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Eye On India: We Remain Bearish...

EYE ON INDIA: INFLATION
Wholesale Inflation continues to fall as fast as it rose last year…

Weekly WPI data released by the Ministry of Commerce and industry yesterday arrived at 5.28% -down from last week’s 5.91%, signaling that the trajectory of falling inflation on the subcontinent has yet to change.

The real test for the coming weeks is whether WPI declines will taper off in reaction to the relative buoyancy of several key commodities in recent weeks. The wholesale price index, represents a basket of 447 items within the three sub-indices; manufactured goods, accounting for 63.7%, primary articles at 22%, and food and energy at 14.2%. Plainly speaking, if metal and energy products begin to show signs that they are finding their feet but the corresponding WPI inputs continue to fall off it will quickly become clear how significant a factor domestic demand contraction is.

Part of our India thesis has always been that the majority of the population there, particularly the rural poor who did not share in the prosperity of the recent decade, will be unable to make up for cooling external demand nor do we believe that any public works projects or other measures enacted by Prime Minister Singh’s government will be enough to stem the tide. The reversal of foreign investment, the decrease in equity issuance and a massive national deficit will neuter any impact of the second monetary and fiscal stimulus package announced on January 2nd.

As always however, we are data dependent and stick to our process: If the data suggest that the stimulus is working then we will we rethink our stance. We Shorted IFN into strength on Tuesday and again today. For the time being, we continue to see the Indian economy as one of the weakest hands at the table among the major Asian economies.

Andrew Barber
Director

The Consumer's Expectations Continue to Side With a Better Obamerica!

The Lehman, I mean Barclays, “economist’ was on Bloomberg TV the other day talking about the “conference board’s” lows in consumer sentiment. This consensus is not only pervasive, but its inaccurate.

At 61.9 for January, this morning’s Michigan Consumer Confidence survey came in better, yet again, on a month to month basis (see chart). Consumer confidence in this country has been improving right alongside the timing of Obama’s Presidential victory and the “re-flation” of the US stock market from its November 20th low.

Stock markets are the most stealth leading economic indicators we follow. The US stock market is up +13% from its freak-out lows. China and Brazil continue to make higher lows on selloffs – there is leadership in this world, you just have to look beyond Citigroup’s boardroom to find it. In the face of this Crisis of Credibility, what Americans need most isn’t another bailout – been there done that. All they need is the confidence to entrust their life savings with the financial system. This morning’s report is one more step in a better than bad direction toward that goal.

Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer

Sully's Don't Crash

Sully's Don't Crash - asset allocation011609

“I’ll study and get ready… and then, the chance will come.”
-Abraham Lincoln

“Sully” Sullenberger was the pilot of US Airways flight 1549. Sully is what America has always been about – achieving greatness when faced with the darkness of adversity. Make no mistake, this Californian proactively prepared for the risks associated with flying. In fact, he did so for 40 years -  a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Sully served as an instructor and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) safety chairman, accident investigator, and national technical committee member. As the reactive investment bankers of horse and buggy whip thought processes past were crashing on Wall Street yesterday afternoon, Sully was landing safely just down the river.

At lunchtime yesterday, while Sully was going through the paces of his pre-flight process, the SP500 was credibly signaling a potential crash. As the US market broke down through what I had in my model as a 2 standard deviation 1 week move, trading down intraday to 818, my Partner, Todd Jordan asked me what I thought. With the SP500 -13% lower than where it had traded just one week ago, I said “Todd, if this market closes here, the only thing we have left is hope.” Todd said, well that’s not good, “because hope is not a process.” I agreed.

Hope is not an investment process, but that does not mean that it ceases to exist. When managing risk, you have to always consider both what no one thinks can happen and what people hope will happen. That’s the only objective way to move forward  - because no matter where stock market prices go, there you are.

With the SP500 breaking through my 825 level, I immediately ran the math on a 3 standard deviation move, and sent an intraday note to our Macro clients flashing that crash level being in play down at the 776 line. While that was only -5% lower versus where we were trading, it was a full -18% lower than where those late to the 1st Obama December rally got piggy chasing in the first week of January. Was 776 probable? All prices are – and having seen the financials (XLF) already having crashed in 2009 to date, I was very much worried.

In addition to my SP500 red alert, my other 2 macro lines in the sand (VIX 54.86, Gold $809/oz) were under assault. I haven’t been glued to my screens like I was staring at them yesterday since September. The big difference between January 15th and September, of course, was that I was no longer 96% in cash. If we broke, I was going to feel it, big time.

Fortunately, Sully landed the plane, and everyone survived. Metaphorically, into the close the SP500 felt like it was rising as fast as that plane was coming down. The VIX backed off my line, and gold revived itself. This morning the VIX is at 51 and gold trading comfortably above support at $824/oz. I feel better, because on the margin, I couldn’t have felt worse.

Is it tough waking up trying to call global markets every day? You bet your Madoff it is. When I was growing up, I always wondered what my Dad must be thinking when he was waking up for his 6am shift. He is a professional firefighter, and his priority is to serve and protect – while I never thought our careers would be similar, I guess I should always remind myself to never say never.

I haven’t been paid Wall Street compensation in the last 6 months, but I certainly feel blessed with the life lessons of accountability and responsibility. When I wake up today, I feel like some people depend on me to manage risk. Even if I am not the “smartest” man on Wall Street, and if only I do this for a certain few, I feel like I am doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing when nobody is looking is what “Sully” was doing. On one shiveringly cold New York City afternoon, his blue skies turned dark – but he didn’t panic - he didn’t dial in for a bailout either. He just did what he proactively prepared himself to do, and he executed. After the plane landed, he walked the plane, end to end, twice – just to make sure everyone was safe… that’s the kind of American I can trust in.

The #1 and #2 read stories on Bloomberg this morning are about planes that crashed – Bank of America and Citigroup. These two Destroyers of Capital are finally on the tape this morning with some of the worst numbers that you’re ever going to see. Pandit and Lewis have managed through this crisis as close to the antithesis as Sully’s process gets. Is this a surprise? No. This is what Wall Street groupthink trained these men to do. There never was a proactive risk management plan – and now Americans have to bail them out, or we are all going down hard.

On July 11th 2008, I wrote an Early Look titled “What Is  A Crash.” At the time, I took a lot of heat from people who I thought were my friends in this business – and in hindsight it all makes sense. A crash is what happens when something happens that no one can afford to predict. Never forget that most of Wall Street is a compensation structure – because the Street can’t afford to agree that the “improbable” is probable, doesn’t make their thought process right. When faced with the reality of the improbable occurring, people and compensation structures crash.

Other than Investment Banking Inc. having crashed, the Russians are crashing. As hard as it may be to swallow those two considerations in the same sentence, it remains The New Reality of 2009. Amidst a global re-flation of stocks worldwide this morning, there is only one market that is threatening to make lower lows, and that’s the Russian Trading System. Alongside the ruble having crashed (down -27% since oil peaked) at 566, the RTSE is testing its October 24th freak-out low of 549. Yes, America’s stock market narrowly avoided another crash versus expectations yesterday, but the XLF etf and RTSI index have not.

Meanwhile the Chinese stock market is up +5% in the last three days, making a bid for another breakout to new 3-mth cycle highs, and so are stocks on the Bovespa in Brazil, which close up another +3.1% yesterday.

Around the world, uncorrelated performance is manifesting itself across sectors and styles. If you are buying into the horse and buggy whip old boy network models of zero transparency and accountability past, I am proactively predicting that you will crash. If you are buying American - “Sully” style - you should be proud of what you own, and smiling as we head into Obama’s Presidency Day weekend.

KM

Sully's Don't Crash - etfs011609

 


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UPSCALE STEAK SEGMENT FELL OFF A CLIFF IN 4Q

Earlier this week, PFCB’s Co-CEO Bert Vivian said that investors should not be surprised by comparable store sales results like the one reported by RUTH. On Monday, RUTH reported that its 4Q08 same-store sales declined 18.5%. Today, we learned that there is truth to Bert’s comment because RUTH just reported that the entire upscale steak segment experienced a 17.4% same-store sales decline in the fourth quarter, as measured by Knapp Track data. This significant 4Q decline compares to a 5.7% decline in 1Q08, a 6.0% decline in 2Q and a 7.9% decline in 3Q. Specifically, RUTH said that California’s results were in line with the system average but that Florida continued to underperform. We will have to wait to see if Bert’s comments about 1Q will hold true as well… “During the fourth quarter, particularly in December, people had a reason to go out shopping. When people are out, they occasionally also go out to eat. We see no reason for people to go out in 1Q. It is going to be a cold 1Q in retail and restaurants. There is nothing to change people’s behaviors in the next few months.” Please refer to my January 13 post titled “PFCB - New Co-CEO Provides a Dire Outlook for Casual Dining” for more of Bert Vivian’s colorful commentary on business trends.

WRC: Got Transparency?

I was sitting here listening to Warnaco's presentation at the ICR conference. I was stunned and amazed by the simple fact that the company did not issue a positive preannouncement, and then started off by saying (I am paraphrasing) "Our books are not closed yet, but December comps came in strong and we're pleased with our performance."

Note to management -- the people that did not have the chance to ambush you in the hallway at this event would have loved to get this little nugget as well and capture the subsequent 18% move in the stock.

Come on guys... how 'bout some accountability and transparency here???

Obamerica: STIMULUS!

Obamerica: STIMULUS!

Following a number of weeks of discussions with President Elect Obama and his aides, House Democrats introduced their stimulus bill, The American Recovery and Investment Bill of 2009, which is large and broad based. The bill totals $825BN, which is comprised of $550BN in spending and $275BN in tax cuts.

The key components of the bill are as follows:

(1) $90 billion for national infrastructure investments

(2) $140 billion allocated to states to primarily spend on education improvements

(3) $66 billion in benefits for the unemployed, which is a combination of COBRA extension and general benefits extension

(4) $20 billion to provide nutrition assistance to low income families

(5) Tax cuts that would comprise of $500 per individual and families of up to $1,000 through a cut in payroll taxes

Interestingly, which we totally applaud, the bill is being framed with a component of accountability and transparency with the creation of seven member accountability board (comprised of the Inspector General and Deputy Cabinet secretaries) and a public website that will show how all the funds are awarded and spent.

Initial comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggests that they believe the bill will be passed by early February. Although House Republicans responded immediately calling the plan “disappointing”. Specifically, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “The plan was developed with no Republican input and appears to be grounded in the flawed notion that we can simply borrow and spend our way back to prosperity.”

The Republican response isn’t surprising given the politicized nature of Washington. Interestingly, we are picking up in the blogosphere that President Elect Obama may have the river card in the way of one John McCain, who we are hearing may come out loudly supporting the plan in order to push it through congress.

Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director

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