"Never mistake a clear view for a short distance"
~ Paul Saffo
As we push this puck over the goal line into another solid quarter end, we'll have plenty of math to reflect upon this evening. Winners and losers for both the month of March and 2009 YTD will no longer be a trivial exercise. Some people missed stuff - some people nailed stuff - it's all cool.
By some market strategist counts, 3-months is not a very long time - particularly for not so cool horse and buggy whip Street savants who still profess the US centric mantra of "stocks for the long run."
What is the long run these days anyway? Is it what it used to be? Is it what the asset manager whose objective is having money to manage needs the client to think? Or is investment duration what the client decides?
I have a sneaking suspicion that most Americans invested in, say, the Dow or the SP500 index funds are starting to generate different views to Wall Street's answers on some of the aforementioned questions. The New Reality is that all of the received wisdom of managing risk and portfolio diversification will continue to be challenged. Losing other people's money isn't cool.
Despite yesterday's -3.5% correction, the SP500 is still +7% for March-to-date, and +16.4% from the March 9th low. After seeing the SP500 down -11% in February, plenty of investors rightly ran for the exits. All the while, those who were diversified across countries, currencies, and commodities stayed cool.
Staying cool? Isn't this the Great Depression? While that definitely turned into the crutch for those who were YouTubed as destroyers of capital, making up narrative fallacies for their incompetency, isn't cool. In 2009, there have been many meaningful reflation TRADES to capitalize on.
In USD terms, let's look at some YTD performance:
1. China +30%
2. Russia +10%
3. Copper +27%
4. Oil +9%
5. Gold +5%
I know, I know... up until say 18 months ago, a lot of "smart" people in this business proclaimed to me that global macro wasn't a place where you "could get edge"... While I acknowledge that some of this industry's insecure only feel warm and fuzzy about buying something after having a "one on one" with a corporate executive who gives them "body language" on the upcoming quarter - that isn't cool.
Does the client understand that there are problems associated with that investment plan when the CEO or CFO across the table from you doesn't do global macro either?
You see, there is no received wisdom in doing "one on one's" with companies who have less of a clue than you do about global macro. Acting on what they think is not an investment process. That's called a hope and a prayer, and it ain't cool.
As an investor who has made plenty of mistakes in my career, I have learned one thing - evolve. If I don't, someone will be more right than me every day - and I really don't like that. The New Reality is that global macro is cool. Across asset classes, global markets have revealed themselves as being as interconnected across a multiple of interacting fundamental factors as they have ever been. Mathematicians call this chaos theory. Einstein would call this cool.
Cool is one of my favorite words. Cool is having a 17-month old son with big teeth and crazy curly hair. Cool is what having positive absolute performance in our Asset Allocation Portfolio in February, March, and 2009 YTD is (it also lets my wife tolerate my work hours!). Cool is being able to tell our clients that we can quantify solving for alpha in 2009 to-date. Cool is understanding that we don't have to be professional "one on one" meeting organizers to earn a client's respect.
Cool isn't what Larry Kudlow does every night in this country. Kudlow was calling the US Dollar being up yesterday a "mustard seed"?? Last night he said the US Dollar has had a great move in the last 2 weeks - notwithstanding that checking the replay reminds us that within his stated duration was the worst down move in the US Dollar index EVER (that's why stocks went up Larry, fyi), what are investors and our hard working American families to do with this received wisdom? Just turn it off... being politically polarized and sloppy stating your gospel as fact ain't cool any more Larry...
The New Reality is all about evolution. Tonight, as we reflect upon the macro TREND of 2009 (US Dollar UP = US Stocks DOWN), I can only hope that Larry and his reckless entertainers over at CNBC correct their mistakes, review their performance in the last month, quarter, and year to-date, and hold themselves accountable.
Hope, unfortunately, is not an investment process... but man would that be something that's really cool for all Americans who were sold on the "stocks for the long run" by Kudlow and Co. to see.
From yesterdays SP500 close of 787, my immediate term risk versus reward for the US market is -3%/+2% (SPX 763 and 802).
RSX - Market Vectors Russia-The Russian macro fundamentals line up with our quantitative view on a TREND duration. Oil has benefited from the breakdown of the USD, which has buoyed the commodity levered economy. We're seeing the Ruble stabilize and are bullish Russia's decision to mark prices to market, which has allowed it to purge its ills earlier in the financial crisis cycle via a quicker decline in asset prices. Russia recognizes the important of THE client, China, and its oil agreement in February with China in return for a loan of $25 Billion will help recapitalize two of the country's important energy producers and suppliers.
QQQQ - PowerShares NASDAQ 100 - We bought QQQQ on Wednesday (3/25) on the pullback. We believe the NASDAQ has moved into a very bullish tradable range and is breaking out from an intermediate TREND perspective alongside the more Tech specific XLK etf.
USO - Oil Fund- We bought oil on Wednesday (3/25) for a TRADE and are positive on the commodity from a TREND perspective. With the uptick of volatility in the contango, we're buying the curve with USO rather than the front month contract.
EWC - iShares Canada-We bought Canada on Friday (3/20) into the selloff. We want to own what THE client (China) needs, namely commodities, as China builds out its infrastructure. Canada will benefit from commodity reflation, especially as the USD breaks down. We're net positive Harper's leadership, which diverges from Canada's large government recent history, and believe next year's Olympics in resource rich Vancouver should provide a positive catalyst for investors to get long the country.
DJP - iPath Dow Jones-AIG Commodity -With the USD breaking down we want to be long commodity re-flation. DJP broadens our asset class allocation beyond oil and gold.
XLK - SPDR Technology-Technology looks positive on a TRADE and TREND basis. Fundamentally, the sector has shown signs of stabilization over the last several weeks. Semiconductor stocks, which are early cycle, have provided numerous positive data points on the back of destocking in the channel and overall end demand appears to be stabilizing. Software earnings from ADBE and ORCL were less than toxic this week and point to a "less bad" environment. As the world stabilizes, M&A should pick up given cash rich balance sheets in this sector and an IBM/JAVA transaction may well prove the catalyst to get things going.
EWA - iShares Australia-EWA has a nice dividend yield of 7.54% on the trailing 12-months. With interest rates at 3.25% (further room to stimulate) and a $26.5BN stimulus package in place, plus a commodity based economy with proximity to China's H1 reacceleration, there are a lot of ways to win being long Australia.
GLD - SPDR Gold- We bought gold on a down day. We believe gold will re-assert its bullish TREND.
DVY - Dow Jones Select Dividend -We like DVY's high dividend yield of 5.85%.
UUP - U.S. Dollar Index - We believe that the US Dollar is the leading indicator for the US stock market. In the immediate term, what is bad for the US Dollar should be good for the stock market. The Euro is up versus the USD at $1.3283. The USD is up versus the Yen at 98.3150 and down versus the Pound at $1.4274 as of 6am today.
XLI - SPDR Industrials- We shorted XLI on 3/26; industrials remain broken on a TREND basis.
EWL - iShares Switzerland - We shorted Switzerland for a TRADE on an up move Wednesday (3/25) and believe the country offers a good opportunity to get in on the short side of Western Europe, and in particular European financials. Switzerland has nearly run out of room to cut its interest rate and due to the country's reliance on the financial sector is in a favorable trading range. Increasingly Swiss banks are being forced by governments to reveal their customers, thereby reducing the incentive of Switzerland as a tax-free haven.
LQD - iShares Corporate Bonds- Corporate bonds have had a huge move off their 2008 lows and we expect with the eventual rising of interest rates in the back half of 2009 that bonds will give some of that move back. Moody's estimates US corporate bond default rates to climb to 15.1% in 2009, up from a previous 2009 estimate of 10.4%.
EWJ - iShares Japan - Into the strength associated with the recent market squeeze, we re-shorted the Japanese equity market rally via EWJ. This is a tactical short; we expect the market there to pull back when reality sinks in over the coming weeks. Japan has experienced major GDP contraction-it dropped 3.2% in Q4 '08 on a quarterly basis, and we see no catalyst for growth to return this year. We believe the BOJ's recent program to provide $10 Billion in loans to repair banks' capital ratios and a plan to combat rising yields by buying treasuries are at best a "band aid".
DIA -Diamonds Trust-We shorted the DJIA on Friday (3/13) and Tuesday (3/24).
EWW - iShares Mexico- We're short Mexico due in part to the country's dependence on export revenues from one monopolistic oil company, PEMEX. Mexican oil exports contribute significantly to the country's total export revenue and PEMEX pays a sizable percentage of taxes and royalties to the federal government's budget. This relationship is unstable due to the volatility of oil prices, the inability of PEMEX to pay down its debt, and the fact that PEMEX's crude oil production has been in decline since 2004 and is down 10% YTD. Additionally, the potential geo-political risks associated with the burgeoning power of regional drug lords signals that the country's economy is under serious duress.
FN -The India Fund- We have had a consistently negative bias on Indian equities since we launched the firm early last year. We believe the growth story of "Chindia" is dead. We contest that the Indian population, grappling with rampant poverty, a class divide, and poor health and education services, will not be able to sustain internal consumption levels sufficient to meet targeted growth level. Other negative trends we've followed include: the reversal of foreign investment, the decrease in equity issuance, and a massive national deficit. Trade data for February paints a grim picture with exports declining by 15.87% Y/Y and imports sliding by 18.22%.
XLP - SPDR Consumer Staples- This group is low beta and won't perform like Tech and Basic Materials do on market up days. There is a lot of currency and demand risk embedded in the P&L's of some of the large consumer staple multi-nationals; particularly in Latin America, Europe, and Japan.
SHY - iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bonds- On 2/26 we witnessed 2-Year Treasuries climb 10 bps to 1.09%. Anywhere north of +0.97% moves the bonds that trade on those yields into a negative intermediate "Trend." If you pull up a three year chart of 2-Year Treasuries you'll see the massive macro Trend of interest rates starting to move in the opposite direction. We call this chart the "Queen Mary" and its new-found positive slope means that America's cost of capital will start to go up, implying that access to capital will tighten. Yield is inversely correlated to bond price, so the rising yield is bearish for Treasuries.
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Hotel ADRs are starting to crash. That’s bad for margins, EBITDA, and earnings. A dollar RevPAR decline due to ADR is obviously much more detrimental to margins and EBITDA than from occupancy. Room rate declines drop right to the bottom line. Street estimates need to come down for HOT, MAR, HST, and most of the rest of the sector. The 2009 “trough year” thesis should be discarded, particularly after the recent 30%+ move in lodging stocks over the past month. We believe 2010 will fall significantly short of 2009 in terms of sector EBITDA and earnings. In contrast, the Street is still projecting generally flat EBITDA.
In a sort of perverse way, the downward move in rates could expedite the beginning of the trading cycle in the stocks. Historically, lodging stocks do not sustain rallies until occupancy stabilizes. At that point in the cycle it ceases to be a numbers game. Earnings still decline as rates continue to fall. However, the inflection point indicates that the cycle is troughing, earnings, while lower, become more predictable and investors can see the light at the end of the tunnel. As can be seen from the charts below, ADR change exceeds occupancy change at the bottom of the cycle. That appears to be where we are heading.
Before the bulls get too excited, they need to realize that we are not there yet. In this cycle, rates may fall farther, estimates need to come down, and the stocks probably need to approach valuation support at lower levels.
I have been seeing/hearing a lot of “technical” notes/noise today. What that generally means is that people are in trouble, looking for a lifeline. So, be patient … and you’ll get your price.
In this morning’s Early Look, I issued 2 levels of immediate term TRADE support (801 and 760). Since that dotted red line in the chart below was broken to the downside (801), I have done nothing but sell. I think you’re going to get paid to wait for the 755-763 range that I have outlined in green below. That’s my new buy/cover range in what is turning into a very trade-able range bound market.
The US Dollar is up again today – that’s bad for the US stock market. The USD runs into immediate term resistance at 86.46, and is bumping up against the 86 line here intraday. If I see a VIX over 47, the USD pushing up at 86.50, and the SP500 at 760, you can proactively predict what I’ll be doing – buying/covering.
This is a Bear Market, and it should be proactively managed accordingly.
Keith R. McCullough
CEO & Chief Investment Officer
The reaction to today’s production data release by the Ministry of Trade was an exercise in the spin process as the glass-half-full crowd took heart from a modest month-over-month sequential improvement to -9.37% coupled with a 4.2% decline in inventory levels –the thesis being that this was signaling a potential bottom.
We are unconvinced. Although declining inventories are clearly a positive signal for the drowning exporters, the data breakout showed little relief for the beleaguered automotive and consumer electronics sector as production declines in those spaces exceeded 50% on a year-over-year basis.
Our investment thesis in Japan remains unchanged: we still see Yen devaluation as the only potential driver for any near term recovery. Our short position in EWJ was initially caught flat footed as we put on the first leg in the face of the BOJ stimulus measures, which drove the Yen lower than we had anticipated. After selling a second leg into strength last week we are now close to flat on the position.
We continue to remain negative on Japan, and view it as a debt laden hostage to external demand. We will continue to adjust are portfolio opportunistically based on tactical factors, but our long term view remains decidedly glass-half-empty.
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