Tag Archives: imf

The Fed is Cornering Itself

The government shutdown has passed and the markets are still here. The stopgap measures that kicked the can into early next year merely provided a buying opportunity in the interest rate sector for the top 1% while providing the catalyst for the final leg up in a bubble that makes the housing issue of ’07 look like an appetizer. Recent reports suggest that two separate papers presented at the International Monetary Fund meeting this week highlight the potential for a serious revision and extension of the fiscal stimulus plans already in place. Given the current nature of our markets, it’s hard to see how this doesn’t turn sour in the long run.

The Federal Reserve Board has two primary objectives; fostering full employment and stabilizing market prices. Historically, market prices referred to those things in life, which affect all of us like, milk, gasoline and farmland. This perspective has increasingly shifted towards the stabilization of more esoteric prices like the stock markets and interest rates. This shift in focus was originally designed to prop up a swooning stock market as well as getting capital flowing again during the heart of the economic collapse of ’08. The markets came roaring back with equities more than doubling and reaching all time highs this year and interest rates have bumped along at historic lows ever since.

The Fed achieved their goal of stabilizing prices ages ago and it has been proven that each additional increase in Quantitative Easing has been exponentially less effective than the previous one. This path will be followed for the next four years as Janet Yellen is handed the reins of the Fed next year. Why would the smartest minds ignore the data that so clearly illustrates these points? The simple answer is that, “and in other news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached another new high today,” sounds like a win to the average John Doe. The truth is that the average John Doe has never participated less in a stock market rally. Furthermore, the headline unemployment rate of 7.2% does not take into account that the labor participation rate is at a 35 year low. Therefore, the unemployment rate as published fails to include 90 million Americans who’ve simply given up looking for work and are drawing no unemployment assistance, thus no longer counting as unemployed.

Recent talk of tapering off the $85 billion per month Fed bond buying programs spooked the equity markets and sent the bond market plummeting, and rightly so. There’s no question that the excess capital created by the Fed must end up somewhere. We’ve seen a full rotation out of stocks and interest rates and into commodities and gold. Now, it’s out of commodities and back into interest rates and equities. The government shutdown created the mother of all buying opportunities in the interest rate sector. You can see the commercial trader buying surge as the Fed’s suggestion in May scared the market. I believe this could lead to the final phase of an interest rate bubble that dwarfs the housing bubble because the big money knows the Fed is too scared to take their foot off of the accelerator and has backed themselves into a corner due to their willingness to manipulate prices on the open market.

We’ve already seen some of the smartest bond money in the world step aside with Bill Gross of Pimco choosing to exit the 30-year bond bull. However, like most smart money, he’s probably early on the way out and will probably miss the last leg up. Although, he was recently quoted about buying the bottom of the shutdown that it was like, “picking up pennies on the street. Somehow, I think he’ll survive. His pennies are not the same as my copper pennies. Banking analyst Dick Bove said on CNBC that the US balance sheet shows us at $16 TRILLION in the hole. Most of this is coming due between 2018 and 2020 as the Fed has taken advantage of lower yields across the board to increase the average length of maturity from 4.1 to 5.4 years since 2009.

Finally, the two papers presented this week will suggest that we EXTEND the length of the QE programs from the original goal of 6.5% unemployment and 2.5% inflation to perhaps 6% or even 5.5% unemployment as inflation is yet to rear its head. The Fed has increased its monetary base from less than $1 trillion prior to the economic implosion to more than $3.6 trillion. If the economic stimulus is the cause of the decline in unemployment from 10% to 7.2%, not counting a quarter of the US population who’ve quit looking for work, then a linear equation suggests that another $1 trillion would get us to 6% unemployment.

Current bond market expectations suggest the 10-year Treasury Note may close the year near 2.25%. That’s approximately 60 basis points above our current price of 126^27. The market would have to reach a new all time high of 133^13 for yields to decline this far. This represents a $6,500 rally per contract in the 10-year Note futures. Given the nature of the bond market, I expect to be able to get this market bought around the 125^00 level and would risk the trade to the 16-day government shutdown low around 122^00. This would provide a risk to reward of $3,000 to $8,400. While we fully intend to trade the bond rally, our primary concern remains focused on what happens once it’s over. The big question remains, “How can the Fed weasel its way out of a situation that they created for themselves while continuing to suggest not only its continuation but, its continuation beyond the original scope of its design?”

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Insidious Effects of the Dollar’s Decline

The United States is home to the largest and most liquid investment markets in the world. There’s hardly a market one can think of that isn’t exchange listed. This has made the United States the primary destination for excess global capital placement whether it has gone towards the relative safety of government bonds or been more aggressively allocated towards stocks, ETF’s or even the futures markets. The final destination of the investible funds is less important than the singular characteristic that all these investments have in common. They’re denominated in US Dollars and the Dollar’s value may be more meaningful than the underlying asset class.

Investment securities are not protected from the vagaries of their underlying currencies. Therefore, globally allocated investments owned in US Dollars can lose money in a flat market if the Dollar declines. The Dollar peaked in early July and has since fallen by more than 6%. Therefore, if your US equity portfolio hasn’t gained more than 6% since July, you’ve actually lost money. The Governmental shut down has accelerated the recent slide and pushed the Dollar to a new 30 day low for the second time this week. This is only the second time since May of 2011 that we’ve made multiple 30-day lows in the same trading week.

Perhaps more troubling to global investors than the currency-based loss is the fact that the traditional safe haven investments, even in Dollar terms, have not behaved as expected. The primary relationship between the Dollar and the US equity markets since the financial implosion of 2008 has been negative. This has been embodied by Dollar rallies on stock market declines. Very simply, foreign capital gets converted to US Dollars and placed to work through buying declines in the stock market. Conversely, when foreign investors take profits in a rising stock market and convert back to their base currency, the Dollar falls.

We also see this relationship play out in the gold market. Economists on TV tell us to buy gold as a defense against a declining US Dollar. Sensationalists point to the overwhelming debt being created by our country and tell us to buy gold because our country is on the verge of implosion and our currency will become worthless. Speaking of correlations, it’s amazing how many of the people saying this are the ones selling gold investments. Astute investors would notice that the correlation between these two markets has been trending upwards since early June. This means they’re moving in the same direction more frequently rather than opposite each other as expected.

Foreign purchases of US goods have always been Dollar dependent. Every nation and agricultural enterprise within every nation is forced to tie their commodity purchases accordingly. Therefore, it becomes especially disturbing when a weaker Dollar fails to attract foreign purchases of global staples. Beginning in August of 2012 we started to see the commodity markets decouple from the US Dollar. Wheat was the first market to be sated. Corn followed suit in October of 2012 and hogs joined the new normal last November. This means that even base foreign needs have been filled. Therefore, they are more likely to trade in the same direction as the Dollar going forward rather than the typical negative correlation that we’ve seen from bargain hunters looking for inflation in the commodity markets.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that world Consumer Price Index (CPI) came in at 3.2% year over year for August. This is down from 4.9% a little over a year ago and ties in rather neatly with gold’s last run at $1,800 per ounce early last October. The US unemployment rate is generally believed to be artificially low in the as reported number of 7.3% and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) here in the US came in at a very tame 2.5%. These statistics, combined with a low global industrial capacity usage number suggest that inflation is nowhere near. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve Board’s recent decision not to implement a tapering of the $85 billion per month in economic stimulus reinforces the notion that their primary concern is deflation, rather than inflation.

Many economists believe that we may be near a tipping point in the bull run that has followed the economic meltdown of 2008. The obvious concern now lies in the protection of the wealth that’s been garnered during the recent run. Clearly, the ownership of alternative investments isn’t going to play out the way the pundits have suggested. Therefore, investment vehicles that will profit from a decline in both asset value and currency depreciation should be seriously considered. These include inverse ETF’s as well the futures markets, which will allow the seamless execution of short trades including currencies. Equity futures spreads selling small caps like the Russell 2000 and buying big caps like the S&P500 are also a good idea when expecting volatile, downward markets. Remember that cash is only king as long as the King’s throne isn’t sinking.

Cyprus Citizens vs. Russian Oligarchs

Cyprus has found its way into the epicenter of the European debt crisis by forcing their government to publicly choose whether they’re on the side of their citizens or whether they’ll side with billions of Rubles. It’s been several months since we’ve discussed the European debt crisis, which has now been brought to the fore by tiny little Cyprus. This little island in the Mediterranean is home to about 1.2 million people and sits on about 3,500 square miles. This makes its population smaller than Dallas and San Diego and slightly larger than San Jose or, Jacksonville while physically it fits between Rhode Island and Delaware.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 amidst reports that Cyprus is primarily a money laundering country used mostly by Russians. Der Spiegel, a German newspaper, published a lengthy article in January based on an investigation by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service regarding the degree of money laundering in Cyprus. The report found that more than $26 billion of the $80 billion that flowed out of Russia in 2011 ended up in Cypriot banks. The $26 billion that found its way into Cyprus is greater than their entire annual GDP.

The issue that Cyprus faces is that their role as a financial services hub has been severely hampered by the economic collapse of 2008. This has been made worse by the low tax rates and favorable corporate regulations that were used as incentives to attract capital in the first place. Therefore, Cyprus is stuck with the compounded slowdown of a declining economic base due to increased regulation along with a declining domestic tax base. The final blow to the Cypriot banking system is due to the failure of their banks’ investments in Greece.

The Cyprus government is now left with the unenviable task of finding a balance between its residents and the appeasement of its Russian investors. Current proposals suggest sharing the load between the Cypriot citizens and the Russian oligarchs. The European troika, (European Safety Mechanism, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) wants Cyprus to come up with matching funds to bail them out.

The original proposal would have taxed bank accounts under $100,000 6.75% and accounts over $100,000 9.9%. The second proposal has several splits including removing the protection on deposits over $100,000 and taking the money from over funded accounts most likely held by Russian businesses. The downside, according to JP Morgan is that this would cost investors about 15% of their funds above $100,000. The third option is to split the costs of the failing banks by charging  3% on accounts less than $100,000, 10% on accounts between $100,000 – $500,000 and 15% on accounts above $500,000.

These are all logical solutions to an illogical problem that must be addressed by our societies as a whole. We’ve been discussing the flight of capital and capital will always flow towards the greatest possible potential. Cypriot corporate tax rates are half of the Russian rates and their capital gains taxes are even friendlier. The policies that have been put in place to attract capital come at the expense of those with no capital to spare. These morals are not tied to foreign capital and money laundering; they’re based on the collusion and graft of the people making the rules. Unfortunately, those of us with no voice will be expected to pay their share when things turn south.

Cyprus has seen its banks closed for days. There could be a run on the banks but I don’t think there will be. The billions of Rubles that flow through Cyprus will provide enough grease to absorb the bad debts on Grecian investments. Russia has no desire to see the back door closed. There will be a battle between transparency to the general public and the Great Oz who will do everything they can to ensure business as usual, regardless of the income source or destination of profits.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Paradigm Shift in the Cocoa Futures Market

Cocoa futures are one of the most volatile markets. This has been primarily attributed to three historical variables politics, antiquated farming methods and weather. Two of these three variables are being addressed directly while the third remains a wild card that may pull the trigger on a substantial rally in an agricultural market undergoing a complete paradigm shift.

The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Prior to 2011 it was presided over by Laurent Gbagbo who ran the country in typical West African fashion for more than 10 years. The open elections of 2011 led to a brief civil war when Alassane Ouattara was elected President and Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede the Presidential office and used his cronies in the military to hold off the inevitable. The regime change was inevitable because Ouattara, who is a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economist, has the full support of NATO as well as the military backing to support a more democratic and transparent government. The installation of Ouattara should eliminate much of the political volatility that has been a hallmark of the cocoa futures market for many years.

President Ouattara, who was educated here in the U.S. at Drexel University, is quickly modernizing the Ivory Coast’s cocoa markets. There’s been rapid development in soil reclamation, fertilization and education. Most cocoa is grown by individual farmers on small plots of land and is harvested by hand as it has been for hundreds of years. The application of modern agronomy techniques will cause the Ivory Coast’s cocoa production to increase rapidly over the coming years. The combination of infrastructure improvement and political stability supporting free trade and as well as modern farming practices will increase yield and depress prices once the changes are fully implemented.

The effects of Ouattara’s Presidency can already be seen in the decline of volatility in cocoa prices. Major chocolate producers no longer have to worry about civil war, the government closing ports or henchman attacking farmers on their way to collection stations to force the price higher. The price range in 2012 was $2,003 – $2,707, a measly 35%. The range for 2011 was more than 90%. In fact, the five-year average range is more than 50%. These wild rides are less likely to occur, as weather becomes the only variable left to move the markets.

This sets the stage for the current battle in the market. Cocoa futures have been on a steady slide since fall. The market appeared to be forming a technical bottom during this period. However, it was clear by the commercial selling that the bullish saucer base pattern, between $2,310 and $2,510, that had been supported by the small speculators had little chance of pushing the market higher. The slide through the 2013 price level is primarily attributable to the small speculators being forced out of their long positions at a loss.

The market has recently traded as low as $2,100. Commercial traders have been covering their short hedges and locking in futures supply line purchases since the market first fell through the $2,310 level. Commercial traders have been net buyers in nine out of the last ten weeks. Recently, weather issues have reduced estimates for the current mid crop harvest due to a lack of rain throughout the Ivory Coast as well as growing regions in Ghana, the second largest producer. These two countries account for nearly 60% of the world’s production.

The key price level is $2,000 per ton. The market traded below here once in 2011 and rallied $500 per ton in just a few weeks. Overall, the market hasn’t spent any time below $2,000 per ton since the commodity boom of 2007. We’ll side with the commercial traders and look for buying opportunities as the last of the weak speculators are forced out of the market. Perhaps, the best way not to miss out on the rally is to place a buy stop order above the market’s recent resistance level around $2,150. If this order gets filled in the May cocoa futures contract, place a protective sell stop at what becomes the low price of this move. We’ll look for a minimum price target of $2,310, the bottom of the old saucer formation.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

The Bernanke Put – Euro Style

The Spanish debt auction proceeded in an orderly fashion
even as yields crept higher. The general consensus appears to be that Spain is
too big to fail. I would suggest that Spain might be too big to save. Spain is
the European Union’s fourth largest economy and 14th largest in the
world. Last week, their credit rating was lowered to BBB+ by the Standard &
Poor’s rating agency. This week, they announced that their GDP had contracted
by 0.3%. This quarter’s decline marked the beginning of Spain’s second recession
since 2009. Finally, the composition of their debt makes any positive economic
headway in the next few years nearly impossible.

The interest rate benchmark is the 10-year bond or note.
Spain saw full participation at yields of 5.82%. There are two important points
to be made here. First, the participation rate is measured by the bid to cover
ratio. It was quite a bit stronger than the last auction in March, coming in at
2.9 compared to 2.4 for the last auction. The second point is the yield of
5.82%. The alarm bells sound when Spanish debt yields hit 6% on the 10-year
note. That’s the magic number at which Spain can no longer afford to refinance
or, rollover the financing of their budget. Spanish yields have solid
resistance between 6.125% and 6.25%. They peaked at 6.625% in November 2011.

The International Monetary fund released a report on the
European Union and the global debt issues entitled, “Global Financial Stability
Report.” Spain’s BBB+ credit rating is three notches above junk status. According
to the IMF the probability of default on BBB+ credit has risen from 0.734% in
2007 to 6.05% at the end of 2011. I believe that the recent pitches by the
BRIC’s (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to contribute to the bailout funds and
push the total available reserves to $430 billion has been received by the
markets as restoring confidence, rather than preparing for financial
Armageddon.

Spain’s primary source of trouble is the bursting of a
housing boom bubble. Sound familiar? Here in America we struggled through the
economic crisis as unemployment peaked at 10%. Meanwhile, the number of homes
in foreclosure peaked at 8.12 million in January of 2010 and drove home values
here down approximately 25%. Spain’s unemployment rate is nearly 25% and close
to 50% for people under 25. The Spanish real estate boom put 80% of the
population in home ownership. Foreclosure rates are now topping 10% at some
banks and the unemployment situation is creating a death spiral. This is
leading to marked to market values on repossessed homes as much as 60% below
their peak. Marked to market values leave the repossessing bank with an
over leveraged asset and reduces their capital base further constricting their
economy.

Spanish banks packaged their loans for resale on the
commercial credit market as mortgage backed securities. These securities were
prime at the time of origination. However, as their economy has declined the
nonperformance of these loans has placed more of them in the default category.
Some of these mortgage pools now contain up to 14% of mortgages more than 90
days over due. The obvious conclusion is that many Spanish banks are in
trouble.

The European Central Bank and the IMF have teamed up to try
and save Spain from themselves. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)
committed $470 billion to U.S. banks and the auto industry in order to keep
people in their homes and on the job. The $430 billion that has been pledged to
save Spain will not be enough to cover the mortgage losses. Furthermore, the
average Spaniard’s primary asset is their home, which accounts for
approximately 80% of their net worth. The Spanish debt will be hard to spread
around.

This leads to the IMF report on national household
deleveraging within the constructs of a banking crisis, which found that the
deleveraging process trims an average of 1.45% of GDP. European corporations
are already hurting. The lowest levels of corporate credit have skyrocketed
from 2% of total corporate credit to almost 16% of total corporate credit in
the last 5yrs. How will the ECB decide which ones are worth saving and how will
Spain feel about relinquishing their sovereignty to the decisions of the ECB
and the IMF? Government has never been very successful at manipulating markets
over the long haul. I believe the bond auction was palliative only because
investors are certain the ECB will backstop their purchases just as we have
grown accustomed to the Bernanke Put here in the U.S. Finally, when government’s
lose control of the markets they have been manipulating, the disaster is
spectacular.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.