“Two extremes: to exclude reason, to admit reason only.”
Blaise Pascal was one of the most influential mathematicians of the 17th century. He is most commonly known for his contributions to mechanical calculators, but his work on the arithmetic of triangles still finds its way into our investment meetings here in New Haven.
Pascal’s Triangle is of interest to risk managers because it really provides a basis for measuring probabilities. Our Gaming guru, Todd Jordan, doesn’t come down to my office to play online poker, but Pascal’s conclusions were actually born out of his friend’s interests in gambling problems.
Pascal died at the age of 39, but left this world “in search of the truth.” This, unfortunately, had him go off the deep end of religion from time to time, but at the end of the day, I do respect his quest for making people accountable using Geometry. I can’t imagine today’s Washington/Wall Street listening to him any more than they do Paul Volcker. Stick the math guys in the corner and let the storytelling politicians suck the oxygen out of the room.
The science of mathematics isn’t trivial. Whether it’s a Pascal binomial coefficient or today’s dominating global macro inverse correlation embedded in the price action of the US Dollar, it’s all one and the same. Impossible to refute, after the fact.
Friday’s smack down close of the SP500 (down -2.8% on the day) came on another breakout to the upside of the US Dollar above my immediate term TRADE line of $76.20. Call it alchemy. We math guys just call it the math. REFLATION trades led the market lower (Financials -4.7%, Basic Materials -3.6%).
On the week, the Bombed Out Buck closed UP for the first week in the last four. For the week, the US Dollar was up +1.1%, and virtually everything priced in Dollars was down. On a week-over-week basis, here was the math associated with giving the Buck a Bid:
1. SP500 -4%, Nasdaq -5.1%, Russell 2000 -6.3%
2. CRB Commodities Index -3.6% (Oil -4.3%, Copper -2.6%, Gold -1.5%)
3. Volatility (VIX) +38%!
Again, we know what happens when the US Dollar goes up. There is no need to be extreme about this in any way. Being too bullish when the Dollar is down can hurt you as much as being too bearish when the Dollar is up. We want to avoid being extreme Macro strategists right now. People who missed both the crash and the recovery are being plenty extreme enough. We simply want to watch the US Dollar and make risk management moves accordingly.
Some would argue that last week’s down move in the US stock market was extreme. The math supports that claim. It was the worst week for US equities since May. Others, who either “exclude reason” or “admit reason only”, will have you believe they timed this perfectly and have had this right all along.
Alan Abelson at Barron’s is a fantastic writer, but his extreme bearishness is as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Right on time, he titled his weekend missive “Going to Extremes”, and went on to quote one of the Depressionistas, David Rosenberg, saying things like “if companies, both financial and non-financial are big believers in this new post-recession V-shaped recovery that seems to have the hedge funds and most strategists so excited… why are they still cutting back…”
These guys are funny. They think that they are the only analysts of this American Gong Show to “admit reason.” Sorry guys, Howard Penney and I haven’t been extreme about anything other than not shorting the lows and getting suspiciously quiet at the YTD highs. Reasonable analysts understand that these GDP prints are not going to be sustainable. Your opinions are much further from unique as your missing a +62% stock market move was.
Another extreme view was issued this past week by Bill Gross at PIMCO. I have learned a great deal from this great investing mind over the course of my career, not the least of which is that great players can be wrong. Gross wrote, “my sense is that nominal GDP must show realistic signs of stabilizing near 4% before the Fed would be willing to raise rates.” How convenient for Gross – he runs some of the world’s largest bond funds!
Extreme and self perpetuating views fuel the art of writing about and managing money. After all, the art of managing money Mr. Gross, is having money to manage, right? Since Rosie, Abelson, and I will all agree with your view on the un-sustainability this US economic recovery, should we keep rates for our citizenry at ZERO and create the last mother-load of a bubble in US Treasuries? I’m sure your asset management fees will perform well in that scenario.
I don’t want to be on the sell side or the buy side of extremes unless extreme circumstances call for it (September 2008). Those extremes are usually revealed by the math. It doesn’t have to be Pascal’s, but I’ll surely ask for his model’s mathematical outputs before I start asking for those of perceived Wall Street sages.
In terms of US equities, I have maintained my low exposure. US Equities has the lowest invested exposure in our Asset Allocation Model at 6%. I am long US Healthcare (XLV) and Utilities (XLV), and short the higher beta Consumer Discretionary etf (XLY). I have immediate term TRADE levels for the SP500 of 1031 and 1065, respectively.
Best of luck out there this week,
EWZ – iShares Brazil — President Lula da Silva is the most economically effective of the populist Latin American leaders; on his watch policy makers have kept inflation at bay with a high rate policy and serviced debt –leading to an investment grade credit rating. Brazil has managed its interest rate to promote stimulus. Brazil is a major producer of commodities. We believe the country’s profile matches up well with our reflation call.
EWT – iShares Taiwan — With the introduction of “Panda Diplomacy” Taiwan has found itself growing closer to mainland China. Although the politics remain awkward, the business opportunities are massive and the private sector, now almost fully emerged from state dominance, has rushed to both service “the client” and to make capital investments there. With an export industry base heavily weighted towards technology and communications equipment, Taiwanese companies are in the right place at the right time to catch the wave of increased consumer spending spurred by Beijing’s massive stimulus package.
XLU – SPDR Utilities — We bought low beta Utilities on discount (down 1%) on 10/20. TRADE and TREND bearish.
FXC – CurrencyShares Canadian Dollar — We bought the Canadian Dollar on a big pullback on 10/20 and again on 10/28. The TREND and TAIL lines for the Canadian Dollar remain bullish.
EWG – iShares Germany — Chancellor Angela Merkel won reelection with her pro-business coalition partners the Free Democrats. We expect to see continued leadership from her team with a focus on economic growth, including tax cuts. We believe that Germany’s powerful manufacturing capacity remains a primary structural advantage; with fundamentals improving in a low CPI/interest rate environment, we expect slow but steady economic improvement from Europe’s largest economy.
GLD – SPDR Gold — We bought back our long standing bullish position on gold on a down day on 9/14 with the threat of US centric stagflation heightening.
XLV – SPDR Healthcare — We’re finally getting the correction we’ve been calling for in Healthcare. We like defensible growth with an M&A tailwind. Our Healthcare sector head Tom Tobin remains bullish on fading the “public plan” at a price.
CYB – WisdomTree Dreyfus Chinese Yuan — The Yuan is a managed floating currency that trades inside a 0.5% band around the official PBOC mark versus a FX basket. Not quite pegged, not truly floating; the speculative interest in the Yuan/USD forward market has increased dramatically in recent years. We trade the ETN CYB to take exposure to this managed currency in a managed economy hoping to manage our risk as the stimulus led recovery in China dominates global trade.
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. We believe that future inflation expectations are currently mispriced and that TIPS are a efficient way to own yield on an inflation protected basis, especially in the context of our re-flation thesis.
XLY – SPDR Consumer Discretionary — We shorted Howard Penney’s view on Consumer Discretionary stocks on 10/30. The sector is finally broken, from an immediate term TRADE perspective.
EWJ – iShares Japan — While a sweeping victory for the Democratic Party of Japan has ended over 50 years of rule by the LDP bringing some hope to voters; the new leadership appears, if anything, to have a less developed recovery plan than their predecessors. We view Japan as something of a Ponzi Economy -with a population maintaining very high savings rate whose nest eggs allow the government to borrow at ultra low interest levels in order to execute stimulus programs designed to encourage people to save less. This cycle of internal public debt accumulation (now hovering at close to 200% of GDP) is anchored to a vicious demographic curve that leaves the Japanese economy in the long-term position of a man treading water with a bowling ball in his hands.
UUP – PowerShares US Dollar — We re-shorted the US Dollar on strength on 10/20. It remains broken across all 3 investment durations and there is no government plan to support it.
FXB – CurrencyShares British Pound Sterling — The Pound is the only major currency that looks remotely as precarious as the US Dollar. We shorted the Pound into strength on 10/16.
SHY – iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bonds — 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. Yields are going to continue to make higher-highs and higher lows until consensus gets realistic.