Monday, November 30, 2009

Who? What? Where? Why?

OK, so it looks as if disaster may be averted in Dubai: the latest hot rumour is that the central bank will guarantee all Dubai World debt. This is not altogether shocking- was this not among the rationales for the big intraday equity bounce on Friday?- but has nevertheless provided comfort to bondholders. The (in)famous Dec '09 Nakheel bond was recently quoted 65/70....well below par, but certainly a damn sight better than the 40-mid price that Macro Man saw on Friday morning.

Equity holders, on the other hand, may be left holding the bag...or at least that's the fear. The Dubai stock market, open for the first time since Wednesday, has cratered lower, down more than 8% at the time of writing.

That price action looks pretty grim, doesn't it? Well, yes and no. The chart above is clearly pretty ugly. But it's worth taking a step back and putting it into context. The Dubai equity market was always telling us that they were buggered; the index has barely recovererd any of its massive 2008 losses this year. Seen in this context, today's meltdown barely registers. Indeed, taking the message from equities, one wonders why the recent turbulence surrounding Dubai World constituted that much of a surprise....
In any event, the price action of the last 72 market hours has been ugly. Both longs and shorts have been stopped, in, say EUR/USD, which put in a nice 2% 3-day range not long after Macro Man observed that realized vols were at post-Lehman lows. It took a pretty firm stomach to hold positions through the "Dubai meltdown."
Indeed, observing price action across markets, Macro Man feels a bit like Tiger Woods' next-door neighbour. He can see that something bad is happening and that people are getting hurt, but he's not sure exactly what's happening and the people who do know aren't talking.

Friday's post-NY close price action in equities is a case in point. A few minutes after US equities closed at 6pm London time, someone did a bit of a drive-by in Eurostoxx futures, sending the price more than a percent lower. Macro Man felt like he was enrolled in Journalism 101. Who? What? Where? Why?
Anyhow, for the time being it seems as if we've stabilized. The euro's above 1.50, Western index futures have held onto Friday's gains, and for some reason oil is still chugging higher. But with month-end upon us, there's ample opportunity for fixing-driven noise.

And bubbling below the surface, Greece remains aa source of worry. Wolfgang Munchau suggests that Europe will not ride to the rescue, while the WSJ reports that the Greek government will flog their paper to the Chinese. While China is justly proud of its thousands of years of cultural history, they might do well to consider a proverb based on the Greco-Roman tradition: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts....

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Good Old-Fashioned Panic

Sometimes, those little guys matter. That seems to be the message of the past twenty-four hours where rumours/uncertainty over a possible default by Dubai has created a good-old fashioned panic in asset markets. It's been what...eight and a half months since we've felt remotely like this? Seems like a lifetime ago...

In fairness, this isn't quite the same as the post-Lehman maelstrom. While Dubai's debts are not inconsiderable, they pale in significance when placed side-by-side with queries over the viability of the entire global banking system. Still, those itching for a good crisis will take what they can get, and the implication for financial market pricing is exacerbated by the fact that the US is on its Black Friday post-Thanksgiving hangover and that Dubai itself (with the rest of the Muslim world) is out 'til Tuesday for the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Oh dear. So in impaired liquidity conditions, we are unlikely to see any real news on the catalyst for a few days. You can almost see the boogey-man emerging from the closet, can't you, coming to fan your darkest fears (or at least to aim a shotgun at your favourite position flamingo.) Those Nakheel bonds, the chart of which Macro Man posted yesterday, have been quoted as low as 32 mid this morning, and are now trading around 45 mid. For a bond that went 112 paid on Tuesday, that's got to hurt.

Now, while the good times might roll again on Tuesday if, as many suspect, Abu Dhabi rides to the rescue on a white camel to backstop/guarantee Dubai's debts. Still, there's been quite a bit of technical damage exacted on the marketplace. Frankly, Macro Man isn't sure how much appetite there will be to reload next week (and month)...he is curious to hear informed readers' views.

Anyhow, gold has crashed through its steep uptrend, at least temporarily, today....
...and while EUR/USD is still clinging on to its uptrend (as well as the 55 day moving average), its hold looks precarious. A crash below 1.48 could confirm the reversal in gold. Jeez, that breakout above 1.5064 seems like a looonnnggggg time ago...

It's squeaky-bum time for owners of equities, many of which have crashed through interesting levels in these illiquid markets. Owners of the Hang Seng, for example, must feel like they are riding the London Underground. "Mind the gap...."

A key to whether this sell-off has further to go or is merely an early Christmas sale (it is Black Friday, after all!) may well be what happens to LIBOR. The entire risk-asset orgy has been propelled by the normalization (and then some!) of LIBORs since the imposition of QE. Should LIBORs begin to move out as we approach the end of the year, that could spark concerns of a more systemic kind...and likely give this sell-off legs.

Punters have already come to that conclusion, and there has been good interest from "smart money" to sell the front LIBOR contracts. It's a nice trade at the highs, as your stop is the current LIBOR fix. Selling at a 8-10 bp discount to curent LIBOR, with settlement just 3 weeks away, is perhaps less interesting.
So there you go. Not only do you have to watch for news of an Abu Dhabi bailout of Dubai, but you've also got to see if LIBOR bloows out or not. If it's "yes" on the former and "no" on the latter, then we may well revert to an "as you were" risk/reflation rally (particularly if today's jitters dissuade the ECB from monkeying with the LTRO next week.) If it's "no" and "yes", however....well, then maybe we really could see a good old-fashioned panic...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ten Things I'm Thankful For

It's Thanksgiving today, which means heavily impaired liquidity and, thus far, large price swings. Before Macro Man starts to "cook" Thanksgiving dinner (i.e., put the turkey on the barbecue to roast while Mrs. Macro does everything else), he has time to once again count his blessings after what has been another eventful year:

1) First, and most importantly, that Mrs. Macro and the Macro Boys are healthy and happy.

2) That it was he, rather than they, that suffered a serious knee injury while skiing in February.

3) That he works in an industry that provides intellectual stimulation, indulges his competitive instincts, and offers plenty of fodder for his satiric side.

4) That just about everyone he knows from Lehman (hint: none of them were assemblers, traders, or sellers of packaged turds) has landed on their feet.

5) That despite being wrong in his big picture views for what seems like forever, Macro Man has managed to scratch out a bit of P/L this year.

6) That he has an open enough mind to hedge his bets and change his behaviour when he is wrong, even if the view is unchanged.

7) That his firm has a) been so supportive of his injury rehab efforts, and b) managed to cobble together another good year

8) That he has not taken a dime, directly or indirectly, from any taxpayers....

9) That he was not in any way invested in the December 2009 bonds of Nakheel, which have plunged over the last 24 hours on a restructuring announcement. They're currently trading around 70; a 40 point drop 3 weeks before the supposed maturity has gotta hurt...
10) That this space continues to attract a frankly baffling number of readers and a high calibre of interaction with other market punters and observers. Thanks for reading....

....and best of luck for the remainder of 2009.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


It feels like an either/or kind of market doesn't it? With a number of key asset prices (SPX, EUR/USD) approaching their extremes of the year in liquidity-impaired holiday markets, it feels like we're either on the edge of a breakout/melt-up or witnessing perhaps the last chance to sell vol at decent levels before the end of the year.

The dollar has taken a bit of a bashing today against both the euro and the yen, no doubt helped by the Fed's relatively sanguine view in last night's minutes on recent dollar weakness. EUR/USD has traded on a 1.48 or 1.49 handle every day since October 9, so at this juncture it is probably still premature to get too excited about today's move. As you can see, one month realized euro vol is (unsurprisingly) now at its lowest since Lehman went bust.
Still, there's plenty of precedent for big currency moves in thin markets; Macro Man has the feeling that if the previous high of 1.5064 were to give today, then tomorrow may well break the streak of consecutive "1.48 or 1.49" days.

Macro Man's scepticism over yesterday's Shanghai "collapse" proved to be well-founded, as the Comp rallied 2% today. While that scepticism didn't make him any dough, it at least prevented him from doing something stupid, which is at least a start when you're on a cold streak.

Lest we all think that everything is hunky-dory, however, there are a couple of reasons to doubt that the future will be wobbble-free. The FDIC confirmed that its insurance pot is now negative, which is strangely apt insofar as the taxpayers' net return on providing insurance to the banking sector has also been negative!

Meanwhile, in Asia, the State Bank of Vietnam officially devalued its currency over night. Asia watchers may recall that it also did so in May 2008, just a few months before the rest of the world went "kaboom." So far, the rest of Asia andd EM has happily shrugged off the Vietnam news, and Macro Man can be glad that he hasn't been positioned in a Vietnam/metals relative value trade.

As you can see, long dong/silver has not been a winner this year....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Too Big To Fail

It's tempting to get sucked into writing about today's sharp decline in the Shanghai Composite (pictured below) and what it might mean for developed markets. The problem is that at this juncture, Macro Man isn't sure that it means much at all. In both 2008 and 2009, the r^2 between the 'Comp and the SPX has been zero; in illiquid markets two days before Thanksgiving, it's not at all clear that that's about to change.
Instead, Macro Man would like to touch briefly on a couple of bigger issues surrounding the "once in a lifetime" crisis that we've all lived through over the past couple of years. Your author has recently opened a personal "time capsule" of sorts. When he left the US in May 1994, he had little clue that he'd not return save for a 3-month soujorn in the summer of '95. So he bunged most of his worldly goods into storage....where they remained for the better part of a decade and a half.

Finally, upon the insistence of the divine Mrs. M, Macro Man had these goods shipped to the UK to put an end to the dreary (and expensive) routine of paying quarterly storage fees. Opening the boxes provided a glimpse into his life in his early 20's. Clothing of dubious quality and appalling style brought gales of laughter from Mrs. Macro. A television dating from roughly 1980 served as something of a museum piece for the Macro Boys ("Daddy, what are these big circles on the TV? And where is the remote?") And boxes of books provided an insight into Macro Man's reading habits in the early 90's.

One volume in particular caught Macro Man's eye: Den of Thieves, by James. B. Stewart, which explores some of the insider trading scandals of the 1980's. Over the weekend, Macro Man picked it up and started reading. While it is tempting to think that our current crisis is the result of unrivalled cupidity and stupidity, even the first few chapters of Den suggests that Ecclesiastes 1:9 was correct: there is nothing new under the sun.

From the buffoonish Dennis Levine to the utterly corrupt Ivan Boesky, the cast of characters could easily have been taken from the murky underworld of subprime and structured credit. While it's true that the government wasn't a direct participant in the insider scams, as they are today, from Macro Man's perch that's merely a question of scale. And it's refreshing to see that some things haven't changed; an episode early in the book describes how Marty Siegel of Kidder Peabody wins some banking business because he pitched to the client's need, whereas "Goldman just talked about how great Goldman is".

Switching topics, Macro Man has always been an enthusiastic proponent and particpant in sports. Not only does a healthy body produce a healthy mind, but sports forces one to deal with winning and losing, teaches something about teamwork, and enforces a discipline that practice and hard work are required to improve. These are hardly startling insights, but they nevertheless provide a gentle introduction to the real world to minds as callow as the Macro Boys' (aged 7 and 6.)

And so the recent France-Ireland World Cup qualifier is apposite. The matchup was part of a process that sought to identify four teams to qualify for the World Cup from the eight second-place finishers in the European group stages. Once it became apparent that France was going to enter the play-off process, rather than qualify by winning its group, FIFA decided, ex-post, to seed the playoffs, ensuring that the "big" teams would have a relatively easy path to the WC.

This inherently put the "small" teams, such as Ireland, at a disadvantage by robbing them of the chance to be randomly paired against a fellow minnow. It seemed particlarly hard luck on the Paddies, who'd already had to confront the other 2006 World Cup finalist, Italy, in the group stages.

Of course, when France snatched a 0-1 victory at Croke Park in Dublin, the result looked like a foregone conclusion. Yet the plucky Irish went to the Stade de France and outplayed their hosts, leading 0-1 after ninety minutes and sending the fixture into extra time. This naturally skewed the tie in favour of the home side, who would be playing the critical half-hour at...err...home.

In any case, ten minutes or so into extra time, France snatched the winning goal through the most famous hand-ball since Maradona's:

Note the immediate, frenzied reaction of the Irish to Thierry Henry's blatant controlling of the ball with his hand. The referee and linesmen missed the call, but it's abundantly clear on television replay. Surely such technology is available to correct a blatant violation of the laws of the game?

Sadly, no. For reasons best known to himself, FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter has seen fit to ignore the desires of most fans and many participants and refused to sanction the usage of any technology in officiating the game. The result is a series of increasingly shambolic decisions from referees in high-profile matches.

The Irish, understandably irate, requested a replay from both FIFA and the French Federation. They were unsurprisingly refused, despite a precedent for ordering a replay on a refereeing error. Of course, that was between two insignificant teams, Bahrain and Uzbekistan, not a big team like France.

When Macro Man and the missus showed the video of the French "goal" to the Macro Boys the next day, they irately shouted "that's not fair! Henry cheated!" Nevertheless, despite close to universal derision, even in France, Les Bleus are going to the World Cup.

Yep, sports can definitely teach valuable life lessons to youngsters. And the lesson, in this case, is that there's definitely such a thing as "Too Big To Fail."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Headbanger's Ball

As we embark upon Thanksgiving week, thus ushering in the low-liquidity holiday silly-season, you can almost hear Slade (or is that Quiet Riot?) in your ear as you watch the screens. If you're a noise trader, there are rich pickings to be had; if you're a signal trader, thre's not much you can do but pick your spots and bear it.

Still, there have been a couple of interesting features as we kick off the week. Gold has made (another) new high, seemingly dragging the DXY down in its wake.

Speculation that the ECB is moving towards an exit strategy received a boost on Friday when they announced changes to the ratings requirements for ABS collateral from March onwards. While there's no suggestion that rates (either the refi or EONIA) will necessarily rise in conjunction with this change, given the relatively rich market pricing, it's probably not a surprise that the euribor strip has been sold on the back of the announcement. However, the strip is now pricing the rise in euribor to be relatively front-loaded, which opens up some interesting curve trades.
Meanwhile, the Brownian motion of the SPX continues apace, with short term chartists no doubt keying on the little head and shoulders pattern on the short-term chart. At this point, Macro Man has no strong conviction on how the price action will resolve itself; given holiday illiquidity, all it will take is a big order to confirm or negate the pattern. Yawn.
Thrown in some noise about soverign risk, and you've got the perfect recipe for a headbanger's ball this week. Whether that describes the noise of the market or the relationship of Macro Man's noggin to his desk remains to be seen...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Window Dressing?

Macro Man is back in the saddle, or at least his office chair, this morning after his first decent night's sleep in what seems like forever. It's expiry day today in equity land, and indices are producing the seemingly-obligatory squeeze up, despite the rather poor performance of other measures of risk appetite and/or reflation.

One issue that has captured macro punters' fancy this morning is yesterday's price action in Treasury bills. The Feb-10 bill traded to a low yield of 0.005% yesterday, and some bills of shorter maturity reputedly traded at negative yields (though Macro Man in fairness has yet to find them.)
This raises the question of who would purchase bills at zero or even negative yields the week before Thanksgiving? There has been some mumbling that the flow into bills represents some sort of "window dressing", though why one would start doing so on the 19th of November defies explanation. Why, too, would any bank buy bills when they could simply deposit cash as reserves at the Fed and earn a "tasty" 0.25%? (This is a legitimate query; Macro Man is not intimately acquainted with the regulatory/capital impact of bills versus reserve deposits for bank holding companies.)

Anyone who can shed light on this action is encouraged to do so in the comments section; from a distance, however, it wouldn't appear to be a particularly healthy phenomenon for bills to trade through zero yield!!

And that in turn would jive with the last 36 hours' price action, which has suddenly taken on a very "risk off" feel. Equities and FX carry traded poorly from the get-go yesterday, and while the former has managed at least a tepid bounce, the latter still looks pretty poor.

In any event, Macro Man's Bloomberg inbox has been stuffed to the gills in recent days with analyses purporting to entice him into doing x,y, or z trade on December seasonality. "The euro almost always goes up from [insert cherry-picked date here] through the end of December!" "The January effect has moved to December!" Blah, blah, blah.

The EUR/USD phenomenon is well-known to everyone who trades currencies for a living; on the basis of price action over the last couple weeks, it seems as if every single one of them are long as a result.

There's also been a lot of mumbling about the potential for an equity rally in December, based on the solid performance of equities thus far this year. Here, at least, we have a sufficiently large data set to do a study that at least borders on statistical significance.

Taking monthly SPX returns since 1930, Macro Man compared the returns of the first 11 months of the year with those of the ensuing December. Sure enough, there is a positive relationship between the two, as illustrated in the chart below.
Macro Man ran the regressions both with and without a constant; both regressions generated statistically significant (t-stat >3, p-value < 0.002) results. Based on the 20% y-t-d returns on the SPX thus far, both regressions suggest Dec,ber returns of roughly 2%, give or take. That's broadly in line with the historical average; in the 11 prior cases in the sample of 20% + 11 month returns, the average Decmber return was 1.84% (with eight winners.)

So is Macro Man trading in his ragged furry suit for a nice new pair of horns over the next six weeks? Not quite yet. While the possibility of an equity melt-up/window-dressing orgy is clear and present, your scribe cannot quite shake his feeling that the rally is tired and fundamentals remain poor. The bizarre price action in T bills, be it window dressing or a "shoulder tap" allocation, has left him scratching his head....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Game

Macro Man's feeling a bit under the weather this morning, so today's post will be mercifully short.

What do these four countries have in common:

Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan

a) They all have trade surpluses, according to the last monthly data

b) They all saw the value of their FX reserve holdings rise by at least 1.5% in the last monthly reserve data

c) In the last month, they have all announced either the contemplation or imposition of capital controls or punitive taxes/restrictions on foreign access to domestic asset markets.

d) All of the above.

The answer, of course, is (d). Macro Man has been murmuring darkly about protectionism for most of the three-plus years of this blog's existence, and the drumbeat is growing louder.

Here are the stories on Brazil (which also closed an ADR loophole yesterday), Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Now clearly, this is a) taking the piss, and b) not good news in the long run for global trade and risky assets. As yet more countries adopt a "we want you to buy our trinkets, and we want to buy your financial assets, but we don't want you to buy our financial assets" policy, the risk of a pushback must be rising.

Sadly, the Obama administration has resembled its predecessor in lacking the backbone to tell Voldy, et al to "shove it", and now the Europeans have even joined the Yanks in making an annual pilgrimmage to kow-tow to the Dragon Throne.

Maybe this will end well.....but Macro Man struggles to see how.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Fed And Bubbles

On the same day that Ben Bernanke made his speech mentioning the dollar, his intellectual blood-brother Don Kohn made one that touched heavily on the issue of asset bubbles. At the risk of over-simplifying the speech, Kohn essentially said that monetary policy is an inappropriate tool for addressing ongoing asset bubbles, and that regulation is the preferable policy option. Oh, and we're not currently observing another asset bubble forming before our very eyes.

His defense against using monetary policy to address bubbles was essentially "gee, it sure didn't work in the dot-com bubble of '99 or the housing bubble of '04-'05". The obvious rejoinder to this argument, of course, is that despite hiking rates the Fed never managed to arrive at a tight
monetary setting; Macro Man's nominal GDP indicator suggests that policy remained moderately easy during the late-90's tech bubble and ludicrously easy during the housing boom.

So from that perspective, Kohn's argument is specious at best; the Greenspan Fed never properly applied monetary policy to address asset bubbles!

At least Kohn conceded that the Fed's regulatory policy (i.e., "who? me?") had been, ahem, sub-optimal. And it doesn't seem to be a stretch that regulation should play a stronger role in addressing asset bubbles moving forwards; hell, even requiring mortgage applicants to send in $5.99 and two box-tops from Lucky Charms would significantly raise the reporting hurdle from its 2005 liar-loan nadir.

Still, if Kohn's claim that "our abilities to discern the "correct" values of assets is quite limited", how can the Fed fail to recognize that Nasdaq 1999-2000 was a bubble.... was the 2003-05 housing market.....
...and oil last year.....
...but that a less than 10% decline in the value of the S&P 500 in the first few weeks of last year was sufficiently worrisome that it merited a 75 bps inter-meeting cut a mere 8 days before a regularly scheduled FOMC policy decision (which produced a further half-point cut.)?
Put another way, why does the Fed feel powerless to identify bubbles in real time, but is evidently highly confident in its ability to determine when asset prices have fallen below equilibrium?

If the Federales are truly concerned about ensuring financial stability, addressing asset price moves in a symmetric fashion would be a great place to start. Because on the evidence of the last dozen years or so, the Greenspan/Bernanke/Kohn is a helluva lot more trouble than it's worth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bernanke And The Buck

Following on from yesterday's post, Macro Man received confirmation this morning that Britain is, in fact, going to the dogs. He rolled up to the station this morning to find that his usual 6.33 service has been cancelled until further notice because of striking train drivers. (Apparently the reports of high unemployment are a fiction.) Fortunately, he was still able to make it to work on time.....because the previous train ran 20 minutes late and he was able to catch it!

Anyhow, there were a couple of interesting developments in the US yesterday. Headline retail sales surprised on the topside (though given revisions, the report was actually pretty much in line), led by, of all things, auto sales. Macro Man had expected auto sales after cash-for-clunkers to remain pretty weak for some time. And while the auto sales index did remain well below its C-4-C high, there was nevertheless a pretty solid bounce from the September low.
If this is emblematic of how the consumer will behave, there are a few itneresting implications. First, Macro Man's core view that the savings rate will push towards 10% will prove to be incorrect. US household saving should rise, and 'twill be a pity if it fails to do so. In any event, if Christmas sales prove to be unexpectedly robust, the chances of a late-year melt-up in risk assets will increase sharply.

A final implication would almost certainly prove to be an unexpectedly sharp widening in the US trade deficit, of which we received a hint on Friday. Given that the accumulated current account deficit of the US is the foundation of the DGDF thesis, an early re-widening could prove to be rather bearish for the dollar...particularly if the Fed refuses to compensate foreign investors for financing it. (Foreign owners of printing presses would, not doubt, continue to do so courtesy of their unwillgness to implement their own monetary policies.)

We saw a similar instance in 2003 and 2004, a period in which the USD weakened sharply against those currencies with market-determined exchange rates. Given the imprecations which are already flying towards Washington from Beijing, Frankfurt, and elsewhere, one can imagine how unhappy foreigners would be with a further sharp weakening of the dollar. (Judge for yourself how they might feel about a re-widening of the US trade deficit courtesy of sustained consumer demand.)

In any event, this backdrop provides an interesting prism through which to read Big Ben's speech to the New York Economic Club last night. After spending most of the speech bemoaning the prospects for commercial real etstae, bank lending, and unemployment (while also sounding rather confident that inflation won't be a problem for some time), BB addressed the issue of the dollar in an unusually stark manner:

The foreign exchange value of the dollar has moved over a wide range during the past year or so. When financial stresses were most pronounced, a flight to the deepest and most liquid capital markets resulted in a marked increase in the dollar. More recently, as financial market functioning has improved and global economic activity has stabilized, these safe haven flows have abated, and the dollar has accordingly retraced its gains. The Federal Reserve will continue to monitor these developments closely. We are attentive to the implications of changes in the value of the dollar and will continue to formulate policy to guard against risks to our dual mandate to foster both maximum employment and price stability. Our commitment to our dual objectives, together with the underlying strengths of the U.S. economy, will help ensure that the dollar is strong and a source of global financial stability.

That the Chairman of the Fed would mention the dollar so explicitly was news, as indeed was the cherry-picked headline "Fed Policy Will Help Ensure Dollar Is Strong" that flashed across the Bloomberg newswire. Now, anyone reading the previous 28 paragraphs could only reach one conclusion- addressing both sides of their dual mandate, the Fed ain't hiking rates any time soon. Now perhaps this means that the dollar should indeed be "strong"...but Macro Man suspects that most observers might reach the opposite conclusion.

This, in turn, raises the question of the provenance of the paragraph on the dollar. To Macro Man's eye, it looks like it was placed there for the benefit to the Chinese and Europeans (and maybe just a smidge for the gold-buying Joe Sixpack.) 28 paragraphs on why there's no reason to hike, one paragraph on how the dollar has retraced its crisis rally but why the dual mandate means the dollar should be strong. This looks like classic CYA stuff....

So, with the prospect of a late-year risk melt-up, a widening trade deficit, and a complacent central bank, the dollar must be toast, right? Perhaps...but perhaps not. For one, Macro Man isn't really prepared to concede the "rebuilding savings" argument just yet, nor that all financial sector skeletons have been premanently confined to the closets in which they reside.

Moreover, the euro in particular trades very poorly, like it's almost as crowded as the morning train that Macro Man will henceforth be required to catch. The price action of the last six weeks or so can be viewed as either a "teacup" formation, which is bullish....or a double top, which is not. At the risk of descending in chart-reading tautologies, the outcome will likely depend on whether 1.5064 or 1.4628 breaks first.

Just about everything that Macro Man sees says that EUR/USD should be going up, and yet it's not. And that, if you're long, might be even more annoying than the minefield of the morning commute.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cats And Dogs

It's been raining cats and dogs for most of the last week (though sadly not during this turgid display, which might have excused the unappetizing fare on offer), so Macro Man has domestic pets on the mind.

After a brief respite last week, it feels like every man, woman, cat and and dog in the world has put in a bid for gold, taking the shiny metal/only "real" currency/barbarous relic (delete as appropriate) to fresh all time highs. Or at least, fresh nominal highs. While gold is starting to get a bit of that "Nasdaq 1999" feel about it, Macro Man is well aware of the quasi-religious fervour of some of its adherents. And if we want to devise a measuring target, looking at the "real" price of gold (or at least, the price of gold deflated by headline CPI) isn't a bad place to start. As the chart below suggests, the nominal price would nearly have to double to approach the early 80's "real" highs, though the metal's subsequent collapse suggests, post hoc, that such levels were, shall we say, bubblicious.

Meanwhile, in currency land, China and America are starting to fight like cats and dogs: a bit of barking and hissing with no real violence. The APEC meeting produced no substantive results, other than a cunningly-timed story in the FT in which China bemoans America's monetary policy settings. Leaving aside the fact that no one forces China to get to the dollar or to set deposit rates at farcically low levels; perhaps we should just revisit the chart of aggreagate money supply growth over the past year-and-a-bit?
Moving along from cats and dogs to flamingos, Japan has hosted the latest painful goolie-squeeze of popular trades. Shorting "Japan, Inc." has been a popular theme over the last couple of months on the deteriorating fiscal situation and underlying demographic challenges. At one point last week, Japan's soverignn CDS premium was wider than that of Spain. (As a reminder, only one of those countries has $1 trillion of FX reserves.)

Anyhow, the worm turned towards the end of last week, and even a well-above consensus print on Q3 GDP (1.2% q/q, non-annualized versus an expected 0.7%) derailed the squeeze in JGBs.
Four or five weeks to build a position and profit, a few days to lose it all. Such are the joys of portfolio management in a position-driven market. It almost makes arguing (or raining) like cats and dogs seem enjoyable by comparison...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Step Off

Sometimes, you just need to step off the desk and get away for a bit to clear your head. For Macro Man, this is one of those times. He runs a book that can, at times, be quite sensitive to changes in the correlation and/or volatility structure across different assets. When it works (which, knock on wood, is more often than not), it's a beautiful thing. When it doesn't, it's hair-pullingly frustrating.

Take yesterday. Sometime just before 3pm London time, a Reuters headline flashed that "German government fund may be forced to inject more capital into WestLB." Given that the banking system is the sort of seedy cousin of the Eurozone that no one likes to talk about much, it wasn't much of a surprise to see the euro (which your author is long on expected CB reserve flows) take a hit and never recover.
A-ha! Good thing your scribe is clever, and has embedded some Eurpopean banking index puts in his portfolio to guard against just such an event! Except that the European banking index fell a little, then recovered to make new highs on the day, and only afterwords drifted off to close "only" a bit up on the day (at roughly the same time as the euro was making its then-lows of the week.)
Adding to the "fun" was the fact that this very story had apparently been the lead article on the front page of the Handelsblatt, which is available for purchase well before 3 pm London time!

So much for efficient market theory, and so much for efficient portfolio construction. At this point it literally feels like Macro Man has a little trading vampire on his shoulder, picking off his trades one-by-one and sucking the life out of them.

So in an effort to clear his head and get a fresh perspective, Macro Man's taking care of some other business today of a more mundane nature. The market is stelling him to step off.....and he's obliging.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blast From The Past

Macro Man is back on the desk this morning, safely re-attired in standard-issue hedge fund costume: sport coat, jeans, and collared shirt. He's never been a fan of wearing a suit and tie, but in the current populist backlash against bankers and hedge funds the idea of slipping a knotted length around his neck is distinctly uncomfortable!

Today Macro Man would like to address a couple of old stand-bys and one new development from yesterday. Leading off are his old mates from China, where the market is all aswirl with talk that the authorities will soon countenance an adjustment in the exchange rate. In its recent quarterly report, the PBOC announced that it intends to "improve the exchange rate mechanism is a proactive, controlled, and gradual manner..."

ZZZZZZZZ. Perhaps this is different from the vrap that they've been spewing for the last year, but if so, the changes are marginal. Uncoincidentally, APEC finance ministers had a go overnight, and the Chinese are also confronted with the prospect of finger-wagging Americans and Europeans washing up in Beijing over the next few weeks. The PBOC comments look like a bit of pre-emptive ass-covering, nothing more.

While one year CNY expectations are well off their pre-crisis lows, they are neverthless within a hair's breadth of the their post-crisis lows. Macro Man struggles to see the fascination with playing this. With China, the best course of action is to "watch what I do, not what I say." And right now, they're doing nothin'.
Another blast from the past that has recently caught Macro Man's eye is the underperformance of small cap US equities. Last summer, Macro Man put on a large/cap small cap spread, which squeeeeeeeeeeezed painfully 'til he couldn't take it anymore, then promptly exploded higher after Lehman. Typical!

Anyhow, he's observed that the Russell 2000 has been a notable underperformer recently; in contrast to the SPX, for example, it is some 5% off its recent highs. Perhaps it is simply case of not being "too big to fail", or perhaps there's a more sinister aspect to the underpformance- e.g., strains from lack of access to credit. Regardless, while Macro Man's large cap/small cap proxy indicator (OEX/R2K) has popped recently, it's well off the highs of last year, let alone those from earlier in the decade. Perhaps readers who have focused on this more acutely could share thoughts on positioning in the large cap/small cap spread?
Elsewhere, there was a rather interesting and, frankly, puzzling development in the UK yesterday. In a marked change to the last year, the Bank forecast CPI inflation to be above target in 2 years with unchanged interest rates, and to be above target in three years with current QE and market interest rates. That's quite a change from prior reports, where the Bank had forecast an inflation undershoot over the relevant two year horizon.

From Macro Man's perch, that looked like a relatively hawkish change, on the margin. So naturally, the short sterling strip ripped higher; Dec 2011, for example, is up 20 bps since just before the release. Is Macro Man missing something here, or is the market smoking crack?
In any event, it's worth keeping an eye on the labour market. Macro Man's one-factor BOE model, based on data from the first nine years or so of the MPC's existence, continues to support the case for QE by prescribing sub-zero interest rates. Note, however, that it is turned up slightly....a development that Macro Man plans to watch with interest.
Who knows, maybe in a year or two Macro Man can revisit the relationship in another "blast from the past" moment....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This Little Piggy Went to Market...

Macro Man is out marketing this morning in that delightful process known as the investor round table. As such, today's entry is limited to....err...the above sentence. Feel free to discuss potential new highs in the SPX, EUR/USD, gold, or anything else in the comments section.

Normal service resumes tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


"I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink.
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink.
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink."

I'm So Tired, The Beatles

Macro Man can sympathize with John Lennon's 1968 lament. Not only is he weary of these treacherous markets in the "existentialist ennui" sense, but he struggled to get any sleep at all last night. Wondering the same thing as Mr. Lennon, he eventually decided in the affirmative and hauled himself out of bed for a bit of coffee and Special K.

There wasn't any particular concern keeping him awake last night; it's more of a general disgust at getting sucked into silly trades. One of his general trading maxims is to "know your market"- i.e., whether it's a market that forgives mis-timed trades or punishes them brutally. He's pretty sure that he's not alone if feeling that the current market is among the latter.

It's hard to believe that Spoos are now barely a percent off of last month's highs. Man, that didn't take long, did it? If yesterday's price action is anything to go by, a break of the ~1100 cash top could generate the dreaded melt-up scenario.

There are some who posit that the fate of the market is tied up with the health care bill. Macro Man's strong sense is that there is a real disparity in views over how important the bill is, depending on where one lives. Non-US residents seem to viw the bill from a purely academic perspective, in terms of its impact on govenrment and private sector finances, s well as on a company-specific level. It feels as if the issue is a much more emotive one for US residents, with the bill representing "the end of the American way of life" or "a badly overdue helping hand to the uninsured underclass", depnding on your viewpoint.

Your author will stay out of that fray, but finds the chart below to be of intense interest. Courtesy of Pareto Securities, it suggests that the famously profligate US consumer isn't quite as profligate as we thought....he's just trying to pay his health care bills. (edit: note that the labels on the chart are reversed.)
Elsewhere, Fitch has made some menacing rumbles about the UK's AAA rating, which has put sterling under a pit of pressure this morning. Gordon Brown's Peso has had quite a strong run over the last few weeks, as short the pound was, in retospect, one of the bigger flamingos out there.
These would, on the face of it, appear to be good levels to get back in. But this is a market that rallied sterling last week after the BOE was alone in doing more QE; just another slip of paper for the "things I don't understand" drawer. One thing that Macro Man does understand is that he's tired of getting whipped around; it's time to raise the bar for trade entry.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Off To The Races

On your marks...get set....go!

Markets are off to the races so far this morning, as all manner of risky assets on Macro Man's screens have roared higher. It almost feels as if markets, having successfully survived the murderer's row of event risks last week, exhaled over the weekend and decided that plan A (liquidity-driven uber-rally) wasn't so bad after all.

For if markets "wanted" to head lower, they surely could have. Friday's payroll report was an ugly one beneath the veneer of a largely in-line "number of jobs" figure. The household data, for example, was pretty appalling, continuing the divergence observed in this space on Friday. Sometimes, it's useful to look at data in its simplest form; readers are invited to reach their own conclusions as to what the chart below implies moving forwards.
Similarly, the latest Krishna Guha article with the impressive St. Louis Fed president, James Bullard, suggests at least some voters do not wish to repeat the mistakes of the not-too-distant past.

On some days, that perhaps might have been enough to send markets reeling. Not today, however, which is instructive. Perhaps markets are relieved that the G20 accomplished nothing of consequence? That Gordon Brown's proposal to tax the very air you breathe financial transactions received short shrift from Lil' Timmy?

Or have they been swayed by the IMF report that the US dollar is potentially being used as a funding currency? (A little-known codicil to the weekend report also noted that the sun would rise in the east, observed that ice cream is cold, and forecast that the Pittsburgh Pirates would not win next year's World Series.)

In any event, it is worth observing that among the star performers in recent days have been Asian currencies; the ADXY is nearly back to its October highs. Macro Man notes this because Asia was really the first "risk asset market" to roll over, a week before the fateful Guha article appeared in the FT on Octboer 23.
You don't have to be a chartist to think that after a healthy correction, if we make a new high then it really could be off to the races....

Friday, November 06, 2009

Random Shots

You've heard of The Longest Yard. You've heard of The Longest Day. Well, this has been the longest week, given the barrage of significant releases, announcements, et al. We conclude today with US non-farm payrolls, after which Macro Man plans to relax over the weekend.

Anyhow, he doesn't have the energy to conjure a neat tie-in this morning...all he can manage is a collection of random thoughts:

* Very little (short of a positive print) would surprise Macro Man from today's payroll number. Last month's household data and the recent jobs hard to get measure from the consumer confidence survey would suggest risks are to the downside. Claims and the ISM employment figure would suggest risks to the upside. Throw in a dash of statistical hocus-pocus, and just about anything is possible. Jan Hatzius at Goldman has been, ahem, unusually accurate recently; for what it's worth, he's forecasting -200k and 9.9% on the u-rate...
* Is the equity pain trade for a melt-up? The most recent II survey showed a collapse in net bullishness back towards historical lows (excluding March.) Combined with the 30 level on VIX holding, Macro Man's left to wonder if the liquidity orgy is back on the cards. USD/KRW seems to think so....
* If you needed any convincing that this market is screwy, the dollar index ETFs should convince you. Wednesday saw an enormous amount of November call buying on the UUP (dollar bullish) ETF. As in, 320,000 lots enormous. Then yesterday, someone tried to engineer an enormous squeeze in the ETF, to the point where it ran out to shares to create! UUP soared 2% on a day when the dollar....didn't. You can see the effects of the squeeze on the chart below (depiciting UUP, the bearish UDN, and the underlying DXY.) So yesterday, you could bet on the $ going up, make an equal bet on the $ going down, and make money. Yeah, this market is rational....
* So yesterday, the BOE did more QE (£25 bio), JCT was more hawkish than expected (suggesting improved growth prospects and hinting at a not-too-distant embarking on an exit strategy)....and EUR/GBP goes nowhere on the day, net/net. Yeah, this market is rational....

* It has become a cliche (repeated in Macro Man's own FAQs) to recommend books like Reminiscences of a Stock Operator or Market Wizards to people looking to indoctrinate themselves into trading. But Macro Man is rapidly coming to the conclusion that re-reading those books is a mistake for someone with a mature investment strategy. It seems like every time that Macro Man does so, a cold streak immediately follows. Perhaps, subconsciously, it encourages the reader to deviate from their preferred methodology based on some "pearl of wisdom" contained in the books? Macro Man is curious if other experienced punters have found the same. (And yes, a couple of weekends ago, your author picked up Market Wizards to read while eating a sandwich for lunch...)

* Reader of the comments section have recently been treated to a, ahem, "vigorous" debate between "Gary" and "leftback" on a range of issues, including the differences between pension and hedge fund management. Macro Man is always bemused by the mutual contempt with which large real money guys and hedge fund guys often regard each other.

To the PF guy, the hedge fund guy manages a bit of loose change with the attention span of a gnat...and gets richly rewarded for it. Oh, and he doesn't have to worry about stuff like liability matching, long run return assumptions, or Jimmy Hoffa. To the HF guy, the pension fund guy has the ease of not marking to market or getting tinned/losing assets after a small cold streak. Responsibility for losses can be dispersed amongst the many heads around the committee table. Benchmarks are for sissies: it's all about absolute return, baby! (Well, except for 2008, natch...)

Unsurprisingly, there is some truth in these caricatures...but caricatures they nevertheless remain. Ironically, among the greatest PF/endowment managers are those that trade more like HFs. Jack Meyer, et al at Harvard managed a clip of capital that I assume most PF guys would concede was reasonable, but traded many of those assets much more tactically than most PF...with spectacular results.

Of course, they also got paid like HF managers...and some alumni decided that paying 8 figure salaries to a small group of people (who generated a decent chunk of the univeristy's operating budget, btw) was unacceptable.

And so Meyer, Samuels et. Al left, to be replaced by a group of successively cheaper, more real money-ish managers. And surprise....performance has gotten a lot worse! There is a lot more overlap in the Venn diagram of good PF and HF managers than most would believe....

Thursday, November 05, 2009

QE or not QE? That is the question

Dear Fed,

Macro Man speaks to a lot of well-informed, knowledgable punters. Many of you (collectively on the FOMC) know some of these very people. They are smart, and they spend a lot of time analyzing you and trying to understand your way of thinking.

And last night, after you changed this:

The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period

to this:

The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period

the interpretation of this group of well-informed observers ranged from "as dovish as it could be" to "man, that's pretty hawkish."

Please. I know Greenspan once said that if his meaning was clear, you hadn't understood him properly. But where did that get us? Seriously, one shouldn't need to employ a literary theorist to figure out what you're saying. Ditch the stupid word games and speak clearly. Compared to A students like the RBNZ:

In contrast to current market pricing, we see no urgency to begin withdrawing monetary policy stimulus, and we expect to keep the OCR at the current level until the second half of 2010

and the Bank of Canada:

Conditional on the outlook for inflation, the target overnight rate can be expected to remain at its current level until the end of the second quarter of 2010 in order to achieve the inflation target

you collectively get a big fat F for your essay.

Sincerely, Macro Man

Given the opacity of the Fed's communication strategy (in terms of using blunt phrases to convey very nuanced shifts), is it any wonder that the market's reaction was as schizophrenic as it was?

And given that schizophrenia, is it any wonder that a "signal" trader like Macro Man is struggling amongst all the noise? Taking an introspective step backwards last night, Macro Man concluded that one of his primary problems is that he is reacting to short term price swings, rather than anticipating. The problem with reacting is two-fold: conviction is necessarily lower than it would be with a well-thought out macro view, and the lack of serial correlation leads to a lot of top-and-tailing. Macro Man has had enough.

Anyhow, the primary feature of the Fed's semiotic parlour game was the introduction to conditionality to the "extended period" clause. The first two conditions- the output gap and actual inflation- would not appear to merit tightening for the foreseeable future. The third- inflation expectations- could prove to be a bit more problematic, though 10 year breakevens are still below their pre-crisis levels. Still, the recent normalization is striking!

QE or not QE? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous banking, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and buy Gilts to end them?
Hamlet's Soliloquy, by the Bard of Avon Swerve of Lomard Street

The highlight of the day today will be the Bank of England's policy announcement at noon local time. An extension of QE has been widely bandied about in the press, particularly in the wake of the recent GDP shocker. Ex-MPC'er David Blanchflower certainly favours more; at this juncture there appears to be little firm consensus, however, with some shops calling for nowt and others calling for £50 bio more gilt buying, plus a cut in the reserve deposit rate. If the latter were enacted, one would presume that sterling would get trashed.

Whether the Bank should do more QE is, of course, another question: the GDP figures scream "yes!", but more forward looking indicators suggest a more positive trajectory for the economy.

Either way, there should be some fireworks. And let's not forget Jean-Claude, ostensibly relegated to the role of bit-part actor in this week's drama, but always capable of stealing the show at his press conference. Needless to say, Macro Man isn't getting his hopes up for a spot of plain speaking there.....

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


It's been a shambolic start to what should ultimately prove to be a pretty important day. Macro Man normally catches a 6.33 am train from his local station into London Bridge; imagine his horror, therefore, when he opened his eyes this morning to discover the numbers "6:27" on his clock face.

After muttering the obligatory four-letter epithets under his breath, he sprang out of bed and raced through the shower at breakneck speed. If he hurried, he reckoned, he could just about make the 6.46 train which, while slower and considerably more crowded, nevertheless manages him to deposit him at London Bridge 20 minutes later than his normal service.

As he raced to get dressed, however, he heard an ominous rumbling from outside his window. This in turn prompted Mrs. Macro to spring out of bed, offering her own invective; the bins hadn't been put out and the dustmen were already outside. We dressed and jointly raced downstairs, with Macro Man not bothering to tie his shoes before springing out the door....only to find the garbage truck blocking his driveway.

"Which bins?" (recycling or rubbish?) shrieked Mrs Macro.

"Guys can you move I'm late to catch a train and I need to get out of here now!" bellowed Macro Man, in his best stream-of-consciousness technique.

Oh-so-slowly, the rubbish collectors backed the truck up, and Macro Man hopped into his trusty Golf and sped off towards the station, rolling down the window to offer a barely-awake wave to a disheveled Mrs. Macro, who'd managed to get the bins out in time. (Unbeknownst to Macro Man, Macro Boy the younger was, at roughly this time, slamming the door behind his mother, thereby locking her out for ten minutes.)

The station's only a couple of miles away, so after parking up and sprinting (with untied shoes!) to the platform, Macro Man improbably managed to get there at 6.39...enough time to queue for a coffee! In the annals of close morning shaves (in the figurative rather literal sense, naturally), this was close to a record turnaround from the bed to the station.

The rest of the journey, meanwhile, offered its own challenges; the later train is smaller and calls at more stations, so perhaps inevitably, Macro Man got stuck sitting next to some large-boned chap who felt it necessary to hold two large briefcases on his lap rather than stowing them in the luggage racks. His arrival at London Bridge reminded him of why he gets the early train; every ten minutes after 7 am appears to double the volume of passengers milling about the station.

By the time he fought his way to the platform of his connecting train, he was confronted by a mass of humanity commonly found only at major sporting events, the Muslim hajj, or Chinese job fairs. Imagine his shock and bemusement, meanwhile, when the first train to arrive on the platform was.....his usual 6.33 service!!! He isn't sure what happened to it (it wasn't on the board at his station at 6.40, so presumably arrrived and left at the normal time), but it looks like he was gonna be behind the 8-ball no matter what happened this morning. Sort of like the last couple weeks of trading, actually....

In any event, that rather verbose and tortured introduction was merely a way to inject the notion of "quick turnarounds" into today's post. For if Macro Man executed one this morning in gettting out of the house, so too, has gold in recent days, defying gravity (and the general strength of the dollar) to post fresh all time highs. It's up more than $60 in the last six trading sessions, spurred partially by yesterday's news of India taking down a 200-ton print from the IMF, but more clearly by real buying flow.

As is always the case with the yellow metal, there are a dozen stories and theories offered for its performance, and per the usual it is difficult to distinguish fact from fantasy. However, an Occam's Razor analysis might well suggest that someone is taking an (informed?) punt on either financial stability, the maintenance of globally easy liquidity conditions, or both. If the latter, in particular, one would have to posit that the dollar would come under renewed pressure after the Fed (unless punters wish to wait for payrolls).

The last 13 hours or so have also seen a fairly sharp turnaround in risk sentiment. Spoos are up a percent and half or so from the levels prevailing when Macro Man left the office yesterday. Earlier this week Macro Man observed that VIX around 30 was likely to be a critical juncture; for the time being, at least, it has helped staunch the equity market's losses. Similarly, Macro Man's proprietary risk index has recently gone back below zero after six months of risk-seeking readings. The next few trading sessions will likely determine whether this index bounces into year end or sustains a "proper" bout of sustaind risk aversion.
On Friday, September 11, the SPX closed at 1042.73. The following Monday, Macro Man created a reader poll on where the SPX would close at year end. The response was overwhelmingly bearish.

He'd like to repeat the exercise today. This space sometimes gets labeled as a "bearish blog", an appellation which Macro Man dislikes. His paramount interest is in getting things right (the signal, that is, rather than the noise), even if he doesn't always do so. In any event, he has detected a distinctly pro-risk attitude towards some of the punters with whom he speaks on occasion. So he'd like to take the market's temperature on a slightly more statisitically significant scale.

It's 10 am London time, and Macro Man's still feeling a touch groggy from his quick turnaround this morning. He can only hope, by the time he goes to bed, that his trading fortunes manage to execute a similarly impressive 180.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hunting Season

Yesterday was instructive, n'est-ce pas? The ISM was substantially stronger than exepected (OK, new orders dipped slightly, but employment rose sharply to exceed 50), equities popped sharply higher.....and then spent most the rest of the session melting away. Sometimes it's possible to over-intellectualize things: at the moment, stocks trade like they got 'em but they don't want 'em.

When Macro Man hears phrases like that, there's only one thing that pops into his head: hunting season. Flamingo hunting season. To be sure, flamingo-hunting has been in play for stuff like EUR/USD, ADXY, and broad indices for a couple of weeks. But now it looks like the hunters, having bagged their quota of big-game flamingos, have started poaching out-of-hours.

Macro Man wrote about Sunday night's ZAR/JPY carnage yesterday; last night saw the poachers go 2/2, as EUR/HUF was the victim of what is known in the trade as a "drive-by" stop loss run, which is an occupational hazard when you leave stops in illiquid pairs with NY spot desks.

More generally, taking a step back and observing the performance of the "naive" G10 carry basket (long the 3 high yielders, short the 3 low yielders), we can see that (unbelievably!), it has recouped nearly all of its "end of the world as we know it" losses. If you were fortunate enough to put this thing on close to the lows, you no doubt are feeling fine. But the very vehemence of the rebound would suggest that G10 carry is heavily posittioned. Add in the fact that AUD and NOK are especially beloved of reflationistas, and the potential downside for those currencies on a continued flamingo run would seem considerable.
And what of intra-equity market price action? Here, too, we observe an interesting dynamic. The chart below represents the relative performance of a basket of turds (some of whom don't currently exist [though their stocks are still listed], and the rest of whom wouldn't exist without government largesse) against the SPX. As you can see, there have been quite a few peaks and valleys over the year, with the relative outperformance in March and July/August looking like short-covering rallies in the turds.
Anecdotally, however, people have gone long these turds on the flimsiest of rationales, and now it appears to be going wrong. Indeed, the roll-over closely resembles that of June/early-July, a period which happened to coincide with quite a sharp downdraft in stocks.

It's hunting season, all right. How long the season lasts may depend on Chief Gamekeeper Bernanke tomorrow night- that is, assuming that the poachers follow the guidance laid down by the Fed. With so many flamingos turning into turkeys, however, there's probably no guarantees even after tomorrow night.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Manute Bol Week

It's a big, big, big week. Starting off with today's ISM (well, technically, starting off with yesterday's China PMI), we've got the Fed on Wednesday (the end of the extended period?), the BOE (more QE?) and ECB on Thursday, and of course payrolls on Friday. Throw in the odd corporate bankruptcy, an old-skool bank writedown, and the odd kleptocraric land-grab, and the only thing bigger than this week is 80's NBA player Manute Bol (pictured, left, with teammate Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues.)

Manute, the "Dunkin' Dinka" from Sudan was, as you may well discern from his physique, something of a novelty player. His offensive skills were, well, offensive and he was a poor rebounder due to his lack of mass. He did excel in one area, however: blocking opponents' shots with his impossibly long arms. He even led the the league twice in that category.

Actually, the end of last week was a bit reminiscent of Manute as well. After the key breakdown in major indices on Wednesday, stocks appeared to execute a Manute-style rejection of the downmove on Thursday....followed by a severe rejection of the rejection on Friday. Got it? Good.

In addition to the veritable Everest of event risk this week, we are also at a fairly critical technical juncture as well. The break of the relevant trendlines and moving averages has been well-flagged, both here and elsewhere. But the recent uptick in the VIX has also taken it to interesting levels. Way back in the day, when Lehman Brothers still roamed the earth, the 30 level on the VIX usually signalled the wash-out point for bear moves in the stock market. As you can see, both before and after Lehman, equities generally turned when the VIX got to 30+, thus sending the VIX itself back down.
So in a sense, this week will provide an interesitng laboratory for us to determine if the market truly is more "normal", or whether the darkest fears of the most ursine bears will be realized. If Macro Man were a sell-side analyst this morning, he'd probably write something like "risky assets are either a great buy or a great sale at these Friday we'll know which one." In practice, it is unsurprising that implied vol across assets is getting pumped up.

Indeed, the week has already witnessed its first "volatility event." Unluggy Mrs. Watanabe, perennially poor punter of foreign exchange, experienced a Manute-sized drawdown in her account today. ZAR/JPY, a cross that offers granite-like liquidity at the best of times, was evidently the subject of a horrendously-executed margin call stop-loss run, which sent the cross down 10% from Friday's highs.
Naturally, it has since recouped virtually all the losses, giving a Manute-sized headache to Mrs. Watanabe and anyone else unfortunate enough to leave a round-the-clock stop loss order in the ZAR.

Anyhow, it's game on, and this week will set the stage for the end of the year. Macro Man is preparing to take his shots; he can only hope that he doesn't encounter Manute barring his way to the basket.