Archive for the 'EU' Category



Europe: The Lehman Moment Is Fast Approaching

I was bearish before; I’m even more bearish now. European sovereigns are evidencing a lack of confidence in their own bailout plan and the Lehman moment is fast approaching.  Have to be crazy to have much, if any exposure, to this market.  We will hit new lows.  How’s that for dire?

Building the bailout fund is incredibly similar to building a book on an IPO or secondary, something I have done hundreds of times. I can tell a bad deal from a mile away. This deal is bad.  With a hot deal, everyone wants in regardless of their fundamental view.  Funds will even play in an “okay” deal if they are confident the syndicate bid will support the selling pressure.  Sometimes, a fund is even willing to take a small  hit in the interest in maintaining a good dialogue with the Lead Managers.  But no one willingly goes into any deal if they expect to lose substantial funds.  Insiders – in this case, the EU countries with the most to lose if the deal falls apart – often add to their holdings on the offering, justifying it as a capital infusion or a necessary sacrifice.  If the UK were convinced the current plan to stave off European default would solve the crisis and substantial principal wasn’t at risk, they would gladly contribute rather than being labeled the “bad guy” by sitting out the deal.   The UK, however, recognizes that this transaction will break syndicate bid before the shares are delivered and that they have to keep their powder dry for when contagion hits their shores in a much bigger way.  Once it becomes clear to a book running manager that the deal is being given the cold shoulder by the conventional buyer, they then approach others, such as sovereign wealth funds.  In this case, that would be China but they have said no as well.

Coming up 50 billion short on a 200 billion euro book is a huge miss.   Unlike a lot of IPO’s and secondaries, the EU bailout can’t be downsized to get it to the market in an effective manner.  And by the way, a lot of downsized deals often fail because the market regards them as troubled.

Ultimately, the markets shun the underwriters with poor performance by getting their borrows lined up even before pricing.  Given the track record of the EU and IMF, the UK and US have already decided the ESFS is a short.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Advertisements

France, Italy – Slow and Angry; EU Ratification Will Fail; US Stocks.

First some good news, the ratings agencies have finally cast themselves as the most consistent market indicator with an inverse correlation of 1.00  as downgrade events are now reflected in market moves higher.   Enough said.

Monti has not been in office long enough to change a roll of toilet tissue yet already had to call for a confidence vote.  This does not bode well for the future.

My view has not changed.  Achieving ratification of the EU treaty will be akin to asking turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving.  And even if the 24 non-French, non-German, non-UK governments do approve this union with a gun to their heads, compliance with their provisions will be tough to come by.  Monti made that clear today in a veiled threat to the Germans

“To help European construction evolve in a way that unites, not divides, we cannot afford that the crisis in the euro zone brings us … the risk of conflicts between the virtuous North and an allegedly vicious South.”

In other words, “don’t even think about asking us to do anything that we don’t want to do such as collect taxes.  Culturally, we don’t do that kind of thing.”

We saw some minor protests in the Italian parliament regarding the austerity measures, with the largest Italian labor union protesting more loudly on the cobblestone streets.  Put into perspective, these protests are targeted at austerity measures being implemented by the Italian government.  Can you imagine the anger when the Germans try to pull in spending?  The Greeks rioted in the streets against fiscal prudence and cost G-Pap his job before the treaty was a twinkle in Merkozy’s eyes.  I’m going to wait until Solution #6 makes the rounds at the next summit.

But I finally understand the lack of speed which the French operate.  In fact, yesterday’s legal accomplishments, the conviction of Carlos the Jackal for blowing up part of Paris and the conviction of Jacques Chirac for raping Paris, only took 30 and 20 years, respectively.  Translated into sovereign debt issues, that should give French banks enough time for the terms of the CDS they wrote on sovereign debt to expire.  Brilliant strategy.

Germany has made it clear they won’t pay up, the US will not contribute to the IMF to bail out Europe and China will use their foreign reserves to buy Europe – not European debt – but rather Europe.  I have asked many what they see as the solution to this crisis and no one has come forward with a solution prior to Europe’s Lehman moment. That’s what it took in the US, and we only have a 2 party system.

French banks will be nationalized as will others throughout the EU.  But that is only part of the solution. Ultimately, the other twin, Mario Draghi, will have to print money and buy more bonds.  The decline in the Euro is far from over – this is only a momentary respite.

Of course, none of this bodes well for US equities.  While Europe represents only 15-20% of our end market, the contagion casts a much bigger shadow.  S&P estimates will have to come down as the dollar strengthens, resetting valuations.  Europe will cascade into recession and China’s economy will continue to contract, further hurting global growth and the US recovery which has been tracking nicely.

The E&C sector and commodities have to continue to weaken as global growth slows.  I like domestic stories that are not dependent on a burgeoning economy for earnings growth.  Managed care remains a favorite and these companies continue to raise their earnings outlook as MLR improves with fewer doctor and hospital visits. WLP at 8.3X EPS with a massive buyback (20% of shares on top of 5% retired earlier this year) still looks cheap.  If employment ever picks up, this will add to growth. Sequestration provides a better result for them than the elusive budget deal. Health care overall looks attractive. MDRX, a company that provides technology solutions to doctor practices and hospitals, supported by a $30 billion incentive boost from the government to put all patients on electronic records, is inexpensive and it is an attractive acquisition candidate for a company such as ORCL that is on record as saying it wants to increase its presence in this business.  I took a small position in CSC, a stock that has been justifiably destroyed, while I do more work on it.  Meantime I get a 3% yield which appears safe.   And of course, there is QCOM, unique in its fundamentals in the tech space.

RIMM – the only question on this company is which will last longer – my phone or the company. Right now its neck and neck.  I used to love my Blackberry but now the service and my 18 month old phone, perform as well as Michelle Bachman at a debate.

As to Bachman, she has to stop using Tammy Faye Baker’s make-up person to be taken as a “serious presidential candidate” (her words).

Europe Falls Short Again: What’s Next for Commodities and Stocks

“I could not have been more clear, I specifically asked for a bazooka and all I got was this little long range pea shooter,” said Mr. Market, clearly dejected.

Europe has done it again, taken the markets to the brink of despair, then sweet talked investors off the edge.  Frau Merkel has proven herself to be as alluring as the mythological Greek Sirens, her sweet songs of a stronger European Union with tighter budgetary controls enticing enough to convince unsuspecting traders to increase their risk.  But like a pimply faced teenager stuck at first base, they too will feel unsatisfied and longing for more.

At least they got smart about one thing, or so they believe, extending the deadline for the seminal announcement until March.  After the last two short window lead ins, they realized it takes months, or more, to craft a plan rather than a fortnight.  They will still come up short as each country realizes what Britain did which is they have no interest in being governed by the same country they had major problems with, well actually not exactly problems, more like out and out war.  However, even if reasonable  minds say that was then and this is now, the cultural divide between each country will prey upon this agreement.  But even if it does pass – it has not been officially ratified – and the countries needing approval from their broader government secures their assent, the very core of the agreement is flawed.  Let me see if I get this right: a country fails to either establish or enforce a budget in line with the requirements of the EU so the EU will then assess heavy sanctions upon the profligate nation.  Yup, that will work.

Candidly, as to my kids, I was not much of a disciplinarian. “If you do that again…,” I would say, both they and I knowing they would do it again and I would say that again.  Thankfully they turned out great.  Not so with Greece.  Without moral hazard, countries will continue to do what is in their politicians’ best interests.  Greece lied their way into the EU and the EU is responding with bailout after bailout.  I still believe allowing them to fail would be the best result.

This is the fifth bite of the apple for Europe and they continue to come up short, lagging a step behind.  Still no ring-fence, still no plan to save the banks, still nothing of substance; just words.  They are behind in everything, even video games.  The Mario Brothers went out of style a long time ago and the Italian version – Monti and Draghi – are not showing themselves to be Super Marios at all.  Draghi can get there if he opens the purse strings with a massive liquidity push, buying even more bonds than the ECB has in the past,  but despite two easings, he is still prone to alligator arms like the clients I used to wine and dine from my perch at Lehman;  his hands don’t reach the bottom of his pockets.   And with the most recent cut in rates being the result of a divided vote, it may get tougher for him to cut further given the European single mandate.  However, as the global economy slows and the USD strengthens, inflationary pressures will ease providing cover more rate cuts.

The banks still need $153 billion in new capital which I don’t see how they can raise without nationalizing some of the banks. But Santander does have a solution: they will just lower the risk level on their assets. Yup, that worked for Lehman.  So much for paying heed to the EU.  And should there ever be  a default and the CDS insurance kicks in, the global financial system will see a bigger meltdown than a forty-year old Japanese reactor.

The AAA ratings in Europe will be a relic of the past, no question as they are in virtually everyone’s mind, the only unknown is whether this will mark a near term bottom.  These ratings agencies continue to be an embarrassment, always multiple steps  behind.  Rumor has it that S&P management is urging their employees to contribute to the Herman Cain campaign for President.

Meanwhile, China continues to be slowing and I believe there is little they can do, or want to do, about the real estate bubble popping.  This bodes poorly for commodities.  With construction slowing, China has enough stockpiles of needed commodities to wait for a further decline in prices.  This is what they have always done when able and this is what makes them great traders.  They are like a private company, not worried about quarter to quarter earnings, taking a long-term view.  They were Warren Buffett before Warren Buffett became Warren Buffett, buying when others are fearful.  But with their primary end market, Europe,  going into a recession, possibly depression, the Chinese are limited in terms of what they can do to drive growth.  They would rather look for defaults and then step in and buy Greece or maybe even Hungary – its time to move on now that Taiwan seems under control.  India, though, not so much. The slowing in their economy, while not a complete surprise, is not welcome nonetheless.

This slowing will also hurt crude.  If Iran were not in the mix, we would already be trading in the 80’s to low 90’s.  Inventory figures have not been very good.

Euro short/ dollar long continues to be my favorite position.  As to stocks: I remain very light in exposure and tilted toward defensive.  Commodities look cheap but they always look cheap on the way to the bottom. I can be patient.  There has been too much beta chasing recently, in stocks such as X, that has to unwind.

The strengthening of the dollar will be as much a result of the strengthening US economy as well as the crumbling European economy.

So where can I go wrong?  The only way out of this is for massive stimulus by the ECB.   IMF rescues haven’t necessarily helped in the past. I am again inserting these charts I borrowed from JP Morgan:

IMF

The Icarus Market: High Fliers Beware

Daedalus would have made one helluva portfolio manager during these troubled times.

He was a man of moderation, caution and ingenuity.  It takes all three to succeed, or at least not lose, in this environment.  King Minos had imprisoned Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in the Labyrinth as retribution for a number of heroic acts.  With escape routes by land and sea impregnable, Daedalus used his ingenuity to fashion a set of wings for he and Icarus out of wax and feathers.  Before taking flight he cautioned his son to not fly too high lest the sun would melt the wax nor should he fly too low for the sea would dampen the feathers. Moderation, mid-level altitude, was the best course for escape and survival.

As the myth goes, Icarus had quickly mastered the use of his new wings.  He would soar and dive, soar and dive, each time extending the upper and lower levels of his flight path.  Alarmed, Daedalus repeated his warnings but the words were lost in the vacuum of the skies. Having in his mind successfully tested the boundaries of flight, Icarus decided that soaring into the skies was much more exhilarating than maintaining a steady path.  He flew higher and higher, unaware that the sun was beginning to take its toll.  The wax melted, the feathers floated down and Icarus crashed into the sea.  As he was drowning, he could be heard to say: “Damn, if I had only gotten out just before the top. Next time…”

This is an Icarus Market.  The rallies, the feelings of euphoria, suck people in and they ignore the risks, as their focus turns to the exhilaration of higher highs, a new trading range, much like Icarus extending upward his flight path.  They focus on the positives, not the negatives.  Like Daedalus, I am suggesting a moderate path, not net short and not all in long.  While I believe that the risk may be to the upside, there are too many unresolved, potentially devastating issues for me to throw caution to the wind.  My exposure remains light.  I like defensive stocks or stocks not dependent on the economy.  WLP (despite issues from the Super Committee), QCOM, value plays – my Ahmadinejad stocks as I like to call them because they are so hated (small positions in RIMM, HPQ which I shaved a bit and CSC), short EURO -long USD and of course, yield equities.  Coal continues to act like garbage and steel had no basis for rallying.

Near as we can tell Europe has not meaningfully progressed toward a workable solution to the crisis, announcing a less than suitable framework for resolution.  What was missing from the Merkozy plan was a ring-fence  for Spain and Italy, the two major trouble spots, and funding.  From the recent headlines, they are no further along to increasing the ESFS than they were then, with France still looking to the ECB in order to preserve their AAA rating, while Germany wants no part of bailing out the Icarus like French banks that assumed much too much risk. France’s AAA is gone – the S&P fat finger flub reminding me of newspapers that have already written the obituary of dying celebrities in advance of them taking their last breath.

And Europe’s recession will spill into the US, directly, and indirectly, through China.  US multinational earnings will of course be hit by recession in Europe so look for the S&P estimates to decline. China’s major end market will also suffer, continuing to pressure their exports.  And, while on China, is anyone still hanging onto the laughable hope that this bastion of self-interested opportunism is going to bail out the EU?  They won’t even do the easy stuff such as sanction Iran.  They have their own issues to contend with.

Before moving onto actual data, here’s where I am.  I fly to the underbelly of Daedalus.  As I weigh the pros and cons, I am encouraged by the US economy while expecting some moderation of corporate enthusiasm as seen in the recent reporting period.  I do not believe that we can use historical measures for determining that the market is compellingly cheap since we are in a low growth environment.  European troubles concern me the most and I would rather wait for a legitimate solution to be announced than get in front of it. Thus I don’t see significant downside to the market because each day the bar gets set lower and the bad becomes the not so bad.  If I had told you a year ago that Spanish and Italian bond yields would be just below and above 7%, respectively, you would have ventured a target on the S&P of 1000.  But the market has shown a tremendous capacity for resetting its threshold for bad news. So we will wallow in this extended trading range and likely not revisit the lows.  In fact, more money can actually flow into the US equity markets as it exits Europe but I fear that is a wish and not reality.  I would potentially turn more positive if I thought that more European Prime Ministers were poised to resign; each of the last two was worth a decent market rally.  There are 15 more PM’s in the Euro that are candidates with relative value S&P points of 5 to 15.  And even though there are no working monarchies, if say a King Juan Carlos abdicated, I would be willing to throw in a mid-afternoon rally for that – what the heck.

And the IMF will not be the answer even if they toss more chips into the pot.  I offer these charts from JP Morgan’s strategist, Michael Cembalest, showing that promises by the IMF have not yielded a great result in the past.

IMF

And while I’m in a plagiaristic mood, here is a chart from my friend David De Luca that I had sent out last week along with some commentary.  It shows the fear in equity markets. If you are one of those who believe the credit markets are leading indicators of the direction of equity markets then its time to head for the hills.  Within the past week almost $45 billion was taken out of the banking system and placed at the Fed, matching the move last seen in September 2008.  Surpassing the $108 billion peak post-Lehman, $125 billion is now being held at the Fed representing funds for loans that won’t be loaned anytime soon.  As the chart below indicates, this size withdrawal usually leads to a steep decline in the equity markets but that has not occurred yet as I do not believe today’s decline in the futures has anything to do with this. My point is that a whole lot of bad news is being obscured by other bad news or worse, bad news that is perceived as good news such as when a major corporation (read: country) loses its CEO (read: Prime Minister) without any replacement.

Repo

Beware of Greeks Returning Gifts: Push Them Into Default

JP has been cutting my hair for about 15 years.  He says the initials stand for Jean-Paul but given his decidedly Asian roots, that would be akin to Woody Allen claiming his real name is Frederico Fellini.  But I understand that working in a salon versus a barber shop requires a higher end nom de plume.   JP’s hands shake, not a great affliction for someone who makes their living holding a sharp instrument to someone’s head; actually not great for the customer either.  But I like JP, and although most who see me would likely disagree, I think he does a decent job.  Until the Greek crisis grabbed the headlines, I never attributed his shaking to having held a pair of shears in his hand as a hazard of his employment.  All that has changed.

Me: Sorry, JP, but I have to call you my barber from now on, or hair cutter, if you prefer.  You choose.

JP: I am a hairstylist, not a simple barber.

Me: Wish I could agree but you’re on the downside of 50 and the standard for a hairstylist, according to Greek doctrine, is that you retire at 45.  Anyone who can’t afford to retire at that age is no longer a hairstylist but rather a barber.

Any doubt in anyone’s mind that if Greece stays in the EU, that we will be revisiting the debacle in 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and every day in between?  My solution to getting their foot off the neck of the global markets is to let them go, push them into default.  That is the only way to put this behind us and move forward.  Short term pain for long-term gain.  Clear the decks and onward and upward. Okay, enough clichés.  The overriding issue is that the profligate countries have to be weaned off the golden teet ofGermanyand, to a lesser extent,France.   Berlusconi has attempted to re-tradeItaly’s austerity plan by extending the implementation date for hiking the retirement age.  Irelandis seeking to re-trade their agreement.  At some point a deal has to be a deal and those living in violation of those agreements have to face the consequences of non-compliance.  By allowing Greeceto default, or pushing them into default (read: bankruptcy) others will get in line.  Of course, there has to be a shock and awe safety net forSpainandItalywere Greece to default but the ECB can and should provide that.  No sense being foolish about this – have to limit the contagion.  There will be enough unintended consequences as a result of this strategy but my sense is a Greek default won’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Of course, the CDS holders will get paid and those that wrote the insurance, or took the other side, will experience a result they weren’t counting on but there is a benefit here.  The CDS market will shrink; CDS writers will understand that countries can go belly up driving the cost of the derivative significantly higher.  And with the shrinking of the CDS market, high risk investments will decrease, involuntarily chasing high risk takers (read: French banks and former New Jersey Governors) out of the market.

Were this to happen it may temporarily prop up the Euro but make no mistake about it, the Euro is going lower.  Europeis trending into recession and the only way to combat contracting growth is by easing as Draghi did today.   TheU.S.economy is getting stronger while the rest of the world is weakening.  That translates into shortEuropeagainst long dollar.  Right now the Euro seems to win both ways; that can’t last forever.

Where Are We Now

The market has had its run – and a big one at that.  Yesterday’s EU announcement was the big event bulls were waiting for and bears were dreading.  But where do we go from here?  That’s all that matters.  When the S&P has a near 4% increase in one day, on top of a double digit rise in the prior month, it’s time for a pause and some profit taking.  No one should be surprised by that.   In expectation of this give back I exited or significantly decreased my trading positions yesterday afternoon, but did not touch my core holdings.     Like the morning after hangover, the “why did I drink so much last night” question will plague many as they ask themselves why they dove into the market yesterday as it climbed higher.  Not only do they wake up with a pounding headache but they turn to the lump passed out next to them and think to themselves that he/she looked better in the bright lights of euphoria when their judgment was impaired by the toxicity of a spiking market.

My exposure is still higher than it was two weeks ago but still nowhere near fully invested although I never am completely in.  But even with that as a measure, I am what I would consider to be relatively light – roughly net long 35-40%.

For those without conviction, get out now, because the market will begin to dissect the EU solution in earnest and, more acutely, naysayers will circle around Italy, driving their rates higher and CDS spreads wider.  The volatility will continue unabated as news flow continues.  “Europe in Recession.”  “Super Committee Deadlocked; Parties Still Far Apart.”  “China Agrees to Buy EU Bonds.”  “China Declines to Participate in EU Bailout.” “European Leaders Disagreements Threaten Accord.”  “Italian and Spanish CDS Spreads Widen.” ” “France AAA Credit Downgraded.”  “Obama Has Not Been Seen in Washington for Weeks.” “Berlusconi Seen Partying with Lindsay Lohan and Porn Star Legislators Voice Their Jealousy in A No Confidence Vote.”   Expect to see them all. Yes, even the one about Berlusconi.

My primary issue with the plan announced yesterday is that there was no obvious ring fence around Spain and Italy.   There are tools that the ECB has at its disposal and will do all they can to make Italian and Spanish bonds look attractive but for those that take their cue from the credit markets, and I am usually one of those, the lack of any substantial rally in Italian and Spanish debt was a troubling sign.

So here is my conclusion:  the market is still fine.  I am not selling into the headlines but did lighten up into yesterday’s close. The markets continue to be in an overbought position.  But if the market just tracks reduced expectation for S&P earnings growth, it still has nice upside.   There is sufficient bearishness and cash to propel us higher into year end.   There will be profit taking and substantial volatility along the way as Merkel leads her colleagues through the hammering out of the details but as the biggest beneficiary of one currency, Germany still has much too much to lose if the agreement falls apart or doesn’t satisfy the markets.  My preference continues to be for defensive stocks so I capture some upside without being mortally wounded on the downside should the market collapse.

I got stopped out of some of my Euro short against the dollar but will add. Euro goes to par eventually.  I had sold most of NIHD before earnings but bought it back yesterday with an average cost near yesterday’s close.  Clearly that was a mistake but I’m sticking with it.  Less than 3X EBITDA is too cheap for this stock.   HPQ – still astonished about initial BOD approval to spin or sell PC business.  Apparently they did no prior analysis on that decision given comments from Whitman yesterday.  I’m still there but believe entire BOD should be fired.  Like KO, WLP., concerned about QCOM into EPS and high expectations.

Am I Bearish – Part II: Very Much Not – For Now

As I detailed in my post from 10/21, the resolution to the European sovereign debt crisis has played out according to what I had anticipated.  Merkel had sufficiently lowered expectations to allow for a plan the market would embrace.  U.S. corporate earnings are benefiting from the same mechanism: beating lowered expectations.  With bearishness so high, as expressed in cash not just sentiment, the market was spring coiled for a pretty strong move higher.   I had raised the prospect of a knee jerk sell on the news, always need an “out,” but that was not my high probability case and I did say I would have added on that momentary decline.  I dont’ expect same reaction in US markets as we had in Europe.  Asia type pop is more likely today.

But that is just for today, we will go up by 10-15% from here.  How do I get to my upside: market basically flat on the year despite S&P earnings up approximately 15% this year and forecast up 13% next year.   So we’re behind by that 15%, at least.

So where are we now?  Europe is in a recession and it will deepen.   In order for the banks to get to 9% Tier 1 ratios, they will begin by pulling in credit lines, removing that portion of  their liabilities.   This will lead to a further stifling of credit. Austerity measures will further crimp spending.

But most importantly we face the overhang of the details.  But at this point there is no reason not to believe that the EU will work out sufficient details to support the plan.  Maybe Washington can take a lesson on getting a plan to the finish line from the 17 EU currency countries. Nonetheless the trend of the market is higher. I am still sticking with high quality defensive stocks for the most part: WLP, KO.   After today, junk will still be junk and quality, still quality.  NFLX still overvalued, RIMM, despite all its problems, still cheaper than NFLX.  At least they are making money during an all out assault on their business model.  Hold sold most of NIHD before release given high expectations and big run but will buy tight here, down 14%.


Latest Tweets

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: