Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Liv-Ex Fine Wine Index and Economic Recovery

Since Fashion Week recently came here to New York City, I decided to cover the economic "recovery" from a different angle. Along w/haute couture, wine sales are considered to be a very visible measure of conspicous consumption.

The Liv-Ex 100 fine wine index measures the snob appeal and is also a great way to watch the development of bubbles form.
As you can see, prices peaked right around the bubble months of $147/oil and has yet to recover. If we are truly in a recovery phase, then haven't wine prices appreciated more?

Also note that 92% of the index is composed of Bourdeauxes (red and white), so keeping abreast of news filters on these vintages might be worth doing. It's not exactly scientific or even tradable, but the Liv-ex index is another tool to keep watch of macro developments.


The Debts of the World: Longer Term Outlook for Supply Chains is Bullish

This article addresses several points - key among them the recent thaw in corporate lending. What is not mentioned is the decline in the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) which measures freight rates and is often seen as a proxy for commodities' health.


Despite the BDI's abysmal fall, there are also some key issues developing, not the least among them, China's interest in Nigerian oil reserves:



Here is more info on the BDI. Basically, it's Econ 101, or supply and demand. Too much supply and not enough demand are creating fears of a potential glut. The earlier spike in the BDI this summer was due to slower than expected deliveries which helped temporarily alleviate said perception. Since then, the BDI has fallen nearly 50% from its June 3 peak:


Keep in mind though that nothing falls in a straight line forever. Despite dire stories such as this, the outlook is still positive. The BDI may pick up again if scheduled deliveries fail to manifest on time. Or, for more fundamental reasons, large buyers of commodities like China decide to continue importing raw materials.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Fed Plans to Continue Treasury Buying Under New Name

Although the Federal Reserve is ending its Permanent Open Market Operations (POMO) for treasuries, it is already planning the continuation of downward pressure on yields through another front.


Translation: Money market funds will be buying treasuries. This is a sneaky trick that is a quantitative easing back door. If you have funds in a money market account (most US investors and/or depositors do - particularly those w/brokerage accounts), then you are indirectly buying treasuries through the routine sweeping of accounts.

Is it any wonder then that America's largest creditor, China, is already planning for the inevitable?



In case I haven't made it clear, the Fed is going to replace the full faith and credit of the US government w/the full faith and credit of Lehman, UBS, Bear Sterns, etc. CDO tranche writers. Keep in mind that said bankers in COURT documents BEFORE A JUDGE admitted that their products were "crap and vomit."[actual words used: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125253656089697449.html]

It may surprise readers that I am actually BULLISH on sub-prime - for the simple fact that I am getting a higher interest rate than treasuries and corporate bonds AND b/c Bernanke is buying them non-stop 24/7 for the past year. His plan to stop buying MBS OFFICIALLY ends
at the end of March 2010 after a 3 month extension. (For those interested, I am going to do a post that focuses more on the RMBS Fed operation later this weekend, time permitting).

But just because I am taking the risk of buying these garbage pails does not mean you, other Americans, or the rest of the world should be too. I made a conscious decision and am aware of the risks involved.

Please read a more comprehensive assessment available here:


and here:


The Debts of the Spenders: Putting Government Mortgage Purchases into Perspective Part 2

Here is a fine article from the Financial Times that puts my prior post about mortgage backed securities rallying into perspective.


I would like to add that from a yield perspective, these trash buckets can actually offer decent returns based upon the Federal Reserve's continuing support of the housing market.


Moreover, some - if not most - of these offerings are structured in the form of convertible bonds, which are an added bonus. Convertible bonds are hybrid securities that allow the issuer to conserve cash flow by reducing interest payments. In exchange, the holder can convert the debt into equity at a pre-determined strike price.


In the US financial sector, many financials have to decrease their leverage exposure while at the same time maintaining steady cash flow.

Banks MUST re-capitalize equity at the expense of debt. I believe this was Bernanke's/Geither's plan all along. Banks must draw down their leverage (debt) by diluting equity to levels seen before the "Greenspan put." I place this at a conservative 2000-2001 level (before 9/11 made Greenspan lower rates aggressively).

Some readers may disagree and think that it should be lower to pre-LTCM levels or even pre-Gramm-Bleach-Blilely Act (when Glass-Steagall was abolished). This time frame is earlier - late 1990s levels of leverage. Or the time before structured finance even existed.

The actual time frame is irrelevant. All we need to know is that financials need to wind down debt exposure and increase their equity shorings to meet stricter regulatory standards such as Tier 1 capital ratios. Across the board, all regulatory agencies - US, European, Canadian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, etc. - have clamped down on the amount of leverage financials can use.
(For more information on regulatory ratios, I recommend readers do a google search on BASEL II CEBS).

These distressed debt sales packaged as convertible bonds are the key to doing so. While I find it highly unlikely that these bonds will ever trade at original book value again (e.g. close to par), they have experienced substantial gains and offer nice returns for savvy investors. Gain can also be protected by holding offerings in tax protected vehicles such as certain trust instruments or IRAs. Examples of distressed bond offerings that appreciated quite nicely in this year: WSF, BMLRQ, and AZM.

Note - If you are a goldbug or inflation hawk, then bonds are not for you. Inflation can eat away at your real returns. Although I am a long term dollar bear, I do not consider inflation to be a serious issue near term. The US and most Western economies still have to go through a period of debt purging.

*Disclosure - I have long positions in some distressed debt investments including AZM.

The Debts of the Spenders: 2009 US Retail Import Volume Projected to be Lowest Since 2003

This data comes fresh from a trade association so I trust their numbers. The projections are based on August import volume. Cyclically, summer is the time for US retailers to place their orders w/overseas factories.

The report is bearish as it projects volume to be low through January. In other words, a slow holiday sales season. Store buyers and supply chain managers have been focusing on trimming costs instead of expanding. Cost cutting also means margin squeezing on the supplier side.

Nothing that industry folk and savvy investors have known about for weeks now - if not months. Still, I wonder how much longer an equity rally in the retail sector can last.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Putting Government Mortgage Purchases in Perspective.

A picture says a thousand words. The picture is a series 7 bond asset backed credit index product from Markit.com made up of sterling components like Wamu asset backed certificates (bank run last September), Bear Sterns bonds ($2/share deal in early 2008)and Nomura loans (acquisition spinoff from the Lehman salvage operation).

Here you can see how many investment funds, such as Barclay's, have decided to unload their mortgage backed security toxic assets to the public again. Selling at the top?


Now, this doesn't necessarily mean the bonds will lose all value. The Federal Reserve is still committed to buying toxic assets for the forseeable future. Just because Treasury purchases are due to wind down at the end of September does not mean the government will stop supporting the mortgage markets. Far from it. Indeed, from an income perspective, these bonds may actually generate some decent returns.

Keep in mind that many of these assets have been trading well below book value for quite some time now.


*If you are interested in seeing more juicy bits of goodness, please go to Markit.com's web site and click "Markit ABX Indices" under the All Products tab on the right. Then click "Markit ABX.HE Current prices" from the table on the left.

Indeed, Markit describes its ABX index as

"[A] liquid, tradeable tool allowing investors to take positions on subprime mortgage-backed securities via CDS contracts. The index has become a benchmark for the performance of subprime RMBS. Its liquidity and standardization allows investors to accurately gaugue market sentiment around the asset-class, and to take short or long positions accordingly. "

You will now see a chart appear. Focus on the "High, Low, and Price" columns. Here, you can see just how far from grace many of these products have fallen. . . and where they currently trade. For a visual representation, click on the highlighted name to the left.

Disclosure - I have never worked for Markit.com and have no stake in its products aside from deriving informational value.

The Debts of the Spenders: Has Rust Fungus Spread to US Soybean Crops?

The soybean outlook continues to be bearish for 2010 based on overplantings among farmers looking to rotate away from lower corn prices earlier this year. However, the soybean fungus disease (which has been an intermittent topic of discussion) has reared its head again during the late harvest season.

Soybean Rust Spreading Fast, But May Be Too Late To Harm Crop

Asian soybean rust is spreading rapidly, threatening late-planted fields as far north as the lower Ohio River Valley within the past few days.
The plant disease has been found in a total of 59 counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee during the past week alone.

“We’ve had ideal weather for soybean rust,” said Allen Wrather, University of Missouri extension plant pathologist. “A slow-moving low-pressure system brought intermittent rain and mild temperatures.” Weather conditions affect spread of the fungus. Rust spores must have 10-14 hours of wet-leaf contact before they germinate and infect the plant. Warm, dry
sunshiny weather often kills the seedspores outright.

Spores of the fast-moving fungus are spread by the wind and can cause rapid yield losses, unless almost immediately countered by chemical fungicide. Even so, some farmers may choose not to spray, due to the late onset of the disease, this season. Most soybean fields in southeast Missouri are now at filled-pod stage of development, Wrather said. “Their yield will not likely be reduced by rust.” However, late-planted soybean plants that emerged in July are just now beginning to fill the seed-pod. "Yields of those plants may be reduced by rust if not treated with a fungicide,”
he said. “The decision to spray is an economic decision. Fields with low
yield potential, say 20 bushels, might not pay to spray.”

Fungicide applications usually cost $12-$15 per acre. “As the soybean crop matures, more soybean rust reports are expected north of the current distribution” area, warned the USDA on Tuesday.

Soybean rust hasn’t yet been detected in Indiana, although it has been reported across the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. “It is possible that rust is present in southern Indiana at very low levels, and we have increased scouting in those areas in order to document any finds,” said
Purdue University plant pathologist Kiersten Wise. “Even if soybean rust is
detected over the next few weeks, the level of disease would be very low, and the majority of the soybean crop is past the point of economic damage occurring.”

The USDA’s latest rust infection forecast says more rust-favoring wet weather is anticipated this week as an area of low pressure moves northeastward across the Great Plains.

Source: CME News for Tomorrow

The Debts of the Lenders: Chinese Credit Card Delinquencies Soar

*Credit Lizzy36 and Andy Dufresne.

Just a reminder that all is not well over in China. Peek beneath the curtains to see what the state is orchestrating and one is reminded of the bubble brewing despite the fundamentals.



Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: German Government Bets on Dollar's Decline

*UPDATE - In fact, the German government is so confident in its success that it is strongly considering ANOTHER dollar denominated bond sale. Like most fiscal authorities, the German spokesman did not want to commit to anything on the record but hinted heavily at the future course of action:


I do not follow Elliot Wave theory at all. But I received this interesting note from a reader:

""Germany Plans First Sale of Dollar Bonds Since 2005," said a Sept.10 Bloomberg.com headline.

[Germany] is betting on the dollar's continued decline. They hope that when these dollar-denominated bonds mature, they will pay back in dollars worth less then when they borrow. But this is precisely the wrong moment to do it, because everyone is on the bearish dollar bandwagon right now.


Basically, what the EW'ers are saying is that this is a contrarian sign - a signal of a bottoming out process. But let us ignore the EW'er track record for now (which like all Technical Analysis has a mixed record).

Instead, consider the following facts: (1) this is a decision by a G20 government actor; (2) the G20 just met 2 weeks ago to hash out global fund flows; (3) Central banks have already flooded the world with [dollar] liquidity.

At the end of August, I posted about the new dollar carry trade:

In the article, I posted the implications behind the dollar-yen pair off. Basically, the dollar has supplanted the yen to become the new financing vehicle of equity traders and bond funds. Moreover, while sideline money (a theory that many EW'ers dismiss) may not necessarily be flowing into equities, a large amount is flowing into bond funds.

The significance of this is not to be missed. The Germans are obviously trying to tap into the [still deep] pockets of US fund managers - many of whom BY LAW - are required to invest in dollar denominated assets in order to meet their conservative mandates. A dollar denominated bond sale would reduce their foreign currency risk while still giving them access to foreign markets. A nice arbitrage play - and it could work out very well.

For more info about sideline money and bond funds, read this excellent post:


*Disclosure, I am short the dollar.

The Debts of the Spenders: Investment Grade CDX Trades Below 100 Basis Points

There's a reason I have a print subscription to the Financial Times. So, after reading the article, I just had to see it for myself. See attached chart (the red line for those who don't follow).

As you can see, basis pt. spreads tend to widen during periods of fear - as you can tell back in March earlier this year when rumors of bank nationalization were rampant. Conversely, they narrow during periods of capital markets confidence.

IMPORTANT POINT - Confidence in capital markets does not necessarily equal confidence in the economy. Regulators, loan adjusters, and economists believe that these are interchangeable proxies. But the real economic participants - everyday mom and pop stores, laid off employees, and disaffected recent grads - know better.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: High Yield Makes New Highs

You can see here how HY continues to appreciate. But does it have much further to go? Keep in mind that the market had originally priced in default rates of 40-50%. Realistically speaking, that is not going to happen. Even default rates of 20-25% have been a bargain, relatively speaking, on a forward looking basis.
I originally posted my concerns about the viability of HY (high yield) debt earlier:
Then came the G20 meeting results:
What this means is that underlying EQUITY issues in the sector -even those not w/in the Markit HY index - have appreciated as well. Most notably, this category includes casinos like Las Vegas Sands and MGM.

The Debts of the Spenders: Frost Threat Returns to Haunt 2009 US Grain Crop

I will admit that I was surprised. The bears had been firmly in control of grains since mid-June. Threats of fungal infection, insect pests, and frost had been dismissed as large supply overhangs left a dark cloud over prices. In addition, a still developing El Nino weather front in the Pacific created the possibility of more bearish overhang (El Nino patterns are usually associated w/mild winters).

Midday Weather Models Raise Midwest Frost Threat

U.S. midday weather models point to colder weather patterns for northern and northwest Midwest growing areas.

A strong high pressure system is seen pushing colder temperatures in the upper Midwest beginning Thursday and Friday of next week. This is slightly colder than previous model runs, with a damaging frost or potential freeze shown across much of the Corn Belt later next week

“The frost threat is definitely there, with midday models increasing the threat of freezing temperatures in north and northwest Midwest late in 6- to 10-day forecasts,” said Donald Keeney, meteorologist with Cropcast Weather Services.

“If Wednesday morning’s models come in the same way, then there would be more potential to see temperatures in the upper 20s Fahrenheit into Iowa and Wisconsin as far south as the Illinois border,” Keeney said. If the model verifies, there would be temps in the upper 20s Fahrenheit in northern Missouri and mid 20s Fahrenheit in Minneapolis.

However, the freezing temperatures are not expected to drift into central Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, he added.

The midday U.S. weather model is colder than the overnight models suggested, featuring chilly temperatures Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week, said Joel Burgio, meteorologist with DTN Meteorlogix.

There is reason to be cautious with the model run, as it looks “kind of extreme”, particularly with forecasts over seven days out more suspect, Burgio said. The market and meteorologist alike will be looking for continued verification of this forecast in the European weather model released after 5:00 p.m. EDT, he added. T-storm Weather’s Mike Tannura said a cooler pattern is likely, but a damaging frost is not imminent because the potential event is still 8-9 days away.

“Our best estimate of the region calls for minimums in the 30s and potentially upper-20s
later next week-Minnesota through Wisconsin,” T-storm Weather said in a midday forecast.

The markets have rushed to put weather premium back into prices, as the threat of frost raises concerns that record crop potential estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture maybe questionable. U.S. corn and soybeans are currently running from a week to two weeks behind in maturity, following late plantings and record cool summer weather.

Source: CME News For Tomorrow

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Secondary Offerings Hit All Time Highs

The numbers are staggering:

Secondary Offerings At All Time High

Second quarter secondary market issuance totaled at
an all time high $107.9 billion, a ten fold increase
from the previous quarter of $10.8 billion and nearly
twice the amount of the previous record, set in 2008.

Equity Underwriting

Equity underwriting increased substantially this
quarter from the prior quarter, a 777.8 percent
increase to $111.6 billion from 12.7 billion.

I'd say this is good news for companies. Many corporate finance departments have taken advantage of the unprecedented liquidity from the Federal Reserve to raise cash by undertaking secondary offerings in order to pay off existing debt obligations. After all, debt - the other word for leverage - is what got so many of them in trouble in the first place in Fall 2008.

Several things are going on here:

1) Dilution - everyone's diluted but many CFO's have chosen to undergo "Stealth dilution" by offering private buyout deals (witness the Treasury Department's equity holdings of many financial institutions). But let's move away from the finance companies. After all, they are a special case.

A popular deal is called PIPE or Public Investment in Private Equity. This is really nothing more than a stealth dilution whereby companies agree to do a large equity offering in exchange for a quiet period of trading. PIPEs remove the potential fear of insiders dumping their stock right away in a panic of lower shares.

2) Sideline Money - Ok. I realize this is a controversial topic. But the gist of it is that many fund managers believe that they are missing out on a potentially large buying opportunity - especially after the equity markets' large runup this year. On a forward looking basis, many valuations are still attractive.

Keep in mind that this is not necessarily my own opinion - I actually believe many sectors are overbought - but I do understand the bulls' argument. More importantly, it is never wise to ignore the potential of crowds moving in sync. This trend will become more apparent once we move past Thanksgiving and enter the "January Effect" whereby fund managers assess their quarterly and fiscal portfolios for next year (as well as handle tax issues related to selling and buying).

See pg. 17

Source: Data from SIFMA



The Debts of the Lenders: JP Morgan Launches $1 Billion Facility to Stimulate Emerging Markets

JP Morgan is typically known for its investment banking arm. But there is also a healthy merchant banking business built on the old fashioned imports and exports whereby letters of credit grease the wheels of global supply chain management. This program is a little bit more sophisticated.

Is this corporate PR or something more substantive? You decide.

NEW YORK, September 8, 2009 - J.P. Morgan Treasury Services today announced that it has joined the World Bank and its funding partners to launch a $1 billion funding facility as part of the Global Trade Liquidity Program (GTLP), a unique initiative that brings together governments, development finance institutions, and commercial banks to support trade in emerging markets. The agreement is designed to stimulate trade growth by extending funded trade financing to J.P. Morgan's client banks in emerging markets.

The J.P. Morgan facility is expected to support estimated trade flows of up to $6 billion annually. Per the agreement, J.P. Morgan will provide 60% or $600 million, and GTLP program partners including development finance institutions and governments will purchase participations for the other 40%, or $400 million in the aggregate, for trade assets averaging a tenor of 270 days.


The Debts of the Lenders: Japan's Fujii Rejects Yen Debasement

Change is more than a six letter word. Sometimes it actually means something. Witness the recent electoral success of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) which defeated the longstanding incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a little over two weeks ago.

Hirohisa Fujii, former finance minister and a DPJ member, heavily hinted that there will be no currency debasement of the yen. Mr. Fujii is widely believed by analysts to become the next Finance Minister (again).

These remarks were made in the context of the surging USD/JPY pair trade which is good for Japanese consumers but bad for the exporter heavy Nikkei index. Traditionally, a stronger yen is indicative of deflation. But in the current economic climate, the yen's strength is due more to dollar weakness.

Something else to consider is that Japanese policy makers probably concluded they had no hope of matching dollar debasement - the program of structured finance buyouts in the form of POMO (permanent open market operations) and TOMO (temporary open market operations) whereby the Federal Reserve subsidizes the CMBS and RMBS market does not exist in Japan.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Largest Rally Against Obama Leaves Establishment Stunned

NOTE: I strive to be apolitical. I have discovered that the best course of action is to often stay neutral in order to avoid granting a perception of bias towards one side or another. Of course, I am not always successful and have in the past showed my leanings. In presenting this latest news here, I am merely making an observation.

Tens of thousands rallied against Obama this weekend in a move that left many politicians and political observers stunned.

This is not a left wing-vs-right wing debate either - the discontent is manifest in everything from health care to unemployment to higher taxes, hostility towards bankers, and of course . . . dollar destruction.

Courageous speakers like Ron Paul and former GAO Comptroller David Walker have been banging their gavels on fiscal indebtedness for decades now. Only now has the public begun to listen.

Another noteworthy pt - this is no longer the typical reporting of anonymous internet bloggers (which have also proven to be timely sources if a bit rusticly partisan in their presentation) but has now hit the mainstream.

None other than the venerable New York Times has covered the issue. Of course, longtime readers of the blogosphere have been well aware of these problems for quite some time already. But for the mainstream to address it. . . . well, that indicates that certain issues are picking up pace.


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: Thousands of Abandoned/Foreclosed Homes Threatened by Florida Hurricanes

And now, for something truly hilarious weekend reading from the Onion. Just another reminder of how the markets have disconnected from fundamental realities:

"Those who haven't already lost everything to the housing-market crash are urged to evacuate their homes immediately," said Robert Menken, head meteorologist at the National Weather Bureau. "That should be about 10 or 12 of you. Everyone else, please stay where you are, probably on the couch of some in-law who lives near Atlanta."


The Debts of the Spenders: 2009 US Harvest Season

Inflation? Maybe in gold, base metals, and the aussie dollar. But certainly not in agricultural grains. About the only thing that can stop the bears from ravaging corn and soybean prices is an early frost and/or fungal disease outbreaks. But in the meantime, farmers are expecting a bumper crop.

Reports of record-high crop yields are filtering in, as U.S. farmers begin gathering their annual autumn harvest with combines working in fields as far north as southern sections of Illinois.
The soybean crop in northwestern Mississippi is “15%-20% bigger than last year’s record yield...corn yields are very near to the last couple years and very good in general,” reported FCStone.

“Bean yields will be a record, by a mile,” averaging as much as 75 bushels per acre.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to begin issuing official estimates of corn/soybean harvest progress, individual state crop updates indicate that some 650 million bushels of corn, 115 million bushels of grain sorghum and 30 million bushels of newcrop
soybeans have already been picked nationwide.

Yield reports have varied widely in some areas, dependent on when the fields were planted, their soil type and the amount of rain received. In Louisiana, “farmers are harvesting
corn, and yields vary dramatically,” said LSU AgCenter extension associate Rob Ferguson. “Some farmers are getting nearly 200 bushels to the acre - near record levels - while others are seeing yields as low as 50 bushels to the acre.”

Corn harvest is already 90% done in Louisiana and 60%-67% complete in such states as Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Almost a quarter of the 2009 corn crop has been cut in such states as North Carolina and Oklahoma, with progress approaching 40% in Arkansas, as well.

“Supposedly the southern corn crop is better than average, with some yields into the 200 bushel category,” said Rich Balvanz of AMS Commodities. Picking has even begun in southern parts of Illinois, which is expected to be the nation’s second-largest corn-producing state this season.
The “first two loads of new corn [were] dumped in our elevator on Sept. 8,” one Pike County, Illinois source told MF Global analyst Rich Feltes.

Early corn yields from southern Illinois - reported at 150-190 bushels per acre - were described as “better than expected.” The soybean harvest is far less advanced, estimated at 35% complete in Texas, 28% finished in Louisiana, 14% done in Mississippi, 7% complete in Georgia and 3% finished in Arkansas.

“Early soybean yields from Arkansas and Mississippi are coming in 10 bushels per acre higher than last year,” reported Ed Dugan of Top Third Ag Marketing. Robert Goodson, extension agent in Phillips County, Ark., estimates that about 5% of the 249,000 acres planted to soybeans
in his county have been harvested. He said yields are running from 18 to 65 bushels an acre, with an average of 45 bushels an acre. By contrast, Ron Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist, said early harvested beans in Louisiana are showing the effects of a dry spring, producing
yields in the teens, which is far below their normal 30-40 bushel average.

“A lot of these beans that were early went through the worst part of the drought,” Levy said. “We’re seeing late season disease issues in there - quality issues and yield losses.”
Despite the variability in initial field reports, Feltes said that overall, early yield updates have been, “remarkably consistent in reporting better-than-expected yields. One can be fooled by early yield returns, but our experience is that first yield reports set the tone on perceived
crop size and price.”

Feltes predicts that reports of record southern bean yields will continue to weigh on the cash market until major producing areas in the Midwest begin picking in late September.

Source CME News for Tomorrow

The Debts of the Spenders: FHA - My Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

EDIT: Some sharp commentators have notified me of an important point - the credit risk on the Ginnie's is taken by the government. Not the purchasing banks. Than you, ghostfaceinvestah.

Some bears have raised the prospect of an imminent failure in the FHA's (Federal Housing Authority) funding and longer term viability. There were even calls that the FHA's loan problems stemming from delinquencies would soon rival or even exceed the problems in commercial real estate.

Such fears are clearly overblown. Like commercial real estate, FHA (which deals in residential mortgages for lower priced homes) loans are part of a targetted rescue package by federal authorities. But instead of a blatant TALF, TARP or any CMBS asset buying package(s), FHA loans are being rescued by none other than the very banks who underwrote the faulty mortgages in the first place!

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many US banks have been loading up on Ginnie Mae mortgages which are in turn guaranteed by the FHA. Critics have pointed out that the FHA is effectively insolvent due to its large holdings of speculative real estate loans in some of the worst hit states like Nevada, California, Arizona, and Florida. But this income stream is a stealth bailout that effectively keeps refinancing flows steady - particularly important for those homeowners (does not apply to non-resident owners) who are underwater in their ARM loans and want to refinance at longer term fixed rates .

So, why would banks invest in an entity with such deep fundamental problems? Simple. Regulators have defined Ginnie Mae mortgages as zero risk in terms of meeting their capital adequacy ratios. This is in stark contrast to say holding Fannie/Freddie preferred stock which is a strategy that has ended up w/many a bank in FDIC receivership.

However, cynics also point out that this strategy is basically a form of regulatory arbitrage that does not address any of the fundamental points of insolvency (see my earlier posts on "Dollars cheaper to borrow than Yen"). Instead, this is merely a measure that postpones a bleak future.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Debts of the World: Debts Markets React to G20 Continued Stimulus

A few days ago, I posted the question of whether high yield debt might be losing its steam (see link below). That was before the weekend G20 meeting of finance ministers.
In the updated HY.NA.CDX chart, you can see how the credit markets have reacted to confirmation that the world will continue to be awash in liquidity (translation - an ocean of dollars provided by coordinated money printing efforts by central banks).

In late August, I also posted a short piece on the new dollar carry trade.

The markets have reacted predictably - the DXY dollar index (which measures the dollar against a basket of commonly traded currencies like the yen and euro) continued to make new yearly lows. Meanwhile, precious metals and base metals have soared. Most notably, gold is flirting w/$1000 ounce. Commodity currencies like the Aussie, Real, and Rand have all appreciated substantially against the dollar. To see a truly remarkable correlation, try superimposing the UUP ticker over FXA and you will see what I mean - the two move in near inverse harmony!

But does this ocean of dollar liquidity herald inflation? Not really. Across the board, macro fundamentals continue to read like deflation - consumer credit, bankruptcies, unemployment, retail sales, etc. are all down. Cautious investors continue to stock up on treasuries - even as the Fed adds to its balance sheet through unconventional measures (e.g. money printing).
Also note how gold's movements are seasonal in nature.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Debts of the World: Is Junk Losing Its Steam?

Junk (aka high yield) has performed admirably during this year's bull run period from late March all the way to the present day. There have been fluctuations of course - nothing runs up or down in a straight line forever.

Note the volatility in the HY.CDX index chart from Markit that tracks the performance of bonds rated CCC, BB, and B.

But I want to draw readers' attention towards a chart for HYG, the etf that also tracks the performance of junk bonds. Note how there has been a divergence between investor inflow of funds and performance as tracked by the Chaikin Money Flow indicator (CMF). It's been an incredible run for investors in the riskiest assets but as Fall approaches, fears of corporate defaults loom.

Companies that have access to the Fed's discount window (or companies whose MAIN investors have access to the Fed discount window) and/or access to TALF (commercial real estate) should do fine. Others may not do so well.

*Disclosure - I have no position in HYG, HY.CDX, or any of the component bonds.

The Debts of the Spenders: Structured Finance Comes to Life Insurance

The plan is simple: buy life insurance policies from seniors who need cash upfront (typically life insurance pays out on the policy holder's death but many states allow for early redemptions) and then re-package these settlements into bonds for the general public to buy.

This is a brilliant scheme that capitalizes (no pun intended) on generational demographics. The Baby Boomer wave currently set to retire is facing a longer life span due to advanced medical technology and better living conditions. But at the same time, boomers are also confronted with a higher cost of living - most notably in health care expenditures (seniors are the number one consumers of health care) - and dwindling financial resources. Many boomers have decided to extend their stay in the workforce or search for jobs, presenting stiff challenges to younger entrants in the job market.

Meanwhile, Wall Street gets to charge lucrative fees for the underwriting, marketing, and management expenses associated with these structured finance deals. It's almost like a return to the old days of generous leverage and high flying living. Almost.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Debts of the World: Soybeans Action Potentially Bearish in 2010

Soybeans have had a nice runup this year starting in late Spring - early summer. But bulls may want to watch out. Farmers - sensitive as always to price - have decided to increase their plantings for next year. As you know, the basic law of supply and demand works both ways . . . .

Soybean Supply Glut Possible In ‘10; Prices May Fall-Analyst

Despite U.S. soybean supply shrinking to near record lows following a surge in import demand from China this year, and previous weather-related crop reductions in South America, the global market could well be heading for a supply glut of millions of tons above global consumption forecasts next year, a senior agricultural commodities consultant said Thursday.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting a near record U.S. crop -
around 88 million tons - while Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay between them could produce more than 120 million tons, following last year’s drought. We’re looking at the potential for a big oversupply situation. We could be looking at an oversupply of more than 19 million tons above what the USDAis forecasting global consumption to be at next year,” said John Baize, president of John C. Baize and Associates.

“Farmers who are selling soybeans now at $10.00-$11.00/bushel, by April
could be glad to be getting $8.00/bushel. They could even be getting less.”

A combination of a bumper U.S. crop and increased plantings in South America by farmers who lost money because of last crop year’s drought would likely be behind any potential surge in output next year, Baize said.

Source CME News For Tomorrow

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: CFTC To Modify Commitment of Traders Reports

Great news for those who follow the Commitment of Traders reports!

CFTC To Begin Issuing Expanded Trader Reports Friday

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission will begin issuing expanded reports detailing the positions of large traders on Friday, the regulator said Wednesday.

The new reports will break traders into four categories: one for producers, merchants, processors and users, another for swap dealers, and two others for managed money and “other reportables.”

Previously, the reports broke traders into “commercial” and “noncommercial” categories, broadly meant to describe commodity producers and consumers as well as companies making
speculative bets on the direction of prices. Critics of the report said the two categories were imprecise, as swap dealers, often large banks that trade with commodity users in off-exchange transactions, have little in common with a company producing or consuming physical

The content of the reports - the aggregate number of futures and options positions betting that prices will rise or fall - will remain the same. The new reports will cover 22 markets, including agricultural, energy and metals derivatives. The CFTC will continue to issue the old version of the report at least through the end of 2009, and plans to release three years of historical data in the new format.

Source: CME News For Tomorrow

The Debts of the Spenders: Chaikin Money Flow and Equity Indices

The Chaikin Money Flow (CMF) is an interesting technical indicator that is based on the daily readings of the accumulation/distribution line. The premise is to see the allocation of "hot" or "cold" money based on buying and/or selling pressure.

I have included charts above for UUP (the dollar bull etf based on the DXY index), S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Nasdaq. Draw your own conclusions on where the money is headed. Before coming to an answer right away, please be cognizant that what may be seemingly obvious at first glance can also be a contrarian indicator. Also note the important role that volume can play.
I also encourage readers to experiment with different time scales on their charts to see what correlations are most effective. You might also see some interesting results by overlaying some indices against their inverses (HINT: try UUP w/FXA).

For more information:

The Debts of the Spenders: Life Insurance Sales Plunge the Most in 67 Years

Lower sales to seniors and financial difficulties have led to the worst market in individual life insurance sales in 67 years. Variables dropped 50% for Q2 and 55% overall for Q1 and Q2 combined. This is in noted contrast to the widespread equity and credit rally.

To read more:


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