This note was originally published at 8am on April 28, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.
“It’s not clear that we can get substantial improvements in payrolls without some additional inflation risk.”
-Ben Bernanke, April 27, 2011
We’re all for transparency in what it is that we do. The problem with Ben Bernanke’s definition of transparency is that it’s not clear that he knows what he is doing. His forecasts are routinely late and/or wrong, and his decision making process depends heavily on those forecasts.
Our Q2 Macro Theme that The Bernank will remain “Indefinitely Dovish” is a forecast. So is our call that the probability of a US Currency Crash continues to heighten. Ben Bernanke did nothing but confirm those forecasts yesterday:
- He raised his inflation forecasts
- He cut his US GDP growth forecasts
- He Burned The Buck
While many critical factors are “not clear” to the Central Planner-in-Chief of globally interconnected markets, the prices that are marked-to-market real-time remain Crystal Clear.
Of the Big 3 that I made a call on in yesterday’s Early Look, I had 1 out of 3 wrong:
- Long Gold – hitting an all-time high intraday yesterday and again this morning (all-time is a long time), the price of Gold is now in line with the SP500’s YTD return of +7.8% YTD.
- Long Oil – rallying immediately as the US Dollar crashed to fresh YTD lows yesterday, the price of West Texas Crude Oil is now up +23.7% for 2011 YTD, outperforming both the SP500 and Gold by a factor of 3:1.
- Short SP500 – rallying on low-volume to a fresh YTD high of 1355, the SP500 is up 50 points (+3.8%) in a almost a straight line in the last 7 trading days into a government presser. I think The Bernank calls this “price stability.” We call it the market Gaming Policy.
While my biggest position remains long International Currencies (we have a 30% Global Macro allocation in the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model to FX), what a lot of people want to talk to me about isn’t the raging bull market in currencies other than our own – it’s usually “what gets you to cover and buy the SP500.”
I get why that is. I think it’s fair. I am accountable to all of the current 26 positions in the Hedgeye Portfolio, particularly those that I have wrong. As Seth Klarman appropriately said earlier this year, “focusing on what you can lose versus what you can earn sets you apart.”
So, other than our “free” market’s ability to function without the heavy hand of a Central Planner holding pressers, where am I losing? Here are the updated returns in the Hedgeye Portfolio of the Big 3 aforementioned positions:
- Gold = +8.37%
- Oil = +5.37%
- SP500 = -2.46%
Just like that old nursery rhyme on Romper Room – one of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong… being short the SP500 right here and now is obviously wrong. The score doesn’t lie; people do.
Back to the Dollar…
While The Bernank’s comments addressing a Crashing US Currency were “not clear” yesterday, the world currency market’s vote was Crystal Clear:
- On The Day – the US Dollar lost another -0.5% (that used to be a lot for a day in the world’s reserve currency) to make a fresh YTD low.
- On The Week – the US Dollar is down another -1.3% (down for the 14th week out of the last 18 and down -9.8% since January).
- On The 28 Months – since Obama and Groupthink Geithner took their seats, the USD is down -17% (300bps away from crashing).
Now please don’t call me a Republican for putting Obama’s name beside the score. I was at least as bearish on Bush and his US Dollar Devaluation policy to inflate as I am on this administration’s grasp of Global Macro markets and how they are interconnected.
Yes, correlated – which, suspiciously, was a word that The Bernank didn’t use once in his prepared FOMC statement or presser yesterday.
How the world’s Central Planner-in-Chief can use the word “hope” multiple times and not address the most obvious risk that a US Currency Crash imposes on global markets is beyond me. The Audacity of Hope is clearly not a risk management process, so here’s the correlation math:
- USD to Oil = -0.92
- USD to Gold = -0.92
- USD to CRB Index = -0.87
*Note to Timmy and The Bernank: these are what we call the inverse correlations of the US Dollar to Oil, Gold, and the 19 Commodity Component CRB Index on what we call our intermediate-term TREND duration (3 months). These are at all-time highs.
The alternative risk management strategy to dismissing either causality and/or correlation risk (the global median inflation rate has been making higher-highs for the last 40 years, effectively since Nixon abandoned the Gold Standard in favor of the Fiat Fool Policy Standard), is to simply believe. Yes, we can all go there – I took my family to see Shamu’s “Believe” in Orlando last week – it was magical.
According to Big Broker yesterday (The Banker of America Merrill Lyncher North American Economics Strategist – Ethan Harris) what the Almighty Cental Planner of US Dollar Destruction was doing with this presser thing yesterday was, “teaching the American public about how monetary policy works…” (Bloomberg article by Craig Torres and Josh Zumbrun)
Thanks for the transparency. Thanks for the teachings. I may as well gloss over all of world history’s lessons on Currency Crashes now and go back to buying-the-damn-dips in US stocks alongside a stuffed dolphin at Seaworld.
My immediate-term support and resistance lines for Gold are now 1499 and 1534 (Gold is immediate-term overbought). My immediate-term support and resistance lines for Oil are now $110.59 and $114.68 (buy more). My immediate-term support and resistance lines for the SP500 are now 1328 and 1360 (I’ll stay short, for now).
Best of luck out there today,
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
Risk Managed Long Term Investing for Pros
Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough handpicks the “best of the best” long and short ideas delivered to him by our team of over 30 research analysts across myriad sectors.
“I feel dirty making money on the long side in this market”
-A Hedgeye Client that has been successfully making money on the long side
This quote comes from a client of hedgeye, who just happens to work for one of the largest “long only” money managers on the planet. Why does he feel dirty? He’s probably shares many of the same views that David Einhorn has had as he’s been covering his shorts. The music is playing and the kids are Dirty Dancing. The Chuck Prince of 2007 would approve. The grownups, however, do not.
David Einhorn had this to say, in the Greenlight capital Q1 Shareholder Letter: “The broad market, which shrugged off the continued escalation of commodity prices, unrest in the Middle East, a catastrophe in Japan, tightening monetary policy outside the United States and a deceleration of domestic economic growth...this quarter we were repeatedly confuzzled when we read company news announcements that we expected to cause falling stock prices, only to see them rise instead – and sometimes sharply at that. Nonetheless, we believe that this environment is cyclical, and that it will continue this way... until it doesn’t.”
Einhorn likens the market today to Charlie Sheen, believing that “all publicity is good publicity”. Einhorn’s past record and thorough thought process that comes through in his writing are both impressive. He is no Bud Fox; he understands the danger of investor psychology and groupthink. Nevertheless, he is not confident that his firm can call the turn so he has been covering.
Both Einhorn and the Hedgeye Client quoted at the beginning of this Early Look are thoughtful market operators that have generated alpha in different market cycles across sectors and geographies. Clearly by the sentiments they are expressing, they are alerting us to a real problem that exists in money management at this point in equity markets. Capital has been pumped into the system through two rounds of quantitative easing and PM’s that want to get paid will chase yield with that capital. The stock market rally has been self-sustaining in that regard; a rising stock market does improve consumer confidence among higher income brackets. However, the reception of all news as good news is disturbing to say the least. As the multitude of interconnected global macro factors continue to change in real-time, the government is handcuffed with sky-high debt, zero percent interest rates, and slowing economic growth.
The pension fund community, too, has been dragged into this game of pass-the-grenade. “Assumed” rates of return are to be hit lest the funds face a significant shortfall on their obligations. Given the fear of inflation that has rightly taken hold, pension funds cannot look to bonds for the required 7-8% returns with interest rates at 0%. Rather, pension fund managers are chasing yield right at the top of the cycle. In fact, I would argue – although Keith may not agree (so this is not the official Hedgeye view) – that the cycle has already topped.
Jobless claims have given back all of the progress that was made from January 2010 onward. GDP slowed sequentially and sell-side expectations for GDP growth are coming back down to earth. What’s more, Fed-sponsored inflation and price instability is the ultimate kryptonite for the economy as we head into 2H11.
Osama bin Laden’s death is a great victory for the U.S. Military and the American people, but it is important to keep that in context from a market perspective. Many market pendants are trying to spin this as a positive for the consumer and thus the overall market. While it may have been yesterday, for a time, consider the day-to-day realities facing Americans. Sky high gas prices, food costs, clothing costs, healthcare costs and declining purchasing power are a constant reminder to consumers of the fragility of the economy.
Even if Bin Laden’s death is to have a long-lasting impact on markets, it may be a negative one if any retaliation or escalation of extremist terrorist activity causes an increase in the global risk premium and the cost of oil. In fact, a CNBC.com poll conducted yesterday indicated that, of just under 10,000 respondents, 72% of people responded “No” when asked if they felt safer now that U.S. forces have killed Bin Laden.
The Dirty Dancers out there are counting their blessings that the market, perched on a precipice, is still on two feet thanks to the maintenance of the status quo. Quantitative Easing sponsors bubbles and I believe that while earnings have been strong of late, many markets are taking on more and more of the characteristics of a bubble. Dr. Rich Peterson uses three main parameters to describe a bubble. First, it’s a great story. Secondly, it has unlimited upside and finally, it is confirmed by higher prices. An asset class that is exhibiting these characteristics is difficult to resist. Pension fund managers and hedge fund managers alike are following market momentum as their performance targets require them to.
All the while, great stories are being told as to why the market should keep going up. Inflation is “transitory”. Japan’s catastrophe is not a big deal. Oil prices are still not high enough to impact the consumer, according to some. At the end of the day, all of these stories are supportive of higher equity prices.
How will it end? This debate begins on the topic of debt and deficits. Hedgeye believes that a country’s currency is a prescient indicator of its underlying economic health and we view the USD crashing as a bearish indicator, just as it was in 2008. Warren Buffett’s recent quote on the impossibility of a U.S. debt crisis of any kind “as long as we keep issuing our notes in our own currency” is based on several obvious assumptions that neither Mr. Buffett nor anyone in the investment or bureaucratic community can be certain of. The unexpected is unexpected for a reason. That the political make-up of Washington D.C. will allow the federal government to continue on this road or to involve itself with the States’ debt issues remains to be seen.
Part of the timeline of the USD Currency Crash call we’ve been making has been this literal moving target on the debt ceiling limit. It was only three weeks ago that Secretary Geithner was doing some Dirty Dancing of his own, drawing a firm line in the sand that May 16th was the debt ceiling debate’s date with destiny. Now, after 1Q11 GDP growth sequentially slowed and the dollar maintained its downward trajectory, Geithner has decided to join the festivities by pushing out the deadline to July 8th as of a few weeks back and now to August 2nd as of yesterday. “Extend and pretend” is a phrase that comes to mind.
In my view, the bottom line is this; there are some terrific story-tellers out there. Whether it’s today on Osama bin Laden’s death being bullish for confidence but not for oil, that the global currency market will tolerate this crashing of the global reserve currency, or Secretary Geithner procrastinating in the hope that the market will give the dollar a bid, story-tellers abound.
Lastly, this weekend I went shopping with my daughter for her prom dress. After trying on at least thirty different dresses, the first twenty-nine were not good enough, she found the right one. She has assured me that there will be no Dirty Dancing at the prom.
Function in Disaster; finish in style,
In preparation for the LVS Q1 earnings release tomorrow, we’ve put together the pertinent forward looking commentary from LVS’s Q4 earnings release/call and subsequent conferences.
Post Earnings Commentary
- “We’ve got a dominant position on the mass side and in the slots, and we’re experimenting with ETGs and it’s building up.”
- “We’re bringing a couple of junket reps in that one of our competitors have, and we’re building special rooms for them in the Plaza. And that’s part of the Four Seasons casino. And it takes time to build the rooms, so I guess we’re partially done. It’ll take a maximum of six months to do it.”
- “Now in the construction in 5 and 6, we’ll get about 4,500 workers on site, and we’re close – we’ve got plenty of foreign workers, but it’s tough to get the Macanese workers. But we’re ramping up slowly on that, and we’ll have enough workers to meet our schedule. So we’re going to open like a portion of Phase 1 in December, and we’ll open another – two portions in March and May. So we’re not experiencing a severe impact of the shortage of construction.”
- [Singaporean/non-Singaporean mix] “I just looked at yesterday’s Singaporean versus non-Singaporeans, the foreigners, and we were about 30% of the days. We’d like to keep it down to 30%. The government would
like us to keep it at 30%."
- “There is some discussion going on with the government about allowing us to put in some more ETGs.”
- “We’re short of VIP rooms, on the weekends. We're short of tables and slots.”
- “FIT is recovering, not as fast as we’d like to see it recover. And we used to have an ADR of $250 weekend, mid-week. Just this past weekend, we had about $260 ADR with 100% – 98% to 100% occupancy.”
- “We’ll probably, in 2012, have a record MICE year in terms of room occupancy and the percentage of total room nights that we occupy with groups.”
- “I understand the Cosmopolitan is maintaining high rates. But I’m told, although I have no idea, that they have less than half their rooms open.”
- “We have some extra land. We had bought steel to tear down the Sands Expo Center and move it a half a block away and connect it with a pedestrian bridge and build 5,000 more units where the Sands Expo is. We’ve scrapped that. And I think in the foreseeable future, I don’t think we’ll ever develop.”
NEW DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN EUROPE
- “Now we’re not going to go into any project that we can’t make a 20% ROI.”
- “We probably won’t have to put any money beside minor development money over the next couple years. But it’ll start in a couple of years, and then we’ll do it in four pieces at a time for a total of 12 pieces and see what happens after that.”
- “I’m very leery about overbuilding in the United States. So we are more inclined to do things internationally.”
Q4 Conference Call:
- [LV] “We continue to see an increase in MICE bookings through 2011 and into 2012.”
- "We experienced over 90,000 room nights for the month of January which was significantly ahead of last year, and we’re still booking."
- “Closer to home, we are following the process in Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts, and if the economics there provide a successful development opportunity, we will surely consider it.”
- [LV] “For 2012, we’re forecasting about 781,000 room nights, which is more than what we have today for leverage. And a forecasted ADR is close to $200 for next year, versus this year’s forecasted ADR of $180.”
- “During the first quarter of 2011, most of the major remaining elements of Marina Bay Sands will be launched, including the ArtScience Museum and light and water show On the Bay, as well as the opening of The Lion King. These events will all drive additional visitation and produce increased earnings at the property.”
- “I mean there’s a few days now right before Chinese New Year that it dropped down a little bit, but now it’s picking right up. Our occupancy numbers are getting close to the 90% target. Our MICE business in the first couple of months of this year is good. We still need to do some work there. We are really getting close to the occupancy potential now and the rate structure is very good. We’ve got a good rate going. Our restaurant business is up considerably from where it’s been and I think we’re probably 80% to 85% for the potential on the property for this moment in its lifestyle; so there’s somewhat to go but we’re really pretty well ramped up this point. Some more retailers are a little bit slower than we’d like. We’re open about 260 stores now, we got about 40 stores to go.”
- “It’s about in the mid-80s EBITDA on the mall coming in on the mall revenue today…. But we’re still in the early stages, but the long-term future of the mall in our business plan is to eventually dispose of the mall. And if you put a cap rate on that of 4% or 5% and you can see that we can do $170 to $200 million of EBITDA out of there by 2013 or so, that’s a lot of money in the bank for us going forward, so that’s what we’re watching.”
- “We’ll add 300 [slot] games by the end of Q1…. it’s ‘11 or it’s late in ‘11, you’re going to see $1.5 billion of cumulative revenue at a 65, 66, 67 point margin.”
- “We should get some more improvement in the EBITDA margin.”
- “We’re still waiting for the final situation with the government on the apartments. I feel very confident we’ll get something in this quarter.”
- “We think it’s a huge upside for us on the junket side, and not the premium side.”
- “In any event, where our relationship with the junket reps is improving, we’ve just brought on a top guy from one of our top competitors whose relationships with the junket reps is what we brought him on for. He’s a specialist in that, and we expect that to improve.”
There is no question the United States has achieved a moral victory by finding and killing Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. More practically, the implications relating to geopolitical risk are much less certain. While some would argue that killing the head of al-Qaeda is a positive development, there is also a credible case to be made that this action could potentially accelerate terrorist activity if bin Laden is perceived as a martyr by his brethren.
In assessing the impact of the death of bin Laden, it is important to note that he has been on the run from U.S. Special Forces for almost a decade. While figuratively bin Laden remained the head of al-Qaeda, there is no doubt that being on the run reduced his effectiveness from a operational leadership perspective. Practically, with the entire CIA looking for him and a massive award on his head, bin Laden realistically didn’t have the capability to micro manage al-Qaeda operations. Therefore it is unlikely that the killing of bin Laden will dramatically reduce the threat from al-Qaeda in the short term.
Stepping back for a moment, it is also important to note that the very nature and organization of al-Qaeda remains very much in question. There are some analysts that question whether al-Qaeda is as organized as is often portrayed by the press. In fact, as Marc Sagemen, a former CIA agent based in Islamabad, and author of Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, wrote:
“There is no umbrella organization. We like to create a mythical entity called al-Qaeda in our minds, but that is not the reality we are dealing with.”
This is a controversial position and is widely disputed, but the reality is that al-Qaeda is most certainly not organized akin to a Western criminal organization with specific command and control functions.
To this point, as of 2004 it was estimated that almost two-thirds of the senior leadership of al-Qaeda had either been captured or killed. If this were a typical American crime family, it would be safe to assume the family would be out of business. This has not been the case for al-Qeada. In fact, the July 2005 London bombings purportedly occurred without specific leadership from abroad. Conversely, the 2009 plot by three Londoners to detonate seven bombs on airliners bound for North America was tied directly to al-Qaeda. These actions suggest that al-Qaeda is alive and well despite this loss of “leadership.”
While al-Qaeda, as led by bin Laden, may have at a point in history provided funding or training for some of these groups, currently many them, as characterized by the 2005 London bombings, likely work largely independently. In fact, while bin Laden had at one time bankrolled al-Qaeda, his ability over the past decade to do so was limited by the fact that he was cut off from the family fortune; and even if he still had some independent wealth, moving those funds would have likely given U.S. operatives information as to his whereabouts.
Conceptually, Bin Laden’s key role over the past decade seemed to have been to fan the flames of discord against the United States, and the Western world generally. In this effort, he was certainly successful and the al-Qaeda network will likely need to fill this vacuum.
Ultimately, the real legacy of Bin Laden is the hundreds of thousands of operatives that have been trained in al-Qaeda terrorist camps. In fact, Gary Bernsten, a former senior ranking CIA official, and author of Jawbreaker, has estimated this number to be as high as 800,000. Despite the death of bin Laden, this large group of like-minded Islamic terrorists continues to exist.
It is also important to note that, based on the evidence, al-Qaeda activities are typically planned years in advance of when they are actually intended to occur. Therefore even if bin Laden were more directly involved in orchestrating broader terrorist activities of the al-Qaeda network then we believe he was, it is still not likely that any potential attacks currently in the pipeline would necessarily be thrown off course. The primary example of this process is the September 11th attacks in the United States. According to reports, the idea for these attacks was germinated in 1996 and planning began in 1998, which was a full three years before they occurred.
Not surprisingly, equity markets, as a proxy of investors’ propensity to accept more risk, have completely shaken off any potential positive impact of bin Laden’s death. This is partially because of the points outlined above, which suggest that killing bin Laden likely won’t halt terrorist activity in the intermediate term, but also because there is real potential that bin Laden’s death accelerates terrorist activity on the basis of avenging bin Laden. In fact, Hamas earlier today started stirring such emotions by stating the following in a press release:
“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs."
We certainly won’t suggest that the world is not a better place with the death of bin Laden, but it is not quite clear that is a safer place, or that geopolitical risk premiums should be reset lower as a result. While the head of the serpent has been cut off, the snake is still very much alive and remains poised to strike.
Daryl G. Jones
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