“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
If that isn’t the metaphor for the Madoffs as they prepare for their posh weekend at Bernie’s New York apartment, I don’t know what is. Today is the anniversary of Charles Dickens publishing “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 – what an appropriate story for our industry to reflect upon as we look forward to changing what went wrong. “Darkness” has proven to be cheap, after all.
The darkest hole in global asset allocation has all of a sudden turned out to the one where the plain eye cannot measure depth. It’s as black as black gets, and it’s called oil. Since its manic July highs, the commodity has plummeted on the order of -75%. Never mind the equities that have blown up from Bolivia to the Ukraine, the biggest crash of the year was where many a prop desk built compensation structures that they are still telling investors are “repeatable” business models.
Global growth has slowed; most of us get that by now… and there is a demand component associated with evaluating a commodity. After all, that’s why they are called commodities! Ask the poor guys who are long “Intrepid Potash” this morning – management is guiding revenues to less than half of what they were last quarter! There is nothing “intrepid” about fertilizer. Any farmer could tell you that.
Somewhere between those “Fast Money” highs of less than 6 months ago and this morning, the world has come to realize the commodity bubble for what it was – the last gorging global manifestation of an addiction to levered returns.
When you lever things up (banks, hedge funds, commodity bets, etc…) you implicitly increase the volatility of the prices associated with those assets. We call it “pin action” – and it’s fascinating to watch the Street argue with one another about whether the stock market is “cheap” or not on that “pin”. The “pin” you see is KM speak for “return per share”, and a lot of market pundits focus on it completely disregarding the mathematical reality that some earnings per share have a leverage component (debt on the balance sheet).
Ignoring the math is what will expedite what this business needs most – a cleansing of the analytical talent that is out there making decisions with your hard earned money. This is a great opportunity for the best analysts on the Street to rise to the occasion and gain fiduciary responsibility.
This morning’s math in Asia is more of the same. We have two more Asian countries cutting interest rates, and the Chinese stock market providing the liquid long cash leadership that the New Reality of global finance needs most. The Japanese government, predictably, cut its interest rates to effectively ZERO (0.10% to be precise), and the Vietnamese made their most aggressive rate cutting move of the year, taking rates down by a full 150 basis points to 8.5%. In sharp contrast to the “peak oil” highs of 6 months ago, when most Asian central bankers were still RAISING rates, this has turned into a major tail wind for those who have stepped up and bought Asian equities.
We put up an interesting, yet simple, Chinese chart on our portal yesterday and atop of it I wrote, “You Tell Me” in reference to the question as to where you think the Chinese stock market’s (after dropping -70% peak to trough) next move in 2009 will be. Sometimes the most important questions to solve for are the simplest. The Shanghai stock market closed up again last night, taking its latest run of up days to 6 out of the last 7. While Japan is still the world’s 2nd largest economy, I think the simple reality is that they have nothing but global market share to give the Chinese. “Merry Christmas China – here you go; we are a Japanese socialist bureaucracy now, and we’d like you to show us the way.”
Yesterday, the Chinese government issued more of their own government bonds (with an interest rate that wasn’t ZERO), and they moved to cut fuel taxes. Alongside the biggest domestic stimulus spending plan that the world has ever seen, China cutting rates and taxes in tandem reminds us all that the holiday season can indeed bring great things, provided that capitalists can sit around their family dinner tables and be incentivized to take on measured risk in the new year.
President George Bush is actually going to leave office issuing Americans his most positive Christmas carol yet. If I told you 6, 9, or 12 months ago that Bush would provide you, the American capitalist, the economic foundations of $36/barrel oil, ZERO interest rates, and stock market prices at 50% off, wouldn’t you be smiling?
The only “Bah-Humbug” that’s left in this game of global investing is the one that’s been assigned to those who deserve it. This is America, and the future for hard-working American capitalists who didn’t lever their brains out and have liquidity has never been so bright.
I don’t consider myself an oil baron, but I bought my family some yesterday. I have an upside target of $51.77 for oil, and with the US Dollar cratering alongside the investment banks turned “bank holding” companies that are being downgraded by S&P this morning, I am happy to invest in one of this world’s most basic needs before it “Re-Flates.” That’s what investing is all about – buying low in anticipation of the light of Christmas prosperity becoming expensive again. Darkness was cheap.
Have a great holiday weekend with your families,
SPY-S&P 500 Depository Receipts – CME front month S&P 500 contracts traded down this morning, with a low of 882.5 before 6:30AM.
USO - U.S. OIL FUND –NYMEX front month Light Sweet Crude contracts traded as low as 35.62 in trading this morning. Bloomberg reports Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi saying the price decline “threatens investment” and is “wreaking havoc”. NYMEX January contracts expire today.
DIA –DIAMONDS Trust Series – CBOT front month DJIA contracts traded down this morning, with a low of 8,650 before 6:30AM.
EWZ – iShares Brazil—Brazil’s central bank hints at future interest rate cuts due to declining commodity prices and shrinking credit. The interest rate stand currently stands at 13.75%. The next meeting is scheduled for January 20-21.
EWH –iShares Hong Kong – The Hang Seng closed down to 15127.51 or 2.39% today in trading. Hong Kong’s stocks fell for the first time in five days led by commodity shares.
FXI –iShares China – The CSI300 closed slightly up at 0.34% to 2052.11. Bank of America Corp.’s plan to sell some $2.8 billion of shares in China Construction Bank Corp. was undone by a Chinese securities law provision that would have forced it to forfeit profits from the proposed sale of 5.5 billion shares in the Chinese bank.
FXY – CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust – The Yen is trading up on the USD at 88.885, or 0.62%.
Keith R. McCullough
CEO / Chief Investment Officer
“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
I’m now focused on what is the critical component to the recovery and improved health in the casual dining segment. The industry behaving rationally!
As you can see in the accompanying chart, the industry has been slashing capital spending for the past year and this trend will continue into 2009. This will allow the industry to focus more on running its existing operations better, which always leads to improved ROI. On top of this, we expect to see existing capacity of the weaker players close, benefiting the strong.
This is evident in the actions of RT last night. Last night, RT announced it will incur restructuring charges in its 2Q09 and 3Q09 related to impairment and lease charges. Importantly, these charges are associated with the closure of approximately 40 locations in 3Q09 and approximately 30 additional locations anticipated to close over the next several years, as well as a non-cash impairment charge related to approximately 35-40 surplus properties which are marketed for sale.
One of my favorite themes in the restaurant industry is “shrink to grow.” See my November 12 post titled “Shrink To Grow” that briefly explains the thought process. RT is playing into that theme perfectly. RT’s announcement, while extremely difficult for the company on a number of fronts is the right one for the company. The company has effectively improved the profitability of the company by eliminating 11% of the store base that was unprofitable. For RT, specifically, it pushes out the threat of bankruptcy by 6-12 months.
I also want to point out that EAT is a big beneficiary from the closing of the RT stores as they are direct competitors within the bar and grill segment. Importantly, RT is not alone. As we move into 2009 I would expect to see the casual dining industry shrink capacity significantly.
The Shanghai Composite Index up another +2% last night at 2015. I have a major “Trend” breakout line sitting 13 points away, and my team remains as bullish as they have been on Chinese prospects to re-accelerate growth from the Q4 lows in Q1 of 2009.
We remain long both the FXI and EWH etfs. Buy them on down days.
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For the “Macro Men” on our desk here in the Haven, this makes perfect sense. These macro indicators are all correlated.
Don’t short gold; buy it on down days. Don’t buy it on the 1st down day like today – wait on it; patience has paid in this market and it will pay you here. There is a solid gold support line built up at $801/oz (see chart).
“Re-Flation” cometh. This is The New Reality.
Looking at the chart below, I was never quite sure what was in “their” models back in July, but that’s of no concern to anyone anymore. Been there, done that.
As global stock market volatility continues to decline, so will the propensity for investment banks to allocate capital to “prop” traders who want to lever their brains out buying everything “Chindia-Oil.”
Alongside the drop-off of players in the game, enter the hockey players from New haven. With the fundamental backdrop of our “Re-Flation” Investment Theme for early 2009 and a swooning US Dollar, we think we can trade oil very comfortably within a range of $37.11- $51.70.
If you look at the nine SP500 sector exposure analysis we have recently been running, there are 3 things about Technology that I think are misunderstood:
1. Both the underlying XLK short interest and bottoms up stock short int is amongst the lowest of the 9 sectors
2. Valuation on NTM is the highest at 7.2x EBITDA
3. Sector Beta, for the 1st time in forever is very low in Tech at 0.93
In other words less shorts to squeeze, less incremental value to buy, and less juice on market up days (XLK is #6 out of 9 in terms of beta!... financials, discretionary, materials, and energy is where the traders get most of their rips).
We have recently announced that Rebecca Runkle has joined our team as head of Technology. Most of you will remember Rebecca from her days on the sell side at Morgan Stanley. With McGough, Penney, and Runkle we have taken a nice whack out of what used to make Morgan Stanley great.
RIMM’s 2008 stock price chart is a metaphor for the life of a reactive Wall Street crackberry addict falling out of favor. We’re looking forward to having Runkle’s experienced and patient point of view Captaining our Technology research effort.
They don’t trade Tech like they used to.
Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer
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