Archive for the 'EU IMF' Category

Playing Poker with the EU: Why There Won’t Be A QE 3

Wistful visions of a Bernanke Put have kept many invested. It is everything they want it to be: the lifeline, the safety net, the impetus for economic growth.  However, I believe it is unlikely to happen.  The logic is simple: Europe is much more fiscally troubled than the US and is arguably the source of not only market turmoil but also for economic angst in the US.  Without a shock and awe resolution from the EU, any further easing from the US will be ineffective in reversing our declining economic fortunes so why waste the powder.  And with Europe in much more desperate shape, in recession , broadly, and possibly headed toward a depression in Spain (Greece there already) it is much more incumbent upon the EU to provide a shock and awe solution to their economic woes sooner rather than later.  Additionally, Bernanke has come under significant criticism for his prior QE’s so why not let Europe do the heavy lifting this time around?  The European solution, if credible, will obviate the need for further stimulus from the US.  China keeps threatening to stimulate their economy and should this happen,  this could also lessen the burden on the American economy.   If I were Bernanke, I would play this hand to conclusion.  Not even another deficient jobs number will change my view.  In fact, I believe that the payroll report will come in above consensus based upon what I hear from my source who has been almost clairvoyant in their forecasts based upon real-time information.  They see strength across all sectors.  It won’t be a blow out number but should be comfortably above consensus.  This will lead to a short covering rally and a good opportunity to lower exposure

Separately, a great review for The Big Win http://seekingalpha.com/article/625331-book-review-the-big-win :

Book Review: The Big Win
Just as whale watching is a popular adventure tour for nature lovers, reading about the whales of finance is a popular pastime for investors. InThe Big Win: Learning from the Legends to Become a More Successful Investor (Wiley, 2012) Stephen L. Weiss profiles one woman and seven men who have truly excelled.

First, a caveat about what Weiss describes as “the ugly reality of whale watching,” by which he means “blindly following large, smart buyers into a stock or other investment.” (p. 25)

 

Unless an investor has insight into the whale’s rationale for making a particular investment, his time frame, and his risk appetite, the investor is at a considerable disadvantage. It is critically important, as Weiss writes, to “understand the process. … The true value of these case studies … is in understanding each investor’s methods, not standing in awe of their results.” (pp. 32-33)

 

Weiss’s eight legends—Renée Haugerud, James S. Chanos, Lee Ainslie, Chuck Royce, A. Alfred Taubman, James Beeland Rogers Jr., R. Donahue Peebles, and Martin J. Whitman— each carved out a niche and developed an investing style.

Haugerud, for instance, is a top-down investor. Her hedge fund, Galtere Ltd., has a five-stage investment process: taking the temperature of the global markets, developing a few themes, microanalyzing and selecting strategic investments, timing trades technically, and applying risk management. Her “big win” came in 1993. With gold trading as much as 40% above the world’s highest cost of production and the one-year bonds of Canada’s western provinces yielding 9 to 12%, she shorted gold for a rate of less than 1%, bought the bonds, and hedged her short gold position with undervalued small-cap stocks of mining producers in Australia that had high margins and low production costs. “‘All three legs worked,’ as Haugerud puts it, and all kept working for a good long while. It was a simple trade, and the returns were good enough to carry that year’s performance to her stated goal and beyond.” (p. 50)

Chanos is a short seller, Ainslie a stock picker, Royce a small cap investor. Taubman and Peebles are both real estate developers, Rogers is a commodities investor, and Whitman is best known as a distressed debt investor.

What do all these legends have in common? Weiss catalogs seven traits: no emotion, no ego, long-term investors, discipline, thorough research process, passion and work ethic, and drive. Or, reduced to six words:

 

“Drive. Passion. Process. Equanimity. Discipline. Humility. These are the commonalities between all those profiled in this book and the qualities that make for a great—and legendary—investor.” (p. 17)

 

The Big Win is an easy, thoroughly enjoyable read for those who want to learn from the whales.

Am I Still Bearish? Sort of Not

I have had very light equity exposure for an extended period of time with periods of being net short to being fairly long. Fortunately, with the indices having been range bound, the opportunity cost has been insignificant. As I mentioned in a prior note being bearish is exhausting, lonely and counter to my natural optimism (although I do admit to always maintaining a healthy dose of cynicism). Imagine taking your child to see 101 Dalmatians and loudly rooting for Cruella deVille to come out on top. Your kid shrinks away to another seat on the other side of the theater while others shun you. That’s how bears are treated.

I continually second guess my investment thesis, trying to see what the other side sees. I weigh the inputs underlying my stance, marking them to market. I try to remove the bias of my position as I seek additional data that is either supportive or unsupportive of my position. And of course, there is always the fear of acting from emotion that prompts a change in thinking, a feeling that you weren’t invited to the party, of being left out. And most of all, there is that greatest fear of all, of having reversed course at absolutely the wrong time. And in full disclosure, I have not always made the turn in a very timely fashion. I did well in 2008 but hardly made any money in 2009. Although I was still ahead of the game, it still didn’t feel good missing out on a ripping bull market move.

So where am I now? I am warming up to the market. Why? Well, I have often said I have seen this movie before and it ended badly but maybe there will be a different ending to this installment because everyone else had also seen the prequel to the 2011 financial crisis. My ending has banks struggling to raise capital, some, like Dexia or perhaps Greece, going belly up, credit continuing to tighten, economies contracting – the culmination of all these fears and others I haven’t listed causing a massive wave of selling. But guess what? Merkel and Sarkozy and the more responsible members of the G-20 and EU were also around in 2008 and they have no interest in revisiting that scenario. Granted they have waited too long and the cost of delay has ratcheted up the price of a cure. Germany and France have the most to lose by not putting forth a viable solution. While expectations for a total and complete solution are still high, they have been ratcheted down enough to be attainable, or near attainable with the promise to be completely resolved in the next 3 to 6 months. Shock and awe is not in the cards and everyone knows it. But will they give us enough to put a floor under the market and cause under invested funds to chase performance? I think so.

Swimming upstream, against the tide of bullishness that is the unwavering stance by the vast majority of pundits and market participants is difficult enough but imagine the flood gates being opened and the water gushing at you as you flutter kick your portfolio like a foam kickboard. The world is awash in liquidity. It all comes down to not fighting the Fed. But the much maligned U.S. Fed has recruited a legion of Central Bankers to fight the battle: the EU, IMF and China. This is a massive liquidity push by every printing press on the planet. So for now, I am entering into surrender negotiations and further increasing my exposure further.

I am by no means becoming fully invested for I still have that evil twin whispering in my ear. The global economy is in terrible shape but what do I know that others don’t? I don’t have an edge on China – it’s a property bubble that has already begun to leak – but the Chief Communist (as opposed to Chief Economist) knows that. I think that will end ugly but they can throw enough money at it in the interim to allow the S&P to rise to 1250, a random number, while their market declines. Europe is in recession but that thinking is convention and is nothing that $1.3 trillion can’t cure.

The most alpha will likely be generated through commodities and materials – the most economically sensitive investments – but I can’t go all that way in. There is too much risk in case I am wrong. I do like the fertilizer companies for the long term and although recovering, they have been beaten worse than a Middle Eastern dictator. I still prefer the more boring fundamentally, bottoms up investments epitomized by MDRX, KO, QCOM, WLP, NIHD. My risk is in bottom fishing on HPQ and, dare I admit it, RIMM. I cut back my Euro short against the dollar but will rebuild that position again at some point.

How long the cure lasts is what keeps a lid on my exposure. At some point austerity leads to slower growth and U.S. economic policy is non-existent as Washington remains rudderless. Everyone believes China will bail out every local government, corporate and individual spectators but I don’t. After all, they are communists and not prone to providing handouts to failing billionaires or local governments who have repeatedly disobeyed central government directives. There will be some pain to teach them a lesson.

I won’t be discouraged if there is a sell on the news mentality once the EU deal is announced. And I am rooting for another delay in the announcement because that means they are still arguing – eh, negotiating. And I expect leaks from the negotiations to cause some volatility. We should continue to move higher, perhaps rally 20% before going lower, likely hitting prior lows.

Whoops, there I go again.

European Sovereign Debt Crisis Survey – What Is/Was Discounted In The Markets

In my view, the most important issue facing the markets is the European sovereign debt crisis. This issue is the breeding ground for so many other factors facing the global economy being that the EU collectively represents perhaps the most significant trading partner for China and the U.S. With this in mind, last Friday, I sent out a survey containing 5 simple questions to a small portion of my contact list with the intent of gauging what sophisticated, institutional investors believe the market is telling us about resolution of the crisis. Admittedly, the sampling was small in terms of respondents but the dollars under management significant. I supplemented the written survey with  conversations soliciting responses to the same questions. Fortunately, not one of my friends added me to their Do Not Call List. Now, in full disclosure, I am not a graduate of Quinnipiac University nor a former employee of Harris Polling, but this did not stop me from understanding the clear message of the data. The overwhelming majority of the respondents believe that the market is discounting the most positive scenario and that if this were not delivered, albeit with a time frame for compliance of 3 to 6 months, that the indices would hit new lows. Giving credence to this view is the fact that the recent rally in the S&P began contemporaneously with the Sarkozy and Merkel speech wherein they stated that they have a meeting of the minds regarding what needs to be done to stem the crisis. November 3rd was the drop dead date they offered for presenting a unified plan although recent chatter and an increased sense of urgency has served to have brought the date for resolution closer by a week.

Today, this changed, as Germany threw cold water on a shock and awe solution resulting in a 2% decline in the S&P. It would not be inappropriate to argue that the market went from an oversold to overbought and today’s action was normal consolidation but I disagree. Now, in fairness, I applaud the Germans for reining in expectations that became much too optimistic. I had, in fact, pointed out in prior notes that the news flow would create peaks and valleys in the averages along the road to November 3rd. Today was the first valley but I feel there will be more to come. I also mentioned late last week (Have We Seen The Future: The European Solution…  October 13th) that I had taken off some long exposure and right now I have no interest in revisiting my strategy. That was the right move and I further reduced my net long exposure early in today’s trading session.

I hope the Europeans continue to reset expectations but even if they do, it will only forestall the inevitable because I do not see shock and awe coming anytime soon. I remain cautious on the market overall and continue to see the Euro short as a compelling investment.

Have We Seen The Future: The European Solution/ China Slowing?

Being bearish is so exhausting.  I felt so lonely; every day reading analyst research reports increasing estimates, strategists targeting S&P 1300 – it was getting to me. And then the endless articles about the negative feedback loop, castigating those who dared voice a jaded view on the economy.  Much like those kindergarten girls who I coached in soccer many years ago, I thought every broad based comment was directed at me.  I needed a break.  I decided it wouldn’t be that difficult to change my outlook since I tend to be more optimistic than pessimistic. I find life much easier that way and with my golf game if I focused on the negative, if I only looked at the blemishes, I would be a really bad tennis player instead of a decent golfer (caution: literary license at work). I looked for an opening, a sign of what could go right.  Europe was the biggest near term issue and I decided to put myself in the Germans’ shoes. I took off my Tod’s, after all, they are a sign of profligate Italian spending, and figuratively put on a pair of Jackboots. I channeled Merkel and decided that the German motivation for holding the Euro together was stronger than the Greek’s desire to derail it.  After all, given that Germany is one of the strongest economies in the world with trade surpluses only recently surpassed by China, if they were to have their own currency it would decimate their export economy.  Germany needs weak partners in the Euro so that their machine tools and cars look cheap to the rest of the world. 

 

I took off all my short exposure, primarily index shorts, beginning of last week, which of course, took my long exposure higher. I added to this by increasing my holdings in some core holdings including KO, QCOM and WLP, and picked up a bargain in NIHD. I started to pare back exposure yesterday, first at a leisurely pace, only to see the news about the potential framework of the European bank recapitalization erase about a third of yesterday’s gains. The news wasn’t a surprise to me; I had written that I had expected bumps in the road to EU resolution from “leaks” and dissension to occur before we reached the moment of resolution. Slovakia didn’t scare me; their decision was an easy one – either return to using live cattle and goats as a currency or approve the ESFS.  For the Slovakian politicians, with 50% of their trade into the EU, it is only a question of how many new Mercedes and Volkswagens they could wring out of the Germans.  My reason for cutting back exposure was fairly simple which is that the market move higher was, in my view, entirely due to Sarkozy and Merkel guaranteeing a “deal” by November 3rd.  For bulls, the European debt crisis had been the governor on the market, holding it back from much higher levels, believing that corporate earnings remain robust and that China is not slowing.  But has the market been too generous in taking Merkozy at their word when they have arguably done little to earn it.  And, by the by, the EU isn’t only about France and Germany.   

 

So what is the market assuming?  My best guess is that equity investors assume a shock and awe plan which would entail:  massive liquidity injections into the economy whether in the form of a TARP like plan or some other mechanism: continued buying of sovereign bonds; capital injections into banks and backstopping future equity holders accompanied by massive dilution to existing shareholders; and either Greece defaults in a controlled manner, with a one time alimony payment, or a write-down of its debt to believable levels.  SIGN ME UP.  Actually I did sign up as I noted above.  Instead what we got yesterday was the hint that the banks may be given a period of time to raise their Tier 1 capital ratio to 9%.  They are a number of ways to do this: sell equity which they have said they don’t need thus limiting the appeal of doing so at 50% of book (I choose not to believe those numbers); convert debt to equity; or cut credit lines which, of course, has the impact of improving the balance sheet. If this were to be the plan, we saw the future yesterday in terms of US equity market reaction and today, in the sell-off of the European markets.  It wasn’t good.  But even assuming the markets go for this plan either because optimists win the day or because the market retreats thus lowering the hurdle rate what is acceptable, and the banks succeed in raising capital, there will be marked uncertainty during the period of capital raising and the eventual effect will be a slowing of growth as credit availability declines.  And this, of course, assumes that investors are as gullible in believing that Tier 1 capital is 9% as they were in believing the stress tests were accurate.  Bottom line, to quote that noted philosopher Michelle Bachmann “the devil is in the details.” 

 

The other issues of course are what a Greek default would do to the markets and the potential for a downgrade of French debt.  The best news for France is just like in WWII, they were on the sidelines while we fought the battle.  As the US came through virtually unscathed so will the French.  As to a Greek default, the result is more up in the air. Most equity investors I believe assume that any default would be accompanied by ring fencing the debt of Spain and Italy and this would be positive.  Who needs ouzo when we have grappa? Of course, any significant haircut only worsens the bank’s balance sheets but that is assumed to be taken into account as well. What about a big haircut: well, the banks responded to that potential today much like Hercules did when faced with the same scenario. 

 

But wait! Here comes Mario Draghi to the rescue.  That’s like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of compliance.  Draghi knows how to spend it so he knows austerity from the other side.  He will undoubtedly cut rates at either his first, or more likely, second meeting.  By that time, European numbers will show recession and commodities will have declined to a level low enough to provide cover for a 50 BP cut. 

 

Unless the Troika comes forth with a plan of shock and awe that removes all doubt about further contagion, I see the market fading.  Even if the shock and awe doesn’t dazzle, the surrounding issues are becoming too prevalent to ignore. In my view, as evidenced by the trade numbers form China, the European economies are slowing significantly.  US earnings season has a decidedly different tone out of the gate then those of the past 6 or so quarters. And Washington is still a mess. Actually the bright spot from Washington is that I expect a partial ray of sunshine as the Republicans and Democrats come to common ground on some mechanism to create jobs. I would expect infrastructure spending and military put to work in some fashion but keep in mind that there is a decent lag to the passing of the bill and the actual spend.  I also believe that if Romney is able to break to the front of the pack convincingly, it might actually help matters in D.C. and bring Obama more to the center while also giving business leaders hope if Romney can take a strong lead in the polls over Obama.  However, with no votes being cast in any primaries just yet, this is way too soon to call.

 Is China’s export economy slowing or are they trying to fend off a trade war and pressure to let their currency rise by showing such poor numbers?  Depends if you believe their numbers or not.  I do in this case but only because it supports my investment thesis on China slowing. I’ll take what they give me.  Jawboning down economic activity further pressures commodity prices allowing them to stockpile inventories. 

 JPM:  if JPM can’t put up decent numbers with the strength of their franchise, then what does that say about the rest of the financials?  The regional brokers are in for a world of hurt. JPM is picking up share in IB and still down 31%.

 Although I disagree with what appears to be the overriding premise of the OWS movement which is the distribution of earned wealth to those who haven’t earned it such as community organizers (sorry that slipped.  After all, community organizers are the farm team for the Presidency), I do admire their ability to mount a globally coordinated effort.  In fact, I would like to see them share their insights with the EU and Washington in terms of how to accomplish a purpose, any purpose at this point. 

 I think RIMM’s moment of silence for the passing of Steve Job’s lasted a bit too long.


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