"Everything has its limit - iron ore cannot be educated into gold." -Mark Twain
"We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a dual, and looked at each other for the last time." -Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Keith and I were on the road this week and had some of the most interesting conversation we've had since I joined the firm nine months ago and we started accepting macro clients. Two key areas of discussion were the US Dollar and interest rates. On the former, the discussion centered around whether this "dollar crisis", as we are calling it, is really anything more than a trade into more risky assets globally. That is, investors are just selling the safe haven US dollar and shifting into riskier asset classes like emerging market and small capitalization equities.
The second debate centered around the next move of the Federal Reserve. The most contrarian point we heard was that the Fed may not raise rates for more than a year and a half from now.
As in the Mark Twain quote above, everything has its limits, even the US dollar. With the US dollar down dramatically in the last 3-months and the U.S. stock market one of the worst performing global equity indexes, the facts clearly suggest that what is going on globally is a vote against the U.S. economic system. That statement may sound unpatriotic, but it is simply a fact.
While we have seen the appetite for risk assets increase over the past couple months, it is difficult to attribute the decline in the U.S. dollar to this asset shift. There is clearly something else going on as investors have been buying gold in that period as we outline in the chart below, which is considers a safe haven in periods of heightened risk. In fact, global political rhetoric is almost as much evidence as we need to convince ourselves this is not the case. Over the past few days, there have been some public statements by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in particular, which highlight this point. His quotes are below:
"The dollar is not in a spectacular position, let's be frank, and its prospects cause various questions as do the prospects for the global currency system.''
And as it relates to a new global currency Medvedev said:
"This idea has potential, even though some of my G-20 colleagues aren't actively discussing it at the moment. However, for example, in the opinion of our Chinese colleagues it is quite a possible step. The most important thing is not to walk away from discussions on this topic.''
In the last statement, Medvedev is obviously appealing to The Client (China), who have voiced similar concerns as recently as this week with Treasury Secretary Geithner's visit to China. Over the past 9 - 12 months this call by the Chinese has been getting louder and louder. In a April 17th note entitled, "Is China Advocating for the Bancor?", we quoted Dr. Zhou Ziaochuan, a primary player in determining Chinese fiscal policy, who wrote the following in an essay:
"Though the super-sovereign reserve currency has long since been proposed, yet no substantive progress has been achieved to date. Back in the 1940s, Keynes had already proposed to introduce an international currency unit named "Bancor", based on the value of 30 representative commodities. Unfortunately, the proposal was not accepted. (Emphasis is Research Edge's.)"
We can theorize about why the dollar is crashing and whether it is a crisis or not, but I don't think any of us can ignore the drum beat of the people that are buying US dollars and Treasuries. A key catalyst in this political rhetoric will occur on June 16th, when Russia meets with Brazil, India, and China in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, which is in the Ural Mountains. The Russians and Chinese have already played their cards and they will only turn up the volume on the rhetoric during and post this conference and encouraging their Indian and Brazilian "colleagues" to do the same.
Jack Kerouac, who is of course the famous beatnik author, wrote the line at the start of this note in his novel, On the Road; likely he did not intend that quote to be used as a euphemism for the global currency markets, but the quote is an apt description as any of the global currency dual that is going on. To consider this merely a shift to a higher risk assets, would be very shortsighted indeed.
We make our calls based on the facts in front of us and don't have a specific view on when rates will increase, but ultimately if the voices from abroad continue their heightened anti-dollar rhetoric this will also become a political issue in the U.S. Clearly, in the short term anyways, one of the quickest ways to strengthen the U.S. dollar is for the Fed to raise rates. To some extent, their hand will likely be forced on the inflation front in that regard as well. That is, if the U.S. dollar continues to break down, reflation will turn into inflation, and the Fed will start raising rates. As the yield curve is signaling (outlined in the chart below), this could happen much sooner than many equity investors expect. After all, as most global macro fundamental analysts already know, bond markets are not lagging indicators.
Daryl G. Jones
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Yes, the 345,000 print that the manic futures traders chased each other on was better than expected, but I don't think they could have had the time to model the number that matters here - the unemployment rate.
I was at 9.3% for the month and it came in even higher than that at 9.4% (consensus was 9.2%). I was at 9.3% because I thought that the sequential acceleration in the unemployment rate would stay at 40 basis points (month-over month). It shot above that to +50 basis points.
So THE point here is that the sequential rate of unemployment just RE-ACCELERATED!
Recall that one of the main tenets to our bullish bias for the last 3-months has been the (E - Employment) in our US Consumer MEGA Squeeze call. The call was based on the unemployment going up at a lesser rate - and that it did for the past few months...
That delta shifts back to the danger zone today. Sequential accelerations matter.
Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer
"He who will not economize will have to agonize."
Selling down my US Equity position in the Asset Allocation Model to zero looked smart Wednesday, and not so smart yesterday. Whether I'm right or wrong on this morning's unemployment report being worse than expectations won't really matter to our YTD absolute performance. A zero position implies no risk, if you're managing towards an absolute return that is...
Understanding (and respecting) that many investors get paid on a relative basis, having a zero position in an asset class does have repercussions. If the US stock market gets clocked this morning, zero exposure is a big win. If the market makes another higher high, a zero position is a big loser.
On an absolute basis, this week has been what I expected it to be - boring. Credit markets still look great, equity volatility remains relatively low, and the SP500 continues to trade within a very proactively predictable range.
Yesterday's SP500 closing price of 942 takes the week-to-date return to +2.5%, and I have missed all of it. Do I feel shame? Give me 2 more hours and a look-see at that US jobs report, and I'll let you know...
While yesterday's US stock market price recovery was impressive, it was to a lower high (prior closing high = 944) and it came on very light volume. Volume needs to confirm from here on up, and I haven't seen that this week.
I have a top to bottom intermediate term trading range in the SP500 of 83 points. That's roughly a 9% trading range, and no matter what this morning's economic data tells us, I think we'll trade within it. With the manic media perpetually trying to call bubbles and crashes, guess what? They're not going to happen today. They are in the rear view, so trade the range. I have immediate term TRADE resistance of 962 for the SP500 and downside support at 919. For today, that implies +2% reward versus -2.5% risk.
I don't manage a hedge fund anymore but, by training (myself), I am a risk manager. Every 90 minutes I refresh the prices in my macro models and have a view on risk/reward, trading ranges, volatility, calendar catalysts, correlations, etc...
One of the more impressive correlations we have observed in global macro as of late is the trading correlation between copper prices and the Shanghai Stock Exchange in China - it is 88%! This morning, that correlation busted apart. To be clear, it broke for a day... but, on the margin, this may start to matter.
We remain long China via the CAF, and while that closed end fund had a rock-star +7% day yesterday, the local Chinese market did not overnight. It wasn't down a ton, but the point was that it was down (-48 basis points) with A) Asia up and B) copper up ($2.31/lb, a new high).
I call this a negative divergence. Sometimes they matter, sometimes they don't. My job as a risk manager is to get on our Macro subscriber morning call at 830AM and flag, well... the yellow flags. This is a very simple process, but one that requires a tremendous amount of manual and mental discipline (i.e. you have to wake up at an un-Godly hour of the morning every day, and write down every single positive and negative divergence you see, across countries and asset classes, globally). I know, nice life.
Now I may not be as "smart" as Tan-gelo Mozilo, Bernie Madoff, or the voles that followed them right into swallowing their own tongues, but I am smart enough to not hit snooze in the mornings, on the off chance that I might find inside information within this global market of real-time insider trading. Someone on the inside always knows something, and I am tasked with reading into where they may be acting on it.
The most obvious market where I am seeing that people have inside information as of late is in the global currency market. Russian insiders know that Medvedev and Putin are going to amplify the anti-US Dollar rhetoric this weekend. They also know that the current correlation between a DOWN Dollar and the REFLATION trade remains very high. That's one of the main reasons why the Russian stock market (up +3.2% this morning taking YTD performance to +81%) and the commodity prices that underpin it are ripping higher again.
A Credibility Crisis in a currency can be perpetuated by heads of state. Trust what the marked-to-market prices are telling you on that, not Timmy Geithner. They call it the "Russian Davos" for a reason. Expect plenty of "Supranational Currency" headlines to hit this weekend as Putin Power Inc. hosts its version of an international economic summit in St. Petersburg.
All the while Germany's Angela Merkel will be explicitly taking President Obama to task today (he's in Dresden) on the American "skepticism" she discussed yesterday (she was referring to US monetary policy and the politicization of US Federal Reserve powers). Be sure to note that the Russian, Chinese, and even the Australians are supporting her message. US centric investor beware. This shift in global balance of economic power is real, and this is why my position... for now... in US Equities remains zero.
Enjoy the weekend with your families,
CAF - Morgan Stanley China Fund- A closed-end fund providing exposure to the Shanghai A share market, we use CAF tactically to ride the wave of returning confidence among domestic Chinese investors fed by the stimulus package. To date the Chinese have shown leadership and a proactive response to the global recession, and now their number one priority is to offset contracting external demand with domestic growth.
TIP- iShares TIPS - The iShares etf, TIP, which is 90% invested in the inflation protected sector of the US Treasury Market currently offers a compelling yield on TTM basis of 5.89%. We believe that future inflation expectations are currently mispriced and that TIPS are a compelling way to own yield on an inflation protected basis, especially in the context of our re-flation thesis.
GLD - SPDR GOLD -We bought more gold on 5/5. The inflation protection is what we're long here looking ahead 6-9 months. In the intermediate term, we like the safety trade too.
XLU - SPDR Utilities - As long term bond yields breakout to the upside, Utility investments are the relative yield loser. Utilities underperformed the market yesterday; we're still short.
EWW - iShares Mexico- We're short Mexico due in part to the repercussions of the media's manic Swine flu fear. The country's dependence on export revenues is decidedly bearish due to volatility of crude prices and when considering that the country's main oil producer, PEMEX, has substantial debt to pay down and its production capacity has declined since 2004. 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.
Ministry of Finance Enterprise Investment survey data released yesterday showed a decline of 25.33% Y/Y in investment by Japanese corporations in Q1 as the stagnation in primary industry has curtailed spending.
Last Friday we put up a note in which we argued that the optimism furled by a significant month-over-month sequential industrial production improvement in April
(interpreted as signaling a bottom by many, though not us) , did nothing to indicate that positive momentum was anywhere on the horizon. This new data point, while somewhat stale, continues to support our negative bias. With inventory stockpiles depleted through months of activity in some basic industry facets stretching back into Q4 09 it is still premature to categorize April production as a recovery signal without a sizeable corresponding uptick in investment or exports -neither of which has materialized.
South Korea in contrast, has begun to post improving capex figures. FKI investment survey data registered at -12% Y/Y for April and is forecast to be in single digits for May. South Korea's Q1 average investment level also sank below 20% Y/Y but, with a much more severely contracted credit market and a battered Won, the commitment to investment and improvement by corporate leaders there looks tenacious when compared to their Japanese competitors.
Economics 101 suggests that pulling investment during down cycles ultimately hampers recovery. For Japan's corporate leaders, with the "lost decade" still fresh in their minds, perhaps apathy has become normal.
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