Rome's Groupthink

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.”

-Cicero, 55 BC


Recently, our stealth Managing Director of Financials, Josh Steiner, sent me that quote with a simple note attached – “Keith, this adds about 3200 years to the 800 years of Reinhart/Rogoff data you have been beating into us.”


Now that Groupthink Inc is coming to realize that the impact of piling sovereign debt upon debt upon debt is bad, I suppose they’ll eventually get to the required reading (“This Time Is Different”, by Reinhart and Rogoff). But sometimes I wonder who actually reads anymore?


There is something about the “arrogance of officialdom” that is starting to make the modern day Rome of Perceived Financial Wisdom shake. Whether it be politicians on the Senate Banking Committee focusing more on their crackberry messages than Paul Volcker, or CNBC’s Larry Kudlow labeling his nightly editorial the “Money Politics Message”, it’s all mashing like potatoes into the same political trend of short-termism.


Yes, I read (roughly a book every 9-10 days), but I certainly don’t consider that a unique skill set. Maybe reading about risk management topics before the risks get baked into this completely politicized cake is the differentiator. I am not sure. I suppose all you need is an investment process that proactively calls out probable risks when Groupthink Inc considers them improbable. Staying ahead of this herd isn’t that hard.


Consider my former employer’s recent prognostication in Davos, Switzerland about emerging markets: “Emerging markets are the most attractive places to invest and rebounding more rapidly” –David Rubenstein, Co-Founder of The Carlyle Group.


Then consider what’s happened in the last 48 hours of global risk management. Then consider that Rubenstein is currently the President of The Economic Club of Washington, DC!


The “arrogance of this country’s officialdom” lacks fiduciary responsibility to the core. If some of these high ranking politicians or private equity men of Rome continue to be this incompetent in calling out macro market risks BEFORE they occur, what will become of Rome’s Groupthink?


Per my friends at Bloomberg, “emerging market equity funds lost $1.6B in weekly withdrawals” so far this week. That’s the biggest weekly outflow in 2 years. Again, because those who get paid to be willfully blind are ignoring the omnipresent global macro risk in the marketplace, doesn’t mean it ceases to exist. What happened yesterday wasn’t new. It was a continuation of more of the same.


So now that stocks in Greece have lost -35% of their value since October 14, 2009 and Spanish stocks have lost -18% of their value since January 6th, 2010, what is a risk manager to do this morning? Freak-out? Revert to Great Depression fear-mongering?


C’mon. Let’s get serious and keep taking advantage of the crisis that the arrogance of America’s officialdom continues to create. Let’s start with how we proactively positioned for this and look at our Asset Allocation Model:

  1. Cash = 52%
  2. International Currencies = 24%
  3. International Equities = 12%
  4. Bonds = 9%
  5. US Equities = 3%
  6. Commodities = 0%

No, I am not worried whatsoever about who manages how much, or whether or not they can manage real-time risk dynamically enough to get themselves in these positions. Being too big to move your asset allocation doesn’t make you too big to fail.


What moves did we make yesterday in order to set ourselves up for today?

  1. We covered our short position in US Equities (SPY)
  2. We covered our short positions in gold and oil (GLD and USO)
  3. We bought German and Brazilian Equities on weakness (EWG and EWZ)

What do we plan on doing next?

  1. Watch and wait for an opportunity to sell some US Dollars on strength (Buck Breakout has been our call for Q1)
  2. Watch and wait for Chinese equities to get washed out (Chinese Ox in a Box has been our call for Q1)
  3. Watch and wait for US Equity fire engine chasers to freak-out

The long term TAIL of bullish support for the SP500 is currently down at 976, and I have an immediate term support line at 1052. Please don’t let other people’s reactive behavior freak you out this morning. This is not going to be a crash like we called for in 2008. This is America, and finally we are going to rid ourselves of Rome’s Groupthink.


Best of luck out there today,






FXA – CurrencyShares Australia Dollar — Aussi Dollar bulls finally capitulated on the sell side on 2/4/10. We bought FXA as a long term TAIL idea that remains intact, at a price. Glenn Stevens remains our favorite central banker, globally.  


XLK – SPDR Technology — We bought back Tech after a healthy 2-day pullback on 1/7/10.


UUP – PowerShares US Dollar Index Fund — We bought the USD Fund on 1/4/10 as an explicit way to represent our Q1 2010 Macro Theme that we have labeled Buck Breakout (we were bearish on the USD in ’09).


EWG - iShares Germany — We added to our position in Germany on 2/4/10 on the bullish intermediate term TREND thesis Matt Hedrick maintains on Germany. We are short Russia and, from a European exposure perspective, like being long the lower beta DAX against the higher beta RTSI as well.  

EWZ - iShares Brazil — The long term TAIL of support for Brazil's Bovespa remains intact. We added to our position and bought EWZ on 2/4/10 on a -6.1% drop in the ETF, because the math is telling us to.

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 mispriced and that TIPS are a efficient way to own yield on an inflation protected basis.



EWW – iShares MexicoWe do not want to be net long Latin America (Brazil) anymore. Mexico short is a solid compliment to our short position on oil and our concerns about sovereign debt risks.


EWJ – iShares JapanWe shorted Japan on 2/2/10 after the Nikkei’s up move of +1.6%. Japan's sovereign debt problems make Greece's look benign.


UNG – United States Natural Gas FundMacro DJ (Daryl Jones) and I remain bearish on Commodities. Natural Gas had a healthy price pop on 2/1/10, prompting us to short it. 


XLE – SPDR EnergyThe Energy ETF was up +1.7% on 1/29/10 and we remain bearish on both oil and commodity prices for the intermediate term. Shorting green.


IEF – iShares 7-10 Year TreasuryOne of our Macro Themes for Q1 of 2010 is "Rate Run-up". Our bearish view on US Treasuries is implied.
RSX – Market Vectors Russia
We shorted Russia on 12/18/09 after a terrible unemployment report and an intermediate term TREND view of oil’s price that’s bearish. Russia’s GDP fell 7.9% in 2009.


EWJ - iShares JapanWhile 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.



Yesterday’s spectacular decline can be credited, in part, to the P.I.G.S. [Portugal, Ireland (or Italy or Iceland), Greece, and Spain] sovereign credit issues.  The accompanying dollar strength is exacerbating the pressure on commodities and stocks leveraged to the RECOVERY trade - a different kind of SWINE FLU!


Since the March 9, 2009 low there have only been three other days that the S&P 500 market has fallen 3% or more: 3/30, 4/20 and 6/22.  Yesterday’s 3.11% decline in the S&P 500 was a devastating blow to the internals of the market.  Volume accelerated by 39% day-over-day and the Advance-Decline number was -2582; you need to go back to 3/5 to see a number that bad.  Lastly, there are no sectors positive on TRADE and Healthcare (XLV) stands alone as the only sector positive on TREND.   


The pickup in the RISK AVERSION trade was evident with the dollar Index being up 0.78% yesterday.  The Hedgeye Risk Management model has levels for DXY at – buy Trade (79.03) and sell Trade (79.78).  Yesterday, VIX was blown out to the upside by 20.74%.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for VIX – buy Trade (22.26) and Sell Trade (27.08). 


Yesterday we did some buying/covering shorts.  We covered our short positions in the S&P 500 Gold and Oil.  Every short position has a time and a price where it’s immediate term oversold. We remain bearish on the SP500 from an intermediate term TREND perspective with resistance at 1,101.


China continues to be a MACRO headwind for stocks with the continued stories highlighting tighter credit conditions.


Another MACRO headwind was the initial jobless claims number, which came in significantly higher than expectations.  Initial unemployment Claims came in at 480,000 last week, up from 472,000 last week (revised up 2k).  The 4-week rolling average ticked up 12,000 to 469,000 from 457,000 last week. The improvement in this metric since March of last year has been tailwind for the equity market.  This metric raised some concerns about tomorrow's release of January nonfarm payrolls. 


The Financials were the worst performing sector yesterday, declining 4.3%.  After falling more than 2% on Wednesday, the banks group remained a source of funds with the BKX down 4.3%.  A number of Financials are struggling to find the post-crisis valuation level given the uncertainty of what the business models will look like post-regulation.  The regional banks also underperformed.  As our Financials analyst, Josh Steiner, noted yesterday the heightened employment concerns are a headwind for the financials, as the labor market recovery is a key component of future credit trends.


Rounding out the top three worst sectors were Energy (XLE) and Materials (XLB).  Obviously, the XLB and XLE are the two sectors with outsized exposure to RISK/RECOVERY/REFLATION trade.  The strength in the dollar and the continued removal of excess liquidity in China are the major macro-leaning headwinds putting pressure on these sectors. 

On a relative basis, Technology (XLK) outperformed yesterday on the heels of largely upbeat 4Q earnings.  However, inventory build concerns are part of the reason the SOX is severely underperforming. 


As we look at today’s set up, the range for the S&P 500 is 36 points or 1.0% (1,052) downside and 2.3% (1,088) upside.  Equity futures are trading slightly below fair value in the wake of yesterday's painful declines and ahead of today's job's report.  Also the there are continued concerns surrounding the P.I.G.S. and their debt issues.


According to Bloomberg News, Copper stockpiles jumped in Shanghai to the highest level in almost six years this week.  Copper traded down 3.1% yesterday and is down nearly 14% this year.  The Hedgeye Risk Management Quant models have the following levels for COPPER – Buy Trade (2.81) and Sell Trade (3.13).


Gold is trading a three-month low in as the dollar’s rally hurts gold’s appeal as an alternative investment.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for GOLD – Buy Trade (1,052) and Sell Trade (1,110).


In early trading crude oil is trading flattish following its biggest decline in six months, as decline in the equity markets and a strong dollar are putting pressure on the commodity.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for OIL – Buy Trade (71.69) and Sell Trade (77.32).  Yesterday, we covered our short in the US Oil Fund (USO).


Howard Penney

Managing Director















Risk Management Time: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...

Once in a while, markets agitate me. There is a very high r-square with those times and when my macro returns aren’t positively correlated with my view. On Tuesday, I was agitated. Today, I am smiling. This is a cyclical business.


As we test my immediate term (TRADE) oversold line for the SP500 (1068) here intraday, I am very much respecting that the risk management game here for US Equities has changed. Whether or not I decide to cover my short position in SPY won’t change my intermediate term (TREND) view that the SP500 is broken (1101).


In the chart below, I show the long term (TAIL) line that I am currently measuring as support. It’s all the way down at 976. No, that doesn’t mean that I think we are going there today, tomorrow, or next week for that matter. It simply means that I think a test of that line is finally in play.


Market prices and the probabilities embedded in those prices are constantly changing. The fractal math in my macro model updates every 90 minutes of marked-to-market trading in an effort to dynamically reflect those probabilities. Some people call this being “short term.” I call it driving with my lights on.


Quite often, what consensus considers improbable becomes probable. The art of risk management is not missing those flashing lights as they turn from green to red.


It is now probable that we see the SP500 test the 976 line sometime in the next 3 to 12 weeks. That would equate to a -15% peak-to-trough correction from the recent cycle-high of 1150 that was registered on 1/19/2010. I wouldn’t consider that a “crash” scenario; but I would consider it a foreseeable probability that you should be managing risk towards over the intermediate term.


I turned the lights on this morning carrying only a 3% position in US Equities in my Asset Allocation Model. Even though that’s really low, I’m not deciding whether or not I should up that right now. I’m simply watching and waiting for an opportunity to cover my SPY short.


Take your time. Don’t get agitated.



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Risk Management Time: SP500 Levels, Refreshed...  - zeechart


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Oh, Mexico!

Position: We are short Mexico via the etf EWW


“Baby's hungry and the money's all gone
The folks back home don't want to talk on the phone
She gets a long letter, sends back a postcard; times are hard”

-           James Taylor – Mexico


We’ve been negative of Mexico for most of the past year and have been in and out of her on the short side a number of times.  Rock and roll musician James Taylor sings the well known song Mexico, which is excerpted above.  While JT is referring to a lover from Mexico, the excerpt could just as easily be referring to the potential for increased fiscal issues in Mexico.


We are bearish on oil in the intermediate term and this is major problem for Mexico.  The Mexican oil industry is a monopoly controlled by state owned Pemex. On one hand, Mexican production of oil is in decline, which is bad for Mexico.  In fact, in 2009 Mexican production was 2.6MM barrels per day, which is its lowest level since 1990 and 6.8% less than the prior year.  In addition to that, any decline in the price of oil will also negatively impact state revenues.


As we have noted in the past:


“To this day, PEMEX owns and operates all of Mexican oil production and is a meaningful contributor to the Mexican economy. In 2007, Mexican oil exports contributed 10% of Mexican export revenue. PEMEX pays out over 60% of its revenue to the Mexican state in the way of royalties and taxes. In aggregate, PEMEX contributes almost 40% of the federal government's budget. Despite record oil prices over the last few years, the Company has a substantial debt balance estimated at over $42.5BN as the vast majority of profits have gone to the government rather than to pay down debt, let alone investing in the business.”


A decline in oil is clearly bad for Mexico. In 2009, the country posted a fiscal deficit of $20.1BN and even with a projected growth rate of 3% in 2010 it is likely that the deficit will continue.  To offset her budget gap  . . . you guessed it . . .Mexico issued sovereign debt. On January 11th of this year, Mexico issued $1BN in 10-year bonds at an interest rate of 5.25%.  This was her first offering since the credit rating of Mexico was cut by Fitch and Standard and Poor’s to BBB.


Declining oil revenues, burgeoning deficit, and increased debt. Oh Mexico, indeed.



Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director



Initial unemployment Claims came in at 480k last week, up from 472k the week prior (revised up 2k). This brings the 4-week rolling average up 12k to 469k from 457k last week. The improvement in this metric since March of last year has been the key metric for our bull case on consumer finance companies. As this rate backs up, we get, on the margin, less bullish, but this metric has shown some drift in the past, both up and down, relative to its predominant trajectory, so we give it some latitude. That's why we use a +/- 3 standard deviation range to keep track of whether the trend in rolling claims is veering off course or is simply moving within the channel. As the following chart shows, claims remain within the channel for now, so we're not changing our bullish view yet. That said, claims are as high within the channel as they've been at any time since the turnaround began, so we think we're at a very important moment in time, and intend to keep an extremely close eye on claims in the next few weeks to see whether we break out of the channel.



Joshua Steiner, CFA






“We ended 2009 with the best REVPAR results we have seen since the third quarter of 2008, and our continued focus on costs allowed us to beat expectations again in the quarter. Lodging demand continued to improve in the fourth quarter, with group and business transient posting positive bookings. After being buffeted by headwinds throughout 2009, our portfolio is set to begin a rebound in 2010 from a deep drop-off.”

- Frits van Paasschen, CEO

Forward Looking Comments from the Release

  • "While business conditions continue to improve from depressed levels, it is very hard to forecast the pace of recovery, especially rate. While group bookings have picked up, booking pace for 2010 has continued to lag behind 2009. Booking windows for both transient and group business have remained short. As such, late breaking business is a larger component of what will drive our performance in 2010 making forward looking predictions four quarters out particularly challenging."
  • "Full year 2010 REVPAR at Same-Store Company Operated Hotels Worldwide could be flat to +5% in local currency and approximately 100 bps higher in dollars at current exchange rates. REVPAR at Branded Same-Store Owned Hotels Worldwide could be -2% to +2% in local currency and approximately 100 bps higher in dollars at current exchange rates."
  • 2010 adjusted EBITDA "guidance": $750MM with one point of RevPAR driving +/- $15MM of EBITDA
  • 1Q2010 guidance:
    • "REVPAR change at Same-Store Company Operated Hotels Worldwide of -2% to flat in local currency (+1% to +3% in dollars at current exchange rates)."
    • "REVPAR change at Branded Same-Store Owned Hotels Worldwide of -3% to -5% in local currency (-1% to +1% in dollars at current exchange rates)."
    • "Management and franchise revenues will be up approximately 1% to 3%."
    • "Operating income from our vacation ownership and residential businesses will be flat to down $5 million"
    • Adjusted EBITDA guidance: $135-145MM
    • EPS: $(0.04) to $0.00


  • I love a call that starts with quoting Timmy
  • Group & transient business started to improve and was only down 7% in the 4th Q
  • ADR improvements will lag the general economic environment, since group and corporate rates are priced looking backwards
  • Looking ahead, its safe to say that their headwinds (Luxury, Urban, International, FX) will become tailwinds
  • As they shed assets they will continue to have higher cash yields
  • Were able to beat EBITDA by $50MM (oh but that included a $23MM gain and $20ish MM of cancellations)
  • Guests are coming back to luxury
  • Asia had +1% RevPAR (including 600bps of FX benefit - note that benefit will dissipate through 2010 at current rates)
  • $315MM was generated liquidating VOI
  • No maturities due over the next 2 years
  • Restructured the VOI business, and as a result decided to curtail existing projects, stop new projects, and lower prices (ala Marriott- no surprise)
  • Rolled out a new yield management tool that should help them price more efficiently
  • Bottom of a cycle is a great time to open hotels
  • Cleaning up Le Meridian and Sheraton brands
  • Spent $6BN re-branding Sheraton
    • Am i the only one that hears them say this on every call for as long as I can remember ... this is long long repositioning
    • Apparently this is a 3 year rebranding cycle
  • NY saw occupancy levels of 88% in 4Q09
  • Leisure continues to lead the way
  • 60% of their hotels are either freshly renovated or brand new
  • Estimate that by 2015, 400MM Indian and Asian travelers will have the means to travel internationally
  • Over 50% of their hotels are internationally located and 80% of their pipeline is international
  • Pipeline as a % of their existing assets is the highest in the business
  • 80% of their income is from fees...but some of those fees are non-cash and non-recurring
  • 4th Q story was all about the return of the corporate traveler, and they beat the quarter due to close in bookings. The beat was entirely driven by better occupancy especially for weekday room nights
  • Rate continues to lag, Jan rate was -9% compared to -12% in October
  • Cancellations were down 30% and leads for group bookings were actually up
  • Business have started to confirm meetings that were put on hold
  • Internationally they are seeing similar trends, Asia leading the way with +7% RevPAR (occupancy up 9%) in Jan
    • China led the Asian recovery, and Japan was the only market that lagged
    • EMEA was down 2% in Dec & Jan, occupancy turned positive and rate decline moderated
    • Latin America is the weakest, but improving quickly
  • Timeshare: SVO generated over $300MM in cash flow.  Decided not to develop some land that they own. Other projects where they had developed some phases but then decided not to develop others.  Also decided to accelerate sales in existing projects by cutting prices
  • What will make or break 2010 is late breaking corporate bookings
  • Don't extrapolate current trends though as comparisons for RevPAR will get tougher in the 2H2010, uncertain how the economy will look like in the 2H2010. It's also positive that some of the fastest growing markets in Asia can slow
  • Europe flat to up 3% and US flat to down 3%, growth will be driven by EM: (Asia 5-8%, Latin America could grow a lot as well with its commodity exposure to asia, ME can grow 6-8% as well)
  • It is unclear that the FX will remain a tailwind, as many forecast a stronger dollar
  • Expect Mgmt fee growth to track RevPAR growth
  • Occupancies are likely to be positive but rate will likely be negative, hence they will need to monitor costs
  • They will have margin reductions in owned EBITDA again in 2010
  • VOI business will be down $40MM on a SS basis as well - but $23MM is due to no gains accounting, but that will be offset by $40-45MM benefit from new SFAS accounting
  • Claim that the $750MM needs to be compared to an apples to apples 2009 # that is $20MM lower due to asset sales
  • 4.0x  leverage ratio
  • Will be working with their bank group to extend their R/C beyond 2011
  • The cash flow generated from SVO should cover capex at Bal harbour (which may be lower given deposits)


  • Rates for domestic group bookings for 2H2010
    • 2011 is seeing a higher rate than 2010
    • Moderation in rate in 2010 is getting better (compared to 2009)
  • Will continue to pull out $150MM or so a year out of timeshare for a few years
  • Will continue to be a net seller of real estate, but are looking for very high multiples, isn't the best time to sell
  • Regarding reinvestment, they will continue to invest in IT and explore renovation projects at existing projects
  • Only after they become investment grade would they consider share buybacks
  • Domestically they ended well with share for W & Westin but lost share for Sheraton, gained share internationally
    • Tend to do better in up cycles with share and worse in down cycles
  • Growth in occupancy has enboldened them to take a stronger stance on rate
  • Sheraton Manhattan (deflagged it) - future plans. Don't want another BalHarbour project.  Reason they deflagged it, was because this property just doesn't represent the brand standard anymore. They want to take their time fixing it up.  Will spend $4BN over the next few years on Sheraton rebranding
  • Net debt would decline $100-200MM before the SFAS adjustment ($445MM of securitized non-recourse debt comes back on the balance sheet)
  • Current pace of sales in Timeshare can be sustained for 2-3 years with little incremental investment (basically they have many years of inventory to liquidate without the need to replenish it)
  • Any effort to acquire distressed assets?
    • Continue to want to move to asset light, preference to look at any opportunities like that with a partner
    • Would rather grow brands and flags to grow market share rather than buy assets
    • We're also not seeing truly distressed assets, despite expectations
  • Outside the US and W. Europe there are still opportunities for ground up construction, inside the US they are focused on conversions.
  • Expect attrition to taper off (now that they are close to completing repositioning), think that exits next year should be closer to 5% (or 30 hotels with 300 rooms a price), so many 50 net hotel additions
  • Select service growth has been less successful internationally - they are more focused on full service growth
  • Outside the US, group isn't as large a part of the business, and the group they have is usually in the year for the year.
  • They will definitely down year over year for group, but think transient will be stronger and make up the difference
  • With occupancy up and rate down, they expect 10-15% declines in owned EBITDA


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