Golden Handcuffs

This note was originally published at 8am on November 01, 2011. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.

“You know what it is? It is a golden handcuff, with the keys thrown away.”

-O. Henry

Keith and I are in San Francisco with our colleague, and one of the top young institutional salesmen in the business, Bill LeClerc, visiting some of our current and prospective subscribers. (We may also stop by the Googleplex for a quick game of roller hockey if Sergey and Larry accept the Hedgeye challenge.)  Having covered technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I know full well that there is something special about San Francisco, and I’m reminded of that on every visit.

Coincident with this visit, I’ve also been reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson.  The story of Steve Jobs, and the creation of Apple Computer, is, in many ways, emblematic of the last thirty some years of business history in Silicon Valley.  Plenty of time has been spent rehashing Jobs’ incredible career and personal quirks, but I wanted to highlight one interesting quote from the book, which is as follows:

“Rod Holt, who had built the power supply, was getting a lot options and tried to turn Jobs around.  “We have to do something for your buddy Daniel, he said, and he suggested they each give him some their own options. “Whatever you give him, I will match it,” said Holt.  Replied Jobs, “I will give him zero.”

Now, I’m not about to psychoanalyze Steve Jobs, but I did find this excerpt interesting.  The Daniel in question, was Daniel Kottke, who was a college friend of Jobs and one of the first employees of Apple.  Unfortunately, Kottke wasn’t a high-enough level employee to be cut in on the option pool pre-IPO and Jobs, in a very dispassionate manner, wasn’t willing to make a “charitable” exception.  To Jobs, it seems, there were no free lunches.

Like global macro markets, Steve Jobs waited for no one.  At times Job’s personal drive was seen as extreme and insensitive, yet his success in innovation is difficult to compare.  As is widely known, Jobs was Buddhist, a long time vegetarian, and for much of his early career only showered once a week.  Despite these somewhat “liberal” tendencies, he created all of his businesses without the Golden Handcuffs of government intervention.

This morning we are seeing the downside of reliance on the Golden Handcuffs of government intervention.  Currently, major European equity markets are down across the board from -2.5% to -4.0%.  Leading the charge are Italian and Greek stock markets, down -5% and -6%, respectively. In terms of sectors, the European banking sector is at the forefront to the downside, with the major French banks down close to -10% across the board.

Certainly, this is crazy equity price action given that it seems like just yesterday that Europe was bailed out and saved from the sovereign debt contagion.  Well, actually it literally was yesterday, or at least late last week.  From the outset, we were suspicious of the Bazooka press release.  As Keith wrote last Thursday:

“In the end (and, in the end, this will not end well), I don’t think this concept of Bazooka Light will make a lot of sense to anyone who takes a deep breath and actually reads what it implies.

The timing and size obviously matter – but the timing (end of November? is subject to a hefty political debate) and the size is basically whatever the Europeans want the media to buy into the headline being.”

This morning the key question seems to relate to timing as there is news out that the Greeks will hold a referendum on the EU debt deal, most likely in the December / January time frame – along with a confidence vote on the government in the coming days.  It seems the Greek people, who according to reports yesterday have more Porsche Cayenne’s registered than tax payers making over $50,000 per year, want to take their time and think about the bailout.  Personally, I would probably want to think about the Golden Handcuffs before I put them on as well.  But as I noted above, global macro markets wait for no one.

In the Chart of the Day below, we’ve also flagged the widening spreads between Italian government bonds and similar duration German Bunds.  As of this morning, this spread is literally as wide as it has ever been.  Certainly, Greece is one thing, but Italy is the eighth largest economy in the world with debt-to-GDP at north of 120%.  Unfortunately, for those looking for good news, this widening of Italian yields is signaling that things are going to get worse before they get better in Italy.

To add insult to injury, we are receiving PMI measures this morning that are foreshadowing a further deceleration of growth in Europe. Specifically, Chinese PMI for October came in at 50.4 versus the estimate of 51.8 and U.K. PMI came in at 47.4 versus the estimate of 50.0.  Tomorrow morning, the rest of European PMIs are released. Stay tuned.

Mr. Draghi, welcome to the ECB!

Keep your head up and stick on the ice,

Daryl G. Jones

Director of Research

Golden Handcuffs - Chart of the Day

Golden Handcuffs - Virtual Portfolio