February 27, 2019

Global Market Comments
February 27, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(TLT), (TBT), ($TNX), (FCX), (FXE), (FXY), (FXA),
 (USO), (OXY), (ITB), (LEN), (HD), (GLD), (SLV), (CU),

Why China’s US Treasury Dump Will Crush the Bond Market

Years ago, if you asked traders what one event would destroy financial markets, the answer was always the same: China dumping its $1 trillion US treasury bond hoard.

It looks like Armageddon is finally here.

Once again, the Chinese boycotted this week’s US Treasury bond auction.

With a no-show like this, you could be printing a 2.90% yield in a couple of weeks. It also helps a lot that the charts are outing in a major long term double top.

You may read the president’s punitive duties on Chinese solar panels as yet another attempt to crush California’s burgeoning solar installation industry. I took it for what it really was: a signal to double up my short in the US Treasury bond market.

For it looks like the Chinese finally got the memo. Exploding American deficits have become the number one driver of all asset classes, perhaps for the next decade.

Not only are American bonds about to fall dramatically in value, so is the US dollar (UUP) in which they are denominated. This creates a double negative hockey stick effect on their value for any foreign investor.

In fact, you can draw up an all assets class portfolio based on the assumption that the US government is now the new debt hog:

Stocks – buy inflation plays like Freeport McMoRan (FCX) and US Steel (X)
Emerging Markets – Buy asset producers like Chile (ECH)
Bonds – run a double short position in the (TLT)
Foreign Exchange – buy the Euro (FXE), Yen (FXY), and Aussie (FXA)
Commodities – Buy copper (CU) as an inflation hedge
Energy – another inflation beneficiary (USO), (OXY)
Precious Metals – entering a new bull market for gold (GLD) and silver (SLV)

Yes, all of sudden everything has become so simple, as if the fog has suddenly been lifted.

Focus on the US budget deficit which has soared from $450 billion a year ago to over $1 trillion today on its way to $2 trillion later this year, and every investment decision becomes a piece of cake.

This exponential growth of US government borrowing should take the US National Debt from $22 to $30 trillion over the next decade.

I have been dealing with the Chinese government for 45 years and have come to know them well. They never forget anything. They are still trying to get the West to atone for three Opium Wars that started 180 years ago.

Imagine how long it will take them to forget about washing machine duties?

By the way, if I look uncommonly thin in the photo below it’s because there was a famine raging in China during the Cultural Revolution in which 50 million died. You couldn’t find food to buy in the countryside for all the money in the world. This is when you find out that food has no substitutes. The Chinese government never owned up to it.





February 20, 2019

Global Market Comments
February 20, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(COPX), (GLD), (FCX), (BHP), (RIO), (SIL),
 (PPLT), (PALL), (GOLD), (ECH), (EWZ), (IDX),
(DHI), (LEN), (PHM), (ITB)

January 9, 2019

Global Market Comments
January 9, 2019
Fiat Lux

2019 Annual Asset Class Review
A Global Vision


Featured Trades:
(SPX), (QQQQ), (XLF), (XLE), (XLI), (XLY),
(TLT), (TBT), (JNK), (PHB), (HYG), (PCY), (MUB), (HCP)
(FXE), (EUO), (FXC), (FXA), (YCS), (FXY), (CYB)
(FCX), (VALE),

(DIG), (RIG), (USO), (UNG), (USO), (OXY),
(GLD), (GDX), (SLV),
(ITB), (LEN), (KBH), (PHM)

August 17, 2018

Global Market Comments
August 17, 2018
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:
(ITB), (PHM), (KBH), (LEN), (DHI), (NVR), (TOL),

April 18, 2018

Global Market Comments
April 18, 2018
Fiat Lux

Special Residential Real Estate Issue

Featured Trade:
(DHI), (TOL), (LEN), (ITB), (KBH)

Why the Real Estate Boom Has a Decade to Run

Real estate brokers are still reeling from the news that December existing home sales rocketed by a blockbuster 14.7%, to an annualized 5.46 million units.

And now I hear that Apple (AAPL) is planning on building a second new research and development campus that will need 20,000 new high tech workers. The housing crisis here in the San Francisco Bay area just went from bad to worse.

It is all fresh fuel for a continuation in the bull market for US residential real estate, not just for this year, but for another decade.

Friends in the industry tell me the eye popping numbers were due to the implementation of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) in October.

Dubbed the ?Know before you owe? requirement, TRID is the inevitable outcome of the 2008 subprime housing crash.

If you weren?t born yet in 2008, or were living in a cave on a remote Pacific island back then, go watch the movie ?The Big Short? for a further explanation of those dark days.

As a result, real estate closings now take at least a week longer, and sometimes more, thanks to a new requirement for several three day ?cooling off periods.?

When the new law kicked in, TRID nearly brought he industry to a halt, and firms were sent scurrying to their attorneys to draw up the new disclosure forms to stay within the law.

TRID undoubtedly was responsible for the slowdown in the market in the run up to December.

Although prices seem high now, I am convinced that we are only at the beginning of a long term secular bull market in housing. Anything you purchase now is going to make you look like a genius ten years down the road.

The best is yet to come.

The big driver will be demographics, of course.

From 2022 onward, 65 million Gen Xer?s will be joined by 85 million late blooming Millennials in bidding wars for the same houses. That will create a market of 150 million buyers, unprecedented in the history of the American real estate market.

In the meantime, 80 million baby boomers, net sellers and downsizers of homes for the past decade, will slowly die off and disappear from the scene as a negative influence. Only one third are still working.

The first boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, born seconds after midnight on January 1, 1946, will become 76 years old by then. A former school teacher, she took early retirement at 62.

The real fat on the fire here is that 5 million homes went missing in action this decade, thanks to the financial crisis. They were never built.

This is the result of the bankruptcy of several homebuilders, and the new found ultra conservatism of the survivors, like DR Horton (DHI), Lennar Homes (LEN), and Pulte Group (PHM).

Did I mention that all of this makes this sector a screaming ?BUY?, once the market moves into ?RISK ON? mode later in the year?

Talk to any real estate agent and they will complain about the shortage of inventory (except in Chicago, the slowest growing market in the country).

Prices are so high already that flippers have been squeezed out of the market for good. Bottom feeders, like hedge funds buying at the bankruptcy auctions, are a distant memory. Some now own more than 20,000 homes.

Income taxes are certain to rise in coming years, and the generous deductions allowed homeowners are looking more attractive by the day.

And let?s face it, ultra low interest rates aren?t going to be here forever. Borrow at 3% today against a long term 3% inflation rate, and you are essentially getting you house for free.

The rising rents that are turning Millennials from renters to buyers may be the first sign of real inflation beyond the increasingly dear health care and higher education that we’re are already seeing.

And Millennials are having kids that demand a bigger living space! Who knew?

I may become a grandfather yet!

DHI 1-27-16

PHM 1-27-16

LEN 1-27-16

Home-HouseLooks Like a ?BUY? to Me

Stress Testing the Mad Hedge Fund Trader Strategy

It is always a great idea to know how bomb proof your portfolio is.

Big hedge funds have teams of MIT educated mathematicians that constantly build models that stress test their holdings for every conceivable outcome.

WWIII? A Global pandemic? A 1,000 point flash crash? No problem. Analysts will tell you to the decimal point exactly how trading books will perform in every possible scenario.

The problem is that these are just predictions, which is code for ?educated guesses.?

The most notorious example of this was the Long Term Capital Management melt down where the best minds in the world constructed a portfolio that essentially vaporized in two weeks with a total loss.

S&P 500 volatility (VIX) exceeding $40? Never happen!

Oops. Better get those resumes out!

That?s why events like the Monday, August 24 1,000 flash crash are particularly valuable. While numbers and probabilities are great, they are not certainties. Nothing beats real world experience.

As markets are populated by humans, they will do things that no one can anticipate. Every machine has its programming shortcoming.

Given that standard, I think the Mad Hedge Fund Trader?s strategy did pretty well in the downdraft. I went into Monday with an aggressive ?RISK ON? portfolio that included the following:

MHFT Trading Book

The basic assumptions of this book were that the long term bull market has more to run, the housing sector would lead, interest rates would rise going into the September 17 Federal Reserve meeting, the dollar would remain strong, and that stock market volatility would stay within a 12%-20% range.

What we got was the sharpest one-day stock decline in history, a 28 basis point spike up in interest rates, a complete collapse in the dollar, and stock market volatility at an eye popping 53.85%.

Yikes! I couldn?t have been more wrong.

Now here?s the good news.

When we finally got believable options prices 30 minutes after the opening I priced my portfolio, bracing myself. My August performance plunged from +5.12% on Friday to -10%.

Hey, I never promised you a rose garden.

But that only took my performance for the year back to my June 17 figure, when I was up 23% on the year. In other words, I had only given up two months worth of profits, and that was at the low of the day.

I then sat back and watched the Dow rally an incredible 800 points. Now it was time to de risk. So I dumped my entire portfolio. The assumptions for the portfolio were no longer valid, so I unloaded the entire thing.

This was no time to be stubborn, proud, and full of hubris.

By the end of the day, I was down only -0.48% for August, and up +32.65% for the year.

Ask any manager, and they would have given their right arm to be down only -0.28% on August 24.

Of course, it helped that I had spent all month aggressively shorting the market into the crash, building up a nice 5.12% bank of profits to trade against. That is one of the reasons you subscribe to the Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader.

The biggest hit came from my short position in the Japanese yen (FXY), which was just backing off of a decade low and therefore coiled for a sharp reversal. It cost me -4.85%.

My smallest loss was found in the short Treasury bond position (TLT), where I only shed 1.52%. But the (TLT) had already rallied 9 points going into the crash, so I was only able to eke out another 4 points to the upside on a flight to safety bid.

Lennar Homes gave me a 2.59% hickey, while the S&P 500 long I added only on Friday (after all, the market was then already extremely oversold) subtracted another 1.61%.

The big lesson here is that my short option hedges were worth their weight in gold. Without them, the losses on the Monday opening would have been intolerable, some two to three times higher.

You can come back from a 10% loss. I have done so many times in my life. A 30% loss is a completely different kettle of fish, and is life threatening.

For years, readers complained that my strategy was too conservative and cautious, really suited for the old man that I have become.

Readers were able to make a lot more money following my Trade Alerts through just buying the call options and skipping the hedge, or better yet, buying the futures.

I didn?t receive a single one of those complaints on Monday.

I?ll tell you who you didn?t hear from on Monday, and that was friends who pursued the moronic trading strategies you often find touted on the Internet.

That includes approaches like leveraged naked shorting of puts that are always advertising fantastic track records…when they work.

You didn?t hear from them because they were on the phone pleading with their brokers while they were forcibly liquidating portfolio showing 100% losses.

Any idiot can look like a genius shorting puts until it blows up in their face on a day like Monday and they lose everything they have. I know this because many of these people end up buying my service after getting wiped out by others.

I work on the theory that I am too old to go broke and start over. Besides, Morgan Stanley probably wouldn?t have me back anyway. It?s a different firm now.

Would I have made more money just sitting tight and doing nothing?


But the risks involved would have been unacceptable. I would have failed my own test of not being able to sleep at night. That is not what this service is all about.

In any case, I know I can go back to the market and make money anytime I want. That makes the hits easier to swallow.

You can?t do this without any capital.

With the stress test of stress tests behind us, the rest of the years should be a piece of cake.

Good luck, and good trading.

FXY 8-27-15

TLT 8-27-15

LEN 8-27-15

SPY 8-27-15

John ThomasSometimes It Pays to Be Old

Real Estate Bidding Wars Go National

Two years ago, there was an open house listed in the San Francisco Chronicle in my neighborhood for $1.8 million. It offered a cavernous 6,000 square feet, five bedrooms, a generous den I could use as a home office, a gourmet kitchen, and a spectacular view of the entire bay area. It was a slow Sunday, so I went to check it out.

The home offered every imaginable upgrade, including a four-car garage, elevator, and beveled glass windows in the 1,000-bottle temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar. Nobody cared. The building was deserted except for a lonely and depressed listing agent. The only visitors had been a handful of other real estate agents.

The seller gave up, pulled the listing, and rented it to a visiting Oracle executive for two years. I heard the agent got so fed up dealing with people in bad moods that she left the industry.

Last weekend, another open house was advertised for the same exact house. I thought I would drop by and see how the market had changed. There was not a parking spot to be found on the street. After quite a hike, I made it to the house, only to be told to wait in line to gain entry. The rooms were as crowded as a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. I briefly lost the kids in the shuffle. And this was at the new listing price of $3.5 million. Yikes!

I asked a younger, slimmer, better looking listing agent if there had been any interest. She answered abruptly that there had been three all-cash offers since the morning. Unless I wanted to pay over the asking price, I shouldn?t waist my time. Double yikes!

The bottom line of this little interchange is that the recovery in the residential real estate market is real, has legs, and will have a major positive impact on the US economy. The implications for the rest of us are huge.

The turnaround came much earlier than many analysts expected, and has proceeded with an amazing ferocity. Demographic data suggest this wasn?t supposed to happen until 2022, when most of the Baby Boomers have retired and a new generation of homebuyers appears. Home mortgages, especially jumbos, are still hard to get. The banks are still laboring under a stock of 5 million foreclosed homes. Some 20% of homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages and are unable to trade up or out.

It appears that the prospect of the end of the ultra low interest regime offsets all of this. The Fed is certainly putting the pedal to the metal, with 3.5% interest rates charged for 30-year mortgages. Everyone knows these are a once a century occurrence, hence the bubble 2.0. Buyers are ducking credit issues by paying all cash for 50% of recent closing. Hedge funds, private equity funds, and other long-term investors are still generating 30% of purchases, as they see this a one great big yield play.

We learned as much yesterday when the January S&P-Case Shiller data was released. It was a blowout report, with the 20-city index showing an eye popping 8.1% YOY gain in prices. This is three-month-old data, and February and March are expected to be stronger still.

The basket cases of yesterday are delivering the headiest gains, with Phoenix up +23.2%, San Francisco, +17.5%, and Las Vegas, +15.3%. The foreclosure capital of the United States only a year ago, Atlanta, showed a robust +13.4% improvement.

The residential real estate market is not without its shortcomings. First time homebuyers have been conspicuously absent, accounting for only 30% of new deals, instead of 60% during the last cycle. They are, no doubt, being shut out by credit issues. What will happen to the millions of homes that institutions bought, once their have substantial capital gains? My bet is that they sell to realize profits, capping further appreciation.

The snapback in new construction has been even more dramatic. Monthly new housing starts have soared from the low 300,000?s to 800,000 in the last three years, a jump of 167%. That?s still a fraction of the 2.2 million peak we saw in 2006. Surviving homebuilders like Lennar (LEN), Pulte Homes (PHM), and KB Homes (KBH) so dramatically shrank their cost basis during the dark days that they are unable to meet current demand.

The obvious benefit for the rest of us is the addition of 50-75 basis points to the US GDP growth rate this year. We?ll get a better read with a future GDP announcement, which could bring in a preliminary Q1 number as high as 3%. That will most likely take us to the Fed?s target of a headline unemployment rate of 6.5% sooner than later.

There is a greater advantage for we stock investors. Some two thirds of the home equity lost since the 2008 crash has been recovered. The total value of the US housing stock has bounced back from $10 trillion to $17 trillion. That creates a huge ?wealth effect? that steers more individual investors back into risk assets generally, and shares specifically. Should anyone be surprised that the Dow average is grinding to new all time highs every other day?

Not a day goes by when you don?t hear of shortages of workers in the building trades, such carpenters and plumbers. As a result, the shares of this sector have been the best market performers over the past 18 months, with some issues rising sevenfold. Whatever you do, don?t rush out and buy these stocks. They have run too far, too fast, and the risk/reward is terrible here. You missed it. I missed it.

Better just to bask in the glow of a home that it rising in value daily, and a retirement portfolio that is doing the same.

LEN 3-27-13

PHM 3-27-13

KBH 3-27-13

S&P Case Shiller Home Price

House Keys

What Am I Bid?

Don’t Get Caught in the Next Real Estate Bubble

Before you place a down payment on that next home, consider that you are voluntarily becoming dependent on government welfare, reliant on massive subsidies, and may become the next ward of the state.

Don?t kid yourself that the housing market has become anything but another bubble driven by artificially low interest rates and lax lending standards. Without the wholesale privatization of profits and socialization of losses, the current ebullient real estate market would instantly cease to exist. That cruel ending may be a lot closer than you think, as well.

Some 95% of all home mortgages are now bought by the US home mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That is up from only 35% in 2006. Never mind that both of these institutions are in conservatorship, which is a polite way of saying they are bankrupt, having burned through all of their capital during the housing bust.

Without this source of government funds, there is absolutely no way banks would be lending anywhere near the amount they are, as the spreads have become too minuscule to make it worthwhile. But by selling loans to the government they can offload their risk and skim off handsome fees along the way.

This is why the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve has grown to a mind boggling $3.8 trillion, on its way to $5 trillion, but we are measuring no real growth in the money supply. The money is simply moving from one government account to another, untouched by human hands.

The current pattern of modest appreciation in the most oversold markets, like Miami, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, will continue, as long as the Fed is giving us money for free and the government is bearing all the credit risk. When that ends, things could turn very ugly, very fast.

Most of my hedge fund friends expect ten-year Treasury yields to be back above 4% in two years. That would take the rates for the conventional 30-year fixed rate home loans from 3.50% to 6%, or more. Double the cost of carry on a house, and you halve the affordability. The effects on the secondary market would be devastating.

While many have nice paper profits on houses they bought over the last two years, that all becomes very academic if you can?t sell. The number of homeowners currently delinquent or in foreclosure would soar from the current 6 million to 16 million. That would be piled on top of the 30 million hapless homeowners, who, despite the bounce, are still underwater on their mortgages.

This is not some wild conspiracy theory that I picked up on the Internet. Since congress is in a cost cutting mood, the chances of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac getting sufficient recapitalization are small. The home mortgage tax deduction is also on the chopping block. At the very least, we can expect it to get pared back to mortgages of $500,000 or less. That would seriously boost the real after tax cost of homeownership, especially on the high priced left and right coasts.

Of course, the good times will continue as long as the Fed is spiking the punchbowl. Buyers are strongly motivated by existing home prices that are half of the new cost of construction, as well as a fraction of 2006 peak prices. As my friends say in New Orleans, where great deals are still to be had, ?Laissez les bons temps rouler? (let the good times roll).

Current guidance says they will maintain ultra low interest rates until the unemployment rate falls below 6.5%, down from the present 7.8%, which we could see in two years. Those driven more by demographic data, like me, don?t see such a turnaround for five more years.

I am not seeing another crash here. A more likely scenario is that we continue to bounce along a bottom for several more years. Tell me how bullish prospective homebuyers will be after we see a 2,000-point plunge in the Dow, which could come as early as this summer.

What this does illustrate is how grotesquely expensive the homebuilding stocks have become, like Lennar (LEN), Pulte Home (PHM), and KB Homes (KB). These stocks are up as much as 700% in 18 months. This entire piece is in response to a question I got yesterday, Should I be buying the homebuilders here. My answer is a full throated ?NO!?

The only bull market you can really count on is the one for rents, which will accelerate, once the long term decline in homeownership resumes.


PHM 2-11-13

KBH 2-11-13House in Bubble