Ricky Gervais on intelligence: “Some of you are really smart. You know who you are. Some of you are really thick. Unfortunately, you don’t know who you are.”
Every week at the close of US markets on a Friday, the Chicago Commodity Futures Trading Commission releases its Commitments of Traders Report, where it details the Open Interest in Futures and Options in various assets and commodities markets. This data, current to the previous Tuesday, details where and to what extent traders, investors (and individual investors) are positioned and is keenly watched by many to try to ascertain what other investors are doing with their capital.
When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favours—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed. - Ayn Rand; Atlas Shrugged, 1957
The title of this post is a reference to a book published in 2001 that reflects on the experiences of 6 writers of the 20th Century, who became adherents of and ultimately disillusioned with, Communism. It is ironic that much the same can now be said of Capitalism; at the very least it appears to be having a mid-life crisis.
"Some calamities - the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 - have come like summer lightning, as bolts from the blue. The looming crisis of..... the demographics of an aging population, its causes, timing and scope are known". George Will - Political Commentator for the Washington Post, NBC et al.
Over the next decade or so, the Developed World faces the prospect of their populations shrinking at an increasingly fast rate, whilst at the same time the Developing World is seeing continued strong rises in fertility. This fascinating website shows it all in real time, (well not exactly in real time but you get the drift).
Following on from the famous quote that Helen of Troy's was the face that "launched a thousand ships", Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer claimed to have invented a new measurement unit, the millihelen, which corresponds to the beauty required to launch one ship. The Times newspaper this week pointed out that, as per a letter to the New Scientist as far back as 1959, the inverse also applies; -1 millihelen would be enough to sink one.
There has been much market angst recently over the rise of inflation, as bond prices have fallen, raising yields which in turn has put equities on edge. But would a rise in interest rates actually be the -1 millihelen necessary to sink the economy?
If one turns on the TV almost any time of day, one will see a litany of property related programmes, “Homes Under the Hammer”, “Location, location, location “and countless others adorn our screens in an almost non-stop barrage of lifestyle envy. As of February 2016, Channel 4 had no less than 12 property shows on its screens and this is almost certainly below where we are now. The property market has gone mainstream and has gone Global.
On the day of Jerome Powell's inauguration as Fed Chairman (and before he had time to find out where the cafeteria is!), markets have greeted him with a big bang. There are precedents for this "bad luck". Alan Greenspan started his role as the Chairman in August 1987, 3 months before the Big One in October 1987 and Ben Bernanke also assumed the job in 2006, as the Financial Crisis was just unfolding. So, it is not a unique situation, but it must make him wonder whether the market gods are out to get him. I imagine, ever so quietly, Janet Yellen is having a chuckle...
"The best way to destroy the Capitalist System is to debauch the currency" - V.I. Lenin…
"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." - Alice in Wonderland.
"Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing" - Warren Buffett
A week ago, a bond mysteriously disappeared from the list of ECB assets being held under the Corporate Sector Purchase Programme (CSPP). The Steinhoff 1.875% bond due for 2025 had gone - the bond had neither been redeemed nor defaulted, so it would seem that it had been liquidated (i.e. sold).
“A bubble is a bull market in which you don’t have a position.” - Eddy Elfenbein, (via Twitter).
“The trouble with quotes on the internet is that it’s difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine” -Abraham Lincoln
It is the year 2030; Brexit negotiations have made a breakthrough, after a last-minute concession that allows for both English AND French cheese to be served in the sandwiches being eaten at the next Summit. Prime Minister Alan Sugar calls it a victory for the cheese makers, but in all the excitement, one is tempted to think he has been misunderstood.
Meanwhile, as a result of a Global Decree by newly-elected US President Bruce Willis, Active Management is now illegal (so it's not just their charges that are criminal). We join the trial as the Defence Counsel cross-examines one of the accused, in an attempt to tease out the justification for their strategies. Active Manager Finder-General Burgess is acting for the Prosecution. Judge Jeremy Paxman presides, with able assistance from Tess Daley QC.
Defence: Could outline your investment philosophy?
"We have low levels of arrears, strong credit risk management and a low risk balance sheet"- Adam Applegarth, Chairman of Northern Rock (2006).
Since the Financial crisis of 2007-09, High Yield bonds (previously known as Junk, but that name reduces their sale ability), have become as popular as a foreign exchange client at Wells Fargo. Credit risk has become less "risky" as Investors have piled into some bonds of dubious quality allowing company's, who would otherwise struggle to refinance to do so on extremely generous terms. Prices have duly responded, with returns over five times that of Investment Grade and Government equivalents (see below).
"If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me. " --William Shakespeare.
Suppose you knew of events in advance of their occurrence. You could make money on this knowledge. Seems obviously true, but it isn't; even perfect foresight doesn't necessarily ensure a profitable investment- in many cases one would have lost money.
Records galore in Equities as Bloomberg reports, prices melt up, whilst volatility collapses. We are now in the second longest period without a 3% peak-to-trough draw-down, as (some) investors continue to take positives from almost all news. As we spoke about last week however, not all are feeling the love, as Professionals continue to look to sell/short markets, warning investors of crisis to come. They will be right eventually of course (as is a broken clock), so it may be time to examine risk tolerances in preparation for a correction (that may not occur, if at all, for a while). After all, forewarned is forearmed...
“Dear Optimist, Pessimist, and Realist. While you guys were busy arguing over the glass of water, I drank it. Sincerely, the Opportunist.”- Unknown
I'm forever blowing bubbles,Pretty bubbles in the air,They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,Then like my dreams, they fade and die.
The grotesque juxtaposition of the deadliest mass shooting in US history and another 150 point surge in the Dow, following on from the seeming indifference to the prospect of nuclear war in the Korean peninsula has prompted me to wonder if capitalism (or at least it's current version) is in any way moral. It is often said that capital itself is amoral-it merely goes to where it is treated best, but participants can (or should) be. The excesses of executive pay of recent years and the Equifax stock sales by Executives prior to the disclosure of a major data leak, however, suggests otherwise. It is of course the case that without capitalism, we would all be living i…
It is becoming a bit of chore to keep up with the doom-laden predictions emanating from the twitter-sphere about the fate of markets, (though I am doing my best). The causes are variously, low volatility, passive investors, Central Bankers or market valuations or a combination thereof. The latest panic-du-jour concerns "market breadth", which measures the number of shares advancing compared to those declining; the theory is that if too few shares are rising relative to those falling, the market is due for a tumble. On the face of it, it seems intuitive, but the problem with using market breadth to foretell market moves is that it is hugely unreliable; consider these two articles (from the same source), dated December 2015 and Read in full