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July 2014

Bond Yield Carry Traders Need To Fade Upcoming Econ Events

July 18, 2014 by EconMatters   Comments (0)

By EconMatters

Fading Strong Employment Reports
The trend in the bond markets the last several months, and basically all of 2014 has been to buy bonds in the dead periods of econ reports, or the econ reports that would be detrimental to their non-growth, more dovish Fed case. And the last several weeks have been similar to the prior months, basically wait for the stellar job`s report blows yields up to 2.70% on the 10-Year and then buy bonds, pushing down yields in the three weeks after the Employment Report, with the goal of getting out before the next Employment Report.


Most Important Week in Trading
In two weeks though there is more than just the employment report for bond holders to fade in their overzealous addiction to yield carry trades as we finally get the first look at second quarter GDP, and no bond trader in their right mind is going to want to be long bonds in front of this report, with government data who knows what the actual number ends up being. 
Literally regardless of what the actual GDP number ends up being due to revisions, the headline first look at 2nd QTR GDP could overstate or understate the actual GDP growth rate by 1, 2, or even 3% as we saw with the first quarter GDP. Remember first QTR GDP originally came in at a positive .01%, and ended up after revisions down a negative 2.9%. 
So literally the second quarter GDP could be growing at 3% and the number come in at 6%, government data is just that ‘noisy’ to quote the Fed Chairperson. At any rate expect bond yields to move up ahead of this event as yield traders get out of this trade on event risk, and depending upon the number in concert with the other econ reports of this important week evaluate whether to get back in on this trade.
CPI, GDP, Bond Auctions, FOMC Meeting & Employment Reports
As I mentioned the last week in July is an important week, but it isn`t the only econ report yield traders need to fade as next week on Tuesday is CPI for the inflation reading on the economy, a 10-Year TIPS Auction on Thursday, all setting the stage for one of the most important weeks of the year in terms of setting the tone for the remainder of the year in the Bond market. 
Literally this last week in July trading week is going to either confirm or change many portfolio and trading strategies going forward for the second half of the year in our opinion. The FOMC meets on Tuesday July 29th, but Wednesday July 30th is the day that all traders need to mark on their calendars, this is probably the most important day of the year so far in 2014. 
First we have the ADP Employment Report at 8:15 ET, followed by 2nd QTR GDP at 8:30 ET; so ADP gives the market the first look at the Employment Report for Friday of that week, and as we mentioned earlier the GDP report either confirms the 1st quarter GDP growth trajectory, or illustrates that this was an anomaly due to bad weather and inventory overhang issues. However, the trading day is just getting started as there is a 7-Year Note Auction at 1:00 PM ET followed by the FOMC Meeting Announcement at 2:00 PM ET, and depending upon the Employment and GDP data as the Fed will have both numbers going into their FOMC Meeting, we could get some fireworks in the form of changed language in the FOMC Statement if either of these numbers is extremely hot. 
But the Econ Data doesn`t stop there as on Friday August 1stthe Employment Report, Personal Income & Spending Report and two important Manufacturing Reports come out for traders to digest at the end of this market moving week of economic data. 
In Summary: Trend Change or Status Quo?
Traders will not have to worry about low volumes and sleepy conditions during much of this week, and some markets like bonds will move in anticipation of the reports, and either enter a new trading pattern for the second half of the year, or continue with the status quo of buying bonds after the Yield Sensitive Econ Reports are out of the way for the next couple of weeks. 
We literally have had 25 basis point moves in yields in the 10-Year the last couple of months in between the Monthly Employment Reports. The yields spike on good employment numbers, and then bond yield chasers push down yields like equities traders push down volatility in reaching for higher highs in the stock market! 
We shall see if this time is different, as at some point there is going to be a sea change in bonds, and it is coming sooner rather than later, the question is does this last week in July and its important Econ Data finally cause the Sea-Change in Bonds? July 30th may end up being the most important trading day of the year in setting the stage for the remainder of 2014 for portfolio managers.

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The Counterfactual Case Against ZIRP

July 18, 2014 by EconMatters   Comments (0)

By EconMatters  

The ZIRP Debate
The long held debate is what would the US economy being doing without ZIRP by the Federal Reserve, would we be doing worse, about the same, or better? The other delineation in the argument is whether there is a cutoff point where ZIRP stopped being effective, if it was effective at some point, and where this line of demarcation should be in terms of one, two, three, four and subsequent years of zero percent interest rates.


2012-2014 Period
I will focus on the last three years as I will give the benefit of doubt that in some small way ZIRP served some initial benefit to the economy by helping heal banks’ balance sheets and filling the void from the massive deleveraging that manifested from the busting of the credit bubble and the subprime crisis that help fuel the housing and financial crash of 2007/ 2008. 
But even there the case can be made that the aforementioned collapse was the direct result of a poorly designed and shortsighted abnormally low interest rate policy in the Greenspan Era of the Federal Reserve. 
The argument can also be made that ZIRP in any form is just bad monetary policy, and that in the long run a complete flushing and cleansing of the financial system was necessary and beneficial to incentivize the right kind of investment strategies going forward. This system cleansing would pave the way to much more sustainable, solidly founded business principles which would serve as a better foundation for the next era of productive growth in the economy for decades to come in this country.
But for the sake of argument let us give in that to some degree ZIRP was beneficial to stabilizing the patient to use a medical analogy for at least for the first couple of years. But regarding the last three years I will argue that the economy would actually be more productive and be prepped for more robust genuinely sustainable growth if we had foregone the ZIRP strategy and normalized interest rates to be more in line with proper functioning financial principles which respect the value of money, and promote healthy financial transactions between parties. 
A Healthy Respect for the Value of Money
The ability to borrow at Zero Percent distorts and promotes unhealthy choices with regard to capital allocation. If capital was privatized no lender in their right mind would undervalue the importance of their function as a lender and just give their money away. In fact, the principal of individuals is to over value whatever resources they have in deals between parties, and having an abundance of capital wealth is no small resource, it is probably the most valuable resource in the world in a healthy functioning modern financial system. 
One just doesn`t give it out with a return below the rate of inflation that would be irrational, illogical and a complete distortion of the principle of what constitutes value. Yet the Federal Reserve does just this fact with their ZIRP methodology, they distort the value of money, not just in the traditional money printing sense, but in creating an unhealthy value of what money represents, and how capital is allocated in the economic system.
The Yield Carry Trade & Unproductive Capital Allocation
The biggest example of this is the abundance of capital that is currently being addressed to unproductive investment strategies like Yield Arbitrage Strategies in largely paper markets which in the end just become ones and zeroes in the electronic banking system, amongst a relatively small sector of participants and has no add on economic benefits to the greater economy. 
Big banks and investment funds and anybody who has access to ZIRP funds just borrows at 15 to 25 basis points and invests in assets which provide a positive yield carry, they earn an electronic profit that gets reinvested in the same yield carry trade, and none of this capital ever reaches the broader economy, let alone create productive growth that is sustainable once ZIRP ends. 
As there is no long term fundamental business creation that has been fostered with this form of investments strategy which will grow for decades and lead to future business prospects it should be dis-incentivized by the Fed. When ZIRP ends investors just sell their bonds and pay back the portion of the money they borrowed, and depending upon how messy the exit take small to large losses on the positions as some of these positions are so levered up that not everybody cannot profitably exit with limited downside risk consequences at the same time with regards to exit price expectations. 
So I would say one shouldn`t just look at the period of the money made before the ZIRP unwind, but the entire period in aggregate and three-five years in the unwind phase. Moreover, what sustainable economic activity is left after the Yield Trade unwinds, has this led to any sustainable long-term business activity, new innovation, or actual job creation? 
I would think on any fair analysis the answer is a resounding no on all accounts! The economy would actually benefit considerably more from a different form of capital allocation like small and medium size business loans. The traditional banking role in the economy to fund entrepreneurs and small business ideas with solid business plans! You know the old lending adage of borrowing short-term and lending long-term to foster business and job creation.
Stock Buybacks & Unproductive Capital Allocation
The other obvious area where ZIRP leads to a lower grade of capital allocation is that it incentivizes companies to borrow money to buy back stock because interest rates are so low that they don`t need a healthy return on their money. This is another example of not having respect for the value of money, these are just paper gains in stock prices that will reverse themselves once ZIRP ends, the markets crash, and shares are reissued to financial markets at much lower prices. This serves as a vicious, negative reinforcing cycle of lower future earnings growth all things being equal because these additional losses are reflected on the companies` balance sheets for buying their own shares at higher prices and selling them back to the market at lower prices. This is the antithesis of a rational stock buyback strategy!
The only valid reason for buying back stock is if the company can make money on the transaction, i.e., the shares are woefully undervalued relative to their future business prospects. This isn`t the case right now with companies, they are buying back stock to make their earning`s look better even at market highs, taking advantage of low interest rates, and cashing out the executive team with fat option bonuses. The old pump and dump strategy of the corporate elite who are fortunate enough to receive options in their compensation packages.
With a more healthy respect for the value of money, borrowing money actually has consequences; the companies need a sustainable, healthy long-term recurring revenue stream for their investment not a sugary high. They require higher long run returns in organic growth business opportunities that lead to positive after effects of additional job creation and broader support for the overall economy. 
In short companies use the money for capital allocation strategies that create real value in the economy, and not paper gains in a stock price that are transitory once the unwind of ZIRP begins and the stock price reflects the actual company prospects of which suffer because no capital investment went into research and development during this period. Capital investment in research and development results in long-term sustainable organic growth prospects for the company. 
Think about all this money being used for stock buybacks being reallocated to more productive means, and a healthy borrowing rate incentivizes companies to invest in projects that have real long-term recurring revenue streams and much higher returns when taken over the aggregate period of the investment cycle. So this is another area where the economy would actually being doing better right now without ZIRP, less stock buybacks, and more investment in longer term business development projects.
In Summary
These are two major areas where it can be argued that not only are we getting less bang for our buck with ZIRP, but that we are actually hurting the economy by fostering lesser productive means of capital investment in our economy.
The interesting point is that I am analyzing ZIRP effects with basically the best that ZIRP is adding to the economy, and we haven`t even gotten to the nasty part of the effects of ZIRP which is the Unwind Phase. I feel the takeaway will be even more negatively revealing once the aggregate effects of ZIRP are taken into account with the additional information of the unwind of this strategy. 
Like any trader knows you haven`t made a dime until the position is actually closed out, how many of these bond holders are going to make money over the aggregate, it isn`t like these bonds are going to be held on their books once ZIRP ends! There is an entrance fee, and unlike a night club, there is an exit fee; so the ZIRP party may seem like fun for many of these participants, but wait until they have to sell these same bonds that nobody wants on their books! 
These are two areas where the Federal Reserve might want to consider in their overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the ZIRP Experiment. I think the counterfactual case in these two examples is quite compelling, and I would assert that the US Economy would be doing better with a healthy respect for the value of money that a normalized rate policy instills in the financial system between parties looking to make capital allocation investment decisions.

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Malaysia Airlines Management Needs Overhaul

July 17, 2014 by EconMatters   Comments (0)

By EconMatters  

On Thursday a Malaysia Airlines flight crashed with 295 people on board over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, there is a high probability that the conflict in this region caused this plane to be shot down by accident. There are a myriad of scenarios of how this could happen in the confusion of what essentially has been a war zone, an area that the FAA has banned all U.S. commercial flights from flying over since April of this year. These kinds of accidents happen all the time in the confusion of military hotspots if we look back at historical records, the US even shot down a commercial Iranian flight by accident, these things happen.

However the real question is why didn`t Malaysia Airlines also reroute flight patterns over this area as records show that other Malaysia Airlines flights have crossed over this highly combative area the last couple of days. How stupid do you have to be to send a commercial flight over what essentially is a warzone? I bet it came down to trying to save some fuel costs for the airline, but come on this is another case of an airline being penny wise and pound foolish. How much do you think the airline actually saved by taking the most direct route? Compare this figure with the amount of money they are going to pay out in liabilities to the families of the passengers on this plane. The trial lawyers must be lining up around the block on this one, not to mention the reputational damage caused by this latest incident with a Malaysia Airlines flight. Why would anybody ever fly this airline again?

I know some may think that I am being too harsh on poor Malaysia Airlines, as they are the victim in this case right, well that is one point of view. But the more logical perspective is that this was just an accident waiting to happen, so much so that the US rerouted flights over this area, and it appears that Malaysia Airlines was just being too cheap to do the same! Talk about gross incompetence at an airline, who knows what went on with that missing flight looking back in retrospect. This airline`s incompetence brings onboard an entirely new batch of possible scenarios of what really happened to that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in March of this year.
One thing is apparent after this latest disaster at the airline, upper management needs to be completely overhauled. Their critical decision making abilities are non-existent, and their ability to manage and evaluate risk scenarios is severely lacking, and the way they handled the entire missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 investigation was incompetence at its finest! This management team is singlehandedly going to cause this airline to go out of business at this rate, and by my accounts Malaysia Airlines should go out of business. Let a competent airline buy out their operations, do humanity a favor, I mean come on flying commercial flights routinely over a combat zone, and you are surprised that an accident of this magnitude occurred? The real surprise is why it took this long given the circumstances in the region, what a bunch of idiots at Malaysia Airlines!

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The Fed Needs to Raise Rates Now!

July 16, 2014 by EconMatters   Comments (0)

By EconMatters

ZIRP Policy & Asset Valuations
The conditions in so many asset classes are unsustainable from a price perspective once interest rates rise even under a “new normalized rate environment” and the longer rates stay at ZIRP status these unsustainable price levels continue to move in the wrong direction from a sustainability standpoint, i.e., the underlying fundamentals apart from ZIRP policy would not support said asset prices in a natural price discovery process.


Janet Yellen Always One Step Behind
Janet Yellen threw a bone to the valuation crowd with her brief discussion about certain parts of the market being overvalued, "Valuation metrics in some sectors do appear substantially stretched—particularly those for smaller firms in the social media and biotechnology industries, despite a notable downturn in equity prices for such firms early in the year". This is an obvious canned response since this question is routinely asked of the Chairperson in any question and answer session these days, “Do you see a bubble in markets?” And her previous canned response was according to our metrics of valuations….blah, blah, blah…..asset prices aren`t out of line with historical standards to paraphrase.
Social Media Bubble – Historically High Risk Reward Plays
Let me just say right here that forget talking about bubble conditions in Bio-Techs or Social Media as high valuations are pretty commonplace for these sectors in market history and investors know what they are getting into given their historic volatility and boom and bust cycles both in terms of stock prices and business sustainability. 
Treasuries Aren`t Supposed to Get Bubbly Conditions as an Asset Class
Treasuries on the other hand haven’t had a history of speculative fervor in regards to ‘Bubbly’ conditions. Investors have always considered these safe places to hide out in terms of market turmoil and uncertainty and a very conservative asset class historically. It takes quite a feat to take a conservative asset class and turn it into a bubble! 
US Treasuries have never been this mispriced and incongruent with an economy that is on pace to produce more jobs than any other time in the last 15 years, and this included the credit and housing booms with a Fed Funds Rate at 5.5%! 
And I don`t want to hear that crap about these being low level service jobs, you still need a vibrant economy to have enough people and entities that need to be served to create this many ‘service jobs’! The numbers that are being created means a whole lot of people need more goods and services produced to justify businesses hiring more workers and not just the 1% crowd. 
The Federal Reserve has gone off the rails, yeah this economy isn`t perfect far from it, but there is no way the Fed Funds Rate should be 25 basis points. Why would a bank ever lend when they can borrow at 25 basis points all the money they want, then buy some ‘safe’ Treasuries, and capture what they perceive as a risk-free arbitrage? This is the reason the GDP numbers are lagging, everything from CAP EX spending sacrificed for stock buybacks to banks chasing yield instead of creating small business loans is all part of this ridiculously out of touch ZIRP Insanity by the Federal Reserve. 
And this is where you get so much insanity that you turn a conservative asset class like Treasuries into the biggest Financial Bubble in the History of mainstream asset classes. And the Fed thinks Exit Fees on Bond Funds is going to in any way mitigate the bursting of the Bond Market Bubble? 
Deny Inflation to Justify ZIRP Religion – Reason Retail Sales Lagging Sector
Just look at the inflation numbers, another new data point came out today in the PPI for June being up another 0.4%, and the CPI next week will continue to show inflation numbers well above the Fed`s own target rate. Moreover, these inflation metrics underreport inflation due to Hedonic real world means which never show up in the data. Just a case in point is my brokerage inflation, yes the data fee packages are up massively on a year on year basis, but then there are the Hedonic inflation measures of reducing existing services, like instead of offering three DOMs of Deep Book Prices for Futures Markets, now they only offer two DOMs. 
Extrapolate this trend to all areas of market transactions to my plumber only doing part of the work, installing lines to that Kitchen Faucet is another charge apart from installing the actual faucet, i.e., previous items which were included in a price are now a la carte. Whether I am ordering a meal, getting my car repaired, or role players in the NBA getting 15 Million Dollar contracts inflation is everywhere you look in the actual real world economy. 
The point is that the Fed is basing their case on low inflation levels used to justify ZIRP policy that are severely understating inflation pressures in the real economy, and even at that the numbers are coming in well above their target levels for more than five months and counting!
Irresponsible Risk Taking in Bonds
One can make the case of what the “Normalized Fed Funds Rate” should be going forward, but given the current economic conditions it definitely should not be essentially zero right now! This is just irresponsible and reckless behavior, it is tantamount to AIG selling Credit Default Swaps to gain commissions and premiums with liabilities greater than the Insurance Firm`s overall assets. 
What the heck is the Fed doing at this point? I am sorry Janet but your ineptitude is growing by the hour, extended valuations in Social Media…..Really? What about the Freaking Bond Market…..how sustainable are those prices with these outsized Debt to GDP Ratios? And guess what… ZIRP Dogma in terms of incentives is the sole reason investors are buying bonds at these levels in the form of highly levered speculation plays based upon effective zero percent borrowing costs used to Buy ANYTHING with a YIELD attached to it. Literally prostitutes should not be selling sex; they should just offer up a YIELD, the Big Banks will come running! 
10-Year Duration is a Long Time
Anytime there is essentially zero percent borrowing costs, huge leverage will follow, and inappropriate and misallocation of capital will occur, and this is the current state of financial markets. And no market is more representative of this than the Bond market, and I am referring to the entire Bond market from the Periphery Euro Bonds Yields on outright bankrupt countries to the 10-Year Treasury Yield of 2.5%. 
Where is this same 10-Year Yield going to be trading 10 years from today? Who knows for certain but given historical levels, there is no rational investor in their right mind thinking this is a level that is based upon the fundamentals, and that this is a sound level to be investing in right here when evaluating the entire risk/reward profile for this duration of asset class.
Entitlements Cost Curve Negative for Longer Bond Duration Expected Value
This same 10-Year period encompasses the sharp escalation of the entitlements curve associated with the large baby boomers population hitting the books starting around 2017, what do you think DEBT to GDP will be in 2020? Yeah Janet there is a bubble, but the big and important bubble which is going to cause the next major collapse is in the Bond Market, that is the Bubble you are responsible for creating, and that is the Real Bubble you need to be worried about! 
If People start to ask you “Are You Fat?” Then You Are Fat!
You better start raising rates immediately as you are already behind the curve, and the fact that everybody is asking “Is the Fed behind the Curve” and “Does the Fed see any Bubbles” ought to concern the Federal Reserve. When the cabbie starts asking you if you are behind the curve, you are so far behind the curve it isn`t even debatable! 
Furthermore, the longer you delay raising rates the worse the situation gets, just ask yourself why are these questions even being raised? If the layperson can see it, there is a problem; and if the Fed Oracle cannot see it, this exacerbates the problem. 
Complete denial and Fed Procrastination regarding ZIRP as a Fiat Godsend and the obvious Bubble in Bond Prices only makes the Crash evermore devastating and damaging with its legacy more profound given the fact that warning signs abound everywhere for all to see except the Clueless Federal Reserve!

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Fed Officials Trying to Warn Bond Markets

July 14, 2014 by EconMatters   Comments (0)

By EconMatters


The Purpose of Complacency Talk
The Fed officials have been coming out in speeches the last couple of weeks with rhetoric about ‘complacency’ and other such code words for chasing risk ahead of what the Federal Reserve knows is going to be an abrupt change in monetary policy over the next six months. 

The Fed is concerned because they know they want an orderly transition in markets and not causing major dislocations in markets by massive selloffs. However, the getting is so good with interest free money that participants are going to push this edge they have in markets right up until the last possible exit minute.

So despite the fact that QE ends in October with no more bond buying by the Fed, the 10-Year is still sitting at 2.50% with participants making money hand over fist with the borrow at 15-25 basis points and investing in yield instruments with massive leverage trades that has been so popular and irresistible by investors looking for ‘free money arbitrage’ opportunities.

An Orderly Unwind
The problem that the Fed has rightly identified is that they are not going to get an orderly exit at this pace, the unwind is going to be massive, jarring, and definitely not ‘orderly’! The Bond markets, take the 10-year yield could literally have a 25 or 35 basis point move over a 24 hour period that would wreak a lot of havoc on fund flows, asset classes and financial markets. 
This turmoil in the bond market could really be disastrous because the Fed participants realize the bond market isn`t being priced currently where the Fed is moving to in terms of monetary policy. The Fed should be alarmed because the unwind is setting up for a possible 100 basis point move in two months’ time frame type of fund dislocation and reallocation of capital, and that is going to be problematic for markets! 
But the Fed only has themselves to blame for this predicament as in this case you cannot have your cake and eat it too! Janet Yellen cannot be so dovish at Fed news conferences given her reputation as a dove among doves, and get any respect from market participants; the trade is going to be all-in and one-sided without the slightest regard for the risks associated with being so aggressive. 
In short, Janet Yellen has encouraged the one thing that Fed governors should always avoid being so ‘transparent’ that market participants go full boar on a trade, one-sided, highly levered, unhedged, and nothing could possibly happen with this dovish a Fed Chairperson at the helm trade! In a nutshell they have become too ‘complacent’ or they have taken her dovishness for granted.
Pigs at the Bond Trough 
The pattern has been quite clear in Bond Markets wait until after the 200k plus Employment Report blows the 10-Year up to 2.70%, and come in and buy bonds like there is not tomorrow with huge leverage, until they have to get out of the way of the next CPI, GDP or Employment Report – as this process has repeated itself over the last four months of financial markets. The Levered Yield Trade has been the trade of the year so far in 2014 - the strategy of investing in anything with yield from over-valued utilities, pricey bonds and even stodgy low growth Big Caps with some semblance of a dividend yield! 
Janet Yellen cannot have her Dovish Cake, and eat it too in the form of an “Orderly Unwind”!
So the Fed has to realize that sending out the mignons of the Fed isn`t going to counteract Janet Yellen`s dovishness. If they want markets to start unwinding trades ahead of policy adjustments that are coming and not wait until the last possible minute, then Janet Yellen herself is going to have to send a shot across the monetary bow so to speak! 
She is going to have to come out with a hawkish tone to garner some healthy respect for normalization of fed policy by markets. She is dovish we get that, but the Fed is about to change monetary policy, and much sooner than is currently priced into many asset classes, and it is going to take some considerable time if participants started repositioning today to unwind many of these massive positions in markets, any sense or orderliness necessitates a little at a time versus all at once!
Janet Yellen has got to start talking hawkish to get this process started otherwise her worst fear is going to materialize in spades as market participants are all going to wait until the last minute trying to make that last dollar on the yield trade, and cause huge market turbulence when they all try to get out at once!
The Data Indicate 1st QTR 2015 Rate Hike at the Latest!
The Employment numbers, the inflation numbers, and the risky valuations in financial markets all point to the Fed needing to start raising rates sometime in the first quarter of next year. This is much sooner than Janet Yellen`s Dovish talk has markets pricing in with their forecast for late in 2015 for the first rate hike. 
Market participants are far too levered up, all on the same side, and well behind the monetary normalization curve of when the first rate hike is actually going to occur. This is a recipe for disaster, and that seminal light bulb moment in financial markets when everybody realizes, that moment in Margin Call where the analyst drops the ear-buds out saying internally holy shit, that they need to liquidate everything right now. In other words, the entire market all hits the sell button at the same time! 

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