Credit Markets

     

 

 

Lord, Grant us Chastity and Temperance… Just Not Yet!

Most fund managers are in an unenviable situation nowadays (particularly if they have a long only mandate). On the one hand, they would love to get an opportunity to buy assets at reasonable prices. On the other hand, should asset prices actually return to levels that could be remotely termed “reasonable”, they would be saddled with staggering losses from their existing exposure. Or more precisely: their investors would be saddled with staggering losses. In this context we have noticed the emergence of a new consensus in the form of an invocation we hereby term the Augustine of Hippo Plea.

 

St. Augustine of Hippo, here seen doing saintly magic in his later years. In his Confessions the Saint admits that as a “wretched young man” he once inserted a phrase into one of his prayers that has become quite famous for the hopeful qualifier attached to it: “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.”, read: “Grant me chastity and temperance, but not yet”. At the time the future Saint feared that he might actually get what he wished for. “Timebam enim ne me cito exaudires et cito sanares a morbo concupiscentiae, quem malebam expleri quam extingui”, as he explains (“I was afraid that you might hear me right away and quickly cleanse me of the disease of carnal desire, which I would much rather have explored than expunged”).

 

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A Warning Signal from Market Internals

Readers may recall that we looked at various market internals after the sudden sell-offs in August 2015 and January 2016 in order to find out if any of them had provided clear  advance warning. One that did so was the SPX new highs/new lows percent index (HLP). Below is the latest update of this indicator.

 

HLP (uppermost panel) provided advance warning prior to the sell-offs of August 2015 and January 2016 by dipping noticeably below the zero line shortly before the selling started. They briefly returned to positive territory after the first dip, and after a third or fourth dip in close succession the sell-off commenced. What is currently of interest to us is that the sell-offs themselves generated deeply oversold readings in HLP in excess of -30. Only then did the market bottom and reverse back up. This is interesting because the early February sell-off has only managed to generate a warning signal so far. We have seen two dips below the zero boundary since then, but an oversold reading has not been generated yet. Based on this indicator, we are now merely in the phase prior to the actual sell-off. Looking at the third and fourth panels from the top, note that while the percentage of stocks below the 50-dma (purple line) did reach comparable “oversold levels” in February, the percentage of stocks below the 200 dma (red line) did not. Currently both percentages are almost at the same level they inhabited just before the August 2015 sell-off.

 

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Contradictory Signals

 

Special antennae that help traders catch upcoming opportunities. Available from the same outfit that sells the soup-cooling spoon (Acme Inc).

 

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Another Shoeshine Boy Moment

We recently pondered the markets while trying out our brand-new electric soup-cooling spoon (see below). We are pondering the markets quite often lately, because we believe tail risk has grown by leaps and bounds and we may be quite close to an important juncture, i.e.,  the kind of pivot that can generate both a lot of excitement and a lot of regret all around. Provided one manages to grasp the nettle with the proper combination of preparation and luck, the emphasis may be on excitement rather than regret.

 

Modern soup-cooling spoon for the sophisticated gourmet. We are not the gentleman in the picture, we don’t even know him, we just wanted to show this nifty spoon in operation. Once you have one, you will wonder how civilized life was even possible before it.

Photo credit: Hans Reinhart / Getty Images

 

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A Twitch of a Toe

In our recent update on credit spreads we proposed to use the seemingly deceased  Monty Python parrot Polly as a stand-in for the suspicion of creditors in today’s markets.  The question was whether Polly was indeed dead or merely in a deep coma. Depending on this, one should be able to gauge how powerful a miracle will be required to resurrect her.

 

Meet Polly. Is she alive?

 

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Suspicion isn’t Merely Asleep – It is in a Coma (or Dead)

There is an old Monty Python skit about a parrot whose lack of movement and refusal to respond to prodding leads to an intense debate over what state it is in. Is it just sleeping, as the proprietor of the shop that sold it insists? A very tired parrot taking a really deep rest?

Or is it actually dead, as the customer who bought it asserts, offering the fact that it was nailed to its perch as prima facie evidence that what they are looking at is indeed, a late parrot, as deceased and expired as it can possibly be. We hereby submit that Polly, the “Norwegian Blue”, serves as a perfect stand-in for the risk perceptions of today’s corporate (and EM) bond buyers.

 

Polly, we hereby rename thee “The Suspicion of Creditors”.

 

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Wrong Focus

If one searches for news on LIBOR (=London Interbank Offered Rate, i.e., the rate at which banks lend dollars to each other in the euro-dollar market), they are currently dominated by Deutsche Bank getting slapped with a total fine of $775 million for the part it played in manipulating the benchmark rate in collusion with other banks (fine for one count of wire fraud: US$150 m.; additional shakedown by US Justice Department: US$625 m., the price tag for a deferred prosecution agreement).

 

 

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Is Stagflation a Potential Threat?

The Incrementum Fund held its quarterly advisory board meeting on October 3 (the transcript can be downloaded below). Our regular participants – the two fund managers Ronald Stoeferle and Mark Valek, advisory board members Jim Rickards, Frank Shostak and yours truly –  were joined by special guest Grant Williams this time. Many of our readers probably know Grant; he is the author of the bi-monthly newsletter “Things That Make You Go Hmmm…”, as well as one of the founders of Real Vision TV.

 

1-stagflationCharacteristics of stagflation: economic growth goes into reverse, but price inflation rises  anyway. This scenario was completely unexpected by the Keynesian consensus when it hit the economy in the 1970s. Keynesian theory ended up discredited for a while as a result. Not surprisingly though, as a theory that provides a “scientific” fig leaf for statism and interventionism, it has been resurrected since then. Today it once again is an important part of mainstream economic orthodoxy; the monetarist school has retained a certain degree of influence as well, but its policy prescriptions are just as misguided in our opinion.

 

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Distortions and Crazy Ideas

We have come across a few articles recently that discuss some of the strategies investors are using or contemplating to use as a result of the market distortions caused by current central bank policies. Readers have no doubt noticed that numerous inter-market correlations seem to have been suspended lately, and that many things are happening that superficially seem to make little sense (e.g. falling junk bond yields while defaults are surging; the yen rising since the BoJ adopted negative rates; stocks rising amid a persistent decline in earnings growth; bonds, gold and stocks moving in unison, etc., etc.).

 

puzzled-man-scratching-headUnknown veteran trader experiences another WTF moment.

Photo credit: Everett Collection

 

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A First Step Toward Sound Money

The Arizona House of Representatives has convened an Ad Hoc Committee on Gold Bonds. The purpose is to explore if and how the state could sell a gold bond.

 

fourth-liberty-loan-50-gold-bond-of-1933-1938-8A United States gold bond of yore: the 4.25% Liberty Loan of 1933-1938

 

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Insanity Rules

Bond markets are certainly displaying a lot of enthusiasm at the moment – and it doesn’t matter which bonds one looks at, as the famous “hunt for yield” continues to obliterate interest returns across the board like a steamroller. Corporate and government debt have been soaring for years, but investor appetite for such debt has evidently grown even more.

 

Perfect-InvestmentThe perfect investment for modern times: interest-free risk!

Illuustration by Howard McWilliam

 

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Bezzle

BALTIMORE –  Barron’s, in a lather, says the market is facing the “Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Huh?

 

Apocalypse_vasnetsovOnly two? There were four last time!

 

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