Posted by mb50
K Winter Endgame now playing out in Japan
Mark May 23rd of 2013 as a potential key date in the unfolding of this fourth Kondratieff Winter of the modern era. In the afternoon session of trading in Tokyo that night, at approximately 7:30 PM EST, everything suddenly changed. The juggernaut that had propelled the Nikkei average up almost 90% since early November took a bit of a breather by plunging almost 10% from its peak hours earlier, settling down over 1140 points from the previous close. As of yesterday it had declined 2343 points (15%) in just one week. With one more day like Thursday the Nikkei would have achieved the impossible- a 90% gain in six months that turned into a bear market (20% down) in just one week. Ho, hum, just another day in the life of a world distorted with tens of trillions of central bank intervention.
I suspect this will become the new normal going forward in the next few years that will mark the twilight of the winter cycle phase of this present Kondratieff cycle that began in 1949. Our theory holds that paper assets have never been more overpriced because there’s too much unpayable global debt that will default. Is there a day in our future when our Dow will also plunge over 1000 points in a grand mal seizure from too much debt?
What was so transformative that occurred in that Thursday session in Japan, one that was preceded hours earlier by a sudden whipsaw in US markets? Simple- too much volatility. This grand experiment by central banks is much like a ponzi scheme because it has absolutely no room for error that could undermine confidence. Yet that is what is occurring right before us. Could this be the beginning of the endgame scenario I have promised here for over two years- a dreaded deflationary bust caused not by an economic slowdown but instead by rising yields?
It’s very possible this may be the case given the scale and speed of the move higher in yields all across the globe. Don’t forget here that the entire premise of these massive QE programs by all the global central banks is to keep rates DOWN, not up. They are failing miserably in their primary objective and I implore our readers and all investors to sit up and take notice. It seems the bond vigilantes have now finally emerged from many years of hibernation.
Remember the Apple bonds floated a few weeks ago in the biggest corporate offering in world history? It was way oversubscribed as everyone wanted them so badly. They are now down over 4% in a matter of days losing investors around $700 million in no time on this “safe” investment. Given that global bond markets are 4-5 times larger than stocks the potential for even a small rise in rates would be very devastating. Few may appreciate that nothing could cause more wealth destruction than a large and sustained rise in interest rates.
It seems that peak euphoria was being tested in the US last Wednesday as unfettered exuberance mid-morning gave way in the afternoon to discontent and outright scorn over Fed policy by the end of the session, one that saw the indexes plunge more than 2% on a single day after making an intra-day all-time high that same day. That has only happened twice before and both times (2000 and 2007) marked major cycle peaks in the markets. Could this be true again?
Cycle theory and common sense both say yes in prohibitive terms. Why can we advance this notion? Because if one were to peel back the layers of what has been unfolding recently in many other financial markets you could only come to one conclusion: global central banks have lost control of their mandates. The end must be near when the confusion over the meaning of one or two words from Chief Bernanke could cause such an uproar in the financial markets. Has it really come to this? Valuations are determined through hyper-parsing of nuanced words that are so carefully prescribed as to not achieve that effect?
The unintended consequences caused by policy decisions that could be called quite extraordinary has caused many individual asset classes to have a mid life crisis recently. They have seen explosive moves in all directions in degrees several standard deviations removed from their historic benchmarks. In other words, all hell is breaking loose just about everywhere. Everywhere except in the US, of course, where investors from Japan to Timbuktu have blindly reallocated so much capital since last November.
The action resulting from these audacious central bank moves has been dramatic across the board. The third largest stock market in the world (Nikkei in Japan) has rallied almost 90% in just over six months while their currency has declined against the USD by over 25% in the same period. Both of these moves are so enormous they can hardly be explained in a cogent manner without an overload of superlatives that would understate their true meaning. In the month of May we saw many strange events- gold plunging over $200 in a matter of hours, no fewer than 17 mini flash crashes in five NYSE stocks and silver halted four times in one session due to a lack of bids in a disorderly marketplace to say the least. And as of Thursday the Nikkei had plunged over 15% in just one week. Just another day in the parallel universe created by the global central banks.
These moves are alarming at best and who knows at worst. They are the best evidence yet of true parabolic moves one could expect to see at the end of grand super-cycles of credit such as the tail end of a Kondratieff Winter. And much like the geometric explosion of global debt, they are just not sustainable. My gut tells me two things- 1) markets are out of control,; and 2) very few investors agree these markets are out of control. This can be seen by tame levels of the VIX index and the release this week showing that margin debt had reached an all-time high. It all sounds a bit frothy to me and could signal the end of an era.
But the ludicrous nature of the these awesome moves in certain paper assets just keeps coming. Greek bonds sure to default have tripled in the past year. The Dow Industrials as of the end of May 2013 will not have seen a three day decline for the longest period since 1900 and that defies all sensibilities. It seems to many that there is some force or entity out there (the Fed ?) that’s not willing to allow such an event to occur, perhaps to create a myth that the markets will nudge ever higher. Incredibly, many now think that is the case as they believe the Federal Reserve and other central banks are in complete control. Or so it seems.
Our theme here today is that there is abundant exculpatory evidence hiding in plain sight that indicates the opposite- that central banks are losing control of the markets. In last month’s comments I noted the disturbing explosion of yields in the JGB’s (long term Japan bonds) that sent their prices crashing overnight, beginning a period extreme apprehension over a more serious bond crash could be looming. That worry has only worsened since then as the yield on 10 year JGB is now a whisker away from the 1 % level that is seen as crucial to hold to maintain the appearance that the world’s second largest bond market is not spinning out of control.
One thing that bulls and bears and nearly everyone can agree on this this- bad consequences will occur if global bond yields rise fast and far worse will happen if they rise too fast. The reason for this is that when volatility spikes and endures, leverage is taken off the table and that means lots of securities will be sold. So what are the chances yields could spike higher (making bonds plunge) given this universal belief of the consequences of such an outcome?
I believe the chances of such an outcome are quite underappreciated by investors today all along the the spectrum. This would include brokers, money managers, hedge fund managers, CFO’s managing billions of corporate cash coffers, pension fund managers, individual retail investors, sovereign wealth fund managers, and so many more. Their worldview could be soon shattered if global bond markets usurp the collective actions of global central banks. It would only take one of these markets to crash to induce a large global sell-off. Such an event would finally showcase the folly that rampant global central bank printing is beneficial to modern industrial economies. The central theme of Kondratieff Wave theory holds that the long term credit cycle cannot continue unabated and the excesses of this cycle must be removed. Clearly this is not the case.
Most investors and investment pros are still beholden to a worldview that puts no premium on long wave credit cycles. They insist on owning paper assets such as stock, bonds, and derivatives,etc. These instruments have on balance have been performing well since 1982 but not so well for the past 13 years. They subscribe to the same worldview that emphasizes yesterday’s metrics- PE multiples, PE expansion, cash on the sidelines, nowhere else to put your money other than stocks, and this chase for yield has pushed them into more risk and leverage than they otherwise would have deployed. Such an approach did not work too well in 2000 or 2007 when yields were still historically very low, so this mindset makes even less sense today now given the tens of trillions in global debt that has been added in the past few years.
But a closer look at the performance of money managers over that period since 1982 clearly shows a persistent underperformance by them over time even in bull markets? How can this be? Even in 2013 it is all too clear that hedge funds and professional money managers on balance are prohibitively underperforming the S&P index. Such statistics are meaningful in gleaning what could be missing from their equations. I advance that a coherent appreciation of the existence and the significance of long wave super-cycles would be a good place to start.
If they had an appreciation of the higher truths offered by the K-Wave theory perhaps they would be more likely to realize compounded gains over time from their acumen in the day to day, month to month decisions on asset allocation they are well suited to execute. Typically their lack of performance over the years can be attributed to poor decisions made during those critical inflection points in the the markets that seem to always occur when there is universal agreement upon the near term direction of the market (up in 2000, down in 2002, up in 2007, down in 2009 as recent examples). If they could only avoid the pitfalls at these junctures then I suspect most fund managers would instead outperform the broad market averages. Bubbles are not black swans, they hide in plain sight and lend themselves to distinct patterns that can be useful in making decisions.
Many are bewildered that the market has surged so much higher despite any meaningful help from retail investors. It is worth noting that a key element in the overperformance of the US market in recent years has been the collective impact of corporate stock buybacks by the healthiest US corporations. These buybacks have served to satisfy shareholders over employees or their local or national communities. The end result has been a historic drop-off in cap-ex and R&D and a dramatic increase in layoffs for even the best companies. The mandate of the modern corporation has never been more evident- making profits at any cost. Yet empirical evidence suggest these buybacks occur when stocks are relatively expensive. You wanna bet that some of them may regret this down the road? But why have they been so prevalent lately despite price levels that are so rich?
Large corporations have been for many years enduring the pitfalls of this deflationary Kondratieff winter that assures very low or negative growth rates globally that make it very difficult to grow the top line. So what to do if you are a CFO? Just resort to financial gimmicks such as stock buybacks so that your reduced operating profits during this winter period can be better cloaked with higher EPS through reduced shares outstanding. This behavior, much like the hoarding of cash by commercial banks unwilling to lend but dying to speculate in paper assets tells me the recent new highs in the S&P do not reflect a new bull market, only desperation to please investors at any price. They are creating less and less and investing less and less. Several studies have concluded that perhaps as high as 40% of the rally in recent years can be attributed to these buybacks. At any rate these buybacks I believe have cloaked more serious problems in the financial performance of corporations and their stocks. Global aggregate demand is slowing despite central banks accommodation and exponential increases in the population base. You just can’t hide from deflation.
The gains in stocks have diverged from the macroeconomic landscape for many years now and that trend has really accelerated this year. And we all know why- controversial central bank policies that range from keeping rates too low for too long during the mid- 2000’s to outright destructive ones such as printing several trillions to create a wealth effect whose benefits do not trickle down to the middle class and serves in effect to cushion political leaders from making unpopular structural reforms that are sorely needed. Today developed countries in the western world are staring down the barrel of a gun of their own making that can still be dismantled.
But sadly we have not taken the necessary steps to deconstruct our debt warheads to prevent the collateral damage they could cause. I suspect soon we will reach the brink, stare into the abyss, and determine once and for all if we can thrive in a world dominated by debt. I hope that our financial. corporate, and political leaders can find the will to reign in the central bankers before it’s too late. They may have good intentions but their approach has proven to be a failure and they should be called out on this at once. But time is running out, and several key market metrics described above are now flashing red lights. And remember the long wave chart of the US market still sports and ending diagonal bearish wedge that implies a severe plunge once key support is broken.