Europe healing?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 28 May 2013

Sometimes things are so bad it can’t get any worse. That seems to be case in the eurozone, which is mired in deep recession and possibly a multi-year depression.

Yet I am seeing signs of improvement. Mario Draghi’s ECB has moved to take tail risk off the table. What’s more, the periphery is starting to turn around. Walter Kurtz of Sober Look noted last week that peripheral Europe is starting to improve:

Today we got the latest PMI numbers from the Eurozone (see figure 2). France is clearly struggling and Germany’s growth has been slower than many had hoped – due primarily to global economic weakness. But take a look at the rest of the Eurozone. While still in contraction mode, it shows an improving trend.

Spain printed a trade surplus last month (surprising some commentators), which may be a signal to rethink how valid some of these forecasts really are. Nobody is suggesting we will see Spain or Portugal all of a sudden begin to grow at 5%. But given the extremely pessimistic sentiment of many economists (a contrarian indicator), it is highly possible we are at or near the bottom of the cycle. People should not be surprised if we start seeing some positive growth indicators – especially in the periphery nations – in the next few quarters.

Indeed, bond yields in the periphery have been showing a trend of steady improvement and “normalization”. As an example, look at Italy:

Here is Spain:

Here is the real clincher. Greek 10-year yields have fallen from over 30% to under 10% today:

As a sign of how the bond markets have normalized and how risk appetite has returned to Europe, consider this account of what happened with Slovenia early this month. Slovenia was doing a bond financing, then Moody’s downgraded them two notches to junk:

After several days of roadshowing, the troubled Slovenia decided to open books for 5 and 10y bonds on Tuesday (30 April). Given that in the previous weeks peripheral bond markets rallied like mad, it wasn’t too heroic to assume that the book-building would be quite quick. Indeed, in the early afternoon books exceeded USD10bn (I guess Slovenia wanted to sell something around 2-3bn) and then reached a quarter of what Apple managed to get in its book building. If I were to take a cheap shot I would say that Slovenia’s GDP is almost 10 times smaller than Apple’s market capitalisation* but I won’t.

And then the lightning struck. Moody’s informed the government of an impending downgrade, which has led to a subsequent suspension of the whole issuance process. I honesty can’t recall the last time a rating agency would do such a thing after the roadshow and during book-building but that’s beside the point. That evening, Moody’s (which already was the most bearish agency on Slovenia) downgraded the country by two notches to junk AND maintained the negative outlook. This created a whopping four-notch difference between them and both Fitch and S&P (A-). The justification of the decision was appalling. Particularly the point about “uncertain funding prospects”. I actually do understand why Moody’s did what it did – they must have assumed that the Dijsselbloem Rule (a.k.a. The Template) means that Slovenia will fall down at the first stumbling point. But they weren’t brave enough to put that in writing and instead chose a set of phony arguments.

Did the bond financing get pulled or re-priced? Did bond investors run for the hills and scream that Slovenia is the next Cyprus? Not a chance. In fact, the issue sold out and traded above par despite the downgrade:

Then the big day came – books reopened, bids were even stronger than during the first attempt and Slovenia sold 3.5bn worth of 5 and 10y bonds. On Friday, the new Sloven23s traded up by more than 4 points, which means yield fell by more than 50bp from the 6% the government paid. A fairy tale ending.

Key risk: France
From a longer term perspective, the elephant in the room continues to be France (see my previous post Short France?). French economic performance continues to negatively diverge with Germany. This isn’t Greece or Ireland, whose troubles could be papered over. France is the at the heart of Europe and the Franco-German relationship is the political raison d’etre for the European Union. France cannot be saved. It can only save itself. 

Despite these dark clouds, the markets are relatively calm over France. The CAC 30 is actually outperforming the Euro STOXX 50:

From a global perspective, European stocks are also showing a turnaround against the All-Country World Index (ACWI):

I am watching this carefully. European stocks could turn out to be the new emerging leadership and the source of outperformance.

Full disclosure: Long FEZ

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest. 

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.  

Is this 2011 all over again?


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 07 Mar 2013

I am not a big believer in market analogues, but the current environment bears an eerie resemblance to the summer of 2011. Here are the similarities

Heavy insider selling
I wrote back in early February (see Insider selling, it’s baaack!) that insider selling was surging. Vickers reported that [emphasis added]:

Looking at a longer time frame paints a bearish picture as well. The eight week sell-buy ratio from Vickers stands at 5-to-1, also the most bearish since early 2012. What’s more, the last time this ratio was at these levels was June 2011, just before another correction in the stock market took place.

Apparently, insider selling has gotten worse since that report. According Charles Biderman of TrimTabs (via Zero Hedge), the ratio of insider sales to buys is skyrocketing, though I am unsure of how to compare the Vickers sell-to-buy ratio to the TrimTab’s one as I don’t know the differences in their methodologies:

While retail is being told to buy-buy-buy, Biderman exclaims that “insiders at U.S. companies have bought the least amount of shares in any one month,” and that the ratio of insider selling to buying is now 50-to-1 – a monthly record. “So far the mass delusion is holding.”

By contrast, Bloomberg reports a three-month average insider sales-to-buy ratio of 12 to 1, a two year high:

There were about 12 stock-sale announcements over the past three months for every purchase by insiders at Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) companies, the highest ratio since January 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Pavilion Global Markets. Whenever the ratio exceeded 11 in the past, the benchmark index declined 5.9 percent on average in the next six months, according to Pavilion, a Montreal-based trading firm.

Regardless of differences in methodology, the results are an ominous sign for the bull camp.

US political gridlock
Another similarity between today and the summer of 2011 is the rising anxiety over the consequence of political intransigence in Washington. Then, we saw the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, which led to the loss of the AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s.

Today, we have $85 billion in overnight sequestration cuts to the federal government and a looming debt ceiling crisis on March 27, about three weeks away. Fed chair Ben Bernanke projected that sequestration will likely slice 0.6% from GDP growth in 2013:

However, a substantial portion of the recent progress in lowering the deficit has been concentrated in near-term budget changes, which, taken together, could create a significant headwind for the economic recovery. The CBO estimates that deficit-reduction policies in current law will slow the pace of real GDP growth by about 1-1/2 percentage points this year, relative to what it would have been otherwise. A significant portion of this effect is related to the automatic spending sequestration that is scheduled to begin on March 1, which, according to the CBO’s estimates, will contribute about 0.6 percentage point to the fiscal drag on economic growth this year. Given the still-moderate underlying pace of economic growth, this additional near-term burden on the recovery is significant. Moreover, besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run for any given set of fiscal actions.

A 0.6% slowdown in GDP growth could very well mean that the economy stalls and keels over into recession. What’s more, another debt ceiling debate with a drop-dead deadline of March 27 will pour gasoline on the fire and could lead to further market anxieties.

Risk-off, anyone?

News cycle turns down in Europe
In 2011, the ECB’s announcement of its LTRO program stabilized the markets. Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” remark in July 2012 and the ECB’s subsequent OMT program contributed to further stabilization. Today, the market consensus has evolved to the view that the ECB has taken tail-risk, or the risk of a European sovereign debt or banking crisis, off the table. The ECB, it seemed, had built a financial castle wall around the eurozone again.

Read the fine print. The OMT program depends on member states submitting to the ECB’s “conditionalities”, namely austerity and structural reform programs. The rise of anti-euro forces in the recent Italian election shows how fragile the ECB’s castle walls really are.

I fear that the news cycle is about to turn down in Europe. Consider these stories that are appearing:

  • The divergence between German and French economies (via Business Insider). This divergence is starting to raise the question of the viability of the French-German partnership in the EU. These are the two principal founding partners in the European Union and brings up the question of wage and productivity differentials between the two countries. If the two economies can’t converge and Germany is unwilling to subsidize France, the euro is cooked. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter what happens to Greece, Spain, Ireland, etc.
  • Political turmoil in Spain. The FT reports that Madrid is pushing for a constitutional challenge to Catalonia’s bid for independence, which puts the spotlight on political stability in Spain:

The Spanish government has launched a legal challenge against Catalonia’s recent “declaration of sovereignty”, in the latest move by Madrid to halt the region’s march towards independence.

The government said it would ask Spain’s constitutional court to nullify the Catalan parliament’s January declaration, which stated that the “people of Catalonia have, for reasons of democratic legitimacy, the nature of a sovereign political and legal subject”.

What’s more, Business Insider reports there are rumblings that the Army may not stand idly by and the possibility of a coup d’etat is raising its ugly head. While I believe that these risks will ultimately resolve themselves in a benign fashion, these stories are just further signs that the news cycle is turning negative in Europe.

Recall that in 2011 we had angst over Greece and the implications for the eurozone. We saw endless summits and crisis meetings until the ECB stepped in to stabilize the situation. Today, the fragile peace that the ECB has put together is starting to unravel. Europe is in recession and the tone of the news stories are turning negative.

These kinds of stories have a way of not mattering to the markets until it matters, especially when the market is in risk-on mode. Now that the tone seems to be moving away from a risk-on to risk-off, the market has a way of focusing far more on this kind of negative information.

A positive divergence
In 2011, the SPX cratered about 17% in response to these anxieties. While I am not saying that the downside could be the same, it is nevertheless a warning for the bulls. The key difference between the market weakness in 2011 and today is how the Fed acted then and now. In 2011, the Fed’s QE program was just ending, while we are seeing QE-Infinity today. The actions of the Federal Reserve today may serve to cushion the effects of the speed bumps that the equity markets are likely to experience.

Nevertheless, the current environment is likely to be more friendly to the risk-off crowd than the risk-on crowd.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

ECB Chief Mario Draghi Gets It, Does Merkel?


Author Larry Berman

Posted: 30 July 2012

Prior to Draghi’s comments today at 6:10 ET, risk assets were weaker, European stocks were soft, US futures were slightly lower and the euro was flat. It is clear we initially saw a wave of short covering and some long speculation. Stressed European bond yields have moved lower, but remain elevated (Spanish 10s still north of 7%). It would seem, by the strength of his words, that he gets it—yet to be determined if Merkel gets it. But in the interim, he likely took away the marginal seller until the dust settles or until we here from Merkel one way or the other.

If it is just back to US earnings and not having to worry about Europe for a while, then the markets could resume their upward grind. For those willing to speculate that this could be the European liquidity bazooka, stops under yesterday’s low are recommended. We are not certain here, but we do know monetizing the debt will not fix the problems—it will help psychology for a while as it has done in Japan for 17 years, but their stock markets remain 70%+ below the 1989 peak so who is kidding who.

The Market Shows a Pattern of Ignoring Bad News


Author Larry Berman

Posted: 25 June 2012 re-posted from etfcm

The market is showing a remarkable pattern of ignoring bad news. Spanish bond yields continue to head north of 7% and the time bomb is ticking for a solution to the debt crisis.

The S&P 500 tested the 50-day average and the 50% retracement with a few more tiers of resistance at 1357 and at 1363, with little above that zone until a retest of the 52-week highs. While we do not see a return to the 52-week highs as likely, we could squeeze this market a bit higher.

Last summer, the final bounce before the fall in late July through early October, bounced to about 2% below the previous peak, which would put the current bounce potential a bit closer to 1395. ORCL pre-announced some good numbers and an increased buyback program, and we have to say the on-line video of the new MSFT tablet looks HOT! However, FDX guided a bit lower as they often do, which is not too surprising given the slowing global growth theme.

This could be just what the market needs to get a little excited ahead of earnings, especially if the FOMC extends the twist and the Troika continues the big $2T bazooka safety net talk.

 

Don’t lose sight of the medium term


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 18 June 2012

Rather than focus on Greece this weekend, I thought that I would write about the medium term path for equities and the global economy. I came upon this BIS paper entitled Characterising the financial cycle: don’t lose sight of the medium term! The BIS researchers break economic cycles into two components, a shorter business cycle and a longer financial cycle. Here is the abstract:

We characterise empirically the financial cycle using two approaches: analysis of turning points and frequency-based filters. We identify the financial cycle with the medium-term component in the joint fluctuations of credit and property prices; equity prices do not fit this picture well. We show that financial cycle peaks are very closely associated with financial crises and that the length and amplitude of the financial cycle have increased markedly since the mid-1980s. We argue that this reflects, in particular, financial liberalisation and changes in monetary policy frameworks. So defined, the financial cycle is much longer than the traditional business cycle. Business cycle recessions are much deeper when they coincide with the contraction phase of the financial cycle. We also draw attention to the “unfinished recession” phenomenon: policy responses that fail to take into account the length of the financial cycle may help contain recessions in the short run but at the expense of larger recessions down the road.

The financial cycle is turning down. Ray Dalio of Bridgewater explained the financial cycle using the Monopoly® game as an analogy in this note.

If you understand the game of Monopoly®, you can pretty well understand credit and economic cycles. Early in the game of Monopoly®, people have a lot of cash and few hotels, and it pays to convert cash into hotels. Those who have more hotels make more money. Seeing this, people tend to convert as much cash as possible into property in order to profit from making other players give them cash. So as the game progresses, more hotels are acquired, which creates more need for cash (to pay the bills of landing on someone else’s property with lots of hotels on it) at the same time as many folks have run down their cash to buy hotels. When they are caught needing cash, they are forced to sell their hotels at discounted prices. So early in the game, “property is king” and later in the game, “cash is king.” Those who are best at playing the game understand how to hold the right mix of property and cash, as this right mix changes.

Now imagine Monopoly® with financial leverage and you understand what is happening with the financial cycle:

Now, let’s imagine how this Monopoly® game would work if we changed the role of the bank so that it could make loans and take deposits. Players would then be able to borrow money to buy hotels and, rather than holding their cash idly, they would deposit it at the bank to earn interest, which would provide the bank with more money to lend. Let’s also imagine that players in this game could buy and sell properties from each other giving each other credit (i.e., promises to give money and at a later date). If Monopoly® were played this way, it would provide an almost perfect model for the way our economy operates. There would be more spending on hotels (that would be financed with promises to deliver money at a later date). The amount owed would quickly grow to multiples of the amount of money in existence, hotel prices would be higher, and the cash shortage for the debtors who hold hotels would become greater down the road. So, the cycles would become more pronounced. The bank and those who saved by depositing their money in it would also get into trouble when the inability to come up with needed cash.

What happened with Lehman in 2008 and in Greece, Spain and the other eurozone peripheral countries today are symptoms of the downturn in the financial cycle.

The business cycle turns down
There is no doubt that the financial cycle has been turning down since 2008. What about the business cycle? It’s turning down as well. Regular readers know that I use commodity prices as the “canaries in the coalmine” of global growth and inflationary expectations. Consider this chart of the negative divergence between US equities and commodities prices.

The market is also telling a similar story of an economic slowdown. Here is the relative performance of the Morgan Stanley Cyclicals Index against the market. It’s in a relative downtrend, indicating cyclical weakness.

Globally, air cargo traffic represents an important real-time indicator of the strength of the global economy (h/t Macronomics). This chart from Nomura shows the correlation of air cargo growth with global industrial production growth. Air cargo growth is headed south as well.

I have written about the Axis of Growth, namely the US, Europe and China and at least two of the three are slowing. Hale Stewart at The Bonddad Blog went around the world and explained why the global economy is slowing:

[T]here are no areas of the world economy that are demonstrating a pure growth environment; everybody is dealing with a fairly serious negative environment. Let’s break the world down into geographic blocks:

1.) China is located at the center of Asian economic activity. Recently, they lowered their lending rate largely as result of weakening internal numbers. While these numbers still appear strong to a western observer (growth just over 8%), remember that China is trying to help over a billion people become middle class. To accomplish that goal, the economy needs to have a strong growth rate. Also consider that the news out of India has become darker over the last few months as well. A recent set of articles in the Economist highlighted the issues: a political system that is more or less unable to lead, thereby preventing the action on structural roadblocks to growth. The fact that two of the Asian tigers are slowing is rippling into other regions of the world, which leads to point number 2.

2.) The countries that supply the raw materials to these regions are now slowing. Australia recently lowered its interest rate by 25 BP in response to the slowing in Asia. A contributing factor to Brazil’s slowdown is the decrease in exports to China. Other Asian economies that have a trade relationship with China are all experiencing a degree of slowdown, but not recession. Some of these countries (such as Brazil) were also experiencing strong price increases. The price increases are are starting to slow, but they are still above comfort levels.

3.) Russia has dropped off the news map of late. However, it emerged from the recession in far worse shape; it’s annual growth rate for the duration of the recovery has been between 3.8% and 5%, which is a full 3% below its growth rate preceding the recession. This slower rate of growth makes Russia a far less impressive member of the BRIC list.

4.) The entire European continent is caught up in the debt story — underneath which we’re seeing some terrible economic numbers emerge. PMIs are now in recession territory, unemployment is increasing and interest rates for less than credit-worthy borrowers are rising. And, the overall credit situation is casting a pall over the continent, freezing expansion plans.

5.) The US economy has experienced 2-3 months of declining numbers. While we’re not in recession territory yet, we are clearly in a slowdown with growth probably hovering around the 0% mark.

In addition, I have documented warning signs of rising tail risk in China (see Focus on China, Not Europe, Ominous signs from China and The ultimate contrarian sell signal for China?)In last week’s analysis, John Hussman said that the US is in recession now and blamed it on the financial cycle:

By our analysis, the U.S. economy is presently entering a recession. Not next year; not later this year; but now. We expect this to become increasingly evident in the coming months, but through a constant process of denial in which every deterioration is dismissed as transitory, and every positive outlier is celebrated as a resumption of growth. To a large extent, this downturn is a “boomerang” from the credit crisis we experienced several years ago.

Regardless of the outcome of the Greek election, my inner investor tells me that the fundamentals of the economic outlook is negative. When the financial cycle and the business cycle both turning down in unison, that’s bad news.

As for how much of the negative news has been discounted by the markets, I don’t know. What can change the trajectory of the outlook in the next few months is intervention, either by the central banks (which was rumored late last week), an announcement of more QE by the FOMC, or the news of some deal cooked up by the European governments, IMF, etc.

My inner trader tells me that fundamentals don’t matter and the markets will react to short term headline news.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

A tactical warning for bulls


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 17 June 2012

Well, that market reaction to the Spanish banking bailout was underwhelming! I wrote last week that seeing a market’s reaction to an event can be an important clue to future direction, as it is an indication of investor expectations and what news is priced in.

We now know the path of least resistance for stocks is down. We got the first hint last week from the lukewarm market reaction to the ECB announcement and Draghi press conference; and later the reaction to the Bernanke testimony (see my comment Is the QE glass half full or empty?).

Now that the bias for equities is bearish, what’s the short-term downside from here? Consider this note from Todd Salamone of Schaeffer’s Research published on the weekend, which suggests that technical selling by option market makers could exacerbate the downturn as we draw closer to Friday’s option expiry [emphasis added]:

The current open interest configuration on the SPDR S+P 500 ETF (SPY – 133.10) is very put-heavy, setting up the potential for short-covering related to the expiring put open interest at strikes immediately below the current SPY price. The odds are in the bulls’ favor, absent a negative outcome with respect to Spain over the weekend. That said, a poor start to the week spurred by ongoing euro-zone concerns could create the kind of delta-hedge selling that occurred last expiration month, when put strikes acted as “magnets” once the ball got rolling to the downside.

Here is how he explained the mechanics of delta hedging as it related to the option market and market makers may have contributed to the market decline in May:

As popular put strikes were violated one after another during expiration week, sellers of the puts may have been forced to short futures to keep a neutral position, creating a steady but sure stream of selling. The heavy put open interest strikes essentially act like “magnets,” as one strike after another is taken out. Delta-hedging risk certainly grows during expiration week if the market gets off to a weak start, as it did last Monday, and there is heavy put open interest just below current prices.

Salamone postulated that the SPX could find some support at the 1,280 and 1,250 level:

It’s usually the big put strikes that act like magnets, so 128 (which corresponds to SPX 1,280) would be a possible support area. There’s a smaller-probability risk of a move down to 125 (or SPX 1,250), which is the next strike with significant put open interest. On the upside, a move into heavy call strikes at 134 and 135 would be a possibility in the event of a short-covering rally. These areas correspond to SPX 1,340 and 1,350, respectively, which we cited above as potential chart resistance.

Given Monday’ market action, it is evident that the bears have the upper hand. Salamone’s comments put some further context to the short-term downside that US equities face this week.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

This Is Not Likely the Cycle Low


Author Larry Berman

Posted: 12 June 2012 re-posted from etfcm

The TSX is developing a degree of an oversold bottoming pattern, but the fundamentals looking out for several quarters suggest that this is not likely the cycle low for this market decline that started in 2011. The giant band-aid that the ECB is going to place on Spanish banks could pacify the markets for a while, especially if Greece votes to stay in the EMU next week.

We saw S&P reaffirm the negative watch in the US, but suggested that any further downgrades would not come until closer to 2014 after the new administration gets a chance to tackle the longer-term debt issues. In the mean time, the reserve currency status and their ability to print money and monetize debt should tide them over.

The market could bounce a bit more than some expect, and for the TSX, it depends on the “risk on” trade and how commodities play out. The initial reaction on Sunday evening was a 2% plus jump in copper and crude, with a 1.5% jump in S&P 500 futures, faded once European banks opened for trading today.

 

Today on Berman’s Call: Spain Likely to Default…Again!


Author Larry Berman

Posted: 7 May 2012 re-posted from etfcm

Throughout the documented history of debt markets over the past 800 years (Reinhart and Rogoff), Spain is by far the biggest visitor to debtor’s prison. Unfortunately, it appears they are heading there again and it will likely rock the Euro region and perhaps the rest of the world until they do.

Consider some of the following facts (Source: Phoenix Research, Spanish Government). Spain is too big to fail and too big to save. The only plausible way out is for the weaker countries in the Euro to leave, default, and restructure with weaker currencies. This likely takes years to fully play out and won’t happen before the ECB realizes that it is really the only way to fix the problem.

  • Total banking loans are equal to 170% of Spanish GDP.
  • Troubled loans just hit an 18-year high.
  • Banks are drawing a record €316.3 billion from the ECB.
  • €65 billion left the banking system in March.
  • Over half of all mortgages are owned by Spanish CAJAS. (Credit Union).
  • The CAJAS primary lending market during housing boom were subprime
  • Banking system is saturated with toxic mortgage debt that makes the US in 2008 look good.
  • Worldwide banking exposure to Spain is well over €1 TRILLION. Leverage is 26 to 1.
  • Unemployment is almost 25%, it’s 50% for those under 25.

 

Not enough panic to buy yet


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 23 Apr 2012

Now that we are nearly at support on the Spanish IBEX 35 Index, my inner trader tells me it’s too early to be buying. We need to wait for more pain and panic to materialize. My inner investor says that signs of value are starting to show up in a number of natural resource sectors and it’s time to start accumulating positions in resource cyclicals.

Spain a contrarian buy, but not yet
Soon after I wrote my last post (see Why I am buying the pain in Spain), Macro Man and I seemed to be on the same page when he wrote that Spain is unlikely to crash:

To TMM [ed. TMM=Team Macro Man] it would appear that the only scenario that supports selling right now is one where Spain crashes, doesn’t receive assistance, defaults and the euro and then Europe break up. Now call us picky but though that indeed is one potential outcome there are a lot of other scenarios and most of them involve some internal resolve, even if it does involve printing your amount of money. Elections may change the leaders of some countries but as the UK Con/Lib coalition is finding out, they are but the tip of the iceberg of the machine that is government. There is enough mass below the waterline that knows where its true interests lie to stymie any threats to them. Yes Minister indeed.

In fact, they were piling into the Spanish trade:

Having piled back into equities last week the current mood should be considered as red flags to us and we really ought to run with the pack, chop the longs, swing short and whip up the doom. Instead though TMM have decided to do the reverse and have broken the glass on the cabinet containing their Kevlar Gloves and bought some Spanish stocks of international appearance ( braced for comments). Hold on tight !!

Recall that my original premise for buying Spain is to wait for a period of maximum pain and panic (see How much more pain in Spain?). The defining moment was the 2009 lows, which would be a level of technical support for Spain’s IBEX 35 Index.

Now that we are nearly there, I don’t think we’ve seen sufficient pain and panic in the markets for Spanish equities to be a contrarian buy yet. My inner trader thinks that TMM should be following his initial instincts to “run with the pack, chop the longs, swing short and whip up the doom.”

Consider this chart of European stocks, which exhibited a break of an uptrend, but the index is not showing any signs of panic yet.

What about the euro? The EURUSD exchange rate is holding in nicely, thank you very much.

So are 10-year Treasury yields. No signs of panic there either.

Is the market about to hit an air pocket?
I am starting to see the signs of a change in leadership. While my Asset Inflation-Deflation Trend Model remains in at a weak neutral reading and I am not in the business of anticipating model reading changes, my best wild-eyed guess for the stock market is a gut-wrenching correction, followed by an explosive rally as the Bernanke Put and Draghi Put kicks in.

Consider the relative return charts below. The top chart shows the relative return of the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index compared to the market. Cyclicals are underperforming and they have been in a relative downtrend after topping out in early February. By contrast, defensive sectors such as Consumer Staples and Utilities have been bottoming out relative to the market this year and recently started to outperform.

These are the signs of a change in leadership pointing to a deeper correction in stocks.

Value in resource sector
Despite the negative near-term prospect for cyclicals, I am seeing signs of value showing up in the deep cyclical sector, particular in the resource sector. Canada’s Globe and Mail featured an article detailing that while energy companies were going like gangbusters:

Alberta’s oil patch is roaring. Oil prices are flying, pipelines are pumping millions of barrels a day, and companies are engaged in a rollicking spending spree.

Every 2½ weeks, companies shovel another billion dollars into oil sands projects. Drilling rigs across the province are tapping big new pools of oil. And firms desperate for skilled workers are scouring the globe to help them get on with ambitious growth plans. Western Canadian oil output is expected to surge by more than a third to 3.6 million barrels a day by 2018.

Their stockholders were missing out on the party:

Alberta’s energy frenzy has all the makings of a hollering rodeo party. But there’s one group conspicuously missing out on the action: investors.

In the midst of a boot-stomping boom, oil and gas has been among the country’s worst-performing sectors of the stock market. Since the global economic crisis, benchmark oil prices have soared from below $40 (U.S.) a barrel to above $100. Many Canadian energy stocks, however, have been left in the dust.

Indeed, this chart of the XOI, or Amex Oil Index, against the price of WTI shows that energy stocks are historically cheap against oil. Arguably, the graph doesn’t show the true picture as XOI is shown against WTI, which has been trading at a discount to Brent, which is becoming the de facto benchmark for the world price of oil.

We see a similar picture with gold mining stocks. The Amex Gold Bugs Index, or HUI, is trading at a huge relative discount to gold bullion and the relative relationship is approaching the post-Lehman Crisis panic liquidation and capitulation lows.

The slope of the recent price action of the energy stock/oil and gold stock/gold ratio, however, tell the story of controlled selling rather than the panic selling that characterize a capitulation low. That’s the same picture that I see in the IBEX 35, the Euro STOXX 50, Treasury bond yields and the EURUSD exchange rate.

A market crash is unlikely
Longer term, however, I expect that asset prices to be well-supported by the Bernanke Put and Draghi Put. Consider the Italian MIB Index as a bellwether of market fortunes. While there is downside risk, tail risk is likely to be mitigated by the Draghi Put and the near-by presence of major technical support that stretch back to the mid 1990’s.

As the table below shows, this week is a big week for Spanish equity market, as most of the Spanish banks are expected to report earnings. Bad news could provide a catalyst for another downleg, which would be a set up for the good contrarian to start buying.

In summary, my inner trader tells me that there isn’t enough panic here for him to step up to buy, but my inner investor, who has a longer time horizon, tells me that it’s time to start nibbling away at long positions in distressed sectors, such as Spain and resource stocks, at current levels.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.



None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

Why I am buying the pain in Spain


Author Cam Hui

Posted: 19 Apr 2012

A couple fights and the neighbors hear every word. To outsiders, it sounds like the relationship is in shambles and on the verge of collapse. Insiders know that the couple have a long history together are deeply committed to the marriage.

That’s the story of the eurozone. An underlying assumption in my last post about buying Spain when the pain is at its worse is an underlying belief in mean-reversion. That is to say, the EU will not throw a major member state to the wolves.

Not a marriage of convenience
Martin Wolf of the FT wrote a must-read article entitled “Why the eurozone may yet survive” reinforcing this idea. He said that “the centrifugal economic forces are all too painfully clear”, but outsiders don’t understand that the eurozone and the EU isn’t just a marriage of financial and political convenience, but there is a serious political will holding the European experiment together [emphasis added]:

The principal political force is the commitment to the ideal of an integrated Europe, along with the huge investment of the elite in that project. This enormously important motivation is often underestimated by outsiders. While the eurozone is not a country, it is much more than a currency union. For Germany, much the most important member, the eurozone is the capstone of a process of integration with its neighbours that has helped bring stability and prosperity after the disasters of the first half of the 20th century. The stakes for important member countries are huge.

Thus, the big idea that brings members together is that of their place within Europe and the world. The political elites of member states and much of their population continue to believe in the postwar agenda, if not as passionately as before. In more narrowly economic terms, few believe that currency flexibility would help. Many continue to believe that devaluations would merely generate higher inflation.

If this were a mere marriage of convenience, a messy divorce would seem probable. But it is far more than such a marriage, even if it will remain far less than a federal union. Outsiders should not underestimate the strength of the will behind it.

I wrote about this theme on July 1, 2011 (see The European Experiment in context):

After the Second World War, Western Europe surveyed the wreckage and collectively decided “never again”. In the 200 years preceding that war, Europe had been wracked by conflict (WW II, WW I, Franco-Prussian War, Napoleonic Wars) and the main source of conflict was between France and Germany, or the Germanic states before their unification. When Western Europe said “never again”, they devised a solution that bound the French and the Germans so tightly that the devastation of war on the European Continent would be stifled, hopefully forever. That solution was the EC, which became the EEC and now the EU.

Politically, they have largely succeeded. Today, if Angela Merkel mobilized the Bundeswehr and told the troops, “We are going to war against the French”, the men would all laugh and go home. Compare that result to the cost of the Battle of Verdun of 300K dead and another 500K+ wounded and you will start to understand why the EU was formed.

I agreed with Wolf that the euro is not just a marriage of convenience:

To say that the euro is at an end as a common currency is overly simplistic analysis. In many ways, the EU was paid by blood – just remember the price paid at Stalingrad, Verdun and Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just as some examples.

The way ahead
Today, the European Elites have a Grand Plan to save the eurozone. No doubt the Grand Plan will get diluted in the normal back-and-forth negotiations and a Grand Plan 2.0 will emerge. The marriage will survive. Martin Wolf expressed a similar opinion when he wrote:

The most likely outcome – though far from a certainty – is compromise between Germanic ideas and a messy European reality. The support for countries in difficulty will grow. German inflation will rise and its external surpluses fall. Adjustment will occur. The marriage will be far too miserable. But it can endure.

For investors, the survival of the European Experiment and the eurozone means that the eurocrats will eventually take steps to take tail-risk off the table, just as the ECB did with LTRO. That’s why I believe in buying Spanish equities and banks at the point of maximum pain in anticipation of a rebound.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. (“Qwest”). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.



None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

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