Chirp, or Be Chirped

This note was originally published at 8am on January 14, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

“The fact that we are today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.”

-Senator Barack Obama, March 2006


Our CEO Keith McCullough has been out most of this week recovering from a surgery to reattach his Achilles tendon.  I’ve known Keith for upwards of fifteen years, including three years as college hockey players, so I can rightly say that I’ve seen the man in a few precarious situations, but never did I think he would injure himself on the squash courts.  So when it comes to risk management for the aging college athlete, leave the squash to those that grew up playing it at prep schools is my advice on a go-forward basis.


With Keith out, I’ve had to live a week in his shoes.  I’m not prone to giving the proverbial tire pump, but, candidly, it’s not easy to write a morning strategy note and prep for a morning call every morning starting at 5 a.m.  As it relates to President Obama and the quote above, I think he is now realizing what it’s like to live in another man’s shoes, as well.   (Life as President is much different than as a member of Congress it seems.)


Members of Congress in Washington basically have free rein to chirp.  While Presidents can chirp as well, they also have to make decisions.  Obama’s quote (chirp) above was prescient back in 2006, but in the coming weeks he will have to push to get the debt ceiling raised because, as President, he needs to keep the country running.  The advisors hired to chirp on his behalf have been out in full force making sure he has the political cover to get this done.


Specifically, White House economic advisors Austan Goolsbee recently had this to say about the debt ceiling:


"This is not a game. You know, the debt ceiling is not something to toy with. … If we hit the debt ceiling, that's essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history. The impact on the economy would be catastrophic. I mean, that would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008."


Now, if that’s not chirpy, I don’t know what is.


Freshman Senator Rand Paul was not to be outdone though, and chirped back his own proposal:


“I can't imagine voting to raise the debt ceiling unless we're going to change our ways in Washington. I am proposing that we link to raising the debt ceiling — that we link a balanced budget rule, an ironclad rule that they can't evade.


We have to change the rules and we have to say to Washington, Balance the budget. You have to do it by law.  And then I'll vote to raise the debt ceiling.  But only if we have an ironclad balanced budget rule that we attach to the debt ceiling.”


Ironically, the best assessment of the debt and debt situation was probably Senator Obama back in 2006.  The fact is that we are in this fiscal situation today because of failed leadership.  This is failed leadership that has transcended administrations and political parties. It is because the United States has created long term obligations in the way of social security and healthcare that we can’t fulfill, and administrations have overspent on discretionary items when times were good.  (In fact, our friend Karl Rove even acknowledged to us that the one regret he had was that the Bush administration didn’t do a better job on discretionary spending.)


In the coming weeks, the debate over the debt ceiling will increase in velocity and volume.  The fiscal conservatives, particularly those who were swept in with the Tea Party in the most recent midterm, will be on the soap box and will be chirping like never before.  Unfortunately, even Goolsbee’s language and delivery is somewhat inflammatory, and as a nation, we really have no choice, but to increase the limit on the debt ceiling.


In the coming months, there are three key catalysts that will take the debate over the debt and deficit to a heightened level, these are:


1)      Late January - Congressional Budget Office deficit projections will have to be raised dramatically for the next few years.  We’ve highlighted their projections in the Chart of the Day, and, simply put, the numbers are too low for what we’ve already seen in Q1 of fiscal 2011.


2)      Mid February - President Obama’s draft budget proposal will be submitted in early February.  This proposal will be more heavily scrutinized than any budget in recent memory and since so few of the line items can be played with in the short term, they’ll surely not satisfy the fiscal conservatives.


3)      Early March - Finally, the vote on the debt ceiling will occur sometime before March 4th.  This is when the debate will reach its highest pitch even though the outcome is already known, which is the ceiling must go higher.


We believe the outcome of all of this could be, American Sacrifice. This is the idea that this debate actually drives our politicians to implement meaningful initiatives that will begin to reverse the fiscal predicament we are facing.  If we do start to see fiscal improvement, or at least positive discussions in that direction, it will be bullish for the U.S. dollar.


That said, as it relates to Washington, one never knows and productive legislation will actually require these politicians to set aside their “chirp, or be chirped” politicking, and help move the country forward.


Yours in risk management,

Daryl G. Jones


Chirp, or Be Chirped - Chirp

CHART OF THE DAY: Government Credibility


CHART OF THE DAY: Government Credibility -  chart of the day

Governing The Government

“The Constitution was designed to govern the government, not the people.”

-Steve Hanke


In a concisely written piece of Complex Simplicity, Steve Hanke penned this quote in a paper I was reading yesterday titled “Reagonomics Goes Global.” Hanke is a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. I interviewed him while I was running a radio show for Bloomberg Radio last year and have been reading his work ever since. He gets government math.


The white paper featured different opinions from different authors and I think Hanke’s chapter, titled “Lessons from America’s Founding Fathers and US Experience” is well worth taking the time to read. Hanke takes a crack at differentiating the definitions of American style democracy and liberty. He also highlights Alexander Hamilton’s original US fiscal convictions:


“The United States was born in a sea of debt. A majority of the public favored a debt default . Alexander Hamilton, acting as Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, was firmly against default. As a matter of principle, he argued that the sanctity of contracts was the foundation of all morality. And as a practical matter, Hamilton argued that good government depended on its ability to fulfill its promises.” (Reagonomics Goes Global, page 8)


I call this to your attention this morning because it draws a historical bridge between THE most important US Economic question that’s on my mind right now (can the US Dollar Index hold its newfound intermediate term TREND line of support at $78.66?) and what I am going to talk about on our Q1 Macro Theme call this morning under the umbrella of a theme called American Sacrifice (email if you’d like access to the call and/or the slide presentation).


Duration matters. That’s why I try my best to make sure my team is Duration Agnostic when considering risk, probability, and uncertainty. That’s why we have developed our TRADE, TREND, and TAIL model. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s an evolution of legacy Wall Street research and risk management processes gone bad. What the US stock market is doing in the immediate-term is not the most important long-term US Economic factor that’s on my mind.


Seeing the stock market going up every day isn’t the solution to this structural mess (stock market fans should remember that 1/3 of this country (102 MILLION Americans) have ZERO moneys in a retirement account and 1/2 of Americans have $2,000 or less). Neither is inflation – that’s a policy. What I think we ultimately need is a strong currency, balance sheet, and handshake that the world can trust again. If we have those, the jobs will come.


We can hope and pray that the new Republican leadership can be depended upon to “fulfill its promises” of spending cuts, but we must remember that hope is not an investment process and trusting a conflicted and compromised politician better have some serious prayer attached to the exercise. The foundations of morality matter (repaying your debts) to a lot of people in this country. So does protecting whatever integrity remains of her currency.


It’s time.


So, let’s roll with that this morning and figure out whether the intermediate-term strengthening of America’s currency (US Dollar Index is up for 8 out of the last 11 weeks since the midterms) is a leading indicator to a long-term TREND of American Sacrifice and fiscal sobriety.


Governing the Government on Global Macroeconomic risk management matters sounds like both a painful and herculean task – but I think it’s achievable.


Here’s what we need to execute:

  1. A Real-Time Accountability Mechanism (Twitter – check)
  2. An Analytically Competent and Independent Research Firm With Real American Clients Who Care (Hedgeye and The Buy Side – check)
  3. Freedom of Speech and email forwarding (iPhones, Crackberries, etc – check)

The messaging is out there folks. The People have already voted. Americans want spending, deficit, and debt cuts – and this is our last chance to Govern the Government so that we get all three of those things no matter what the intermediate-term American Sacrifice.


By “last chance”, I’m not trying to be dramatic either. With the upcoming debt ceiling and deficit/debt commission debates, this is it - for the US Dollar, America’s balance sheet, and her handshake with the world as its fiduciary of the world’s reserve currency that is…


I am a Canadian-American, so I have no allegiances to any person, politician, or party on this matter. If the US Dollar starts to break down again, sustainably, below my $78.66 TREND line, I will sell it faster than you can say Thunder Bay Bear.


Another debauchery of the US Dollar will equate to $120 oil, global food inflation riots, and plenty of other unintended consequences that I, for one, have no patience seeing my firm and family endure under the willfully blind veil of no one could have seen this coming.


My immediate-term support and resistance lines for the SP500 are now 1280 and 1298, respectively.


Best of luck out there today,



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Governing The Government - 7

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TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP - January 19, 2011

Equity futures are trading below fair value as European markets extend losses amid reports Greece may be looking at rescheduling its debt. Under the plan, reportedly being brokered in Berlin, Athens would be allowed to buy back its own debt using a euro zone crisis fund.  As we look at today’s set up for the S&P 500, the range is 18 points or -1.16% downside to 1280 and +0.23% upside to 1298.



  • MBA mortgage applications up 5% prior 2.2%
  • 8:30 a.m.: Housing starts, Dec. est. 550k, prior 555k
  • 8:30 a.m.: Building permits, Dec., est. 554k, prior 530k
  • 3 p.m.: USDA broiler eggs set, Jan. 14
  • 4:30 p.m.: API inventories, Jan. 14


  • Mosaic says it will be a “possible” takeover target as Cargill divests $24.3b stake in the co. over the next two yrs
  • Pimco’s Neel Kashkari, a former Treasury official, says U.S. may face a debt crisis without action to limit federal spending
  • Apple, IBM estimate-topping earnings bode well for results due in coming weeks from Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Dell and other cos. that supply corporations with computers and software
  • HSBC Global Asset Management’s Absolute Return fund favors stocks including Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble to beat returns from gold this year as global economy recovers
  • Amgen (AMGN) agreed to sell its rights and assets at Fremont, Calif. manufacturing facility to Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Cree (CREE) forecast sees 3Q adj. EPS 38c-45c vs est. 58c
  • IBM (IBM) reported 4Q EPS $4.18 vs. est $4.08
  • Linear Technology (LLTC) forecast 3Q rev. ~$345.3m-$360.6m vs est. $371.6m
  • Mosaic (MOS): Cargill will spin off 64% MOS stake to Cargill shareholders, bondholders
  • NuVasive (NUVA): CIGNA, Humana change lumbar spinal fusion policy to include coverage for NUVA’s eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion
  • Western Digital (WDC) reported 2Q rev. $2.48b vs est. $2.35b, EPS 96c vs est. 59c


  • Bank of New York Mellon (BK) 6:30 a.m., $0.57 
  • US Bancorp (USB) 6:45 a.m., $0.47 
  • MGIC Investment (MTG) 7 a.m., $(0.46)
  • State Street (STT) 7:05 a.m., $0.86 
  • Amphenol (APH) 8 a.m., $0.73 
  • Hudson City Bancorp (HCBK) 8 a.m., $0.22 
  • Wells Fargo & Co (WFC) 8 a.m., $0.63 
  • Goldman Sachs (GS) 8:01 a.m., $3.79 
  • Northern Trust (NTRS) 8:01 a.m., $0.72 
  • AMR (AMR) 9:01 a.m., $(0.32)
  • Plexus (PLXS) 4:01 p.m., $0.59 
  • F5 Networks (FFIV) 4:05 p.m., $0.83 
  • Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP) 4:05 p.m., $0.43 
  • Raymond James Financial (RJF) 4:12 p.m., $0.53 
  • eBay (EBAY) 4:15 p.m., $0.47 
  • Xilinx (XLNX) 4:20 p.m., $0.52 
  • SLM (SLM) 4:37 p.m., $0.71


  • One day: Dow +0.43%, S&P +0.14%, Nasdaq +0.38%, Russell flat
  • Last Week: Dow +0.96%, S&P +1.71%, Nasdaq 1.93%, Russell +2.51%
  • Year-to-date: Dow +2.25%, S&P +2.97%, Nasdaq +4.26%, Russell +3.05%
  • Sector Performance - (8 sectors positive and 1 down): - Energy +0.62%, Materials +0.55%, Industrials +0.72%, Healthcare +0.37%, Tech +0.11%, Consumer Disc +0.37%, Utilities +0.24%, Consumer Spls +0.06%, Financials (0.60%)


  • ADVANCE/DECLINE LINE: 250 (-211)  
  • VOLUME: NYSE 1227.72 (15.85%)
  • VIX:  15.87 +2.65% YTD PERFORMANCE: -10.49%
  • SPX PUT/CALL RATIO: 1.48 from 1.46 (+1.49%)


Treasuries were weaker with the better risk backdrop in focus.

  • TED SPREAD: 16.11 +0.304 (1.922%)
  • 3-MONTH T-BILL YIELD: 0.16% +0.01%     
  • YIELD CURVE: 2.79 from 2.76


  • CRB: 333.78 +0.22%  
  • Oil: 91.38 -0.17% - trading +0.58% in the AM
  • Crude Oil Supply Drops in Survey on U.S. Pipeline Shutdown: Energy Markets  
  • COPPER: 442.80 +0.36% - trading +0.24% in the AM
  • Copper Gains to Record on Speculation Demand to Outpace Supply on Recovery
  • GOLD: 1,372.68 +0.49% - trading +0.36% in the AM
  • Gold Climbs for Third Day as Dollar Weakens on Concern About U.S. Recovery


  • Container Ship Rates Rising as Fuel Prices Slow Vessels: Freight Markets
  • Japan May Cut 2011 Ethylene Output on Middle East Competition, Mizuho Says
  • Japan's Petrochemical Maintenance Closures to Drop This Year, Survey Shows
  • Rubber Futures Advance to Record as Thai Supply Concern Spurs Purchases
  • IEA's China Oil-Consumption Outlook Is `Too Conservative,' Bernstein Says
  • Precious Metals Make Up 76% of Commodity ETP Assets, Societe Generale Says
  • Alaska Pipeline System Boosts Crude Oil Flows, Exceeds Operator's Target
  • Mosaic Might Become Takeover Target as Cargill Divests $24.3 Billion Stake
  • Barclays Forecasts U.S. Natural Gas Prices Will Remain Around $4 This Year
  • Thailand Says It May Complete Nation's First LNG Import Terminal by June


  • EURO: 1.3360 +0.49% - trading +0.77% in the AM
  • DOLLAR: 78.962 -0.47% - trading -0.45% in the AM


  • FTSE 100: (0.37%); DAX: -0.03%; CAC 40: (0.14%) (as of 06:30 EST)
  • European markets saw session's highs early before paring gains to trade mixed.
  • Strong results from Apple and IBM overnight up +0.1% and +1.9% respectively in Germany failed to help tech shares in Europe as ASML Holding's reversed early gains and the sector is lower.
  • Kesa Electronics update highlighted the potential impact of the recent VAT increase in the UK as sales softened post the rise.
  • Ireland PM survived a vote of no confidence by his party yesterday, though a national election is expected as early as Mar.
  • Declining sectors lead advancers 10-8 as autos and retail lead fallers and basic resources lead gainers.
  • UK Nov ILO unemployment rate +7.9% vs consensus +7.9% and prior +7.9% - UK Dec Claimant count (4.1k) vs consensus +1.5k and prior revised to (3.2k) from (1.2k)
  • German economy ministry raises 2011 growth forecast to +2.3% from previous forecast of +1.8%  - Sees 2011 export growth of +6.5%, import growth of +6.4%
  •  ECB officials are back from a threat to raise interest rates, saying markets have over-reacted to their change in tone on inflation. ECB governing council “sees present rates adequate,” for the “foreseeable future,” council member Ewald Nowotny said at an event in Budapest yesterday.
  • Spanish home sales fell 6.2% Y/y in Nov., third month of declines.


  • Nikkei +0.36%; Hang Seng +1.10%; Shanghai Composite +1.81%
  • Asian markets were mixed, with tech stocks leading the way on the back of strong results from Apple and IBM.
  • China went up strongly on reports that the CPI rose 4.6% y/y in December, above expectations of 4.4%, but below November’s 5.1% rate. The official figures are to be published tomorrow.
  • Property developers led Hong Kong higher on improved risk appetite after Wall Street’s advance. On higher oil prices, Sinopec and Petro China rose 4% and 2%, respectively.
  • High techs lifted South Korea up 0.92%, but construction plays fell on profit-taking.
  • Australia rose 0.18%. Kathmandu Holdings soared 16% after upgrading its profit forecast.
  • Boosted by China’s gain, Japan edged up on a positive start to the US earnings season.
  • Japan November tertiary industry activity index +0.6% m/m.


Munis: Another Short Selling Opportunity



If it doesn’t make you laugh, it will make you cry – but the sell-side’s probability of defending anything that starts to go down these days is as predictable as, well, US Municipalities and States running deficits. Sadly, very few risk management lessons from the 2007 MBS market seem to have been learned. And yes, there was another side to the Bush Tax cut trade!


We’re on the transparency/accountability tape getting bearish on Munis on February 24th, 2010 in a note we titled “Domestic Pigs.” We’re also currently on the tape with a short position in MUB in the Hedgeye Portfolio. It’s not a position we intend on covering down here because “munis are cheap.” If you’re already long them, we know why you are bullish on “cheap”. If you aren’t short them, we know why you aren’t Bearish Enough.


Barron’s Randall Forsyth wrote an article this weekend titled “Yields Soar on Overpunished Munis”, and I can’t help myself but to highlight a few of his lowlight reasons to be bellying up to opacity’s next sketch bar. 

  1. “Last week saw wholesale selling”
  2. “A technical situation caused by heavy liquidations”
  3. “Smart managers are buying munis, not the hysteria” 

First of all, he actually did the outflow math ($16.5B out of open-end muni funds in the last 9 weeks over a base of a $2.8T market), but failed to acknowledge that this means this selling party has barely started. This is not “wholesale” selling yet. This is not “heavy” liquidation either. This is simply the beginning.


It’s also the first born problem child of The Ber-nank’s 3D Risks that are associated with keeping US interest rates unsustainably low.


As a refresher – what the Fed staying at ground ZERO percent means in terms of 3D Risk is: 

  1. Dares investors to chase “yield” (including munis)
  2. Disguises financial risk (what will municipalities do when borrowing costs go Greek?)
  3. Delays financial restructuring 

How many of America’s Domestic Pig governments need to be restructured? What’s a revenue bond worth if the municipality can’t generate its required tax revenues? What do rising bond yields tell risk managers about default risk?


These are simple risk management questions that should be answered by risk managers before we let an 8th grader hit <bond yield go> on a Bloomberg terminal and analytically deduce a bond is “cheap” when it’s yield is higher than another.


Our refreshed TRADE and TREND lines of resistance for MUB are outlined in the chart below.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Munis: Another Short Selling Opportunity - 1

Asian Trade Data Exposes Facade of US Growth

Conclusion: The slowdowns we are seeing across Asia’s trade-heavy economies continue to flash bearish signals as it relates to the direction and amplitude of global growth.


Position: Short US equities via the etf SPY.


This morning, we saw some more negative economic data points out of Asia. Signs of a regional economic slowdown, which have largely been ignored by US investors for much of the last two months, are highlighted today by Thailand’s December trade data. Thailand’s YoY Export growth slowed sequentially by (-970bps) and YoY Import growth slowed sequentially as well, falling (-2,380bps). On the prospects of an economic slowdown, Thailand’s Commerce Minister, Porntiva Nakasai, affirmed today what we at Hedgeye have been saying since November:


“It is hard to replicate last year’s exceptional growth. China’s economy, which is the main growth driver in the region, is slowing, while Europe is still having financial problems.” 


Asian Trade Data Exposes Facade of US Growth - 1


Thailand’s share of world exports are roughly ~2.6x its share of global GDP, so Thailand could potentially be used as a proxy for the health of global trade. On a standalone basis, however, Thailand isn’t responsible for moving the needle on global growth or international trade. Considering, we’ve compiled an aggregated, weighted index of Asian trade data that does serve as a good proxy for the direction of global demand.


Asian Trade Data Exposes Facade of US Growth - 2


Asian Trade Data Exposes Facade of US Growth - 3


Further, upon considering that these ten economies’ share of global exports is nearly 25% larger than their share of global GDP, we posit that a slowdown in this region is a leading indicator for a slowdown in the inventory cycle of advanced economies. Positive inventory adjustments have accounted for 63% of U.S. GDP growth in the three quarters through 3Q10, so a slowdown across Asia may be a stealth leading indicator for inventory adjustments being a drag on U.S. GDP growth in 2011.


Asian Trade Data Exposes Facade of US Growth - 4


In simple terms, consumption accounts for ~65-70% of the US economy and if factories in China and across Asia aren’t pumping out and shipping the apparel, harware, etc. that we buy with the same velocity, it means we aren’t buying it with the same velocity either. This leads to a building up of inventory and reduced demand for restocking domestically.


Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind the following stats, when considering the merits of Asian trade data:  

  • Exports account for roughly 40-45% of Asia’s GDP;
  • The U.S. and E.U. combine for roughly a third of Asia’s export destinations; and
  • 40-50% of intra-regional trade within Asia is basic and intermediate goods meant for re-export outside of the region. 

All told, the slowdowns we are seeing across Asia’s trade-heavy economies continue to flash bearish signals as it relates to global growth. Given the recent run-up in US equities, we feel most of the opportunities for alpha will be found on the short side throughout the next 3-6 months, as growth bulls are awoken by the pungent stench of global economic fundamentals.


Darius Dale


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