out there.

Close To The Event Horizon?

From ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan:

Notably, the combined debt of the US, Eurozone, Japan, and China has increased more than ten times as much as their combined GDP [growth] over the past year.

Remarkably, then, the global economy—slowing in sync despite soaring debt—finds itself in a situation reminiscent of the Red Queen Effect we referenced 15 years ago, when tax cuts boosted the US budget deficit much more than GDP. As the Red Queen says to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Squeeze?

There are two big speculative shorts out there, just begging for squeezes. One of course is the record short position in Treasuries. Interest rates going up? Must mean short the long end, amirite? Not if recent history is any guide. The other is in volatility, where hedge funds are shorter than they were before the February massacre.

Credit Impulse

The credit impulse isn’t the sudden urge to borrow – it is the additional income and concomitant spending that results from an increase in aggregate debt. Spending capacity = net income + credit impulse. Credit impulse (annual) = current debt amount – year ago debt amount. Not complicated.

The credit impulse is how easy money creates economic expansion as economic entities – households, corporations, governments, etc. are able to spend more than they earn.

The downside is that, sooner or later, the entities reach the limit of their ability to borrow. The credit impulse disappears and the economy shrivels. Incomes diminish and defaults begin as entities can no longer service their debt. Credit becomes very difficult to obtain, lenders fail as capital losses mount and the economy accelerates downhill as the credit impulse goes negative as borrowers are unable to roll over their debt.

Fed Minutes

Another day, more blather from the Fed. Risk is “on” with a vengeance as the Fed continues to demonstrate its unwillingness to “take away the punch bowl” as Fed Chairman Martin put it.  Apparently there is no such thing, in their minds, as too much stimulus. We’ll see about that. In my view, a financial catastrophe is almost inevitable at this point. Overpriced stocks and the fear of inflation have always been a toxic mixture. Add in the overhang of aggregate debt somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400% of GDP and you have a recipe for a protracted decline to well below fair value, unlike 1987’s brief shock.

 

That Which Is Not Seen

Alhambra Partners

After tax, corporate profits are still slightly less in Q2 2017 than in Q4 2014, and barely more (+3.4%) than in Q1 2012 five years ago.

SocGen’s Albert Edwards:

Our Ice Age thesis has always called for US and European 10 year bond yields to converge with Japan. We still expect that to happen, with the downward crash in US yields likely to be particularly shocking. There is mounting evidence that underlying US CPI inflation has already slid into outright deflation in exactly the same way that Japan did seven years after its credit bubble burst. Hence we repeat our call for US 10y bond yields to ultimately converge with Japan and Germany at around minus 1%.

In short, stocks are grossly overvalued and Treasury bonds are similarly undervalued. Not news, of course, just some confirmation bias.

Nothing To See Here

The dip-buyers and volatility-sellers are quickly reversing the overnight selloff, due to the Korean missile crisis.

These strategies work until they don’t. The absolute lack of fear is totally consistent with market tops.

The good news is that Treasuries are holding on to most of their overnight gains. When the bond and stock markets disagree, the bond market is usually right.

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.