Avoiding Leverage

“A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”

-Albert Einstein


There is a big difference between levered and unlevered growth. There is an even bigger difference between growth manufactured by a levered government dollar and private one. Leverage can work both ways. Leverage can also blow you up.


There is a time to take on leverage. There is a time to avoid it. The Fiat Fools of a failed Keynesian ideology of massive government debt financed deficit spending are learning this lesson the hard way. An American or Greek professional politician will tell you he can solve this problem. A wise risk manager will tell you to get out of the way.


If President Obama, Ben Bernanke, and Timmy Geithner don’t start getting serious about America’s leverage ratios, this country is heading down a European style road to perdition. Avoiding Leverage should be the leadership message in this country, not daring us to take on more of it.


The good news is that Western professional politicians don’t have to take my word for it. On the East side of this interconnected global economy, the Chinese, Indians, and Australians are leading by example. They continue to tighten the screws on lending. They continue to teach their citizenry to respect the cost of capital. They continue to remind their people that borrowing short to finance long term debt liabilities is bad.


Consider the explicit warning coming out of our favorite central banker in the world, Glenn Stevens, this morning. At a business meeting of the minds in Sydney, the Chief of the Reserve Bank of Australia delivered the following messages:

  1. “However well households have coped with the events of recent years, further big increases in indebtedness could increase their vulnerability to shocks – such as a fall in income – to a greater extent than would be prudent.”
  2. “Australia’s budgetary position is very different from those in Europe and, for that matter, most countries”
  3. “Public debt is low and budget deficits are under control and already scheduled to decline.”

Notwithstanding that Australia’s housing sector continues to see huge price increases year-over-year, Australians continue to listen to their leadership. Home loan approvals have dropped -25% in the most recent 6 months, diverging big time from the nominal cost of those homes. Why? The cost to finance a home has gone straight up because Stevens raised rates 6 times during what was the world’s cyclical V-shaped recovery!


This is the critical lesson that Stevens is teaching his people – RESPECT THE COST OF CAPITAL – and whatever hard earned capital you sink into these fertile Australian grounds won’t be burned at the stake of some Fiat Fool currency policy.


Moving on…


I don’t know what sadistic calculations the US government is using for my children for either 2011 deficit/GDP or debt/GDP, but however clever these professional politicians pretend to be, I don’t get paid to buy their storytelling. Much like the Japanese, we are being trained to not respect the cost of capital in this country and, as a result, capital will avoid coming to us in the end.


Just to prove that I am not living in the land of nod on this, here are the results of what Americans think:


USA Today/Gallup Poll on top “Perceived Threats to US Future Well Being”

  1. Terrorism = 40%
  2. Federal US Debt = 40%
  3. Healthcare Costs = 37%

Bingo. When it comes to slapping Wall Street’s hands, Americans have been there, done that. They don’t care about professional politicians going for that win as much as they care about the physical and financial safety of their families. Duh.


Finishing in 4th place was Unemployment at 33%, so what’s the calculus to understand here? The clever politicians attempt to solve #3 (Healthcare) and #4 (Unemployment) by levering up #2 (Federal Debt). Nice.


God help us all if another exogenous event like #1 (Terrorism) comes to these American shores, because we have put our country’s balance sheet in an extremely precarious position whereby we can’t finance war without blowing out our deficit well beyond the ratios of Spain or Greece. What we’ve been wise enough to avoid can quickly become a problem.


My immediate term support and resistance lines for the SP500 are now 1041 and 1078, respectively. The stock market is finally getting Bearish Enough on this political mess. It should be. Hopefully we’ll find some change in this country via this market vote.


Best of luck out there today,



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Avoiding Leverage - Pic

Stock market dives: leading economic indicator, or recurring false alarm?

How 'Bout Them Earnings?

Conclusion: Despite sovereign debt concerns out of Europe getting most of the attention, China still leads the way when it comes to the forward outlook for global growth. With that said, continued slowing in China will not bode well for U.S. Equities – despite a hopeful  2H10 domestic earnings growth story.


We’re setting up to subtract one more point from the bullish case for U.S. equities – earnings. Perma-bulls have been touting the 2H10 EPS growth story as the lone savior for U.S. equities and it looks like that could roll over if China continues to slow.


Our proprietary Hedgeye China Index combines the Shanghai Composite, Hang Seng, and Copper – all of which are leading indicators for global growth – and is one important analytical tool we use to get a read-through on the forward global growth outlook. You’ll note that our index peaked on April 14th – nine days prior to the 4/23 cyclical peak of the S&P 500.


Since then, we’ve seen lower-lows in the Hedgeye China Index – which, much to the dismay of U.S. equity perma-bulls, happens to coincide quite nicely with 2010’s unreported S&P 500 EPS estimates. In fact, the trailing three month positive correlation between the two series is 0.95. That’s an r-squared of 0.91, which, by all statistical measures, is very significant.


Over the last three months, the unfolding of the European sovereign debt crisis has dragged down many global equity markets and the remaining bulls out there are failing to realize is that that issue is not going away any time soon. In fact, we expect a European-style sovereign debt crisis to manifest itself in the U.S. over the next 3-6 months. Combine that with our bearish outlook on U.S. housing prices and the U.S. consumer, and it’s easy to see why the 2H10 U.S. earnings growth story won’t be enough to hold firm the fading bid for U.S. equities.


Darius Dale



How 'Bout Them Earnings? - Hedgeye China Index


How 'Bout Them Earnings? - Hedgeye China Index short term

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Bearish Enough? SP500 Risk Management Levels, Refreshed...

Yesterday, I said that if the US stock market were to break down to lower-lows that sentiment would begin to get Bearish Enough. Yesterday’s close of 1050 was a fresh YTD low for 2010, so we’re finally in motion here. But remember that intermediate term bottoms are processes, not points…


The SP500 is in what Hedgeye calls a Bearish Formation (bearish across all 3 investment durations: TRADE, TREND, and TAIL). In the chart below, Darius Dale and I have outlined the both the TREND (intermediate term) and TAIL (long term) lines of resistance at 1078 and 1144, respectively.


Friday’s breakdown through the long term TAIL line of support (1078) came on accelerating volume, spiking volatility (+20.4% day in the VIX), and a critically negative fundamental (the SPX correlation to private payrolls is 0.72, so the 1st meaningful sequential deceleration in private hiring since December obviously caught Mr. Macro Market’s attention).


Now that anyone with a calculator can look back on April 23rd for what it was (the peak for this stage of the market cycle), our risk management task is to simply find a zone where we can COVER/BUY with a margin of safety that’s tolerable. Given that the Hedgeye Asset Allocation Model currently has a zero percent allocation to US Equities, we can afford to be patient and picky here.


As of 2PM EST, my refreshed immediate term downside target for the SP500 is warning for another lower-low in the 1036-1038 zone. There are still plenty of people who think 1040 is legitimate support (an intraday low in 2010 that didn’t confirm on a closing basis), so look at that for what it is – consensus – because the gravitational suck of the math in my model tends to pull prices to the most excruciating point of the Pain Trade.


In terms of catalysts, most of the “fundamental” ones are going to be negative. In terms of a sentiment catalyst, what we need here is a major US stock market Bull to come out and capitulate (Thomas Lee (JPM), Byron Wien (Blackstone), or Barton Biggs). Then we can pick up the pieces and attempt to build a credible base to bounce back up to test 1078 from again. The lower we go, the more attractive the prospective return on that bounce becomes…



Keith R. McCullough
Chief Executive Officer


Bearish Enough? SP500 Risk Management Levels, Refreshed...  - S P

Brazil Update - Moonshot GDP Release & Presidential Election Commentary

Economy Grew 9% in First Quarter


Brazil’s official statistical agency, IBGE, reports today that Brazil’s economy grew 9% in the first quarter over the year-ago period, and that GDP was up 2.7% over the last quarter of 2009.  They say this puts Brazil’s economy in a similar position to the other “BRIC” economies.  Already reporting for this year were China – with an 11.9% annualized growth rate – and India, at 8.6%.


Brazil’s central bank said the number was in line with their growth estimates.  We have not reviewed Brazil’s central bank previous estimates, but the projected range for this quarter was between 7.5%-10%.  This looks like a gimme, and we wonder why a central bank would give such generous leeway, unless it was trying to make sure the government couldn’t possibly disappoint.


Press commentary says Brazil is running counter to the economic trends in Europe, observing that Britain’s new government is talking austerity measures, and Germany just announced significant the layoffs of public service employees and personnel cuts in the armed services.  Brazilian government spending, meanwhile, continues to grow, raising fears of inflation.  The strong growth number just reported for the first quarter was strong, but growth is noticeably slower in the current quarter. 


Brazil Update - Moonshot GDP Release & Presidential Election Commentary - Brazil GDP




Brazil’s election authorities fined President Lula – for the fifth time – for campaign violations.  A sitting president is not allowed to campaign during the preliminary stages of an election, only once the official campaign season has started and the official candidates have been named.  Lula appeared before a federation of labor unions in a May Day celebration and said the country “needs continuity” – a clear reference to his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff.  The mistake will cost him about US$4,500.


Polling shows recent gains in Rousseff'’s popularity, despite the scandal that surfaced in the past week, where it was revealed that a journalist, together with a former senior police official and a former military intelligence officer were planning an espionage campaign aimed at presumptive opposition candidate Jose Serra.


Under Brazil’s constitution, Lula, who has held the presidency for two terms, cannot run for a third consecutive term.  In a newspaper interview this week, Lula said he would not rule out the possibility of his returning to run for president in 2014.  He emphasized, however, that he is looking forward to attending the World Cup games that year – when Brazil will be the host – as a private citizen. 


Brazilians will vote for a new president on 3 October.



Moshe Silver

Chief Compliance Officer & Managing Director


MCD reported May sales today and as I stated yesterday although trends remain positive on an absolute basis, expectations, particularly in the U.S., are ahead of current trends.  U.S. same-store sales came in +3.4%, below the street’s +4.3% estimate.  Relative to the ranges I outlined in my sales preview note, which look at reported trends versus recent two-year trends, the U.S. segment posted a BAD result and both Europe and APMEA came in NEUTRAL. 


Adjusting for calendar shifts, two-year average trends in the U.S. slowed again in May to February levels of below 4% after accelerating in the prior two months to closer to +5% while Europe and APMEA were in line to slightly better.  For reference, MCD lapped the initial national launch of its McCafe advertising campaign in mid-May so it will be important to watch how McCafe fares in its second year.  MCD reported that the recent addition of Frappes to the McCafe line-up helped drive same-store sales growth in May, but I continue to believe that the beverage initiative will complicate operations longer-term. 


FX Headwind…MCD also reported today that for the full year foreign currency translation is expected to have a negative impact on EPS, which reflects a change from the company’s prior expectation of a slight benefit.








Howard Penney

Managing Director