Global Market Comments
November 29, 2019
(WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION DEBT?)
($TNX), (TLT), (TBT)
Global Market Comments
November 29, 2019
(WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION DEBT?)
($TNX), (TLT), (TBT)
When I was a little kid during the early 1950s, my grandfather used to endlessly rail against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The WWI veteran, who was mustard-gassed in the trenches of France and was a lifetime dyed-in-the-wool Republican, said the former president was a dictator and a traitor to his class who trampled the constitution with complete disregard.
Republican presidential candidates Hoover, Landon, and Dewey would have done much better jobs.
What was worse, FDR had run up such enormous debts during the Great Depression that would ruin not only my life but my children’s as well.
As a six-year-old, this disturbed me deeply as it appeared that just out of diapers, my life was already going to be dull, brutish, and pointless.
Grandpa continued his ranting until a three-pack a day Lucky Strike non-filter habit finally killed him in 1977.
He insisted until the day he died that there was no definitive proof that cigarettes caused lung cancer even though during his war, they referred to them as “coffin nails.”
He was stubborn as a mule to the end. And you wonder who I got it from?
What my grandfather’s comments did do was spark in me a lifetime interest in the government bond market, not only ours, but everyone else’s around the world.
So, whatever happened to the despised, future-destroying Roosevelt debt?
In short, it went to money heaven.
And here, I like to use the old movie analogy. Remember when someone walked into a diner in those old black and white flicks, checked out the prices on the menu on the wall. It says “Coffee: 5 cents, Hamburgers: 10 cents, Steak: 50 cents.”
That is where the Roosevelt debt went.
By the time the 20 and 30-year Treasury bonds issued in the 1930s came due, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam happened, and the great inflation that followed.
The purchasing power of the dollar cratered, falling roughly 90%. Coffee is now $1.00, a hamburger at MacDonald’s is $5.00, and a cheap steak at Outback cost $12.00.
The government, in effect, only had to pay back 10 cents on the dollar in terms of current purchasing power on whatever it borrowed in the thirties.
Who paid for this free lunch?
Bond owners who received minimal and often negative real, inflation-adjusted returns on fixed-income investments for three decades.
In the end, it was the risk avoiders who picked up the tab. This is why bonds became known as “certificates of confiscation” during the seventies and eighties.
This is not a new thing. About 300 years ago, governments figured out there was easy money to be had by issuing paper money, borrowing massively, stimulating the local economy, creating inflation, and then repaying the debt in devalued future paper money.
This is one of the main reasons why we have governments, and why they have grown so big. Unsurprisingly, France was the first, followed by England and every other major country.
Ever wonder how the new, impoverished United States paid for the Revolutionary War?
It issued paper money by the bale, which dropped in purchasing power by two thirds by the end of conflict in 1783. The British helped too by flooding the country with counterfeit paper Continental money.
Bondholders can expect to receive a long series of rude awakenings sometime in the future.
No wonder Bill Gross, the former head of bond giant PIMCO, says will get ashes in his stocking for Christmas next year.
The scary thing is that, eventually, we will enter a new 30-year bear market for bonds that lasts all the way until 2049. However, after last month’s frenetic spike up in bond prices, and down in bond yields, that is looking more like a 2022 than a 2019 position.
This is certainly what the demographics are saying, which predicts an inflationary blow-off in decades to come that could take short term Treasury yields to a nosebleed 12% high once more.
That scenario has the leveraged short Treasury bond ETF (TBT), which has just cratered down to $23, double to $46, and then soaring all the way to $200.
If you wonder how yields could get that high in a decade, consider one important fact.
The largest buyers of American bonds for the past three decades have been Japan and China. Between them, they have soaked up over $2 trillion worth of our debt, some 12% of the total outstanding.
Unfortunately, both countries have already entered very negative demographic pyramids, which will forestall any future large purchases of foreign bonds. They are going to need the money at home to care for burgeoning populations of old age pensioners.
So, who becomes the buyer of last resort? No one, unless the Federal Reserve comes back with QE IV, V, and VI. QE IV, in fact, has already started.
There is a lesson to be learned today from the demise of the Roosevelt debt.
It tells us that the government should be borrowing as much as it can right now with the longest maturity possible at these ultra-low interest rates and spending it all.
With real inflation-adjusted 10-year Treasury bonds now posting negative yields, they have a free pass to do so.
In effect, the government never has to pay back the money. But they do have the ability to reap immediate benefits, such as through stimulating the economy with greatly increased infrastructure spending.
Heaven knows we need it.
If I were king of the world, I would borrow $5 trillion tomorrow and disburse it only in areas that create domestic US jobs. Not a penny should go to new social programs. Long-term capital investments should be the sole target.
Here is my shopping list:
$1 trillion – new Interstate freeway system
$1 trillion – additional infrastructure repairs and maintenance
$1 trillion – conversion of our energy system to solar
$1 trillion – construction of a rural broadband network
$1 trillion – investment in R&D for everything
The projects above would create 5 million new jobs quickly. Who would pay for all of this in terms of lost purchasing power? Today’s investors in government bonds, half of whom are foreigners, principally the Chinese and Japanese. Notice that I am not committing a single dollar in spending on any walls.
How did my life turn out? Was it ruined, as my grandfather predicted?
Actually, I did pretty well for myself, as did the rest of my generation, the baby boomers.
My kids did OK too. One son just got a $1 million two-year package at a new tech startup and he is only 30. Another is deeply involved in the tech industry, and my oldest daughter is working on a PhD at the University of California. My two youngest girls are about to become the first-ever female eagle scouts.
Not too shabby.
Grandpa was always a better historian than a forecaster. But did have the last laugh. He made a fortune in real estate, betting correctly on the inflation that always follows big borrowing binges.
You know the five acres that sits under the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas today? That’s the land he bought in 1945 for $500. He sold it 32 years later for $10 million.
Not too shabby either.
Global Market Comments
October 2, 2019
(TEN MORE REASONS WHY BONDS WON’T CRASH),
(TLT), (TBT), (ELD), (MUB)
(COFFEE WITH RAY KURZWEIL), (GOOG)
Global Market Comments
September 27, 2019
(IF BONDS WON’T GO DOWN, STOCKS CAN’T EITHER),
($NIKK), (TLT), (TBT), ($TNX),
Global Market Comments
September 20, 2019
(SEPTEMBER 18 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(TLT), (FDX), (FB), (HYG), (JNK), (EEM), (BABA), (JD), (TBT), (FXE), (UUP), (AMZN), (FB), (DIS), (MSFT), (USO), (INDU),
(THE GREAT TRADING GURU SPEAKS)
Global Market Comments
September 6, 2019
(SEPTEMBER 4 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(INDU), (FXY), (FXB), (USO), (XLE), (TLT), (TBT),
(FB), (AMZN), (MSFT), (DIS), (WMT), (IWM), (TSLA), (ROKU), (UBER), (LYFT), (SLV), (SIL)
Below please find subscribers’ Q&A for the Mad Hedge Fund Trader September 4 Global Strategy Webinar broadcast from Silicon Valley with my guest and co-host Bill Davis of the Mad Day Trader. Keep those questions coming!
Q: If Trump figures out the trade war will lose him the election; will he stop it?
A: Yes, and that is a risk that hovers over all short positions in the market at all times these days because stocks will soar (INDU) when the trade war ends. We now have 18 months of share appreciation that has been frustrated or deferred by the dispute with China. The problem is that the US economy is already sliding into recession and it may already be too late to turn it around.
Q: Do you see the British pound (FXB) dropping more on the Brexit turmoil? Do you think the UK will stay in the EU?
A: If the UK ends Brexit through an election, then the pound should recover from $1.19 all the way back up to $1.65 where it was before Brexit happened four years ago. If that does happen, it will be one of the biggest trades of the year anywhere in the world, going long the British pound. This is how I always anticipated it would end. I was in England for the Brexit vote and I was convinced that if they held the election the next day, it would have lost. The only reason it won was because nobody thought it would— a lot like our own 2016 election. That brings Britain back into the EEC, saves Europe, and has a positive impact on markets globally. So, this is a big deal. Not to do so would be economic suicide for Britain, and I think wiser heads will prevail.
Q: Do you think it’s a good idea for Saudi ARAMCO to go public in Japan as reports suggest?
A: When the Arabs want to get out of the oil business (USO), (XLE), you want to also. That’s what the sale of ARAMCO is all about. They’re going to get a $1 trillion or more valuation, raising $100 billion in cash. And guess who the biggest investors in alternative energy in California are? It’s Saudi Arabia. They see no future in oil, nor should you. This is why we’ve been negative on the sector all year. By the way, bankruptcies by frackers in the U.S. are at an all-time high, another indicator that low oil prices can’t be tolerated by the US industry for long.
Q: Is it time to buy the ProShares Ultra Short 20 year Plus Treasury Bond Fund (TBT)?
A: No, not yet; I think we’re going to break 1.33% — the all-time low yield for the (TLT) will probably be somewhere just below 1.00%. We probably won’t go to absolute zero because we still have a growing economy. The countries that already have negative interest rates have shrinking economies or are already in recession, like Germany or Great Britain can justify zero rates.
Q: Are you going to run all your existing positions into expiration?
A: I’m going to try to—it’s only 12 days to expiration, and we get to keep the full profit if we do. As long as the market is dead in the middle here, there are no other positions to put on, no extreme low to buy into or extreme high to sell into. It’s a question of letting this sort of nowhere-trend play out, but also there’s nothing else to buy, so there is no need to raise cash. So, we’re 60% invested now and we’re going to try running as many of those into expiration as we can. Looks like all the long technology positions are safe (FB), (AMZN), (MSFT), (DIS). The only thing we’re pressing here are the shorts in Walmart (WMT) and Russell 2000 (IWM).
Q: Do you think it’s a good idea for Tesla (TSLA) to build another Gigafactory in Shanghai, China during a trade war? Will this blow up in Elon’s face?
A: I don’t think so because the Chinese are desperate for the Tesla technology and they just gave Tesla an exemption on import duties on all parts that need to go there to build the cars. So, that’s a very positive development for Tesla and I believe the stock is up about $10 since that news came out.
Q: Will Roku (ROKU) ever pull back? Would you buy it up here?
A: No, we recommended this thing last year at $40; it’s now up to $165, and up here it’s just wildly overbought, in chase territory. Of course, the reason that’s happening is that the big concern last year was Amazon wiping out Roku, yet they ultimately ended up partnering with Roku, and that’s worth about a 400% gain in the stock. You know the second you get into this, it’s over. There are just too many better fish to fry in the technology area.
Q: What happens if our existing Russell 2000 (IWM) September 2019 $153-$156 in-the-money vertical BEAR PUT spread Russell 2000 position closes between $156 and $153?
A: You lose money. You will get the Russell 2000 shares put to you, or sold to you at $153.00, which means you now own them, and you’ll get a big margin call from your broker for owning the extra shares. If ever it looks like we’re getting close to the strike price going into expiration, I come out precisely because of that risk. You don’t want random chance dictating whether you’re going to make money in your position or not going into expiration. If you’re worried about that, I would get out now and you can still come out with a nice profit. Or, you can always wait for another down day tomorrow.
Q: Is it time to get super aggressive shorting Lyft (LYFT) or Uber (UBER) when they openly admit that they won’t make a profit anytime in the near future?
A: The time to short Uber (UBER) and Lyft was at the IPO when the shares became available to sell. Down here I don’t really want to do very much. It’s late in the game and Uber’s down about one third from its IPO price. We begged people to stay away from this. It’s another example where they waited for the company to go ex-growth before it went public, but it didn’t leave anything for the public. It was a very badly mishandled IPO—it’s now at $31 against a $45 IPO price and was at a new all-time low just 2 days ago. You knew when they offered the drivers shares, the thing was in trouble. Sometime this will be a buy, but not yet. Go take a long nap first.
Q: Is the fact that rich people are hoarding cash a good indicator that a recession is approaching?
A: Yes, absolutely. Bonds yielding 1.45% is also an indication that the wealthy are hoarding cash from other investment and parking it in US treasury bonds. I went to the Pebble Beach Concourse d’ Elegance vintage car show a few weeks ago and all of the $10 million plus cars didn’t sell, only those priced below $100,000. That is always a good indicator that the wealthy are bailing ahead of a recession. If you can’t get a premium price for your vintage Ferrari, trouble is coming.
Q: Argentina just implemented currency controls; is this the start of a rolling currency crisis among emerging nations?
A: No, I believe the problems are unique to Argentina. They’ve adopted what is known as Modern Momentary Theory—i.e. borrowing and printing money like crazy. Unfortunately, this is unsustainable and results in a devalued currency, general instability, and the eventual hanging of their leaders from the nearest lamppost. This is exactly the same monetary policy that the Trump administration has been pursuing since he came into office. Eventually, it will lead to tears, ours, not his.
Q: Is the new all-electric Porsche Taycan a threat to Tesla?
A: No, it’s not. Their cheapest car is $150,000 and it gets one third less range than Tesla does. It’s really aimed at Porsche fanatics, and I doubt they will get outside their core market. In the meantime, Tesla has taken over the middle part of the electric market with the Model 3 at $37,000 a car. That’s where the money is, and Porsche will never get there.
Q: How will the US pull out of recession if the interest rates are at or below zero?
A: It won’t—that’s what a lot of economists are concerned about these days. With interest rates below zero, the Fed has lost its primary means to stimulate the economy. The only thing left to do is use creative means like feeding the economy with currency, which Europe has been doing for 10 years, and Japan for 30, with no results. That’s another reason to not allow rates to get back to zero—so we have tools to use when we go into a recession 12-24 months from now.
Q: What’s the best way to buy silver?
A: The ETF iShares Silver Trust (SLV) and, if you want to be aggressive, the silver miners with the Global X Silver Miners ETF (SIL).
Q: Have global central banks ruined the western economic system as we know it for future generations?
A: They may have—mostly by printing too much money in the last 10 years in order to get us out of recession. This hasn’t really worked for Europe or Japan, mind you, though who knows how much worse off they would be if they hadn’t. What it did do here is head off a Great Depression. If we go back to money printing in a big way, however, and it doesn’t work, we will not have prevented a Great Depression so much as pushed it back 10 or 15 years. That’s the great debate ongoing among economists, and it will eventually be settled by the marketplace.
Global Market Comments
July 31, 2019
SPECIAL FIXED INCOME ISSUE
(ITALY’S BIG WAKE UP CALL),
(TLT), ($TNX), (TBT), (SPY), ($INDU), (FXE), (UUP), (USO),
(WELCOME TO THE DEFLATIONARY CENTURY),
Those planning a European vacation this summer just received a big gift from Mario Draghi, the outgoing president of the European Central Bank. His promise to re-accelerate quantitative easing in Europe has sent the Euro crashing and the US dollar soaring.
Over the last two weeks, the Euro (FXE) has fallen by 2.5%. That $1,000 Florence hotel suite now costs only $975. Mille Gracie!
You can blame the political instability in the Home of Caesar, which has not had a functioning government since WWII. The big fear is that the extreme left would form a collation government with the extreme right that could lead to its departure from the European Community and the Euro. Think of it as Bernie Sanders joining Donald Trump!
In fact, Italy has had 62 different governments since WWII. They change administrations like I change luxury cars, about once a year. Welcome to European debt crisis part 27.
I can’t remember the last time markets cared about what happened in Europe. It was probably the first Greek debt crisis in 2011. As a result, German ten-year bunds have cratered from 0.60% to -0.40%. But they care today, big time.
Given the reaction of the global financial markets, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the world had just ended.
US Treasury Bond yields (TLT) saw their biggest plunge in years, off 120 basis points to 2.05%.
Even oil prices collapsed for an entirely separate set of reasons, the price of Texas Tea pared 20% since April on spreading global recession fears.
Saudi Arabia looks like it’s about to abandon the wildly successful OPEC production quotas that have been boosting oil prices for the past year. Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, responding with an undeclared tanker war in the Persian Gulf, which I flew over myself only a few weeks ago. The geopolitical premium is back with a vengeance.
So if the Italian developments are a canard, why are we REALLY going down?
You’re not going to like the answer.
It turns out that rising inflation, interest rates, oil and commodity prices, the US dollar, US national debt, budget deficits, and stagnant wage growth are a TERRIBLE backdrop for risk in general and stocks specifically. And this is all happening with the major indexes at the top end of recent ranges.
In other words, it was an accident waiting to happen.
Traders are extremely nervous, global uncertainty is high, the seasonals are awful, and Washington is a ticking time bomb. If you were wondering why I was issuing so few Trade Alerts in July, these are the reasons.
This all confirms my expectation that markets could remain stuck in increasingly narrow trading ranges for the next six months until the presidential election begins in earnest.
Which is creating opportunities.
The global race towards zero interest has the US as the principal laggard. So you should keep buying every serious dip in the bond market.
Stocks are still wildly overvalued for the short term, so I’ll keep my low profile there. As for gold (GLD) and the currencies, I keep buying dips there as well.
So watch for those coming Trade Alerts. I’m not dead yet, just resting. The contest here is to make as much money as you can, not to see how many trades you can clock. That is a brokers’ game, not yours.
Ignore the lessons of history, and the cost to your portfolio will be great. Especially if you are a bond trader!
Meet deflation, upfront and ugly.
If you looked at a chart for data from the United States, consumer prices are showing a feeble 1.6% YOY price gain. This is below the Federal Reserve’s own 2.0% annual inflation target, with most of the recent gains coming from rising oil prices.
And here’s the rub. Wage growth, which accounts for 70% of the inflation calculation, has been practically nil. So, don’t expect inflation to rise much from here despite an unemployment rate at a 50-year low.
We are not just having a deflationary year or decade. We may be having a deflationary century.
If so, it will not be the first one.
The 19th century saw continuously falling prices as well. Read the financial history of the United States, and it is beset with continuous stock market crashes, economic crisis, and liquidity shortages.
The union movement sprung largely from the need to put a break on falling wages created by perennial labor oversupply and sub living wages.
Enjoy riding the New York subway? Workers paid 10 cents an hour built it 120 years ago. It couldn’t be constructed today, as other more modern cities have discovered. The cost would be wildly prohibitive.
The causes of 19th-century price collapse were easy to discern. A technology boom sparked an industrial revolution that reduced the labor content of end products by ten to a hundredfold.
Instead of employing 100 women for a day to make 100 spools of thread, a single man operating a machine could do the job in an hour.
The dramatic productivity gains swept through the developing economies like a hurricane. The jump from steam to electric power during the last quarter of the century took manufacturing gains a quantum leap forward.
If any of this sounds familiar, it is because we are now seeing a repeat of the exact same impact of accelerating technology. Machines and software are replacing human workers faster than their ability to retrain for new professions.
This is why there has been no net gain in middle class wages for the past 30 years. It is the cause of the structural high U-6 “discouraged workers” employment rate as well as the millions of millennials still living in parents’ basements.
To the above, add the huge advances now being made in healthcare, biotechnology, genetic engineering, DNA-based computing, and big data solutions to problems.
If all the major diseases in the world were wiped out, a probability within 10 years, how many healthcare jobs would that destroy?
Probably tens of millions.
So the deflation that we have been suffering in recent years isn’t likely to end any time soon. If fact, it is just getting started.
Why am I interested in this issue? Of course, I always enjoy analyzing and predicting the far future using the unfolding of the last half-century as my guide. Then I have to live long enough to see if I’m right.
I did nail the rise of eight-track tapes over six-track ones, the victory of VHS over Betamax, the ascendance of Microsoft (MSFT) operating systems over OS2, and then the conquest of Apple (AAPL) over Microsoft. So, I have a pretty good track record on this front.
For bond traders especially, there are far-reaching consequences of a deflationary century. It means that there will be no bond market crash, as many are predicting, just a slow grind up in long-term bond prices instead.
Amazingly, the top in rates in this cycle only reach the bottom of past cycles at 3.25% for ten-year Treasury bonds (TLT), (TBT).
The soonest that we could possibly see real wage rises will be when a generational demographic labor shortage kicks in during the 2020s. That could be a decade off.
I say this not as a casual observer but as a trader who is constantly active in an entire range of debt instruments.