Author Archives: Pater Tenebrarum

     

 

 

Another Early Warning Siren Goes Off

Our friend Jonathan Tepper of research house Variant Perception (check out their blog to see some of their excellent work) recently pointed out to us that the volume of mergers and acquisitions has increased rather noticeably lately. Some color on this was provided in an article published by Reuters in late May, “Global M&A hits record $2 trillion in the year to date”, which inter alia contained the following chart illustrating the situation. This snapshot was taken shortly after a particularly busy “Merger Monday” in May, which saw $28 billion in takeover announcements:

 

Getting frisky: captains of industry and private equity funds evidently feel supremely confident again and have embarked on a major shopping spree. This mainly goes to show that no-one ever learns a thing in financial markets (presumably this goes for “learning from history” generally, but the remarkable thing in this case are the small time intervals between the markets teaching lessons and the subsequent collective forgetting exercise). The people responsible for all this breathless activity get paid more than at any other time in history, both in nominal and real terms – and one of their major characteristics is apparently that they have the attention span of gnats.

 

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A Purely Technical Market

Long time readers may recall that we regard Bitcoin and other liquid big cap cryptocurrencies as secondary media of exchange from a monetary theory perspective for the time being. The wave of speculative demand that has propelled them to astonishing heights was triggered by market participants realizing that they have the potential to become money. The process of achieving more widespread adoption of these currencies as a means of payment and establishing appropriate (and potentially more stable) exchange rates relative to state-managed fiat currencies is still underway.

 

A snapshot of cryptocurrency market caps as of June 12 – they made local lows two trading days later. After the small rebound since then, market caps are now slightly higher than those shown on this map, but it is still roughly in the right ballpark. Note: XRP has the third highest market cap, but we do not regard it as a true “cryptocurrency”. It is not a decentralized currency at all, it is a token under control of the company that issued it (it can be traded though and for a while there was a big burst of speculative demand for it, oddly enough mainly from South Korea). Bitcoin Cash (BCH) is the most important fork from the original BTC blockchain and in our opinion the better Bitcoin. It has a much larger block size, avoiding the scaling problems BTC encountered late last year (which were associated with long waiting times for transactions and soaring fees). BTC still enjoys a first mover advantage and trades at a far higher level as a result. There is no logical reason why it should, but that is a topic for another occasion.

 

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Bad Hair Day Produces Positive Divergences

On Friday the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China was apparently escalated by a notch to the next level, at least verbally. The Trump administration announced a list of tariffs that are supposed to come into force in three week’s time and China clicked back by announcing retaliatory action. In effect, the US government said: take that China, we will now really hurt our own consumers!  – and China’s mandarins replied: just you wait, we can hurt our consumers just as badly!

 

Left: the US administration releases details of its upcoming domestic consumer mistreatment measures; Right: China immediately shoots back with an image of the infamous ankle crusher which it plans to unleash on its own population in retaliation.

 

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Junk Bond Spread Breakout

The famous dead parrot is coming back to life… in an unexpected place. With its QE operations, which included inter alia corporate bonds, the ECB has managed to suppress credit spreads in Europe to truly ludicrous levels. From there, the effect propagated through arbitrage to other developed markets. And yes, this does “support the economy” – mainly by triggering an avalanche of capital malinvestment and creating the associated boom conditions, while “investors” (we use the term loosely) pile into ridiculously overvalued bonds that will eventually saddle them with eye-watering losses.

 

The famous dead parrot

 

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The New In Gold We Trust Report is Here!

As announced in our latest gold market update last week, this year’s In Gold We Trust report by our good friends Ronald Stoeferle and Mark Valek has just been released. This is the biggest and most comprehensive gold research report in the world, and as always contains a wealth of interesting new material, as well as the traditional large collection of charts and data that makes it such a valuable reference work for gold investors.

 

Nothing provides a feeling of material security comparable to the reassuring heft of a gold coin.

 

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Fun with Positioning and Sentiment

Last week we discussed the gold sector “conundrum” – the odd fact that there is apparently quite strong demand for gold despite a macroeconomic environment that would normally be considered quite bearish for the metal. Gold recently seems to have lost its last remaining inter-market “ally” if you will, as the dollar has begun to enter an uptrend as well. Positioning data in precious metals futures are nevertheless rather remarkable, given the relatively benign price action in gold and silver. The mood in the sector has turned quite gloomy for no obvious reason.

 

The Gloom Patrol is loose – the man with a plan (a certain Mr. Nobody) and his friend Agent ! only wanted to have some fun… but the gloom proved too strong. Take it from us, when someone says  “are we not proof that the universe is a drooling idiot with no fashion sense?”, then that person must have partaken of that pure, unadulterated gloom that is well-known to be the exclusive preserve of the genus gold bug.

 

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Moribund Meandering

Earlier this week, the USD gold price was pushed rather unceremoniously off its perch above the $1300 level, where it had been comfortably ensconced all year after its usual seasonal rally around the turn of the year. For a while it seemed as though the $1,300 level may actually hold, but persistent US dollar strength nixed that idea. Previously many observers (too many?) expected gold to finally break out from its lengthy consolidation pattern, but evidently the intense patience training session for gold bugs is set to continue for a while longer.

 

Luckless gold bug surrounded by false starts, with his only friend, a startled moose.

 

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A Movie We Have Seen Before – Repatriation Effect?

There was a sizable increase in the year-on-year growth rate of the true US money supply TMS-2 between February and March. Note that you would not notice this when looking at the official broad monetary aggregate M2, because the component of TMS-2 responsible for the jump is not included in M2. Let us begin by looking at a chart of the TMS-2 growth rate and its 12-month moving average.

 

The y/y growth rate of TMS-2 increased from 2.68% in February to 4.85% in March. The 12-month moving average nevertheless continued to decline and stands now at 4.1%.

 

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Effects of Monetary Pumping on the Real World

As long time readers know, we are looking at the economy through the lens of Austrian capital and monetary theory (see here for a backgrounder on capital theory and the production structure). In a nutshell: Monetary pumping falsifies interest rate signals by pushing gross market rates below the rate that reflects society-wide time preferences; this distorts relative prices in the economy and sets a boom into motion – which is characterized by widespread malinvestment of scarce capital and over-consumption; eventually, the distorted capital structure proves unsustainable – interest rates begin to rise, and boom turns to bust. Many businessmen belatedly realize that the accounting profits of the boom were an illusion – in reality, capital was consumed. Many as yet unfinished investment projects have to be abandoned, as they either turn out to be unprofitable at higher rates and/or the resources needed to complete them are lacking.

 

When capital runs short: several of countless housing developments in Spain which had to be abandoned when the bust of 2007-2009 started. The image on the right hand side shows a Spanish construction machinery graveyard in 2010. Money supply growth in the US and the euro area exploded after the turn of the millennium, as central banks pumped heavily to combat the demise of the tech boom. In the process they egged on an even more dangerous bubble in real estate. In their great wisdom they have now replaced the expired real estate boom with an even larger, more comprehensive bubble in everything.

 

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Relative Performance of Gold Stocks

The quarterly meeting of the Incrementum Fund’s Advisory Board took place earlier this month (April 12), and as usual, a special guest was invited to participate. This time we were joined by well-known fund manager John Hathaway (Toqueville Gold Fund). It was a very wide-ranging discussion of the financial markets and the economy, and we hope you will agree with us that it was quite interesting (as always, a PDF containing the transcript is available for download below).

 

Fund manager John Hathaway, special guest at the Incrementum Advisory Board Meeting this quarter.

 

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Battle Over Trendline Support Continues

Here is a brief update of our recent series of observations on the stock market. First of all, the SPX has just tested its major trendline for the third time after making yet another lower high – it is back below the 38% retracement level after a failed attempt to break through the 50% level. The same applies to NDX, DJIA and NYA as well, but the RUT (Russell 2000) continues to outperform all the big cap and broad-based indexes noticeably.

 

SPX, daily: another downturn from a lower high, but the major trendline – and incidentally the 200-dma, which is situated very close to it – continues to hold so far. This chart, as well as those of the other major indexes, continues to look dangerous. The danger is mitigated by the outperformance of the RUT, as funds slosh around from one corner of the market to another (there doesn’t seem to be enough liquidity to keep all the plates in the air concurrently).

 

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A “Typical” Correction? A Narrative Fail May Be in Store

Obviously, assorted crash analogs have by now gone out of the window – we already noted that the market was late if it was to continue to mimic them, as the decline would have had to accelerate in the last week of March to remain in compliance with the “official time table”. Of course crashes are always very low probability events – but there are occasions when they have a higher probability than otherwise, and we will certainly point those out when we see them. Anyway, something else is evidently happening. Here is a chart of the SPX that shows the important trend-line which was so far successfully defended:

 

According to the “keep it simple” chart, this was just a run-of the mill correction, very similar to every other correction seen since the 2009 low. But is that really the case?

 

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