May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Links: No Bubble in Australian Housing and Greek Problems Continue

"The short story is that the escalation in housing costs has been mainly motivated by underlying demand- and supply-side fundamentals, not leverage as some doomsayers would have us believe. "

“Could this be the last weekend of the single currency? Quite possibly, yes.” (Hat tip Calculated Risk)

May 30, 2010

Long-term perspective on currencies and central bank policies

I was doing some house cleaning, tagging old entries and came across something I wrote in 2005 on central bank policies:
On a related note, foreign CBs will not turn net sellers of dollar assets. They will stop adding to USD reserves which still creates a substantial problem for U.S. interest rates. The markets will continue testing the CBs' appetite for dollars until we see real policy changes and a market determined equilibrium.
This referred to the US dollar but the underlying logic still applies to this week's scare regarding China turning seller of Euro assets.  China has deep pockets and very little interest in adding to currency instability.  The status quo (Yuan pegged at sub-market rates to stimulate Chinese exports) has done well by them and while it can't go on forever now would be a shockingly poor time for a drastic change.  Why would they do this in the midst of speculative fervor to short the Euro and a general panic regarding European assets?

My 2005 self went on to make the following predictions:

There will be some sort of market event with the most likely candidates being housing and interest rates.
This market event will ultimately require international cooperation (G7, G10). It may take a series of trials (maybe a series of crises) by various CBs and governments but eventually they will need to coordinate policy. The world will need to decide how to handle the issue of the weakening dollar as its main reserve currency.
On a related note, foreign CBs will not turn net sellers of dollar assets. They will stop adding to USD reserves which still creates a substantial problem for U.S. interest rates. The markets will continue testing the CBs' appetite for dollars until we see real policy changes and a market determined equilibrium.
Unemployment seems like the best indicator of how hard or soft the landing is in the real economy. Below the June '03 high of 6.3% seems like a good definition of a soft landing for the U.S.[The main question being discussed was whether the US was whether the Fed hiking cycle was leading up to a soft landing.]
The U.S. current account deficit will get worked off through the growth of emerging market consumption rather than U.S. economic contraction. These emerging economies are the logical target for the world's investment dollars so once the market regains control of capital distribution they should see some benefits.
While this was a useful high level map, in the end it mostly helped me to avoid risks.  The policy coordination I expected has yet to materialise and instead it is a dog eat dog world of competitive currency devaluations.  This makes a fertile (read volatility swings) ground for trading, especially in currencies.  I expect this will continue until central bank coordination occurs enabling debt-heavy importing countries to start paying off their creditors.
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May 27, 2010

Technical Analysis 101: Adam and Eve

I got bullish a bit early on equities last week as the Euro bounced and it felt like panic was in the air on the day of the German trading bans.  Still the pattern in stocks looks constructive for the short-term with a target above S&P 1150 (SPY 115).

The chart for SPY bears a striking resemblance to a double bottom pattern with momentum ebbing as the panic low from two weeks back gets retested.   Also, as Bill Luby points out options traders seem to be getting ahead of themselves pricing implied volatility trading above what is being observed.

I am only playing through upstrike call options (where implied vol is less dear), so my downside is limited.  Momentum players may still have stocks to dump so I have positioned for a bounce but kept the risk low.

If we do manage a rally here it is easy to imagine the news coverage shifting to discussing the liquidity enema eminating from central banks as equity positive.

May 19, 2010

Are German naked short and CDS bans really that awful?

In response to the German bans on some naked short-selling and naked credit default swap (CDS) purchases Zero hedge declares:
If this pans out as expected, look for Bunds to collapse tomorrow, and wipe out a few billion from Pimco's NAV. We warned in February that the flight to safety in Bunds was both shortsighted, and too good to last.
I disagree.  Banning naked short selling and unmatched CDS purchases are fairly mundane regulatory changes.  Shorting is still allowed as long as the bonds or shares can be borrowed and default swaps are still available but only for hedging purposes.  Coming so soon after the bailout announcement, this is being linked to the "wolf pack" behavior mentioned by officials last week but these policies are in line with reform recommendations from before the Greek crisis made it to the front burner.

This may be the sort of news that can set off a panic given the view by many that the Europeans are flailing about but I expect the real money will take note of the limited scope and difficult enforcement of today's bans.  While I agree that Europe has not yet come to terms with Greece as a solvency problem rather than a liquidity problem, the current approach is still printing Euros to pay bond holders, so the downward pressure should stay focused firmly on the Euro.

With the lopsided view and large short positions in the Euro currently, I am not even sure the one way trip down there can continue through tomorrow.

May 8, 2010

Stock market stunned by its own fragility

The price action this week in equities was a change of pace.

Volatility Chart

I included the chart above to show just how low the short term volatility of SPY had fallen before the recent pull back.  As much as much as the Greek debacle may be the proximate cause of the stock drop, the steady grind higher over the last two months had left the market ripe for a pull back. The price drop is severe enough that momentum traders will be throwing out positions while value investors will still be on the sidelines for a few hundred more S&P points.  

US stocks continued lower on Friday, but the long bond and the Euro changed direction.  The long bond has been on a strong two week run up that was goosed higher by yesterday's late afternoon panic, while the Euro had been weakening in response to Europe's sovereign debt woes. Both trends are stretched but seem well supported by the current fundamentals.  The reversals in these markets, though mild, makes me think equities will not start next week in free fall.

The Greek saga (which began in early December 2009) dominated the headlines with European policy as of last weekend looking to keep the monetary union intact at the cost of a steadily weakening Euro.   There is still a lot of skepticism whether the current bailout for Greece is enough and whether the same thing can be done for the other PIIGS but it seems to me that where there's a will there's a way.   This is the train of thought that is driving the weakening Euro.  It may still happen that Greece abandons the Euro (likely leading to a sharp recovery in the currency) but I think the policy response of last weekend postpones it by a year while the powers that be wait to see if the austerity package works its magic.

A Greek debt restructuring will also relieve some pressure on the Euro and provide a far better template for the other PIIGS (should their situations worsen) to follow.  For all the weekly on again off again bailout announcements regarding Greece it is still not clear the authorities have done their homework and come up with a plan for the Euro and European debt markets that won't need to be reevaluated in the near future.  This lack of credible long term goals is the key uncertainty spooking the markets.  This thought from 2004 still reflects my view on why attempts to use the bailout package to discipline the Greek government is misguided.  

Most of the economic news out of the US has been positive, though ignored.  It was capped off today by  the best jobs report in years.  The positive recent news is being ignored due to fears of slowing growth in the second half of the year. As the US fiscal package winds down there is no obvious candidate to replace it.