Friday, July 31, 2020

Macro Update: And A Fundamentally-Sound Theme To Exploit...

Just finished our weekly formal macro exercise, and for the 9th consecutive week our overall assessment has not deteriorated. I.e., things improved during 6 of the weeks off of the June-1st bottom, stayed flat during 3.

Morning Note: Not feeling the love...

Asian equities were mixed overnight, with 10 of the 16 indices we track trading lower. Two of the gainers represent Chinese stocks, and that reflected better than expected economic data. As you know, in a controlled economy you can, well, control many things. You can literally order your factories to produce stuff even when their international customer base isn't in nearly the buying mood to justify it. Voila! Growth! But what a potential mess later on as those inventories pile up... 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Evening Note: At Best...

I've noticed a developing trend in my end-of-day perusing of credit market internals; it's that most things credit appear to be truly on the mend.

To give you a visual, below is a color-coded handful of the things we track. While this clearly isn't screaming green, rest assured that it's a far tamer look than we were getting just a few weeks ago.



    • LEVERAGED LOAN PRICE INDEX: Ytd: -5.3%, retraced >62% of BM decline…

    • PSP (Private Equity ETF): Ytd: -15.80%, retraced >62% of BM decline.

    • HYG: Ytd: -308 bps, retraced >76% of BM decline…

    • MUNI/TREASURY SPREAD: 122% of 10-yr treas, 61% wider vs equity mkt peak

    • HY SPREAD (1-day behind): 489 bps, 36% wider vs equity mkt peak

    • Ba SPREAD: 342 bps, 60% wider vs equity mkt peak

    • BB-BBB SPREAD: 168 bps, 95% wider vs equity mkt peak

    • CDS Inv Grade Index 70.37


So what gives? I mean, just last evening I illustrated how corporate debt stress -- in terms of debt service relative to key corporate income metrics -- is rising in a manner never seen in the history of all past recessions. Not to mention Q2 GDP declining at an all-time record quarterly pace, and the 1.4 million in first-time unemployment claims filed last week. How on Earth could credit markets be so sanguine right here?

Well, if you listened to Fed Chair J. Powell talk up US monetary policy yesterday, you'd understand completely. Essentially, while he was as straightforward as a fed chair could be in terms of the anything-but-rosy present state of affairs, his commitment to keeping markets afloat was firm, unwavering and unlimited in scope. 

The thing is, however, if the current episode is indeed to fall short of ending in what we'll call massive blood in the financial streets, we have to ultimately be concerned with what we end up with on the other side? For if the authors of The Rise of Carry: The Dangerous Consequences of Volatility Suppression and the New Financial Order of Decaying Growth and Recurring Crisis have it right, central banks at best are merely what they call "agents of carry", and, thus, can at best only succeed in keeping this massive corporate debt bubble inflated. Well, till they can't...      

emphasis mine...
The wealth that is made by the financial players (and businesses and individuals) who are implementing carry trades is not real wealth of the sort that derives from an economy’s greater ability to produce better goods and services that the general population needs and desires. On the contrary, it causes financial asset prices to become hopelessly distorted, unhinged from the real economy, and therefore ends up misdirecting scarce capital into potentially unproductive uses. Over time, the economy will perform progressively more poorly, with income and wealth more and more concentrated in a few hands.
Nevertheless, it is also important to realize that the carry regime, as it progresses, fundamentally weakens the true power of central banks (and by extension governments). This may seem counterintuitive, but as with regulatory capture, central banks are themselves “captured” by carry. During the intensely deflationary carry crashes (such as occurred in 2008), they appear to have no option other than to increase moral hazard further, via even greater intervention and bailouts. In one of the various seemingly contradictory aspects of the carry regime, central bankers seem to have enormous power—their extraordinary power to create high-powered money, set short-term interest rates, and strongly influence financial markets with everything they say—but ultimately they themselves have little latitude to act. Central banks become merely the agents of carry. Their seeming immense power is, in reality, mostly illusory.
If you're unfamiliar with the term "carry trade", it typically refers to the act of borrowing in a low-yielding currency and lending in a higher yielding currency, the differential (the profit) is called "the carry." The authors quoted above use the term to describe any scheme that involves "the use of borrowed funds or else utilize some set of contracts that creates a potential risk of loss greater than the amount of capital initially employed in the trade." Which, alas, describes the myriad of "trades" investors, pension funds, other institutions, etc., have resorted to either out of greed, or need, these years since the last bubble burst. These include everything from currency carry as described above, writing insurance, selling credit default swaps, buying high-yielding equities or junk debt on margin, mortgaging property investments, writing options, and buying leveraged ETFs, to companies borrowing to fund share buybacks, to a whole gamut of other complex financial strategies.

I.e., Suffice to say that the Fed has its back against a ginormous wall of risky debt-financed schemes that allow for very little volatility in financials markets; without, that is, major systemic consequences...

Stay tuned, and stay hedged...

Thanks for reading,

Morning Note: Morning Note: All Juiced Up

Asian equities, having closed before the firework show in the West got underway, actually saw a little green overnight, with 6 of the 16 markets we track trading higher. Europe, on the other hand, being wide awake this morning is seeing nothing but red, with all of the 19 bourses on our radar down, by a bunch. Same for the U.S., with the Dow down 520 points (-2%), the S&P 500 off 1.5%, the Nasdaq lower by 1.1% and the Russell 2000 down 1.7%.

The VIX (SP500 volatility) is screaming higher of course this morning, +13% to 27.31, VXN (Nasdaq volatility) is up 7%, at 32.26.

Oil's down huge, 4%, gold's off $10, silver's getting hammered, down 3.9%, copper's off 1% and the ag complex is split roughly down the middle.

As you'd expect, the 10-year treasury yield is falling this morning (price rising), while the dollar's flat.

Our core portfolio is feeling the pain as well this morning, down 1.3% as I type. The only core component trading higher is DBA (ag commodities), and that's only by .2%. Of course the put hedges are working nicely, at the moment up 22%.

There's just no sugar-coating this morning's data; the first Q2 GDP reading is like nothing we've seen since the 1940s, down 32.9% annualized. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row to 1.43 million, while 17 million folks filed for ongoing benefits, up 867 from the prior week.

Sure, stocks are trading lower this morning, but when you match up current levels and macro reality, well, stocks -- historically-speaking -- appear to be punching way above their weight. Good thing, at least for the moment (at least for short-term traders), that there's no steroid (Fed injections, etc.) testing in this particular contest. Of course the natural market athlete (you and me) fears the longer-term side effects of entering the ring all juiced up, while, not to mention, wearing no headgear. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

This Week's Message: Some of this month's most pertinent messaging...

Well, being that this is the last weekly message of July, I'm thinking I'll take it easy on m'self and offer up a handful of 
snippets from some of this month's messaging herein:

"...without question, you want to own things that are priced in dollars!

Now, of course U.S. stocks are priced in dollars, right? Right! And, sure, own some (we do), but be careful doing so when they're priced at 1999ish valuations (by several metrics) and the economy has the proverbial Mount Everest yet to climb.

And definitely own other things priced in dollars that aren't historically expensive."

"Our commodities exposure (DBA and DBB being brand new positions) now makes up roughly 20% of our core portfolio; and I suspect we'll be incrementally adding as things progress."

Here's a look at how our commodities positions stack up with stocks since I penned the above:

Click to enlarge...

From "Systems Thinking" on July 2:
"You're about to experience, at least at the open, what I'll call a classic what-others-think-others-are-going-to-do rally.

The linked phrase above was the subtitle to my April 10 post; I recommend you read it (again?) when you have a chance. Here's a snippet:
"My base case that stocks have yet to see the worst is entirely based on data and experience. My illustrating aplenty herein that bear market retracement rallies are the norm is meant to help our readers understand how incredibly risky it is to wade into this snap-back rally as if the bear market is already over. Which, by the way, would make it the shortest on record -- amid the worst economy on modern record! Just seems like a very far-fetched notion if you ask me..."Still my base case, by the way...
In a nutshell -- in the short-run:
"Keynes suggested circa a century ago that trading (as opposed to, I'll say, investing in) markets is not about assessing fundamentals, it's about what traders think other traders are going to do. And for the more savvy traders, it's about what they think other traders think other traders are going to do.""

From "A Better Look, Commodities, and A Monster Mountain Left to Climb" on July 3:
"The next few weeks will be telling, as, per the latest news, a number of states are delaying, and or, reversing certain stages/aspects of their reopening plans.
Half of this week's improvement showed up in the commodity space. Which, coincidentally, is something we anticipated and, therefore, have begun to express in client portfolios.

I should tell you, however, that while rising commodity prices does show up as a positive in our macro index, our bullishness there has everything to do with the prospects for a weaker dollar going forward (and, ultimately, with regard to metals, the prospects for infrastructure spending), as opposed to the prospects for robust economic growth anytime soon."
" a world where the world's governments are willing to weaponize their equity markets against their respective economic woes, not to mention against each other, stock prices can remain detached from economic reality for what can seem like a very long time. History (those charts I alluded to), however, strongly suggests that the reattachment can be most painful..."
From "The Most Bullish Chart for Stocks Right Now" on July 6:
"Now this one guys/gals is the most bullish chart of all for stocks for the remainder of 2020. And it's really incredible. It's the TGA (treasury general account). Think of it as the treasury's piggy bank. The amount you see there amounts to well over a trillion dollars (1.6 in total) of new borrowing (a trillion being the normal entire-year's budget deficit) that essentially wasn't needed to fund the government. They literally issued this debt just to hold onto the cash. So, why? This is an historic first! Well, as you know, or should know, I struggle with conspiracy theories, but this one is so blatant I can't help it. This is Mnuchin essentially assuring that no matter what, whether Congress passes more stimulus, and/or regardless of what the Fed does, he has the firepower to juice the markets during the critical months leading into you-know-what in November.
Yes, this is huge support for stocks, you can bet on it. However, betting big on stocks given everything else going on (and there's lots) is -- despite what I just wrote -- hugely risky. Stocks can still fall in the face of rampant stimulus, I've seen it... If not over the next few months, dear Lord, just wait till we reach the point when they're forced to let up, even modestly, on the life support for stocks:"

From "Quotes of the Day" on July 15:
To add a little more to our messaging herein that the equity market is historically disconnected from economic reality these days, here's The Wall Street Journal's Nick Timiraos quoting from this week's banks' earnings calls:
WFC: “Our view of the length and severity of the economic downturn has deteriorated considerably"
JPM: "The recessionary part of this you’re going to see down the road"
Citi: "The pandemic has a grip on the economy and it doesn’t seem likely to loosen..."

And, lastly, here's from my latest musings in our internal market log: 
"The treasury will issue debt without restraint and the Fed will purchase it likewise, indefinitely.

Commodities -- gold especially -- are the most obvious trade under these circumstances. US equities stand to ultimately benefit as well, however -- and this will produce great anxiety for the Fed along the way (due to extreme global carry) -- with bouts of extreme volatility, given the unavoidable economic stagnation such a scenario creates, and the potential for huge political disruption -- regulation, taxation, etc. -- as growing income/wealth inequality continues unabated (exacerbated, in fact) going forward.

Foreign market equities, emerging markets in particular, stand to outperform the US markedly for several years to come; but -- while we anticipate adding there incrementally in the near-term -- we're going to let the COVID situation and the coming election play themselves out before we go there in a big way.

The immediate question for equity markets being, given the abysmal state of macro affairs, political risk, geopolitical risk and so on, will there be the 50+% correction that will reset valuations, etc., to the point I believe necessary for the US market to recapture any semblance of a “fundamentally” investable setup -- at all or anytime soon? Bottom line; that risk is there, which demands that we hedge our equity exposure against a major drawdown either until one occurs or until the risk abates…"
Thanks for reading!


Chart of the Day: Anti-gravity

In client review meetings these days I find myself often proposing, then dispelling the "this time is different" notion.  

The proposition this time around is that the Fed is explicitly unfettered in what it's willing to do to "save the system."

The dispelling goes like this:

Morning Note: Traders sanguine on a potentially volatile day...

Asian equities were mixed overnight, with 7 of the 16 markets we track trading lower. Europe's mostly lower this morning, with 13 of 19 in the red thus far. While you wouldn't know it by the Dow, up only 20 points (.07%) at the moment, U.S. stocks are in rally mode to start the day: The S&P 500 is up .45%, the Nasdaq's up .65% and the Russell 2000 is up nearly 1%. Remember, the Dow only represents 30 stocks...

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Quote of the Day: Markets Work in Free Verse...

Here's another snip from Michael Lewis's Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity that has me remembering bubbles past and catching seeming parallels to today's situation. And, with regard to Charles Mackay's classic, at least twice for yours truly:

Morning Note: The Glue

Asian equities finished last night's session mostly in the green, with 10 of the 16 indices we track closing in the plus column. Europe, on the other hand, is struggling this morning, with 14 of 19 bourses in the red. U.S. equities are struggling as well, as I type; the Dow's down 144 points (-.5%), the S&P's off .4%, Nasdaq's down .7% and the Russell 2000 is trading the best so far, only down .2%.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Bonus Quote of the Day: How to manage when "the world goes mad"

Just started Michael Lewis's bestseller Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity.

Quote of the Day

In his morning macro commentary Hedgeye's Keith McCullough agreed with our latest assessment:

Morning Note: Narrow Road Out

Asian equity markets were split down the middle overnight, with Taiwan and Vietnam closing at opposite extremes, +4.2% and -2.8% respectively. European equities are mixed this morning as well, with 8 of the 19 markets we track in the red. The major U.S. averages, on the other hand are green across the board: Dow up 112 points (.4%), S&P 500 up 0.5%, Nasdaq up 1.2% and the Russell 2000 up .5%.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Macro Update: Calling It Like We See It

Before we dive into this week's macro briefing, allow me to repeat something I wrote in Thursday's morning note:
"To really drive home for you the precariousness of current conditions from a purely asset performance standpoint, just two things you need to know: gold is up 23.5% on the year, and if you're willing to lock up your money for 10 years, the U.S. treasury will pay you 0.58% on it annually."

Friday, July 24, 2020

Morning Note: Huge Fish to Fry

Asian equities got hammered -- China hugely -- overnight on some serous tit-for-tatting with the U.S.. Europe is as well this morning, with every bourse we track notably in the red. While U.S. equities, especially tech, are also feeling some pain at the open; Dow down 125 points, S&P 500 down .8%, Nasdaq down 1.9% and the Russell 2000 off .13%.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Morning Note

Asian equities were mixed overnight, Europe as well this morning, while U.S. stocks are on balance off a bit; Dow down 110 points, S&P 500's off .2%, Nasdaq down .2%, with the Russell 2000 bucking the early-morning trend, up .3%.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Morning Note

Asian equities (save, ironically, for China and Taiwan) were rocked overnight on news that the U.S. ordered China to close its Houston consulate within 72 hours. U.S. equity futures tanked on the news as well, but, being that traders are eyeballing other factors these days, no big deal (would've been a colossal deal for markets a year ago), at least at the moment. The Dow's up 72 points (.26%), the S&P's up .24%, Nasdaq's .27% higher, Russell 2000 is essentially flat as I type. Europe's mixed, 12 markets that we track down, 7 up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Quote of the Day

Bloomberg's "macro man" Cameron Crise echoed today our message in Sunday's video commentary. I.e., he and I -- with regard to the present setup for stocks and commodities -- are on the same page:

Morning Note: Commodities Working For Us -- And -- Lessons To Be Learned

Asia was bid virtually across the board last night, with the Philippines being the only market not making it nicely into the green. Europe's nothing to sneeze at either this morning, with 15 of the 19 bourses we track trading higher as I type. The U.S. on the other hand is somewhat of a mixed bag, with the Dow up 250 points, the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 ahead by .45% and 1.14% respectively, but with the Nasdaq Comp trading off by .4%.

Monday, July 20, 2020

PWA Core Portfolio Update (video)

Note: Today's video commentary is targeted specifically to PWA clients and is not intended to be investment advice for non-client subscribers to the blog.

In today's video presentation I walk you through each transaction in each of our core portfolio positions so far this year, illustrate the year-to-date results for a live portfolio, discuss our current hedge, express my current market view, and so on.

Charts of the Day: Don't Chase

In the video commentary that you clients will receive shortly, while explaining our maneuvers this year within the tech sector I touch on the record concentration among very few stocks within the major cap-weighted averages.

Quote of the Day: How to gain a huge competitive advantage...

Hedgeye CEO, Keith McCullough, in his morning note mentions the asset allocation component that offers "a huge competitive advantage." I agree!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Not Just Me

Well, unexpected/abrupt change of plans, so, while there'll still be little from me herein till next week, I did want to share the following from widely followed and hugely respected economist/strategist John Hussman. Mainly because he makes reference to the period I've been reviewing -- and commenting much on -- of late.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Quotes of the Day

To add a little more to our messaging herein that the equity market is historically disconnected from economic reality these days, here's The Wall Street Journal's Nick Timiraos quoting from this week's banks' earnings calls:

Morning Note: Sliding Into Second

Last Wednesday I wrote the following about the prospects for bank earnings:
"Earnings season kicks off next week. There seems to be a bit of optimism (interestingly) around bank earnings. At first blush, given conditions, and interest rates, that's counter-intuitive. If indeed banks surprise to the upside, it'll virtually have to be about trading revenue and, as I've recently learned, the billions in fees they grabbed by underwriting those small business stimulus loans. Although a few, if not all, of the bigs say they're donating those to charity..."

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

This Week's Message: Traders oblivious, for now, to hugely impactful stuff...

Bringing you this week's message a day early. Tomorrow I'll be tying up a few loose ends; possibly implementing a marginal move in portfolios that we've decided upon but have been fiddling a bit with in terms of entry point(s). Today's action impacted pricing to the point that may have us holding off a bit, or going even more incrementally. I.e., one thing we absolutely are these days is patient. Not that we aren't normally, but, trust me, the time to be uber-patient in your core investment decisions is when the rest of the world isn't.

When You "Typically" (as in no guarantees) See This Sort of Price Action

Bloomberg's "macro man" Cameron Crise made his case this morning as to why stocks are historically risky right here. Should sound very familiar to regular readers.

Morning Note: Never-Changing Human Nature -- And -- Don't Hold Your Breath

Asian equities traded mostly lower last night, with 10 of the 16 markets we track closing in the red. Same for Europe so far this morning; 14 of 19 bourses trading lower. In the U.S. the Dow (thanks in no small measure to JP Morgan and Boeing), up 70 points as I type, is bucking declines in the Nasdaq (-1.3%) and the S&P 500 (-5%). The Russell 2000 is flat to start the day.

Monday, July 13, 2020

People Doin Stuff....

Today's Dow gave back a 500+ point rally to close flat, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both gave up notable gains, and some, down nearly 1% and 2% respectively. Smallcaps rallied after their muted open, but gave it all back, and some, as well, closing down 1.4%.

Morning Note

Asian equities picked up where the U.S. left off Friday, with all but 2 of the 16 markets we track closing higher last night. Europe's following suit this morning, with only 3 out of 19 bourses trading lower this morning. The U.S. (save for small caps) remains in rally mode; the Dow's up 310 points as I type, the S&P 500 is trading higher by .9%, the Nasdaq's up 1.3% and the Russell 2000 is flat.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Fed Put Suffices

Sharing below my characterizations (in terms of what they say about the state of the equity market) of the multiple analyses we perform on a weekly basis:

Friday, July 10, 2020

Macro Update

Our proprietary macro index improved by 5.77 points this week to -38.46. While a long way from positive, and still screaming deep recession, that's a far cry from the -82.69 it scored back on June 1st. 

Morning Note: Knee-jerk reactions, economic cycles, and crony capitalism at its worst...

The Dow future contract went from down ~200 points a little while ago to slightly positive just after news hit that the U.S. producer price index actually declined last month versus expectations of a slight increase. The other major averages went from notably red to green as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Morning Note: "The Day's Still Young"

Asian stocks closed mostly in the green overnight, with the Chinese state continuing to succeed mightily in their quest to mask reality by pumping China and Hong Kong equity markets.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

This Week's Message: Never Share Your "Secrets", and Thoughts on Systems (economics and markets specifically) and on Galileo

Every Wednesday I, in "This Week's Message", attempt to offer up content that's a bit more pithy on present happenings than perhaps you'll find in our daily messaging. 

Sitting here this afternoon I'm honestly feeling a bit numb after spending much of the morning working on a study I've assigned to myself on the rate-of-change dynamics in the price of a certain asset class and what they possibly say about future price movements in the stock market. I actually have about a century's worth of data to score, so it's a bit monotonous, and time consuming, but so far intriguing. Upon conclusion I'll likely highlight my findings herein. If they're indeed telling, well, then I won't be telling much about the study itself. For, if, say, you happen to discover a legitimate market signal beneath all of the noise, you never ever share it, as it'll only "work" as long as the crowd isn't using it.

Morning Note: Concentrate (well, please don't!)

Asian stocks traded mixed last night, with 7 of the 16 markets we track closing in the red. China saw another strong rally on blatant and, for now, unrelenting state intervention. I illustrated yesterday how ugly such shenanigans tend to play out before all's said and done.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Evening Note: What the Bulls are Missing...

Today's selloff came late for the S&P and the Nasdaq, and didn't capture the level of volume most of the recent down days have exhibited. I.e., while volume indeed increased as stocks sold off, taking the entire trading session into account, the 27% below the 20-day average volume figure says today was more about stubborn buyers than it was passionate sellers.

Morning Note: Back In The Twilight Zone

Asian equities traded mixed overnight, with 10 of the 16 markets we track closing in the red. Chinese stocks -- aided by the state -- continue to rally. The last time we saw such blatant state-influenced pricing of China's markets ended very badly.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Evening Note: The Most Bullish Chart for Stocks Right Now

Believe it or not I won't be raining all over the stock market's parade today, at least not when it comes to today's S&P 500 breadth.

Chart of the Day: Things That Happen When You're In A Bubble

Hedgeye's Keith McCullough, who, like us, has intimate experience with modern history's greatest bubble/bear markets, is singing our tune this morning:

Quote of the Day: We're Not Alone

As we continue to mine the data for evidence that the latest in stock market action owes to some fundamental basis, we continue to come up with little more than fool's gold.

Alas, we're not alone:

Morning Note: Beware, Reattachment Can Be Painful

Last night saw a huge rally in Asian equities -- China and Hong Kong in particular (up nearly 6% and 4% respectively) -- on, well, you guessed it, political and policymaker pumping. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Macro Update: A Better Look, Commodities, and A Monster Mountain Left to Climb

This week saw a notable improvement in our macro index, with a net gain of 7.69 points taking it to -44.23. Still scary-low, but a far cry from its all time low -82.69 on 6/1.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Quote of the Day: Gravity Doesn't Care About Narratives

In his morning commentary Hedgeye's Keith McCullough spoke to our earlier post with regard to commodities ("flation"), as well as to our latest reporting on the bearish action in corporate credit:

This Week's Message: Flation is a virtual certainty...

The Dow future contract went from trading ~200 points lower to a hundred points higher by the open on news from ADP that private sector payrolls grew by north of 5 million (2 mill+ in June and a revised 3 mill+ in May) over the past two months, plus other headlines suggesting that two potential COVID vaccines are looking good in early-stage trials.