Global Market Comments
September 16, 2020
(THE BULL CASE FOR BANKS),
(JPM), (BAC), (C), (WFC), (GS), (MS)
Global Market Comments
September 16, 2020
(THE BULL CASE FOR BANKS),
(JPM), (BAC), (C), (WFC), (GS), (MS)
Banks have certainly been the red-headed stepchild of equity investment in 2020.
While technology shares have rocketed by two, three, and four-fold, banks have remained mire in the muck, down 35% on the year while the S&P 500 is up 6%.
However, all that is about to change.
Banks have become the call option on a US economic recovery. When the economic data runs hot, banks rally. When it’s cold, they sell-off. So, in recent months bank share prices have been flat-lining.
You have to now ask the question of when the data stay hot, how high will banks run?
There also is a huge sector rotation issue staring you in the face. Where would you rather put new money, stocks at all-time highs trading at ridiculous multiples, or a quality sector in the bargain basement? Big institutions have already decided what to do and are buying every dip.
Banks certainly took it on the nose with the onset of the pandemic. Interest rates went to zero and loan default rates soared, demanding a massive increase in loan loss provisions.
Much more stringent accounting rules also kicked in during January known as “Current Expected Credit Losses.” That requires banks to write off 100% of their losses immediately, rather than spread them out over a period of years.
Then in June, the Federal Reserve banned bank share buybacks and froze dividends to preserve capital in expectation of more loan defaults.
So what happens next?
For a start, fall down on your knees and thank Dodd-Frank, the Obama era financial regulation bill.
Banks carped for years that it unnecessarily and unfairly tied their hands by limiting leverage ratios to only 10:1. Morgan Stanley reached 40:1 going into the Great Recession and barely made it out alive, while ill-fated Lehman Brothers reached a suicidal 100:1 and didn’t.
That meant the banks went into the pandemic with the strongest balance sheets in decades. No financial crisis here.
Thanks to government efforts to bring the current Great Depression to a quick end, generous fees have been raining down on the banks from the numerous loan programs they are helping to implement.
And trading profits? You may have noticed that options trading volume is up a monster 95% so far in 2020 and increased by a positively meteoric 120% in August. That falls straight to the banks’ bottom lines. If you’re wondering why your online trading platform keeps crashing, that’s why.
I list below my favorite bank investments using the logic that during depressions, you want to buy Rolls Royces, Teslas, and Cadillacs at deep discounts, not Volkswagens, Fiats, or Trabants.
JP Morgan (JPM) – Is the crown jewel of the sector, with the best balance sheet and the strongest customers. It has over reserved for losses that are probably never going to happen, stowing away some $25 billion in the last quarter alone.
Morgan Stanley (MS) – Brokerage-oriented ones like Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS) are benefiting the most from the explosion in stock and options trading. I’ll pick my former employer (MS), where I once accounted for 80% of equity division profits, as (GS) is still mired in the aftermath of the $5 billion Malaysia scandal.
Bank of America (BAC) – is another quality play with a fortress balance sheet.
Citigroup (C) – Is the leveraged play in the sector with a slightly weaker balance sheet and more aggressive marketing strategy. It seems like they’re always trying to catch up with (JPM). This week’s revelation of a surprise $900 million “operational loss” and the penalties to follow knocked 13% of the share price. This is the high volatility play in the sector.
And what about Wells Fargo (WFC), you may ask, the cheapest bank of all? Unfortunately, it still has to wear a hair suit because of its many regulatory transgressions, before, during, and after the financial crisis so I’ll give it a miss. Oh, and Warren Buffet is selling too.
Global Market Comments
May 14, 2020
(TEN UGLY MESSAGES FROM THE BOND MARKET),
(TLT), (TBT), (USO), (GLD), (GS), (SPY)
The global bond markets have been screaming an ugly message at us loud and clear, and I’m afraid that it’s not a positive one.
Amazingly, US Treasury bonds have soared early this year, taking the (TLT) up a stunning 40 points.
In the meantime, stocks have suffered the sharpest crash in history, plunging ten times faster than the worst days of the 1929 crash, down 37%.
The implications for your investment portfolio are so momentous and far-reaching that I am going to have to list them one by one.
Read them and weep:
1) The US is in a severe depression.
2) The pandemic is not even close to ending. US deaths topped 85,000 yesterday and may triple from here.
3) The presidential election has become a major source of instability, and no one has any idea of how this will all end. Trump is currently trying to bankrupt the US Post Office to frustrate mail-in voting.
4) The immigration crisis is reaching a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. It has become our Syria, which landed four million immigrants in Europe.
5) The stock market is in the process of crashing…. Again, failing dramatically at the 200-day moving average. That “Sell in May” thing may work big time this year.
6) The Trump trade is toast. Financials, commodity, energy, coal, and industrial stocks are leading the charge to the downside.
7) Oil (USO) is in free fall and may go negative again, another classic recession predictor. For the first time in history. Most small and medium-sized energy companies will go under. Coal has dropped to a historic low of 19% of US electricity production, less than total alternative sources, and is never coming back.
8) Bitcoin is rocketing, up an eye-popping 100% since the crash began. This has become the big hot money trade of 2020 in addition to that other great flight to safety trade, gold (GLD).
9) The US dollar (UUP) is flatlining, wiping out the growth of the foreign earnings of US multinationals. Foreign economies are collapsing even faster than ours, taking their interest rates and currencies lower at warp speed.
10) The unemployment rate, now at all-time lows, not bottom out for months. The great irony here is that while the president vociferously campaigned on an aggressive jobs program, he may well preside over the biggest job losses in history. The Fed is targeting total unemployment of 52 million, worst than the Great Depression.
For more on this, please read my recent piece, “Why You Will Lose Your Job in the Next Five Years and What to Do About It” by clicking here.
There is another alternative explanation to all of this.
A certain Monty Python sketch about a parrot comes to mind.
That all we saw a giant short squeeze in the hedge funds’ core short position in bonds for the umpteenth time, and that we are almost done.
Hedge funds have grown in size to where they are now the perfect contrary market indicator. It is the classic “Too many people in one side of the canoe” trade. A Yogi Berra quote comes to mind; “Nobody goes there anymore because it is too crowded.”
There are other structural factors at play here which are hard to beat. For more on this, please read my opus on “Why Are Bond Yields So Low” by clicking here.
Global Market Comments
March 23, 2020
(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or WELCOME TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION),
(INDU), (SPY), (GS), (MS), (FXI), (USO), (TSLA)
The neighborhood is alive with power tools.
These are the implements that were given as Christmas presents to dads years ago. But to afford life in the San Francisco Bay Area said dads have to work 12 hours a day and weekends. Now, suddenly they have all the free time in the world and those ancient gifts are coming out of decade-old original packaging.
I’ve noticed something else about my neighborhood. People have suddenly started to turn gray. Beauty salon appointments have been banned for weeks, not designated essential businesses.
The GDP forecasts released by Goldman Sachs (MS) last week have been turning a lot of other people gray as well. Q1 is thought to show a -6% annualized shrinkage and Q2 is expected to come in at -24%. The unemployment rate will peak at 9%. Not to be outdone, Morgan Stanley (MS) cut their Q2 forecast to -30%.
That means America’s GDP will shrink to the 2016 level of $18.62 trillion, down enormously from today’s $21.5 trillion. Yes, three years of economic growth will be gone in a puff of smoke. These are far worse than the last Great Recession when the worst two quarters came in at -2% and -8%. That’s double the worst figures of the Great Recession.
In the meantime, vast swaths of the American economy are moving online, never to return.
The good news is that growth will return at a historic 12% rate in Q3. That sets up an exaggerated “V” for the stock market. How soon should you start buying stocks if this economic scenario plays out? Probably a month, if not weeks, but only if you have the courage to do so.
The numbers from China (FXI) this week are very encouraging, showing no increase in new cases. In February, they enacted the kind of severe lockdown which California enacted a week ago.
Hopefully, that means we will get the Chinese results in a month or two. But the problem is that these are Chinese numbers that may be intended more to please the government than shed light on the truth.
The first real look we get at the effectiveness of lockdown may be in Italy in a few weeks, which has been quarantined since February.
In the US, the states have abandoned all hope of help from Washington and are leading the charge with the most aggressive measures. In California, it is now illegal for 40 million people to go outside unless it is a trip to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the doctor.
The Golden State is now on a WWII footing. Tesla (TSLA) is switching production to ventilators. The state national guard is setting up field hospitals in parks. I am growing my own victory garden in the back yard.
The state is seeking to double the number of hospital beds to 20,000 within weeks. It just bought an entire hospital in Oakland, Seton Hospital. It went bankrupt last year and the administrators couldn’t give it away. The state i taking control of abandoned college dormitories and leasing empty hotels and cruise ships.
I expect food rationing to hit in a month. The distribution system is strained but working now. It may start to fail in April or May when large numbers of workers get sick.
The good news is that shelter in place should work, possibly by May. Kids are out of school until August.
With Trump refusing to put the entire country on lockdown that raises the specter of those in red states dying, while those in blue ones live. The big blue states of New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois were the first to order shelter-in-place and will certainly see lower and sooner peaks in disease and fatalities.
And guess who has a one-month supply of Chloroquine, along with antibiotics widely believed to be a cure for the Coronavirus? That would be me, who bought them to fight off malaria for my trip to Guadalcanal six weeks ago. I was planning on going back in June to collect more dog tags for the Marine Corps, so I have an extra supply. As long as you can read, I’ll still be writing.
There is one more unexpected aspect of the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders. I expect a baby boom to ensue in about nine months, thanks to all this enforced togetherness. The US birth rate has been falling for decades and is now well below the replacement rate. It’s about time we found a way to turn it around. Just don’t count me in on this one. I already have five kids.
So, you’re still asking for a market bottom.
The futures in Asia are limit down as I write this, just above the Dow Average 17,000 handle (INDU), thanks to the Senate failure to pass a virus rescue bill. Near 15,000 seems within range, down 49% from the February high. Modern history is no longer relevant here. We have to go back to 1929 to see numbers this extreme. I’ll be doing the research on that in the coming days.
The 1987 crash was already revisited a week ago, with a 3,000-point plunge in the Dow Average, or 12%. Some 33 years ago, we saw a 20% single day haircut, which I remember too well. This is with the Federal Reserve throwing everything at the stock market but the kitchen sink. I never thought I’d live long enough to see another one of these.
The Fed took interest rates to zero to stave off a depression, but the stock market crashes in overnight trading anyway. That brings the total to 150 basis points in cuts in five days. The Treasury is to buy an eye-popping $700 billion in mortgage securities to clear out the refi market for the first time in a decade. The Fed has just fired its last bullets to save stocks.
Goldman Sachs is targeting 2,000 in the (SPX), down 10% from here and 41% from the top. That is a 14X multiple on a 2020 S&P 500 earnings decline from $165 to $143. Yes, it’s just a guess. Investors could care less now about fundamentals or technicals. Cash is king.
Oil (USO) is headed for the teens. Saudi Arabia is ramping up production to a record 13 million barrels a day. The recession is collapsing US demand from 20 to 15 million b/d, half of which is consumed by transportation.
Russian national income has just collapsed by 75%. Will there by a second Russian Revolution? The 3% of the US market capitalization accounted for by energy stocks will drop below 1%. Fill her up! Avoid energy, even though some are going for pennies on the dollar.
The only data point that counts now is the daily real-time Corona tally of cases and deaths from Johns Hopkins, (click here). All other economic data is now irrelevant. Right now we are at 335,997 cases worldwide and 14,641 deaths. The US is at a frightening 33,276 cases as of writing.
Insider buying is exploding, with CEOs picking up their own stocks at 50%-70% discounts. Charles Scarf, president of Wells Fargo, just bought $5 million worth of (WFC) down 52% from the recent top. This is a legendary indicator that we may be within weeks of a market bottom.
The New York Stock Exchange closes its floor trading operations last week after several members tested positive for the Corona virus. Online trading will continue, where 95% of the business migrated years ago. It’s really just a TV stage now.
It’s all about hedge funds, triggering the massive volatility of the past month. They have been unwinding massive positions with up to 13X leverage in illiquid markets that can’t handle the massive volume.
When the last hedge fund is liquidated, the market will go up and the (VIX) will collapse. They may have started and the (VIX) plunged an incredible 25 points in hours.
Trump asked states to keep unemployment data secret to minimize market impact. Just what we need, less information, not more. The Weekly Jobless Claims were a bombshell, adding 70,000 to 271,000, the sharpest increase in a decade. Look for far worse to come in coming weeks as whole industries are shut down, and state unemployment computers explode from the weight of applications. Jobless Claims over 2 million are imminent!
Existing Home Sales soared by a stunning 6.5% in February, a 13-year high. The West saw an amazing 17% increase. The median home price jumped by 8% YOY. While the data is great, it’s all pre-Corona. It is illegal for people to go out to look at homes in many states, and no one wants to sell to keep strangers out of the house.
When we come out on the other side of this, we will be perfectly poised to launch into my new American Golden Age, or the next Roaring Twenties. With interest rates at zero, oil at $20 a barrel, and many stocks down by three quarters, there will be no reason not to.
My Global Trading Dispatch performance has had a great week, thanks to the collapse in market volatility, pulling back by -8.22% in March, taking my 2020 YTD return down to -11.14%. That compares to an incredible loss for the Dow Average of -37% at the Friday low. My trailing one-year return was pared back to 31.68%. My ten-year average annualized profit shrank to +33.56%.
I have been fighting a battle for the ages on a daily basis to limit my losses. My goal here is to make it back big time when the market comes roaring back in the second half.
My short volatility positions have largely recovered. I shorted the (VXX) when the Volatility Index (VIX) was at $35. It then went to an unbelievable $80 before falling back to $55. I was saved by only trading in very long maturity, very deep out-of-the-money (VXX) put options where time value will maintain a lot of their value. Now, we have time decay working in our favor. These will all come good well before their one-year expiration.
At the slightest sign of a break in the pandemic, the economy and shares should come roaring back. Right now, I have a 70% cash position.
On Monday, March 23 at 7:30 AM, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index is out.
On Tuesday, March 24 at 9:00 AM, the New Home Sales for February are released.
On Wednesday, March 25, at 7:30 AM, US Durable Goods for February are published.
On Thursday, March 26 at 7:30 AM, Weekly Jobless Claims are announced. The number could top 1,000,000. The final read on Q4 GDP is announced, although it is ancient history.
On Friday, March 27 at 9:00 AM, the US Personal Income for February is printed. The Baker Hughes Rig Count follows at 2:00 PM.
As for me, I will be in training doing daily ten-mile hikes with a 50-pound backpack. I will be leading the Boy Scouts on a 50-mile hike at Philmont in New Mexico. I expect the epidemic to peak well before then and normalcy to return.
Shelter in place will work. Please stay healthy.
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader
First, Apple (APPL) collaborates with Goldman Sachs’ (GS) offering of a credit card even giving credit access to subprime borrowers.
And now Google (GOOGL) has its eyes on the banking industry — specifically, it’ll soon offer checking accounts.
In a copycat league where anything and everything is fair game, we are seeing a huge influx of big tech companies vie for the digital wallets of Americans.
The project is aptly named Cache and accounts will be handled by Citibank (C) and a credit union at Stanford.
Google’s spokesman shared with us admitting that Google hopes to “partner deeply with banks and the financial system,” and further added, “If we can help more people do more stuff in a digital way online, it’s good for the internet and good for us.”
I would disagree with the marginal statement that it would be good for us.
Facebook (FB) is now offering a Pay option and how long will it be until Amazon (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT), and others throw their name into the banking mix.
I believe there will be some monumental failures because it appears that these tech companies won’t offer anything that current bank intuitions aren’t offering already.
Moving forward, the odd that digital banking products will become saturated quickly is high.
Let’s cut to the chase, this is a pure data grab, and not in the vein of offering innovative services that force the consumer down a revolutionary product experience.
As the consumer starts to smarten up, will they happily reveal every single data point possible to these tech companies?
Big tech continues to be adamant that personal data is secure with them, but their track records are pitiful.
Even if Google doesn’t sell “individual data”, there are easy workarounds by just slapping number tags on aggregated data, then aggregated data can be reverse-engineered by extracting specific data with number tags.
The cracks have already started to surface, Co-Founder of Apple Steve Wozniak has already claimed that the credit algorithm for Apple’s Goldman Sach’s credit card is sexist and flawed.
Time is ticking until the first mass data theft as well and let me add that the result of this is usually a slap on the wrist incentivizing bad behavior.
I believe big tech companies should be banned from issuing banking products.
Only 4% of consumers switched banks last year, and a 2017 survey by Bankrate shows that the average American adult keeps the same checking account for around 16 years.
As anti-trust regulation starts to gather more steam, I envision lawmakers snuffing out any and every attempt for big tech to diversify into fintech.
It’s fair to say that Google should have done this 10 years ago when the regulatory issues were nonexistent.
Now they have regulators breathing down their necks.
Let me remind readers that the reason why Facebook abandoned their digital currency Libra was because of the pressure lawmakers applied to every company interesting in working with Facebook’s Libra.
Lawmakers threatened Visa and Mastercard that they would investigate every part of their business, including the parts that have nothing to do with Facebook’s Libra, if they went ahead with the Libra project.
The most telling insight comes from the best tech company Microsoft who has raised the bar in terms of protecting their reputation on data and trust.
They decided to stay away from financial products like the black plague.
Better to stay in their lane than take wild shots that incur unneeded high risks.
When U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees banking, was asked about Google and banking, he quipped, “There ought to be very strict scrutiny.”
Big tech is now on the verge of getting ferociously regulated and that could turn out positive for the big American banks, PayPal (PYPL), Visa (V), Mastercard (MA) and Square (SQ).
I heavily doubt that Google will turn Cache into a meaningful business unless Google offers some jaw-dropping interest rates or elevated points to move the needle.
Google has canceled weekly all-hands meetings because of the tension between staff members and Facebook is also just as dysfunctional at the employee level.
Whoever said it’s easy to manage a high-stake, too-big-to-fail tech firm?
Even with all the negativity, Google is still a cash cow and if regulatory headwinds are 2-3 years off, they are a buy and hold until they are not.
The recent tech rally, after the rotation to value, has seen investors flood into Apple, Microsoft, and Google as de-facto safe haven tech plays.
Global Market Comments
October 8, 2019
(HOW TO GAIN AN ADVANTAGE WITH PARALLEL TRADING),
(GM), (F), (TM), (NSANY), (DDAIF), BMW (BMWYY), (VWAPY),
(PALL), (GS), (RSX), (EZA), (CAT), (CMI), (KMTUY),
(KODK), (SLV), (AAPL),
One of the most fascinating things I learned when I first joined the equity trading desk at Morgan Stanley during the early 1980s was how to parallel trade.
A customer order would come in to buy a million shares of General Motors (GM) and what did the in-house proprietary trading book do immediately?
It loaded the boat with the shares of Ford Motors (F).
When I asked about this tactic, I was taken away to a quiet corner of the office and read the riot act.
“This is how you legally front run a customer,” I was told.
Buy (GM) in front of a customer order, and you will find yourself in Sing Sing shortly.
Ford (F), Toyota (TM), Nissan (NSANY), Daimler Benz (DDAIF), BMW (BMWYY), or Volkswagen (VWAPY), are no problem.
The logic here was very simple.
Perhaps the client completed an exhaustive piece of research concluding that (GM) earnings were about to rise.
Or maybe a client old boy network picked up some valuable insider information.
(GM) doesn’t do business in isolation. It has tens of thousands of parts suppliers for a start. While whatever is good for (GM) is good for America, it is GREAT for the auto industry.
So through buying (F) on the back of a (GM) might not only match the (GM) share performance, it might even exceed it.
This is known as a Primary Parallel Trade.
This understanding led me on a lifelong quest to understand Cross Asset Class Correlations, which continues to this day.
Whenever you buy one thing, you buy another related thing as well, which might do considerably better.
I eventually made friends with a senior trader at Salomon Brothers while they were attempting to recruit me to run their Japanese desk.
I asked if this kind of legal front running happened on their desk.
“Absolutely,” he responded. But he then took Cross Asset Class Correlations to a whole new level for me.
Not only did Salomons buy (F) in that situation, they also bought palladium (PALL).
I was puzzled. Why palladium?
Because palladium is the principal metal used in catalytic converters, which remove toxic emissions from car exhaust, and have been required for every U.S. manufactured car since 1975.
Lots of car sales, which the (GM) buying implied, ALSO meant lots of palladium buying.
And here’s the sweetener.
Palladium trading is relatively illiquid.
So, if you catch a surge in the price of this white metal, you would earn a multiple of what you would make on your boring old parallel (F) trade.
This is known in the trade as a Secondary Parallel Trade.
A few months later, Morgan Stanley sent me to an investment conference to represent the firm.
I was having lunch with a trader at Goldman Sachs (GS) who would later become a famous hedge fund manager and asked him about the (GM)-(F)-(PALL) trade.
He said I would be an IDIOT not to take advantage of such correlations. Then he one-upped me.
You can do a Tertiary Parallel Trade here through buying mining equipment companies such as Caterpillar (CAT), Cummins (CMI), and Komatsu (KMTUY).
Since this guy was one of the smartest traders I ever ran into, I asked him if there was such a thing as a Quaternary Parallel Trade.
He answered “Abso******lutely,” as was his way.
But the first thing he always did when searching for Quaternary Parallel Trades would be to buy the country ETF for the world’s largest supplier of the commodity in question.
In the case of palladium, that would be Russia (RSX) followed by South Africa (EZA), which together account for 74% of the world’s total production.
Since then, I have discovered hundreds of what I call Parallel Trading Chains, and have been actively making money off of them. So have you, you just haven’t realized it yet.
I could go on and on.
If you ever become puzzled or confused about a trade alert I am sending out (Why on earth is he doing THAT?), there is often a parallel trade in play.
Do this for decades as I have and you learn that some parallel trades break down and die. The cross relationships no longer function.
The best example I can think of is the photography/silver connection. When the photography business was booming, silver prices rose smartly.
Digital photography wiped out this trade, and silver-based film development is still only used by a handful of professionals and hobbyists.
Oh, and Eastman Kodak (KODK) went bankrupt in 2012.
However, it seems that whenever one Parallel Trading Chain disappears, many more replace it.
You could build chains a mile long simply based on how well Apple (AAPL) is doing.
And guess what? There is a new parallel trade in silver developing. For whenever someone builds a solar panel anywhere in the world, they are using a small amount of silver for the wiring. Build several tens of millions of solar panels and that can add up to quite a lot of silver.
What goes around comes around.
Suffice it to say that parallel trading is an incredibly useful trading strategy.
Ignore it at your peril.
Global Market Comments
September 30, 2019
(MARKET OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEK AHEAD, or INTERESTING TIMES ARE UPON US)
(MO), (PM), (FXB), (SPY), ($INDU), (GS), (MTCH), (USO), (UUP)