“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was an American Patriot who championed individualism during the mid-19th century. He was born in 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts and lived his life out loud during a time of great American leadership. I don’t think he’d care so much for today’s Big Government Interventions.
Today, not unlike any other day, we’ve woken up to the risk management reminder that the world is grounded in uncertainty. From Japan’s earthquake to the Saudi “Day of Rage”, not matter where you go, there it all is…
The morning after risk should have been proactively managed is as crystal clear as the mirror you have to look in every morning. Those who are Perma-Political obviously don’t like to do that so much on mornings like this. Sadly, the modern day Japanese, European, and American bureaucrat lives a life of finger pointing as opposed to introspection.
I’ll get to answering the Quake or Correction question about the US stock market by the end of this note, but I really think that there’s a much more critical long-term leadership question that we need to be asking ourselves of the government we should be governing this morning.
If we want to make this country Japanese in its fiscal and monetary union, that might be fine for the sake of a 2-year stock market trade – but not in preventing a long-term societal Quake.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson years were very formative in terms of how Americans thought about self-directedness and individual liberties. During Emerson’s adult years, Andrew Jackson was the President of the United States (1). Like all of us, Jackson had plenty of faults associated with living in the moment, but one of them wasn’t accepting the tyranny imposed by a socially elite Big Central Bank.
In fact, “after the First Bank of the United States was established by Hamilton, followed by a Second Bank put in by pro-bank Democratic-Republicans after the War of 1812, President Andrew Jackson managed to eliminated the Central Bank after a titanic struggle during the 1830s.” (Murray Rothbard, “The Case Against The Fed”, page 73)
On the banking front, Jackson’s battle against Big Central Planning was won against a young Princeton economist by the name of Thomas Biddle, who was serving in a quasi-Bernank seat as the president of the Second Bank of The United States. It gives me chills to think that Big Princeton Keynesians like Paul Krugman and Ben Bernanke have generated so much political power with the same academic dogma since.
Unfortunately, after the Jefferson-Jackson libertarian ideals of free markets were fortified via democratic vote, the Civil War came (where Jackson obviously had plenty of accountability issues to deal with on another topic - slavery) and bankers who hoped for Big Government Intervention capitalized on the crisis.
The phrase “Not Worth a Continental” is derived from the same strategy that the Japanese will look toward to solve for event risk in their economy today – issuing fiat paper. During the American Revolution, that’s exactly what the Continental Congress did (print money) – with the bigger problem being that those Continental dollars were non-redeemable in gold (neither are trillions of Yens).
“The common phrase, “Not Worth A Continental” became part of the American folklore as a result of this runaway depreciation and accelerated worthlessness of the Continental dollars.” (Rothbard, “The Case Against The Fed”, page 29)
Now getting back to living in the today, if we don’t want this country to be hostage to event risk like Japan is this morning (I mean economically), like any good American household or company, we need to get this American balance sheet problem fixed. There comes a tipping point where you can’t print money to internally finance a recovery from a natural disaster, or God forbid, a war.
I’m not being alarmist. This is a very serious matter that history certainly has taught us to respect. Ask the German bankers like Paul Warburg who constructed both the German Reichsbank (founded in 1876) and, to a degree, the US Federal Reserve (founded 1913), how being hostage to The Inflation associated with an addiction to printing money ends when calamity strikes…
Back to the risk management Question of The Day: Quake or Correction?
I’ll grind through the levels here and keep this answer as tight as it needs to be. After all, you should be asking a firm who called for this Asian and US stock market correction for the levels to manage your way out of it…
As a reminder, we’ve been calling for a 3-6% correction in both US and Japanese Equities since Valentine’s Day:
My immediate-term TRADE and intermediate-term TREND targets for the SP500 are now:
So, I say Correction. The Quake is already another historical event. Let the Perma-Bulls learn from that again, on the morning after.
Go Yale Hockey in The Haven tonight (Game 1 of the playoffs against St Lawrence), and best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
This note was originally published at 8am on March 08, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.
“Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fail.”
I sold my long positions in oil (OIL) and Brazilian oil giant Petrobras (PBR) on yesterday morning’s opening market strength. This doesn’t mean I am not bullish on either (in the Hedgeye Portfolio we are still long China National Offshore –CEO, and Suncor -SU). This simply means that my risk management model was calling them both out as immediate-term overbought.
Overbought is as overbought does. Sometimes my risk management signals are wrong. Most of the time they aren’t. Temptation is always there to violate my investment process. Most of my big mistakes are a direct function of giving in.
What if I gave into consensus on February the 18th and bought the SP500 at 1343? What if I gave into the Temptation of The Flows into US and Japanese Equities that peaked in the same week? What if I saw the hedge fund community’s highest net long position in bullish oil contracts yesterday (highest since 2006) and decided to ignore my risk management signal on the oil price?
“What if” may be an acceptable strategy for someone living in the theoretical. In this globally interconnected game of decision making however, there are no “what ifs.” There are players and pretenders. There are wins and losses.
Subliminally, I may have learned this risk management process from my Dad. Whether it was in his profession as a firefighter or in the game of life that he coached me – somewhere along the line I learned that we are all accountable for the decisions we make in this life and how those decisions affect others.
While I highly doubt that the US Federal Reserve is going to be sourcing risk management lessons from a few Canadian Bears on the topic of accountability, maybe they’ll re-read this quote about Temptation from their Maestro of ideological groupthink gone bad:
“The temptation is to step on the monetary accelerator or at least to avoid the monetary brake until after the next election… giving into such temptations is likely to impart an inflationary bias to the economy and could lead to instability, recession, and economic stagnation.”
-Alan Greenspan, 1993
Again, like any good Fire Chief or Global Macro Risk Manager, you should re-read that quote slowly. And read it again. While there is a Temptation to scan for headlines about some Libyan nut-job as opposed to understanding the long-term structural underpinnings of the The Inflation, it always pays to take the time to make the highest probability decisions based on the best information you have.
That Greenspan quote was highlighted by the late Austrian economist who I have cited recently - Murray Rothbard. Later on in his book, “The Case Against The Fed”, this is what Rothbard had to say in order to contextualize The Inflation that the Fed perpetuates:
“We are now so conditioned by permanent price inflation that the idea of prices falling every year is difficult to grasp. And yet, prices generally fell every year from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the latter part of the 18th century until 1940, with the exception of periods of major war.” (page 21)
Interestingly, Rothbard published this book in 1994 and passed away in 1995. Since, the American financial system has learned virtually nothing from these types of risk management perspectives. That’s because the modern day US Empire of Fiat Finance is grounded in a policy to inflate the stock market (see the inflation chart below dating back to the year 1500).
Can our industry or America’s conflicted and compromised politicians handle a deflation of inflated prices? Can they handle a reflation of the price of a Debauched Dollar? I think the answer to those questions is as clear as Americans living on entitlement goodies - many have a patriotic answer about debts and deficits, but they lack a pragmatic plan; particularly if the plan hits them in the wallet.
To be crystal clear on this, if I was damned into the job of Chief Central Planner in this country, this is what I would do:
Points 1 and 2 address both monetary and fiscal policy head on. Point 3 would be the effect. Going back to the following experiences:
There hasn’t been a modern economy that has devalued its way to prosperity by debt financed deficit spending.
The Temptation is to create massive US Dollar denominated correlation-risk (USD inverse correlation to the price of oil is currently -0.93) that all interested inflation policy parties can blame on the Middle East or “global supply and demand imbalances” if unwound.
But be careful on that Temptation because it creates expectations. We Expect Price Volatility, not Price Stability. That’s why small business owners like me won’t jump in with both feet and start hiring aggressively. Anyone who has to meet a payroll in this country gets it – our medical and employment costs are rising as economic growth slows. As Greenspan reminded the Keynesians in 1994, that’s what The Inflation does.
Thankfully, one voting member of the Federal Reserve had the political spine to call this like it is yesterday. Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told the Institute of International Bankers in Washington, DC that “the liquidity tanks are full, if not brimming over.”
Indeed Mr. Fisher. Indeed. That’s what printing money with an inflation policy achieves. It’s time to get out of the way, let the US Dollar strengthen, and the price of oil deflate.
My immediate term support and resistance levels for WTI Crude Oil are $101 and 107, respectively. My immediate term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1297 and 1315, respectively.
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
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TODAY’S S&P 500 SET-UP - March 11, 2011
Overnight China down on another sequentially accelerating monthly inflation reading (February (+4.9% CPI, +7.2% PPI). We continue to hammer home the theme – Global Growth Slowing as Global Inflation Accelerates. As we look at today’s set up for the S&P 500, the range is 32 points or -0.94% downside to 1283 and 1.54% upside to 1315.
MACRO DATA POINTS:
WHAT TO WATCH:
As of the close yesterday we have 3 of 9 sectors positive on TRADE and 8 of 9 sectors positive on TREND. The XLB was the 1st S&P Sector to break its intermediate-term TREND line since May, 2010. The 3 Sectors that remain bullish on both TRADE and TREND durations are all low beta defensive sectors:
CREDIT/ECONOMIC MARKET LOOK:
Yesterday, Treasuries were stronger for a second straight session with the heightened deterioration in the risk backdrop.